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Archive for the ‘GENDER’ Category

Call Me By Your Name

19 Jan

Call Me By Your Name – directed by Luca Guadagnino. Homoerotic-drama 132 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★★
The Story: A doctoral candidate comes to assist a professor for six weeks, and the professor’s teen-age son falls in love with him and he falls in love with the teen-age son.
~
He who has loved and not lost has not loved at all.

First love never ends.

These are the regulations our bodies have set down for us, and wonderful and terrible are their truths.

The American Ph.D. candidate, played by Armie Hammer, is all virility and dispatch. The teen-ager, played by Timothée Chalamet, lingers in that truce of time called adolescence. Hammer is fully confident and at home in his body. Chalamet’s body is scarcely formed. We know that he is drawn towards the hunky candidate because he gazes wonderingly at him, as does everyone. We have no idea if the interest is returned by the hunk, for the two of them bicker and grouse.

But the young man opens half his shell to reveal the pearl. And the hunk responds as though nothing could be easier or more normal, and he goes for it, albeit gingerly, with the respect due to his boss’s son.

We are flooded from the start with full frontal photographs of Greek statuary. At one point such a statue is raised from the Mediterranean grave of an ancient trireme, and we see its beauty and its powerful genitalia.

But we never see the genitalia of the two lovers – male genitalia, that focus of curiosity, activity, and power. Or the object of ridicule, revulsion, and shrugs?

Why don’t we see these two males make love to one another’s’ privates? Because they’re movie stars? Or out of a sense of prudery? Or because the theme wishes to attend to “other” erotic values? Or we would be “descending” into pornography?

We have seen Mark Rylance in full erection and penetration in the 2001 film Intimacy, so we know what a movie star’s member looks like in full erection and action. Here, we can only suppose that the genitalia on hand would be shameful, meager, or flaccid, and so they remain unrevealed for reasons too many and too silly to contemplate. So, the sexual act is turned from to gaze at trees outside the window.

But those two actors, Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet sure do enjoy kissing one another; they sure do have a grand old time making out. And because they had a good time, I sure did have a good time to watch them have a good time. And because they had had a good time I believed them and took the significance of their affair under advisement because the story told me to. I believed that the love of their lives was taking place.

I wanted to believe it in order to offer it the tribute of my envy. As does the father of the Chalamet character, well played by Michael Stulhbarg, who, at the end of the movie, sits his young son down and spreads out the table cloth of his son’s life in its good fortune and riches.

After such love, there is nothing but a fire in a fireplace to look into. The fire is not the fire we have been asked to witness. A fireplace is outside of one.

The inside fire does not leave. But the warmth of the mating does not last, although its power to burn does. Mundane geographical distance removes that warmth.

Scorched recollection is the price we never stop paying for great love.

A lifetime of tears, would we say, is its inevitable and fair exchange? The fireplace of a fire that will not quite go out.

 
 

Carol

31 Dec

Carol – directed by Todd Haynes. Drama. 118 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: A Park Avenue woman takes up with a shopgirl and she with her in a relationship whose seriousness jeopardizes their lives.

~

The idea that this picture is about a lesbian relationship seems besides the point when actually watching it. For the environment of its story is also the story, and to define the movie in genital or sexually deviant terms seems vulgar and beside the point.

The relationship progresses in slow stages, but these stages are rendered through the lens of the setting of such love itself, not directly, but indirectly. The surroundings, that’s what we see and want to see, because the film makes us recognize surroundings as the kind permission and very condition of love – we who have ever known such a passion as is before us here. Unacknowledged setting is the sine qua non and soil of passion.

That is to say, the film is rendered through and as two simultaneous and converging stories, the more important and potent of which is that such love generates itself into being in half-tones, is experienced through doors partly closed, looking out car windows none of the landscape of which has any registration but has carrying power in that it provides the mundane context of Cupid’s wings gently fluttering out of sight behind His back all along. It doesn’t matter what it is.

The banal is the secret doily of love’s Valentine. The ordinary. The every-day. How cigarettes are needed, run out of. How a sales supervisor in a department store can create the very prison of disapproval on which such love will be forced into flower. How a child’s nurse must be reprimanded with a forbidding tone of voice.

The motels, the diners, the friends of the family – things of no importance actually provide the screen and fortress behind which and before which passion plants itself and thrives.

I stopped reading the novels of Janet Highsmith years ago, so I have not read this one. But I suspect the one fault of the film is in the screen writers being too respectful of one of the two women described in the book. Cate Blanchette plays the older one, the Park Avenue lady, and is superb. Rooney Mara plays the shopgirl, and she is good too. The trouble is that she is written as a little grey mouse, and it won’t do. It probably did well enough in the book. But the film needs a different contrast of types, one in whom we can take some interest. For our interest should be the same as Cate Blanchett’s – we’ve got to see what the heck she sees in her! It needed to be either written differently or cast with an actress with a strong personal quality – think of a young Julie Harris in the role – or both.

The film is majestically directed. Haynes’ sense of the ’50s is 100% better now. I lived through that time and I know. Beautiful Packards and Lincolns. Perfectly costumed. Perfect settings. It is shot with noble beauty by Edward Lachman, who also shot Haynes’ Far From Heaven and Mildred Pierce. Exquisite.

Carol is worthwhile watching for everyone with an adult within them.

 

The Normal Heart

24 Jan

The Normal Heart – directed by Ryan Murphy. Docudrama. 133 minutes Color 2014.

★★★★★

The Story: AIDS comes to the notice of a group of young men and a female physician, who gather together to do something about it.

~

The Normal Heart and Selma resemble one another in showing us the backstage drama of two adamant men who fought for equality in America. Larry Kramer fought for public recognition of the AIDS plague, which was sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. Martin Luther King Junior fought for voting rights for those whose right to it had been sidelined by indifferent politicians as trivial. See them both, why don’t you? You’ll get a bracing dose of contemporary history.

To cast the disagreeable, in-your-face screamer Larry Kramer one would have thought of a young George C. Scott or Al Pacino. One would not have thought of the panda Mark Ruffalo. He is so agreeable. So malleable. So soft. But there he is firing with all canons.

And Kramer’s methods alienate those near to him in the cause, both because he is obnoxious and because they believe his methodical throwing of vitriol in his adversaries’ faces will dampen the cause of recognition and action on the part of the government and the press. He is perhaps more incensed by the dismissal of homosexual humans than of sick humans, I’m not sure.

It’s a story whose tension hangs between, on the one hand, the character of his brother, who acknowledges the Kramer character as almost, but not quite human for his homosexuality and on the other hand the human loves dragged to an early and ignominious grave by a disease which was deemed unimportant because it was seen as exclusively and merely gay. The crossing over of this brother, beautifully and memorably played by Alfred Molina, to the love common to all is the resolution of all the barriers, public and private, which we see marked out before us, as AIDS is demonized, misunderstood, and dismissed, as it crawls to a place at the table.

Julia Roberts is excellent as the first clinician to take note of and treat the disease and to report its symptoms and recurrence. I particularly liked Jim Parsons as the office manager who makes the revolution practical. The nervous breakdown risked by all who did the work is beautifully performed by Stephen Spinella.

Larry Kramer’s was a voice crying in the wilderness of his own side. Martin Luther King Junior was the same. Proactive both, their methods were different, and neither cause would have prevailed using the other’s means. Their greatest enemies lay within their own camps. King orated, Kramer ranted. Kramer made a huge unpleasantness. He is one of the vile heroes, like Oedipus – people of extremely unpleasant character who nonetheless lay down their lives to move the human race forward one step, and do so. We – and by “we” I mean the world – are all in his debt.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, Gay, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo

 

The Imitation Game

24 Dec

The Imitation Game – directed by Morten Tyldum. BioDrama. 114 minutes Color 2014

★★★★

The Story: An odd duck of a mathematician becomes the goose that lays the golden egg when he breaks the German Enigma Code, thus hastening the end of WW II.

~

Many BioDramas just now. Selma, Wild, Rosewater, Foxcatcher, The Theory Of Everything, Unbroken, and this. Why is that?

