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Archive for the ‘MUST SEE’ Category

The Pacific

16 May

The Pacific – various directors – produced by Tom Hanks & Steven Spielberg. 10 episode mini-TV series – drama 8 hours 15 minutes 2010.

★★★★★

The Story: Three marines and their comrades fight disease, filthy weather, bullets, burial, and the fanatic Japanese in the Pacific theater of combat of WWII.

~

I was 12 years old when The War ended, and I remember it well. But I remember mostly the European theater, because my parents were from England, and because Hitler, as an Aryan, was, to me, a more defined monster than the Japanese Hirohito, and because I lived on the East Coast nearer Europe.

But we certainly heard about the Pacific War, both on land and sea, as the troops stepping-stoned from atoll to atoll until they finally hit Japan on Okinawa.

I cannot recommend this series more highly than to say it is so convincing a picture of the guts and gore of war you may find it difficult.

I served in the Army during the Korean War, shipped there during the armistice. So I knew one ghastly feature of it – its tedium. The close quarters with other males for long periods of time has its merit and its murder. It brings out the worst and the best. And none of it is really anyone’s fault. It’s the situation that makes men nasty, hard, cruel, and violent as well as, in those same men, loyal, gentle, humorous, and true.

I knew none of the cast, but I was glad to see, once again, how wonderful our American actors are. I believed every one of them. I believe all I saw and could not imagine how the film-makers managed to recreate the massive landings and battles on those islands. But it sure gave me a picture of what those battles were like and what those men had to do to survive and prevail.

I take the series as a part of my education. And it is also a documentary drama of real soldiers, whose actual names are used, whose reflections we hear from them, and whose stories gripped me from beginning to end. I recommend it without reservation.

 

The Shape Of Water

14 Jan

The Shape Of Water – written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. Thriller Fairy Tale. 123 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★★
The Story: An Amazon river god is imprisoned in a U.S. research installation, where he is tortured and threatened with dismemberment until a cleaning woman nurses and rescues him.
~
Of course, fairy stories are true. Myths are true. Allegory is true. That’s how come they last and carry weight in the spirits of children and indigenes. What “true” means is that fairy tales and myths and allegory mimic the inner procedures of the human psyche. The reason fairy tale and myth and allegory endure is that their method of communicating the most important human truths has never been supplanted.

So we see the kindness of the cleaning woman to be the real food she offers the creature, along with hard-boiled eggs.

But what use has this scary creature? The use is, as with all gods, that they never die. What goes with that territory is that they can heal death in others. Mercury, the god of thieves, medicine, tricks, and messages, is the winged avatar of this still, but Hindu religion is crammed with others. In all cases, they heal.

Not always in the way you might want, and in this case the healing teeters perilously before it is revealed. For the god has taken the shape of a merman, and his aspect is daunting. He is played by 57-year-old Doug Jones, lithe, sensual, sudden.

I can’t think of an actor who might have better played the cleaning woman who becomes his mate. Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito (which in English means “exposed” or “transparent”) opens her character up not just to him but to her colleague played by Octavia Spencer whose every word one always believes and so it is here. Over a movie house which seems to be playing forever the same B-Toga epic, Hawkins lives in generous neighborly conjunction with with a commercial illustrator whose style has dated him.

Richard Jenkins does him perfectly. He is the artist who cannot make a difference, the old fool, The Failed Father Figure Of Fairy Tale. Rather like the sad king with the unmarriageable daughter whom you find all the time in those stories. Either she herself or someone beyond unusual must rescue her from the doldrums of the kingdom. And in this case, the doldrums are enforced by a vicious tyrant played with his usual perfection by the handsome, hard Michael Shannon.

Mortal stupidity swirls them around – by the American military bureaucracy typified by Nick Searcy as the general in charge of everything – and by the Russians who want to steal the merman, and whose plans are foxed by Michael Stuhlbarg, who who plays a scientist/spy bent on saving the merman.

So you see, you have a full complement of forces, modern and fantastical, to urge our attention and our loyalties on.

The film is beautifully filmed and imagined. Just what you want for such a tale.

And what is it that you want?

What you don’t want is to be told. So both the merman and the cleaning woman are mute and must, nonetheless, make themselves perfectly understandable to themselves and to us. We see that it is not hard to do.

What you really want is resurrection.

And that’s what the picture provides.

Enjoy yourself. See it.

 

The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemum

27 Apr

The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemum – directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. Backstage Drama. 142 minutes 1939.

★★★★★

The Story: A young serving woman finds her life’s work in supporting a spoiled young man to become a great Kabuki actor.

~

It is one of the great films of the world.

And lest that put you off, let me remark that the self-sacrifice one finds prevalent in certain female characters in American movies of this time (Stella Dallas, for example) collapses under the nobility of the burden of an emotion of which one tires because it was phony, because it was the goodie-goodie dole parceled out to audiences by the doers of The Depression as payoff for the chisel. We Cheated You But At Least You Met Deprivation Nobly was the American lie. This is not that.

No women’s-libber dare speak against this woman’s calling. Oh, yes, she is taken advantage of by some males about her, as well as by some females. This is not that, either.

And those who may decry her as a codependent doormat have no place at this table.

For who can convince the uniformed in human emotion? The vulgarity of social values is what is unintentionally triumphed over by her, including all those above named.

For she devotes herself to the truth of a great artist from the moment he is laughed off the stage as a lousy actor – which he is. How come he doesn’t know he’s lousy? Because he’s the son of the superstar, and everyone in the company toadies up to him with unearned praise. To see the truth within him is her God-given gift. This is what she gives herself to, as some give themselves to service or to art or to a faith.

That’s how it starts. How it continues involves a great story-telling technique, of fascinating our attention to the narration through the point of view of enormously long takes – one of them 6 minutes – a device Hitchcock failed at twice – but which encompasses a visual setting of such relentless loveliness the calmness of them is as irresistible as a volcano.

You may weep. You may not. You may want to own it in order to make a life study of it. I simply counsel you to subject yourself to it. Michelangelo’s Pieta traveled around America, and when it did we all came to see it: a teenage girl holding the body of her 33 year-old dead son. See this for the same reason. Exercise your cultural curiosity by crossing the street to where it is.

And thank me one day that I whispered these things to you.

 
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Posted in ACTING STYLE: JAPANESE MOVIE-NOH, DIRECTED BY: Kenji Mizoguchi, MUST SEE

 

Gandhi

16 Dec

Gandhi – directed by Richard Attenborough. Biodoc. 188 minutes. Color 1982.

★★★★★

The Story: An East-Indian lawyer briskly walks the stony path of leading his nation to social justice and freedom from colonial rule.

~

He was assassinated on 30 January 1948. He was 78. I was 14. He had ben a household word my house all my life and by all households in this country. His doings were known and found strange and wonderful and admirable.

He was one of a world of great humans of his time with whom I had the fortune to be a contemporary: FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Einstein, Schweitzer, Churchill. Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Toscanini, and many others. What they did, they stood for – in all our eyes. There are only a few such now. World heroes. Ai Weiwei, the artist/rebel is one. I grew up with many.

When Gandhi was killed, it was the first of a string of assassinations which continued with JFK and King, Lennon, and today’s public slayings, all designed to erase a social presence with which fanatics disagreed. Bullets end compromise.

Attenborough’s film begins and ends with that occasion. In between, it is a chronicle of Gandhi’s political strategies, working always around English colonial power. It does not account for his beginnings in South Africa where he came under the spell of Tolstoi’s teaching, nor does it examine the progress of his ethical or personal growth. But what it does do is to place Gandhi in his arena of the strenuous political action of non-violence.

In this arena, he appeared, often virtually unclothed. Thus this thin naked man met his opponents, and with simple shrewdness convinced the world and those opponents the right thing to do, and they did it.

Ben Kingsley plays Gandhi. He is a cold actor, and his performance is a model of how the thermodynamics of an actor can serve a role, for Gandhi never turned aside as he strode through crowds who gathered to love him, as though their love of him was irrelevant. Which it was, compared to the task at hand. His fame never detoured him. He knew their love of him, was really their love of what he stood for. Kingsley never veers.

Gandhi’s story is told simply, carefully, directly. Only a film could tell it, and it must be told because we must not forget it. The film is impressive in its honesty, directness, and innate character. It seems to inhere with the spirit of Gandhi himself.

It won eight Oscars, Best Picture, Director, Editing, Costumes, Script, Sets, Photography, Leading Actor. But the real quality of the film’s excellence lies in, for instance, the four hundred thousand extras that volunteered to enact Gandhi’s funeral, the extras that crowd every scene by the hundreds, the help of the very people of India for whom Gandhi lived and died. It was they who made Gandhi.

 

Marketa Lazarova

18 Oct

Marketa Lazarova – directed by Frantisek Vlácil. Historical Drama. 162 minutes Black And White 1967.

★★★★★

The Story: Clans feud in the dark ages in Czechoslovakia.

~

What does the word “great” mean?

What does it mean when it means nothing less than the most it can mean?

Let’s put it this way: this film is on the order of Beethoven’s 9th.  King Lear.

It is on the level of the best films of Tarkovsky, Rossellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizogichi, Satyajit Ray.

I don’t think I need to go on any further about it.

Great is the comprehending of that which is beyond comprehension.

I like that kind of thing.

The sublime. The profound.

The Grand Canyon.

Marketa Lazarova.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Chances, The Balloonatic, Neighbors

12 Oct

Seven Chances, The Balloonatic, Neighbors – directed by Buster Keaton. Color and Black And White, 1920 and before.

★★★★★

The Story: A young man will inherit seven million dollars if he gets married by 7 that day.

~

Do you want to owe a debt of gratitude? Do you want to thank God on your deathbed that you used your time well, in one respect at least? Do you want to be the happiest you’ve ever been at a movie?

Buster Keaton is Circle du Soleil all rolled up into one. He was, he remains, the greatest humorist ever to appear in motion pictures. He is the paramount physical comedian to have appeared before the public. He is the muscularly strongest person ever to have acted before cameras.

You will see feats that will astonish you. You will not be able to believe your eyes. You will certainly not believe that one person could do all this without stand-ins, stunt men, or special effects. You will laugh yourself sane.

Keaton understood the wit inherent in the two-dimensionality of film, how what comes on from the left goes off from the right, and in between these two events takes place farce. The going, the action, the leaving constitute farce. The thousand deaths of farce are hilarious. For the flatness is death. And it deserves and wins our triumphant laughter at his triumphs.

We face the flat surface of the screen. This is a comedy which is funny because it reflects that part of life which is without dimension. This is comedy without depth. That is its depth. You do not reach into it. It reaches out at you at all times. If you want depth, wait, at some point or other you will see into Buster Keaton’s eyes.

Here he must run around and find a bride before dark. He asks seven. Then seven hundred ask him. What more does one need to tell of such a merriment?

Attached to this full length film are two two-reelers, The Balloonatic in which he goes up on the top of one. And Neighbors all shot on two sides of a tenement backyard fence that splits the screen.

And who will benefit from your watching these gems? Your entire family will. You will. You will be happy and you will die happy for having been so. And I?

It is to me you will owe the debt of gratitude, along with Buster Keaton, for having participated in your dying of laughter.

 

The General

02 May

The General – directed by Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman. Farce. 107 minutes. Black and White Silent 1926.

★★★★★

The Story: A railroad engineer, turned down by his lady friend after failing to be taken into the rebel army, thwarts the Yankee takeover of a key railroad engine. 

~

I balk at writing about this picture because the word praise is insufficient to it.

If you enjoyed Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel you will see where it comes from and what is to be learned from The General at the same time as being entertained by it.

Full frontal exposure is how film farce must work, and Keaton knew this. He grasped the two-dimensionality of the motion picture screen and reveled in it. So when something comes from the right, it must flee from the left. The actors’ responses must  play into the camera and out to the audience as though the audience knew all along.

It’s the greatest chase film ever made. He employs masses of extras as armies and stages the most expensive special effect to that date: a train falls through a bridge. Except, it’s not a special effect. It’s actually done.

And Buster Keaton is clearly performing the daredevil, life-on-your-line stunts, one after another. He was the king of the pratfall; no one has ever approached him in this.

Farce is sudden, bold, mechanical. It works like a choochoo train, and the picture takes place in, on, and around a famous engine, The General. A great deal of farce depends upon our seeing what the main character does not see, and Keaton is a master of this gag. For while he sustains super human exploits and athletic feats of derring-do, he is also a sacred innocent. He is caught up in the folly of circumstances and responds to them humbly. It makes him one of our greatest screen actors. He has the Great Stone Face, but it is a stone curiously sensitive and readable. You always know what he is feeling, despite the rigor of his visage. For his eyes are large, beautiful, and subtle.

