Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Vincente Minnelli's An American in Paris is no exception. Being one of the few musicals to win Best Picture, it provided 1951 audiences with an escape to a romance in post-World War II Paris. (Come to think of it, Moulin Rouge! perhaps borrowed a few cues from this.)
Minnelli himself was no stranger to the musical genre, By this point in his career, he had done the likes of Meet Me in St. Louis and The Pirate but he still had yet to prove to Hollywood what he could. With An American in Paris, it firmly cemented Minnelli's status in the film world.
As seen with later musicals The Band Wagon and Gigi, Minnelli captures the lush details of An American in Paris within the various musical numbers. Whether it's the choreography or the costumes, he uses his keen eye for those moments. (And maybe the occasional shot of Gene Kelly's backside...)
Now you may be wondering how a George Gershwin-based musical managed to win Best Picture over A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun. The answer is a simple one, really. Just watch that climactic ballet, and that should answer that nagging question.
My Rating: ****
Monday, March 28, 2016
This is why Julie Taymor's Frida works as well as it does. With its subject being artist Frida Kahlo, it requires the right people to make her story come to life all these years after her death. And Taymor is one such person.
But what happened throughout Kahlo's life that would require a keen eye to re-capture it all? A stormy marriage to muralist Diego Rivera, her many affairs with men and women, her independent thinking...there was so much more to Kahlo than her artwork. She was truly one of a kind.
Starring as Kahlo is Salma Hayek, who prior to (and annoyingly several times since) Frida was frequently cast as the sultry Mexican bombshell. Here, with the aid of some makeup, she proves her viability as a serious actress. Hopefully she'll get another solid part sometime in the near future.
Frida effortlessly brings Kahlo's paintings to life, something only a select few art-based biopics can do well. With solid work from Hayek and Alfred Molina, it shows that only the right people can make certain projects. (Mental note: see Taymor's other films.)
My Rating: ****1/2
So where does Martha Coolidge's Rambling Rose rank? It does share a few traits with To Kill a Mockingbird but Rambling Rose is a work of its own merit. How so though?
Both To Kill a Mockingbird and Rambling Rose are set in the South during the Great Depression, and are told from a child's perspective. (Not to mention both films feature Robert Duvall among their casts.) But it's that perspective that gives these titles gravitas.
While To Kill a Mockingbird focused on racial discrimination, Rambling Rose hones in on sexuality within women. As history has regularly proven, society didn't exactly smile upon those of the fair sex expressing themselves physically. Suffice to say that Rose (Laura Dern) gets her share of leers and sneers from the townsfolk.
Rambling Rose, as with other women-directed films, finds no shame in depicting how women view sex. The performances from Dern and Diane Ladd further prove that belief. (But on a somewhat different note, what is with fiction's fascination with Southern women and the physical act?)
My Rating: ****
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Set during a hot Louisiana summer, Eve's Bayou shows there's more simmering within the Batiste household than the sweltering Southern heat. The facade of affluence is enforced by patriarch Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) but the effects of his serial philandering are beginning to seep through. When will the family dynamic unravel?
Eve's Bayou depicts the high pedestal we put our parents on when we're young. But as we get older and become more aware of the world around us, we start to realize that our parents have flaws like everyone else we know. This is the hard truth that Eve (Jurnee Smollett) learns over the course of the film.
There's something interesting in the way Eve's Bayou is shot. It has a sort of muted palette to it, even in scenes shot in the bright outdoors. It's this detail from cinematographer Amy Vincent that adds to the film's dark nature.
Eve's Bayou is rich story that Lemmons captures effortlessly. It lingers on the ambiance of a Tennessee Williams play but it focuses more on the mood of an Ingmar Bergman film (and perhaps even John Cassavetes). Also, more roles of this nature for Jackson, yes?
My Rating: ****1/2
So how does Sheree Folkson's The Decoy Bride fare? It does follow that familiar formula but it has a certain charm to it that's usually a rarity in films of this nature. (Then again, a majority of films that hail from the British Isles have that tendency.)
In some ways, The Decoy Bride bears resemblance to Local Hero (not just because both feature a leading man of Doctor Who). They share several elements: small (albeit fictional) Scottish town on the edge of the world, outsiders being charmed by the town's quirks. (The most telling detail is the lone red phone booth in some shots.) It's the simple things sometimes.
And as if The Decoy Bride wasn't Scottish enough, it stars the likes of Kelly Macdonald and David Tennant, two of the more prominent names to hail from the country in recent years. Both recognizable faces to British and American TV viewers, they provide a chemistry that's essential to films of this nature.
