Wednesday, May 24, 2017
I have spent much of the day trying to think what to say about Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice that doesn't make me sound like an utter fool. It's a hard task, especially when the director is someone whose work you admire -- as do many others -- and whose achievement in what was his last film, finished only months before his death, was in many ways extraordinary. But I have to admit that in many ways The Sacrifice leaves me cold, or at least willing to fall back on sarcastic assessments like "art-house profundity," a phrase that I might have rushed to use about the film if I hadn't spent time trying to tamp down its rudeness and inadequacy. For The Sacrifice is unquestionably a visionary film, drawn from Tarkovsky's heart and soul. It's just that I wish there were a little more brain holding heart and soul in check. Is it only my habitual agnosticism that makes me bridle against the film's protagonist's quest for metaphysical certainty? The twentieth-century search for God produced masterworks like Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet (1955), Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1951), Tarkovsky's own Andrei Rublev (1966), and, most appropriate in this context, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957). The Bergman connection suggests itself inevitably because Tarkovsky made his film in Sweden, with Bergman's frequent leading man Erland Josephson and Bergman's cinematographer Sven Nykvist, in a location, Gotland, that resembles the island of Fårö, the location of many of Bergman's own films. But The Sacrifice seems to me to take some of the worst aspects of some of Bergman's films -- the rather histrionic treatment of people's search for faith in Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), and The Silence (1963) -- and intensify it. Having the crisis of The Sacrifice precipitated by the threat of nuclear holocaust warps the film away from psychological truth into didacticism. One of the reasons Andrei Rublev succeeds is that, like Bergman's The Seventh Seal, it is set in an age of faith. Both films depict the essential downside to spiritual certainty -- bigotry and fanaticism and a loss of essential humanity -- while balancing it with a portrayal of the rewards of faith: kindness and creativity. As I said in my comments on The Seventh Seal, "Commentators have sometimes likened the plague that threatens the world of The Seventh Seal to the threat of nuclear annihilation, but I think that misses the point: For the medieval world, the Plague was a test of faith; for the modern world, the Bomb is a test of humanity." The Sacrifice, I think, misses that point. Moreover, I think Tarkovsky's style -- enigmatic, elliptical, deliberately obscure -- becomes a stumbling block in attempts to watch the film. It even betrays a sympathetic critic like David Thomson into misreading some of the film, as when he refers to Alexander's (Josephson) son, known in the film as "Little Man," as his grandson. By failing to make relationships among the characters more explicit -- Is Marta (Filippa Franzén) Alexander's daughter? What is her connection to the doctor, Victor (Sven Wollter)? -- he forces us to spend a lot of our attention on matters of sheer identification, distracting us from what should be the central focus of the film. And what, exactly, is that?
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Monday, May 22, 2017
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Early Summer (1951) and Tokyo Story (1953), in each of which Hara plays a woman named Noriko. The three Norikos have nothing in common except that they are all unmarried. (In Tokyo Story she is a widow.) The Noriko of Late Spring lives with her father, Shukichi, who is played by Chishu Ryu. (In Early Summer, Ryu plays her brother, and in Tokyo Story her father-in-law.) The deceptions of what might be called the "get-acquainted" section of Ozu's film, which establishes for us the relationships among the characters, lie in the apparent happiness and contentment of father and daughter and the untroubled world in which they live. But Late Spring was filmed only four years after the end of the war that devastated Japan, which was still under occupation by American forces. The wounds and pain of the country and its people are invisible in the film, partly because of occupation censorship, but they provide a kind of tension in the viewer who knows what the characters must have suffered. There is only a brief mention of this in Late Spring: Noriko has been to the doctor and reports that her health has improved. Another character's reference to "forced work during the war" sheds some light on what may have caused her illness. Later, Noriko and her father visit Kyoto, and he remarks how much nicer it is than "dusty" Tokyo, obliquely referencing wartime destruction. The central deception, however, lies in Noriko's apparent contentment with her unmarried state: She feels it is her duty to spend her life caring for her widowed father, and brushes off any suggestions that at 27 she should really be thinking about getting married -- or worse, that her father might choose to remarry. She calls the second marriage of one of her father's friends "filthy." We who have seen this situation before, however, realize that the deception Noriko is perpetrating is on herself. Perhaps it's because she has lived through so much change and upheaval, Noriko is trying to persuade herself that her current happiness serving her father can be made permanent. And so she suffers a shock when her father displays interest in a beautiful widow (Kuniko Miyake), and another when he suggests that she might meet the young man her Aunt Masa (Haruko Sugimura) thinks would be a suitable husband for Noriko. What Ozu and his frequent collaborator Kogo Noda establish here, working from a novel called Father and Daughter by Kazuo Hirotsu, is worthy of Henry James or Jane Austen -- I think particularly of Austen's Emma Woodhouse and her self-deluding attachment to her father. Eventually, Noriko is persuaded into marriage -- in a masterstroke of direction we never even see the groom -- by her father's lie: He claims that he has been planning to remarry, thereby eliminating any objection Noriko could have to seeking her own path to fulfillment. The film ends with a melancholy image of Shukichi alone, peeling an apple -- a kind of Jamesian twist on an Austenian situation. This magisterial example of Ozu's late style -- low camera angles, absence of pans and dissolves, emphasis on the somewhat claustrophobic interiors of the Japanese home -- is reinforced by Tatsuo Hamada's art direction and Yuharu Atsuta's cinematography, but most of all by the superb performances of Hara and Ryu.