The reason is that no one can write film drama. At least not for the silver screen. Drama has been swallowed by junk food, Blockbuster Candy. Drama has been subsumed by SciFi, Horror, and GagComedy. Drama has been gorged up by theatricalism and special effects of Action Adventure. All non dramatic genres. Drama has been devoured by series on paid TV. Besides there are too few grown-up stars to play it. To come close to making a “serious” film,” then, make a BioDrama, instead. BioDramas look dignified when the Oscars loom.

And even in BioDramas we have the foolish action sequences, as here, when haymakers fly and bodies are thrown against computers. One knows those people wouldn’t behave like that. For the English a stiff upper lip was Sufi practice.

But that is the worst of it, for, while the movie is not well directed, it is well conceived, and it has a story natural to it.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays him well: Alan Turing, a quirky lot, was the finest mathematician in England, though young – though most mathematicians show their genius only when young. He enters into the top-secret task of breaking the unbreakable Enigma code, and to do it builds what seems to be the first computer. His off-putting personality is not one to inspire overpowering amity for him in his crew, however, until the only female mathematician, well played by Keira Knightley, induces him to loosen up.

The breaks in the team’s bad luck are well recorded here and we root for them all as the code yields itself to them. How exciting!

But the breaking of the code must be kept secret. And another secret must also be kept: Alan Turing is an active homosexual. To reveal either secret would be against the law.

This is a fine and bitter story. You yourself when you see it will experience the killing imbalance in the situation. And when you do see it, you will experience also the excitements of science in the moment of breakthrough, just as we did in the old days with Paul Muni in Louis Pasteur, Edward G. Robinson in Doctor Erlich’s Magic Bullet, and Greer Garson in Madame Curie. A tedious persistence in the task precedes those thrills, but therein the drama also lies. We want so much for mankind to take a step forward. And when it happens we take it too, even in a movie theatre.

Charles Dance is particularly fine as The Adversary as is Mark Strong as the M-5 intermediary. They both threaten very particular harm. But the wireheads win through.

Except do they?

 

 

Behind The Candelabra

16 Sep

Behind the Candelabra – directed by Steve Soderbergh. Backstage Drama. 117 minutes Color 2013.
★★★★
The Story: A young man is taken up by a renown entertainer and they becomes live-in lovers.
~
Liberace?

Lots of sauce but no fish.

I never cottoned to him. He appeared in our family dining room in the days of early television and I didn’t like what he was up to in any of its aspects. All I saw was greed. As a personality he was a lisping phony. His purpose was to seduce, ingratiate, reassure. His voice was a slow syrup dripping out of an ornamentalized pot. As a pianist he was a vulgar contortionist.

I never experienced him in his glory days in Vegas or on TV later. If he was around, I skirted him. I don’t like men to effeminize themselves. It means their feminine side is lost to them.

Lost in competition with their mother, maybe. A way of holding off their mother’s intrusiveness. Debbie Reynolds plays the mother here, and I didn’t recognize her. Who is that wonderful old actress they’ve got for that part? I asked myself, then read the credits.

The young man is played by Matt Damon whom it is impossible not to like, and whom we see gulled by the sequined manner of Liberace, who seduces him with a kindness so lavish it can only mean nothing. But he is taken in. I will not list the ramifications. But I will say that his playing of Scott Hanson is another notch in a belt Damon wears, notched by now it scarcely holds up his britches. Which is just fine, since he has a beautiful ass, and a willingness to use it and a unique talent to adapt to his material modestly.

Michael Douglas is another matter. He does not really go for it. He plays some of Liberace’s traits, but he does not play the bitch queen behind the emu feathers and the nastiness burning at the center of all those candles. It’s a performance you have to take on faith, which is not hard to do after a time, since it is exactly on pitch in so many ways.

The whole movie is a masterpiece of production, costuming, and makeup. These play a big part in Douglas’s arc, since he goes from middle-aged to face-lifted ageless to cadaver. It is very well written and directed. It is less a portrait of Liberace himself, about whom everything was obvious to a ten year old boy in his dining room, so much as it is about the love of the young man for him. People like Liberace don’t need to be loved. They just need to hand the word Love around like a canapé for popular consumption.

 

 

Love Is Strange

31 Aug

Love Is Strange – directed by Ira Sachs. Drama. 2014 Color 94 minutes.

★★★

The story: Two men married to one another fall on hard times.

~

The problem is the writing and the problem is that the director also co-wrote it and like most directors has no gift as screenwriter.

Every scene is a genre scene. The scene at the dinner table with the abusive indifferent father. The advice scene between the teenage boy and the uncle. The street kiss at the end. Everything is picturesque, like a greeting card. Every scene is television bread pudding. I sit there longing for the scenes to be about something. Instead we get so called conversation, into the lengthy interstices of which the actors have to force emotion. This they do by grimacing, by pausing even more, and hoping, I suppose, someone will call cut. But nothing is going on. Nothing is at stake. We have lots of story, with no drama.

Inside this painfully inadequate mise en scene of chat, we have, on the other hand, the relationship of two gentlemen in high middle age during and after their nuptials. These two are all there is to see. This is the only matter of value before us. Everyone else is either indifferent to them, rude to them, or annoyed by them. But we are given nothing large enough to seize our interest, save our watching these two play together, sleep together, kiss, hug, snuggle, and laugh together. And that is just great because they are played by two experienced and well-loved hands indeed: Alfred Molina and John Lithgow. Boy, do they smooch good. It’s a relief to see this up on the screen.

To aid them is the impeccable Marisa Tomei, who never makes a false move. She must be a very well prepared actor, for one has the sense that everything she does is right, natural, and on target. There is never a sense of the random in her work. Though highly responsive, she comes on knowing what she must do, and she does it. Her face is in her favor, a great gift for an actor. Her scene trying to write is thrilling.

At the end is a scene in profile of a child crying. The scene is shot in a stairwell and goes on and on and on. And it’s wonderful that it does. And it’s also wonderful that it is taken in profile and that we do not see the young actor’s face. We just let him cry. It is wordless. This is followed by a skateboard scene that also goes on and on and on. It, like the crying scene, is wordless, and gives a suggestion that the director is not quite without talent for motion pictures. But he must stick to his last. He must do, but never speak.

For there is a difference between high drama and slice-of-life, which this mistitled movie purports to be. See Chekov: in slice-of-life the characters’ very souls are at stake. It is not just some conversations. The dripping preludes of Chopin dominate the sound track. But Chopin’s preludes are salon music; they contain, with the ferocity of a bottle of wine, tremendous sensation. Salon music, but whole lives are at stake. A salon film must do likewise.

 
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Posted in Alfred Molina, FAMILY DRAMA, Gay, Includes Some Gay Characters, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei

 

Salò

14 Jan

Salò – directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Drama. 116 minutes, Color 1975.

★★★

The Story: A group of teenagers are forced into sex school by a coterie of autocrats.

If this is denounced as pornographic, it is enduring a terrible because irrelevant wrong. For no one has a good time at all in sex here. Everyone is either too mean or too horrified to feel or even pretend any pleasure. So, taken at its face value as pro-church and anti-pleasure – since any natural and easy pleasure that seeps in is punished morbidly – one must assume that Salò is about something else.

Watching it, my notion was that it is about sexual addiction, that is to say the imperious, internal compulsion that forces one to have sex rather than by normal inclination. For everyone is strong-armed into it here. All the young players are between 14 and 18 years old, and they are first kidnapped and then roughed into various sexual congress. But it’s never any fun and always unlovely, for, as it is based on a work of De Sade, it is, perforce, sadistic. The only beauty is that provided by a pianist who accompanies their lectures in degradation by playing Chopin. The exit of this pianist from the proceedings is typical of the director’s rigorous anhedonic message.

So, in terms of the actual material, Salò would seem to be The Allegory Of Rough Trade, which was Pasolini’s fancy and by which he soon was soon slain.

You have to go to the Extra Features to learn that the film was meant to be an allegory of neo-capitalism, the fascism of consumerism. There we learn that we are all being put under the trance of pleasant things. Pasolini himself tells us so. But you may be sure that when a director tells you what he intended to be in a film that he has failed to include that intention in it.