It's nothing too extraordinary but The Decoy Bride is very sweet in spots. Thanks to the work from Macdonald and Tennant, it's proof that sometimes the best form of temporary escape is through a light romantic comedy. (Well, it's true, you know.)
My Rating: ****
Friday, March 25, 2016
At least the Wachowskis knew what they were doing with their directing debut Bound. They knew that lesbians and bisexual women were more than means of sexualization. (Getting really old, by the way, talentless comedy writers.) They knew that theses could be women as complex as any part written for a man.
Of course, there's more to Bound than just decent representation. It's a film that dabbles in various genres. sometimes within the same scene. It goes from gangster movie to crime caper to lust-filled thriller. Think of it as a contemporary Double Indemnity.
As we all know by now, the Wachowskis went on to do bigger projects like The Matrix, Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending. These were films decidedly more reliant on the visual aspect than anything else. Hopefully in the near future the Wachowskis will go back to their directing roots.
Bound provided Hollywood with two promising visionaries, ones that know the fine workings of a taut thriller. But as stated above, the Wachowskis definitely need to make another film of this nature. (One can only go so far with films that are almost entirely CGI.) After all, the proof is in the script.
My Rating: ****1/2
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Jill Sprecher's Thirteen Conversations About One Thing follows the day-to-day lives of five people. Walker (John Turturro) is going through a midlife crisis. After an accident, Troy (Matthew McConaughey) becomes wracked with guilt. Gene (Alan Arkin) grows increasingly irritated with a cheerful co-worker. Beatrice (Clea DuVall) keeps a positive outlook on life despite it being far from perfect. And Patricia (Amy Irving) discovers her husband's infidelity.
What Sprecher shows with her film is simple human behavior. We don't know how to achieve the happiness we feel we deserve. We don't know if we'll find it in something superficial or long-lasting. All we know is that we want to be happy, no matter how long it takes to find it.
Sprecher also shows that life can play cruel tricks on certain people. Fate can be a fickle thing to some people. Bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. Nothing about life makes sense, even if we try to understand it. In other words, sometimes you have to accept what life throws at you.
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is a quiet film in its execution of everyday life and the hurdles one has to jump. Fate may be a cruel thing but one thing's definitive: we know how to dust ourselves off and march on.
My Rating: ****
Terry over at A Shroud of Thoughts has brought back a successful blogathon, and this time around I decided to chip in. The goal is to write about, well, your favorite TV show episode. But there's a catch: you can only write about episodes that "must be from shows that are at least 25 years old." So most of the shows that I watch (Sherlock, the revival series of Doctor Who) were basically ruled out.
Thankfully I had an ace up my sleeve. There's one show that I've recently finished that will be celebrating its 50th anniversary later this year. That show in question?
Of its 79 episodes, there are several that I can claim are favorites: "The Naked Time", "Tomorrow is Yesterday", "The City on the Edge of Forever", "Amok Time", "I, Mudd", "Journey to Babel", "A Piece of the Action", and "Patterns of Force". But what's the one I'll be covering? Perhaps the most iconic episode of the series' brief run:
|(1967, dir. Joseph Pevney)|
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Travis Fine's Any Day Now looks like at first glance to be about the budding relationship between performer Rudy (Alan Cumming) and attorney Paul (Garret Dillahunt). But as the film unfolds, there's much more in store for these two men. And what follows is just heartbreaking.
Any Day Now is set in a time where homosexuals were just starting to be viewed as more than the pariahs of society. But the film shows that it's still an unjust world they're a part of. Things may have changed considerably since that time (including same-sex marriage being legalized in various parts of the world) but we still have a long way to go before we reach total equality.
Both Cumming and Dillahunt are fine actors who've yet to get their moment in the spotlight. (At least with film; they already got it on the small screen from The Good Wife and Deadwood respectively.) Thankfully Any Day Now gives them that spotlight. Their performances are a foil to one another, their contrasting personalities melding together as they get to know each other more. Hopefully it won't be much longer before they get more roles in films.
Any Day Now is one of the more underrated titles in recent years. It's not just a story of romantic love; it's also a story of familial love, and Fine depicts its heartbreak to the fullest. Be sure to see it.
My Rating: *****
Thursday, March 17, 2016
One such name was Jacques Demy. Now his films like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort are well-known to the film community (as well as his marriage to Agnès Varda) but his smaller, non-musical films tend to get overlooked. Such is the case with his debut Lola.
Much like Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 the following year, there's more to Lola than it lets on. It's not just about the titular cabaret singer (Anouk Aimée); it's about a small group of in Nantes, their lives intersecting for only a fleeting moment.
