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Archive for the ‘Sex Comedy’ Category

Tangerine

13 May

Tangerine – directed by Sean Baker – comedy – 28 minutes Color 2015.
★★★★★
The Story: A hooker, fresh from the pokey, learns from her best friend that her pimp has two-timed her, so the two of them set forth into mayhem.
~

Tangerine is The Importance Of Being Earnest set in the land of trans-gender prostitution the the streets of L.A. That is to say, it is as witty as Oscar Wilde’s play and has the same subject – which ought to be enough for anyone to leap toward and watch it.

The subject is: Which of us do you love more, her or me?

This mortal matter is pursued by the Cicely and Gwendolyn characters, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, beautifully played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor.

To cut through other praises to the one that interests me most, let’s turn to the double-pluses of the camera-acting combo, the one dependent upon the other, so I believe.

The camera is an IPhone. This palm-held camera rids us of the patient awkwardness of a 35mm camera. Less waiting when shooting. Grab performance when it’s hot. The result is brilliant acting, some of which is improvised.

I, who deplore improvisation as a rule, stand corrected before the ability of the director, Sean Baker, to inspire and to capture performance – performance-capture – the denominator common to all great directors, which you find scattered through their films but seldom see pervasive throughout one. But it’s pervasive here.

The IPhone is held by Baker and Radium Cheung. I know nothing of the other work of these two, but I bow before them, palms-down. Scene after scene comes alive, fresh, real, and funny.

The cast is of varying degrees of experience, but it doesn’t matter: the value that holds is authenticity, and it is met by all. For instance, when the Lady Bracknell character – out To Save Society – appears on the screen in the form of the great Armenian actress Alla Tumanian, you immediately sense you are in the presence of someone experienced beyond the ordinary, but you also observe that she is playing in the style common to all the others. She does not stand apart; she simply adds to the brilliance before us. Sean Baker directed the acting, and, as editor, chose it. Good for him.

What lasts?

Story lasts. Yes, even more than performance. Two things matter, but story makes a film lasting, which Tangerine has become. Lasts because a human truth is unfolded along its path. That means that the theme is not merely present but honored through its quirks and faults and splendors. Such is the case here.

The theme is friendship, a great one. Don’t miss Tangerine. It’s funny and true and dear.

 

The Oyster Princess

21 Oct

The Oyster Princess and I Don’t Want To Be A Man — written and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Comedy. Silent Black And White 1919/1920.

★★★★★

The Stories: A petulant rich girl defies custom and finds a mate.

~

The Lubitsch Touch is the external expression of the sense internal in what he does that sex and marriage and love are random, arbitrary, and capricious. That they are not so much a form of love as a form of greed, and as such somewhat ludicrous. Indeed, they are not even sexually oriented, for here we have the short film I Don’t Want To Be A Man in which the heroine, to have a good time, dresses up as a male and goes out on the town, where she meets her guardian, who kisses her rapturously and repeatedly as a male. Of course, he is tipsy, but that only means that liquor is a permissive for what is more easily inherent. When the truth is out, they kiss again as girl and boy, and she marries him without a qualm. “Without a qualm” is the secret. The fixed masculinity of certain males is the determined safeguard against what inwardly all males know: that the sexual machinery has no particular gender necessarily in mind. It just wants sex. It just wants an outlet.

All of this is a great tonic. It helps. The Lubitsch touch is a touch on the body that, as we watch, the body recognizes without being actually touched at all. The touch is freeing. And sex is light, fun, and forgivable. Indeed it is never to be blamed to begin with.

The Oyster Princess was one of Lubitsch’s big hits, and rightly so. It involves a spoiled brat rich girl who smashes everything in the house because she is not married. This is played by the same actress of I Don’t Want To Be A Man, a role which would be brought to perfection in time by Carole Lombard, indeed finally in Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not To Be. To say the present actress is a little crude would be an exaggeration, for she is very crude, so she’s a bit hard to take. Things don’t really smile up until the impoverished prince and his adjutant appear in the picture. Then we see Lubitsch seize the screen. He enjoys the two-dimensional symmetry of silents, and the joy of preposterous excess, which sex promises and sometimes delivers. I keep wanting him to make comic use of all those spectacular stairs, but he goes from crazy balls to insane banquets to ridiculous drunk scenes, instead. How does he do it? Easily.

How does he let off all those drunks with a light sentence? Watch him park them.

How does he let off this idiot adjutant? Watch him let him slip the knot.