For no pleasant things are in the film itself. Or I should say, there are certain pleasant things, but they have nothing to do with neo-capitalism. We have such pleasant things as the nude bodies of the children who act in it, a bouquet of inviolable adolescents. And we have the sets, which are more interesting than the events which take place in them, for they are often big spare rooms decorated with elaborate old wallpaper. Pasolini has a classic eye for the formality of spectacle. And Pasolini’s set-ups and the arrangements of the personnel in them reveal a fine old-fashioned enjoyment of ritual. All these are pleasures to be sure. But sexual pleasure?

Pasolini himself says that power is anarchic, since it can do what it wants. And he’s right, and this is cogently illustrated by the rites of anarchy we see before us here. For fascism, dictatorship, absolutism, fundamentalism must have tremendous regimentation in which to do as it pleases. Too bad that, having achieved that level of power, doing what one pleases results in no pleasure whatsoever. The only two young people who slip out and take sexual pleasure are slaughtered.

What is it like seeing Salò? There are virtually no closeups, the camera seldom moves, and there is no focal character, only groups. Individual personalities do emerge, because Pasolini likes humans and is shy of them, both of which make him a good voyeur, so he is able to capture persons at true and characteristic moments. But that still leaves Pasolini as a bigot – the commercial classes being his detestation – since he sets them up as The Corrupt Against The Innocent – but bigotry is bigotry no matter what class you hate, and especially, as always is the case, you are fervently partial to your own notion of virtue in doing so.

Besides there is a technical problem with his Allegory, for you cannot have an allegory without a focal dupe. You cannot have a Duessa without a Red Cross Knight, a principal innocent. When in Allegory, even aimed at groups, a single person must carry us through it, as through a supermarket of abuse and temptation. For it is we, the reader, we the audience, who must pass through it with that dupe and therefore wake up to the trance of vice we are permitting ourselves to repose in. Here we witness a crowd from a distance beyond Pasolini’s own distance to it.

So the allegory is lost. But it is lost mainly because a sexual arena leads one to look for sex. It’s the crude but natural thing to do. Setting up A School For Orgy is such a bind on the imagination that the message about consumerism is somewhere over there off-campus. Yes, one is offered bread and circuses, if only in the shape of a starved clown and a crust, but still they are offered in the Circus Maximus of sex. In it, one cannot simultaneously overhear too well a homily from Saint Peter’s down the street. A different internal mob attends.

It has been elaborately re-released in a two-disc box, the second disc of which containing professors talking to professors about what professors talk to professors about. All this keeps professors in business professing, but has little to do with the actual picture, Salò, about which they are endeavoring to make a case. Although there are interesting inclusions by actual participants, such as actors, designer, original writer, and Pasolini, who is handsome, rather dear, very masculine, and genuinely reserved. A booklet of essays includes itself. I have not read it.

And why shall I read it? To prove myself wrong in all that I have said here. For why on earth would anyone read anything at all, save to be seriously disabused? For perhaps I too am lost in the vicious pleasure of consumerism. And what would it be that I consume so hungrily?

Why films, of course. Which is why I watched Salò, just as Pasolini asked me to, wanted me to, and why he made it for me to consume to begin with.

 

Home At The End Of The World

23 Sep

Home At The End Of The World –– directed by Michael Mayer. Drama. Two male lovers housekeep with a screwy female. 96 minutes Color 2004.

Robin Penn is far too old to play this lady with the rainbow hair. It’s a part for a fat young woman with no confidence in her own sexual attraction. Robin Wright is very handsome and is in her late 30s, and she would not be fooled by this hair for a Manhattan minute. And the actor, in fact, does not relate to the hair at all; she simply wears it with less adventure than she might wear a Halloween wig. It is an earmark of a performance by an actress, usually canny in her craft, usually offering us something novel and brilliant. And yet one feels that she is fully engaged. And so she is. The trouble is that there is nothing very much for her to be fully engaged with. She is a tiger engaging with an antipasto.

The script and the direction are flimsy, the tone of the picture is false, the casting is false, the playing is false. Sissy Spacek’s work is vaporous.

Colin Farrell is off-base and phony as the adult gay lover. He play-acts innocence and dumbness. His eyes wander about like Mayflies, and he affects a little lost smile. It is a strange piece of amateurism, when his own innocence, his own stupidity would have done just fine.

And worse still the director and author seem to think that homosexual relations are devoid of blood-rare lust, that they are something one sips genteelly like lemonade. For none of the players evince anything more than a pastel passion.

This is fraudulent. Aside from there being nothing at stake in it and therefore no drama, it is an attempt to make homosexuality nice – which is stupid – since part of the charm, the power, the influence, and triumph of sex of any kind is victory over the “nice.” “Oh, for a delicious smooch!” as one finds in Almovódar’s Law Of Desire, for instance. “Oh, for a great big juicy steak!”

And to top it off, the film does a toe-dance over the affliction of AIDS. It offers us the Farrell character as too stupid to know his partner has it, when it is obvious that that is exactly what he has.

So, spare yourself the dismay. Do not, whatever you do, take up residence in the Home At The End Of The World.

 

 

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: AMERICAN REALISTIC, Cissy Spacek, ENSEMBLE DRAMA, FAMILY DRAMA, Gay, PERSONAL DRAMA, Robin Wright

 

The Law Of Desire

17 Sep

The Law Of Desire – written and directed by Pablo Almodóvar. Melodrama. 102 minutes Color 1987.

★★★★★ 

The Story: A beautiful young man becomes disastrously obsessed with a film director.

The link between satire and melodrama has not been this close since the heyday of Dickens. They are really two sides of the same coin. And one of the links here is the notorious color scheme that Almodóvar employs to nest this tale and that brings to one’s eye a humor of disposition which is very hard not to be influenced by. You want to giggle.

If any problem exists in this film, or any other film of Almovódar that wishes us to take it seriously, it is that he has such a big heart that everybody is forgiven for everything in advance. This film comes before the discovery of Penélope Cruz, who embodies all these traits in her nature: big heartedness, drama, and the color scheme. So, while his films are wonderful to watch and be entertained by, we are foolish to ask ourselves to be deeply moved by them. This does not mean they are trivial or to be scanted; not at all; they must be seen, like the mobiles of Alexander Calder, lest we deprive ourselves of an important delight. You wouldn’t spurn Mozart because he is light-minded, would you? Or the films of Lubitsch because he is fun?

This story deals mainly with homosexuality and transsexuality, and is Almovódar’s first film so to do. The parallel plot involves Carmen Maura who was once the director’s brother and is now his sister. And the transsexual Bibí Andersen (not to be confused with Ingmar Bergman’s Bibi Andersson) plays the aunt. All this is very nice and disturbs, just as it is meant to do, our customarily acceptance of things.

The director is played with admirable restraint by Eusebio Poncela, and it is a pleasure to see him engage in passionate kissing scenes with men, for that is just the way men kiss one another when they are at it. His is essentially the Almovódar stand-in role, as you find in Broken Embraces, the man whose calling is more important than his love relations.

Antonio Banderas plays the mad youth. It is very nice to see him with his clothes off, for he is a fine figure of a male, and it makes his insane lust for the director real. And he also kisses back real good. But what’s interesting about Banderas’ performance is that he is playing someone insane as though they were not insane. What the actor does is to excuse nothing. He has that ghastly, religiously-crazed, prude mother to motivate him, and Almovódar needs give us no more than that. The story does the job for him.

What Almovódar does give us is a mountain slide of a finale, with plot heaped upon exposition scene as Pelion on Ossa. It is more rich desserts than we can digest at a sitting. But he does meet all the responsibilities of the genres of melodrama and satire, which he clearly loves, just as he loves nutso love-lust s in Duel In The Sun with its wedding of sex and slaughter as praise for life lived fully in a way that no one really cares to do outside of a movie, including Almovódar. What’s the moral of the opera?

There is no sacrifice one does not make for love – children, gender, life, sex itself. If it aint necessarily so, well then, that’s one reason we go to a movie to begin with, isn’t it?

