Monday, February 29, 2016

The Dresser

When the lives of actors get the spotlight within fiction, what's shown has said actors trying to grapple with their personal demons before they go on and perform. From self-doubt to varying addictions, the lives of those constantly under the watchful eyes of the vast public can be fascinating to watch.

Peter Yates' The Dresser is one such film to focus on the backstage drama of a theater actor but there's so much more to the film than that. It also focus on titular dresser Norman (Tom Courtenay), who has the patience of a saint to deal with the demands of "Sir" (Albert Finney). And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The Dresser is also set during the Blitz, a time of high stress for natives of the British Isles early on in World War II. It was hard for them to keep calm and carry on as the Germans were dropping bombs on them. Some took refuge in watching plays, a sanctuary from what was happening past those doors.

The performances from Finney and Courtenay are a nice foil to each other. The chaotic alongside the (relatively) calm, the disoriented alongside the focused. These contrasting personalities seldom clash but when they do, it provides a majority of the film's emotional torque.

The Dresser explores both the mystique of the theater and the simple nature of human interaction. As with many other British films from that era, it doesn't rely on lewd sex or brash language to tell its story; it just needs a good script.

My Rating: ****1/2

Nightmare Alley

Many times in an actor's career, they yearn for a change of pace. The comedic actor wants to do drama. The star of countless blockbusters wants to star in a smaller production. This is something that's been happening throughout Hollywood for decades.

Such was the case with Tyrone Power after serving in World War II. Upon resuming his contract at 20th Century Fox, he sought out roles that weren't his usual fare of romantic leads and swashbucklers. One such role was the lead in Edmund Goulding's Nightmare Alley. (They worked together the year before to great success in The Razor's Edge.) And it's a role very much a far cry from his work earlier in the decade.

Nightmare Alley, being a post-war noir, is a very dark title even by then-modern standards. This is a film that has elements reminiscent of Macbeth (yes, really) which is something seldom seen in today's films. (Hey, a Shakespeare allusion doesn't hurt anyone.)

How so with the Macbeth allusions? Well, some aspects of the plot revolves around premonitions (as well as having the occasional scheming woman here and there). It's a detail seen in only a few other films, on occasion film noirs. (It should be done more often.)

Nightmare Alley is one of the unsung greats of the noir genre. As also proven by The Razor's Edge, it shows that Goulding and Power make a great team. (A shame they only worked the two times.) Power may be known strictly as a matinee idol to some but his work here proves he could act.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Oscar Snubs Blogathon

Yesterday I wrote about a film that won a few Oscars, today (on the day of the Oscar ceremony, no less) I write about a director who never won a competitive Oscar. So for the Metzinger Sisters of Silver Scenes and Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In for their blogathon, I give them this post. Oh, the director in question, you may ask? Why, none other than Sidney Lumet.

With his Honorary Award, 2005

It's somewhat baffling. Here's someone who had fourteen films that were lucky enough to get Oscar nominations (with only three of them winning anything!), and he himself was only nominated four times throughout his whole career. At least those four films were damn good ones, otherwise this would be an awkward situation. The films (and whom he lost to) in question are:

(1957, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Lost to David Lean for The Bridge on the River Kwai
(1975, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Lost to Miloš Forman for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
(1976, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Lost to John G. Avildsen for Rocky
(1982, dir. Sidney Lumet)
Lost to Richard Attenborough for Gandhi

More after the jump!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon

Ah, it's that wonderful and slightly annoying time of year for moviegoers: awards season! Thankfully there are some perks to this, and one can thank Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula of Paula's Cinema Club. Why? Because they're the ones hosting the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon!

Anyway, I of course decided to chip for the fourth installment of this yearly event. I decided to write about a film that got a lot of awards recognition way back in the day. Which one, you ask?

(1961, dir. Stanley Kramer)

Judgment at Nuremberg is one of those films that got a slew of Oscar nominations (eleven to be precise) yet nowadays not many people talk about it let alone have seen it. (The film that beat it for Best Picture and other categories, West Side Story, had the opposite reaction.) Why that is, it's hard to say. An all-star cast for the ages, fantastic performances from all of them (which is to be expected from a Kramer production)'d think more people would have seen it. After all, the 1960s had some of the best films released then. (Oh, and for the record, the following passages will most be discussing the performances in this ensemble cast.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Barry Lyndon

As Stanley Kubrick had proven time and time again, he was an absolute perfectionist. With the exceptions of Peter Sellers and R. Lee Ermey, he wanted his actors to follow the script word for word. He would shoot the same scene over and over again until the final result suited him. (Is it any wonder that it was a rarity for actors to work with him more than once?)