How does he deal with that massive father? You’ll be impressed.

Anyhow, the comedy of silent films is the most fundamental human comedy, because it is based on the music of the human body admitting everything, including the mute effect of speech on our depth of grasp. And we do have the inter-titles, for sometimes the human body needs to be spoken to to know the truth. And accompanying us in this romp, a jolly musical score on the piano right in our livingroom.

 

 

Love In The Afternoon

16 May

Love In The Afternoon — directed by Billy Wilder. Romanic Comedy. A notorious Lothario and a pretty young music student exchange blisses. 130 minutes Black and White 1957.

★★★

This is one of the creamiest Hollywood romantic comedies and it is also the most revolting. What makes it creamy is its confection by Ernst Lubitsch, here impostured by his devotee Billy Wilder, who makes anew Lubitsch’s light, deft, and magical touch with Viennese Pastry. In his heyday, everything Lubitsch did, whether comedy or musical, was operetta, and he used Maurice Chevalier as one of the consistent ingredients, here now present as Audrey Hepburn’s father, although he does appear old enough to be her grandfather. Never mind: he makes no attempt to crush you into marzipan with his charm, and he is just fine. All he has to do is love her, and, since she is Audrey Hepburn, this is not hard to do. Her gentle sense of fun leavens the dessert. What is hard to take is her antediluvian leading man. Why this actress was set opposite ancient leading men for so much of her young life is a mystery. Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, the presence of only the last of whom can be said to be justified. I suppose it was to sustain her range as an ingénue. For she was a true ingénue, and we did not have another one until Gwyneth Paltrow, so it’s a rarer flower than one might suppose. Although at the time she made this film she was 29, her quality was always 19, and it is so here. However that may be, whom we have opposite her is an actor in an advanced state of decomposition, Gary Cooper. He has lost his slim hips, so while he wears beautiful clothes he does not look good in them. His face did not age well; his visage sags with sadness; he has luggage under his eyes. He is too darned old. And he is such a bad actor. He cannot pick up his cues properly. He cannot do the simplest actor’s task with simple conviction. And we are still asked, aged 57, to swallow his fraudulent naiveté, and the phony supposition that taciturn men are more profound, more honest, and more masculine. (Have you ever known a cowboy who wasn’t a blabbermouth?) He is completely unconvincing as a wealthy internationally renowned roué, a la Porfirio Rubirosa, just as he was in Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. In real life, Cooper was a roué, but that does not mean he will admit to the shame of so being as a character. What one senses underlying his presence is his overweening vanity, his contempt, and his stumbling deliberately to blind us to his lack of natural or even professional ability. He never would accept a movie in which he died; he had always to be the hero. The logical ending to this movie, which the entrancing Audrey Hepburn carries upon her thin Givenchy-laden shoulders, is that he jump off the train to marry her, but no, he sweeps her on the train to become his mistress. Disgusting. Otherwise, the film is charmingly conceived and written, beautifully filmed by William Mellor, who worked with George Stevens so often. The Lubitsch touches have to do with four musicians going through a door and a rolling liquor table, and a hat, and they are endearing. Lubitsch liked people a lot more than Billy Wilder did, and that cannot be taught. But the film is likable, although revolting, and a model for making a smooth confection to perfection.

 

It’s Complicated

08 Nov

It’s Complicated — Directed and Written by Nancy Meyers. Sex Farce. A divorced couple gets it on. 120 minutes Color 2009

