Tag: Reviews

WB Top 100: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


When it came to finally seeing 1951’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”, neither Diane nor myself knew what to expect. It is one of those movies that virtually everyone has heard of, but, in our case at least, we had never seen it. I thought it would be more jovial or at least be a lighter film. It is not. As its unlikable characters did unlikable things to one another in an impoverished New Orleans tenement, it dawned on me that what I was in for was yet another example of the Southern Gothic literary subgenre. With that realization, my dread of what to come gripped me tightly as we finished watching the film.

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New Orleans shines through the entire film even though the characters rarely go outside the apartment.

I do not pretend to be a scholar on all things Southern Gothic, but I am a big fan of the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. Not to digress to politics, there is a certain Conservative way of thinking – a bubble all-encompassing in modern Southern life – that seems equal parts naive and destructive. All my life, I was exposed to people who had little while thinking they had a lot. Any attempt at change or any battering against tradition was the utmost evil. Southern Gothic works are treasonous to that line of thought as they seek to expose the darker culture of a people who live in a ruined place and a lost time, the Antebellum South, without grasping fully the modern world as it has changed around them.

Vivien Leigh plays Blanche DuBois, a teacher whose ancestral home has been lost to debt and poor judgement. With her, she brings all of her worldly possessions: fine clothes and jewelry. She also brings the air of a Southern aristocratic family used to having far more wealth and like minded folk equally obsessed with manners, honor, and dignity. At her heels, a mystery chases after her as she suddenly appears at her sister’s one bedroom home in New Orleans. The sister, Stella, welcomes her openly despite the ill tidings and the odd mood, while Stanley (played by Marlon Brando) is instantly wary of his sister-in-law’s arrival.

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Vivien Leigh plays crazy perfectly.

To an extent, the film feels like a melancholy successor to “Gone with the Wind”. Vivien Leigh’s Blanche, much like Scarlett, relies on Southern virtues like honor and duty and manners to anchor herself in a fictional reality. Her life lacks these virtues, however, and her inability to come to grips with that fact drives her mad. Vivien Leigh plays crazy incredibly well. From the start, her character is troubled, but as the movie progresses and she gives one high minded speech after another you begin to realize the depths she has already sunk.

Likewise, Marlon Brando’s Stanley was equally mesmerizing but rather than the piteous Blanche, he was terrifying to behold. This was our first exposure to Marlon Brando the actor rather than the person of pop culture myth. As with the jokes I am used to hearing about Brando, we too had trouble understanding what he was saying half the time. I thought at first it was because every scene had him eating but no. I was also shocked at just how handsome a man he was when he was younger.

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I wish I looked that cool drinking alcohol out of a mug that no one likely cleaned since its last use.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is a difficult film to watch. There is little joy and no real character to root for. Kim Hunter’s Stella was the only redeemable character but she often blended into the background while Vivien Leigh chewed the scenery or the shadow of Marlon Brando obscured everyone else as he stalked violently from one room to the next of their one bedroom apartment. There’s a Hollywood ending but no on screen punishment for Stanley. I do not need a movie to end tidily and happily, but after that largely being the case for so many of the films in this series, I half expected “A Streetcar Named Desire” to follow suit. The fact that it doesn’t and that its 125 minutes of human misery ends of only more human misery felt both modern and depressing.

Beyond the acting and the sadness, I found the script to be really interesting. I am unsure how much of the dialogue works in a film. Some of the longer speeches felt ripped from a novel. I am sure they work well in play form, but with film, I expect the characters to talk a bit more like actual people talk. I do not recall the specific lines, but a few made me chuckle at how overwritten they seemed when read aloud.

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One of the saddest scenes was when Stanley returns home from the hospital early and finds Blanche dancing around in her finest clothes and talking about a rich suitor that wants her to accompany him on a cruise.