You see how Keaton makes me babble. I have no hallelujah large enough for him.

I suppose he is the greatest performer/entertainer ever to appear in film.

Will that do it? If not, shoot me.

No, no, not in the foot, you fool, you’re supped to misfire, over there, where that man with the fat ass stands. So he can fall on Buster. And Buster can skitter out from under, just as fatso is about to land on him.

My version had a second disc of extra features, all of which are fascinating, particularly a reel of Buster Keaton’s many dealings with railroad engines, streetcars, buses, and autos. A gem dangling from a diamond.

 

George Stevens Seminar — The More The Merrier

21 Jun

By the early 40s Stevens could write his own ticket. Harry Cohn begged him to come to Columbia, saying he would never bother him, he would never even speak to him, if he would only come there and work. But Stevens said that he would value Cohn’s experience and point of view, and Stevens did go, and Cohn did not bother him.

He was to make three pictures there with Cary Grant, Penny Serenade, The Talk Of The Town. and The More The Merrier. The last of these, however, did not have Grant in it, thank goodness, for he was not available, and it really needed a middle-class regular American Joe to play Joe. (Could Grant ever play a character called Joe?) Instead it had Joel McCrea, who Katharine Hepburn said was in the same category as an actor as Bogart and Tracy, and so he was.

Jean Arthur made three pictures with Stevens, The Talk Of The Town, The More The Merrier, and her last picture, Shane. She  was tiny, but unlike most tiny women actually looked good in clothes. Like Margaret Sullavan and Kay Francis, she had a catch in her voice, but that wasn’t all that was appealing about her, for she was naturally endearing and a highly susceptible comedienne.

Stevens was eager to get into WWII, for this was 1942. He left for service before The More The Merrier opened at Radio City Music Hall, as had his other two Columbia Pictures. Like them, it was an enormous critical and popular success.

WWII took Stevens into North Africa, into the Normandy Landing, and eventually to Dachau when it was first liberated.He took color movies of it, which we have to this day. The only color movies of it.

When the War was over, he came back to Hollywood and scheduled a comedy with Ingrid Bergman. He couldn’t bring himself to make it. Katharine Hepburn always scolded him for not making comedies, for which he had such a gift.

The War had changed him.

The More The Merrier is the last comedy he ever made – and one of the best.

It’s a model for study, for camera arrangement and for directorial latitude to allow natural human comedy to arise between and on the faces and in the bodies of performers. The director has to have tremendous strength, patience, and the ability to watch in order for this rare and essential relation to arise. Perhaps no one has ever done it better than George Stevens.

 

The More The Merrier

21 Jun

The More The Merrier – produced and directed by George Stevens. Farce. To ease the housing shortage in wartime Washington, a young lady rents out her spare room – but finds herself with an unexpected roommate. 104 minutes Black and White 1943.

★★★★★

That  Peony Of An Actor, Charles Coburn is granted a full George Stevens’ close-up on his fabulous face right early in the picture, so that we may know how close to our hearts are meant to be to him. Later Stevens grants Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea similar close-ups. Stevens was sparing of and famous for these full-face close-ups. He granted Joan Fontaine and Douglas Fairbanks Jr them in Gunga Din and the most famous close-ups ever shot, those of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun. On the opposite side, Stevens is also fond of shooting from outside through windows, which, though distant, has the effect of making us eavesdropper-voyeurs and therefore also intimate.

Coburn, an infallible actor, plays Dan Cupid to Arthur and McCrea, which is all we need to know to allow ourselves sit back and enjoy one of the most delightful comedies ever made. But what sort of comedy is it?

Yes, it’s verbally witty and it certainly has broad situations, but it’s not low comedy and it’s not high comedy. Actors never invest their lines with anything but normal human readings. No one wrings a line for all it’s worth. The actors don’t seem to realize that they are doing anything funny.

I’ll clue you in if I may. George Stevens filmed and directed the first movies of Laurel and Hardy. Now the comedy of these two did not fall into any previous movie category. They were not fast-moving like Langdon, Keaton, Chaplin and The Keystone Cops; they did not fall into the category of circus clowns. They were new and they were  inventing a different comedy, a slow-moving comedy. Stevens discovered a camera lens that could film Laurel’s pale eyes, and Stevens further opened up his lens to let these two work things out before the camera, as though the camera were not there. And that is the remarkable impression The More The Merrier provides, although, of course, for that very reason, you don’t realize it – unless like me you saw it when it first came out and several subsequent times since. It’s a Laurel and Hardy comedy without Laurel and Hardy.

McCrea is one of the glories of 40s films: this and Sullivan’s Travels and The Palm Beach Story and other pictures of that era, ensure our continued enjoyment of him. He is tall, good looking, modest in his craft, and absolutely true in it, But, most important, his sexual energy is available to him, as is Jean Arthur’s to her. This means we have two of the sexiest comedy seduction scenes ever filmed – the scene on the stoup and the scene with the suitcase. The attraction simply works itself out before our eyes easily, naturally, as though we were not watching all the while. The two of them are so infatuated with one another they appear to be drunk. The sexual tension between them is as dear as it is exquisite. And it is hilarious.

Treat yourself to The More The Merrier. And invite anyone you know — after all, the more the merrier. It’s a family film about setting out for war. Garson Kanin wrote it. Stevens and the film were nominated for Oscars. Coburn won it for best supporting player. Stevens won the 1943 New York Film Critics Award for Best Director for it. Immediately upon editing it, he left for the North Africa Campaign – just as McCrea does in the film. Those were the times. And The More The Merrier provided the tincture of human joy that made them bearable.

 

 

Emma

18 May

Emma – written and directed by Douglas McGrath. High Comedy. A young woman tries her pretty hand at match-making, with unexpected comical results. 121 minutes Color 1996.

★★★★★

Yes, a timeless comedy. And in a rare version of it, the director/writer of Emma has reduced a novel of over 600 pages in which nothing happens at all, which has no plot, no story, and which all we are concerned with is who is visiting whom next – and which, once taken up, it is impossible to put down.

For here we have, in Jane Austin’s hand, the creation of a character in Emma of Shakespearean veracity.

You read along, and you cannot help but love her, because she always means well and she is always absolutely wrong. From the point of view of character creation, Emma is a masterpiece of human life, someone who simply stands apart from the novel and walks around through its pages as though she wrote them herself, foibles and all. Like Falstaff, Emma has a life of her own.

Two exceptions worth making to this highly entertaining film.

Ewan McGregor is not only badly miscast; he also, one after another, looks terrible in his costumes And he also cannot play the part. The part of Frank Churchill is the best looking male in the story: he is devastating to women; he is high-spirited, he is dark, he is slender; he is beautifully turned out, he cuts a wonderful figure; he is lots of fun. But McGregor is accoutered in a hideous blond wig, his clothes are dowdy and don’t fit through the shoulders, he is frumpy of temperament, wants joi de vivre, wants mystery, and, in short, is so clunky no woman would look twice at him nor any man envy him.

The second exception is that the story does depend upon Emma’s falling for Churchill, sign of which gives her true love long pause. This movement is omitted, and so when Jeremy Northam must question it we have no idea what he could mean.

Otherwise the film is a gem. Otherwise if there is anything to forgive it is not worth noticing. We have Phyllida Law, a study as old Mrs Bates, Polly Walker perfect as the reserved and beauteous Jane Fairfax, Juliet Stephenson hilarious as the society-bitch Mrs Elton, Sophie Thompson as the impossibly voluble Miss Bates, Greta Sacchi kindness itself as Mrs Weston (née Taylor), Alan Cumming as the worry-wart health-nut Mr, Woodhouse, Emma’s father, whom she so much resembles. And Toni Colette, an actress who probably can do no wrong, as the gullible teenager Harriet Smith.

But the jewel in this jewel, the heart of its heart, is the big-hearted Gwyneth Paltrow, perfect.

Until Gwyneth Paltrow, no true ingénue has appeared in film since Audrey Hepburn.  Until she retired, Hepburn played with the energy of it , even in dramatic roles, such as The Nun’s Story, for she was never a dramatic actress. But Gwyneth Paltrow finally, also, had the perfect collection of ingénue attributes, yet, after her two wonderful comedies – and ingénues must be introduced in comedy – Paltrow embarked on serious dramatic roles much more demanding that those which Audrey Hepburn took on after Sabrina and Roman Holiday. Paltrow’s two comedies were this and Shakespeare In Love, both high style costume pieces, and both requiring an upper class English accent.

But what are the qualities of the ingénue?

Many actresses have played ingénue roles without being true ingénues: Helena Bonham-Carter, Susannah York come to mind.  For someone has to play them. The ingénue is most often the second female lead, playing opposite the juvenile or jeune premier, both just under the leading lady and leading man. Thus: Hero in Much Ado About Nothing and Bianca in The Taming Of The Shrew.

But what does the true ingénue, Audrey Hepburn and Gwyneth Paltrow, have in common that  the others do not have?  What makes them true ingénues?

Well, both are tall, slender, and have long necks, and are elegant of mein. Both in private are clothes horses and on screen wear clothes well. That’s  nice, but they alone do not do it.

Both have charming, well-placed, cultivated speaking voices. Both are bright. Both are sexually innocent. Both are pretty in a way no one else is.

In both instances, they have radiant smiles.

And both are under or appear to be always 21.

But, most important, both are fresh.

And both have real big hearts.

They do not play second leads. They play leading roles because they are rare.

They are absolutely for some reason adorable, for, as soon as you see them, you fall in love with them as you would with an enchanting child.

This is the reason to see Emma. To see a magical young girl whom you have no will to resist being charmed by.

What a treat for you.

Gwyneth Paltrow this year was voted the most beautiful woman in the world. She is now 41. That freshness still remains. And – the most beautiful woman in the world because so endearing for having – its so obvious – the biggest heart you ever saw.

 

Lincoln

16 Nov

Lincoln – directed by Steven Spielberg. Docudrama. President Abraham Lincoln is surrounded on all sides as he presses to get Congress to pass the 13th Amendment forbidding slavery. 149 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

I was thrilled, stirred, gripped.

I thought beforehand I would not be, for the coming attractions are ill advised.

But, once there, everything about this film surprised, entertained, informed, and moved me.

My first fear was that Daniel Day-Lewis would simply dress himself up in a top hat and shawl and, in the voice of Henry Fonda, perform The Lincoln Memorial.

But what Daniel Day-Lewis has done with Lincoln, is to give him a posture which is stooped, which we know he had, and a short gait, which we couldn’t know he had, but which keeps him in the contemplative present when he moves.

Day-Lewis’s figure is tall and thin, as was Lincoln’s, and his face is long, as was Lincoln’s. He has, as Lincoln had, cold eyes. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice, and that is what the actor contrives for us. The impersonation is beyond exception.

The actor also has the ability to negotiate Lincoln’s remarkable diction, so he is able to manage Lincoln’s speeches and his raconteurism –– everyone said Lincoln was a most entertaining individual, and folks gathered around him to hear him tell jokes and stories –– and this is given full play as is his play with his little son. But the weight of the matters that concern and confront him and how he faces them are the story.

The political shenanigans environing the passage of the 13th Amendment are the setting here, and in this he is beset by his foes and friends alike. Among the foes is Lee Pace, an actor of signal clarity of attack, who leads the Democrats of the day who, like the Republicans of our own, have no agenda but to oppose, in all matters, the person who holds The Presidency.

The complex backstairs bargaining and bribery and bullying to get the amendment through is exciting and involves a lot of first class actors to bring off. Kevin Kline as a wounded soldier, Jared Harris as U.S. Grant, Bruce McGill as Secretary Stanton. We have James Spader as the foul-mouthed operative sent to influence the undecided with sinecures and cash. Hal Holbrook as the peacenik operative whose truce-making might arrest the entire effort. John Hawkes as Robert Latham.

But the big difficulties at the time were two people who were in favor of the amendment. The first was Mary Lincoln, unbalanced by the loss of a previous child and exhausting and distracting Lincoln by indulging herself in grief because of it. This is an astonishing piece of work by an actress who has grown over the years: daring when young, even more daring now: Sally Field.