Interestingly, Demy had intended for Lola to be a musical but didn't have a budget for it. (It leaves one wondering what this would've been like as a full-fledged musical.) But does this detail hinder the film's quality? Of course not.
Lola was one of several examples to prove that a new film movement was underway but all these years later, it seems to have gotten lost amid the mix of The 400 Blows and Breathless. Demy also showed that he was a promising director for the world of cinema to keep an eye on. (Also expect more reviews of his films here.)
My Rating: *****
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
With Ida Lupino's Hard, Fast and Beautiful, the viewer gets a glimpse into this dynamic. Before we've seen the likes of the doting (Stella Dallas) to the fractured (Mildred Pierce). So where does the bond between Millie (Claire Trevor) and Florence Farley (Sally Forrest) fall?
Indeed, Millie does have the best intentions for Florence (she wants her daughter to have a better life than her) but she doesn't have the best execution of them. She wants Florence to succeed in the world but she knows it won't be easy. Cue the dubious ploys.
Now Trevor's work here is certainly a far cry from her Oscar-winning performance in Key Largo a few years prior. In John Huston's film, she's a submissive (and deeply alcoholic) gangster's moll that's regularly abused. But Lupino has Trevor in a more complex part, one that was more or less a rarity for actresses back then. (At least Lupino knew how to change the game in Hollywood.)
Hard, Fast and Beautiful may not amount to much nowadays but back in 1951, it marked a new era in Hollywood that broke past conventions. Gone were the doting housewife roles for actresses, now there was an emergence of more developed parts. (And this is a process that's still ongoing.)
My Rating: ****
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Take for instance Billy Wilder. His films more often than not feature sharp banter and even sharper opinions on politics. (Granted, the former gets more recognized than the latter.) That;s usually why his films have endured all these years later.
With One, Two, Three (a follow-up to the one-two punch of Some Like It Hot and The Apartment), Wilder takes aim at the then-simmering Cold War. (The Berlin Wall was being built during filming.) And with Wilder being one of Hollywood's big names to flee Europe as Hitler rose to power, he doesn't sugarcoat Germany's past actions either.
Wilder frequently knows whom to cast for particular roles in his films and hits the nail on the head as a result. Some instances include playing against type (Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina, Fred MacMurray in The Apartment). And the latter category definitely fulfills James Cagney's work in One, Two, Three. (Seeing the fast pace most of his lines are delivered, it's no surprise that Cagney went into retirement after making this.)
One, Two, Three feels more manic than some of Wilder's other films, almost to the point where it resembles more to a Mel Brooks film. That said, there are other aspects that are pure Wilder. It's not as great as his other comedies but when Wilder's name is attached to a film, you know you have to seek it out.
My Rating: ****
Monday, March 14, 2016
With Terence Davies' The Long Day Closes, it becomes clear early on that this will be the most personally intimate work of his oeuvre. Set in 1950s Liverpool, Davies depicts a story of childhood and the world surrounding it. It's a world of family, religion, and escape from reality.
This being an autobiographical work, Davies invokes elements from his own upbringing. He mentions coming to terms with his sexuality, his family's religious beliefs, and his regular trips to the cinema. Indeed many directors before and since The Long Day Closes put personal details in their films but Davies' touch makes it feel more genuine.
And there are those who seek out similar escapes to what Davies did all those years ago. There are those who dealt with the brunt of bullying when they were growing up, something that can leave an indelible mark on one's psyche. And as shown throughout The Long Day Closes, they find refuge in worlds of fiction.
The Long Day Closes is a testament to those who simply drift through day-to-day life. They don't live in the moment; they go and hope for that someone to find and understand them. But as is the case with most things in life, sometimes, you just have to wait.
My Rating: ****1/2
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Elaine May is one of the lucky ones. Her directorial debut A New Leaf proves that she's a master when it comes to comedy. (The opening scene gives the viewer of what to expect.) Then again, if you're familiar with her comedic act with Mike Nichols, that should be no surprise.
In comparison to May's follow-up The Heartbreak Kid, A New Leaf is decidedly much darker in nature. (Anything where murder becomes a major theme is bound to fall in that category.) Yet even with its occasionally morbid sense of humor, it still manages to be consistently funny.
And the work from Walter Matthau and May make A New Leaf work completely. Matthau in the previous decade proved his comedic abilities from films like The Fortune Cookie (which earned him an Oscar) and The Odd Couple. And May, as mentioned above, had her act with Nichols, so of course she and Matthau would make a great team. (George Rose and James Coco easily steal the show whenever they're in a scene.)
