Monday, July 25, 2016
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941). The low budget for the film shows, especially in the sets -- Dunsinane seems to be more cave than castle, its walls made out of Plasticine -- cobbled together on the Republic soundstage by art director Fred A. Ritter. And although Welles's keen eye served him well, as Alfred Hitchcock's would later when he shot Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960), John L. Russell was never a distinguished cinematographer. Still, this is a fairly distinguished effort at putting Shakespeare on film.
Friday, July 22, 2016
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Cavalcade (Frank Lloyd).
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s and '60s. It's a sardonic story about a woman who claims to be faithful in her fashion to Hermann Braun (Klaus Löwitsch), the soldier she married during an air raid in 1943, despite her affairs with a black American soldier (George Eagles) and a French industrialist (Karl Oswald). In Fassbinder's hands, the story of Maria Braun becomes overlaid with the history of Germany after the war, including scenes in which the dialogue is often partly obscured by radio speeches by German politicians like Konrad Adenauer, the architect of German recovery. "I prefer making miracles rather than waiting for them," Maria proclaims at one point. Fassbinder's portrait of Maria is occasionally elliptical: We don't know, for example, whether she aborted the child she conceived with the American soldier or lost it in childbirth, partly because she seems indifferent to the fact, and Fassbinder leaves it up to us to decide whether the explosion in which she dies at the end is an accident or suicide. The screenplay by Pea Fröhlich and Peter Märthesheimer was based on an idea by Fassbinder, who also contributed to the dialogue. The cinematography is by Michael Ballhaus.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
|Claude Laydu and Jean Danet in Diary of a Country Priest|
Monday, July 18, 2016
Sunday, July 17, 2016
The General (1926). The gags are plentiful but they're not set up quite as well as in those pictures, or as elaborate as the ones in Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) and The Cameraman (1928). When the focus goes away from Keaton, as it does in the scenes in which he leads a cattle drive through the streets of downtown Los Angeles, causing much havoc, the film gets a little scattered. Keaton is at his best when he sets up a simple gag, as when he repeatedly arrives late for dinner with the other ranchhands, who get up and leave the table once he sits down, so that eventually he rushes in, sits down first, gobbles his dinner, and then gets up and leave the moment they sit down. This is the one in which Friendless finally finds a friend: a cow named Brown Eyes -- an outcast like himself because she refuses to give milk. Rescued from the slaughterhouse, Brown Eyes climbs into an automobile with Friendless and, seated beside him, rides away. Arbuckle, incidentally, has a bit part in drag in Go West, as a woman in the department store invaded by the cattle.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013) have given us portrayals of America's financial system as dominated by flamboyant greed-heads like Gordon Gekko and Jordan Belfort, but The Big Short shows us something even more disturbing: the moral corruption of exceptionally intelligent men whose lives could have been put to something more useful than playing with money as if it were a board game with no real consequences to other people.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Thursday, July 14, 2016
His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) and All the President's Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976) come immediately to mind. (I omit Orson Welles's magnum opus because it seems to me less about journalism than about obsession.) I will have to add Spotlight to the list, though despite its best picture Oscar (or maybe because of it) I think it's too soon to call it a great film. What makes it work for me is that it's a convincing portrait of what I know about journalists: that the good ones love what they do. Take Mike Rezendes, for example, whom I got to know a bit at the Mercury News. He's a few inches shorter and quite a few pounds lighter than Mark Ruffalo, who plays him in the movie, but what Ruffalo gets right about Rezendes is his absolute delight in doing the job right, flinging himself body and soul into his work. I would also single out here the performance of Liev Schreiber, one of our best and most underappreciated actors, whose Marty Baron is a spot-on portrait of the journalist who has found himself promoted upstairs to where his commitment to the profession is regarded with suspicion, even though his heart is in the right place. Michael Keaton's Walter Robinson is one of those who suspect Baron, and I wish there had been more scenes in which the growing confidence each has in the other was dramatized. John Slattery's Ben Bradlee Jr. is a keen portrayal of the journalist whose edges have been worn down to the point where he's always in danger of playing it too safe. Now, this judgment of the film is being made by someone who knows the territory, but considering how many cop movies seem ludicrous to cops, and how doctors tend to despise medical dramas, I think it speaks well of writer-director Tom McCarthy and his co-screenwriter Josh Singer that they manage to capture the essence of the journalism game (at least as it was in 2001-03, before the demise of newspapers) so extraordinarily well.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Monday, July 11, 2016