I do not think either of us loved the film. This is art, less as an expression of joy or entertainment, and more as an attempt to make the audience feel emotion. Love falls short of how I would describe my feelings toward “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Appreciation seems to be more accurate. I appreciate the film because it took me to a place I never wish to go to again. I do not love how the film made me feel: hopeless, sad, intense dread. I appreciate the excellent performances of Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando because, without them, I would not have found this film to be so compelling. I appreciated the movie, but I would love to never see it again. I still feel icky.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is the last Humphrey Bogart film on this list. It is also his best. Diane and I both loved this movie. While the first quarter of our list has had its ups and downs, this film is an incredible start to our next set of movies.

The film follows the down on his luck and homeless Fred C. Dobbs (played by Bogart). As he begs his way around the Mexican city of Tampico, he meets Bob Curtin (played by Tim Holt), a man of similar prospects, and a gold prospector named Howard (played by Walter Huston). The three eventually decide to pool together all the money they have to leave civilization behind and go search for gold in Mexican bandit country.

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This newspaper is actually in Spanish too. Muy authentico!

As the first Hollywood film shot on location in a foreign country, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” bleeds authenticity. But, before we get into our praise and appreciation of the film, let me get through its one blemish. In the movie’s later act, it leans too heavily on the white savior trope and it really took me out of the movie. Despite this, I felt the movie did a good job of depicting Mexicans and other native peoples without dehumanizing anyone or deeming them savages or less civilized.

Blemish aside, the overall arc of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is perfect. Early on, the film foreshadows its themes of greed and it also begs the question, “When is enough wealth enough?” Dobbs and Curtin are lured into a job by an American labor contractor who ends up skipping out on paying them. Their free labor helps improve his bottom line and with the oil boom in Tampico attracting more and more people looking for work, there’s always another sucker.

Despite falling for the contractor’s trap, Dobbs and Curtin eventually corner the man in a bar and steal from him what they are owed after a fight. By modern standards, the fight scene was lackluster, but for the time and in comparison to what we have watched thus far, it was incredible. I loved how the camera stayed panned out the entire time. Rather than a flurry of closeups and cutaways, the fight felt more real despite the punches obviously missing because you could see all the actors. The camera let the actors do the work rather than adding the action for them.

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Easily my favorite fight scene yet in this series. Panned out camera, relatively few cutaways or cuts, and it lasts about as long as an actual fight.

Before the fight, Dobbs and Curtin met Howard, a gold prospector, at a hostel. Here is where we first encounter the film’s theme of greed. When Howard goes on about the perils of gold prospecting and how dangerous it is to go with others, Dobbs remarks that he would only take enough and not an ounce more than he needed to minimize the risk. Compared to the greedy contractor who repeats his scheme of extracting free labor from idiots despite the risk of getting cornered later, Dobbs holds himself up as a man capable of knowing when enough is enough and sticking to it.

This is in contrast with Dobbs as the story has already presented him. While no character gets any background, Dobbs spends the first 15 minutes or so of the movie begging for money. In a humorous twist, he ends up begging the same man three different times and each time the man gives him a peso. However, though the movie doesn’t call your attention to it, each time after Dobbs is depicted spending the money in a wasteful way. He spends some on a lottery ticket, some on a more extravagant meal, and some on a haircut. To me, Dobbs seems exactly like the kind of man who has no idea when enough is enough. He is content drifting from pleasure to pleasure on any dime he can get to do it.

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“I’d only take what I needed,” is a great setup to any story about greed.

With what they are owed burning a hole in their pocket after the fight, the pair find Howard again and the three agree to prospect gold in the remote mountains. The movie plays it funny while Dobbs and Curtin have several comedic scenes of falling behind the older but more fit Howard as he easily climbs hills “like a goat”.

Once they finally strike gold, the movie truly begins. Dobbs and Curtin thought it would be hard to find the gold and easy to leave with it, but the opposite is true. Howard has them setup camp so they can start a small mining operation. Dobbs and Curtin eventually take to the work, but early on we see Dobbs drifting into paranoia. The three men trust one another enough, but because of Dobbs, they decide to hide their portion of the gold they mine each away from one another.

