Saturday, December 31, 2016

Film and Book Tally 2016

Well, this year was utter shit, wasn't it? Loads of celebrities dropping like flies, politics becoming an absolute joke...if it wasn't for a few personal bright spots (took some college courses, went to a few film festivals, became a member of the Women Film Critics Circle), I would've written this whole year as nothing more than a mess.

Anyway, onto what I indulged in this year. I saw more movies this year but read less books. Still, at least I made the most of these crummy twelve months. (Apparently grieving over celebrities can be best treated by watching movies. Who knew?)

My list starts after the jump:

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

How does one describe Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg? It's more than a simple musical, much more than that. (It is Demy after all.) But it's more than the typical fare the likes of MGM churned out at the time. But how?

The film follows the young love between Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), stalled because of him being drafted. He leaves her alone and pregnant, yearning for him to return to her. But will this long-distance relationship survive?

Being the second of a sort of trilogy (the other films being Lola and The Young Girls of Rochefort), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg establishes Demy's standing in the world of film. In contrast to the films made by his wife Agnès Varda, his works more often than not are romanticized visions of reality. (Compare Lola with Cléo from 5 to 7.)

In a way, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a low-scale opera. (All of the dialogue is sung.) There's that tone -- pardon the pun -- of melodrama throughout, yes, but that's the point. It's supposed to be morose amid the various pastels. (What, you never heard of the concept of dissonance?)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg shows how one's aspirations and dreams don't often come to fruition. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your life to move forward, even if you don't want to. But as time wears on, you'll realize you've made a wise decision. (No one ever said or expected life to be fair to them from beginning to end.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Outrage

Life seems good for Ann Walton (Mala Powers) initially in Ida Lupino's Outrage. Recently engaged, she's happy with how things are going for her. But after she gets raped, she feels like those around her are judging her. How will Ann recover?

Unsurprisingly Outrage cause a little bit of the film's namesake upon its release. It being the second film at the time to have rape as its main topic (the first being Johnny Belinda), it sure as hell doesn't sugarcoat the matter. (With a woman at the helm, that's even more clear.)

And Lupino completely avoids any form of victim blaming towards Ann, who's treated with sympathy by those that know her. (Any type of disgust for what happened is directed towards her attacker.) But even with condolences, Ann still feels like she's being judged.

Even after she runs away, Ann finds some difficulty in regaining order in her life. Again, she's met with sympathy by the people she encounters (but not generally everyone). But slowly she gets a new perspective on the world she's a part of. (Her eyes do lose that spark of innocence.) It's a tough road for Ann to go down, yes, but no one ever said life itself would be without its problems.

Outrage continues to show what Lupino could depict both as a woman and a director. (How many directors -- male or female -- focus on the matter of assault outside of shock value and cheap drama?) As she showed a few years later with The Bigamist, Lupino showed that she was interested in subject matter that no one at the time would touch with a ten-foot pole. (Clearly her career as a director should be held in higher regard.)

My Rating: ****

The Great White Hope

It's made clear early on in Martin Ritt's The Great White Hope that Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones, who's basically Jack Johnson in all but name) has controversy following him like a bad smell. There are many things that have earned him a bad reputation, none more so than his relationship with Eleanor Bachman (Jane Alexander).

This being made a few years after the Loving v. Virginia ruling, there are several aspects of The Great White Hope that make it more dated than it should be. It focuses more on the matter of race more than anything else happening in the film. Sure, it might have been daring stuff back in 1970 but it doesn't hold water in 2016.

Similarly, The Great White Hope seems conflicted as to which subject to focus on solely: Jack and Eleanor's relationship (and what those around them feel about it) or his boxing career. Again, this is set in the 1910s so racism was unfortunately commonplace. But even then it feels heavyhanded. (Then again, subtlety wasn't really a known aspect in other titles from the 1970s.)