The second problematic character was Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist so radical his extreme fundamentalism bid fair to upset the applecart. A formidable politico and vituperator, it required an actor no one could out-wily, out-cunning, out-sly. And such an one we have to hand in the person of Tommy Lee Jones. He’s killingly funny and powerful in the role. It’s one of his great film turns.

The filming of story and the direction of it are exactly right, established at once by Janusz Kaminski with a Brahmsian color palette and a scenic arrangement that gives us a view from under the table of the White House goings-on and political dealings that never fall into the staid tableaux of Historical Documentary or the expected or the pat.

But the great credit of all the great credit due is to Tony Kushner who wrote it. He alone of modern playwrights could negotiate the elaborate rhetoric of 19th Century invective, without which the telling of this material would be incomprehensible. Instead of taking out your gun and firing at an insult, you had to stand still to hear it long enough to mount a more suitable riposte than a bullet. Congress in those days was messy, rude, and volatile. We see it all.

Kushner frames the picture with two speeches, and each one is given to us in a surprising way. Historical events with which we are familiar are gestured when they are not integral to the strife within. He knows how to write a scene with lots of words, and the material needs them and welcomes them. You have to lean forward and keep your ears alert, just as these men and women did in their day. You want to. It’s part of your engagement, your learning, your joy, and your satisfaction.

Up close and personal with Lincoln, if you ever imagine yourself so lucky as to be, you sure are here. You give full credence to this actor’s Lincoln. You watch Lincoln, yes, he is available. You still admire him, you are touched by him, you know him as well as you ever will, save you read his letters. A man of great depth of reserve and great humor. Torn, pure in two, but one. Because fair and honest and kind. Smart because he understands human language from aint to art. When has his party put forth for president a person of one tenth his character? Will they ever do so again?

 

The Color Of Paradise

30 Oct

The Color Of Paradise – written and directed by Majid Majidi. Drama. A blind boy is abused by his father who is ashamed of him. 90 minutes Color 1999.
★★★★★
This is a wonderful picture, difficult for me at first, which is the customary strategy of this director, and then eventually and wholly to be surrendered to. Both the freakishness of the boy’s blindness and the dire hatred of him by the father are so off-putting that I knew I must stick with it for the good that might be arrived at — and it sure did come. I cannot imagine where the green countryside exists once this film leaves Tehran. I cannot imagine how they found that boy. I cannot imagine how they found an actor great enough to play that father so thoroughgoingingly. It is beyond my comprehension that this film, in its extraordinary extremes, came to exist at all. The whole thing is a mystery to me, and one that I am grateful for. Of course, watching it, don’t expect a walk in the park. But do expect that your capacity for compassion will be engaged to a fullness wider than wide. Expect a spaciousness in yourself to appear to hold this remarkable simple tale in your being.

 

Shane

20 Sep

Shane –– produced and directed by George Stevens. Western. A stranger pitches in to help some homesteaders in Montana and finds himself caught up in their struggle and destiny. 118 minutes Color.

★★★★★

Sam Peckenpaugh said it is the greatest Western ever made, and it probably is, for this reason: Westerns both begin and end with it. For it is a movie about how we see Westerns. It is told through the eyes of an eight year-old boy. He sees the Western hero as we as all have seen him and desired him to be, gone to Westerns to contemplate, desire, and idolize him. What’s important is that the boy is eight; he is at that stage where his pheromones are open to drink in what he must become as a male, what is inherent in the gender, where the gentleness of a gentleman is housed and demonstrated. As Alan Ladd plays it, he is nothing if not a gentleman. For him guns are the last resort, and Stevens, who had seen World War II and its guns and the criminality that war is, uses a cannon when guns go off to shock the audience into the knowledge that a gun is dreadful. And by hooking Elijah Cook Junior up to a jerk line that knocks him backward off his feet violently when he is shot, shows that when a man is shot a life dies in a crude, sudden, ugly way. Stevens sets it under the mountains of The Grand Tetons, which he films with a telephoto lens to bring them forward as cold, distant Gods sitting in their tremendous chairs watching the little doings down there in the vast valley, and he mats his adversarial faces as beautiful against a scripture of clouds scrawling across a huge blue sky. Never in a film has spectacle and intimacy been so strikingly joined. Jean Arthur brings to a close her great film career playing the pacifist wife laboring in dirty shirts to make a home for her husband and boy. She is so naturally plaintive that you cannot but respect her decency in that and in her attraction to Shane himself. Van Heflin as her homesteader husband fills the role with full value. He is one of those actors, like Charles Coburn, who satisfies a part by never slacking and never overloading it. He is a lesson to all actors of how modesty of technique can achieve the role of moral authority that a certain role requires. When Shane takes down Jack Palance (in his first screen role), it is Brandon DeWilde as the boy spying agog who stands in for us as we have always been spying, adoring the Western hero in films, prizing the gun-skills, justifying the slaughter because of its elegance and daring and aim. We have watched Westerns all our lives as DeWilde’s Joey watches Shane. We call ourselves into question because of the habit. How real are these heroes in us and to us? Westerns changed forever after Shane. Cowboys could no longer sing once this song was sung.

 

A Place In The Sun

13 Sep

A Place In The Sun – produced and directed by George Stevens. Romantic Tragedy. A young man aspires to love and success and is waylaid. 122 minutes Black and White 1951.

★★★★★

Seeing Elizabeth Taylor aged 17, as Angela Vickers sail into a mansion, you know she belongs there and you want to belong there with her. For Angela Vickers takes it all for granted. Like Daisy in The Great Gatsby, she has money in her voice. She has the silver chinks. She has everything and she gives everything, so the film naturally and inevitably slants towards her. Shelly Winters as the working class trull is given the opposite: neither sex appeal nor charm nor sympathy. She is brought into performance from beginning to end like the melted ice cream she serves and seems to be enduring morning sickness from the start. A self-pitying, sulky, nauseous look distorts her visage, a quart bottle of platitudes ready to pour. Washed around by his mother, Anne Revere and the two young women with whom he becomes involved, Montgomery Clift as George Eastman is a piece of driftwood shoved by every eddy. His body is flaccid and stooped. His face stares at us and reveals nothing but the hurt he might feel for a passing dog. His beauty registers as great but uneventful. One can read anything into his beautiful eyes, or nothing. For he cannot seem to summon any temperament. But the story is his, and so one reads, not George, but what happens to him. He stands there while it happens, not a character but a circumstance. His entire story, that is, points to Angela Vickers, as the only visible point of life, and the picture aims at what she promises to us all by her very existence on earth. Eastman is a character fostered by a magnate uncle who recognizes his resourcefulness; nepotism aside, George clearly could have succeeded in business on his own merits. And finding work he can do well and rise by is enhanced by his relations to Angela Vickers who has the sureness of her effect on men to go out for what she wants, as she does from their first big scene. We see her willfulness and her will,. We would call her spoiled, but she isn’t because she’s so kind, so happy to be alive, so generous, so gravely honest, so bright, and above all so loving. All the fun in life is lodged with her, all the beauty, all the romance. And never before or since on the screen have these qualities been so resplendently visible. Our hearts go out not to Clift or Winters, but to this wonderful girl, and to her baffled sadness and the life-long love that like a melody sings through it right to the end and beyond. Taylor’s performance throughout is gloriously right, natural, spontaneous, and her final scene is one of the greatest pieces of acting ever filmed, the finest piece of acting she ever did, and the most lyrical. Indeed, the whole film plays like something sung. It brings into being a beauty wider than either of the two beautiful faces of its leads or their romance. Did he kill her? Is he guilty. The priests says yes, of course. But the film says that the question is irrelevant. For it says that his love was a life experience so great that death is not in competition with it at all. Guilt, death, they are not even the same frame. Life has an inherent celebration in it, despite everything. Revealing this to us makes A Place In The Sun the most deeply life-loving film ever made. And the most beautiful.

 

The More The Merrier

01 Sep

The More The Merrier – produced and directed by George Stevens. Farce. To ease the housing shortage in wartime Washington, a young lady rents out her spare room – but finds herself with an unexpected roommate. 104 minutes Black and White 1943.

★★★★★

That  Peony Of An Actor, Charles Coburn is granted a full George Stevens’ close-up on his fabulous face right early in the picture, so that we may know how close to our hearts are meant to be to him. Later Stevens grants Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea similar close-ups. Stevens was sparing of and famous for these full-face close-ups. He granted Joan Fontaine and Douglas Fairbanks Jr them in Gunga Din and the most famous close-ups ever shot, those of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun. On the opposite side, Sevens is also fond of shooting from outside through windows, which, though distant, has the effect of making us eavesdroppers and therefore also intimate. Coburn, an infallible actor, plays Dan Cupid to Arthur and McCrea, which is all we need to know to allow ourselves sit back and enjoy one of the most delightful comedies ever made. But what sort of comedy is it? Yes, it’s verbally witty and it certainly has broad situations, but it’s not low comedy and it’s not high comedy. Actors never invest their lines with anything but normal human readings. No one wrings a line for all it’s worth. The actors don’t seem to realize that they are doing anything funny. I’ll clue you in if I may. George Stevens filmed and directed the first movies of Laurel and Hardy. Now the comedy of these two did not fall into any previous movie category. They were not fast-moving like Chaplin and The Keystone Cops; they did not fall into the category of circus clowns. They were new and they were  inventing a different comedy. Stevens discovered a camera lens that could film Laurel’s pale eyes, and Stevens further opened up his lens to let these two work things out before the camera, as though the camera were not there. And that is the remarkable impression The More The Merrier provides, although, of course, for that very reason, you don’t realize it – unless like me you saw it when it first came out and several subsequent times since. It’s a Laurel and Hardy comedy. McCrea is one of the glories of 40s films: this and Sullivan’s Travels and The Palm Beach Story and other pictures of that era, ensure our continued enjoyment of him. He is tall, good looking, modest in his craft, but absolutely true in it, But, most important, his sexual energy is available to him, as is Jean Arthur’s to her. This means we have two of the sexiest comedy seduction scenes ever filmed – the scene on the stoup and the scene with the suitcase. The attraction simply works itself out before our eyes easily, naturally, as though we were not watching all the while. The two of them are so infatuated with one another they appear to be drunk. The sexual tension between them is as dear as it is exquisite. And it is hilarious. Treat yourself to it. And anyone you know. It’s a family film about setting out for war. Garson Kanin wrote it. Stevens and the film were nominated for Oscars. Coburn won it for best supporting player. Stevens won the 1943 New York Film Critics Award for Best Director. Immediately upon editing it, he left for the North Africa Campaign – just as McCrea does in the film. Those were the times. And The More The Merrier provided the tincture of human joy that made them bearable.

 

 

Woman Of The Year

09 May

Woman Of The Year – directed by George Stevens. Romantic Comedy. A vibrant internationally renown newspaper female reporter and a writer on the sport page fall in love and sort it out. 114 minutes Black and White 1942.

★★★★★

Katharine Hepburn met Spencer Tracy making this comic masterpiece, the first and best of their films together. Why best? Because she is so sexy, never more so in any subsequent film with him or with anyone else, and he is in turn and at the same time is emotionally smart about her to protect his heart-on for her. They fall in love at first sight, in their editor’s office, and her face is something to behold as she grasps fully the sexual and romantic power she feels for him and wields over him. He stands back and is amazed by her sexiness, youth, and zest. He follows her from the office, she turns a corner and ambushes him on the stairs and seduces him. Tess Harding is her greatest performances. She and I corresponded briefly about this picture, which I saw when it came out and I was eight, for I understood immediately that this is the sort of marriage I would want for myself – a marriage in which the woman brought something vital from the outside into it from her professional life. This film is the greatest feminist tract ever filmed, the woman raised to the heights of competence, power, wit, kindness, sexuality, admirability, and self-awareness – and the male loving her for all of it. Sydney Guilaroff designed a perfect, sexy shoulder-length hairdo for her that does a lot for her character. That, in the press of her professional responsibilities, she falls short as a wife and mother gives us the foundation of a story which, in fact, ends stupidly. They had no ending when they started making it, and Stevens wrote an ending which proves her to be incompetent at homemaking, in which she is outwitted by three breakfast gadgets. It is a scene out of Stevens’ Laurel and Hardy days; it is a scene out of silent film, a scene based on gags. It is awful for it is a scene disconsonant with the character of Hepburn, who would have risen to the situation of the waffle iron just as she does when she catches the fourth piece of toast flying into the air. The fact is, yeast does not operate that way, toasters do not rocket launch toast, and coffee pots don’t percolate like that – and we already know from the scene in the baseball park that Hepburn was game for anything, and could have learned household chores as fast as she learned and rejoiced in, before her first game was over, the ground rules of a sport she had never witnessed before in her life. The finale is false, for the film is verbal, and their reconciliation needs to be verbal also, not a capitulation on her part, no matter how it is worked out in action. Setting this episode aside, the film depicts the triumph of the female at her best, her most characteristic and complete. She is never the victim, never the little housewife, never the doormat. And Tracy does not want her to be. He loves her even when she is brilliant and says so, and so do I, and so did I when twenty years later I married just such an accomplished female.