I won’t ruin everything, but Dobbs slow descent into madness is fantastically depicted in “The Treasures of the Sierra Madre”. Humphrey Bogart does a fantastic job. In all of the roles we have seen him in thus far, he has played the romantic lead while also being handsome and intelligent. Once the haircut from early on in the film gives way to Bogart, bearded, sun-baked, and covered in mud, the transformation is nearly complete. By the end of the film, Dobbs is a tragic figure, akin to Gollum, in Lord of the Rings who allows his greed to swallow him whole and gives himself over to madness completely to protect his precious gold.

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I really loved all three of these characters and for entirely different reasons.

From the cover art, I had expected something more in the vein of an adventure film, but “Sierra Madre” is a Western film with depth and substance. In addition to Bogart’s turn, Tim Holt as Curtin does a fantastic job garnering your sympathy as he maintains reason and loyalty to nearly his own end. Walter Huston’s Howard nearly steals the show from both of them with his perfect depiction of a crazed, old prospector. In a sense, Howard’s arc is the reverse of Dobb’s as he initially seems quite mad, but turns out to be a reasonable, intelligent, and kindhearted fellow.

In addition to the compelling story, great characters, and great acting, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” is shot beautifully. This is one of the few films thus far that has extensively used the location in which it was shot and it shows. It gives the movie a timelessness that painted backgrounds would not have.

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Maybe I need to make a D&D homebrew for Patron of the Great Joke, a warlock always on the regrettable end of fate or destiny.

As you can imagine, Diane and I both recommend this movie. It easily tops “Casablanca” as my personal favorite Bogart film and does a great job showing his overall range which we have only seen in his role as a supporting actor (“Dark Victory”, for example).  The fact that he is surrounded by a great supporting cast and the film has a compelling story to tell only adds more to its value. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Best & Worst So Far

Diane and I had a little bit of time while awaiting Hurricane Michael to discuss the first 25 movies of the WB Top 100. We decided to each pick our top five and our worse five, along with a lovely soundbite as to why.

My Top 5

#5: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – “I really dug the music and Cagney was charming. He did dance like an idiot but better than I could ever do.”

#4: Citizen Kane (1941) – “Still good a second time.”

#3: Best Years of Our Lives (1946) – “I found the movie’s ‘Hail Hydra’ moment to be deeply unnerving, especially given its proximity to the end of World War II.”

#2: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – “Incredibly fun and easily one of my favorite versions of the character. I don’t know why Hollywood keeps trying.”

#1: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – “That captain was the smuggest bastard ever put to film and I absolutely loved him for it.”

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Diane’s Top 5

#5: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – “Was not sure who to root for by the end – a real testament to the actors.”

#4: Cimarron (1931) – “Fooled me into thinking this movie was about a man when it was really about a racist woman becoming less racist. Also, that opening scene.”

#3:   Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) – “Fun and a far cry from the previous role we saw Cagney in [Public Enemy]. No grapefruits were harmed in the making of this film.

#2: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – “Incredibly influential and stands the test of time. Pretty much anyone can enjoy this movie.

#1: Best Years of Our Lives (1946) – “Calling out able-ists since 1946.”

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Our Worst 5 (Combined)

For the most part, we agreed on our least favorite films. Since we had such an easy back-and-forth about our particularly strong feelings, I am combining the two lists for emphasis. Also, I am reversing the order (starting with the worst) since that is where our conversation began.

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#1 – Me: Broadway Melody of 1929 (1929) – “Fuck this movie.”

#1 – Diane: Broadway Melody of 1929 (1929) – “Yeah, fuck that movie.”

#2 – Me: A Night at the Opera (1935) – “Fuck this one too.”

#2 – Diane: The Philadelphia Story (1940) – “No, fuck this one first. A Night at the Opera had that one scene.”

#3 – Me:  The Philadelphia Story (1940) – “It was pretty irredeemable …”

#3 – Diane: A Night at the Opera (1935) – “But also fuck this movie.”