Friday, May 19, 2017
Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) or John Garfield's Frank Chambers in The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946), but it's not a knock on those two great noirs to say that Preminger does something more subtle with Mitchum's Frank Jessup: He's an accomplice and a victim only by accident, letting his hormones put him in harm's (i.e., Mary's) way, and struggling ineffectually, even a little tragically, not to be dragged down by her. Angel Face is not as well-known as those other films, but with its solid performances, its effective and unobtrusive score by Dimitri Tiomkin, and its knockout of an ending, it deserves to be.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
|Ana Milosavljevic in Innocence Unprotected|
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
La Chienne. Both films came at oddly significant points in their directors' careers: Renoir's was only his second talkie, but one in which he demonstrated his mastery of the relatively new medium by a creative use of ambient sound. Lang's was made just as World War II was ending -- a moment when it became possible for him to return to Europe, which he had fled to avoid Nazi persecution. Lang chose, however, to stay on in Hollywood for 12 more years, though he grew increasingly annoyed at the creative restrictions imposed on him by the big studios and Production Code censorship. In this context, Scarlet Street stands out as edgy and somewhat defiant. The Code prescribed a kind of lex talionis: any criminal act demands a punishment equivalent in kind and degree. But in Scarlet Street, Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) gets away with not only fraud and theft but also murder -- a double murder, if you consider that the man wrongly accused of the murder goes to the electric chair for it. Cross is punished by homelessness and by auditory delusions of the voices of those who drove him to crime, but that's much less severe than the Code usually prescribed. There were those, of course, including censors in New York State, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, who noticed the Code's laxness and proceeded to ban the film on their own. Today, Scarlet Street is regarded as a classic, one of the premier examples of film noir at its darkest. It doesn't quite measure up to Renoir's version, perhaps because Renoir was freer in expressing his vision of the material than Lang was. Renoir's film had touches of humor and a gentler, more ironic ending, but the ending of Scarlet Street is entirely in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film, with its traces of unfettered Lang: for example, the shocking viciousness of Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea), who if you know how to decode the Code is clearly the pimp to the prostitute Kitty March (Joan Bennett). And Cross's behavior at the end of the film, derelict and delusional, echoes some of the frantic paranoia of Peter Lorre's child murderer in Lang's M (1931). The screenplay is by Dudley Nichols.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
|Chantal Akerman in Je Tu Il Elle|
Monday, May 15, 2017
declared the story, adapted from a novel by Mitchell Wilson, "unacceptable ... in that it is a story of adultery without any compensating moral values." Somehow Breen was persuaded to give in. But Renoir also had to put up with the studio star system, which required performers to look glamorous and handsome even in the most adverse situations. Even though Joan Bennett's character, Peggy Butler, spends a lot of time on the beach doing things like gathering firewood, her hair and makeup are always perfect. After an unfavorable preview of the film, the studio forced reshoots and made some drastic cuts -- the existing version is only 71 minutes long -- that displeased Renoir. What we have now is a sometimes fascinating, sometimes incoherent film. There's an on-again, off-again relationship between a Coast Guard officer, Scott Burnett, played by Robert Ryan, and a young woman named Eve, played by the starlet Nan Leslie, that serves no essential function in the story. Scott's nightmares about being on a sinking ship during wartime and an encounter on the beach with a ghostly woman who looks something like Eve loom large in the early part of the film but then mysteriously vanish along with any other symptoms of the PTSD Scott supposedly suffers from. The focus of the story is on Scott's affair with Peggy -- they apparently have sex in a shipwreck that has washed up on the beach -- and his suspicions about Peggy's husband, Tod (Charles Bickford), a famous painter who is now blind, the result of a fight in which Peggy threw something that severed his optic nerve. But Scott thinks Tod is faking his blindness and puts him to the test, which Tod passes by falling off a cliff without doing himself serious harm. There's a good deal of overheated dialogue: "Peg, you're so beautiful ... so beautiful outside, so rotten inside." In the end, there's a conclusion in which nothing is concluded: Scott seemingly tries but fails to drown both himself and Tod; Tod sets fire to the cabin that contains his cherished surviving paintings; he and Peggy set off for New York; and Scott retires from his commission in the Coast Guard. Some of this might have made emotional sense in a better-crafted film, one not subject to the tinkering and scrubbing that the studio and the censors enforced. Still, Bennett, Ryan, and Bickford perform with conviction, and there are those who find even the film's chaotic presentation of erotic entanglements compelling.