 

A Separation

04 May

A Separation — written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. Drama. Life as it is, consequent on a couple’s wanting to separate, who can’t. 123 minutes Color 2011.

★★★★★

The Oscar for the Best Foreign film, thank goodness, and one wonders, first at its astonishing freedom of expression, and then, how come we would have to go to a foreign film to find out exactly how we ourselves behave. I see no English speaking film with this degree of grit, truth of performance, revelation of the human condition of people of any nation, anywhere. The only difference between the people of Iran and us is that some of the females wear a chador; the men dress like me or the guy down the street. The story is an everyday one. The wife of a couple wants to leave the country in order to make a better life for her eleven year old daughter, but the husband refuses to leave with her because he is responsible to care for his senile father who lives with them. I never tell the stories of  movies, and I won’t tell any more of this one, because the value of it registers only through the human colors revealed by its progress; our relation to those colors is what the story actually is. Like the great opening scene of Marlon Brando in Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind, it opens with its characters pleading their cases directly to the camera which acts as the magistrate and therefore us, the audience, and we are thus invited right into the squabble of the story with all its disarrangements, revelations, shifts of truth and human bearing. In terms of acting, what we see here makes Method and Meisner acting look like vanity. It is futile to speculate how such actors are trained in Tehran. Evidently they are not victims of a repressive theocracy. And it is futile, because the result of their work has nothing to do with our yearning for the ideal which the good looking or sexy looking actors Western acting offers us. No. Not here. Here we are unsullied by idealism. This acting affords us a different value entirely: pure participation. Seeing this picture, I realized I was seeing something I had longed to see all my life in film – something that film could provide better than any other medium: the seething truth of the ordinary. I do not go a work of art to be entertained, but to entertain something. And this director/storyteller seems to have set aside his desire to entertain, if he ever had it, but to give us people we can read, and the result is that I dive in and entertain myself vastly. I rejoice in this pleasure. Unlike the couple in the film, we are a perfect match.

 

Swing Time

01 Apr

Swing Time — Directed by George Stevens. Musical Comedy. A runaway-groom meets up with a dance instructor who wont give him a tumble. 104 minutes 1936.

* * * * *

Oh, you may say that Fred Astaire couldn’t act, and in one sense it’s quite true. He seems awkward and embarrassed saying lines. On the other hand, everything he does as an actor is apropos, and every move he makes is a dance, just as with that other Broadway hoofer James Cagney; like Astaire, Cagney is never not dancing. Which means that Astaire’s acting is always physically animated. If there is any problem with his acting, it may be that he is never still, never grounded in his lines. Swing Time is accompanied by a terrific commentary by John Mueller, who takes us through a good deal of what went on to make this piece the greatest of Rogers/Astaire musicals — which has to do with Astaire’s grueling rehearsal work, freedom from chance in the dances, his staff, and the nature of the picture itself. It is directed by George Stevens who was one day to direct Shane and A Place In The Sun and The More The Merrier and who brings to the picture an angle of vision and an allowance for acting excellence in the principals which unify it. Of course, it is a white telephone musical, which means that it is essentially a film in which only the dances are serious art: the rest is flip. This is as it should be, because Astaire is interested in discovering and firming up the musts of movie dance. His discoveries rule to this day. The film contains wonderful numbers of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, including a most endearing version of “The Way You Look Tonight” which you will never forget. And at one point Astaire applies blackface and does a shadow dance with 24 chorus girls 12 in black, 12 in white, and then dances to a triple black and white rear projection of himself. Minstrel shows embody and celebrate an exuberance which our negro entertainers alone possess: blackface gives performers freedom: that is what is being enlarged on here, and, because it is respectful at heart, it would be offensive to be offended by it.  Rogers, beautifully dressed for all her numbers, is liquid in Astaire’s arms. She had a wonderful figure, graceful arms, strong square shoulders, a flexible back. And of course she could actually act, so she moves the spoken drama along while Astaire moves the dance drama along. Dancing he led her; not-dancing, she led him, so to say. At the end Stevens directs them in the most beautiful romantic dance ever filmed. A valuable suggestion Mueller gives is to watch the dances in slow motion. What a treat! To actually see for oneself what went into these intricate, witty dances!  Astaire’s body was a genius. That body is the ur of American movie musicals.

 

Rashomon

03 Feb

Rashomon – Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Drama. Four participants in a violent criminal deed, each tell it from their particular point of view. 88 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once you leave the theatre. I remember when it first appeared. It was, with the early films of Vittorio De Sica and S. Ray, the opening stroke of the introduction of international film to American audiences. They all were startling, indifferent to Hollywood style, profound, gutsy, and beautiful, none more so than Kurosawa. The acting style was Japanese in that it was intense, raw, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized, and firmly and deeply lodged in voice production; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. How he got the part is extraordinary: a friend of Kurosawa told him to come to the stodgy institute’s auditions because someone was tearing the place apart; Kurosawa came and saw that one of the greatest actors in he world, although completely unknown, was before him. He inveigled the institute to accept Mifune. Watch him: he’s the fastest actor in human response ever to appear in film. He can turn on a yen.  There is no one like him for contained anger but Brando. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the sets completely imprisoned. Does it hold up? Masterpieces do. This time round all these years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.

 

 

 

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin

23 Jan

George Stevens – D-Day To Berlin. Documentary. The only color footage of The Allied Expeditionary Forces in the European campaign. 46 minutes Color Filmed 1943-45.

* * * * *

In early 1943, after Stevens finished the delightful comedy The More The Merrier, about the housing shortage in Washington, he enlisted. He entered the service as a major, went to North Africa with a crew towards the end of the fighting there, briefly went to Persia, and then to England, where Eisenhower assigned him to film the European campaign. He was in charge of a group which included writers already established such as Irwin Shaw and William Saroyan and a group of master Hollywood cameramen and technicians. All these proceeded to produce the black and white footage, which was then sent to London and made by Frank Capra in to the black and white movie documentaries with which we are still familiar as the film records of the war in Europe. It was clear to Eisenhower and to everyone else that the signal corps was incapable of doing a proper job of this. So Stevens and his “Stevens’ Irregulars” did it. However, for his own purposes, Stevens took along a 16mm home camera with non-fading color film, and these reels he sent home to his wife Yvonne in California as each was shot. They remained in Stevens’ attic until his son, George Stevens junior, translated them into this 1994 documentary. The D-Day landing is filmed as he came over to Normandy. He filmed the big surrenders of the generals, the liberation of Paris, the capture of 500 German prisoners, the largest underground factory in the world at Nordhausen where the V-2 rockets blitzing London were made, the entry into Dachau where the crematorium bodies lay in piles and drifts, the meeting of Bradley’s Twelfth Army with the Russians, Berchtesgarten Hitler’s mountain retreat, and then Berlin. Just as Stevens had made True Glory with Carol Reed and Garson Kanin in London which won the Oscar documentary that year, so he also stayed until the end of 1945 in Europe to make with Budd Schulberg the documentary The Nazi Plan which was used as evidence at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. But all that is in in black and white. All of this is in color. There were over 38,000 prisoners at Dachau, 6,000 of whom were dying of typhus. Stevens saw it and filmed it, and when he came back to Hollywood never made a comedy again.

 

It’s A Wonderful Life

06 Dec

It’s A Wonderful Life – Directed by Frank Capra. Comedy/Drama. A home-town man teeters suicidally rather than bankrupting himself and his fellow townsfolk. 130 minutes Black and White 1946.

* * * * *

Clint Eastwood remarked how violent James Stewart was in the Anthony Mann Westerns he made in his late middle age. But they are nothing to compare with the rudeness, insolence, insult, and threat he delivers in this supposedly down-home performance of a would-be suicide learning about the life he has lived before it is too late. The insanity with which he throttles the foolish Thomas Mitchell is terrifying. He is violently mean to his children (as indeed one must be at Christmas to have a really meaningful Yule.) But the picture as a Christmas Classic probably looms as large as it does for the same reason that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol does – because of the Scrooginess of Stewart, as George Bailey, followed by the ghastly death-threat visions before he mends his ways. Jimmy Stewart is remarkable in the role, and except for the final scene of the sanctimonious, Deus ex-macchina rescue by the townsfolk of Bedford Falls, where there is something wrong with his singing and his smile, we have a great performance by a master of his craft. It is said that the film was not successful in its day, but I’m not so sure. I saw it when it came out, and I remember it vividly. And both it and Stewart and Capra were nominated for Oscars that year. Or perhaps there is not something wrong with that final smile. Perhaps what I see behind it is a hangover of his own nasty brush with the afterlife. Stewart had been away at war, one of the first big stars to enlist, and he bravely piloted more bombing missions over Europe than was good for any mortal man. Everyone was changed by The War, and what changed most in Hollywood was the virtual inability of its male stars to play comedy any more. Tyrone Power had been marvelous in light comedy; so had Henry Fonda; so had Stewart; George Stevens never directed another one, and screwball comedy never really returned. They came back from The War changed men. Solutions now weren’t so easy as they once were in Capra’s great, good-hearted comedies of the 30s. Capra never made a convincing comedy after World War II, and his career petered out. Here however he is in the last chapter of his topmost form. Every scene is beautifully written, every scene is perfectly begun, played, ended, and edited. Like Normal Rockwell’s paintings, what is illustrated here – and It’s A Wonderful Life is essentially a genre painting and an illustration – is the value of the truth of American community, which is that we must get along with people quite different from ourselves in personal style, race, and national derivation, and that to do so is to survive by the only means possible for survival: love. Love is what needs to survive. And love is what survives us. To make the illustration clear Capra does exactly what Rockwell does: he makes his humans almost caricatures. Like Rockwell, Capra’s characters live in gawky motion, and their gesture is strategized in the direction of endearing folly. All this is still true of America and Americans. Forgetting love’s survival through cooperation and public service and remembering it again is our national drama. This is what makes It’s A Wonderful Life the one film of Capra’s that will not date. To force the illustration, Capra has cast the story perfectly: first with Lionel Barrymore, the perennial Scrooge of radio in those days, as the meanie Mr. Potts, and he eats the role alive. Then with Ward Bond as the cop, Beulah Bondi as the mom, Donna Reed as the feisty wife, Gloria Graham as the town gal of questionable morals, Henry Travers as The Angel Clarence, Frank Faylen as the cabbie, Sheldon Leonard as the bartender, and a huge heterogeneous cast of townsfolk. It’s A Wonderful Life is a wonderful movie.

 

Precious

30 Nov

Precious — Directed by Lee Daniels. Tragedy. A bullied and beset teenager lives through it. 109 minutes Color 2009.

* * * * *

A beatuiful film — beautiful in all respects, particularly as regards the resplendent beauty of its leading player Gabourey Sidibe. Andrew Dunn’s filming of it is stunning from the first shot to the last, and always surprising, and always right. The editing of Joe Klotz is tells the story with a ferocious economy, letting us fill in the blanks, and thus participate to the fullest. It does not make any sense to say that the film is performed by great actors, but only to say that everyone is great in acting their roles, particularly when you consider that many actors come from the realm of entertainment rather than theatre. Paula Patton is a raving beauty, and its effect is felt as a mesmerizing force in the classroom where she teaches. Mariah Carey, whom I had never heard or even heard of, possesses plainness and homeliness and a tired Long Island City directness that is riveting as the social worker whose job it is to get to the truth. Mo’Nique plays the mother of Precious in a performance that won her an Oscar for supporting player. It is a performance that never takes-it-back. Seeing her go beyond these extremes, one wonders how the director ever decided to use her, or any of them, but use them he did, and he elicits from them great performances in a great story. His sense of detail is infallible – a pen being shared across an aisle as a camera retreats – and his devotion to and mining of the strength and character of Precious as he got it out of Gabourey Sidibe as the put-upon girl whose story this is. Her face is set in introversion and withdrawal as she moves through her life to survive its conditions. Her eyes seem closed half the time, so dreadful is her situation. But her stillness is a sonnet. There is nothing I or anyone can say to lure anyone to see this film. Except for one thing which supervenes all else: you will be enriched immeasurably as you watch it.

