Monday, October 31, 2016
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Saturday, October 29, 2016
has said that he named his protagonist Oh Dae-su as a near homonym for Oedipus, who shared a similar fate when he discovered the truth, but Oldboy is closer to Saw (James Wan, 2004) than to Sophocles. Nevertheless, Oldboy has provocative things to say about guilt and revenge, and Choi's performance as the abused and haunted Dae-su is superb. Ji-tae Yu is suavely menacing as the villain, and Hye-jeong Kang is touching as Mi-do, who aids Dae-su in his quest. The often startlingly grungy production design is by Seong-hie Ryu and the cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung. There is a stunningly accomplished long take in the middle of the film in which the camera follows Dae-su as he single-handedly battles an army of opponents in a hallway that stretches across the wide screen like a frieze on the entablature of a temple. For once, however, a tour-de-force display of cinema technique doesn't overwhelm the rest of the film.
Friday, October 28, 2016
Thursday, October 27, 2016
the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, which had no fewer than five directors, including John Huston.) Why has the series not run its course by now? It has survived regular cast changes, including its central character, who has been played by six different actors: The current Bond, Daniel Craig, had not even been born when the first film in the series, Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962), premiered. Even recurring characters have been recast: M, Miss Moneypenny, and Q have each been played by five actors, and M underwent a change from male to female when Judi Dench took over the role in GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, 1995), though the part reverted to male (Ralph Fiennes) at the end of Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012). Yet the series has retained a reassuring familiarity, even to the point of typically beginning with a spectacular action sequence that almost certainly can't be topped in the remaining parts of the film. In Spectre, Bond is in Mexico City, where he shoots a bad guy, setting off an explosion that has him scrambling to escape from the building's collapsing façade, then chases another bad guy escaping from the rubble onto a helicopter, on which they struggle for control as it careens wildly over the crowds celebrating the Day of the Dead in the Zócalo. Then come the credits and another Bond-film staple, the thematic pop song: This one, "Writing's on the Wall," sung by Sam Smith, who co-wrote it with Jimmy Napes, won an Oscar. And then it's down to the usual business: chastisement by M (Fiennes), gadgets by Q (Ben Whishaw), and pursuit of the villains seeking control of the world. In Spectre there are two: One, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), is trying to take over control of intelligence services all over the world, while the other is a familiar figure from earlier Bond films, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who is in cahoots with Denbigh. (Blofeld, who had been a regular supervillain in the Sean Connery era, was absent from the Bond films after 1983 because of copyright litigation that was settled before Spectre, which takes its title from Blofeld's global criminal organization, was filmed.) There are also vodka martinis, shaken not stirred, to be quaffed, and "Bond girls" to be bedded -- although in recent years, Bond's sex life has become less wildly promiscuous and the women have become more complex characters. In Spectre, one of them, Madeleine Swann, is played by Léa Seydoux, a more than capable actress who sometimes seems to be fighting against the limitations of the role, trying to make Madeleine a more interesting figure than the screenplay allows. So to return to the original question: Why do we still gravitate to the Bond films when there are more novel action-adventures to be had? The series has been so frequently imitated -- Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible movies are virtually indistinguishable in formula from Bond films -- that maybe imitation suggests the answer: We crave the familiar, but we also relish the small surprises when the formula is tweaked. In Spectre, for example, M, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q all get out of the office and into the field for a change. Spectre is not quite as satisfying an outing as Skyfall, and there are signs of fatigue in Craig's performance, suggesting that his term as Bond has run its course -- though he has reportedly signed on for the next one. But longevity can be its own reward: We have become so comfortable with the formula that it still excites people to speculate about the next James Bond -- Tom Hiddleston? Idris Elba?