Now if the film hasn't held up, what of Jones and Alexander's work in The Great White Hope? Admittedly he's forever known for Star Wars and she's the lesser-known of the multi-nominated actors, but overall they don't really provide anything groundbreaking. Maybe back then they did but certainly don't now.

The Great White Hope was perhaps something of high quality upon its release but it certainly hasn't held up decades later. (Hey, not everything from the 1970s was good.) All in all, only see it if you're going through every Oscar-nominated performance.

My Rating: ***

Portrait of Jason

Shirley Clarke's Portrait of Jason isn't the conventional type of documentary. Its subject Jason Holliday (née Aaron Payne) isn't a name very well known by the masses but he's an engaging figure to watch as he tells his life story and ambitions. But is it as simple as that?

What's shown in Portrait of Jason could easily be described as that from the first few minutes but it unravels into something much more than that. Being made during a time where race and sexual identity were regular points of discussion (it certainly wasn't always), Clarke depicts an unbiased glimpse into someone's own life and how they see the world around them.

A key aspect throughout Portrait of Jason is how Jason presents himself to the camera. He has a flamboyant nature to him, a telling detail since he wants to be an entertainer. But as the film wears on, the barriers he had put up start to fall down. Off-camera taunts from Clarke and her then-partner Carl Lee reveal who Jason actually by film's end.

Being released the same year as Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, Portrait of Jason came out at a time when Hollywood was changing the rules. No more were the storytellers going to play it safe and get by with the occasional stray innuendo. But 1967 was the year that marked a cinematic revolution.

Portrait of Jason showed that women may have gotten the short end of the stick in previous years but they sure as hell weren't going to be in that position any longer. As Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino did before her, Clarke shows there's much more to storytelling than the then-required romantic subplot. They showed that a new perspective can be a good thing.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, December 30, 2016

It's Love I'm After

The opening scene of Archie Mayo's It's Love I'm After has Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) and Joyce Arden (Bette Davis) performing the final scene of Romeo and Juliet. Between lines of passion, they mutter insults under their breaths. All while the audience -- which includes infatuated heiress Marcia West (Olivia de Havilland) -- remain unaware.

That said, Basil and Joyce are crazy for one another. (Suffice to say this is much more amusing if you've seen Howard and Davis in Of Human Bondage beforehand.) They plan to get married for the umpteenth time but Basil gets whisked away at the very last minute. And it has something to do with Marcia.

Reuniting with Howard and Davis a year after The Petrified Forest, Mayo gets these two otherwise serious actors to loosen up. (Certainly not usual fare for them or de Havilland, that's for sure.) And considering some of the roles in the actors' futures (Gone with the Wind for Howard and de Havilland, many roles of note for Davis), it's a nice change of pace. Suffice to say none of them would hit this comedic peak again.

And again, screwball comedy sounds like the very last thing any of its lead actors would try to conquer. But considering the collective sixteen Oscar nominations between the three of them, they obviously had talent. Sometimes it takes the right director to utilize all of that talent.

It's Love I'm After is a riot to watch, especially considering the names attached to it. It also shows how Hollywood's foray into comedy was often better whilst under the Hays Code. (One can only stand so many lewd jokes in contemporary titles.)

My Rating: *****

Personal Property

It's a shame that Jean Harlow left this world at such a young age. Who knows what her career would've been like had she not died at twenty-six? Would she still be held in the same regard as she is now?

Ergo there's a certain sadness when watching her in W.S. Van Dyke's Personal Property, the last film of Harlow's to be released during her lifetime. She has a quick wit about her throughout the film, especially aided when she banters with co-star Robert Taylor. (Had she lived long enough, they probably would've gone on to have a film partnership like William Powell -- Harlow's fiance -- and Myrna Loy.)

A remake of The Man in Possession from six years earlier, Personal Property is a comedy of manners, something that comes to a head during a dinner party hosted by Crystal (Harlow). Her guests become oblivious to the thinly-veiled insults thrown about. (Worth mentioning that some of the guests are part of Raymond's (Taylor) family.) To watch Crystal and Raymond being in on the joke adds to the humor.

