Archive for the ‘ANIMAL DRAMA’ Category

The Life Of Pi

25 Nov

The Life Of Pi – directed by Ang Lee. Survival Drama, Family Film. An adolescent boy is cast adrift in a lifeboat with a fully-grown Bengal Tiger. 127 minutes Color 2012.
The film begins in enchantment, from the credits and forward to the translucency and wonder of the images that follow. The story is framed by the telling of the grown man to whom it happened. There he sits recounting it to a writer, and there they are at the end, when the picture as a whole ends with a bourgeois maxim.

The events of the family zoo in Pondicherry in India, the man’s boyhood introduction to the tiger, and the family’s setting sail for Canada on a Japanese freighter which sinks in a typhoon, are well told, thrilling, and novel. The filmmaker’s attack on these episodes suffuses us with awe. We are ensorcelled. Never have we seen such things. We sit back agog, and we believe.

But the boy is adrift with a ravenous tiger, so some sort of truce must be struck before the boy himself is eaten. And also we await their rescue, which never seems to come. What does come is a slackening of tension which is more fatal than the tiger is. For we lose contact with the inner life of this starving castaway, and the grim process that finally seizes one’s mind after one is adrift for months on the open ocean. We have too many accounts of this stage of death at sea not to know what it is like.

One is covered with salt, one’s eyes are practically blind, one’s lips are bubbling with sores, one’s skin is dripping off one’s body, one is malnourished and athirst and burned alive. And just before surrender to death comes the phantasmagoria of magical rescue, with dancing girls and feasts and rest and reunion. At this point, any delirium is tempting, the temptation being to succumb to the delirium as real, and thus surrender to death, for The Gate Of Death is Pleasure. The alternative to it is to surrender to the delirium as delirium, yet not submit but stand away from it and exit it. Attention to that process provides a rest and recuperation from the bodily and mental torment, and the outcome of that rest is the energy to go on.

What needs to happen is that the boy is dying and the tiger is dying, and the delirium moment arrives, but, instead of that, instead of a working into and out of the perilous malaise of the dream of rescue, the author and the filmmaker give us a pretty, little cop-out, a phony island out of an old Maria Montez movie, where the boy and the tiger can feast and rest. The Special Effects execution of the island is a gross violation of style. And there is no drama. Without it, the movie sinks.

We immediately lose any interest in the tiger and the boy and their survival, not because we know they did survive, for the boy now grown is telling the tale to the writer, but because the director and the author have not done their job which is to take us into the worst crisis of all, A Vision Of False Paradise, and record his escape from it.

This film is still worth seeing. It is beautifully filmed in 3-D by Claudio Myranda and perfectly cast, right down to the four tigers that play the tiger here — one Richard Parker by name an unpredictable cat if there ever was one.


Marley And Me

20 Jun

Marley And Me – directed by David Frankel. Low Comedy. A journalist finds his true calling when he starts writing about his rambunctious dog. 114 minutes Color 2008. ★★★★

I don’t know why light comedians are not regarded as serious practitioners of their craft, but it is so. They give pleasure and entertainment for years and to multitudes, but Cary Grant is nominated only twice for an Oscar and never won. Solemnity magnetizes Oscars. Here we have before us two treasures of comic skill: Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. I look at them and am filled with wonder and admiration for their craft, which in Aniston’s case is practiced with delicacy and truth. There is no one now acting who can do light drama and light comedy with the finesse of this actor. To me the skill of such an actor is unfathomable, almost unreadable. Owen Wilson is a different sort of actor, but one who operates perfectly on the same plane as Aniston and makes a good partner with her. He is much more preset in his choices and possibilities. He pitches his voice in a juvenile whine and plays a strong suit in innocence, which may annoy, but what cannot annoy is the bigness of heart that is evident in everything he does. There’s a sort of idiotic juiciness to him, too, which amounts to the sex appeal of a male whose sexuality is still to be awoken. Of course, what you can say against them both is what you can say against almost all young actors of their time, which is that they are not grown-up. He is not a man and she is not a woman. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne were always grownup, and so were the rest of the actors of their time, from 1930 to 1950. Even when young, the actress was a woman and the actor was a man. Here, Aniston is what she has always been, a gal, a million dollar baby in a five and ten cent store. And Wilson is not a man but a boy, Peck’s bad boy. They have formulated themselves this way. They have lived out their youths doing this. It’s a killer course for them when they get to be over forty. And a terrible one, for actors love to act – and so they should – it’s a wonderful calling – but how will they ever play anyone who is mature? The actors of the ‘30s and ‘40s didn’t retire when they hit age 40 or 50; they didn’t have to, because they were already adults. But Aniston and Wilson, so gifted and so formulaic in their decision as to how to use their gifts and in what – they are doomed to their job. Families and marriages would be in defiance of the immaturity upon which their income depends. I wonder about them. I worry about them. And what I have to say about this picture, finally, is that Alan Arkin is very funny in it and the dog isn’t funny at all.