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
if not to the medical and scientific communities -- that the weight of the soul was approximately three-quarters of an ounce, or 21 grams. I suspect that Arriaga and Iñárritu meant the allusion to this bit of nonsense metaphorically, but it doesn't come off that way. By the end of the film, we are so weighed down with the misery of its protagonists that it feels like sheer bathos. This is not to say that 21 Grams is a total loss as a film. Iñarritu is one of our most celebrated contemporary directors, with back-to-back Oscars for Birdman (2014) and The Revenant (2015) to prove it. I just don't think he's found himself yet, but has become too caught up in narrative gimmicks that prevent him from delivering a completely satisfying film. There is much in 21 Grams to admire: The performances of Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, and Melissa Leo are as fine as their reputations suggest they would be. The narrative tricks are done with great skill, especially with the aid of cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who uses color to make each of the narrative segments distinct from the others, so that when the film cuts from one to another, the viewer feels better oriented. And there's no denying the emotional impact of the film as a whole. It could hardly be otherwise, given the pain suffered by the protagonists: Cristina (Watts), who lost her husband and her two little girls; Jack (Del Toro), the ex-con who accidentally killed them and believes that it was all because Jesus wanted it to happen; and Paul (Penn), who finds his chance at a new life marred by knowledge that it was at the expense of other people's happiness. But in the end, all of this suffering is off-loaded onto us without any compensatory feeling of having been enlightened by it.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Monday, October 24, 2016
Sunday, October 23, 2016
Saturday, October 22, 2016
|The Belshazzar's Feast set for Intolerance|
|Edwin Long, The Babylonian Marriage Market, 1875.|
Friday, October 21, 2016
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert or Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck would have played it. Bracken, however, is wonderful, as are Demarest, Steele, Walburn, and other members of Sturges's usual crew of brilliant character actors, including Franklin Pangborn as the harried planner of the celebration and Jimmy Conlin as the town judge. This was, sadly, the last film Sturges made under his Paramount contract, which he ended because of studio interference during the making of the movie. It objected, perhaps rightly, to Ella Raines's lack of star power, but also took the film out of Sturges's hands and edited it. After a couple of disastrous previews of the studio version, however, Sturges was called back in for rewrites and some new scenes. The revised Sturges version was a hit, and earned him an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
inconsistent in tone" or its "melancholy, despairing tone" or its "shifts in tone." But ask us -- or, anyway, me -- what we mean by the term, and you may get a lot of stammering and hesitation. Even my old copy of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics falls back on calling it "an intangible quality ... like a mood in a human being." So when I say that Madame de... is a masterwork in its manipulation of tone, you have to take that observation as a kind of awestruck, slightly inarticulate response to a film that begins in farce and ends in tragedy. The American title of the film was The Earrings of Madame de..., but to my mind that puts the emphasis on what is, in effect, merely a MacGuffin. The earrings were given to Countess Louise de... (Danielle Darrieux) by her husband, General André de... (Charles Boyer), on their wedding day. (Their full surname is coyly hidden throughout the film: A sound blots out the latter part of the name when it is spoken, and it is hidden by a flower when it appears on a place card at a banquet. The effect is rather like a newspaper gossip column trying to avoid a libel suit when reporting a scandal among the aristocracy.) The scandal is set in motion when Louise, a flirtatious woman with many admirers, decides to sell the earrings to pay off the debts she wants to hide from André. Their marriage has obviously come to a pause: Though they remain affectionate with each other, they have separate bedrooms and at night they talk to each other through doors that open on a connecting room. Louise takes the earrings to the jeweler (Jean Debucourt) from whom André originally purchased them. But when she tries to persuade André that she lost them at the opera and the "theft" is reported in the newspapers, the jeweler tries to sell them back to the general. To put an end to the business, André pays for them, then presents them to his mistress, Lola (Lia Di Leo), as a parting gift: Their affair over, she is leaving for Constantinople. There, Lola gambles them away, but they are bought by an Italian diplomat, Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica), who is on his way to a posting in Paris. And of course Donati meets Louise, they fall in love, and he presents the earrings to her as a gift. Recognizing them, she has no recourse but to hide them, but they will resurface with fatal results. How Max Ophuls gradually shades this plot from a situation suited to a Feydeau farce into a poignant conclusion is a part of the film's magic. It depends to a great extent on the superb performances of Darrieux, Boyer, and De Sica, but also on Ophuls's typically restless camera, handled -- as in Ophuls's La Ronde (1950), Le Plaisir (1952), and Lola Montès (1955) -- by cinematographer Christian Matras, as it explores Jean d'Eaubonne's elegant fin de siècle sets. Much depends, too, on the film editor, Borys Lewin, who helps Ophuls accomplish one of the movies' great tours de force, following Louise and Donati as they dance what appears to be an extended waltz but gradually shows itself to be several waltzes taking place over the period of time in which they fall in love. It's a cinematic showpiece, but it's fully integrated into what has to be one of the great movies.