*Renoir doesn't seem to have nursed any hard feelings against Breen: He cast his son, Thomas E. Breen, in a key role in The River (1951).
*Renoir doesn't seem to have nursed any hard feelings against Breen: He cast his son, Thomas E. Breen, in a key role in The River (1951).
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) and persisted in attacking the film in follow-up articles until the Times nudged him into retirement. My generation grew up thinking of Crowther as the classic fuddy-duddy. Some of the harsh moralizing that marked his Bonnie and Clyde diatribe was present throughout his career, as in, for example, his comments in his review of Jules Dassin's Night and the City, which he called "a pointless, trashy yarn," a "a turgid pictorial grotesque," "a melange of maggoty episodes," and a "cruel, repulsive picture of human brutishness." It almost makes you want to run right out and see it, doesn't it? But there's a part of me that thinks the old foof was onto something: Night and the City is just a little too dark to be credible, and some elements of it -- such as Richard Widmark's over-the-top performance and the expressionistic camera angles of cinematographer Mutz Greenbaum (billed as Max Greene) -- verge on film noir self-parody. Still, there's a great energy in Night and the City, which often reminds me of Dickens's forays into the underworld -- the titular city is London -- especially when it comes to character names. The chief villain (Francis L. Sullivan, imitating Sydney Greenstreet) is a Mr. Nosseross -- his given name is Philip, not Rye -- and there's a minor character with the über-Dickensian name of Fergus Chilk. Widmark plays Harry Fabian, whose life is a continuous hustle, trying to gather enough money to finance his various get-rich-quick schemes. His long-suffering girlfriend, Mary Bristol (Gene Tierney, in a smaller role than her billing suggests), is a singer in a clip joint run by the Nosserosses -- Philip and his wife, Helen (Googie Withers). Eventually, Harry overreaches by trying to loosen the hold on the pro wrestling exhibition racket in London held by Kristo (Herbert Lom), whose star wrestler is known as the Strangler (Mike Mazurki). Harry cons an honest old Greek wrestler named Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko) into staging a bout between Gregorius's protégé, Nikolas of Athens (Ken Richmond) and the Strangler, but everything goes to hell when Nosseross withdraws his promised financial support. There is a great wrestling scene in which Gregorius himself takes on the Strangler, who has broken Nikolas's wrist. Gregorius wins, but dies of a heart attack afterward, one of the many deaths the movie accumulates. The film makes great atmospheric use of its London setting, which was necessitated because Dassin was about to be blacklisted in Hollywood -- it's to the credit of 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck that he warned Dassin of this and, when Dassin decided he would seek work in Europe, allowed him to make the film in London.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Thursday, May 11, 2017
*They went on to make two more films for George Cukor, Holiday (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940), but their most memorable work together was for Howard Hawks on Bringing Up Baby (1938).