 

Reflections In A Golden Eye

14 Jun

When it first came out I hastened to it and saw it shown with Huston’s famous color correction for it meant for us to see the film as through a golden eye. This version was immediately withdrawn and regular Technicolor imposed. It still failed. Why is the eye gold to begin with? Because Anacleto, the fairy houseboy of Julie Harris, theatricalizes a peacock’s eye through a drawing made to correct everything grotesque – meaning we, the audience, are meant to be witnessing the story as grotesque and, through a golden eye, forgive it…I guess. Because that is not what happened to me. What happened to me was that I saw Brian Keith be the only sympathetic character in the piece, and Marlon Brando deliver one of the greatest acting scenes in all motion pictures. This is still true of that scene. At the time I also felt Huston was more interested in the equestrian scenes than in the story itself. I feel this is less true now, because what I did not consider at the time was that this material is not suited to Huston’s temperament and so the film lacks body. Everyone in the film is unfaithful. A highly puritanical, non, drinking, non smoking virgin enlisted man/stable boy, played in his screen debut by that wonderful actor Robert Forster, exercises the horses bareback and bare-ass in the woods where he also sunbathes nude. But he also creeps into the house of the Major played by Brando to ogle his wife as she sleeps, hardly an act of fidelity to the pure. Julie Harris is unfaithful to her husband by favoring her houseboy. Marlon Brando is unfaithful to his wife by lusting for Forster. His wife is unfaithful to him. Brian Keith is unfaithful to Julie Harris. But what the film may really be about is the human lens through which people see and do not see one another. I don’t know. I would say the film is thrown by the playing of Elizabeth Taylor, an untrained actress but one of great experience and one who is sensational in roles suitable to her natural instinct. Here she serves up Martha’s leftovers. She is shrill and technically broad, and a woman that beautiful does not have to be either of those things to get her way. The result is that it is a performance without repose. She throws the fact that her horse is a stallion in Brando’s face to cut him, just as she takes a riding crop to his face in a party after he has abused that horse. It does not convince. Gathering that her part is that of a bitch, Taylor lays it on thick. The result is over-painted. Elizabeth Taylor got what she wanted in life without gesticulating for it, and with her, lifting a finger would have constituted a gesticulation. Of course, the difficulty for Elizabeth Taylor would have been that in real life she didn’t know anybody. Unlike Patricia Neal, who would have been perfect in this part, who had a big Southern family, Elizabeth Taylor was jailed by her fame and so never met the sort of woman she had to play here. Her performance is not based on anything. Neither is her accent. Her performance is thus amateur. It would have been more interesting if she had played it against type, recognizing she did hot understand her husband, Brando, but still tried to. Julie Harris, on the other hand, is a treat. Watch her focus. Her ability to sustain attention is infallible, and Huston has the goodness to show it to us. The same is true of Brando, whose performance is somewhat garbled by his Southern accent, but even that seems justified by the primness that he cannot help but seek refuge in. It is a remarkable characterization. And he has this scene. Don’t expect a great movie, but expect great moments. It’s worth watching for them.

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

12 Jun

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – directed by John Madden. Comedy/Drama. A group of retirees seek economic comfort at a Jaipur hotel, which they find also to be a retiree. 124 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

If by some merry chance you should be gulled into seeing this piece, relax then and wander for a time with this bunch of expatriates and be one of them, for in each of us at some time and place is each of the characters we find before us here, and are just as we would be should we find ourselves here. We first of all are the impecuniously retired. We are also the one so fearful of going out of doors in Jaipur India that we miss the fun of the color and assault of the stench and the poverty and the endless wealth and variety of life. Then we are also the one who betrayed a love long ago. We are no less the one who must cling to her safety blanket of familiar foods, never daring to nibble a dainty. We are the racially prejudiced. We are the brash strider venturing forth into the escape of a world both opposite to his own and also unavoidable. The mad and kindly proprietor of this old hotel is a young man who has just inherited it, and his enthusiasm is as boundless as his promises and equally unfulfillable. Never was a film so perfectly, so justly filmed and edited. Never was one so fortunately cast. The balance of the scenes is exquisite as played off against one another for length, tone, plot, and color. Tom Wilkinson plays the lover in search of his once lost love. My favorite, Maggie Smith, who is the most physical actor of her generation, plays the lower-class foodie, and gives to us, once again, that rare gift of an actor, embodiment. Richard Nighy is the fellow who ventures out into the wilds of the city. Which brings us to Judi Dench. I have always thought that to act opposite Judi Dench would be to act opposite a rock. I don’t like her. There is no give in her. Instead an adamantine quality in her chooses the moment for “sympathy,” as by a schoolmarm’s ferule.  She is an actress of advanced calculations, always an instant ahead of the moment. She’s mean. She irritates me. Usually. For this is not one of those times. Here she is given to play the part of a woman entirely opposite to all that, one naive to the world, a woman whose dead husband took care of everything, with the exception of providing for her in the event of his death. She plays it freshly. She appeals. All of them do, but the one who really appeals most is the young actor playing the delirious proprietor of the hotel. What a wonderful voice and face and energy. What a sense of humor. What a darling guy. He is Dev Patel of fond memory of Slumdog Millionaire. And the movie is directed by John Madden of fond memory of Shakespeare In Love. So you see. Whatever age you are, you cannot go wrong with this movie, for whatever age you are you too are a retiree from something, waking up in a new place and, just like our friends here, just like a newborn baby, comically disoriented. Catch it at once.

 

 

Shortbus

24 Feb

Shortbus — written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Sex Comedy. Various souls with sexual blocks end up at a sexual retreat.  101 minutes 2006.

★★★★

Well, sex is fun! That sure is demonstrated with great gusto here — a quality I do not find pornography itself to possess. The notion, however, that sex leads somewhere, that it by itself can open up connection to another, which is a theme here, is false. Each of the main characters has a sexual hang up, each one is stymied. And I do not quite believe that the resolution of each of these hang-ups is real. What I do believe is real is the director himself entering into the orgy scenes but not being able to perform. Voyeurism is a form of participation, yes, but his constraint, or his wish, by making the film, to break restraint, is perhaps the real truth here. John Cameron Mitchell directed Hedwig And The Angry Inch before this and The Rabbit Hole after it, which proves that the word genius does not mean one has a genius for everything. This story of sexual resolution through the ministrations of a sex salon is much closer to his polemic than, let’s say, his directing a June Allyson movie would be. Great directors are great because they have their natural affinities; Raoul Walsh directs quirky action pictures with stories that smash right through. The word métier does not mean profession; it means a particular inner and personal execution of that profession. As to Mitchell’s gay polemic, I do wish we could all live Rabelaisian lives. Prudery, though, is natural. Sexual repression isn’t. Uninhibited sex is natural. Religious sexual stricture isn’t. Foreskins are natural. Circumcision isn’t. Is any of that true? What is curious, above all in this picture, is that each of the main characters has a sexual hang up, but that none of them relate it to the fact that each one of them has the wrong job or no job. What is the relation to sexual obsession, either anorectic or satyriasic, and actual calling? The film is unconscious in the matter. All praise to the director, though, and the whole cast, orgy and all. I was particularly moved by Paul Dawson’s acting; I believed him every moment. Don’t rent this picture, though, and pretend you don’t know beforehand that in it there are all sorts of sexual scenes shown, sans fig leaf. It is not a picture to be watched by hypocrites.

 

 

Hedwig And The Angry Inch

23 Feb

Hedwig And The Angry Inch – written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Rock Opera. A transvestite rock singer seeks retribution for the theft of his songs by a rock superstar. 95 minutes Color 2001.