 

The Band Wagon – more

10 Nov

The Band Wagon – more — directed by Vincente Minnelli – a backstage musical in which a fading movie hoofer resumes his Broadway career, except with a director of Orson Wellesian pretension, except, as well, with a snooty ballerina! – 112 minutes 1953.

* * * * *

The Greatest Musical Ever Made? Don’t answer. I’ve been watching it again in the DVD re-release, color restored and in stereo now. Two discs of background and outtakes, and three versions all of which I could not help watching in one day, the other two being a commentary by Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein and a monaural version, which I actually preferred, because that’s what I saw when it first came out in 1953 while I was in basic at Fort Dix. Those soldiers who appear in the Shine On My Shoes number were like me, headed for the Korean War. I went back to the post movie house and saw it all over again, just as I did yesterday. The Lisa Minnelli and Michael Feinstein version is worthwhile because Michael Feinstein is a gentleman and has useful information about the musical contributions of Adolf Deutsch, Roger Edens, and the arranger Conrad Salinger, while Liza Minnelli jackasses herself with moronic sentimentality punctuated with a coarse laugh. Her nostalgia is not even her own — she is nostalgic not for her father but for his work, which, however, is before us, and which speaks for itself. Vincente Minnelli was famous for his color sense, and the colors are not modest. He hired two newcomers, Michael Kidd, to do the choreography, and Mary Ann Nyberg to do the costumes. Nyberg does two unusual things with Cyd Charisse. The first is to put her in green twice, not a forgiving color for humans, except her. The second is to frame the film with her costumes, red and green at the start, then red and green at the end. In It’s Always Fair Weather, Charisse, in the boxing match dance, will wear two almost matching greens, and she has already proven she can carry the color in the great Louise Brooks finale of Singing In The Rain where she wears a green flapper dress with short flyaway skirt. Now, first seen in the en pointe ballet, Charisse is in bright red. Next when she enters to meet Astaire, she is in a black spangled lace dress over midnight green petticoats so dark you can hardly see the green, with bright green gloves. At the end, Nyberg puts Charisse in the red spangled dress for the Girl Hunt ballet and then for the That’s Entertainment finale she puts Charisse in green khaki satin. For the simple and justly famous Dancing In The Dark number in Central Park, Nyberg, in a tour de force choice, has Charisse and Astaire both in white, he in three tones of white, she in a $22 shirtwaist with a trillion pleats. White, the color of truce – for, having come to a truce in life, they are out to discover whether they can find a truce in dance. The unity of their performance is created in part by the unity of that color, to make “Dancing In The Dark” the most moving romantic dance ever filmed. (Watch: Charisse actually leads it; the focus is actually given to her.) The other newcomer is Michael Kidd. You will find what he starts out to do in the “Louisiana Hayride” number he will not long after complete in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. But what he mainly does is remove Astaire from his usual tropes. So there are no great big tap dancing numbers and such. What we have is the amiable affair of the shoeshine dance and the jazz dance of “The Girl Hunt Ballet”. That is to say, Astaire’s dancing is technically simple, and this is rare for him, for it does not resemble even big splashy jazz numbers like “Stepping Out With My Baby” from Easter Parade. It’s a new Astaire, and it is possibly the most satisfying and relaxed he has ever been in dance. To make up for it, he sings a lot, and sings well. Watch also the chiaroscuro of Minnelli’s use of extras and bit players as they populate, move around, pass through, come forward, and then retreat into the background dark, as does Thurston Hall as the moneybags backer and the stagehands and manger. Compare “Girl Hunt” here with the similar but barely populated “Broadway Rhythm: Gotta Dance” finale of Singing In The Rain, to feel Minnelli’s genius as a colorist with chorus, with casts, with people, with extras, all of whom he instructed individually and personally as to their tasks and motivations. This makes it a musical of great warmth. Easy and essential. Singing In The Rain and The Band Wagon are the apogee of Hollywood musicals. Don’t miss them.

 

M

12 Oct

M – Directed by Fritz Lang. Satirical Drama. A child murderer is hunted by the police and also by the criminal populace itself. 117 minutes Black and White 1931.

* * * * *

Peter Lorre was a great actor and that is plain in this picture. Being Jewish he had to flee immediately to America, where he was cast in sillier and sillier roles, so much so that he was thought to be a silly actor, but it was not so. There is never a time now or later when you cannot identify with the terror of the worms he played as they were about to be stepped on by sadists.  Think of how, in his paranoia and degradation, he is always terrifying to behold. Think of him as an astounding piece of humanity revealed raw. His acting was so good we kept thinking it wasn’t acting. It is a mark of his genius and of acting genius itself that he was able to engage our participation so openly. Think of him in Casablanca in his frenzy as the Gestapo come for him. And see him here. Fritz Lang was half Jewish and had to flee to America soon after, where of course he had a big career also. Their instruments are well matched here in one of the most famous movies ever made – a completely contemporary and extremely humorous satire of the officiousness of Germans tracking down a serial killer. It’s so funny you won’t even laugh. It could have been made yesterday – except it wouldn’t have been this good. A masterpiece. Don’t miss it.

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Swing Time

04 Oct

Swing Time – Directed by George Stevens. Musical. Two dancers and their lovers at cross purposes. 103 minutes Black and White 1936.

* * * * *

Swing Time is accompanied by a terrific commentary by John Mueller, who takes us through a good deal of what went on to make this piece the greatest of all Rogers/Astaire musicals — which has to do with Astaire’s grueling rehearsal work, freedom from chance in the dances, his staff Hermes Pan, and the nature of the picture itself. It is directed by George Stevens who was one day to direct The More The Merrier, Woman Of The Year, Shane, and A Place In The Sun and who brings to the picture an angle of vision which unifies it by personalizing the performances. Of course, it is a white telephone musical, which means that it is essentially a film in which only the dances are serious art: the rest is flip. This is as it should be, because Astaire is interested in discovering and firming up the essential musts of movie dance. His discoveries rule to this day. The film contains wonderful numbers of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and at one point Astaire applies blackface and does a shadow dance with 24 chorus girls, 12 in black 12 in white, and then dances to a black and white rear shadow projection of himself. Minstrel shows celebrate an exuberance which our negro entertainers alone possess: blackface gives performers unheard of freedom: that is what is being celebrated here, and, because it is respectful at heart, it would be offensive to be offended by it. “Never Gonna Dance” is considered to be the greatest dramatic-romantic dance ever filmed, and Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields won the Oscar for “The Way You Look Tonight,” and we are also treated to “A Fine Romance,” “Pick Yourself Up And Start All Over Again”. Rogers, beautifully dressed for all her numbers, is liquid itself in Astaire’s arms. She had a wonderful figure, graceful arms, strong square shoulders, a flexible back. And of course she could actually act, so she moves the spoken drama along while Astaire moves the dance drama along. Dancing he led her; not-dancing, she led him. The most valuable suggestion Mueller gives is to watch the dances in slow motion. What a treat! To actually see for oneself what actually went into these intricate, witty dances! Astaire’s body was a genius. That body made American movie musicals! Excellence upon excellence was his credo, never more so than here.

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Cry, The Beloved Country, James Earle Jones version

02 Oct

Cry, The Beloved Country – Directed by Darrell Roodt. High Tragedy. A country priest travels to Johannesburg to find his lost son. 106 minutes Color 1995.

* * * * *

On a list of the most influential books of the 20th Century, Cry, The Beloved Country might come first. Because, for non-South Africans, it spread out, over the landscape of a prose that in its power and beauty stood in for the land itself, a threefold world pain. And that pain is, one, the pain of a father whose son has been shot to death in a robbery, two, the pain of the father whose son has shot him, and three, our pain which we recognize is the same pain as theirs just as they come to recognize it. The fortunate importance of this concurrence made the book a worldwide best seller, and brought into operation the necessity of amnesty in South Africa when apartheid eventually ended many years later. For, of course, apartheid is the desolating cause. As he makes his way through the slums of Johannesburg, the poor Black minister, whose son has shot the son of the White landholder, becomes educated about the latitude of the harm of apartheid when he sees the poverty and degradation that the suppression of the Black population has brought about. And the father of the murdered boy learns the same. Here, in Johannesburg, there is no beautiful country. For one of the great values of this movie is our vision of the ravishing landscape of South Africa filmed by Paul Gilpin. It is like a prayer. A 1951 Black and White version of this story had Sidney Poitier as the priest-guide, Charles Carson as the White man, and Canada Lee as the Black minister. At that time apartheid was in force, and in order for Poitier and Lee to be allowed to enter South Africa and to be permitted to associate with the White film director, the authorities had to be told that Lee and Poitier were his indentured servants. The present film has Vusi Kunene, wonderful as the priest psychopomp, James Earle Jones as the poor country priest, and Richard Harris as the landowner. Charles S. Dutton plays the political radical brother of Jones. James Earle Jones plays the priest as a good man wounded by greater and greater difficulty as he stumbles into each of them. Richard Harris, as the White landowner father of the murdered boy, is shot through and shot through again, and then again. After the murder, his life changes when he sees the noble work his dead son did for the Blacks, and he wakes up. “What if when the White man turns to love, the Black man turns to hate?” his son has written. But it is not the Black’s forgiveness of the wrong done to him, but the White man’s forgiveness that speeds the truth home that, just as pain is, forgiveness is panhuman and is the beloved ground on which everything may be rebuilt. In that fact lies the power and influence of this book, from which both our awareness of apartheid everywhere and the amnesty at the end of apartheid came to be. Apartheid has not ended in America. This film may still help end it. See it. You may think this film will make you sad. I know it will. But see it. It will also make you alive.

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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring

28 Sep

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring – Directed by Ki-duk Kim. Drama. 95 minutes Color 2004.

* * * * *

Under the vigilant eyes of Old Monk (Yeong-su Oh), Child Monk (Jong-ho Kim) learns a hard lesson about the nature of sorrow when his childish games turn cruel in a story that’s divided into five segments, with each season representing a stage in a man’s life. This exquisitely filmed drama is entirely set on and around a tree-lined lake, where a tiny Buddhist monastery floats on a raft amidst a breathtaking landscape. What a lovely piece. It does a body good to see a story told in this manner. And it did my body good too. For it commands attention at the same time as it embodies peace, stillness, and the range of human truth that therein prevails. Treat yourself. Watch it.

With: Yeong-su Oh, Ki-duk Kim, Young-min Kim, Jae-kyeong Seo, Yeo-jin Ha, Jong-ho Kim, Jung-young Kim, Dae-han Ji, Min Choi, Ji-a Park, Min-Young Song

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Never On Sunday

23 Sep

Never On Sunday – Directed by Jules Dassin. Comedy. A stupid American intellectual aims to elevate a willful prostitute to intellectual lofts. 91 minutes Black and White 1960.

* * * * *

A perfect movie, except, of course, that Jules Dassin who wrote and directed it also plays the lead, and is not an actor and cannot act. He probably had hired someone who dropped out and had to take the part himself – that’s my hunch – but one does not care very much even when Dassin is placed opposite actors who inherently are actors, because the film has Dassin’s directorial urge, energy and heart. And because he, as the American, is clearly headed for a fall. But so what! Melina Mercouri won The Cannes Prize for Best Actress for this role, and you can see why it is inevitable, for she is a force, indeed a freak of nature. Like so many actors, the only places you could put them would be in a theatre or a madhouse or a zoo. Mercouri, with her leopard’s eyes, would be in zoo. (Indeed, she eventually entered Greek politics quite successfully.) She is one of those females who is so female she is male. Like Katina Paxinou or Anna Magnani, she has the ability and the appetite to eat men alive. And they love it, at least, here they do. They throng around her and worship her for her independence, wit, beauty, sexuality, reality, basso profundo voice, and sense of fun. She’s a whore who chooses her clients; not they her. With a toss of her mane of hair, she is off with a sailor while spurning a millionaire. Dassin was exiled in Europe by blacklist, and made this and Rififi and Topkapi and other films with greater success and éclat than he had ever had in the US. He’s a delightful director and a quite lovable man. This is one of his Greek gems. You must have already seen it, but see it again, and see it often. [ad#300×250]

 

Duel In The Sun

17 Sep

Duel In The Sun. Directed by King Vidor and William Dieterle. A half-breed girl is taken into a King Ranch type family in Texas and drives the boys wild. 2 hours 28 minutes Color 1946.

