Tuesday, January 31, 2017
The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960), The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich, 1967), and even The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969). And it's well to remember how all of those films were once criticized for excessive violence and The Wild Bunch was once threatened with an NC-17 rating. None of them contained anything like the violence of The Hateful Eight, which is visited on all of the characters, but most memorably on the one woman among the eight: Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is subjected to torrents of blood, vomit, and blown-out brains along with repeated blows to the face and a final drawn-out hanging. Writer-director Quentin Tarantino and his defenders excuse the excess of violence by arguing that his cinematic violence is a metaphor for racial and sexual violence in America and an expression of the revenge mentality that undermines the due administration of justice. As Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) argues in the film, "dispassion is the very essence of justice. For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice." That Mobray is using this argument to forestall any actual dispassionate justice meted out to him only reinforces its irony -- a kind of postmodern irony that some will argue tends to lead us into spirals of self-defeat. That's why Tarantino's films often feel so nihilistic, despite their wit and technical prowess. At more than three hours, The Hateful Eight is about an hour too long, which I think is a fatal flaw, considering that the suspense lags as the slow revelation of its plot twists emerges. The wait for the eruptions of violence that we know are coming produces a kind of prurience, but there is no cathartic release when they arrive. The movie is well-acted by Leigh, Roth, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Bruce Dern, and Michael Madsen as the eight, and Channing Tatum gives a remarkable performance in his late surprise appearance. The music by Ennio Morricone won a well-deserved, long overdue Oscar, and the cinematography by Robert Richardson makes the most of the shift from spectacular mountain scenery to the claustrophobic setting of the major part of the film. But Tarantino has settled into predictability, and I want him to show us something new.
Monday, January 30, 2017
Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950), which the film even imitates by having its before-the-credits title appear on a street sign. But writer-director David Lynch isn't out to parody the sources -- not entirely, anyway. What he is up to is harder to pinpoint. There's a part of me that thinks Lynch just wants to have fun -- a nasty kind of fun -- manipulating our responses. At the beginning, we're on to him in that regard: We laugh at the minimal conversation between the two detectives (Robert Forster and Brent Briscoe) at the crash site. We recognize the naive awe on the face of Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), as she arrives in Los Angeles, as a throwback to the old Hollywood musicals in which choruses of hopefuls arrive at the L.A. train station singing "Hooray for Hollywood!" (Has anyone ever been inspired to sing and dance when arriving at LAX?) We're delighted by the appearance of Ann Miller as the landlady, just as later we identify Lee Grant, Chad Everett, and even Billy Ray Cyrus in their cameos. Even the seemingly disjointed scenes -- the director, Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), is bullied by the Castiglianes (Dan Hedaya and the film's composer, Angelo Badalamenti), or a man (Patrick Fischler) recounts his nightmare at a restaurant called Winkie's, or a hit man (Mark Pellegrino) murders three people -- are standard thriller stuff, designed to keep us guessing -- though at that point, having seen this sort of thing in films by Quentin Tarantino and others, we feel confident that everything will fit together. And then, suddenly, it doesn't. Betty vanishes and Diane Selwyn (Watts), whom we have thought dead, is alive. The amnesia victim known as Rita (Laura Harring) is now Camilla Rhodes, the movie star that Betty wanted to be, and Diane, Camilla's former lover, wants to kill her. It's such a complete overthrow of conventional narrative that there are really only two basic responses, neither of them quite sufficient: One is to dismiss the film as a wacked-out experiment in playing with the audience -- "a load of moronic and incoherent garbage," in the words of Rex Reed -- or to try to assimilate it into some coherent and