Back to the stars for a moment. Throughout his career, Taylor tended to get overshadowed by his leading ladies (Camille, Three Comrades, Waterloo Bridge) but with Personal Property, he and Harlow share the screen gracefully. It's not that often both then and now where the leading man and lady's chemistry compliments one another. (Then again, this perhaps isn't much of a surprise considering Van Dyke made The Thin Man a few years earlier.)

Personal Property is a joy to watch but again, knowing what happened to Harlow that same year leaves many "what could have been" scenarios as a result. Still, her rapport with Taylor will have you happy that her short time alive is still beloved today.

My Rating: ****

Kings Go Forth

The usual formula for Hollywood fare back in the 1950s often followed these elements: get a couple of big names in top billing, have a nice blend of action and romance, and keep it all under two hours. (The latter is ignored when epics are involved.) Seriously, randomly pick out five titles from the decade, and at least three of them fall under this type of picture.

Delmar Daves' Kings Go Forth ticks off every box. It has a story told many times before (two men fighting over a woman) but does it manage to stand out from similar works? (It's also set during World War II, another common setting amongst films at the time.)

Amongst its top-billed stars are Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, all of whom had established themselves as serious actors in previous years (Sinatra in From Here to Eternity, Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success, Wood in Rebel Without a Cause). Though here in Kings Go Forth, they don't really have much to do here. (A paycheck project for one or all three of them, perhaps?)

But a major theme throughout Kings Go Forth is racism (Wood's character is of mixed race). But the film is more interested in the romantic rivalry at hand than any form of social commentary. (At least Curtis did The Defiant Ones the same year.)

Kings Go Forth is more or less the expected fare of the time, requiring its location to be exotic and its actors to look impeccable. Substance-wise the film doesn't have much to offer but still, it's a good enough escape from reality. (Hey, it had tough competition that year.)

My Rating: ***1/2

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Private Lives

Love and marriage, love and marriage...go together like a horse and carriage... Or at least that's how the song goes. If fiction has shown us anything, it's nothing more than a union of a tempestuous nature. (Because -- at least according to Hollywood -- stable marriages are boring.)

And boy, there is never a dull moment in Sidney Franklin's Private Lives. (Being based on a Noël Coward play certainly helps.) Despite being divorced and newly married to other people, Amanda Payne (Norma Shearer) and Elyot Chase (Robert Montgomery) find themselves in each other's arms. That said, they argue more than enjoy the other's company.

This being a pre-Code title, there's decidedly a more lax attitude in Private Lives towards infidelity. (After all, Shearer did The Divorcee just the previous year.) As shown with other films from this brief era, it has an "I don't give a damn" attitude essentially from the get-go. (Even films today aren't as brazen.)

Shearer and Montgomery were frequent collaborators (Private Lives was their fourth of five films), and it's very clear that they were comfortable with each other. And boy, does ti come to a head here. There are enough sparks and hair flying between them to warrant a safety hazard.

Private Lives shows that they just don't make 'em like they used to anymore. Shearer and Montgomery solidify their worth in their respective Hollywood era which -- as they would show with later roles -- proved that they were more than willing to break free from their glamorous typecasting. After all, the line between elegant and ugly was regularly blurred then.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top Hat

Ah, mistaken identity: sheer fodder for comedy. It could fall into grating territory for those not patient with such a plot. But if it's done properly, it can lead to something good.

Mark Sandrich's Top Hat follows such a plot. Upon first seeing Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers), Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) becomes smitten with her. Dale, however, thinks Jerry is her friend's husband. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue.

Top Hat was the fourth of ten films Astaire and Rogers did together bit it's easily the best-known of their collaboration. It has a buoyant almost slapstick air to it, certainly not something one would expect from the elegantly dressed pair. But it works nonetheless.