* * *

Meryl Streep is a great actress, but she is not a Leading Lady. What she is is a Character Lead. Cast as a Leading Lady, as she sometimes is and as she is here, she cannot carry a film. She gives all that smiles and laughter have to offer to the part she plays here, but the soul of her gift is not in it. To be a leading lady one has to have a certain material substance, even a quirk of voice will do, such as Jean Arthur had, such as Katherine Hepburn had. One has to be a personality actress such as Diane Keaton or Goldie Hawn are. Meryl Streep’s affect is milky, wanting in strength, she has no defining attributes. So when she plays a Leading Lady character she is playing something close to her own everyday voice, and it lacks interest, bite, depth, intensity, and color. She’s just not that sort of actor, no fault of her own. Very few actors can do both sorts of things. Leonardo de Caprio is another example of this same problem. Cast him in Blood Diamond or Celebrity and you really have something. Cast him in Aviator and you have nothing. The problem of the picture, however, does not lie solely with Meryl Streep. The piece begins as a sophisticated, witty, sex farce, a la Ernst Lubitsch, well-written and well set up. But as soon as the children appear prominent it collapses. It is not the actors’ fault. They are simply not needed as story elements, and the writing of their parts is feeble, causing the playing of the parts to be also feeble. The more they are given in the film the less the film becomes. This is partly because the writer conceives them as TV sitcom children, and partly because she flushes the story down with them in an excrement of sentimentality. Alex Baldwin, as Meryl Streep observes, commandeers the film away from Steve Martin, but that is a directorial and writing error. Baldwin is very funny as the ex-husband, but once it becomes obvious that he is grossly, if endearingly, self-involved the writing of his part becomes repetitious and Streep’s becomes improbable, since her character does not act on the obvious. The writing of the Steve Martin character is flaccid; since he is supposed to be the good, sensitive guy, the part is stripped of wit, and Martin is reduced to clowning in the shadows. As the film declines in interest, what with the improbable behavior of the children and the lack of competitive edge for Martin, it also collapses on the interesting matter of this post-marital affair, reducing the escapade into exploring rationales for it. Streep is not enlarged by the affair once it is over. She is deflated by it. It is an error in judgment all around. The problem is not with the direction or filming here, which is frequently interesting. The problem is that the director needed a co-writer as a corrective to keep what begins in generating our delight from ending up generating our disgust.

 

 

La Ronde – Ophuls

14 May

La Ronde – Directed by Max Ophuls. Satire. Eleven stories of French lust promiscuating until they circle around and meet up once more. 93 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

By the merest chance I saw this picture immediately after The Marriage Circle, a silent of Ernst Lubitsch. Both films have the same title and the same temperament of approach to the material, which is seriously humorous. They both deal with promiscuity, which in the French version is carried out and in the American version, of course, is not carried out. In both versions the women are the sensitive ones and the men the fools. The treatment is quite different, but the idea that lust is important is held up to the deracinating light of a wise smile. Ophuls’ movie is based on a play of Schnitzler which caused a riot, and a scandal, and an outrage, for it illustrated how sexual disease is transmitted. Ophuls’ version knows nothing of this. His version uses the word, l’amour, but it has nothing whatever to do with love; lust is the subject. 11 congresses link arms, but each one is told by the camera so luminously that nothing particular is actually illuminated. The sheen both allures and monotonizes the material. But we do have the wonderful décor, the fabulous lighting, and Ophuls’ terrific dolly shots which give us a barrier through which to peep at the principles. His placement of actors in motion, his symmetry, his fancifulness, his artifice and artificiality – all serve his turn. He has many superstars in this film, but the real superstar is his camera. His camera is the actor, the strong one, who reveals the forgivable nothing of l’amour. His cast is brilliant, particularly when you realize that some of the women playing teenagers are completely convincing although well into their thirties. Gerard Philipe is perhaps the best, as a chocolate soldier count in full regalia, entering the dressing room of a renowned comedienne and looking about sensitively at a setting which he judges to be far from noble. What a perfect decision for an actor to make. Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, and the magnificent Danielle Darrieux are wonderful. I saw this film when it first came out. I thought I was going to a dirty picture that would tell me something about sexual attraction, and I left feeling poisoned by it. Now I can see the truth of it. Which is that sexual attraction is simply a movie camera: it glamorizes, it luminizes what it lights on, and leaves it impenitently when the light moves on. This for me now is the masterful truth of this film.

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La Ronde – Vadim

12 May

La Ronde – Directed by Roger Vadim. Sex Drama. From one on to the next to the next and the next. 110 minutes Color 1964.

* * * * *

A version of the Arthur Schnitzler play once filmed by Max Ophuls who brings into the material a satirical voice personified by Anton Walbook’s intercessions. Here there is no satire and no interruptions; Vadim’s approach is straight on. What’s similar is that in both films the females are sympathetic humans and the males are the idiots, just wanting to get their jollies. Once sex is over, the men want no further history; once sex is over the women want history to begin. As in Ophuls’ the men rush to the women’s slaughter; the women submit winsomely, as though regretting the loss of the fairy tale they believed love to be. One great difference is that Vadim’s script omits the use of the word l’amour to the degree Ophuls employed it, so we have the grace to know the story is about flat out sexual seduction, and we have the joy to see that the seducers are all mostly female, no matter how the males may posture. Two beautiful males, Jean-Claude Brialy and Jean Sorel open and close the picture, neither one having to play any his aces to take the queens. But the females still are more wonderful than the males, just as they are in Ophuls’. On the other hand, Vadim’s also omits Ophuls’ great interest in camera style. Ophuls’ film is about the beauty of film; Vadim’s is about the beauty of women. An interesting advantage Vadim’s has is that the omission of Walbrook’s recesses gives the screenwriter a chance to expand on certain characters and certain scenes, and, since the screenwriter is no less than Jean Anouilh the most fully developed character is the playwright. Jane Fonda plays the part Danielle Darrieux took, and our Jane does very well in the part. Vadim was a handsome and sexy man, and Fonda married him. His interview in the Extras is fascinating. And her interview about him might be said to contain more wisdom than the film itself.