consistent scheme, like the theory that the first two-thirds of the film are the disillusioned Diane Selwyn's dream-fantasy of what her life might have been as the fresh and talented Betty. There is truth in both extremes: Lynch is playing with the audience, and he is portraying Los Angeles as a land of dreamers. But his film will never be forced into coherence, and it can't be entirely dismissed. I think it is some kind of great film -- the Sight & Sound critics poll in 2010 ranked it at No. 28 in the list of greatest films of all time -- but I also think it's self-indulgent and something of a dead end when it comes to narrative filmmaking. It has moments of sheer brilliance, including a performance by Watts that is superb, but they are moments in a somewhat annoying whole.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
About Elly (Asghar Farhadi). Perhaps the Coen brothers were still coasting on the acclaim and the Oscars they received for No Country for Old Men (2007), but A Serious Man seems to me a decidedly lesser work, too dependent on comic Jewish stereotypes -- the pot-smoking kid studying for his bar mitzvah, the sister saving for a nose job, the feckless uncle who hogs the bathroom, and so on. The protagonist, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a lesser, latter-day Job, whose "comforters" include some preoccupied, cliché-spouting rabbis whom Larry seeks out as he tries to deal with his troubles: His wife (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce so she can marry a widowed family friend (Fred Melamed); his freeloading brother (Richard Kind) keeps getting in trouble with the police; his bid for tenure as a physics professor is threatened by a student -- a stereotyped Asian -- who tries to slip him an envelope full of cash so Larry will change his grade; a gentile neighbor (Peter Breitmayer) seems to be displaying passive-aggressive hostility; a provocatively sexy neighbor (Amy Landecker) sunbathes naked while Larry is on the roof trying to adjust the TV antenna, and so on. He is plagued with nightmares in which all of these figures combine to torment him. The Coens seem to regard all of this as a kind of parable: They begin the film with their version of a Jewish folktale involving a man, his wife, and a dybbuk, and they end it with an approaching tornado -- is God going to speak out of the whirlwind? But the result, especially given the setting in 1960s suburbia, feels more like imitation Philip Roth. There's a lot to admire in the film, including Roger Deakins's cinematography, and some of the theological issues it raises are worth raising, but it left me with a sour feeling.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934) and Boudu Saved From Drowning (Jean Renoir, 1932) is something of a revelation, even if at the end of La Chienne he has become something like Boudu. But the entire film is a revelation: The second sound film by Renoir, it demonstrates an innovative mastery of what was essentially a new medium, one that even the Americans who claimed to have invented synchronized sound were still struggling with. Renoir -- with the help of sound technicians Denise Batcheff and Marcel Courmes -- creates an auditory ambience still rare in 1931, relying on dialogue and sound effects created on set and not in post-production. The most often-cited example is the rasp of the paper knife held by Lulu (Janie Marèse) as she cuts the pages of the book she's trying to read -- just before Legrand kills her with it. But the film is full of small auditory details like the squeaking of the shoes worn by the defense attorney (Sylvain Itkine) as he paces nervously back and forth before his doomed client, Dédé (Georges Flamant). But beyond the technical mastery, which also includes some brilliant camerawork by cinematographer Theodor Sparkuhl, the film is a tour de force of bitter irony, not least because Renoir keeps it from falling into sensationalism or unrelieved darkness. Legrand, initially the henpecked husband to a termagant (Magdeleine Bérubet), brings calamity to several lives, not only those of Lulu and Dédé, but also those of his wife and her supposedly dead ex-husband (Roger Gaillard). And yet, at the film's end he survives, not only unbroken but in many ways a stronger man than he was at the film's beginning. His story is framed as a puppet show with, as a puppet claims, "no moral message." But though Legrand commits fraud, adultery, and murder without receiving the official punishment of the law, the moral is aimed at those who scorned and abused him: Beware the worm who may turn and prove to be a viper.