And of course with Astaire and Rogers being the stars, the main focus of Top Hat is the dancing. (This is where the famous "Cheek to Cheek" number comes from.) Being made in a time when the Great Depression was only just beginning, it provided audiences that escape they were looking for from reality.

Top Hat shows that sometimes the best remedy for the blues is a dose of Astaire and Rogers. (Hell, any musical, really.) Come to think of it, isn't that always a good remedy for when feeling down, seeking out a movie of a lighthearted nature? (From personal experience, it often works.)

My Rating: *****

Footlight Parade

As the song goes, there's no business like show business like no business I know. And boy, Hollywood sure loves to proving that time and time again. It doesn't matter if it's the good, the bad or the ugly; the industry is just a feeding ground for material.

Lloyd Bacon's Footlight Parade follows Chester Kent (James Cagney) as he tries to eke out a living following the advent of talkies. This being during the Great Depression, it's a hard time for most everyone trying to make it. But will Chester be fortunate enough to do so?

Being a film with choreography by Busby Berkeley, Footlight Parade has those stunning musical numbers. (And Berkeley wasn't even the first choice for the job.) Anyway, when you see those intricate pieces, you almost forget that the United States was in the throes of financial ruin.

Bear in mind that Cagney only made his big break two years prior with The Public Enemy, and already he was being typecast in gangster roles. But as he would show with his other films that year (as well as his Oscar-winning role in Yankee Doodle Dandy nine years later), there was more to him than as the hoodlum with a temper that matched his height; the man had range.

Footlight Parade is a delight. The rapid-fire delivery from the actors -- Cagney and Joan Blondell in particular -- shows that they just don't make 'em like they used to. (Honestly, screenwriters should take notes from pre-Code titles.)

My Rating: ****

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Silent Partner

Usually with heist pictures, the primary focus is on the actual heist itself and only sometimes on the aftermath. Sure, there's nothing wrong with depicting the crime by its lonesome but what happens afterwards could be of interest too.

Daryl Duke's The Silent Partner provides an example of such. Yes, it does focus on the first few bungled attempts at robbing a bank but there's more to it as it unfolds. What Duke shows with his film is something more calculating.

No doubt that has something to do with the script by Curtis Hanson, who passed away this past September. As he would show with L.A. Confidential nearly twenty years later, he displays a deeply layered story of crime and deceit. Truly, we've lost an unsung great this year. (Well, one of several.)

Now onto the two performances of note from The Silent Partner: Elliott Gould and Christopher Plummer. Gould shows a cunning nature in his role. But it's Plummer who steals the whole show. (He is so not Captain von Trapp here.) It's unnerving stuff from the Canadian actor.

The Silent Partner may lose some of its steam by the third act but overall it's a taut piece of writing. The work from Gould and Plummer is proof as to why they're often held in high regard in the acting community. (Oh, and be sure to see this during the Christmas season.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Gremlins

Ah, Christmas. A time of joy and togetherness. What's a better setting for a less-than-festive film than that? (Ah, the beauty of contrast.)

Joe Dante's Gremlins is the prime example of such a film. It has those many elements commonly found in those Steven Spielberg-produced titles of the 1980s. But does it stand up all these years (and many imitators) later?

In the thirty-two years of the film's existence, Gremlins has become as much of a Christmas tradition as It's a Wonderful Life. But boy, Dante is no Frank Capra. Gone are the heartwarming moments immortalized by the earlier film; here, they're substituted with hair-raising ones.

And as one watches Gremlins, they may wonder how in the hell this got away with a PG rating. Bear in mind this was before PG-13 was even an option (unsurprisingly it became one following this) so there must've been a whole generation of scarred children as a result. (As if Poltergeist didn't inflict enough damage two years prior...)