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Bridge of Spies (2016) a week or so ago. Rather than tie everything up in a neat package with a flowery bow as Spielberg tries to do in his film, Hitchcock simply ends after the confession and death of Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson) -- shot with beautiful irony against a background of high-kicking chorus girls -- in a closeup of Hannay (Robert Donat) and Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) holding hands, the handcuffs still dangling from Hannay's wrist. Nothing more needs to be said or shown, although a scene was apparently shot in which it's made more explicit that Hannay and Pamela are now a couple. Who needs it? The 39 Steps established Hitchcock as the master of the romantic thriller. There are those who regret that he never moved very far out of that genre, and who wish that he could have devoted himself to more highly serious material than John Buchan, who wrote the novel on which the film is based -- Dostoevsky, perhaps. But that's the kind of aesthetic puritanism that leads directors astray into high-minded dullness. We should be grateful that Hitchcock never succumbed to it, and that he continued to devote himself to an almost unique economy of narrative and to developing his skill at creating ways to distract the viewer from noticing a story's holes. How, exactly, does Hannay get from the Forth Bridge to the Scottish Highlands? By the same sleight-of-hand that gets Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) from New York to Chicago to Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959), of course. And again, who cares? It's also the first of his films to rely on star power, the charisma and charm of the young Donat and the first of the director's "icy blonds," Carroll, who was never more appealing than in this film. At the same time, he also acknowledges the necessity of supporting players who can give the film texture and depth. I'm speaking here particularly of such narrative filigree as the crofter (John Laurie) and his wife (Peggy Ashcroft), the milkman (Frederick Piper) who lends Hannay his white coat and cap, the traveling salesmen (Gus McNaughton and Jerry Verno) on the train, and the professor's wife (Helen Haye) who is so unperturbed at seeing her husband (Godfrey Tearle) pointing a gun at Hannay. These are mostly the creations of Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Charles Bennett, and not John Buchan. Who reads Buchan anymore? Who doesn't want to watch Hitchcock's film again?
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
*Official debut, that is. Montgomery had done some uncredited work behind the camera for John Ford on They Were Expendable (1945).
Monday, May 8, 2017
Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth? reminded me that one of the essential characteristics of a great director is a compassionate interest in human beings. It's not that they are both comedies about college students: They are also both "coming-of-age" films, although Linklater lets us extrapolate the course of his characters' potential maturity (or lack of it), while Ozu lets his characters mature before our eyes. Ozu and Linklater have been called "sociological" filmmakers because their movies tend to be about what happens to their characters in a given cultural context: in the case of Linklater's film a group of young jocks at a Texas college in 1980; in Ozu's, Japanese college students in the early years of the Great Depression. Linklater has acknowledged that Everybody Wants Some!! is a kind of coda to Dazed and Confused (1993), the action of which takes place four years earlier on the last day of high school. The newer film is more narrowly focused than the earlier one, which had a sampling of all types of high schoolers, male and female, from brains to jocks, from bullies to victims. Everybody is centered on a group of horny young men, highly competitive college baseball players, all of whom have dreams of making it as pros. But it's still an ensemble work, with a gallery of good young actors, mostly familiar from TV: Blake Jenner from Glee, Tyler Hoechlin from Teen Wolf, Ryan Guzman from Pretty Little Liars, among others. Linklater forces us to see through the jock stereotypes and find the brains and hearts intentionally hidden behind the bravado and braggadocio of hormones and muscles. He's interested primarily in his characters' intense competitiveness and in their swiftly fading innocence. As in Dazed and Confused, in which the older stoner Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) exhibited the Peter Pan syndrome, unwilling to leave adolescence behind, in Everybody we meet Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), a 30-year-old who masquerades as a transfer student from San Luis Obispo, trying to prolong the blissful innocence of a life spent smoking dope and playing ball. The adult world rarely intrudes on the film's characters: The coach's prohibition of alcohol and women in the residence houses is quickly ignored. But Linklater neither preaches responsibility nor sentimentalizes immaturity. In the last scene, the freshmen Jake (Jenner) and Plummer (Temple Baker) finally get to their first college class after a weekend of partying and promptly put their heads down to sleep through the history professor's lecture. They're young and have no history, or as Willoughby puts it, they're there "for a good time, not for a long time." As good as it is, Everybody "underperformed" at the box office, perhaps because it looks too much like a routine teen sex comedy for discerning audiences and didn't have enough gross-out humor or marketable stars for the usual audience for that genre.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946). Which is unfortunate, because Edward Dmytryk was no Hawks, and Dick Powell and Anne Shirley were certainly not Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. But then who is? Murder, My Sweet is good stuff anyway: a steady-moving, entertainingly complicated film noir. And though Dick Powell, the first actor to play Philip Marlowe on screen, doesn't eclipse Bogart's version, he holds his own well alongside other Marlowe incarnations like James Garner, Elliott Gould, and Robert Mitchum. Powell had just turned 40 when Murder, My Sweet was released, and had lost the baby face that made him a star in Busby Berkeley musicals and in comedies like Christmas in July (Preston Sturges, 1940). (It's said that RKO changed the title of the film from that of Chandler's novel, Farewell, My Lovely, because it was afraid that people would think it was a musical.) Powell looks a little slight to take as many sappings as he does in the film -- usually accompanied by the voiceover, "A black pool opened at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom." But he handles the tough-guy lines in John Paxton's screenplay well, and there are plenty of good ones like "She was a gal who would take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle." Or: "My throat felt sore, but the fingers feeling it didn't feel anything. They were just a bunch of bananas that looked like fingers." As usual, we don't know who's good or who's bad for a while, but they're almost all pretty bad, especially Claire Trevor as Helen Grayle, whose former identity as Velma Valento, whom Marlowe is initially hired to locate by Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki), is what ties together all the various plots and subplots about jade necklaces and the like. This was the last film for Anne Shirley, who married the producer of Murder, My Sweet, Adrian Scott, and retired. Scott later became one of the Hollywood Ten who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted. Dmytryk was also one of the Ten, but after his initial refusal to testify, he changed his mind, and gave the unverifiable testimony that Scott and the others had put pressure on him to insert communist propaganda into his films.