Jules and Jim (1962). Still, we have a wonderfully engaging performance by Charles Aznavour as the titular pianist, Charlie Kohler aka Edouard Saroyan. We also have a perfectly fitted score by Georges Delerue and cinematography by Raoul Coutard that often betrays Truffaut's love of Alfred Hitchcock. Watching Shoot the Piano Player, it's easy to see why Truffaut was the first person approached to direct Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), with its similar oscillations in tone.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Saturday, July 9, 2016
Friday, July 8, 2016
Great Movies page, I think any horse-race competition to validate greatness does a film of such quiet power a disservice. How can you rank movies of such variety of tone as this subtle family drama, the violent picture of a disintegrating society in the first two Godfather films, the delicious intrigue of Notorious, and the epic portrait of medieval Russian life in Andrei Rublev, all of which currently constitute my so-called top five? I think Tokyo Story earns its place by establishing that there are universal constants in family life, things that transcend particular cultures: the gulf that widens between generations, the inability to face even those to whom one is closest without dissimulation, the tension between what one is obliged to say and do and what one actually feels at a moment of loss, and so on. Ozu and co-screenwriter Kogo Noda do a masterly job of gathering these and other themes and placing them in due order. This is one of those Ozu films where his technique of placing the camera almost at floor level seems like more than just a mannerism: It emphasizes that what we are seeing is rooted and basic, while at the same time we have the feeling of contact with the performers that we usually get only in the theater. Yuharu Atsuta's camera rarely moves, causing us to feel enveloped by Tatsuo Hamada's sets almost like participants in the lives of the Hirayama family, even though they are strangers to us, and their secrets and the flash points in their relationships -- such as the past drinking problem of the patriarch, Shukichi (the magnificent Chishu Ryu), or the deep loneliness of Noriko (Setsuko Hara), the widowed daughter-in-law -- gradually become known to us. This is a film that trusts its audience to stay and learn, something that has become lost in contemporary movies, which have to nudge audiences into awareness.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Aparajito (1956), François Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959), and even so recent an entry as Richard Linklater's Boyhood (2014), all of which more successfully integrate the coming-of-age tale with a specific time and place. By contrast, Ingemar's life seems to be taking place in a kind of whimsical neverland that just happens to look like rural Sweden. It's an often heartfelt and certainly entertaining movie that could have been much more.
Monday, July 4, 2016
The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939) and L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960), movies that didn't fit what I expected from being raised on energetic, plot-driven, star-centered American movies. Melancholy and irony are not widely praised American values, although lord knows we have plenty of it in the best American literature. They surfaced for a time in the best American films of the 1970s, but have been driven back into the underground by the blockbuster mentality. There was a time, even after the great cinematic awakening of the '70s when I found myself resenting film critics for their inability to appreciate popular movies I enjoyed: "Critics see too many movies to enjoy them," I sniffed. But the truth is, the more movies you see, the more you're able to appreciate those that don't walk the line, that don't instantly gratify the hunger for plot resolution, for spectacle, for something that sends you out of the theater blissfully untroubled by thought. L'Atalante confused and bored its contemporary viewers, but today those of us who love it do so because it seems to us alternately tender and brutal, simultaneously comic and touching, and, taken as a whole, one of the few movies that successfully transport us to a time and place and a company of human beings we have never found ourselves in the middle of before. It is also, despite years of mishandling and cutting and botched attempts at restoration, one of the most technically dazzling films ever made. The performances -- by Michel Simon as the rather gross Père Jules, Dita Parlo and Jean Dasté as the young couple trying to start married life on a cramped river barge, and Gilles Margaritis as the madcap peddler who almost wrecks their marriage -- are extraordinary. Cinematographer Boris Kaufman overcame the severe limitations of filming scenes in the cramped quarters below-decks as well as open-air scenes for which the weather refused to cooperate. Vigo and Kaufman stage visual compositions that have a freshness that never seems arty. And who can ever forget Simon's Père Jules clambering aboard the barge with a kitten on his shoulders? Every corner of L'Atalante is filled with life.