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The Marriage Circle

09 May

The Marriage Circle  — Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Farce. Her husband doesn’t love her so she sets her sights on her best friend’s. 85 minutes Silent Black and White 1924.

* * * *

In 1931 Samson Raphaelson was to write the remake of this shaky farce into Lubitsch’s enchanting musical with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald , and in 1950 Max Ophuls was to perpetuate his Lubitsch style of Viennese sex farce in La Ronde. Here the style is not quite mature because the film is silent and silence lends seriousness in a sex comedy to what it is important to understand is meant to be silly. Or perhaps his leading lady, the beauteous Florence Vidor, had insufficient self-security to have room for a sense of humor. No, that’s not fair: she plays the part perfectly and is perfectly cast as a lady. Or perhaps his leading man Monte Blue was too much of a rube to be fooling around in a tuxedo among the haute bourgeoisie. Certainly Blue is an odd piece of casting for a leading man. He has a face like a ram’s bottom and a talent for falling into violent giggles which, while endearing, is always out of place, as though it were an acting trick ordered in like a performing seal dragged into a wedding. No, that’s not fair either. The part is that of a feckless jackass; you can’t blame him; that’s what it is, and that’s the way he plays it. For the real problem lies with the script, which does not hold the water of probability sufficiently to retain our patience through all the shenanigans. On the other hand we have Marie Prevost as the calculating hussy whose machinations are cause of all the plot, the sub plot, the counter plot, the family plot, and the burial plot. She twists her slinky lips so, that it is no wonder no one wants to kiss them. But she’s a good actress too. She brings a sexual daring to the part that drives the whole thing along right smartly. Her husband is, however, the only one of the principals who belongs in this sort of material and, unlike the others, in no place else, the great Adolph Menjou, an actor of rare sophistication and a talent for wearing evening clothes that is incomparable. He is the only actor of the bunch who survived into talking pictures, in which he played principal parts for years, consummated as his turn in Man On A Tightrope in which Elia Kazan causes this actor, many times voted The Best Dressed Man In America, to lie on a couch calculating destruction and covered with the ash of the cigarette he is smoking. Here his playing the confrontation scene with Blue is priceless. He works with a hat, a cigarette, gloves, and cane, and, aged 34, eyes that know everything. It’s worth the price of admission; it’s worth a lot more than that, in fact. It’s a scene which every young actor in the world might observe and learn from.

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The Merry Wives Of Windsor

01 Mar

The Merry Wives Of Windsor – Directed by David Hugh Jones – Low Oomedy. A fat old reprobate tries to seduce two wealthy wives. 120 minutes Color 1982

* * * * *

Here we have one of the greatest recordings of a Shakespeare play ever set down. And yet it is of one of WS’s thorniest scripts. Like Henry V it is tortured with a melange of voices in Latin, French, Welsh, and German, making the script monstrously hard to parse! But it wasn’t written to be read, but to be acted, and WS understood the rubric of acting like no one else, so that in the bodies of the actors it comes alive here, understandable here, priceless here. The sixteen shifts of mood in one character’s speech on the page are gibberish, but in the craft of the great Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, we have a masterpiece of human truth and humor, a performance of genius. Each minor character here is enacted, embodied, played to full measure. They are characters with no history, for their history lives in the exact present entirely. The piece is a proving ground for its players, led by Judy Davis’ Mistress Ford and Ben Kingsley as her frenetically jealous hubby Frank Ford. Prunella Scales’ performance as Mistress Page gets lost and monotonized behind its regionalism, but its energy is right on the money. Richard Griffiths we have recently seen in The History Boys plays Falstaff. Now this was made 25 years ago, so our actors are in their twenties (i.e. Alan Bennett) , and perhaps Griffiths is too young for the part in the sense that he wants merriment. TMMOW is a play, unlike Henry IV 1 & 2. In those plays Falstaff is driven by a lust for zest; here he is driven by a lust for money through lust, and it’s not that he is just too old and too fat, which he is, he is also just too ridiculous to score. This complicates the part, and Griffiths makes him a little more downbeat than one wants him to be. A little less of an unmoored balloon. A little less of a roguish liar. Still, when he thinks he has finally achieved the bosom of Mistress Ford, and utters the jubilant line, “Let the sky rain potatoes!” we are in a world of comedy unparalleled. The odd attic setting and the inn and the house of Ford and Caius and all the costumes and wigs and make-up are fabulous. If you love Shakespeare or want to learn to love Shakespeare, dive in.