10 Oct

Hatari – Directed by Howard Hawks. Wild Animal Action Adventure. A company of animal collectors snares big game in Africa. 156 minutes Color 1962.

* * * *

Howard Hawks had no signature visual style, even when he used the same photographer. Nor was he much of a director of actors. His films are plainly shot in simple setups. What he had was a freewheeling attitude about scripts which in the morning he would make up among the actors or who ever passed through the shooting, and then film it later in the day. This openness and casualness produced a big permission for actors, so sometimes wonderful performances arrived. John Wayne’s, for instance. He is an actor who often chooses to “come from strength”, but here he pretty much lets that slide, and what comes to the fore is his wisdom, forgiveness, and rueful wit. He does not have any other actors in the picture who are on his level of artistry or humor, save Red Buttons, which is a shame, because that and their variety of foreign languages slows things down to the level of competence, which is a local train not a superchief; John Wayne is a superchief. However, what results here is a very amiable party indeed, casual, agreeable, and fun. This is not a movie you intently watch; it is a movie you hang out with. The story line is flimsy and contrived, and it all takes place indoors on Paramount sound stages, and looks it, as do the actors slathered in thick tan pancake. The story involves, if that is the right word, a couple of unconvincing romances, one of them between Wayne and the Italian actress Elsa Martinelli who is of all things called Dallas, the name Claire Trevor had in Stagecoach. (One must cover one’s eyes when John Wayne kisses anybody.) But, in the long and beautiful African scenes, Elsa Martinelli has such a terrific rapport with wild animals that I took her to be a professional trainer. She is remarkable with three baby elephants, and seems to harbor a leopard as a watchdog. The episode with the monkey tree is fascinating – evidently all the actors did the animal work in the picture – and wildebeest and rhinos and cheetahs and ostriches are caught in long and very exciting sequences. The chasing down and capturing of the wild animals feels authentic and was the raison d’etre for the film. These are interspersed with drunk scenes, which are not funny (at what moment in history did drunk scenes in Hollywood cease to be funny) and with sophomoric hijinks, which are not funny either. Hatari means danger in Swahili and the relaxed and genial nature of the story with its foolish excesses is just a necessary relaxation from the real and intense excitement of the hunts. Henry Mancini has written a brilliant score.





The Courage Of Lassie

09 Jun


The Courage Of Lassie – Directed by Fred A Wilcox. Family Film: Animal Drama. A collie is rescued by a young girl and finds an heroic destiny on the front lines of WW II. 92 minutes Color 1942.

* * * *

This picture opens with a long sequence in which, in woodland, only animals appear. It’s delightful. And odd. And one wonders how they did it. Anyhow, they don’t open pictures like that any more. It was made after National Velvet and it banks on that and on Lassie Come Home, although Lassie never shows up here at all – the dog’s name is Bill. That emerald Frank Morgan has a part and so does the nice old man Harry Davenport. Tom Drake is as always cute with his boy next-door-face and his odd Lower East Side accent (In a very few years he would be playing her husband and the father of her child). Elizabeth Taylor is an adolescent here and is not called upon to carry the picture – the dog does that just fine – but her character is the heart of it. It is interesting to see what she kept as an actress as she grew, what bad habits she retained, what ones let go, how she developed technically and what it was the public saw in her – something to do with kindness to dumb animals – Bill, Velvet, Montgomery Clift. There are times here when the emotion is forced and sentimentalized and emotionalized, but the story carries her into those temptations, and she is, after all, very young, untrained, and with only a few films behind her. She mercifully lacked Margaret O’Brien’s horrendous self-possession. But then as now she knows what she stands for. That was perhaps the strength the public saw in her from the start. The pictures is beautifully produced with wonderful outdoor photography and a pleasure to spend time in front of, by oneself or with one’s youngsters. The story is unusual in that it is an early revelation of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and it is well told – with a rich slather of 1945 MGM ethics. We who lived through that time knew it was not like that, and we didn’t even want it to be. You won’t waste your time; enjoy it for what it is!







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