Sunday, July 3, 2016
|Masahiko Shimazu and Koji Shitara in Good Morning|
Saturday, July 2, 2016
|Hideo Sugawara, Seiichi Kato, and Tomio Aoki in I Was Born, But....|
Friday, July 1, 2016
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Laura (1944) and in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), his work here demonstrates that he was an actor of considerable range and charisma. Fonda is today probably the most admired of the three stars, but he had always had a distant relationship with Hollywood: He suspended his career for three years to enlist in the Navy during World War II, and after making Daisy Kenyon to work out the remainder of his contract with 20th Century-Fox he made a handful of films before turning his attention to Broadway, where he stayed for eight years, until he was called on to re-create the title role in the film version of Mister Roberts (John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy, 1955). Of the three performances in Daisy Kenyon, Fonda's seems the least committed, but his instincts as an actor kept him on track.
Monday, June 27, 2016
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Gribiche (Jacques Feyder, 1926)
The young actor Jean Forest had been discovered by Feyder and his wife, Françoise Rosay, and he starred in three films for the director, of which this was the last. It's a peculiar fable about charity. Forest plays Antoine Belot, nicknamed "Gribiche," who sees a rich woman, Edith Maranet (Rosay), drop her purse in a department store and returns it to her, spurning a reward. Edith is a do-gooder full of theories about "social hygiene." Impressed by the boy's honesty, Edith goes to his home, a small flat above some shops, where he lives with his widowed mother, Anna (Cécile Guyon), and proposes that she adopt Gribiche and educate him. Anna is reluctant to give up the boy, but Gribiche, knowing that Anna is being courted by Phillippe Gavary (Rolla Norman), and believing that he stands in the way of their marriage, agrees to the deal. When her rich friends ask about how she found Gribiche, Edith tells increasingly sentimental and self-serving stories -- dramatized by Feyder -- about the poverty in which she found him and his mother. But the boy is unhappy with the cold, sterile environment of Edith's mansion and the regimented approach to his education, and on Bastille Day, when the common folk of Paris are celebrating in what Edith regards as "unhygienic" ways, he finds his way back to his mother's home. Edith is furious, but eventually is persuaded to see reality and agrees to let him live with Anna and Phillippe, who have married, while she pays for his education. The whole thing is implausible, but the performances of Forest and Rosay, and especially the production design by Lazare Meerson, make it watchable and occasionally quite charming.
Carnival in Flanders (Jacques Feyder, 1935)
Saturday, June 25, 2016
On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954). Unlike Boris, Denis remained in the Soviet Union until his death in 1954, a loyal Marxist who was considered a major director and film theorist well into the 1930s, though his later career was stymied by the ideological changes that took place under Stalin. His wife, Elizaveta Svilova, worked as his editor, and the actual "man with a movie camera" seen in the film was his other brother, Mikhail Kaufman. Man With a Movie Camera is one of the essential films, even today, when almost everyone is a person with a movie camera in the shape of a smartphone in their pocket. It's also one of the most available films ever, readily accessible online. The version on Amazon and YouTube is enhanced by a hypnotic Philip Glass-like score by contemporary film composer Michael Nyman, although other musical accompaniments exist.