Friday, January 27, 2017
North by Northwest (1959), but there with more integration into the plot; here the sinking car seems to be only a gimmick introduced to allow Hitchcock to play with suspense-building techniques. There's also a long tracking crane shot that gradually focuses in on the villain (George Curzon) with a give-away tic that anticipates the tracking shot in Notorious (1946) that ends up on the key in Ingrid Bergman's hand. Hitchcock also uses Young and Innocent to exploit his well-known fear of the police, this time by mocking them, as when two cops are forced to hitch a ride with a farmer hauling livestock in his cart: When they complain about how crowded the cart is, the farmer tells them it was only built for ten pigs. Otherwise, Young and Innocent is agreeably nonchalant about plot essentials: Why was Tisdall mentioned in the murdered woman's will? Why did everyone assume that when he ran for help after discovering her body he was actually fleeing the scene of the crime? Why does he flee from the courtroom instead of sticking around to plead his case? Why does Erica so swiftly believe in his innocence? The film is nonsense, but it's enjoyable nonsense if you turn off such questions and go along for the ride. The screenplay, loosely based on a novel by Josephine Tey, is credited to Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, and Anthony Armstrong, but I suspect it was much reworked by Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, who is credited with "continuity," to allow for the director's experiments in suspense.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
|Death (Bernhard Goetzke) and the Young Woman (Lil Dagover) in Der müde Tod|
Monday, January 23, 2017
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Saturday, January 21, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
Thursday, January 19, 2017
|Boris Plotnikov in The Ascent|
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophüls, 1969) was instructive, if a little bit unfair to François Truffaut's romantic backstage drama. The two films deal with the same milieu, France during World War II, but with such differing approaches that the stark devotion to ferreting out the truth in Ophüls's film makes Truffaut's dramatization of the plight of a Jewish theater owner and his company feel more glossy and sentimental than it perhaps really is. Truffaut, who was born in 1932, was only a boy during the war, so he can't be expected to have the kind of first-hand awareness of events that the adults pictured in his film possess. Consequently, his own preoccupation, the world of actors and directors, takes precedence in the film over the suffering people endured under the Nazis. He has admitted in interviews that The Last Métro is a kind of companion film to Day for Night (1973), his behind-the-camera account of making a movie. What he does recall is the theater -- in his case the movie theater rather than the legitimate stage -- was a kind of refuge from hardship, the hunger and cold brought about by wartime rationing. People gathered in theaters for communal warmth. The story is principally about an actress, Marion Steiner (Catherine Deneuve), who is trying to keep the theater that was run before the war by her husband, Lucas (Heinz Bennent), open. Lucas, who is Jewish, is rumored to have fled to America, but in fact he is hiding in the cellar of the theater while Marion, with the help of the rest of the regular company, stages a play. The director, Jean-Loup Cottins (Jean Poiret), is working from the notes Lucas made on the play before his disappearance. Cottins has his own dangerous secret: He's gay. A new leading man, Bernard Granger (Gérard Depardieu), joins the company, and inevitably a tension develops between him and Marion. Meanwhile, Lucas has figured out ways to listen in on rehearsals and make suggestions to Marion that she passes along to Cottins, who is unaware of Lucas's hiding place. Marion also has the difficulty of dealing with the authorities, who could close the theater at any moment, especially when the influential critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard), a collaborator with the Nazis, takes an interest in her and the play. What takes place on stage, namely the sexual tension between the characters played by Marion and Bernard, often mirrors what's happening backstage. The Last Métro is a well-crafted movie -- Truffaut wrote the screenplay with Suzanne Schiffman -- that was France's entry for the best foreign-film Oscar and won a raft of the French César Awards, including one for cinematographer Nestor Almendros.
|Christian de la Mazière, one of those interviewed in The Sorrow and the Pity|
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Monday, January 16, 2017
The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)
One of the unquestioned great movies, and one of the greatest feature-film directing debuts, The 400 Blows would still resonate with film-lovers even if François Truffaut hadn't gone on to create four sequels tracking the life and loves of his protagonist, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud). There are, in fact, those who think that the last we should have seen of Antoine was the haunting freeze-frame at the end of the film. But Antoine continued to grow up on screen, and perhaps more remarkably, so did Léaud, carving out his own career after his debut as a 13-year-old. (It's hard to think of any American child actors who were able to maintain a film career into adulthood as well as Léaud did. Mickey Rooney? Dean Stockwell? Who else?) Having Truffaut as a mentor certainly helped, but Léaud had an unmistakable gift. He is on screen for virtually all of the 99-minute run time, and provides a gallery of memorable moments: Antoine in the amusement-park centrifuge, Antoine in the police lockup, Antoine on the run -- in cinematographer Henri Decaë's brilliant long tracking shot. And my personal favorite moment: when the psychologist asks Antoine if he's ever had sex. Léaud responds with a beautiful mixture of surprise, amusement, and embarrassment. It's so genuine a response that I have to think it was improvised, that Truffaut surprised Léaud with the question. But even so, Léaud never drops character in his response. This praise of Léaud is not to undervalue the magnificent supporting cast, or the haunting score by Jean Constantin. It's a film in which everything works.