Monday, October 17, 2016
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002), or thinly fictionalized accounts drawn from personal experience, like Louis Malle's in Au Revoir les Enfants (1987). Jeremy Podeswa's Fugitive Pieces, adapted by the director from a novel by Anne Michaels, is one of those films that are almost swamped by the historical actuality of the Holocaust; it takes as its subject the experience of "survivor guilt." Its fictional protagonist, Jakob Beer (played as a child by Robbie Kay and as a man by Stephen Dillane), escapes from the Nazis but loses his family. He is rescued by Athos Roussos (Rade Serbedzija), a Greek archaeologist who was working in Poland on a dig and discovered Jakob hiding in the woods. Somehow -- the film is unclear on exactly how -- Athos smuggles Jakob out of Poland to his home in Greece, and after the war the two emigrate to Canada, where Athos has been invited to teach. Jakob grows up haunted by his childhood trauma, and his first marriage, to a woman named Alex (Rosamund Pike), ends when she reads his journals and discovers what a barrier Jakob's experiences have created between them. Jakob is particularly tormented by the loss of his sister, Bella (Nina Dobrev), a talented musician, who often appears in his dreams. Even after publishing a book about his life, Jakob doesn't fully overcome the past until after the death of Athos, whose wisdom he comes to appreciate with the help of another woman, Michaela (Ayelet Zurer). There is a subplot involving the Jewish couple across the hall from Athos and Jakob in Canada, whose son, Ben (Ed Stoppard), grows up hating his father, a Holocaust survivor, for his harshness: The father, for example, berates Ben for not finishing the apple he has been eating, reminding him how grateful people in the camps would have been for the food. Despite excellent performances from everyone, the film sinks too often into sentimentality and stereotypes: Serbedzija's performance is a standout, but he can't overcome the fact that Athos, though a university professor, is presented as too much the wise and kindly peasant-sage, preaching the value of ties to the earth. There are some major gaps in the narrative, like the journey from Poland to Greece, and some overall shapelessness, and the ending is much too pat.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Much has been made of a perceived subtext of the film, based in part on the knowledge that its director, James Whale, and Thesiger were openly gay, and it's possible to see the plight of the monster (Boris Karloff) as analogous to that of the gays of their time, subject to ridicule and repression from a hostile society. In this reading, Whale and Thesiger adopt camp attitudes as a way of thumbing their noses at a hostile, uncomprehending society. But that's an unnecessarily reductive interpretation. The monster is the ultimate outsider, an anomalous and inarticulate being, whatever his sexuality. He briefly finds companionship in the blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) who begins to teach him to speak -- including the word "friend" -- but their relationship is doomed by the intrusion of the world of ordinary humans, a world he can never be part of. In the end, when the mate (Elsa Lanchester) who has been created for him rejects him, his only recourse is self-destruction. "We belong dead!" the monster proclaims. To see Bride of Frankenstein as some sort of parable about gays in society would then be an endorsement of suicide as the only option. Subtexts often reside only in the mind of the beholder, and Whale was too much of an artist to turn his film into any kind of message, however latent in the fantastic tale he is telling. Better instead to relish Karloff's ability to give a subtle performance that shows through pounds of makeup. Or Lanchester's remarkable control and timing in bringing the bride to life, including the squawks and hisses that she claimed to have developed by watching swans in the park. Or John J. Mescall's classic black-and-white cinematography, Charles D. Hall's set designs, and Franz Waxman's score. Yes, Colin Clive and Valerie Hobson are a most improbable couple as the Frankensteins. Clive was far gone into alcoholism and looks it, but nobody could have delivered the line "She's alive! Alive!" more memorably.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
|Raphael Fejtö and Gaspard Manesse in Au Revoir les Enfants|
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