A New Leaf must have been practically a refuge for audiences back in 1971. The events of the previous decade were far from forgotten and no one knew what to expect in the years to come. And again, people need a temporary escape from everyday life.
My Rating: *****
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema have teamed up for this blogathon. The objective is "to explore the body of work of an actor or an actress from whom you haven't seen many films (or none), but that you're curious to discover." My actor of choice? Tyrone Power. (And yes, this is the reason for why I've been seeing a number of his films as of late.)
I was already familiar with Power from the likes of The Razor's Edge (which I wrote about in length a few months ago), The Sun Also Rises and Witness for the Prosecution but I was curious to see some of his other work. I opted for six other films of his (because quite frankly I have nothing better to do with my time at the present moment). The films in question?
|(1938, dir. Henry King)|
|(1940, dir. Rouben Mamoulian)|
|(1941, dir. Rouben Mamoulian)|
|(1941, dir. Henry King)|
|(1947, dir. Edmund Goulding)|
|(1955, dir. John Ford)|
More after the jump!
Thursday, March 10, 2016
And sometimes it needs to have a certain bite to it. That was certainly what Don Roos had in mind when he made The Opposite of Sex. Many if not all of the lines from Dede (Christina Ricci) just drip with venom. To best describe her would require a line from Sweet Smell of Success; she's a cookie full of arsenic.
Similarly, a number of Lucia's (Lisa Kudrow) lines are among some of the script's best. Bear in mind that Friends had been on the air for a few years by that point, so people knew what Kudrow was capable of. (The same year The Opposite of Sex was released, she won an Emmy.) And much like the sitcom that made her famous, the proves that Kudrow was more that capable of stealing every scene she's in.
The Opposite of Sex features something normally not found in your average comedy: well-written roles for actresses. This was released the same year as There's Something About Mary and The Big Lebowski (where women don't really have much to do) so this was a nice change pace. (Remember: indie films have better parts for actresses.)
The Opposite of Sex has a bite to it that other films seldom try to repeat. (Gone Girl is the most recent example.) And as stated above, it provides some damn good work for any willing actress. (And yet nearly twenty years later, such roles are lacking.)
My Rating: ****
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Agnès Varda's Le Bonheur provides a different reason for why an adulterous liaison might occur. François (Jean-Claude Drouot) feels beyond content with his wife Thérèse (Claire Drouot) and two young children. He decides to extend his happiness to Émilie (Marie-France Boyer), a women he meets while on business. But how will this end?
In stark contrast to the black-and-white cinematography of Varda's earlier film Cleo from 5 to 7, Le Bonheur has a bright palette of colors in every shot. (It could also be viewed as the mindsets of the lead characters.) Perhaps she borrowed a few cues from husband Jacques Demy?
As per usual with Varda, Le Bonheur shows an exploration of life and the people that inhabit it. She shows the world and the flaws its dwellers display. After all, to quote Some Like It Hot, nobody's perfect.
Le Bonheur is further proof that Varda is one of the great for the world of cinema. She knows how to capture everyday life and all of its little imperfections. We must honor her while she's still with us.
My Rating: ****1/2
Monday, March 7, 2016
Take for instance The Long Gray Line. It was released the year before The Searchers and a few years after the Korean War ended. (Incidentally, it was released the same year as Mister Roberts, which Ford half completed before being replaced by Mervyn LeRoy.) And it has a few known traits if Ford's other films (acknowledging Ford's Irish heritage is a big one here), so that alone should be worth a look, yes?
By this time in Hollywood, many of its stars (both established and rising) had served in World War II and some of their work alluded to that. Such is the case with Tyrone Power in The Long Gray Line. (And of course Ford himself was involved in the war too.)
Now Power by this point in his career was trying to move away from his matinee idol status and he did have some success several years earlier. He's good here though his Irish accent either waivers or has him sounding more like James Doohan on Star Trek. (It's really telling when he shares a scene with Maureen O'Hara.)
The Long Gray Line has its moments but it's definitely lesser Ford. It's similar to the likes of Yankee Doodle Dandy with its storytelling methods but it feels stretched out here. Still, the work from Ford, Power and O'Hara warrant at least a look.
My Rating: ****
Saturday, March 5, 2016
But boy, it doesn't get any preachier than Paul Haggis' Crash. What should have been an interlocking saga of racial tension with several Los Angeles residents ends up being nothing more than an overdone, uneven film laden with stereotypes to the point where it's almost racist. (Then again, what else to expect when the script's written by two white guys?)