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Idiot’s Delight

18 Jan

Idiot’s Delight — directed by   Clarence Brown — a comedy about a pack of vaudeville players and assorted types trapped in a European mountain resort as WWII breaks out around them.  107 minutes  black and white 1939.

* * * *

Clark Gable. He had a foundation of great masculinity, great presence, and great authority. So we who grew up with him in his heyday overlooked what a superb and various actor in the technical sense he always was. He loved being an actor. He trained hard for it. He made sacrifices to learn it. He took it seriously. We who saw him in his film heyday did not know that. What we knew was his extraordinary natural foundation of masculinity, presence, and authority. But here one would have to say that Gable really carries the picture on his acting alone, because, while Norma Shearer is rather good in the Garbo take-off, which dominates the central portion of the story, the scenes which frame her impersonation are not properly prepared and played. Nor do the supporting parts, as cut from Robert E. Sherwood’s play, work well, although they are played by masters of their craft, the great Charles Coburn and the ingenious Burgess Meredith, both in thankless roles. Edward Arnold’s part is as baffling in its story line as is Joseph Shildkraut’s. Their roles lack narrative completion; that is to say, they have not been properly honored by the writers, editors or producers. Lynn Fontanne played it originally with Alfred Lunt in the Gable role, but Gable is much better cast, for he makes a marvelous rogue. And no one could brush off a needy female like Gable. But what is really present — and watch for it — are the moments when the camera is on him alone. Behind that handsome mug and that masculinity and presence and authority is an actor in full operation on all burners, responding with exactly the right feeling for the situation at hand. Watch the variety of incredulities with which he receives Shearer’s tall tales. Watch his eyes. And sit for a moment and consider how convincing a motive is his scepticism as a driving force to uncover her ruse; it fuels his sexuality and it fuels his love for her. And yet he holds it very lightly, as lightly as the straw hat and cane with which he performs a creditable song-and-dance vaudeville routine, backed by six blonds, one of them the lovely Virginia Grey. Gable carries the film, and it’s worth watching to see how he does it.

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Love And Other Drugs…

05 Jan

Love And Other Drugs… –– directed by Edward Zwick –– romantic drama in which a supersalesman roué falls in bed with a lady with a dubious future. 2010 color.

* * * * *

Jill Clayburgh’s last film, and the sort of picture that she and Burt Reynolds would have made forty years ago beautifully. That is to say a rather modern-mouthed and good looking young woman meets a handsome swordsman, and they bed down and they clash over some issue or other and then they make up. You know what I mean: the sort of film in which everything depends on the wit and the skill of the script and the wit and skill and personalities of the two actors, and the ground of the quarrel somehow dissolves by the last dissolve, doesn’t it? Here, however, the obstacle for both is that one of them has Parkinson’s, which will not dissolve. This seems like a put-up job in a way, but everyone does take it as seriously as they can, given a script which, while most times smart and fun and surprising, nonetheless becomes sometimes routine. In romantic drama the director must never run the risk of the grounds for a redundant emotional effect. Jake Gyllenhaal is inventive, lively, and various as the male, and Anne Hathaway is fascinating as the female. Won’t they get Golden Globes or Oscars or both? Probably. Oliver Platt is wonderful as Gyllanhaal’s boss, and Hank Azaria is remarkable as his hapless brother. One doubt one must set aside is the certainty that a sexual relation of such ferocity would not end up in a relationship. And another trouble is that the love affair lacks the relief and slant of any spirit of community, of friends, of town-folk, and there is but one short scene of Gyllenhaal’s family with George Segal as his father and as his mother the great, the elegant Jill Clayburgh, who has but one small moment on screen, her last, her final word being: “cake”!

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