This story about an Irish girl's coming of age has the strong whiff of traditional movie storytelling about it. And that's what makes it so entirely satisfying: It fulfills the need we often feel to be reassured about the stability of familiar things. But it also serves to support its theme, which is that nostalgia can be a trap, or to put it in a phrase that has become a cliché: You can't go home again. Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) feels stifled in her small Irish town, overshadowed by her pretty and accomplished sister, Rose (Fiona Glascott), and bullied by her vicious, hypocritical employer, Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan), so she decides to go to America. Helped by her church, she gets a room in a Brooklyn boarding house and a job in a department store, gradually loses her shyness and reserve, and falls in love with a sweet-natured young Italian American, Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen). But when Rose dies suddenly, Eilis returns to Enniscorthy to see her mother and stays long enough to be courted by a young man, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), and to begin to see the town in a very different light. The time approaches when she is scheduled to return to America, and she finds herself torn between not just Tony and Jim, but also the small but familiar comforts of the town and a promising but uncertain future in America. She also has a secret that she hasn't shared with anyone, but which the vicious Miss Kelly learns through the Irish-American grapevine. That this dilemma should play itself out with such freshness is a tribute to John Crowley's direction and Nick Hornby's adaptation of Colm Tóibín's novel, but also in very large part to a brilliant performance by Ronan. It's the kind of understated acting that sometimes gets overlooked among performances that chew the scenery with more fervor, but it earned Ronan a well-deserved Oscar nomination. It has to be said that she is supported by splendid performances by Cohen and Gleeson, with Ronan demonstrating a different kind of rapport with each actor. A quiet triumph, but a triumph nevertheless.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Clarence Brown in 1935 and Julien Duvivier in 1948: the neglect of the half of the novel that deals with Konstantin Levin. Domhnall Gleeson, the Levin of Wright's film, is hardly the Levin Tolstoy describes as "strongly built, broad-shouldered," but Gleeson seems to know what the character is about. And he's beautifully matched with Alicia Vikander, who gives another knockout performance as Kitty. Wright and Stoppard use their story as an effective foil for the obsessive, careless love of Anna (Keira Knightley) and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). That it's only part of Levin's function in Tolstoy's novel, which gives us a view of Russian reform politics and social structure through Levin's eyes, just goes to show that you can't have everything when you're trying to adapt literature to a medium it isn't quite suited for. Wright has also cast brilliantly. As Karenin, Jude Law elicits sympathy for a character that can easily be reduced to a stock villain, as when Basil Rathbone played him in 1935. I also liked Matthew Macfadyen as Oblonsky, Anna's womanizing brother, and it's fun to see Macfadyen and Knightley together in completely different roles from Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, whom they played in Wright's 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. As Anna, Knightley sometimes looks a bit too much like a gaunt fashion model in the Oscar-winning costumes by Jacqueline Durran, and Taylor-Johnson lays on the preening a bit too much in his bedroom-eyed Vronsky, but they have real chemistry together. Seamus McGarvey's Oscar-nominated cinematography makes the most of Sarah Greenwood's production design. But the decision to film the story partly as as if it were being staged in some impossible, dreamlike theater, but also partly realistically, goes astray. It begins as if it were a comedy, with the philandering Oblonsky sneaking around from his wife both onstage and backstage. And throughout the film, reversions from realistic settings to the theater keep jarring the overall tone. There are occasionally some spectacular uses of the set, as when the horses in Vronsky's race run across a proscenium stage, and in his accident, horse and rider plunge off the stage. Here and elsewhere, Greenwood's design is extraordinarily ingenious. But the theater trope -- all the world's a stage? -- never resolves itself into anything thematically satisfying.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Saturday, October 8, 2016
His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1941), to the distinguished, gentlemanly, but sometimes sinister character in films like Trading Places (John Landis, 1983) and Pretty Woman (Garry Marshall, 1990). It's also good to see other veteran actors -- Sidney Blackmer, Elisha Cook Jr., and even that well-cured ham Maurice Evans -- doing fine ensemble work. Richard Sylbert's production design makes the most of the spooky gothic apartment house -- the exteriors are of the Dakota, but the interiors are sets. And Krzysztof Komeda, who had worked with Polanski in Poland, provides a score that's atmospheric without being overstated -- until it needs to be.