#4 – Me: Wizard of Oz (1939) – “No, I still hate it. I will always hate it. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” can be listened to without watching this terrible movie.”

#4 – Diane: Wizard of Oz (1939) – “Fuck Glenda for withholding information. I never get over that fact.”

#5 – Me: The Maltese Falcon (1941) – “Film noir movies are sports movies for /r/niceguys candidates: The male protagonist is always the nicest, smartest man in the room. Every woman wants to fuck him. Chads all want to be him. Oh and everyone wears a fedora.”

#5 – Diane: The Life of Emile Zola (1937) – “The most that movie did for me was help me answer a crossword puzzle. Just plain boring.”

WB Top 100: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


“The Best Years of Our Lives” returns us to the subject of World War II. This 1946 film follows three returning servicemen who are back home in the United States after the war’s end. Each have difficulties adjusting back to civilian life and reintegrating with their families. Despite being over fifty years, “The Best Years of Our Lives” feels poignantly current and it helped contextualize our current cultural climate in a way that no other film on this list has managed thus far.

The film follows Fred, an Air Force bombardier; Homer, a sailor who lost both his hands and now uses prosthetics; and Al, an infantryman returning to his wife of twenty plus years and his two kids who had to grow up without him. It is a hard movie to describe. At times, it feels almost like a comedy. Laughs are weaved in and out to break up the emotional tension and turmoil. Otherwise, it is a romantic drama.

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To paraphrase, “He lost both his hands and he is okay with that and you are just going to have to get over it.”

There is a modernness to “The Best Years of Our Lives” that makes it feel fresh despite being a movie that neither of us had heard of before. The romantic aspects are pure Hollywood, but they do nothing to distract from the very real subject matter. Al can hardly handle being home for more than a couple of hours before he feels the need to escape from a world and family that have evolved without him. Homer, more or less accepted by his fellow veterans, is stared at by his family. Fred, the film’s romantic lead played by Dana Andrews, can’t even find his wife since she moved out of his parents’ home while he was gone.

Also contributing to its modern feel, much of the film’s subject matter is still relevant today. We both found it off-putting how bluntly some of the civilian characters commented on the veterans. Growing up in the South, here in the US we are taught to respect our troops to the point that the phrase is cliche and meaningless. To see characters openly disrespect veterans was astounding. They used the same language targeted at immigrants in the US today: they are taking our jobs!

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The post-war imagery, including the many, many plans being demolished, was stunning to me.

A modern remake of “The Best Years of Our Lives” might be a good idea; that, or more attention given to the original. As I said, supporting the troops is an eye-rolling cliche these days, but this movie not only presents an era where it wasn’t, but it does so in a way that helped me personally better appreciate the sacrifices of our uniformed men and women. It gives me a context for so many of the bills and laws we have in the USA regarding veterans. For our foreign readers who may have different experiences in their own countries, in the US, when applying for a job, nearly every application asks about your veteran status because we as a society have placed more emphasis, attention, and value into making sure veterans are given equal opportunity. I imagine it is far from perfect, but it is fascinating to see some of the origins of these laws.

Another especially relevant scene revolved around a man at the drugstore. While eating his sandwich, the man notices Homer’s prosthetics and begins to strike up a conversation with him.  The stranger openly states that the US fought on the wrong side and that he sympathizes with the Nazis. Though the man ultimately gets a nasty punch and a fall through a glass display for his trouble, the film plays it straight in a way that, frankly, chilled us. Until recently, the idea of anyone being pro-Nazi seemed like the fringiest of ideas. Nazis, for me, were always historical villains used to great effect in some of my favorite video games (I played a lot of Wolfenstein 3D as a kid). “Nazis are evil” is one of those ideas that comes as naturally as breathing. Hearing a character openly talk about being pro-Nazi after World War II has already been won made us both realize that this is not a new idea nor is it one that ever went away. Like chickenpox, it remains dormant in our system until we all get hate-shingles.