* * * *

It isn’t beautiful but it is gorgeous. Never have you seen Technicolor used so lavishly, or actors throw themselves, not exactly into their roles but all around their roles. You would think Gregory Peck would be miscast as a sexy male, and he is, but he’s surprisingly good as a prick. And Pearl Chavez, played by producer David O. Selznick’s wife, Jennifer Jones, you would think would be written shrewder, but she’s not, she’s just dopey. She throws herself around like a bag of onions and never really proves to the watching world why she was so sexy that Selznick ran off with her into the chaparral. So we take the lickerousness for granted, although she does convincingly writhe on the floor in an agony of sexual conflict. Lionel Barrymore consumes scenery by the platter, and he’s really wonderful as the grandee rancher because the character is so rude, but Lillian Gish as his wife is unable to overcome the character’s failure to get Pearl out of those slouching blouses and into a proper dress, which would have ended the picture right there. I saw it when it came out. I thought it was going to be a dirty movie, but it was just silly. Of course it’s greatly silly. And not sexy, because Lewt is mean, which Peck does well, and Pearl is stupid, which Jones probably was. The film is supposed to vindicate the itch between them, and so achieve a Phaedra-like stature, but its lust falls in the dust flat. Joseph Cotton’s easy-come-easy-go style as the good brother provides no sexual competition for Peck’s bad brother. Charles Bickford is touching as one of Pearl’s swains. Walter Huston makes hay of the fire and brimstone preacher (Huston is sexy, though old, because sexuality seethes through him; Peck isn’t because it doesn’t.). And Herbert Marshall is lovely as Pearl’s doomed father. The film is written like a Perils Of Pauline serial, in chapters and chunks, none which liaison into each other. It proceeds with a very badly written scene of misidentification, which is beautifully directed and shot, and so it goes, with one badly written scene after another beautifully presented. Selznick was so intrusive, reshooting everything, such that the film cost a lot more than his Gone With The Wind (Butterfly McQueen has a much larger part here); Selznick even has his name as the sole screen credit. So King Vidor quit when it was three quarters done, and the film was finished by commonplace director William Dieterle. But never have you seen such sunsets, as though the sun were having the duel with itself. King Vidor’s strong sense of things puts it on all four burners and a pot bellied stove besides. Why are you holding back? You must see it. It is the greatest bad movie ever made.

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Find Me Guilty

13 Sep

Find Me Guilty – Directed by Sidney Lumet. Courtoom Drama. The longest criminal trial in U.S. history is derailed by one of the 20 gangster defendants.125 minutes Color 2006.

* * * * *

I sought out this picture because the director has entertained me for years: The Fugitive Kind, Long Days Journey Into Night, Network, Running On Empty, The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, 12 Angry Men. What I love about Lumet is his respect for the spectacle inherent in the human comedy being photographed at all – and so offering it up in a style which is not two dimensional, not cinematic, but three dimensional, that is to say, theatrical. Time and again the human activity taking place here is given point and honor by an angle the camera takes to report it. Nothing is sensationalized or emotionalized; rather we see the man with the chair on his head bump comedically more than once trying to enter a space not tall enough for it, but we see it at the far end of a very long corridor and at deep focus – so the joke on him is not diverted into Laurel and Hardy but simply noticed. We appreciate the director for the taste he ascribes to us and for the aesthetic common sense we have to distinguish truth in its proper treatment. This gift of his extends to the actors as well, and they are often superb. Brando’s opening scene is Fugitive Kind is the greatest piece of film acting I have ever seen, and, here, Linus Roache is given full latitude to go nuts over this unimaginably huge two year court case. We also see the beautiful Peter Dinklage take just the right size and attack in his role as the principal defense lawyer (his speaking voice alone!). Lumet is a master of courtroom drama (12 Angry Men, he Verdict), and this his penultimate picture is a masterpiece of the genre, an impression that might be overlooked because of the peculiar story it tells and the character responsible for the story’s outcome. Vin Diesel is an actor I had never seen before because he appears in the sort of film I never see –violent action films – but he is a wonderful actor entirely. He plays the a gangster who takes on his own self defense, and proves himself to be a disruptive Merry Andrew before a judge excellently played by Ron Silver. He is entirely appealing as a man whose love of his gang family retains its hold in him against the truth of its not being returned. Vin Diesel, Annabella Sciorra as his wife, Linus Roache, and Peter Dinklage give Oscar-level performances. The movie is mistitled, but marvelous! Don’t miss it.

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Gone With The Wind

08 Sep

Gone With The Wind – Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood, Alfred Hitchcock. Drama. A selfish misguided flirt becomes a misguided survivalist. 220 minutes Color 1939.

* * * * *

It is the greatest movie ever made– because of its generosity of spirit. Everyone who made it hated everyone else who made it, and everyone hated David O. Selznick who produced it, produced it in the sense that he himself made it, and remade it, to his exact and exacting specifications. He was a terrible intruder, interloper, interferer, and one longs to know which particular details he interfered with. Perhaps and probably all details. I saw it when it came out. White dishes with red borders were the door prizes, given out in intermission at the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, now no longer existent. My mother took us, and I was restless; I was six. On its re-release I saw it, and was mightily moved. I thought it was the story of Melanie Wilkes. I took myself to be that devoted soul, though I lacked the deep kindness. I was more like Oona Munson as Belle Watling. Later on when I saw it, I realized it was the story of Scarlett O’Hara. The part is perfectly cast, because Vivien Leigh had a divinity’s charm, the inner hellcat, the greed for life’s rewards, and the daring to go for them, and it is her greatest screen work. Scarlett seizes other people’s property to gain her ends, and she is perfectly matched in this by Selznick himself. We hand it to Scarlett on the grounds of her sheer vivacity. And we never blame her. Why? Because she represents the triumph of what, despite our failings and meanness, we all deserve and what we will sacrifice for it. Scarlett is an accomplishment, Vivien Leigh’s performance is an accomplishment, and the film is an accomplishment, and it is all the same accomplishment, and that remains stirring to this day. The production is splendid. William Cameron Menzies sets, Jack Cosgrove’s backgrounds, Max Steiner’s moving score – all are exemplary, as are the pens of those responsible for its screenplay, Sydney Howard, Ben Hecht, Oliver Garrett and others. Olivia de Haviland wept selfishly at the Oscars when her Melanie lost to the first black actor ever to win an acting award, Miss Hattie McDaniel, who is tops. Everyone is at their best except Leslie Howard who, as an actor, in fact actually appears to be the milksop someone accuses Ashley Wilkes as being. And, above all, if he is forgotten for every other picture he ever made, he will be known and remembered perfectly for the part which captures his humor, his great charm, his mountainous masculinity, his physical beauty, his irresistible sexiness, and his great skill as an actor – in the part of Rhett Butler — Clark Gable.

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Rififi

03 Aug

Rififi – Written and Directed by Jules Dassin. Heist Thriller. A quartet of experts sets to lift 250 million dollars of gems from a jewelry store. 122 minutes Black and White 1955.

*****

A full half hour at the dead center of this masterpiece is given over to the silent execution of the caper, a passage that has never been preceded, equaled, or surpassed in film.  It was made for $200,000, a penny. Expense forbad the use of Jean Gabin, say, in the lead, and so they hired actors virtually unknown to the public, which suits the material right down to the ground. For we have Jean Servais, with his huge, sad, John McIntyre eyes, in the part, and he is riveting. They all are. What the actors lacked in experience, the crew made up for in brilliance, An A- class cinema-photographer, Phillip Agostini, filmed it, an A-class editor, Robert Dwyer, cut it, and the music is by Georges Auric. What luck! Dassin, a lovable man if there ever was one, had been exiled as one of the Hollywood 10. And in an interview in the Bonus Material he talks about those times and the making of this film. It’s all fascinating. And it is the greatest film of its kind ever made.

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Two Women

01 Aug

Two Women – Directed by Vittorio De Sica. Low Tragedy. As World War II ends, a mother and her daughter seek shelter from destruction. 100 minutes Black and White 1960.

* * * * *

One of the great humorists of film and a master of many styles, De Sica was the most gifted, varied, and accessible of all the neo-realist film-makers of the New Wave. He made more films than any of the others, many of them before the War, and they ranged from White Telephone movies through neo-realistic movies like Bicycle Thief, to The Garden of The Finzi-Continis. Why the neo in neo-realism? I dunno. It was the first and only realism since silent pictures. Anyhow, this is a remarkable picture. Sophia Loren was slated to play the daughter, but when Anna Magnani was asked to play the mother she said, “Let Loren play her own mother!” and slammed the door on the role that won Loren The Cannes, The BAFTA, The Donatello, The Italian National, The San Jordi, The New York Film Critics, and The Oscar for the Best Performance By An Actress for 1960. She well deserved it. She plays a cunning, susceptible shopkeeper intent on preserving her 12 year old daughter from destruction from the bombing of Rome. They strike out for her native village in the mountains. There they live and survive. There she meets a student revolutionist, an intellectual wearing glasses, cast, in a stroke of genius, with the most sensual actor in films, Jean-Paul Belmondo. Loren is 25 when she does this, and is completely convincing as the widowed mother protecting her daughter like a tigress. Both Neapolitan, she and De Sica make wonderful film together. She has the energy and internal power of the lower classes from which she came, their knowledge, passion, strength, humor, and forgiveness. Moravia wrote the novel, Zavattini the screenplay. In all of this De Sica is never without humor, most of which is gestural and therefore all the more telling. See it.

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Love Is News

29 Jul

Love Is News – Directed by Tay Garnett. Screwball Comedy. An heiress double-crosses a feisty reporter who has double-crossed her. 77 minutes Black and white. 1937.

* * * * *

What fun! What fun to see Loretta Young and Tyrone Power in their early twenties at the peak of their skills and beauty. Of the various blooms in the Hollywood bouquet, the values expressed by this sort of film are one of the most alluring still. You want to look at these two. You want to admire them. You enjoy them, and you don’t want them ever to grow old. You praise all the artifice around them because you know that such a wonderful fuss is right for them. You cannot begrudge their smashing clothes. You’re glad they get the lighting they deserve, and you wish them entirely well in all things. For you want love to be beautiful and to prevail, and never has this last want been so perfectly realized on film as it was in the comedies of the 30s. The story is a combination of Front Page and It Happened One Night, and its first class farce script offers the platform for comic relations between these two stars that are a treat to behold, and must have been a treat to perform, for they move together beautifully. As actors they free one another, they dare one another, and, most important, they argue with one another with complete conviction. The chemistry is artistic, a rarer thing in film acting than buffalos on the moon. While so young, they both had lots of experience as teen-agers, he on the stage with Cornell and she, already a big star in movies. They are Loy and Powell ten years before. They’re just simply talented as all get out. I love ‘em. You will too. So just pick up your white telephone. Dial Love Is News.

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Force Of Evil

28 Jul

Force Of Evil – Directed and written by Abraham Polonsky. Crime. A bespoke lawyer tries to advance his brother in the numbers racket. 78 minutes Black and White 1948.

* * * * *

I never like to say of a film, I wish it had been done this way or that way. After all, the thing is finished, a work of art, good or bad, published, done with. But I wish the closing sequence of this picture had been shot differently: it’s a sequence of John Garfield going down and down the cliff of Riverside Drive to the rocks by the river, and it needs to be a descent into hell and it is not. Unless it is, the last line of the film doesn’t work, and it doesn’t. So when you see this terrific picture, I want you to imagine that it is a hell-descent and that the last line does work. For, setting the conclusion aside, the picture is brilliant in a way that seems to transcend the gifts of those who made it, particularly those of its star, John Garfield, who also produced it. Used to seeing him in Depression get-ups, talking out of the side of his mouth and none too bright, instead one finds him here as the super-intelligent, fastest talking lawyer in New York, an operator in the numbers racket (now the NY State Lottery). Looking at his slightly oily face, one sees a real character constantly in play behind the once familiar features. His delivery is faster than a revolver, and the lines he delivers are swift, devious, mean, the result of a remarkably literate and verbal screenplay by Polonsky. I love a lot of good talk in a movie, and Garfield is not the only one supplied with it. Cast with amazing prescience is Thomas Gomez completely occupying the role of the older brother torn between his need for work and his need for honest work. He has the acting opportunity of a lifetime, and he does not fail it. Beatrice Pearson, as the little bird of conscience, is equally wonderful in a role easy to ruin through piety or dimples, neither of which she opts for. Everyone involved is excellent in this production, but let’s just credit Garfield as standing for all, in bringing life to a life, and therefore a mystery, and therefore a dimension instructing our respect, admiration, and wonder.

