Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Monday, December 26, 2016
In the Mood for Love (2000), Wong is dealing with characters on the brink of an uncertain future, but with a much lighter touch than the later film. The performances are uniformly fine. Faye Wong, a Hong Kong pop star, brings the quirky character of the young Shirley MacLaine to her role, but with a much greater fragility. Like MacLaine, she has been unfairly labeled with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype. The extraordinary cinematography is by Christopher Doyle and Wai-Keung Lau.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Friday, December 23, 2016
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
*MGM did the same thing to Thorold Dickinson's 1940 film of Gaslight when it made its own version, directed by George Cukor, in 1944, but didn't succeed in either case.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Nine Old Men at Disney -- which was also the last film Walt Disney supervised before his death. That version isn't generally regarded as in the first rank of Disney films anyway; it's mostly remembered for the peppy vocal performances of the songs "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You" by Phil Harris and Louis Prima respectively. The new version dazzles with its creation of a credible CGI jungle filled with realistic CGI animals, and with some fine voiceover work by Bill Murray as the bear Baloo, Ben Kingsley as the panther Bagheera, Scarlett Johansson as the python Kaa, and especially Idris Elba as the villain, the tiger Shere Khan. It's remarkable to me that Elba, one of the handsomest and most charismatic of actors, has lately done work in which he's heard but not seen: He's also unseen in Zootopia (Byron Howard and Rich Moore, 2016). But then the same thing is true of the beautiful Lupita Nyong'o, whose voice is heard in The Jungle Book as the mother wolf Raksha, just as it was heard as the gnomelike Maz Kanata in Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, 2015). Neel Sethi, this version's Mowgli, is the only live-action actor we see, and he displays a remarkable talent in a performance that took place mostly before a green screen -- puppets stood in for the animals before CGI replaced them. The screenplay by Justin Marks is darker than the 1967 film, and it successfully generates plausible actions for its realistic animal characters. But I think it was a mistake to carry over the songs from the original film, partly because Bill Murray and Christopher Walken (as King Louie, the Gigantopithecus ruler of the apes) are not the equal of Harris and Prima as singers, but also because the animals for which they provide voices are made to move rhythmically -- as a substitute for dancing -- in ways that don't quite suit realistic animals. Director Jon Favreau has also slipped in an allusion to Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) in his introduction of King Louie, lurking in the shadows of a ruined jungle temple like Marlon Brando's Kurtz.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Friday, December 16, 2016
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
|Striking miners in Salt of the Earth|
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Heaven's Gate, Michael Cimino's film that took down a venerable production force, United Artists, along with its director. Coppola's career, unlike Cimino's, would recover, but he would never again be the director he was in his prime, with the first two Godfather films. And American filmmaking would never again be as prone to take risks as it was in the 1970s. As for the film itself, Apocalypse Now remains one of the essential American movies if only because it epitomizes the nightmare that was the Vietnam War. Coppola deserves much of the credit for this embodiment of Lord Acton's familiar dictum: "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." But there are others who should share the credit with him, including screenwriters John Milius and Michael Herr, who made the connection between Joseph Conrad's tale of imperialism gone wrong, Heart of Darkness, and the war. The ambience of the film is largely the work of Vittorio Storaro, who won a well-deserved Oscar for his cinematography, and Walter Murch and his team , who also won for sound. And while Marlon Brando's Kurtz is a disappointment and Martin Sheen never quite meets the demands of his role as Capt. Willard, they are surrounded by marvelous support from Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Dennis Hopper, and a very young and almost unrecognizable Laurence Fishburne (billed as Larry), among others.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
|Margarete Schön as Kriemhild|
|Hanna Ralph as Brunnhild|
|Paul Richter as Siegfried|
|Hans Adalbert Schlettow as Hagen|
Friday, December 9, 2016
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Sunday, December 4, 2016
Although it's often called the greatest of all screwball comedies, to my mind Bringing Up Baby transcends that label: It's the finest example I know of a nonsense comedy. Screwball comedies like My Man Godfrey (Gregory La Cava, 1936) and Nothing Sacred (William A. Wellman, 1937) usually have one foot in the real world -- the Depression and its Hoovervilles in the case of the former, exploitation journalism in the latter. Bringing Up Baby exists only in a universe where an impossible thing like an "intercostal clavicle"* could exist. Its world is a place where nobody listens to anyone else and everyone seems to be marching to their own drummer. It's what puts Bringing Up Baby in the sublime company of Lewis Carroll's works or James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Fortunately it's more accessible than the latter and at least as much fun as the former. Nonsense is harder to bring off on film than in literature. Cinema by nature is a documentary medium -- one that's assumed to be recording reality -- and has less flexibility than words do. It's also a collaborative medium, which means that everyone involved in writing, directing, and acting in it has to be on the same wave length, or the whole thing will collapse like a soufflé with too many cooks. That's why Bringing Up Baby is almost sui generis: The only other movies that approach the sublimity of its nonsense are some of the ones with the Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields. Even Howard Hawks once admitted that he thought he had gone too far in crafting a comedy with "no normal people in it." Nevertheless, the soufflé continues to rise, thanks in very large part to Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, whose four movies together -- the other three were directed by George Cukor: Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Holiday (1938), and The Philadelphia Story (1940) -- seem to me to demonstrate a more potent teaming than the more iconic one of Hepburn with Spencer Tracy. And then there's the sine qua non of the screwball comedy, a supporting cast of character players like Charles Ruggles, Walter Catlett, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson, and Fritz Feld. The screenplay was put together by Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde, from a magazine story by Wilde that Hawks bought and then with their help -- and doubtless much ad-libbing from the cast -- revised out of all recognition. I only hope that whoever came up with the phrase "intercostal clavicle," which Grant delivers with such delight in its rhythms, received a bonus.