How so with the stereotypes? Oh, where to begin? The struggling store owner from the Middle East, the black hoodlum with a grudge against society, the racist police officer, the Asian with certain language pronunciations, the Latino mistaken for a gang member...the list goes on and on as the film continues. (It's also telling that out of the film's many performances, the one that gets an Oscar nomination is the racist cop.)
Though Crash did manage to get one thing right. It shows that society as we know it is crumbling. We need to do away with bias and prejudice in order for us to move forward as people. How much longer until we learn from the mistakes of the past?
For a film supposedly open in its depiction of racism, it's actually rather bigoted most of the time. It feels ten minutes too long after only five, and there are parts that'll have you rolling your eyes so hard you'll end up doing a backflip. And this overwrought propaganda managed to win three Oscars? Why?
My Rating: **
Thursday, March 3, 2016
Take the days of Hollywood when it was still dominated by the studio system for instance. This was an era where only a small handful of directors were willing to tackle risky subject matter. Sure, there were the likes of Otto Preminger and Nicholas Ray who strayed away from the fluff studios churned out but less mentioned on such lists is Ida Lupino.
Though her acting career is more known to some, Lupino as a director had her focusing on material deemed risque at the time. Such was the case with The Bigamist, its subject matter spelled clearly in the title. After all, this was from the early 1950s; nobody wanted to acknowledge that such a thing could even exist.
Lupino also depicts the two women of The Bigamist as more than just the wife and the other woman. Eve (Joan Fontaine) has a head for business which Harry (Edmond O'Brien) thinks is hampering their marriage. Phyllis (Lupino), meanwhile, provides the emotional support Harry so craves from Eve. It's simply a story of a man torn between two women.
The Bigamist is a lesser-known title out of the many big name ones of the 1950s. What was seen as simple melodrama back in 1953 but nowadays it's a pioneering work for female directors. It should seriously be sought out by everyone.
My Rating: *****
Juan Gallardo (Tyrone Power) of Rouben Mamoulian's Blood and Sand is one such example. Once a child of modest means, he grows up to become an ambitious matador. But as his fame grows, so does his ego and taste for the finer things in life. His mother (Alla Nazimova) and wife (Linda Darnell) try their best to keep him humble but will it work?
In comparison to Mamoulian and Power's previous collaboration The Mark of Zorro, Blood and Sand has decidedly a more lush production value. (Being shot in Technicolor certainly helps.) And it doesn't take much to see how the cinematography and the set design were nominated for Oscars (with the cinematography winning).
Blood and Sand isn't just Power's show. Also among the supporting cast are Rita Hayworth and Anthony Quinn, both at the start of their prominent careers. As proven by their later work, they easily steal the show whenever they're onscreen, Quinn especially.
In toll, Blood and Sand is very good though it gets spotty at times. It's a nice adventurous film with a touch of sexy to it as well. All in all, it's worth a look.
My Rating: ****
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid opens with the wedding of Lenny (Charles Grodin) and Lila (Jeannie Berlin, May's daughter), a seemingly happy affair. But en route to their honeymoon in Florida, he realizes that she has a number of annoying traits. And upon arriving in Miami, he starts chasing Kelly (Cybill Shepard).
Granted, it's a satire but there's something borderline infuriating seeing a character not know the very distinct difference between romance and infatuation. (And yes, there is one.) Maybe that's why the male-driven works on this subject tend to take on a creepy air...
Come to think of it, that's exactly why those works in particular tend to fail. We're part of a society that frequently depicts women as nothing more than objects to men. This is why every now and again we need this story told from a female perspective to show how sexist it is.
But back to the review. The Heartbreak Kid has its moments here and there but overall, it serves as more of a cautionary tale for those young and unknowing. If a married person is making passes at you, don't encourage them by responding to said passes. Ignore them until they get the message.
My Rating: ****
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
And many titles from Hollywood's Golden Age could be viewed as a quick escape from everyday life. With glamorous stars, exotic locations and adventurous plots, they were exactly what the public needed to take their minds off what they read in the daily news. Though sometimes a number of these films add elements from then-current events.
Such is the case with Henry King's A Yank in the R.A.F. Set (and made) in the aftermath of the Battle of Britain, it's admittedly the typical studio fare of the time. But hey, it's a good temporary escape.
How so? It's a familiar plot: man re-unites with former flame, she starts seeing someone else, she ends up being torn between the two. And if you know how the story goes (which you probably do), you know how it ends. Still, as stated above, it's a nice brief escape.
A Yank in the R.A.F. overall is nothing special but the combination of Tyrone Power and Betty Grable certainly works. (As does the dry wit of the many British supporting actors.) To think this was released just months before the attacks on Pearl Harbor...
My Rating: ****