★★★★★

At the heart of Hedwig lies the soul-scar we all carry, one which would revolt and horrify others were it known, so we suppose, perhaps with justification. To countermand and also commandeer this defect, Hedwig fashions himself into being a rock singer. Of course, it works and it does not work. The platform upon this performance is built is that Hedwig is also an orphan, raped by his father and abused by his mother, and eventually sold into marriage with a handsome black pedophile soldier, who eventually shucks him off for fresh chicken. His parents abandon him, this soldier abandons him, his band member lover abandons him, and his songwriting partner abandons him and steals his material and becomes a star. Hedwig is abandoned. But Hedwig is not his name. For he also abandons his name and takes his mother’s name, puts on glitz rags and Farah wigs and flames at the head of a band, Hedwig And The Angry Inch. That is to say, abandoned, he becomes abandoned. He becomes abandoned to being abandoned. He becomes not just a performer, but one who throws everything away. I mention all this because the actor who plays this part is fed by his relation to this background, and his genius does not stand apart from it. So it is impossible to give any kind of technical breakdown or analysis of a performance so profoundly integrated and so grounded that there is no risk the actor takes that proves an error. It means the actor will know instinctually what the camera can and cannot do in his favor. Of course, in one sense, the actor is operating with the full cooperation of his makeup table. The variety of being he is able to paint with this makeup ranges right left and up and down. There are times his darkened eyes are darkened thus not to blantantize an emotion but to frame the masterpiece of a subtle tragic twinge. His face is responsive and to be read, to be followed, to be empathized with. He’s a wonderful actress. He could play Medea. The film itself is not a documentary of the stage version, which Mitchell also performed. The only loss from it is his repartee with the audience – at the Victoria in San Francisco, say, where I saw it performed twice without Mitchell at all. The gain is large because of Mitchell’s sense of the décor of a mess of wigs and everything else. Somewhat over-edited, the film offers the tremendous carrying power of the close-up. The songs, which tend to be collegiately polemic, are not as good as the story, and the story is not as good as his performance, which is the raison d’etre of all. His supporting cast is splendid, especially the young man who plays his band mate lover. See Mitchell do it. He’s a singing scar.

 

 

Albert Nobbs

31 Jan

Albert Nobbs — directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Drama. A waiter in a second tier Irish hotel is actually a female in mufti, which leads to difficulties and revelations for all. 113 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Master actor Glenn Close has co-written a screenplay of a short story of the Victorian writer George Moore, so it is curious that she makes the error she does in creating her own part. She is remarkable in it, mind you, and the film is worth seeing for two other extraordinary performances in it as well, the celebrated Pauline Collins playing, with Dickensian relish, the old trout of a hotel owner who rules her roost with the high hand of hypocrisy. And Janet McTeer. It’s wonderful to see for the first time an actress of genius whom one has never come upon before or even heard of. Once Janet McTeer enters the screen you do not want to forsake her company no matter what. You want the camera to be on her perpetually. She is not a scene-stealer or a virtuoso actress. She is simply present wholly as the character in the moment before her. To reveal more would be to betray her part in the story and the brilliant and heartful way it is played out by her. But back to Glenn Close, who is a virtuoso actress and whom we want to steal all scenes within reach. Will she get it right this time?  Or will she fall into her usual trap? But – wait, what is clear almost from the start is that the part as written by herself is virtually unplayable, by which I mean that it can’t go anywhere. First, she has chosen the name of Albert, which no other name can exceed in tedious respectability.  She does not try to make the character masculine. She does not imitate a male. She simply presents Albert as a person without gender of any kind. Also she makes him hysterical, but with an hysteria completely lidded down by fear of exposure. That is to say, Albert is forbidden all emotional life. Also she makes Albert withdrawn, an introvert’s introvert. He is shier than shy, a person without repartee. At the staff meals in the hotel kitchen we see how he is accepted by everyone as Mr. Nobbs and taken an interest in by no one. Which is as it should be, for he is so without affect that he is entirely without mystery, even the mystery of how come he is without mystery. An automaton of self-effacing efficiency, he offends no one. The creation of this human being right before our eyes is a major treat. Here is the great Glenn Close doing the impossible, and the first half of the film gives us really one of the great performances of modern times. But the thought crosses one’s mind: where can she go, having set it up as a person so frozen there is no melting possible, no calving of a glacier? Albert has one ambition, which is to open a tobacconist shop. And that is probably the direction the story should go, but it doesn’t. Instead it goes in the direction of her trying to marry a cute housemaid at the hotel. If this worked in the original story, I don’t know, but it does not work here. First, because Albert is a watcher and a listener, and it is obvious that the housemaid is involved with the sexy cad handyman. This is known; everyone says so. So Albert loses our sympathy because she is rank stupid. Secondly, the cause given for her lesbianism is the routine TV reason that she was gang-raped when young, as though every lesbian had to be likewise to become one, whereas the fact is she has no notion about sex or love whatsoever; she is a sexual anorectic; she has no drive, not even a lesbian one. She is clueless. Her desire to set up housekeeping with a woman is not sexually based; it is commercially based: she would have a shopgirl in the tobacco store. So the character loses more and more identification as the film goes on. And Close falls into her old trap of making the character she plays holy with happiness in a beach scene in a dress. Setting all this aside, the film itself is a deep and vital investigation of hypocrisy in action in us all. And worth seeing for the three great actresses at the top of their bent in it. Don’t miss it.

 

Lilies

17 Jan

Lilies – directed by John Greyson. Drama. An old bishop is forced to relive a youth triangle between himself and two other boys. 95 minutes Color 1996

* * *

Undermined by an over-translation into English of the French play, a group of very competent actors cannot rise above the diction of the script, which causeth them to utter as no mortal before hath uttered ever. The actors play it, nevertheless, as realistic, which is smart and which makes their effort valiant if seldom effective. I also could not tell which of the three young men ended up as the bishop and which as the prisoner until the final scene, which kept me watching, I suppose, to have my curiosity satisfied, but curiosity is small feeling next to what might have been identification with the human situation before me. It starved me of it. The prisoners who perform the reenactment of the youthful betrayal play female parts as well, but this is very hard to do without camping at all, and this they succeed in doing only sporadically. But what really is at stake here is the veracity of youthful homosexual love, and the story is based on an essential lie. The two adolescents are having a mad affair in an Edwardian convent school. One of them, after bad punishment for it, decides to go straight. However, he decides he loves his young friend more. This decision, worked out on a symbolic level, does not take into account the reality of the heterosexual mating strain in him, particularly as he grabs the first passing dish, a rich heiress of great character, played with admirable complacency and a completely flat chest by a black actor, Alexander Chapman. With her the young man makes the decision that he does not love her enough to mate with her, which is to say he must be 100% gay because he does not fall deeply in love with his first straight date. So the male love affair reads as agit-prop for homosexuality, and, since it does not address the central and true issue the polemic is flimsy. What does work is the relation at the end between the bishop and the lover he has betrayed, who is now a prisoner. The director surely has been influenced by Fellini, which is not a bad thing, but extravagance cannot really shroud a corpse.

 

Beginners

18 Jun

Beginners – directed by Mike Mills. Romantic Drama. A loser in love heads for the cliff in his latest and last romance, but will he make it? Color 2011.

* * * * *

Ewan McGregor appears to be an actor without temperament or guts. He is an actor who presents a blank cutout, as though male audiences are supposed to fit themselves into his shoes and female audiences are supposed to project their ideal male upon him. I guess. He leaves me cold. He can come through at essential moments such as the one when his father tells him that his mother knew he was gay before she married him, but said she could fix it. Then we get a readable response, one which can register upon McGregor’s features which are made limited by the perpetual influence of scowl line between his brows and the cruel error of being in half beard. But because of McGregor’s lack of affect, Melanie Laurent, an actress who unlike him presents very well, is acting in response not to him but to the dialogue. And the camera remains largely on her as she carries the various fluxes of the tale between them, carries them ably and with charm. Fortunately the dialogue is brilliant. And the tale is wonderful. Alfred Hitchcock is not a great director, but he had something which greater directors rarely have: the ability to cast a spell. And so does the director/writer of this film, whose work here is unusual, keen, and beguiling. He brings to us a film remarkable in all departments, the music, the photography by Kasper Tuxen, the editing by Olivier Bugge Coutte, and by all the actors. Christopher Plummer seems finally to be dropping his Shakespearean rodomontade and to be learning screen acting, for he is perfectly modulated in the role of the father who, finding himself a widower at 74, decides to explore his gay nature. Withal, Plummer’s wife is played with acute and stunning wit and imagination by Mary Page Keller. Every time she appears on the screen you welcome her. She brings us McGregor’s formative love as a boy of eleven. All this is interleaved with the beginning of his romance twenty five years later with a woman much resembling what Mary Page Keller has generously given us. I loved this film, I loved its writing, and because of that I should not tell any more, except permit me to spoil the ending. It ends with these two lines of dialogue: “I don’t know,” “How does that work?”

