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Today in Movie History: November 21

Hollywood loves its monsters and we’ve seen our share of great ones over the years. At the end of the day, however, they all fall in line behind one indisputable champion. The one and only Frankenstein opened today in 1931.

I doubt the Hunger Games will expand beyond the three books and four films that have already been made. The universe doesn’t seem right for development they way Star Wars and the Potterverse have. And yet that’s not a criticism, for the saga remained as strong and pertinent as either of those larger universe. The brilliant first half of the second chapter — Mockingjy, Part 1 — opened today in 2014.

Kevin Costner spent a lot of years wandering in the wilderness: he drank the Kool-Aid, and it was tough to watch that fall from grade. But his directorial triumph Dances with Wolves remains a powerful and affecting motion picture regardless of the ego behind it. I’d still give the Best Picture Oscar to Goodfellas that year,  but I’m not inclined to complain about this one walking off with the top prize. It opened today in 1990.

Speaking of Best Picture winners, The Best Years of Our Lives stands as one of those efforts that felt quite profound at the time, but gradually lost its luster as the years rolled by. It was quite cathartic for its era, however: an examination of the cost of victory in World War II and a please for understanding about the men and women who paid it. It opened today in 1946.

The new Westworld TV show has been making waves. (My wife and I are riveted, and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well worth a few hours of your time.) One of the best things about it is its subtle, sly references to the original film — written and directed by Michael Crichton as a kind of protean variation on his later triumph Jurassic Park — which is worth a look if you’d like a little trip down memory lane. The scenario is overly familiar (kudos to the TV show for finding a number of other different ways to explore it), but loads of fun thanks largely to Yul Brynner’s implacable robot gunslinger (which itself predated another sci-fi masterpiece: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in The Terminator). Westworld opened today in 1973.

We’ve going to close with Elvis, because we all need a little Elvis these days. Girls! Girls! Girls! is typical fluff, featuring the King as a Hawaiian fisherman trying to earn back his father’s boat, and a typical good girl/bad girl love triangle for him to resolve. It doesn’t quite rank with his best, but the Hawaiian setting is a natural fit and some of the songs — including the great  “Return to Sender” — are quite the toe-tappers. The film opened today in 1962.

 

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