Friday, October 7, 2016
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
told Peter Bogdanovich that Frank Lloyd Wright, who was Anne Baxter's grandfather, visited the set and hated it: It was precisely the kind of domestic architecture that he had spent his career trying to eliminate, which, as Welles said, was "the whole point" of the design. As for the performances, Agnes Moorehead received a supporting actress nomination, the first of four in her career, for playing the spinster aunt, Fanny Minafer. She's superb, especially in the "kitchen scene," a single long take in which her nephew, George (Tim Holt), scarfs down strawberry shortcake as she worms out of him the information that Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten) has renewed his courting of George's widowed mother, Isabel (Dolores Costello), which is especially painful for Fanny, who had hopes of attracting Eugene herself. Holt, an underrated actor, holds his own here and elsewhere -- he is, after all, the central character, the spoiled child whose selfishness ruins the chances for happiness of so many of the film's characters. We can mourn the loss of Welles's cinematic flourishes that were apparently cut from the film, but to my mind the chief loss is the effective integration of the theme initiated when Eugene, who has made his fortune developing the automobile, admits that the industrial progress it represents "may be a step backward in civilization" and that automobiles are "going to alter war and they're going to alter peace." Welles was speaking from his own life, as Patrick McGilligan observes in his book Young Orson. Welles's father, Dick Welles, had been involved in developing automobile headlights -- the very thing in which Fanny invests and loses her inheritance -- and was the proud driver of the first automobile on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Welles's home town. The Magnificent Ambersons would have been much richer if Welles had been able to make the statement about the automobile that he later told Bogdanovich was central to his concept of the film.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
|Rory Cochrane and Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused|
Monday, October 3, 2016
Bombshell (1933), which alludes to the Hays Office's concerns about Red Dust. John Lee Mahin was screenwriter on both films, though some of the better lines in Red Dust were contributed by the uncredited Donald Ogden Stewart. The movie is marred only for today's viewers by some period racism: the colonialist attitude toward the native laborers as "lazy" and the giggling Chinese houseboy played by Willie Fung.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Saturday, October 1, 2016
All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950) and Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine for The Turning Point (Herbert Ross, 1977). That none of the six won may suggest that they split the votes: In the case of Hepburn and Taylor, the winner was Simone Signoret for Room at the Top (Jack Clayton). Pardon this excursion into Oscar trivia, but I think it says something about the film that these two performances are the most memorable thing about it -- and not always for the right reasons. The only other nomination it received was for the art direction and set decoration of Oliver Messel, William Kellner, and Scott Slimon. There were none for Joseph L. Mankiewicz's direction or for the screenplay credited to Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams. In fact, Williams had nothing to do with the film, and according to John Lahr's fine biography, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, he later called it "an abortion." It was Vidal, then, who accomplished the task of expanding Williams's one-act play into a two-hour film. What Vidal and Mankiewicz actually accomplish is a kind of parody of Williams's style at its most florid. They take the film beyond the play's single setting in the jungle-like hothouse and dilute and dissipate the intensity of the play's great scenes for Catherine and Mrs. Venable (Hepburn). Vidal himself regretted the decision to film the attack on Sebastian, which in the play is only described by Catherine, but it's likely that producer Sam Spiegel insisted on showing Taylor in her revealing white bathing suit. Hepburn at this point in her career couldn't help being a collection of familiar mannerisms -- the haughty head-tilt, the reedy vocal production -- but she holds the screen like no other actress. Taylor, however, fails to evoke Catherine's vulnerability and she begins her great final narrative on too high a pitch, then has to sustain it to the point of shrillness. Montgomery Clift, as the doctor who tries to resist Mrs. Venable's attempt to eradicate Catherine's memories with a lobotomy, is clearly a damaged man, suffering the effects of alcohol and drugs after his near-fatal car crash in 1956, but Taylor was insistent on casting him, over Mankiewicz's objections, which continued well into filming. Taylor and Hepburn both mothered him, and they resented Mankiewicz's sometimes harsh treatment, to the point that, according to several accounts, when Hepburn finished her final scene she spat at the director. For a glimpse at what Suddenly, Last Summer can be in other hands, check out the 1993 BBC version of the play with Maggie Smith (an actress with her own distinct mannerisms who knows how to use them in service of the character) and an astonishing performance by Natasha Richardson.