Monday, June 3, 2019

Goodbye Charlie

Bloodshed, gender-bending, Tony Curtis as the male lead, a curvy blonde as the female lead...no, this isn't a description of Some Like It Hot (though it could be) but rather a film from five years later: Vincente Minnelli's Goodbye Charlie. (Coincidentally, Billy Wilder was offered to direct this but flatly turned it down.) And Minnelli's picture is surprisingly...amusing in its execution.

The plot of Goodbye Charlie kicks off after the titular character gets gunned down by a jealous husband. His friend George Tracy (Curtis) flies in for a (rather pitifully attended) memorial service and afterwards, a dazed blonde (Debbie Reynolds) stumbles onto the doorstep of Charlie's home. Turns out this blonde is a reincarnated Charlie.

Similar to Some Like It Hot, Goodbye Charlie has the initially introduced male character slowly but fully embracing their new feminine identity. (Likewise, both films have Curtis' character very wary about the whole situation.) That said, the now-female Charlie can't quite break free from their old ways... (The fact those jokes got past the censors is staggering.)

This being a Minnelli picture, the sets have all the markings of some of his earlier films. Fully stocked liquor cabinets, bookshelves filled with hardcover titles, and enough vibrant colors to warrant the existence of Technicolor. And that's not even getting into the Helen Rose-designed wardrobe. (It's worth mentioning that before making this, Minnelli was lobbying hard to direct My Fair Lady but his salary demands were too high for the studio's liking. Could you imagine what that film would've been like had he gotten the gig instead of George Cukor? It's possible that what didn't go into the musical went into this.)

That all being said, there's not a lot to write home about Goodbye Charlie. Apart from Curtis' facial expressions and acting constantly on the verge of mental collapse (and Walter Matthau sporting the most ridiculous Italian accent imaginable), it follows the same formula as other sex farces of the era. Still, it has its moments; just...not a lot.

My Rating: ***1/2

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mandy

Panos Cosmatos' Mandy starts off rather innocuous. Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and his girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) live a modest life within the Shadow Mountains. But after Mandy crosses paths with cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), chaos and all hell break loose.

As one watches Mandy unfold, they may wonder how many drugs Cosmatos was on during the making of it. (Alternatively, how many should be ingested before watching it.) That's not to say it's a bad film, far from it. If anything, the distorted imagery is required for the story that's being told.

Being a second-generation director (his father George's best-known film Tombstone was also how he broke into the industry), Cosmatos obviously knows the workings of film production. And even with Mandy being his second (!) endeavor, it's clear that he'll be in the business for a long time.

The same, alas, cannot be said for composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who died before Mandy was released. As he proved with other films like The Theory of Everything and Arrival, his music captured the ambiance of the film in question. His contribution to Mandy very much does that, and then some. (And his absence will be profoundly felt.)

Mandy is just as insane as its poster implies, almost being the demented love child of David Cronenberg and David Lynch. (Personally speaking, it's best if you read nothing before seeing it...thus rendering this review null and void.) And it's about time Cage did something that didn't feel slapped together in a span of five minutes. (The perils of money woes, folks.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, January 25, 2019

Unsane

The opening moments of Steven Soderbergh's Unsane provides an unsettling narration, one that waxes poetic over how the narrator adores Sawyer Valenti (Claire Foy) with all their heart and soul. In a different context, this would be viewed as a grand declaration of love. But this declaration is coming from her stalker.

Now settled in a new city, Sawyer tries to restore the fragmented parts of her life. In doing so, she finds a place nearby to get therapy where she unwittingly consents to be hospitalized. What horrors await Sawyer in the psych ward?

Thankfully Soderbergh's plans for retirement fell to the wayside as quickly they were announced, and cinema would've suffered considerably from his absence. Since his debut with sex, lies and videotapes back in 1989, he's been a consistent storyteller through various genres. And if we're lucky, his actual retirement will not be for a long time.

Now Foy has yet to break it big in films (though she's had immense success starring on The Crown) but hopefully casting directors will remember her work in Unsane for future reference. In stark contrast to playing Queen Elizabeth II, her Sawyer is regularly on pins and needles in her effort to be in control. But will she be able to carry on a normal life?

Unsane has a sense of unease that's reminiscent of Shock Corridor (another psych ward-set film), where it feels like the protagonist may very well go mad before they're believed. Yet the viewer will find themselves rooting for the hero even if the latter isn't particularly likable (some might see Sawyer as such). And Soderbergh and Foy ensure such a reaction.

My Rating: ****1/2