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Homer, scaring away prying kids, does a great job of expressing his vulnerability despite not being the best actor.

Speaking of Homer, it was powerful to see an actual handicapped man play a leading role in a movie. Played by Harold Russell, the real-life man lost both his hands as an Army instructor teaching demolitions work. He is one of two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award (his was for his work in this film as a support actor). Though he had limited screen time and was obviously not a trained actor, the character of Homer was one of the film’s most compelling. His arc primarily concerns his inability to accept how his family treats him and his worry that his long-term fiance will be wasting her life if he lets her marry him. His journey alone could’ve made up its own movie, and I wish it had.

Beyond Homer, the other two characters go through their own trials. Al’s involvement shrinks as the movie continues, but his position as an individual who was already financially well-off returning to an even better job at the bank offered another important point of view. As a loan officer, he is put in the position of turning down veterans who have no collateral yet who also have no way of rebuilding their lives. Despite the “good financial sense” he was hired and rehired for when he returns from the war, he believes that veterans deserve to be gambled on by his bank. The thread gets dropped without an absolute resolution, but I liked that better since it was obviously not a resolved issue culturally and Al vows to keep fighting for what he believes in.

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Fred’s wife was the worst.

Finally, we arrive at Fred and his romance with Al’s daughter Peggy. Teresa Wright, previously seen in “Mrs. Miniver”, returns as yet another patriotic girl next door with eyes for a soldier. Despite their story making up the majority of the film, it wasn’t my personal favorite. I did think it was a good romantic drama plot, especially when compared with some of the others we have seen in this series as of late, but its only real purpose is to entertain while I feel “The Best Years of Our Lives” works best when it does more than simply entertain.

Diane and I did have one complaint: it felt long. At nearly three hours, “The Best Years of Our Lives” is packed. There were some parts that could’ve been tightened up, but I personally thought it was shot and cut beautifully. While not my favorite movie-as-entertainment, I can easily this film as being one of the more historically interesting from a cultural point of view. It’s a shame it isn’t shown more in school. The way it handles veterans stands up well and hasn’t lost any of its importance. The only concerning scene for me was where Al gives his son a Japanese sword, but, given the time, perfectly reasonable. If you haven’t seen it or haven’t seen it in a while, we suggest giving “The Best Years of Our Lives” a watch.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: The Big Sleep (1946)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


Another week, another movie, and another Bogart-playing-Bogart role to talk about. 1946’s “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in yet another film noir, hard-boiled detective story. We preferred it to “The Maltese Falcon” but not enough to really love it.

For giggles, we watched the trailer for “The Big Sleep” as one of the bonus features on the DVD. It, along with the movie’s claims to being violent, are very out-of-date. With the amount of censorship involved here, this movie is about as sexy and violent as a high school play.

That’s not a detraction, per say, but after reading some of the changes from the book it is based on, “The Big Sleep” cuts out nudity and a homosexual relationship. Despite hard-boiled detective movies focus on greater grit, realism, and less savory (i.e. realer) people, it is important to still remember what was and wasn’t considered appropriate for films of the time. “The Big Sleep” is non-alcoholic beer: pointless.

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Yes.

The film opens with a great set of legs seen above. It is amazing how chaste older movies are when compared to more modern films. Seeing that much leg was both unexpected and blush-worthy despite being tamer than anything I could see going to the grocery store. It made me better understanding the marketing in the trailer.

Judging the movie on its own, it was okay. As confusing as it could be with the rapid introduction and departure of its characters as they weaved in and out of guilt or suspicion, I was never bored. I would place it second of all the Bogart movies we have watched thus far (behind “Casablanca”).

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I suppose these two have chemistry, or at least a kid’s chemistry set, together.