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Full Speed

25 May

Full Speed –– Directed by Gael Morel. Youth Drama. A cluster of friends works out their relations to one another and their futures. 85 minutes Color 1998.

* * *

I don’t want to see another film about homosexuality which ends in death. Why is that the recipe? Certainly all the actors are attractive, although the director does not seem to have much grasp of the actor’s medium, for the dialogue never passes beyond mechanical recitation. This tends to thin and monotonize the characters, and reduce the weight of the drama to plot and spectacle of which there is plenty. But why is death the outcome for homosexuality? Death and misery. Humiliation and degradation. Always the same. Or. Or, if the love affair works out, it is worked out on strictly bourgeois lines: marriage, picket fence, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. I’m tired of baloney sandwiches for lunch and death.

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Saturn In Opposition

07 May

Saturn in Opposition – directed by Ferzan Ozpetek. Drama. A family of family and friends entangles and disentangles like roots in the earth. 110 minutes Color 2007.

* * * * *

I should think that anyone whose prejudices have ever posed themselves against homosexuality would want to see this film.  For if a prejudice ever existed internally in one, it will always remain lodged there like a boulder under water. It’s just natural. Changes of attitude and behavior are to be lauded, and they are vital to the ethos of culture and democracy and civil society, and no law is moral which upholds bigotry. But this film places the matter right in the lap of the viewer, and it is a tonic. As I watched I stepped back at one point and asked myself the question: Why is this a good movie, and I could not answer it, although the evidence was before my eyes. It’s beautifully directed by the same director who brought us the well-known His Secret Life.  It brings us Pierfrancesco Favino (“brother” to Javier Barden) and Margharita Buy, but the cast is an ensemble, as is the customary case with this director’s pieces. I recommending this film without telling you a thing about it, except that everything about it is excellent. There is nothing else I can do, and you will know why that is as you watch it.

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Beautiful Boxer

18 Feb

Beautiful Boxer – directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham – drama of a Thai renowned kick-boxer determined to become a female. 118 minutes color 2005.

* * * * *

Anyone across whose mind has passed the notion of altering their gender from male to female will have experienced in large or in little what this story dramatizes as a whole and will feel fascination and sympathy with it. Nong Toom, an effeminate teenager, enters the grueling and violent world of kickboxing to fee a sex change. His first goal is to help his disabled parents, but he is so skilled he becomes a national treasure – particularly when he starts wearing girl-makeup in the ring. The scenes of boxing are remarkable, the training is horrendous, the environment the same as for boxing anywhere, lousy. The film is brilliantly mounted and told by the director/writer; the editing and music and photography are stunning. And the brutal bullying, shame, and confusion are exactly no different from what any of us have received for the same natural quandary the world over, from the time we humans were children to the time we are old. So frightening is the situation — perhaps nothing is more frightening in life than to be derided for the body one has to survive inside of within one’s present incarnation — that one can only respect the strength of character Nong Toom’s determination shows in going through with his desire to be the beauty he sees in females. The boxer and his/her story are famous in Thailand, and Nong Toom is played by a champion current Thai kick-boxer, Asanee Suwan. What the film demonstrates more clearly than any Rocky movie can do is that the fight against gender-preference oppression requires a masculinity of a force greater than the force of homophobia by far, and that nothing less will do.

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Biutiful

14 Feb

Biutiful – directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Drama. A dying blackmarketeer must provide for his children. 148 minutes Color 2010.

* * * * *

To honor his ancestors before he becomes one, is the basis and main inner action of this man’s story. It is framed by a passing on of ancestral respect, and its main central action is the deed of fatherhood. That deed, or deeds, have family and social repercussions, as he tries to do right by those he has adopted. These include the Chinese laborers smuggled into Spain, as he finds work for them, and the wife of a deported co-worker. In many ways he is a middleman in a variety of areas of life, taking care of his drug-trafficker cohorts and their families, as well as his own wife from whom he has left to protect his children. She is a bipolar prostitute, beautifully played by Maricel Álvarez. The entire film is well cast and beautifully acted. And the director has a passport to levels of society and places of Barcelona which make the film ring true at every point. The world the main character, Uxbal, moves through is lively, debauched and horrifyingly poor and perilous, but the director has written a story on the screen that demonstrates a mentoring instrument in Uxbal, and by token, in us all, that transcends and survives the worst that society can impose, the grimmest flatness, the cheapest thrill, the intrusive world of the vile cell-phone. There are some bafflements present. For instance, there might be asked the question: does the director equate homosexuality with the lowest corruption? Does the decay on the ceiling mean heaven is lost to us all? Does the appearance of someone on that ceiling mean something? Does the caretaker of the children abandon them? These things are unclear, but what is clear is the fathering instinct in Javier Barden, who is very beautiful, of course, and beautiful to watch play this saint in the gutter strive to save his two children after he is gone. Visually the story is alert to the camera, and the camera does its narrative job masterfully. All one needs to see to know that the mother of those two children will never be able to take care of them is a single short profile shot of Maricel Álvarex exhaling a cigarette. It is one of the great moments in all film.

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Mango Yellow

12 Feb

Mango Yellow – directed by Claudio Assis – Human Comedy. Lives intertwine among the working poor in the city of Recife in Brazil. 103 minutes Color 2003

* * * * *

What makes a great film? Variety, veracity, vitality. Is that enough? It’s enough for this film. And it makes clear why films of the working classes and the local classes give satisfaction like no other. The reason is that these are stories about people inside of whom something can happen. And this is everything. Upper class stories — Antonioni is a great example — give us stories in whose characters nothing can occur. But the poor people in Mango Yellow are in a daily duel for survival, and their aliveness is vivid and present and in peril. Even the waitress who owns the Avenida Bar and who is sick to death of its routine of insults, whose song is the song of the sameness of day-after-day, is afire with her protest. Dunga, the There’s-No-Stopping-A-Determined Queen, commands our respect and care as he flares and flounces and yet makes everything work, but his love life. Strange Isaac driving his yellow Mercedes and passed out in a decrepit boardinghouse, The Texas Hotel, still goes roaring after the debauchery he seeks. The butcher, Wellington, hacking with an ax at cadavers in the slaughterhouse weeps with contrition and confusion at his infidelity toward his evangelical and chilly wife. And so it goes. Mango Yellow is one of the great Lower Depths movies.  Brilliantly filmed by Walter Carvalho, scored by Jorge Du Peixe and Lucio Maia, designed and costumed by Renata Penheiro, written by Hilton Lacerda, the director Claudio Assis has brought together a remarkable community of talent to give life to this remarkable community.

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S.O.B.

14 Jan

S.O.B. – directed + by Blake Edwards – lowbrow comedy about a Hollywood director frantic to revive his career – 121 minutes color 1981

**

Vulgarity is wonderful – if enforced by the gusto of a grand internal energy – Wallace Beery as Falstaff. But if the internal energy is flaccid, as it is with Blake Edwards, we are served mere coarseness, which is what this director dishes up. Vulgarity without the sauce. This extends to the director in the film asking his wife, a goody-two-shoes superstar like Julie Andrews to expose her bubbies for the camera. In this case, the actual star is Julie Andrews, and the actual director Blake Edwards is her actual husband, and the bubbies are actually hers,  and in the film she actually does deliver them to us, and actually very nice bubbies they are too. The film is meant to be a mockery of Hollywood behind-the-scenes, but it is technically impossible to mock that which is already a mockery, which is to freshen a heifer already with calf. The thing cannot be done. A redundancy so perfect it is indistinguishable from the original and impotent. What Edwards does have to back him up is the very real energy of very real talents – Robert Webber as the franticly fearful press agent, Loretta Swit as an egomaniacal gossip columnist, and the mighty Robert Preston as a feel-good doctor needling everybody in the rump. The picture would have been much better with him in the leading role, for he is splendid, is he not, as a sort of Ur-male, like Burt Lancaster which only the movies could body forth without wrecking every car on the highway. As to the rest: lift up your nose, pinch it, and turn away.

