It was quite a variety-platter week, and I ate it up!
Up the River (1930): Early Bogart! Early Spencer Tracy! Early John Ford! A triple threat in a dramedy about life behind bars. If you didn’t know it was directed by Ford, you’d likely guess Hal Roach for this pre-Code delight in which the realities of prison are miles away. Seeing Bogart play the handsome romantic interest is quite a treat, and Tracy hams it up well. Lightly RECOMMENDED for historical value.
Blonde Ice (1948): Leslie Brooks chews the scenery with aplomb as the most carefree of black widows in this very B picture. Poorly directed and acted, it feels like a 50s exhaustion film even though it was made in the 40s. I expected to enjoy it more, but it needed style it couldn’t muster. NOT RECOMMENDED…except for riffing.
The Man in the High Castle, Season 1 (2016): Over ten unrelentingly tense episodes that show exactly how suspense should be done, I found I love this new Netflix series even when it made me cringe or cry. It’s glorious to see any of Philip Dick’s work finally given a respectful adaptation, and great to know TV can do this so well. Rufus Sewell as the evil John Smith is riveting, as are the ever-sad Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Nobusuke Tagomi and the ruthless Joel de la Fuente as Chief Inspector Kido. And yes, the Hollywood-pretty leads (Alexa Davalos and Rupert Evans) are great, too. I know why I waited so long to watch it, and it was just as intense as I thought it would be. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, but don’t watch it right before bed.
Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016): Always end on a high note, right? I loved this, just as I hoped I would. It’s in many ways a rehash of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but I was ready for that. The use of Joe Manganiello and Alia Shawkat is particularly superb, and every gag made me laugh out loud, often despite myself. I particularly liked the ramping up of the gay subtext that was practically text here. My teen kept saying “What am I watching?” and that’s just what you want to ask of a Pee-wee film. Frankly, it’s been far too long since we’ve had the chance to enjoy the world of Pee-wee, and I’m happy Netflix and director John Lee (of Wonder Showzen fame) got it together to make this happen. Perhaps most amazing of all is how 64-year-old Paul Reubens looks little older than when he began his adventures as Pee-wee (plaster-thick make-up to the rescue!). RECOMMENDED, even highly so for super fans.