That said, it is hardly a compliment. As much as I like to hear him speak his peculiar detective jive, Humphrey Bogart’s range has been mostly non-existent so far. He is good at playing the detective, but I am bored of it. In a moment of subterfuge in “The Big Sleep”, he does put on glasses, adopt an accent, and pretends to be interested in non-existent rare books. I enjoyed those scenes far more than anything else he did in the film.

His co-star, Lauren Bacall, was similarly dull. I enjoyed that she didn’t seem helpless or like a damsel, for the most part. She does get captured but she turns it around on her own.  Other than her smolder and dark voice, she doesn’t inspire me to seek out some of her other work like past female leads in this project. Diane and I both preferred the book seller across the street from the film’s first murder victim. She was a sexy woman with glasses who knew how to close a shop in the afternoon when a strange man comes by with whiskey and mystery.

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Here’s bookshop girl after taking off her glasses. Obviously these two are going to bang.

I have heard of Lauren Bacall’s other films with her husband Humphrey Bogart – “To Have and Have Not”, “Dark Passage”, “Key Largo” – but they aren’t in this collection. From our enthusiasm, I bet you can guess if we will seek them out anytime soon.

I am unsure what else to say. “The Big Sleep” is action-packed and doesn’t seem to over stay its welcome. At the same time, Bogart plays it safe, Bacall plays it boring, and the screenplay is a wet rag twisted dry by its plot. I am hoping “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” redeems Bogart for me. It is the movie after next. Otherwise, for us, he’s a product of his time rather than a timeless star of the big screen.

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Every time Bacall’s character gets in a car, she rides like a sleep child. I know these cars didn’t have seat belts but good posture never killed anyone.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

 

Donut County (PS4, 2018)

This review is going to go differently. I bought Donut County for Diane and she recently finished it. Since she doesn’t like to write these posts for me, I decided to interview her instead.

Q: What is Donut County?

Umm … it is a game where you swallow everything with holes. And that is all you do.

Q: Seriously, that’s it?

Well there’s a catapult sometimes so you gotta launch shit, to choose to swallow more things with the hole. But the controller – literally – joystick and one button.

Q: What did you like best about Donut County?

Sometimes you swallow stuff that causes explosions. Or the part with the Ferris Wheel where we launched a Ferris wheel at a castle. It was also kind of satisfying to swallow up the characters themselves. Hmm. And the dialogue, especially the Trashopedia, was pretty entertaining.

Q: What’s a “trashopedia”?

It teaches you what each item in the game that you swallowed up was (except for the characters). It is very educational if you take the time to read it.

Q: Did you like the characters? If so, why?

Yeah, I did. They … they are a group of characters that seem very comfortable with each other so there are a lot of friendly insults thrown at one another and no one really took offense. It’s kind of how I am with my friends. So it felt like, despite the predicament they were in, they were still a good group of friends.

Q: Other than swallowing everything with holes, would you say Donut County is really about friendship then?

I would say it is more about redemption. There is a pretty good redemption arc in there. And education courtesy of the trashopedia.

Q: Was there anything you didn’t like?

Not really. I can see some people finding the whole all we are doing is swallowing things in a hole repetitive, but there are a variety of puzzles that add to the game. And it is not terribly long, as you probably expect, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Q: Favorite scene, character, or level?

I thought that the game over screen was a nice touch. I wasn’t sure where it was going to go and then it leads to a surprise cutscene. I am not sure if it is actual canon or not, but I feel it adds a little layer by potentially breaking the fourth wall with it. It felt like a nice surprise. As surprising as a game over screen can be in a game where you swallow things in a hole.

Q: Any final thoughts or anything else you would like to add?

Quack.

WB Top 100: Mildred Pierce (1945)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


After a long hiatus, we pick up again with 1945’s “Mildred Pierce”. Winning Joan Crawford an Academy Award for Best Actress, “Mildred Pierce” follows the titular character after she marries, remarries, and murders her way to her evil daughter’s own self-destruction. It is two hours of whining about status in a story stripped of its Prohibition context when compared to the novel on which its based. As a film noir, it enthralls from the outset and sets a mood counter to its California setting to keep you on edge while you watch strong female characters do what thus far in this series they haven’t been able to do: be the sole focus.