Gremlins is proof that Hollywood certainly didn't seem to care about the well-being of children following the emergence of New Hollywood. (Honestly, any random title from the previous decade slapped with a PG rating can attest to this.) But boy, you can see almost immediately why there were imitators not long after its release.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Wailing

There's something about foreign horror film that pack more of a punch. Is it because directors overseas how what audiences want overall? Whatever the reason is, they're just so damn better than what Hollywood tries to churn out as of late.

Na Hong-jin's The Wailing is one such film. Its 156-minute running time unravels slowly enough to make it deeply unsettling. But how does it compare to other titles of the genre? (Short answer: very well. Long answer: keep reading.)

Unsurprisingly with this being a horror film, The Wailing has its fair share of influences. The most telling of them is The Exorcist, what with their similar depictions of demonic possession and all. But what's shown here involves more of Asian culture as a whole. (Take note, Hollywood.)

After something of an ethereal nature happens in The Wailing, there's a heavy downpour of rain. To some, it might not seem like much; to those well-versed with cinema, however, something might ring familiar with them. That something is a line from Taxi Driver: "Someday a real rain will come and wash away all this scum off the streets."

The Wailing is one of those few films where its country's folklore isn't used for the sake of a bad punchline. (Let's be honest, this has happened in other horror films.) But Na shows his worth as a director to keep an eye on in the coming years. (You know what they say, third time's the charm. And Na isn't adverse to this.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Train to Busan

We've gotten a barrage of zombie movies ever since George A. Romero made it big with Night of the Living Dead. There's been those of varying qualities, certainly, but they incite thrills and entertainment regardless.

So where does Yeon Sang-ho's Train to Busan rank? It has a few elements found in recent zombie pictures (fast-moving creatures, survival of the fittest) but there's something else to it that makes it stand out. But what?

In the years since Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead, how does one present a subgenre of horror movies that's been -- excuse the pun -- beaten to death? But miraculously Yeon uses those expected tropes and revitalizes them. (Oh, and it's one of those zombie pictures so you've been warned.)

What Yeon does with Train to Busan is actually similar to what Edgar Wright did with Shaun of the Dead. (Come to think of it, that would make for a solid double feature.) It has attentive detail to the story's execution, using call backs effectively throughout its duration. (Certainly not something you'd find in pictures from Hollywood nowadays.)

Train to Busan could've easily followed the usual tropes associated with this type of picture but Yeon tries his damnedest not to do that. It doesn't always work some of the time but as a whole it stays consistent. It's true that a genre picture seldom works amongst a mixed audience but sometimes those few titles do stand out.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

BOOK VS MOVIE: Fingersmith/The Handmaiden

There's always something dark lurking beneath composed demeanors. A warm smile can mask a cruel heart, Pure evil could be hiding behind the face of someone you trust.

It's worth mentioning that it's usually men that are cast in such a light. But who's to say those of the fairer sex have souls as pure as fresh-fallen snow? As we've seen with the likes of Gone Girl, they aren't all sugar, spice and everything nice. To quote Jane Austen's Persuasion, we none of us expect to be in smooth waters all our days.

Sarah Waters' Fingersmith follows such a woman, a petty thief coerced into becoming the maid for a wealthy heiress. What at first appears as a scheme to make off with the heiress' fortune slowly evolves into something much more deceptive in nature. (And if you're familiar with Waters' other work, you know what one thing will be expected.)

Updating the setting from Victorian Britain to 1930s Korea, Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden stays mostly true to Waters' novel. But how Park depicts the women's bond makes it clear that a straight man is at the helm. (Haven't we learned anything from the behind the scenes drama of Blue is the Warmest Color?)

It's clear that Waters and Park have different perspectives for the same story (Waters more diabolical, Park more sensual) but which of the two works is better overall? Both are sympathetic towards the women's connection (especially considering the time periods they're set in) but only more so with just one, which is the victor of the two.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Gentleman Jim

In the span of just a few years, Errol Flynn went from a complete unknown hailing from Australia to one of the biggest box-office draws in Hollywood. But after playing the swashbuckler who knows how many times, he wanted to show his audiences there was more to him.

