Man, this year has been sporadic. I didn't watch or read much (in comparison to the past few years), was a contributor for Talk Film Society for a little over three months (before being politely let go; I'll admit I wasn't great with keeping deadlines), and submitted two guest posts over at The Film Experience. Anyway, my main objection for Defiant Success -- which, by the way, turns ten (!!!) this coming August -- is to keep it up to date with new reviews and the like, and I'll try to make it so in 2019. But enough of that: onwards to the media I've consumed this year!
Friday, December 28, 2018
Like her previous film The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Heller chronicles the complicated complexities of the fair sex. But rather than the coming-of-age tale her debut told, she depicts how those in desperate measures will react to unlikely situations. And Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty's script imbues the regular struggles a writer faces. (Granted, the path Israel went down is thankfully one rarely traveled.)
Indeed, the way some fiction depicts the "glamorous" life of writers is inaccurate. (Then again, most writers are, well, writers.) Though Can You Ever Forgive Me? acknowledges some of Israel's past successes, it shines more of a light on how she tries to surpass them (and doesn't quite succeed in doing so). Much like actresses, even writers can have a short shelf life (pun intended).
And in a way, the film's title could be recognized at McCarthy herself. A number of the films she was involved with between her Oscar-nominated work in Bridesmaids and Can You Ever Forgive Me? had some doubting her talents. (She was regularly on the verge of the same typecasting as Chris Farley -- "fatty falls down, everybody goes home happy" -- before her.) But thanks to her career-redeeming work here, we can, in fact, forgive McCarthy.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a brilliant work from everyone involved with it. (Hopefully, McCarthy will get more dramatic roles because of this.) As the credits begin to roll, you may wonder what kind of legacy Israel (who died in 2014) leaves behind: as a celebrity biographer or as a forger of their words.
My Rating: *****
Friday, December 7, 2018
Being made before the Hays Code went into effect, The Doorway to Hell plays into this then-controversial era of filmmaking. (Its tagline -- "The picture Gangland defied Hollywood to make!" -- acknowledges the sensational nature they've accumulated.) But is it as shocking as it boasts?
In comparison to the other pre-Code gangster pictures, it's surprisingly tame. But the focus of The Doorway to Hell isn't so much on the violence as it is on Louie's morality. He's more than happy to give up crime for golf and writing his memoirs. But when his enemies launch an attack that hits too close to home, that's when Louie's ruthlessness comes to light.
Much like what he'd do with Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest a few years down the line, Mayo gives Cagney his big break in The Doorway to Hell. A year before his starring turn in The Public Enemy, it was clear that he would be commanding the show in no time. (He does plenty of that here.)
The Doorway to Hell may not pack the same punch as later gangster pictures but it's still good at times. Ayres might be viewed as miscast (why him instead of Cagney?) but again, it's more on Louie's morality rather than his toughness. And Ayres got that part down pat.
My Rating: ***1/2