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Wally Fay (played by Jack Carson) acts as some kind of family friend, but he really just wants to sleep with Mildred. It is hard to read him as charming with a modern ear, as he frequently seems one roofy away from rape despite also having kinder moments.

Our largest critique of the film was its use of class in a less than convincing way. In the chronological beginning of the movie when Mildred begins to tell the police her story, we learn that her husband Bert was financially well-off but they had since fallen on hard times. What hard times, dare you ask? How about a nice suburban California home, a car, and piano and dance lessons for the kids. Starving! Bert walks out after Mildred let’s him know the children will always come before his jobless, deadbeat ass.

That is where Mildred ultimately sets herself up for her own failure. As soon as she tells Bert who comes first and he leaves, we are introduced to their oldest daughter, Veda, who is an insufferable brat who seems to have delusions of having a Nigerian prince send her millions of dollars. (Please excuse the anachronism – this is the 40’s and the African American characters are still just the help, not princes or princesses.) Her mother sold cakes and pies to buy her a dress, but Veda calls it cheap just by its smell and has zero appreciation or respect.

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Veda, seen here with the love of her life, money.

Veda is equally the best and worst thing about this movie. She’s the prime cause of most of its melodrama. Joan Crawford’s Mildred is a mother, conflicted by a justified loathing of her own daughter, who repeatedly fails to break her of her spoiled habits of insubordination. For all her trouble, Veda is a spoiled heiress despite being heir to nothing, and chews on scenes like a villain twice her age and experience. Early on, she says her younger sister looks like a peasant and she puts on other airs throughout the rest of the film.

If Veda made sense, then her turn as the movies antagonist and chief cause of mischief would be a worthwhile reason to return to this film. Instead, the movie does little to explain why she is such a bitch all the time to everyone or how her nose got stuck up quite so high. As her counterpoint, her mother is a woman who makes it in a man’s world by starting a business where there was none, all while she bats off suitor after suitor who cannot take no for an answer until they themselves tire of the chase.

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Eve Arden’s character, Ida, was a standout due to her spunk. She plays the spurned tomboy best friend role but that only makes her more endearing.

I absolutely loved that women were front-and-center in this film even if there’s little worth celebrating of either character. They both, for me, represent the toxic extreme of mother and daughter taken to an illogical conclusion. Despite her daughter’s horrible, borderline psychopathic behavior, Mildred continues to baby, spoil, and ruin any hope of Veda becoming a capable, independent adult. At the same time, Veda expects the world to be handed to her for zero effort and isn’t afraid of doing whatever it takes to support her own self-interest and ego, including lying about a pregnancy to a dullard with money stupid enough to marry her in secret.

“Mildred Pierce” remains immensely watchable due to its acting and some solid cinematography. The writing is a product of its time, but the whole affair moves at a brisk pace, never lingering long enough to overstay any welcome. Yet, upon further reflection, the film feels more like a daytime television soap opera condensed to a rapid-fire two hour format. There’s murder, lying, divorce, poor rich people, rich poor people, and a suspension of disbelief that let’s it all happen. The film noir overtones maximize the intrigue and help fill in the gaps in what is otherwise a straightforward melodrama.

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Zachary Scott’s character, and the film’s murder victim, plays creepy far too well. Several times his attractiveness is mentioned but no.

With all that in mind, I still feel a little trashy having watched this movie. It isn’t risque or disturbing, mind you, but it is sleezy all the same. A soap opera with great acting, “Mildred Pierce” is what happens when white people fret over how high up the middle class ladder they are standing while nothing else in the world is important enough to even register. The film has a timelessness to it since it feels so far removed from its context but more emphasis on the Great Depression and its direct impact on these characters might have shored up the only real flaws I found in the movie.

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“You’re also to blame for me killing someone, mom. Help me hide the body.” – Worst Child Ever

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

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