|Jean-Pierre Léaud and Marie-France Pisier in Antoine and Colette|
Four years after he made The 400 Blows, Truffaut was asked to contribute to an anthology of short films by directors from various countries to be called Love at Twenty. As he had with the first film, Truffaut drew on his own experience, an infatuation with a girl he had met at the Cinémathèque Française. And since Léaud was available -- he had worked with Julien Duvivier on Boulevard (1960) after completing The 400 Blows -- it made sense for him to play Antoine Doinel again. A narrator tells us that Antoine had been sent to another reform school after escaping from the first, and that this time he had responded well to a psychologist: After leaving school, he has found a job working for the Phillips record company and is living on his own. Then he sees a pretty young woman (Marie-France Pisier) at a concert of music by Berlioz and falls for her. Colette is not much interested in him, but she is evidently flattered by his advances. Her parents like Antoine and encourage him so much that he rents a room across the street from them. (Truffaut had done the same thing during his crush.) But one evening when he comes to dinner at their apartment, a man named Albert (Jean-François Adam) calls on Colette and she leaves Antoine watching TV with her parents. It's a droll little film, scarcely more than an anecdote, and the stable, lovestruck Antoine doesn't seem much like either the rebellious Antoine of the first film or the more scattered Antoine of the later ones in the cycle.
The Antoine of Stolen Kisses is in his 20s, but has reverted to the more haphazard ways of his adolescence: He has been kicked out of the army, and now relies on a series of odd jobs to get by. But he has also renewed acquaintance with a young woman he met before going into the army, Christine Darbon (Claude Jade). Like Colette's parents, hers are quite taken with Antoine, and they help him get a job as a night clerk in a hotel. He gets fired from that job after helping a private detective who is spying on an adulterous couple, but the detective helps Antoine get a job with his agency. While working for the detective agency, he has to pose as a clerk in a shoe store, and winds up in a liaison with the store owner's wife (Delphine Seyrig). When that ends badly, he becomes a TV repairman, which brings him back to Christine, with whom he winds up in bed after trying to fix her TV. At the film's end, a strange man who has been following Christine comes up to her and Antoine in the park and declares his love for her. She says he must be crazy, and Antoine, who perhaps recognizes his earlier infatuation with Colette in the man's obsession, murmurs, "He must be." Stolen Kisses is the loosest, funniest entry in the cycle, though it was made at a time when Truffaut was politically preoccupied: The film opens with a shot of the shuttered gates of the Cinémathèque Française, which was shut down in a conflict between its director, Henri Langlois, and culture minister André Malraux. This caused an uproar involving many of the directors of the French New Wave. Some of Antoine's anarchic approach to life may have been inspired by the rebelliousness toward the establishment prevalent in the film community. But it's clear that the idea of a cycle of Antoine Doinel films has been brewing in Truffaut's mind: There is a cameo appearance by Marie-France Pisier as Colette, now married to Albert and the mother of an infant.