And it all came to a head with Barry Lyndon. Thanks to the work from John Alcott, it's easily the most beautiful-looking film of Kubrick's career. (No surprise that Alcott's work earned an Oscar.) But there's more to the film than gorgeous cinematography.

In comparison to some of his other work, Barry Lyndon is easily the most civil of Kubrick's films. (Bear in mind its bookends are A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.) Indeed, the delicate veneer of the film may seem out of place for the man later responsible for Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, but this film displays a defiance regularly found in Kubrick's work.

And at the same time, Barry Lyndon seems like an unusual change of pace for Kubrick. After all, the film made before this one was brimming with violence and anarchy to an almost gleefully twisted level. So having Kubrick tackle territory more familiar to the likes of James Ivory might have looked odd to some forty-plus years ago.

Barry Lyndon is a bit stretched out in regards with the run time but it is gorgeous to look at. Again, it feels strange to see a Kubrick film be this civil but one wonders what another costume drama in his hands would be like... (More than likely similar to this: a genteel nature, fine details that look stunning when enhanced by high definition, and a run time that makes it feels like it's been playing for nearly a week.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Alexander's Ragtime Band

There's something different about musicals from Hollywood's Golden Age than the select few we get nowadays. Maybe it's the charisma from the stars. Maybe it has to do with the musical numbers themselves, what with the high-energy dancing. Regardless, they're always entertaining.

Now Henry King's Alexander's Ragtime Band isn't as well-known as Yankee Doodle Dandy or Singin' in the Rain but it should be. It has the right balance of comedy, drama, and, of course, music. (Not an easy combination, let's be honest.)

Admittedly Alexander's Ragtime Band is more or less a showcase of numerous Irving Berlin songs (and sometimes the plot gets in the way) but that doesn't matter. After all, isn't the whole point of a musical its entertainment value? (Well, most of the time it is, anyway.)

Tyrone Power and Don Ameche handle all of the acting for the film while Alice Faye dabbles in both that and singing most of the film's songs. But Ethel Merman easily steals the show when she starts singing. (There's a nice subtle bit of acting from Power at one point. Pay attention to his expressions when Faye's singing "Now It Can Be Told".)

Alexander's Ragtime Band is very entertaining to watch for sure. From Faye and Merman's musical performances to the general mood of the film, it's the kind of picture that's best suited for a chance to unwind after a long day. And again, it should be better known.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Movie Scientist Blogathon

Christina Wehner of her self-titled blog and Ruth of Silver Screenings have teamed up to discuss the scientists of the silver screen. My contribution for this one will be a bit shorter than the other ones I've done as of late. (Hopefully it'll still be good.) So my choice for this one?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Ballad of Little Jo

If history has taught us anything, it's that you were in trouble if you weren't straight, white or male. Homophobia, racism and sexism were rampant (and it's only slightly improved over the years). God, when will we learn from our past mistakes?

It didn't take Josephine Monaghan (Suzy Amis) much to realize that in Maggie Greenwald's The Ballad of Little Jo. After having an illegitimate child, she flees to the Old West. And knowing there are limited options for women, she begins posing as a man to survive. But how long will this charade last?

A common theme found regularly in westerns (especially in more recent titles) is the misogyny the few female characters face. (Few because more often than not, said female characters are the obligatory prostitutes in westerns.) So having a western not only have an actress as the lead but one not reduced to sexist cliche says everything.

The Ballad of Little Jo also isn't your standard film involving a trans character. Jo primarily exists as a means for Josephine to survive in a society not forgiving to women. Not a normal element found in fiction, and most certainly one seldom well-written when it's used.

The Ballad of Little Jo isn't anything too groundbreaking though Greenwald does present an interesting story. (Fun fact: it's based on real events.) Quite honestly, we need more westerns that don't involve white guys and guns a-blazin'.

My Rating: ****

The Mark of Zorro

Ah, the escapist fare of the 1940s. It didn't matter if the plot was wafer thin or racist by today's standards. All that matter was that the stars looked glamorous and the picture lets you forget your troubles for the next few hours. (Hey, the economy was terrible and later on there was a war going on.)

All of that more or less sums up Rouben Mamoulian's The Mark of Zorro. With Tyrone Power as the titular Zorro, it's the kind of film that doesn't take much to grab the viewer's attention. (Having Power in tight pants certainly helps.)

