Saturday, November 28, 2015
Friday, November 27, 2015
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Monday, November 23, 2015
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Saturday, November 21, 2015
A Free Soul, Norma Shearer made this rather thin talkie, which shows clearly her evolution from silence into sound. She hasn't yet found her voice level: It was only her third talking picture and she still sounds a bit thin, and her laugh is a little shrill. It probably helped that her brother, Douglas Shearer, was the head of MGM's sound department, and could help her get the right pitch, because her next film, The Divorcee (Robert Z. Leonard, 1930), won her the best actress Oscar. (In fact, the Oscar ballot listed her nomination as for both The Divorcee and Their Own Desire, but the official citation showed her as a winner for only the former. Academy record-keeping was primitive at the time, so no one today knows if the voters indicated a preference for the one film over the other -- as they should have, since her performance in The Divorcee is indeed the better one.) In Their Own Desire, Shearer is playing a post-flapper "new woman," lively and athletic: She plays polo, taking a spill from a horse with no ill effects, and gets the attention of men by doing high dives into the country club pool. The man she attracts is played by Robert Montgomery, who was two years younger than 27-year-old Shearer, and both are convincingly coltish in their infatuation. The plot, from a novel by Sarita Fuller adapted by Frances Marion, is pleasantly nonsensical: Shearer and Montgomery fall in love, not knowing that he is the son of the woman (Helene Millard) whom her father (Lewis Stone) has divorced her mother (Belle Bennett) to live with. (The movie was made, obviously, before the institution of the Prohibition Code's proscription on such goings-on.) It's complicated, as they say. MGM made the most of its entry into sound, including two musical numbers: the songs "Blue Is the Night," played during a dance at the country club, and "The Boyfriend Blues," sung to Shearer by a harmonizing quartet. Director Hopper had been making movies since 1911, but he retired from the business in 1935, leaving an oeuvre of no particular distinction though he lived on till 1967.
Friday, November 20, 2015
Thursday, November 19, 2015
2001 (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) for missed prognostications. Yet despite this, and even more despite the great advances in special effects technology, this 33-year-old movie hardly feels dated. That's because it isn't over-infatuated with the technological whiz-bang of so many sci-fi films, especially since the advances in CGI. Its effects, supervised by the great Douglas Trumbull, have the solidity and tactility so often missing in CGI work, because they're very much in service of the vision of production designer Laurence G. Paull, art director David L. Snyder, and especially "visual futurist" Syd Mead. But more especially because they're in service of the humanity whose very questionable nature is the point of Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples's adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It also helps that the film has a terrific cast. Harrison Ford can't help bringing a bit of Han Solo and Indiana Jones to every movie, but it's entirely appropriate here -- one time when a star image doesn't fight the script. Rutger Hauer's death scene is memorable, and even Sean Young, a problematic actress at best, comes off well. (I think it's because when we first see her, she's dressed and coiffed like a drag-queen Joan Crawford, so that when she literally lets her hair down she takes on a softness we're not accustomed to from her.) And then there's the enigmatic origamist Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, and especially Joanna Cassidy, who manages to achieve poignancy even wearing a transparent plastic raincoat. I only wish that HBO would scrap its print of the "voice-over" version of the film, with Ford's sporadic narrative and the happy ending demanded by Warner Bros., and show director Scott's 2007 "Final Cut" version instead.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which means that out of 154 reviews surveyed by the site, 149 of them were favorable. That gives it a higher rating on the Tomatometer than No Country for Old Men (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2007) which won the best picture Oscar the same year that Once just took home the Oscar for best original song ("Falling Slowly"). It's also a better ranking than last year's critical hit and Oscar winner Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu), and is right on par with the current critical favorite, Spotlight (Tom McCarthy). Once currently has a 7.9 ranking (on a scale of 10), and is the 1,651st most popular film of all time. I mention all this because we seem to have gone a little crazy with critical ranking systems. Sometimes films come along that capture critics' hearts because they are simpler and don't mount an assault on the senses that the effects-laden blockbusters the critics are obligated to watch do, which is why Once succeeds for them. But is Once a great picture just because it asks less of a viewer? Criticism today is part consumer guide and part serious analysis. So as a consumer guide, I would have no hesitation recommending Once to anyone who asked if I'd seen anything good lately, but it's a nice little movie that does nothing challenging to its viewers, which is why I will probably have forgotten it by the time someone gets around to asking me that question. On the other hand, I would hesitate to recommend to just anyone some of the movies I've watched lately that will stick with me for a long time -- I mean films like A Man Escaped, Andrei Rublev, Fists in the Pocket, Jeanne Dielman, Leviathan, or Mamma Roma.
Monday, November 16, 2015
Sunday, November 15, 2015
|Norma Shearer meets Norma Shearer in Lady of the Night|
A Lady of Chance (Robert Z. Leonard, 1928)
Saturday, November 14, 2015
Friday, November 13, 2015
|John Sims, age 12 (Johnny Downs), learns of his father's death.|
|A skyscraper echoes the stairwell scene in The Crowd.|
|The insurance office in The Crowd.|
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Still Alice. Both contain extraordinary female performances: Julianne Moore won an Oscar for the latter and Julie Christie was nominated for the former -- she lost to Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose (Olivier Dahan). Of the two films, I think Away From Her is superior, in large part because its screenplay (by Polley, who was also nominated for writing it) has a strong source: Alice Munro's story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." It also has a remarkable supporting cast: Much of the movie is carried by Gordon Pinsent, a Canadian actor not well known enough in the States, as Grant Anderson, whose wife of 40-plus years, Fiona (Christie), insists on being institutionalized when the symptoms of the disease become too pronounced. But he is not allowed to see her for 30 days after she enters the nursing home: It's explained to him that the patients need time to adjust to their new surroundings, but a sympathetic nurse (Deanna Dezmari) suggests that this policy is more for the convenience of the staff than for the patients. I don't know if it's an actual policy in nursing homes for Alzheimer's patients, but it proves disastrous for Grant because by the time he is able to see Fiona again, she has formed an attachment, perhaps as more caregiver than lover, to a fellow patient, Aubrey (Michael Murphy), and treats Grant as if he's an acquaintance she can't quite place. It's an interesting if somewhat contrived situation, especially when Grant seeks out Aubrey's wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis), who not only resents the relationship of Aubrey and Fiona but also removes him from the nursing home to care for him herself, partly because she is unable to cover the expenses. Dukakis gives a fine, astringent performance as the initially hostile Marian. ("What a jerk!" she says after Grant visits her.) It helps to undercut the drift toward sentimentality that could so easily swamp such a movie. Christie is, as always, impossibly beautiful, and her careful delineation of Fiona's initial distress and disorientation, and her eventual decline, is easily as good as Moore's in Still Alice. I have the same reservations about Away From Her that I did about that film: that Alzheimer's is portrayed as a problem particularly hard on affluent, educated white people, though this movie does touch on the financial difficulties that apparently even Canadians face because of it.