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CAFÉ METROPOLE

25 Jul

Café Metropole – Directed by Edward H. Griffith. High Comedy. A Paris debt-ridden restaurateur strong-arms a dead-beat young man to romance a millionaire’s daughter. 83 minutes Black and White 1937

* * * * *

When an actress complained to the photographer Lucien Andriot that he didn’t photograph her as well as he did five years ago, he said, “Well, my dear, I am five years older now.” The wit of his filming of this masterpiece of 30s comedy immensely nourishes the vigor of what passes before our delighted eyes. This is one of the funniest films I have ever seen, Its plot is mobilized by the roguish mustaches of Adolphe Menjou who forces Tyrone Power to impersonate a Russian Duke to impress the family of an American millionaire, played by Charles Winninger, and by Helen Westley, who doesn’t miss a comic trick, and by Loretta Young who is one game gal as the rich man’s daughter, delighted to be taken in by the deception. You’ve got to see how well she looks in clothes. Remember? They are the most gorgeous rigs you have ever seen. No one ever dressed like that except in the movies – which is why we went to the movies, isn’t it? Gregory Ratoff, who also stars in this, also wrote the story, which is wonderful, but more wonderful still is the dialogue, written by Jacques Deval, who gives his characters some of the most mischievous lines ever heard in a motion picture. This is an essential film, perfectly executed to dispel dyspepsia, cancer, and war. Rely on it. It will also paint your house in an ideally brighter color and put all your dear children through Yale.

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Julie [with Tilda Swinton]

15 Jul

Julia – Directed by Erick Zonka. Drama. A raging alcoholic tries to save her ass by an act of crime. 2 hours and 25 minutes Color 2008.

* * * * *

Tilda Swinton here gives one of the greatest performances ever laid down on film. She plays a woman who never tells the truth, and she does it by (watch her eyes) constantly searching the air around her for a story to fill the bill. The bill being: How Will I Survive? She creates a woman who is crudely smart, who can talk fast, but is suicidally deluded. As her folly gains in complexity, her daring gains in rashness, but what is also true is that, as this happens, Swinton allows the character to, no, not sober up, but to slowly bleach out. The piece is beautifully acted by everyone in it. Towards the ending, its Spanish scenes needed to be, not cut, but concertinaed, otherwise it is well edited and shot, and particularly well-written. The director has given great latitude to his cast, and they meet the challenge of creating the human beings necessary to create the story. Julie drinks. And her drinking creates the story. Her AA buddy is co-dependent, and his co-dependency creates the story. The ten-year-old boy is love-lorn, and that creates the story. They all act according to their deficiencies, and out of those the story is born. Swinton is a master of bringing to life hard-to-take characters, and with this one she has gone the limit. She has created the truth of a character who never tells the truth, not once, watch her do it, until the very last line in the film. Then alone does she speak the truth.

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Ceremony

24 Jun

Ceremony. Directed and written by Max Winkler. Chekhovian Comedy. A young fool tries to run off with a to-be bride just before the wedding. 89 Minutes Color 2010.

* * * * *

How does Lee Pace, without stealing, steal every scene he is in? He is a master actor, but that’s not why. A young man from Oklahoma, he plays an upper class British millionaire naturalist/filmmaker/star, and the English accent comes right from his bones, but that’s not why. He is tall and beautiful and sexy and young, has a fine rich speaking voice, and remarkable eyebrows, but that’s not why. No, the reason is, is that he is inherently a star, someone gifted with an inner character of soul which is meant to be seen and basked in, the same way you would bask in that of Joan Crawford or Joel Macrea or George Clooney or Edward G. Robinson or Rita Hayworth. They must be watched. You wouldn’t want to do anything else with them. They are there to be on the screen and stared at wondrously. So what you do with a star like Lee Pace is to be gaga, a little blinded, a little dazed. A surrender like that is such a treat, and its one of the reasons we go to the movies. Another is to place ourselves in the doings of such a story as Max Winkler offers us, with its rare mad excursions into side-room scenes in the lives of its five principal characters, played with juicy finesse by Uma Thurman, Reece Thompson, Jake M. Johnson, and Michael Angarano who is the focal character around whom all the other four swirl. I found his performance vexing. His face works as though he is chewing gum all the time, but he never is. As an annoying gnome, his miniscule grimaces are particularly prevalent at the beginning of the story, but as the story develops, the obsessive, greedy liar he is playing succumbs to the constant onslaught of well-deserved cruel truth, and the character almost becomes a human being. In character, the actor is truly nonplussed. He is knocked out, but will he ever wake up? This is an interesting trial for an audience, and a worthwhile one, because it keeps the narrative in suspense – asking both what will happen to this brat and will I ever come to like him? He is driven to steal a woman who is older than he is, who is out of his league, whom he cannot support, and who would make him a terrible wife. The script by Max Winkler is superbly surprising at all turns and corners. I think he is putting the kibosh on grunge comedy once and for all (if only). He has written (Four Weddings And A Funeral keeps coming to mind) – a comedy with the wit to make people real – that is his humor – and to make them sad – that is also his humor. Sad in the sense that every one of them is a sad sack, and funny in that every one of them is bright as all get out. Don’t miss it.

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Boesman And Lena

13 Jun

Boesman and Lena – Directed by John Berry. High Tragedy. A South African couple, dispossessed and refugee, work out their destiny in a wasteland. 84 minutes Color 2000.

* * * * *

I did not know it had been made; I knew I would be a fool not to see this. Atol Fugard is one of the greatest of modern playwrights, and this play is his King Lear. It takes place in a wasteland and a storm. It is a two character piece in which both characters play the fool, play the monarch, play the bastard-son Edmund. It offers up to us a married couple at rock bottom in their marital and material lives, bulldozed out of their township and now forced to scrounge in desolate mudflats by the sea. The man, Boesman, played by Danny Glover has become stone-hearted by cynicism and reduction, as he knows, to the non-human status of white-man’s-rubbish. Lena Played by Angela Bassett is his alcoholic wife, whose brain has become damage by drink, by circumstance, and by the violent abuse of her husband. I would never have believed Angela Bassett had in her the intelligence, the technique, or the temperament to play as I see her play here, with uncanny daring and immediacy in a range that goes beyond even this great script — which is what you want from the play King Lear, and what you want from the play Boesman and Lena. It is what  such plays exist for. The extraordinary depths to which the script takes us, and the heights to which this actress takes us you will seldom see combined. These two people have become junkyard junk in their marriage and in society. Yet they live. And they fight tenaciously, ignorantly, deeply, not knowing if their fight even leads back. Would you be a fool to miss it? I am happy to say I was not.

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Roxie Hart

11 Jun

Roxie Hart – Directed by William Wellman. Comedy Satire. A gum snapping wannabe dancer is put on trial for murdering or not her wannabe producer in the 1920’s. 74 Minutes Black and White 1942

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One of the funniest movies I have ever seen, and one of Ginger Rogers’ three great comedic film performances.  It’s an out-and-out American farce on American promotion, its relation to American justice, and the relation of both of them to American sex appeal. Adolph Menjou and Ginger Rogers head a cast of brilliant supporting performers, among whom we have Lynn Overman, Nigel Bruce, Spring Byington, Sarah Algood, William Frawley, Phill Silvers, and George Montgomery. The piece is so well-written, by Nunnally Johnson, that all Sarah Algood has to do is stare fixedly at a newspaper and say the word “Children” for me to fall off my chair laughing. William Wellman directed it, whom one does not mainly associate with comedy, but, boy, he didn’t miss a trick here. (He also, of course, begins it in the rain.) As to the actors, nobody misses a trick. Watch Ginger prepare to faint by hoisting up her skirt over her knees. It is based on a stage played called Chicago, and it eventually became the musical called Chicago, but the delights of this piece, which is actually filmed closer in time to the Roaring Twenties, bring forward all the gum-snapping smart-alecky attitude of that era and also of the times we live in now, with its easy remorselessness and eye-rolling acceptance of Madoff and The Money Boys. Wall Street today is so crass and unregenerate you gotta laugh – ‘cause they’re getting away with it — Civic Conscience reduced to a political cartoon. Here, even innocent clean cut George Montgomery ends up tossing them back and cynical. Rent it. Sit back in your seat. Ya gotta love it. Ya just gotta!

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Summer and Smoke

04 Apr

Summer and Smoke — Directed by Peter Glenville. Love story. A spinster letches for the ne’er do well boy next door. 93 minutes Color 1961

* * * * *

As a critic, I wonder what good it does to bring to the front things that cannot be remedied. Here, the lighting often fails its needs, and the director should never have been hired, or shot soon after. The leading man is out of place and league. But this movie contains one of the greatest love scenes ever filmed, ever written, ever acted. It also records the performance of it that brought the play out of the obscurity of its original failure on Broadway, and thrust into prominence both the play, the theatre, The Circle In The Square, and the actress who played Alma and plays it here, Geraldine Page. The play lends itself to one’s imagination as one sees it in a theatre, but the scriptwriters have coarsened these references by literalizing them. The director, who is English, has no sense of the atmosphere required for this material or how to diminish the staginess of his performers. Laurence Harvey is right only in his opening scene, for he has none of the juice and charm that would make this character bearable and understandable. And he should be understandable, for Tennessee Williams has done again what he did in Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire; he has created a female protagonist whose tragedy is that she puts on airs. Why does she do this? Because, like all of us, at one time or another, she so wants to be someone else, someone whose heart is a little taller than the arrows shot at her. She wants to escape the stern facts of her circumstances. This makes her an isolate and a tolerated mockery. It makes her the sort of phony no man wants to be around. Geraldine Page is able to work this character just short of putting our teeth on edge. With desperate hands she clasps her body as though it would fly apart if she did not. She seethes with the sexuality she has to gainsay in order to sustain her act, but she longs for its release if only the young man would stop carousing. You can see the character in Page’s eyes, which are wide open and which are so true to the feeling, to the longing, to the passion in Alma’s being. It’s astounding that she can do all this opposite Laurence Harvey, with his tight, narrow temperament, and his bad Southern accent, a role made thankless by the actor’s lack of blood, a role perfectly suited to Jack Nicholson back in the day. Yet the great scenes unfold between them, carried by Williams’ superb writing and Page’s profound grasp of this woman’s needs. I never saw Page do it on the stage, but when I asked Mildred Dunnock what she thought of Page in the picture, she said she felt Gerry had lost her lyricism in the role. I should have asked her what she meant, and I repeat it here as a lighthouse for actresses to come. But I cannot do anything now except to say you must see this remarkable performance of this remarkable character in this remarkable play.

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The Last Time I Saw Paris

23 Mar

The Last Time I Saw Paris — Directed by Richard Brooks — Drama. A novelist returns to Paris on a mission and relives the beauty and sorrow of his marriage after World War II.  90 minutes Color 1954.

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At this moment, Elizabeth Taylor was the most beautiful woman in the world. She is 22 perhaps, and she is like a ripe plum. Helen Rose, who dressed her, has put her only in primary colors, no prints, realizing that nothing must compete with our rapt attention to her face. I am 77 and grew up with this girl, and with the history of her face as she grew from a child in a Lassie movie, through a horse-loving teenager in National Velvet, through her first kiss, and her teenage marriage, and the birth of her children. What was that face becoming? For the most part, she never played a woman who had a job, and in adult roles she largely played leading women to men who were the focus of the story, as here, with Van Johnson. However, the focus of the story is not always the focus of the camera or the focus of our attention. Here the focus of the camera, whenever it can be, is on her, and besides one cannot one’s eyes off her. Look at the great black and white domino party scene where she is profile. Her profile is fabulous. That is to say, it is the profile of a face which writes the story of the culture of its time. This history has to do with our attention to The Visible Ideal in whatever form it may take. Since, in her face, that ideal exists, our gaze upon it includes the questions: is it immortal, how will it change, what will become of it? There is a spiritual force in such beauty; at least there is in the beholder of it. All culture is the arrival of spiritual force in the plastic forms of art, and this face possessed it, especially in the 1950s when culture in America was at a despicable low. In the place of that mediocrity was this face. But it is not the face alone that is riveting and important, for she is an actress playing a part, and such she must bring into her craft the fabric of her nature. She is that rare thing, a great romantic actress. So what we see is that she is so loving and in such pain about that love; that she is quietly witty and forgiving. Her equipment includes a Voice With Money In It, as Fitzgerald described Daisy in The Great Gatsby. Indeed all these qualities make her the perfect Fitzgerald heroine, and Fitzgerald wrote Babylon Revisited upon which this movie is based, and he also wrote a famous screenplay of it, on which this film may be based, for it certainly has beautiful dialogue, in scene after scene, all played exquisitely by Elizabeth Taylor. Van Johnson has a line in the sardonic and the vexed which does not really carry us into his heart. But Walter Pidgeon is enchanting as the bon viveur father, and Donna Reed is usefully stiff-necked as Taylor’s older, mean sister. This is an essential film for American cultural history. Her beauty and her talent in romantic roles cut through everything at that time. Do not miss it. It is the last romantic role Elizabeth Taylor played and the greatest.