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The Oyster King — I Don’t Want To Be A Man

31 Dec

The Oyster King  [1919] & I Don’t Want To Be A Man [1921] — directed by Ernst Lubitsch — Two comedy black and white silent features by the great master of film comedy. In the first, a tycoon’s spoiled daughter makes her father find her a prince for a husband. In the second a spoiled young lady dresses in men’s evening clothes and ends up having an adventure with her guardian.

* * * * *

The Oyster King is radiantly funny. Lubitsch calls it a grotesque farce, which it is, in the Ionesco sense of farce. The story moves along lickety-split from one spectacularly funny development to the next. Ossi Oswald is the young lady in both films. She’s a comedienne from the Betty Hutton School Of Acting — but then, in those days, they all were, weren’t they? She’s a stocky little soubrette and fully engaged in all and everything, so the film is carried forward by her and by Lubitsch’s master hand at movie-making. He has the ability to engage the audience in the scene and participate as a teller of the story. That is, Lubitsch gives the audience full credit for intelligence and willingness for fun. I, for one, delight in his confidence in me. The Oyster Princess was a famously successful picture in its day, and, seeing it now, I do not wonder why. I laughed myself silly. I Don’t Want To Be A man is played by the same actress, Ossi Oswald (who is called that in both films). Once again she plays the spoiled society girl. Whereas the first film is a satire on American money, this one is more European in the aim of its comedy, with considerable footage given over to a man kissing another man — who is actually a woman in disguise. Well, you see what you are in for here. The astonishing sets by Richter spell vulgar luxe in hilariously large letters. The music accompanying the films is very deft and funny as well and so are the titles. They are both a great lesson in visual comedy, not pantomime, as in Chaplin, but something else. Later he was to direct Trouble In Paradise, Ninotchka, and To Be Or Not To Be — two of the funniest films of the prewar era. End that old depression: rent ’em and rent this.

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Town And Country

02 Dec

Town And Country — directed by Peter Chelsom — upper class comedy in which two couples couple with others and with one another — 104 minutes color 2001.

* * * *

Warren Beatty is superb at playing men who are so dumb they can’t help but get seduced. From McCabe And Mrs Miller and the desert-duo-with-Dustin he has created this marvelous dolt — feckless, almost virginal, and rather endearing. Here he has hardly anywhere to go with it, except back into the sack with any lady bold enough to jump his bones. Andie MacDowell plays a mad girl, no matter, suddenly he is in bed playing dolls with her; the local hardware store clerk immediately rolls in the snow with him; his best friend’s wife rolls on the couch with him; Nastassja Kinsky replaces her cello with him — and all as though he had no say in the matter whatsoever. The movie is supplemented with two genius comediennes, Goldie Hawn of National Treasure Status, and Diane Keaton, perfectly cast here as Warren Beatty’s ritzy wife. Both she and Hawn are wonderful in scenes telling off their husbands. Hawn’s is played by the dubious Gary Shandling, who discovers he is gay. Well, well, but the film loses its comic force when the director thinks that embarrassing a banquet with a brannagan is in any way in and of itself funny. The running joke of dusty furniture in a high-end antique store is not funny either, and for the same reason, that it beggars credulity. People aren’t like that. High-end antique stores are not like that. However, the suavity of the film lies, of course, not in its comedy, but in its humor, and when this is achieved, we are amused — which is all we ever asked to be.

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Surrender, Dorothy

02 Dec

Surrender, Dorothy – directed by Charles McDougall – a middle class drama about a middle-aged mother hounding the ghost of her daughter – 86 minutes color 2006.

* * * * *

Well, an actress has to work, and when a highly professional big star like Diane Keaton is given full rein in a 20-day, low budget TV drama, watch out. This part should have been played by a Jewish or Mediterranean actress whose grieving style might make this story swallowable. But Keaton, an actress of genius, has, without rehearsal, only the liberty to quirk things up; forgive her, it is her only recourse, since she is miscast. The direction makes one suppose the director is a dullard, which he proves himself to be as he is involved in, count them, two commentaries, one side by side with Keaton, who has the decency to say little, although she does give some interesting clues as to her method, and the other with one of the greatest cinema-photographers in the world, Vilmos Zsigmond, who shot this picture. Anyone interested in how films are shot must dwell upon this interview. Because of the strength of his Hungarian accent, he is often difficult to understand, but don’t let that stand in your way. Do let Keaton’s costuming stand in your way, though. She descends on the summer cottage which her daughter has rented with friends, and, to the horror of those friends, she moves in and proceeds to put on her daughter’s clothes. But are they her daughter’s clothes? The wee bowler hat lets me know they are rather the costumer’s foolish submission to the Keaton sartorial style — the clothes the movie star Keaton would look, at the age of 60, cute in., and so the grotesqueness of the character’s impersonation is lost. All the scenes are beautifully shot and badly directed. The other actors are reduced to their default routines, and Keaton sometimes overacts, or turns things comic that are not. And what we are left with is a new mode of drama invented here for the first time: Cute Tragedy. But, if you can’t stomach the picture, check out the five-star commentaries.

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Burlesque

29 Nov

Burlesque – directed by Steve Antin – a musical about farm girl with hidden talent who comes to L.A and tries to break into Show Business – 118 minutes color 2010.

* * * * *

Cher is perfectly cast as a Burlesque Queen which is what she is and always has been. She is a National Treasure, so we must seize any opportunity that comes along to be in her presence. She is especially good in the first half of the picture in her relations with the extraordinary Stanley Tucci who has won so many Academy Awards it would not be fair to bestow another on him for this delicious performance, and the excellent Peter Gallagher, her former husband and present business partner. Cher declines in interest as the plot not just thickens but curdles around her, for she is in peril of losing her nightclub, oh dear, and Will Not Sell Out. The director should have told her that Tigresses do not weep. Otherwise the piece is very well directed and beautifully filmed, and one feels that a major musical is in hand. The duties of the plot eventually forbid this, of course, but at least we have Cher, in very good voice, singing two songs, the second of which is indecipherable because her enunciation is, as usual, blurred by her vocal production. However the principal player here is one Christine Aguilera, whose vocal quality is similar to Cher’s. She has one Big Number after another, and she is impressive, and these are set on a stage which it is conceivable could hold them. However they are show-off-edited, such that the cuts prevent any single number from registering, so you never can tell what the performer is actually accomplishing. One good part of that is that the off-stage stories are spliced into these numbers at times, which works for the stories if not always for the numbers. For by praising the feat, the editing distances us from experiencing the feat of such performances, and , by giving us canned admiration, forcing us out of  admiring it for ourselves. The dancers and singers are full of beans and beyond-talent, and that does satisfy. Burlesque, in the old days when there was Burlesque, was live-theater in which dirty-joke comics alternated with ladies who disrobed or almost avoided disrobing. In this version the numbers combine the dirty jokes with the witty songs and parodic dances, all of which is dandy. The only striptease is performed by Cam Gigandel who is our heroine’s beau, and who takes it off all the way at one point with great comic effect. He has a mighty fine figure and is a deft and imaginative actor and a good looking young man, perfect in his scenes, and perfectly cast. I hope he has a future. We need a great big smashing musical every year, and this year, this is it!

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Wilby Wonderful

29 Oct

Wilby Wonderful –– directed by Daniel McIvor –– a pickup sticks comedy of interlaced passions in a sweet Canadian town. 99 minutes color 2004

* * * * *

A wonderful picture. It’s set in a small island community and offers grand-hotel narratives of interlocking stories all resolved in one day. There is the handsome cop whose wife is the local barracuda real estate lady. There is the devious mayor who wants to develop the local lovers lane. There is the handsome housepainter in love with the recently divorced husband. There is the salty local beauty breathing hot and heavy with the cop. And there is her teenage daughter sneaking out for a canoodle with the local boy. Does all this sound sordid? It isn’t. It’s a film of true humor and rich human relations. All the acting is top-notch. The only actor I was familiar with is Sandra Oh who appeared as the two-timed girlfriend in Sideways. She is flabbergastering throughout. And everyone else is a good as she is. For me, a truly gratifying film.