Friday, June 24, 2016
Red River (1948) as much as I do could fail to miss how much of Rio Bravo is, let us say, borrowed from that film. There's the byplay between Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) and Stumpy (Walter Brennan), which echoes that of Dunson (Wayne) and Groot (Brennan) in Red River. Ricky Nelson's young gun Colorado Ryan is a reworking of Montgomery Clift's Matthew Garth. And Angie Dickinson's Feathers could almost be a parody of Joanne Dru's motormouth Tess Millay. But the Hawksian borrowings don't stop with Red River. When Feathers kisses Chance for the first time and then goes in for a second kiss in which he participates more enthusiastically, she comments, "It's better when two people do it," which is a direct steal from a similar scene in To Have and Have Not (Hawks, 1944) when "Slim" (Lauren Bacall) tells "Steve" (Humphrey Bogart), "It's even better when you help." The two movies share not only a director but also a screenwriter, Jules Furthman, who is joined in Rio Bravo by Leigh Brackett, who earlier worked together on another Bogart-Bacall-Hawks movie, The Big Sleep (1946). Even the composer of the score for Rio Bravo, Dimitri Tiomkin, gets into the borrowing game, taking a theme from his score for Red River and handing it over to lyricist Paul Francis Webster for the song, "My Rifle, My Pony, and Me," sung by Dean Martin's Dude and Nelson's Colorado. Rio Bravo isn't as great a movie as Red River by a long shot, and it probably signals some creative exhaustion on Hawks's part that he not only borrowed so heavily from his earlier work but also felt it necessary to remake Rio Bravo in two thinly disguised versions also starring Wayne, as El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970). But is there a more entertaining self-plagiarism, and a surer demonstration of what made Hawks one of the great filmmakers?
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Sunset Blvd. (1950), Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett went their separate ways. They had been one of the most successful teams in Hollywood history since 1938, when they began collaborating as screenwriters, and then as a producer (Brackett), director (Wilder), and co-writer team starting with Five Graves to Cairo in 1943. But Wilder decided that he wanted to be a triple-threat: producer, director, and writer. His first effort in this line, Ace in the Hole (1951), was, however, a commercial flop. so he seems to have decided to go for the sure thing: film versions of plays that had been Broadway hits and therefore had a built-in attraction to audiences. His next three movies, Stalag 17, Sabrina (1954), and The Seven Year Itch (1955), all fell into this category. But what Wilder really needed was a steady writing collaborator, which he didn't find until 1957, when he teamed up with I.A.L. Diamond for the first time on Love in the Afternoon. The collaboration hit pay dirt in 1959 with Some Like It Hot, and won Wilder his triple-threat Oscar with The Apartment (1960). Which is all to suggest that Stalag 17 appeared while Wilder was in a kind of holding pattern in his career. It's not a particularly representative work, given its origins on stage which bring certain expectations from those who saw it there and also from those who want to see a reasonable facsimile of the stage version. The play, set in a German P.O.W. camp in 1944, was written by two former inmates of the titular prison camp, Donald Bevan and Edmund Trczinski. In revising it, Wilder built up the character of the cynical Sgt. Sefton (William Holden), partly to satisfy Holden, who had walked out of the first act of the play on Broadway. Sefton is in many ways a redraft of Holden's Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd., worldly wise and completely lacking in sentimentality, a character type that Holden would be plugged into for the rest of his career, and it won him the Oscar that he probably should have won for that film. But it's easy to see why Holden wanted the role beefed up, because Stalag 17 is the kind of play and movie that it's easy to get lost in: an ensemble with a large all-male cast, each one eager to make his mark. Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss, as the broad comedy Shapiro and "Animal," steal most of the scenes -- Strauss got a supporting actor nomination for the film -- and Otto Preminger as the camp commandant and Sig Ruman as the German Sgt. Schulz carry off many of the rest. The cast even includes one of the playwrights, Edmund Trczinski, as "Triz," the prisoner who gets a letter from his wife, who claims that he "won't believe it," but an infant was left on her doorstep and it looks just like her. Triz's "I believe it," which he obviously doesn't, becomes a motif through the film. Bowdlerized by the Production Code, Stalag 17 hasn't worn well, despite Holden's fine performance, and it's easy to blame it for creating the prison-camp service comedy genre, which reached its nadir in the obvious rip-off Hogan's Heroes, which ran on TV for six seasons, from 1965 to 1971.