*In case you've never thought to look it up, "intercostal" means "between the ribs" and usually refers to the muscles and spaces in the ribcage. The clavicle, or collarbone, sits atop the ribs and therefore can't be between them.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Raising Arizona (1987), and Miller's Crossing (1990) -- shows a certain amount of courage. It's a curious melange of satire, horror movie, comedy, thriller, fantasy, and fable that had many critics singing its praises. It was their first film to receive notice from the Motion Picture Academy, earning three Oscar nominations: supporting actor Michael Lerner, art directors Dennis Gassner and Nancy Haigh, and costume designer Richard Hornung. And it was the unanimous choice for the Palme d'Or at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival; Joel Coen also won as best director and John Turturro as best actor. Evidently it took everyone by surprise. But I have to admit that although it's a provocative and unsettling movie, I don't much care for it. There's not enough of any one element in the melange to suggest to me that it's anything other than the work of a couple of extraordinarily talented writer-directors riffing on whatever comes to their minds. Barton (Turturro) is a playwright whose hit on Broadway in 1941 gets him a bid to come work in Hollywood. There, studio head Jack Lipnick (Lerner) assigns him to write a wrestling picture for Wallace Beery. Stymied in his attempt to come up with a screenplay, Barton decides to pick the brain of a famous novelist who has also come to work in Hollywood, W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney). The playwright, the studio head, and the novelist are all caricatures of Clifford Odets, Louis B. Mayer, and William Faulkner, respectively. To my mind, this real-world reference point throws the film off center. Each caricature is well-done: What we see of Barton's play is a deft parody of the Odets-style leftist "little people" dramas like Waiting for Lefty and Awake and Sing! that Odets was known for. Lipnick is a rich, sentimental vulgarian with a mean streak, who like Mayer was born in Minsk. And Mayhew not only goes by the name "Bill," as Faulkner did among his friends and family, he also has a wife back home named Estelle, just as Faulkner did. Moreover, he is an alcoholic who is looked after in Hollywood by his mistress, Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis), who is clearly based on Faulkner's Hollywood mistress, Meta Carpenter. But then we have the turns into horror-fantasy when Barton tries to hole up in a Los Angeles hotel and makes friends with his next-door neighbor, an insurance salesman named Charlie Meadows (John Goodman). Good-time Charlie is later revealed to be a serial killer named Karl Mundt -- another of the Coens' in-jokes, I think: The real-life Karl Mundt was a right-wing dunce who represented South Dakota (neighbor state to the Coens' Minnesota) in Washington from 1939 to 1973. Clearly, Barton Fink is not without a certain baroque fascination to it. It's the kind of film you can spend hours analyzing and annotating. And this makes it, for me, little more than a fabulous mess.
Friday, December 2, 2016
This is what I watched on election night once it became apparent that the votes might take the depressing direction they eventually did. Better a lovable con man like W.C. Fields than a real-life flamboyant fraud, thought I. Fields is Egbert Sousé (the accent is aigu, not grave, as he insists), ne'er-do-well paterfamilias of a dysfunctional household, who escapes from his nagging wife (Cora Witherspoon) and mother-in-law (Jessie Ralph) and his horrid daughters Myrtle (Una Merkel) and Elsie Mae (Evelyn Del Rio) to the corner saloon as well as a brief stint as a movie director that somehow leads to his employment as a detective in the local bank. (Honestly, never try to summarize the plot of one of Fields's movies.) It's all inspired, slightly surreal nonsense, adorned by characters with names like Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton), J. Pinkerton Snoopington (Franklin Pangborn), and A. Pismo Clam (Jack Norton). All I can say is that it made me laugh when I felt like crying.
A rather muddled and unsatisfactory account of the domestic life of James Joyce (Ewan McGregor) and Nora Barnacle (Susan Lynch), adapted by Murphy and Gerard Stembridge from Brenda Maddox's excellent biography, Nora. There's not enough narrative drive in this account of their lives up to the publication of Dubliners. Mostly the film deals with the squabblings of the pair, who while mismatched intellectually seemed to have a kind of irresistible attraction to each other. The movie seems aimed at viewers with a ready knowledge of Joyce's life and work, especially the cultural and familial pressures that drove him into a life of exile from Ireland, but anyone who already possesses that knowledge is likely to be left frustrated by what appears on screen. Lynch is excellent in the title role, but McGregor never penetrates to the essence of the brilliant, self-tormenting genius of Joyce.
Like his Harakiri (1962), Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion has a theatrical, almost Shakespearean quality and is sharply critical of the samurai code of honor. Toshiro Mifune plays Isaburo, a samurai whose son Yogoro (Go Kato) is ordered to marry the concubine Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa) of the daimyo of the clan he serves. Yogoro is reluctant, partly because Ichi has a son by the daimyo, but eventually they fall in love. Unfortunately, the daimyo's older son dies, making Ichi's child the heir, and she is ordered to return to his household. The ensuing rebellion against the daimyo's order proves calamitous for all concerned. The beautifully committed performances by all concerned heighten the story's tragic drive. The film's English title was apparently designed to convince Western audiences that they were going to see a conventional samurai film, whereas it's really a story about the heroism of Ichi, giving a distinctly feminist spin to the genre.