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The Everlasting Secret Society

29 Oct

The Everlasting Secret Family –– directed by Michael Thornhill –– a teen- age boys contrives to remain forever young as a weapon of power. 94 minutes color 1994.

**

The life of the homosexual is depicted as nasty, manipulative, and snide –– once again. It depicts homosex itself as kinky and controlling and fatal –– once again. In doing this, it exerts a condemnation of homosexuality –– once again. The picture purports to be an expose of corruption in politics, but that is really a put-up-job, for what it really wants to do is revel in a certain type of supposedly entertaining gay temperament, and by that I do not mean camp, of which in this movie there is not a trace — but rather the temperament of The Bitter Pill Of Homosexuality. A middle-aged politician easily and impenitantly seduces a teen-age boy. This boy, fearing to lose his grip over the politician and for that matter anyone else who appears before him, starts taking youth shots. Thus we have the theme of the homosexual mania for the young and beautiful. But it is impossible to identify with this theme, because here a mania for youth and beauty is limited to lust — love never enters into it — and because an itch for youth and beauty is natural to all orientations anyway. The problem is that the boy is never innocent and never vulnerable and never less than as evil as the corrupt souls around him. Moreover, the young man’s beauty is ugly. For one is asked to endure the revolting job of beholding his face continually distorted by arrogance, cunning and fifteen different hair-dos. Arthur Dignam is quite good as the older man. Cut out his performance and paste it into your scrapbook, but put the rest of the film right down there in the trash.

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2 X 4

24 Oct

2 X 4 –– Directed by Jimmy Smallhorne – gender drama in which an  Irish immigrant faces his homosexuality. 89 minutes color 1998.

* * * * *

A brilliant film! Beautifully photographed in Dublin and the Bronx, where immigrant Irish males come to make their fortunes in construction, manual labor, and entrepreneurial schemes and scams. Dark and wild, the story tells the coming of age of a powerful alpha male already in his thirties as he grapples with nightmares and day-mares of an inner homoerotic torment. It is brilliantly acted by everyone in it, each character completely convincing in his milieu. The direction and editing are astonishing. The film shows male frontal nudity and scenes of sexual congress, all coincidental to the scenes themselves. Jimmy Smallhorne plays the principal character with complete realism, and he also directed. If you are looking for pornography and the license of a happy-go-lucky gay lifestyle, this is no more that than a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie is a movie by Ingmar Bergman. This picture is a picture that stands by itself as a masterpiece of no previous genre. Very interesting, completely eccentric, entirely authentic, and told with a narrative skill that is uniquely cinematic. It won the Sundance Award for cinemaphotography.,

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Harlow

24 Oct

Harlow –– directed by Gordon Douglas –– a bio-pic about the lingerie blond from the 30s. 125 minutes Technicolor 1965.

* *

I spent an evening talking with Carroll Baker in the late 50s after she had just had her first successes in Baby Doll and Giant. She was pretty and sweet and simple. She had a little wen under her chin which gave her face a certain unexpected character. She had that money-voice. More than six years go by before this picture is made, where she is playing a teenager. Her own story in her own autobiography is far more compelling than the one cooked up for this curious actress, Harlow, and far more shocking. As a performer, Jean Harlow is an actor I tend to avoid. She had a square hard face, thin lips, a voice like fingernails on a blackboard, and, except for wearing no underwear or wearing only underwear, no talent. Except for Hell’s Angels, in which she seems to be quite another person. Anyhow, Baker is right for this role and is a much better actress than Harlow. English actors are infirmly cast in parts around her, Peter Lawford who looks like he has been stung by thirty infected wasps, and Angela Lansbury, ordinarily wonderful, who is quite bad, gravely miscast, for some mad reason, as Harlow’s mother. The whole production is swamped somewhat by the Technicolor process, which is really something to behold in its heyday. Just take a look at the opening scenes where the extras enter the studio, go into Costume, and start filming. Edith Head did the things, which are wonderful, but have not much to do with the 30s; nor does the music. Martin Balsam has a nice turn as a vulgarian producer. Ten years after this film was made, I was in love with a woman who looked like Carroll Baker. She had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. She’s gone. But I look at Carroll Baker’s films now, because Baker, retired to Palm Springs and no longer acting, was a very good natural method actress and because we had such a nice talk so many years ago and because of that.

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Infamous

15 Oct

Infamous — directed by Douglas McGrath — bio-drama about Truman Capote, Harper Lee, and their approach to the Sutter murders which produced his best seller In Cold Blood. 118 minutes color 2006

* * * *

Well, it’s badly written, directed, filmed. The sets and costumes are suited to a Betty Grable musical. And it’s hard to like Truman Capote. One can admire him, for his strength and pertinacity, but his books are unreadable now and his position as the dwarf/jester of cafe society is gone. But during Gwyneth Paltrow’s perfect rendition of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”when she breaks down — you see Capote rooting for her. Odd. Capote rooted for no one but himself. Capote banked everything on vindictive survival. And it’s understandable, because he fell into no expected human category– until he found, after In Cold Blood, that survival itself wasn’t worth it. But that’s not the story told here. Toby Jones as Capote is trapped by the physical distortion he adopts, save once, in front of a mirror when he realizes the irony that he loves and is loved by someone he can never be with. Mark Wahlberg was to play that part, Perry Smith, and would have been better than Daniel Craig, who has only half of the character to offer, Perry’s violence; the other half, Perry’s artistic soul, is given Craig by dialogue but he cannot embody it. But Craig performs everything with complete conviction and simplicity, all praise to him. The great Lee Pace is Dick Hickock, the nasty psychopath provoker of the slaughter. Sandra Bullock is tops as Harper Lee, shrewdly achieving her effect by rarely looking at the camera, in the actual meditation of a modest woman. Juliet Stevenson is way out of line as Diana Vreeland. High Society people are not hoity toity, only people who imitate them are that. Sigourney Weaver is miscast as Babe Paley, it should have been played by an elegant woman, which Weaver is not: Jill Clayburg, Blythe Danner. But the story gives me room to ponder the ways of nature. I recommend the piece because it held me, and because the director, although not very bright, has given us a simple draft of the Capote romance with slaughter and slaughterers, and because of Lee Pace, the instrument of it, amazing in his few scenes. The film itself accomplished what it set out to do. Despite its shortcomings — an honest job about a dishonest person.

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Soldier’s Girl

15 Oct

Soldier’s Girl — Directed by Frank Pierson — a young soldier garrisoned in the South falls in love with a transgendering nightclub performer and pays the price. 112 minutes color 2003

* * * * *

Ladies and Gentlemen, raise your hands to applaud! We have before us in Lee Pace one of the great actors of our time. Here he plays Calpurnia a male not yet female. At first, I thought, “Oh dear, he’s too tall, his face is too long, he’s too this, he’s too that,” but this stopped almost at once and never returned. For the actor has found what this woman wanted for herself, and in doing that, the character comes alive and never falters. That’s just the actor’s job, you say? Not quite so, for the realm of discovery for an actor may enter depths unfamiliar to him and generate truths unexpected in him. And that’s what we are in the presence of here, I believe, an actor taken over by another human being and being the vehicle for her. What Calpurnia wants is to be alluring at all times, to be fascinating at all times, to promise sexuality at all times. She may have sacrificed her life for this, that we may not judge, but she does it by displaying female helplessness always. The pitch is Take Care Of Me And All This Femininity Will Be Yours. Indeed, she is a night club performer of it, but in a triumph of shyness — shyness not brazenness — for this is not a camp performance, neither in Pace nor in Calpurnia. We are in another realm. Spotlights blaze on demureness. What a paradox! But that’s just an actor’s job, right? Here we have an actor whose natural gifts are so obvious, the main one being his eyes. Looking into them, both as he plays Calpurnia and as he remains in character in the interview of him, one can see how connected he is — and this is everything. What a gift for an actor to be born with! I first saw him in Miss Pettigrew with Frances McDormand, and was stunned, by his willingness to show male love for a female outright. His performance was true as true. Just as it is true here.

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