|Kinuyo Tanaka and Ureo Egawa in Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth?|
Friday, May 5, 2017
The Ascent (1977), and it's clear to me how great a loss her death was. That last film was an extraordinary, harrowing adventure with a brilliant documentary realism but also a profound symbolic resonance. Her first is almost a polar opposite: a low-key character study of a woman whose adventures -- she was a decorated pilot during World War II -- are long behind her. Nadezhda Petrukhina (Mayya Bulgakova) now leads a quiet existence as headmistress of a school that prepares students for work in the construction industry. She is admired by her colleagues and students but unfulfilled by her work. She has an adopted daughter, Tanya (Zhanna Bolotova), but they have grown apart: Nadezhda hasn't even met Tanya's new husband, and when she goes to a party where he's present she mistakenly greets the wrong man as her son-in-law. In addition to supervising repairs at the school and coaching the participants in the school's entry in a theatrical contest, she also has to discipline a rebellious young male student -- with whom, we see, she has a kind of sympathy that is stifled by her official duties. She occasionally sees a man, the director of the local museum where her picture as a war hero is on display -- on a visit to the museum she overhears a girl ask if she's still alive. And occasionally she visits the local airfield to watch cadets being trained. We get a flashback to wartime, when she had a lover, Mitya (Leonid Dyachkov), a fellow pilot whose death in combat she witnessed. Flight, that eternal symbol of freedom, is a strong force even in the earthbound life she leads, and we glimpse her fantasies of soaring through the clouds. So at the film's end, having quit her job, she takes a daring move to achieve that freedom once again. Spare but poetic, with a stunning performance by Bulgakova, Wings was written by Valentin Ezhov and Natalya Ryazantseva and filmed by Igor Slabnevich.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941). Wajda was quite open about the influence of Welles on his filmmaking -- like Welles, Wajda wanted sets to have ceilings -- but he also expressed a love of American gangster movies and film noir, citing Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932) and The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950) among his inspirations for Ashes and Diamonds. The American influence is probably most felt by viewers today in the performance of Zbigniew Cybulski in the role of Maciek, the young assassin. It's a showy, jittery, almost over-the-top performance that validates Cybulski's reputation as "the Polish James Dean." Wajda initially resisted casting Cybulski, wanting a more traditional actor for the role, but once Jerzy Andrzejewski, his co-screenwriter and author of the novel on which the film was based, persuaded him to hire Cybulski, Wajda realized that the handsome young star would attract the younger audience the film not only needed to succeed, but also to educate this audience about their country's past. He even gave in to Cybulski's demand that he be allowed to supply his own wardrobe -- not at all the kind of clothes that a young Polish partisan would have worn in 1945 -- including his signature sunglasses. (A line was inserted to explain that Maciek wore them because he had damaged his eyesight by spending too much time in the sewers of Warsaw during the uprising of 1944.) But Wajda added some idiosyncratic touches of his own to the film, including the bullets setting fire to the jacket of one of the unintended victims of the ambush, and some ventures into symbolism like the upside-down crucifix that looms over Maciek and Krystyna (Ewa Krzyzewska) when they visit a ruined church and the white horse that wanders the streets of the town near the film's end. Maciek is shot in a field where white sheets are drying on clotheslines, and when he clutches one of the sheets to himself, his blood shows through -- even though the film is in black and white, this is a reminder that the colors of the Polish flag, like the one the hotel keeper takes out to wave at the film's end, are white and red. Wajda also delighted in the ambiguity of Maciek's death scene, one of Cybulski's most extravagant moments, which takes place on a garbage heap. For the communist censors, he observed, this could be interpreted as the fate of rebels against their rule, while young would-be rebels could see it as the state treating them as garbage.