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Swing Time

22 Mar

Swing Time — Directed by George Stevens. Musical Comedy. A runaway-groom meets up with a dance instructor who wont give him a tumble. 104 minutes 1936.

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Swing Time is accompanied by a terrific commentary by John Mueller, who takes us through a good deal of what went on to make this piece the greatest of all Rogers/Astaire musicals — which has to do with Astaire’s grueling rehearsal work, freedom from chance in the dances, his staff, and the nature of the picture itself. It is directed by George Stevens who was one day to direct Shane and A Place In The Sun and The More The Merrier and who brings to the picture an angle of vision and an allowance for acting excellence in the principals which unify it. Of course, it is a white telephone musical, which means that it is essentially a film in which only the dances are serious art: the rest is flip. This is as it should be, because Astaire is interested in discovering and firming up the musts of movie dance. His discoveries rule to this day. The film contains wonderful numbers of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, including a most endearing version of “The Way You Look Tonight” which you will never forget. And at one point Astaire applies blackface and does a black and white shadow dance with 24 chorus girls 12 in black 12 in white, and then dances to a black and white rear shadow projection of himself 3 times. Minstrel shows project and celebrate an exuberance which our negro entertainers alone possess: blackface gives performers unheard of freedom: that is what is being celebrated here, and, because it is respectful at heart, it would be offensive to be offended by it.  Rogers, beautifully dressed for all her numbers is liquid itself in Astaire’s arms. She had a wonderful figure, graceful arms, strong square shoulders, a flexible back. And of course she could actually act, so she moves the spoken drama along while Astaire moves the dance drama along. Dancing he led her; not-dancing, she led him. — so to say. The most valuable suggestion Mueller gives is to watch the dances in slow motion.  What a treat! To actually see for oneself what actually went into these intricate, witty dances!  Astaire’s body was a genius. That body made American movie musicals!

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Follow The Fleet

22 Mar

Follow The Fleet – directed by Mark Sandrich – musical comedy about a lower class gob who wants to pick up where he left off with his former romance. 110 minutes black and white 1936.

* * * * *

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire were often cast as sophisticates, but here, not so. Here he chews gum and is decidedly lower class, she’s just a goil in tap shoes. I liked that about this piece. Ginger Rogers won a Charleston contest at 14, and toured the country as a featured performer before ending up starring on Broadway before she was 19. She was a very experienced, hardworking, graceful, and talented musical performer. She had made 19 movies before, at 23, she made her first one with Astaire; he had made three. As an actress she had ease, wryness, and bite; as an actor he was shamefaced, but he was the favorite singer of all the songwriters he sang for, and she and he were in perfect agreement on the dance floor — so much so that in this picture they even do a parody of bad-dancing. Irving Berlin wrote the score and words here, so the standard is high. Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard (of Ozzie and Harriet fame) provide the glass in which this ice-cream sundae is served. Betty Grable is somewhere in the mix. And as everyone has said before me and as everyone will say after me, its finale, Let’s Face The Music And Dance — which has nothing to do with chewing gum and a goil — is one of the most beautiful dance sequences ever laid down on film.

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Amistad

27 Feb

Amistad — Directed by Steven Spielberg — High Tragedy. Men on a slave ship revolt, are captured, and brought to trial in 1838. 2 hours 15 minutes Color 1997.

* * * * *

High tragedy, yes, that rare thing in movies, as a great and noble king in exile is brought to the point of death by his captors and rescued by a deus ex macchina in the form of another great and noble king. I have not seen all of Spielberg’s films, but this is the finest I have seen. It is perfectly cast, produced, written, and performed. It is narrated by the director unexceptionably save for the coda of the destruction of the slave fortress in Sierra Leone, which should interlace the main tale itself as a counter-chorus, and not come wagging its tail at us in the end, but then, all Spielberg’s finales are false. The music by John Williams is not as vulgar as that which wrecks The Color Purple, but its Orff-like choruses and excessive swells almost overset the craft a number of times. The great Pete Postlethwaite as the opposing lawyer is concise, real, and fair. As the President, Nigel Hawthorne gives us a man helpless before his own real ignorance. Morgan Freeman stands in reserve as a force of Negro abolition almost out of touch with his original slave past. Matthew McConaughey brings a, perhaps, natural crassness to the part of the young lawyer who takes on the case and he is very convincing as a man whose limited vision and slightly cockeyed rashness moves the case forward. Anthony Hopkins, in his best screen performance, dodders and pots as John Quincy Adams, the old former President, who finally raises the Supreme Court to liberate the Negros and return them to Africa. But the film depends entirely for its power, its movement, and its authenticity on Djimon Hounsou, the leader of the Negros, their particular king. A man of great stature and bearing, he performs with an emotional immediacy and truth and rashness of being that causes him to stand for everything — and not just to stand for  — but to be it in our hearts and souls as we watch — everything that the film means to say. Which is to present under attack the essence of freedom itself in a human being, as though that freedom had never been born or seen before. Anyone who has ever been oppressed, has ever oppressed, or wishes to oppress, wants to see this film, because this actor reveals to us that freedom is inherent in us, not bestowed, not legalized, not purchased, and that its abrogation and annulment by anyone or any agency or any thing is an agony titanic. If this makes the film a civics lesson, so be it, for it is a record of the Exemplary in our American ancestry and in the ancestry of the world, and we benefit and are enlarged by such examples. I am moved by Djimon Hounsou’s soul, and I recommend that you place yourself before it. This is a film which proves what film at its best can do. Give it to yourself somehow.

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Another Year

13 Feb

Another Year – Directed by Mike Leigh – Classical Drama. A senior married couple offers hospitality to the needy. 129 minutes Color 2010.

* * * * *

A perfectly constructed picture, this is a Baucus and Philemon story, of two old farmers who offer hospitality and food to those who are difficult and in difficulty. In the myth, the gods reward such kindness by allowing them eventually to die simultaneously, and in the picture the reward is clearly that the two old ones retain their ability to be kind. The story is anchored in the four seasons, but even more firmly in their seasonal tasks of mucking in the soil of a gardening commons in which they have a plot and in which they raise fine small crops by themselves and for themselves. In this story, they apparently are not peasants, for they have travelled the world, they are well educated, and they both have jobs which benefit society; however the gardening gives them the privilege of peasants which is to meet the deities of their lives. Middle class people usually don’t meet such deities, but here they do. One of those deities is The Temptation To Act Out Of Impatience which the audience may feel the characters ought to feel, for the audience feels it itself, towards their three monstrous guests. The first and most eminent of these is Mary, a flirtatious alcoholic whose realization of the triteness and triviality and exile of her own destiny the movie’s story slowly shows in no uncertain terms. Her story is framed by the dull version of it, in which, at the start of the film, the wonderful Imelda Staunton plays a woman refusing to change her destiny in exactly way the character of Mary refuses at the end. Mary is played with dauntless fury by Lesley Manville, in a remarkable exposure of worldly human error. It is a great performance in a film of the highest level of performance. The balance between Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen is a wonderful piece of writing and acting, the one fitting the other, entirely without sentimentality, and without resembling the other. Any man of the right age who does not offer his hand to Ruth Sheen is an ignorant fool. The other two guests are Broadbent’s catatonic brother, played by David Bradley and his gluttonous friend Ken, played by Peter Wight. The God Of Impatience appears in full and terrifying form in the person of Carl, beautifully played by Martin Savage. It has been said this picture is about the difficulty of growing old. It is nothing of the kind. It is about the choices one makes all along – here demonstrated by a marriage that is created piece by piece before our very eyes.

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Roxy Hart

04 Feb

Roxy Hart – Directed by WIlliamWellman – Comedy. A cunning, dim-brained doxy tries to get away with murder while everyone else in the country is getting away with murder. 75 minutes black and white 1942.

* * * * *

One of the funniest movies I have ever seen: an out-and-out American farce on American promotion, it’s relation to American justice, and the relation of both of them to American sex appeal. Adolph Menjou and Ginger Rogers head a cast of brilliant supporting performers, among whom we have Lynn Overman, Spring Byington, Sarah Algood, William Frawley, and George Montgomery. The piece is so well-written that all Sarah Algood has to do is stare fixedly at a newspaper and say the word “Children” for me to fall off my chair laughing. William Wellman directed it, whom one does not mainly associate with comedy, but, boy, he didn’t miss a trick here. He’s well aided in the editing to tell the story smartly. As to the actors, nobody misses a trick, either. Watch Ginger prepare to faint by hoisting up her skirt over her knees. It is based on a stage played called Chicago, and it eventually became a musical called Chicago, which can be credited for its big energy and color, plus the sacred bosom of Queen Latifa singing “You Gotta See Momma Every Night Or You Can’t See Momma At All”, but the delights of Roxy Hart itself, which is actually filmed closer in time to the Roaring Twenties, bring forward all the gum-snapping smart-alecky attitude of that era and also of the times we live in now, with its easy remorselessness and eye-rolling acceptance of Madoff and The Money Boys. Wall Street today is so crass and unregenerate you gotta laugh. They’re getting away with it — the Civic Conscience reduced to a political cartoon in the papers. So here — except the cartoon goes on for over an hour. Rent it. Sit back in your seat. Ya gotta love it. Ya just gotta!

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Bathhouse

04 Feb
 

The King Of Masks

04 Feb

The King Of Masks – Directed by Tian-Ming=Wu– Comedy Drama. An old street performer and master of quick-change masks, wants to pass on his skill, but can only do so with a male heir. 101 minutes Color 1999.

* * * * *

Many many folks praise this piece, and it is understandable. It has everything except an unhappy ending. It has an interesting master actor Zhu Xuas who plays the old man and a charming child actor who plays a hand opposite him. It gives us a simple and important tale about calling. It hands us brilliant renditions of China of the 30s with  buildings and people wonderful to look at. It imparts a story that grips one through every turn; a piece indeed of Dickensan richness and complexity and coincidence. And it reveals the ancient and inexplicable art of  quick change masks. Amazing. One wants these characters to win through and who knows whether they will? An Idyll. A tale for all time. And also a serious movie that can be watched by all, including children, with great attention and recognition, six and over, I would say. Don’t miss it.

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Pushing Daisies

03 Feb

Pushing Daisies – Comedy Detective Fantasy TV series about a pie-maker who has the ability to brings dead things back to life with his touch, a talent not without its drawbacks. Color 2007 – 2009

Nominated for 57 awards and winning 18 of them, including 7 Emmys, it establishes itself brilliant in all departments at once. Set up as amusingly symmetrical as an 18th Century royal French garden it plays itself out in the form of a 16th Century English royal garden maze. The coloration of sets and costumes alone is worth a statue or at least a Red Garter; the perfection of reds vanishing into reds, and greens into greens; the idea of everyone at a cocktail party wearing the same color dress of the same material; the flabbergastering shirts of the males; the decor of the four square two dimensionality of the pie shop; the dead centering of characters on camera. Enough of that. Passing from all that rose-petal scattering of kudos on to those petals to be tossed at the writers whose skill knows no end, as they give us a feast of red herrings every time, mysteries not for the watcher to solve, but to giggle at, dialogue that demands the most fluid and rigorous of stylization of performance. The splendour of the production which looks like it cost billions in its super attention to details, such that, like Pinocchio, one could go back and discover them more and more at each viewing, and with more relish each time. The bountifully gifted Swoosie Kurtz as the swilling sister with the bling eye patch, and the inestimable Ellen Greene as her romantical sister; the stupendous Chi McBride as Cod; the superlatively gifted Kristin Chenoweth as the miniature Olive, gaga and at once pert; the appealing Anna Friel as the open-faced love interest of His Greatness Lee Pace who plays the pie maker to die for. And roses roses all the way to whomever established the style for all this. Well, let praise have no end, and so ******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

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