Bed and Board (François Truffaut, 1970)
Antoine and Christine have married, and they have settled down in a small apartment. (There's some indication that it's paid for by her parents.) She gives violin lessons and he sells flowers -- carnations, which he dyes, using some environmentally questionable potions. But settling down isn't in Antoine's nature, and when Christine gets pregnant he looks for more lucrative work. He finds a curious sinecure in a company run by an American: Antoine maneuvers model ships by remote control through a mockup of a harbor. ("It gives me time to think," he says.) One day, a Japanese businessman comes to see the demonstration, accompanied by a pretty translator named Kyoko (Hiroko Berghauer), and Antoine is soon involved in an affair with her. Naturally, this precipitates a breakup, though by film's end they have seemingly reconciled. Still, it's obvious that the marriage is not destined to be permanent. They can't even agree on a name for their son: She wants him to be called Ghislain, and he wants to call him Alphonse. Antoine wins out by a trick: He's the one who goes to the registry office to legalize the boy's name. Antoine also spends time writing a novel about his boyhood, to which Christine objects: "I don't like this business of writing about your childhood, dragging your parents through the mud. I don't know much but I do know one thing: If you use art to settle accounts, it's no longer art." Truffaut had his own regrets about the portrait of his parents in The 400 Blows. Less farcical than Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board still has a strong vein of comedy tinged with melancholy.
Truffaut admitted that he wasn't happy with the final film in the cycle. It's a bit too heavily reliant on flashback clips from the four earlier films, and if it's intended to show that Antoine has finally stabilized now that he's in his 30s and divorced from Christine, it doesn't quite make the case. He has a new girlfriend, Sabine (Dorothée, who was best-known as the hostess on a popular French children's TV show), his novel has been published several years earlier, and he works as a proofreader for a printing house. He's on friendly terms with Christine, and agrees to take their son, Alphonse, to the train station when the boy leaves for a summer music camp. At the station, he runs into Colette, now a defense lawyer, who is on her way to confer with a client -- a man who has murdered his 3-year-old boy. Perhaps a little too coincidentally, Colette is involved with Sabine's brother, Xavier (Daniel Mesguich), and having encountered Antoine before, she has bought a copy of his novel to read on the train. Antoine impulsively boards the train, and sets up a meeting with Colette in the dining car, after which she invites him back to her compartment. All of this sets up a series of revelations: Colette's marriage to Albert broke up after their small daughter was killed by a car. She claims that she supplements her small income as a lawyer by prostituting herself with men she meets on trains. Antoine finally made peace with his mother after her death when he met her old lover, M. Lucien (Julien Bertheau), who persuaded him to visit his mother's grave. (There is a flashback to the scene in The 400 Blows when Antoine, playing hooky, sees his mother kissing a strange man on the street.) Antoine became infatuated with Sabine after hearing a man in a phone booth arguing with a woman on the other end of the line and then tearing up her photograph. Antoine picked up the pieces from the floor, put them together, and after some sleuthing, discovered the woman was Sabine. His marriage to Christine finally broke up after he slept with her friend Liliane (Dani), who he previously had thought was having a lesbian relationship with Christine. And so on. The result of all the flashbacks and revelations is not to round out the Antoine Doinel saga, but to make Love on the Run feel over-contrived. Marie-France Pisier, incidentally, contributed to the screenplay, which is mostly by Truffaut.
Sunday, January 15, 2017
No Country for Old Men (2007), are about plans that backfire, that it's no surprise their first feature, Blood Simple, has a plot that hinges on just that. When Texas bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) discovers that his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand), is having an affair with one of his bartenders, Ray (John Getz), he hires a private detective, Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), who discovered the affair, to kill them. But Visser has other ideas: He finds Ray and Abby asleep in Ray's bed, takes a picture of them, and steals Abby's gun. Then he doctors the photograph to make it look like he has shot them to death, collects the reward from Marty, and then shoots Marty with Abby's gun to frame her for his murder. But wait, there's more! It involves the fact that Marty is not (yet) dead, that he kept a copy of the doctored photo in his safe when he paid off Visser, and that Visser accidentally left his cigarette lighter behind in Marty's office. And so on, as almost everyone gets what's coming to them. Blood Simple may be just a tad over-plotted, and there are a few things that seem too contrived -- Visser's carelessness with the lighter, for one. But on the whole, it's good nasty fun, with some solid performances. McDormand, in her first film role, is strikingly pretty, and manages a remarkable character transition from naïveté to resourcefulness. Walsh and Hedaya, two reliable character actors, make the most of their juicy roles. Cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld and composer Carter Burwell, both making their feature film debuts, help craft the film's very effective noir atmosphere.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