It doesn't have the lavish detail of Mamoulian's earlier film Queen Christina nor The Adventure of Robin Hood released two years before, but The Mark of Zorro has its moments. (It's more subdued because presumably it didn't have a budget as big as the one on the Errol Flynn picture.) Hey, sometimes less is more.

Now pretty much everything about The Mark of Zorro is typical popcorn fare. A little adventure, a little romance, a good-looking leading man, a British actor as the villain...things like that. All in all, nothing of noted significance.

But again, The Mark of Zorro does provide some quick entertainment. Power is certainly right as the dashing lead as with Basil Rathbone as the villain. Again, all in all, it's a decent watch.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Acting Black Blogathon

To commemorate Black History Month, Wendell over at Dell on Movies is hosting a blogathon focusing on, well, black actors. Admittedly, my field in that regard is rather slim but I knew which performance I wanted to cover. Which one, you ask?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The "You Must Remember This...A Kiss Is Just a Kiss" Blogathon

Happy Valentine's Day! To celebrate, Lesley over at Second Sight Cinema is hosting a blogathon where the whole objective is to cover a famous locking of lips from a classic movie. Now the one I've chosen is more of a series of kisses within one scene. The scene in question?

The yacht scene from Some Like It Hot (1959, dir. Billy Wilder)

Oh, Joe. You just couldn't follow your strict rule to Jerry of "No pastries, no butter and no Sugar" very well, could you? (Then again, that devilish glint in Tony Curtis' eyes says it all.) With his posh accent (Curtis nicked that from Cary Grant) and thick glasses (Joe nicked those from Beinstock), his second disguise of Junior is admittedly a cheap ploy to seduce an innocent woman. (Thankfully, he realizes before film's end that he was acting like a heel.) But boy, that scene on the yacht is charged with a sexual energy that could only come from a picture during the 1950s. (Then again, when the likes of Curtis and Marilyn Monroe are involved, this is inevitable.)

Friday, February 12, 2016


Frequently we get films and novels that examine humanity and its flawed nature. Of course many times said condition is glamorized to appeal to the masses more. Is it that hard to show the ugly truth on life?

So naturally it's ironic that the most human work of fiction to make its presence known is in the form of stop-motion animation. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa follows a day in the life of Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) as he arrives in Cincinnati. Through his perspective, we see how Michael views the world around him.

This being a work from the mind of Kaufman, Anomalisa is a breath of fresh air from the countless sequels and by-the-book biopics. After all, this is the man responsible for writing Being Jon Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so of course his sophomore directing effort will be an original idea. (That's something that has to be admired about Kaufman; the stories he writes are never of the conventional sort.)

There's an element in Anomalisa that may resonate with those suffering from depression. Through Michael's eyes, the people he encounters look no different from one another. If you yourself have ever been in a situation like Michael's, you might have seen yourself as an outcast amid normal people and silently hoped that you'll be noticed by someone else who stands out in a crowd.

Anomalisa is deeply felt and fully realized with its story. Thanks to the work from Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan, it's a film that will surely not be forgotten any time soon. (And hopefully one that everyone will see.)

My Rating: *****

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hail, Caesar!

As the song goes, there's no business like show business. And sometimes the behind the scenes antics are more entertaining than the finished product. Romantic entanglements, petty squabbles, disorderly behavior...these are some of the problems one might face.

And boy, all these problems and more come into focus in Joel and Ethan Coen's Hail, Caesar! (and then some). Set at a small Hollywood studio during the 1950s, it follows the chaotic (and sometimes screwball) antics its stars endure and studio fixer Eddie Mannix (played to deadpan glory by Josh Brolin) trying to cover up said antics. It's a task easier said than done when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped.

But it's not just the state of Hollywood Hail, Caesar! shines a light on. After all, it's set during a time of high tension (thanks to the Cold War) and higher morals. Debauchery, pregnancies out of wedlock and certain political leanings weren't exactly smiled upon back then, especially if you work in Hollywood.

While watching Hail, Caesar!, several observations were made. Brolin and Ralph Fiennes need to do comedy more often (Inherent Vice and The Grand Budapest Hotel respectively are recent testaments to that claim), Clooney needs to ham it up more often, Channing Tatum has a promising career as a character actor ahead of him (if The Hateful Eight is also any indication), and Alden Ehrenreich  will hopefully be sought out more after this. Oh, and the Coen brothers need to add some more depth to their female characters. (Fargo isn't enough!)