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013), A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor, 2014), Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015), and on the HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero (2015). He even managed to stand out in all the whiz-bang and nostalgia of the latest Star Wars installment. But I sat through the entirety of X-Men: Apocalypse without realizing, until his name appeared in the credits, that he was the one beneath all the makeup and prosthetics as En Sabah Nur, aka Apocalypse. Which makes me wonder: Why bother? Casting an actor of such skill and versatility in a role that could have been played by anyone willing to sit through hours of applying and removing body paint, silicone, and foam latex seems to me a waste of valuable resources. But I guess the same thing could be said about the entire film if you ignore the return the producers got on their estimated $178 million investment. When a film this size feels routine, something has gone awry, and X-Men: Apocalypse is nothing if not routine. There are things I enjoyed about it, like the special effects when Quicksilver (Evan Peters) rescues almost everyone from the explosion that destroys the institute. The trick of seeing everything as Quicksilver sees it -- i.e., as time standing still while he moves at superspeed, dashing from room to room to haul occupants to safety -- is nicely done. And there are good performances from Peters, from James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Erik Lehnsherr, Jennifer Lawrence as Raven, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. I enjoyed seeing Sophie Turner (as the latest iteration of Jean Grey) in something other than Game of Thrones and Hugh Jackman in an unbilled (and extremely violent) cameo as Logan/Wolverine. But there's a kind of heartlessness and thoughtlessness about it, too often characteristic of the superhero blockbuster movie genre, that my experience amounted to a kind of déjà vu. I just hope Isaac got paid well.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Diary of a Country Priest (1951), A Man Escaped (1956), Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) -- such essential films.
Monday, May 1, 2017
Schindler's List (1993). (I happen to agree that the frame story of the aging Ryan's visit to the cemetery in Normandy is unnecessary, though I think the Yad Vashem sequence at the end of the latter film can be justified by the enormity of its subject matter.) Bridge of Spies is by no means a bad movie, but it would have been a lot better if Spielberg hadn't given in to his instinct for overemphasis.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
|The examination scene in Il Posto|
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Dr. (2001) do. In the first two, Lynch plumbs the dark depths that lie below the cheerful surface of small towns, and he opens Mulholland Dr. with the sunny, naive optimism of Naomi Watts's character as she arrives in Los Angeles, ready to make it in the movies. Lost Highway is dark from the start, though not without moments of humor: When Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), receive the first mysterious videotape, which shows only the exterior of their house, they assume it came from a real estate agent. Things get darker from then on, until finally a tape arrives that shows Fred standing over Renee's body. He is quickly tried and sentenced to death, and just as quickly somehow morphs, while in his jail cell, into someone else: an auto mechanic, some years younger than Fred, named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). Released from prison, since he's clearly not Fred Madison and the police have nothing to hold Pete on, he returns home to his parents (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler) and to his job at a garage, where he works on the cars owned by a Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). He gets involved with Mr. Eddy's mistress, Alice (played by a blond Arquette -- Renee was a redhead), and eventually winds up having sex with Alice in the desert and morphing back into Fred, who ends the film on the run from the police after killing Mr. Eddy. Oh, there's also a mysterious figure played by a heavily made-up Robert Blake, and some other bits of Lynchian enigma. In short, Lost Highway starts weird and gets weirder, like a nightmare from which there's no hope of waking. Unfortunately, as played by Pullman, Fred is a bland protagonist who barely registers before his transformation into Pete, a character to which Getty gives a bit more substance. The best work in the movie is done by the ever-reliable Loggia, who has a wonderful scene in which Mr. Eddy takes his revenge on a driver who was tailgating him. But the film has the perversity of Blue Velvet and the narrative disjunctions of Mulholland Dr. without the wit and cinematic finesse of either. I think it suffers from its lack of roots in an identifiable reality, even the caricature of reality in those films.
Friday, April 28, 2017