|Radoslav Brzobohaty and Jirina Bohdolová in The Ear|
Friday, January 13, 2017
Thursday, January 12, 2017
|A Slightly Pregnant Man (Jacques Demy, 1973|
|A Special Day (Ettore Scola, 1977)|
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
|Poster with the British title for The Great McGinty|
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Boudu Saved From Drowning (Jean Renoir, 1932)
|Michel Simon in Boudu Saved From Drowning|
Édouard Lestingois: Charles Granval
Emma Lestingois: Marcelle Hainia
Chloë Anne Marie: Sévérine Lerczinska
Vigour: Jean Gehret
Godin: Max Dalban
A Student: Jean Dasté
Director: Jean Renoir
Screenplay: Jean Renoir, Albert Valentin
Based on a play by René Fauchois
Cinematography: Georges Asselin
A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir, 1936)
|Sylvia Bataille and Georges D'Arnoux in A Day in the Country|
Henri: Georges D'Arnoux
Madame Dufour: Jane Marken
Monsieur Dufour: André Gabriello
Rodolphe: Jacques B. Brunius
Anatole: Paul Temps
Grandmother: Gabrielle Fontan
Uncle Poulain: Jean Renoir
Waitress: Marguerite Renoir
Director: Jean Renoir
Screenplay: Jean Renoir
Based on a story by Guy de Maupassant
Cinematography: Claude Renoir
Music: Joseph Kosma
"Épater la bourgeoisie!" went the rallying cry of France's 19th-century poets like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, who styled themselves as "Decadents." But ever since Molière's M. Jourdain, the social-climbing bourgeois gentilhomme, was delighted to discover that he was speaking prose, French artists of whatever medium have delighted themselves in satirizing the manners and morals of the middle class, sometimes affectionately and sometimes savagely. On my living room wall I have two prints of cartoons done by Honoré Daumier in a series he called "Pastorales." Both show very solidly middle-class and middle-aged couples, presumably Parisians taking a day in the country. In one, the husband carries his large, copiously clad wife on his back as he fords a small stream that barely comes to his ankles. They have evidently been caught in a summer storm, for he is chiding her that such things are to be expected, even on the sunniest day. Meanwhile, she is urging him, "Ah, Jules, don't let the torrent sweep us away!" In the other, a similarly clad woman sits on the bank of a pond in which her husband, wearing his glasses and with his head wrapped in a handkerchief, has been taking a dip. "The water is delicious, Virginie," he says. "I assure you, you're making a mistake by not joining me." I was reminded of these prints while watching Jean Renoir's great short film -- it's only 40 minutes long, but every minute is golden -- A Day in the Country. In it, the Dufour family -- husband, wife, daughter, future son-in-law, and comically deaf grandmother -- find a country inn in a beautiful setting on their day away from the city. The mother and daughter immediately become targets for two young men, who manage to set off with them in their skiffs on the river, after diverting the other men by lending them fishing poles. The daughter, Henriette, goes with Henri. When a storm comes up, they take shelter in the woods, where she yields to his advances. Years later, she returns to the same spot with her husband, Anatole, an unromantic drip, and while he naps, she encounters Henri and recalls their brief encounter. The film is an exquisite mix of comedy and melancholy, the kind of subtle blending of tones Renoir is known for from his greatest films, The Grand Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939). A Day in the Country was in fact never finished -- weather interrupted the shooting and Renoir had to move on to another commitment -- but the existing footage was assembled ten years later under the supervision of the producer, Pierre Braunberger, with two explanatory intertitles, and it stands on its own as a masterwork. In sharp contrast to the affectionately amused treatment of the bourgeoisie in A Day in the Country, Boudu Saved From Drowning is a raucous free-for-all centered on the great eccentric Michel Simon in the title role. Boudu is a tramp, a shaggy monster, who after his dog runs away decides to drown himself in the Seine. But he is rescued by Édouard Lestingois, a bookseller, who takes him into his home. Boudu proceeds to trash the place and seduce both Mme. Lestingois and the housemaid, who is also Lestingois' mistress. Simon's performance pulls out all the stops in one of the greatest comic tours de force in film history. If you want to see what épater la bourgeoisie really means, just watch Boudu.