One of the results was Raoul Walsh's Gentleman Jim where Flynn plays boxer James J. Corbett. Yes, he has the same amount of charisma he had for his collaborations with Olivia de Havilland but there's something more to Flynn's work here. (Could it actually be acting?)

Of course with this being a film about boxing, Gentleman Jim requires a lot of physicality from its leading man. And since he wanted realism, Flynn did his own stunts. Such exertion from him caused concern from leading lady Alexis Smith -- who was fully aware of Flynn's nights of debauchery -- but Flynn said thusly: "I'm only interested in this half. I don't care for the future." (Worth mentioning that Flynn had a minor heart attack during production.)

But as shown the previous year with They Died With Their Boots On, Walsh utilizes the talent within Flynn, something Michael Curtiz seldom tried to do with the leading man. It's no surprise that Flynn much preferred working with Walsh over Curtiz.

Gentleman Jim is a showcase for Flynn's talent, proving there was more to him than as the dashing leading man. It's almost a shame that Hollywood didn't give him more opportunities. But as least he got those few fleeting moments as a serious actor.

My Rating: ****

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Kirk Douglas 100th Birthday Blogathon


Olivia de Havilland isn't the only the only legendary actor still around to celebrate their 100th birthday this year. There's also a lad from New York named Issur Danielovitch turning triple digits today. You may know him better by his screen name: Kirk Douglas.

To celebrate, Karen over at Shadows and Satin is hosting a blogathon. Usually for posts like these, I cover (if there are any) the Oscar-nominated performances of said subject. (Douglas himself is a three-time nominee.) But considering it was nigh impossible for me to find a copy of Champion on DVD, I decided instead to focus on a single film from Douglas' extensive career. Which one, you may ask?

(1957, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

While it's the next (and last) collaboration between Douglas and Kubrick that's more well-known, that doesn't render Paths of Glory as a film no one should see. (For Christ's sake, Kubrick is in the director's chair; that alone should warrant some level of interest.)

(More after the jump!)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon


Crystal over at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting another blogathon, this time about actress Agnes Moorehead. (Coincidentally, she was born on this day back in 1900.) For my contribution for it, I decided to write about (perhaps to the surprise of no one) her Oscar-nominated performances. Moorehead was nominated four times throughout her career but she was always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Anyway, the movies she was nominated for are:

(1942, dir. Orson Welles)
Lost to Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver
(1944, dir. Tay Garnett)
Lost to Ethel Barrymore in None but the Lonely Heart
(1948, dir. Jean Neglusco)
Lost to Claire Trevor in Key Largo
(1964, dir. Robert Aldrich)
Lost to Lila Kedrova in Zorba the Greek

More after the jump!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Mrs. Parkington

Nobody ever said that marriage was a solid institution. Indeed fiction often covers the supposed joys of matrimony, many times the bitter side of the union getting more of the spotlight. But more often than not, there aren't always bad days between spouses.

Tay Garnett's Mrs. Parkington focuses on such a stormy union, this one between the modest Susie (Greer Garson) and the temperamental Augustus (Walter Pidgeon). Told primarily through flashbacks, the film chronicles how she went from a maid in a boarding house to a society matron. (And after seeing how Augustus regularly behaves, it's an uphill battle for Susie.)

Similar to what Garnett would do two years later with The Postman Always Rings Twice, he shows with Mrs. Parkington the differences between the sexes. Susie is someone of humble means whereas Augustus will flaunt his wealth at any given opportunity. But over time Susie's influence rubs off onto her husband.

Being the third of their eight films together, Garson and Pidgeon unsurprisingly have strong chemistry. Also of note is Agnes Moorehead, who basically steals every scene she's in. Ah, the 1940s: where actresses were finally getting their due.