A few problems aside, Hail, Caesar! is an entertaining watch. (Certainly less melancholy than the Coens' previous film.) It honors both a bygone era of Hollywood and the escapist effect movies have on us. (Oh, an amusing bit of trivia. Mannix was a real-life Hollywood fixer and was also featured as a character in Hollywoodland ten years prior. Mannix's wife Toni in the latter film was played by Diane Lane, Brolin's then-wife. Deliberate casting or just a coincidence? You decide.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Beautiful Thing

Once one hits their teen years, they start realizing the things going on around them. They begin seeing that the world they're a part of isn't as perfect as they thought it was. They become more involved in things they shouldn't. And most of all, they may find themselves attracted to their friends.

Such is the case with Hettie MacDonald's Beautiful Thing. Revolving around British teens Jamie (Glen Berry) and Ste (Scott Neal), the film shies away from bias towards relationships of this nature and shows instead the comfort the two leads share. (Hey, they have their own problems.)

Released in the aftermath of the AIDS panic (Philadelphia was released a few years prior), Beautiful Thing shows that fiction wasn't going to back down in the wake of a health crisis. Writer Jonathan Harvey (who also wrote the play the film's based on) moves away from stereotypes to depict the sensations of young love. (Remember, folks: sex and love are not the same thing.)

As mentioned earlier, Beautiful Thing doesn't linger too much on angst the boys might feel in regards to their sexuality. It focuses instead on their home lives (Jamie lives with his single mother, Ste's father is abusive) and how it affects them. Again, there's more to a teenager's life than the possibility of getting laid.

Beautiful Thing certainly lives up to its name. It shows on a simple scale blossoming romance of youth, one that doesn't revolve around the physical act. And the final scene is deeply endearing.

My Rating: ****

Friday, February 5, 2016

Desert Hearts

In recent months, Todd Haynes' Carol has been earning acclaim for its depiction of a forbidden romance in an era of strict conventions. It shows two women (one uncertain, one more bold) in a budding relationship behind closed doors. But did you know that someone else beat Haynes to the punch thirty years earlier?

That someone is Donna Deitch, and her film is Desert Hearts. Also focusing on a lesbian liaison during the 1950s, Deitch's film is a more subdued work when in comparison to Haynes'. (Well, it is an independent production from the 1980s.)

From a production standpoint, Desert Hearts has a few similarities with Carol. Both were made by queer directors, both were based on novels by queer authors, and both were made at a time where their endings were not of the normal expectations. (You know, the "bury your gays" trope.) Quite honestly, there needs to be more fiction similar to Desert Hearts and Carol.

Back to Desert Hearts itself. It's the kind of film that doesn't need to show the usual outpouring of emotions from the two female leads; it just shows them being comfortable in each other's company. After all, isn't that the whole point of romance?

Desert Hearts is a quiet solution to the numerous sex-fueled titles of the 1980s. Rather than having its pivotal sex scene be filled with screams of pleasure and clawing at skin, it's more of an intimate discovery of their bodies. Quite honestly, it's a technique that fiction should adhere to more.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The O Canada Blogathon

Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings have teamed up to bring the second installment of the O Canada Blogathon. Feeling adventurous (this will be one of several blogathons I partake in this month so you've been warned), I decided to chip in my two cents on a particular Canadian subject. Of course there are several people who've gotten famous over the last several decades that hail from there (as well as films being produced and/or filmed there) so whom did I settle on writing about? Well, Andrew and Kyle, get excited because I'm writing about one of your favorite directors: Xavier Dolan.

Now you yourself may not be well-versed with his small filmography but if you saw the music video for Adele’s "Hello", then at least you've seen one piece of his work. His films, however, deserve recognition beyond the art house film critics. With two films being released in the near future (one of them sometime this year), I decided to re-visit his films. For the record, they are:

(2009, dir. Xavier Dolan)
(2010, dir. Xavier Dolan)
(2012, dir. Xavier Dolan)
(2013, dir. Xavier Dolan)
(2014, dir. Xavier Dolan)

I think what makes Dolan an interesting director to watch is not just because of the many images he captures (believe me, it wasn't easy screencapping only three shots per film) but because of the elements that are known to his films. Like Pedro Almodóvar before him, Dolan frequently features queer characters in his films. (More often than not, said characters are played by Dolan himself.) And of course there are the stories he tells...