Monday, January 9, 2017
which he remade in 1956, was Alfred Hitchcock's breakthrough film, a critical and popular success that also established Peter Lorre as in international star. It was Lorre's first English-language film; in 1933 he had left Germany, where he had made his reputation in M (Fritz Lang, 1931), because of the rise of the Nazis. He is said to have learned his role in Hitchcock's film phonetically. His performance is perhaps the most memorable thing about The Man Who Knew Too Much, which sometimes feels slack and disjointed, as if Hitchcock hadn't yet mastered the technique of seeing the film as a whole. Hitchcock told François Truffaut, "The first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional." Lorre plays Abbott, the mastermind of a group of radicals who are plotting the assassination of the leader of a European country -- the politics are the film's MacGuffin, a vague motive that spurs the action. When Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks) accidentally learns of the plot, his daughter (Nova Pilbeam) is kidnapped to prevent him from going to the police, but his wife (Edna Best) manages to foil the assassination by screaming when she spots the killer at the point in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall when a cymbal crash is supposed to cover the sound of the gun. Even so, there's a lot of action left as Lawrence frantically tries to rescue his daughter while the police shoot it out with the bad guys. Banks and Best are a rather pallid couple -- he's given to "stiff upper lip, old girl" exhortations, and although she's a champion sharpshooter who fires the shot that kills the assassin, she has little to do the rest of the time but dither and emit that crucial scream -- so it's no wonder that Lorre steals the film.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Saturday, January 7, 2017
Friday, January 6, 2017
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998), of not being completely in on the joke. This time it's the wacky family joke, familiar from Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You and numerous sitcoms. It works in large part because the cast plays it with such beautifully straight faces. And especially because it's such a magnificent cast: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson (who co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson), Bill Murray, and Danny Glover. It's also beautifully designed by David Wasco and filmed by Robert D. Yeoman, with Anderson's characteristically meticulous, almost theatrical framing. Hackman, as the paterfamilias in absentia Royal Tenenbaum, is the cast standout, in large part because he gets to play loose when everyone else maintains a morose deadpan, but also because he's an actor who has always been cast as the loose cannon. Even in films in which he's supposed to be reserved and repressed, such as The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974), he keeps you waiting for the inevitable moment when he snaps. Here he's loose from the beginning, but he doesn't tire you out with his volatility because he knows how much of it to keep in check at any given moment.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Marvel Cinematic Universe, which teems with superpeople out to solve the world's problems and as a consequence sometimes screwing things up even more. The Marvel world has even recognized the screwups caused by the plethora of mutants, aliens, and wealthy scientists both good and bad, to the point that after the damage caused in Sokovia -- as seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015) -- the United Nations has put together the Sokovia Accords, designed to regulate the activities of superheroes. Unfortunately, this doesn't sit well with Captain America (Chris Evans), who is a bit of a Libertarian, especially when enforcing the accords threatens his old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), aka the Winter Soldier -- see Captain America: The Winter Solder (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2014). So Cap's attempt to defend Barnes puts him at odds with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aka Iron Man, who thinks the Avengers need to display good faith with the accords. And so it goes, with various superheroes taking sides and doing battle for the cause they choose. The problem with Captain America: Civil War is essentially that of Avengers: Age of Ultron: Unless you're a Marvel Comics geek, you need a playbill in hand to figure out who's who and what their superpower is. Or you can, like me, just sit back and enjoy the ride. The Russo brothers have a skillful hand at keeping all of the mayhem going, and the screenplay by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely provides enough quieter moments between the CGI-enhanced action sequences to stave off a headache. But the movie really does feel overpopulated at times: In addition to the combatants mentioned, there are also Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, Anthony Mackie's Falcon, Don Cheadle's War Machine, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, and a few newcomers like Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the latest incarnation of Spider-Man (Tom Holland -- the previous actors, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, having outgrown the role). There's some good quippy fun among the various members of the cast when they're not showing off their superpowers.