Mrs. Parkington overall is a familiar yarn of films from that era but the work from Garson, Pidgeon and Moorehead make it worth seeking out. (The two women being nominated for their performances also helps.) Because honestly, how often did actresses back then get roles that weren't reduced to the obligatory love interest?

My Rating: ****

Girlhood

There's only a small handful of coming-of-age films that revolve around girls. We've seen enough stories of boys discovering the sordid world around them and how their bodies are changing. Just because the film industry is a male-dominated one doesn't mean those are the only stories that should be churned out.

Céline Sciamma's Girlhood is one of several recent titles to have girls at the forefront. Admittedly it follows the familiar "good girl gone bad" storyline but Sciamma does something different with it. But what exactly?

Girlhood follows Marieme (Karidja Touré) as she tries to find some meaning in her young life. Sciamma offers a more realistic depiction of how teenage girls interact. (Take that, male screenwriters!) After all, everyone doesn't communicate with different people the same way.

As she showed with her previous film Tomboy, Sciamma provides an unbiased portrait of how the protagonist lives their life. It's one of various ups and downs, one of good days and bad. (But isn't that life in general?)

Girlhood proves that Sciamma certainly knows how to capture the coming-of-age story. It's not always the type of story that's clean-cut nor is it one that everyone captures easily. But as she showed with Tomboy and this, Sciamma shows that she can depict the woes of youth. (Beat that, John Hughes.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Following the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Robert Aldrich and Bette Davis re-teamed two years later for Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. (Joan Crawford was originally cast but was replaced by Olivia de Havilland.) But how does it compare to the more famous title?

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte is more sinister than the earlier film in spots. But instead of Davis as the abuser, here she's the victim. (It is strange to see her in a more helpless situation.) However, her Charlotte Hollis has a shared trait with Jane Hudson: vainly grasping at days passed.

In fact, there are several connecting factors between Aldrich's two films besides their leading lady. Both What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte recruit actors whose careers may not have been what they once were. (Okay, Agnes Moorehead being the sole exception because of Bewitched.) Perhaps that started the trend of star-studded pictures the following decade?

Back to that aspect mentioned earlier. Both Charlotte and Jane try to reclaim the past while at the same time slowly lose their grip on reality. (While Jane wants to be in the spotlight once more, Charlotte yearns for the days before her lover was brutally murdered.) But life just throws many curveballs at both of them.

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte shows that sometimes the best kind of horror doesn't always require blood, guts and gore to make it work. A little bit of gaslighting works just as well too. (Man, imagine how much more terrifying it would've been had Davis and de Havilland swapped roles?)

My Rating: ****1/2

Mustang

The world we're a part of has very rarely been kind to those of the supposed "fair sex". Women have been subjected to the likes of discrimination, harassment and violence for centuries. And men continually expect them to adhere to conformity without a second thought?

Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Mustang shows a rebellion amid the strict household the five sisters are trapped in. After displaying "promiscuous" behavior, they're quickly groomed to become suitable wives. But they're not going down without a fight.

Bear in mind that some of the sisters are being punished by proxy for two of their sisters' "disgraceful" behavior so most of the time they're wondering why they're being subjected to the same ordeal. But through the eyes of their guardians, this is just a way to teach them all a lesson.

Ergüven also shows with Mustang that sense of discovery within youth, how one begins to discover the world they're a part of. The girls learn (quite harshly) how important the concept of innocence (yes, in that regard) is in their society, something unfortunately quite common in patriarchies around the world. (When will we learn that a woman's purity isn't her defining characteristic?)

Mustang shows immense potential from Ergüven, proving the way of cinema's future is female. (You know it's true, admit it.) It (hopefully) won't be much longer before the pillars of patriarchy begin to crumble under their own poisonous ideals. (A bit far-fetched, maybe, but one can dream, can't they?)

My Rating: *****