Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Week of Movie Watching

Band of Angels – Turgid Civil War melodrama from Raoul Walsh doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. Yvonne Di Carlo is the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner who gets sold into slavery after it is discovered that she had a black mother. Clark Gable is the mega-wealthy man who buys her. A romance ensues, but the rich man has a dark past, and the approaching war threatens to destroy him. It’s impossible to not think of Gone With the Wind when watching this, and although that isn’t really a fair comparison, this film is bad no matter what you compare it to. It’s poorly acted, especially in the case of a few of the supporting roles, and Gable and Di Carlo never really strike any sparks on screen.

La Pointe Courte - Agnes Varda’s 1955 debut, and a real nice little surprise. It’s only 80 minutes long, and tells two separate stories. In one a married couple comes back to the husbands fishing village home to try to salvage their marriage. The other story follows the denizens of the village as they fight to retain their way of life against local government who has decreed that the locally caught shellfish are not fit to be sold. The film is strikingly shot on location in Southern coastal France, and is interesting because the two stories are presented in such different ways. The couple’s portion of the film consists almost entirely of them walking the area and talking about their lives. It’s very Bergman-esque, and in fact even uses a sequence in the belly of an old boat, much like in Bergmans Through a Glass Darkly. Since this predates the Bergman film by several years, one wonders if the Swede saw La Pointe Courte. The fishing village portions, on the other hand, look to be highly influenced by Italian neo-realism, and the films of men like Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica. This mash-up of styles works well for the material involved. The structure of the film is inspired by William Faulker’s The Wild Palms, which alternated chapters to tell a pair of short stories. The screenplay was written Alain Resnais. Check this movie out.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thursday, December 08, 2011

My Week of Movie Watching

Night Moves – This was my second time watching this well-regarded but underrated modern Noir. Gene Hackman plays an ex-football star turned private dick. An assignment to find a missing girl threads him through Hollywood stunt men, a nympho teenager, and a sunken treasure. I found the plot to be a bit erratic this time around. It’s hard to pin down how the various characters are supposed to be linked to each other. On the other hand, there are some good supporting performances (including a very young Melanie Griffith and James Woods). The sequence that ends the film is simply stunning, and pushes it over the hump for me. Recommended.

Bridesmaids – A raunchy comedy in the tradition of The Hangover. I liked Hangover, and I like this one a lot, too. The real discovery here is Kristen Wiig as Annie. She’s so sweet and vulnerable here, and yet so gut-busting funny, that I just fell in love with her. The scene where the girls try on wedding dresses just as they are overcome by a case of food poisoning is comedy gold. Recommended.

The Knack…and how it get it – I waited a long time to finally view Richard Lesters follow-up to A Hard Day’s Night, and I gotta admit that I was a bit disappointed. Nerdy teacher Colin (Michael Crawford) is driven crazy by the success his super-cool flatmate Tolen (Ray Brooks)has with the ladies. When sweet country girl Nancy (Rita Tushingham) arrives on the scene, it’s a free-for-all as to who will win her over. The film takes a lot of the frenetic style of HDN and gooses it even more. I liked the sharp cutting style, and the zany camera work, but I was a bit distracted by the way Lester used commentary by passers-by as a narration. Plus, it was hard to understand what the hell people were talking about. Sometimes, I felt like the film was trying too hard, in a “look at how cute I am” sort of way. There’s also a little jivey bit at the end about Nancy’s being “raped”, which is cringe-worthy to a modern viewer. Some fun things, but overall not recommended.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Marquee

On Location

Jacques Becker checking out Dernier Atout (1942)

Sunday, December 04, 2011


A little extra Natalie Wood

"Throw more brandy!!!"

Film-doms' most famous pie-fight - The Great Race (1965)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Movies of My Life

Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) is a film that I find myself returning to every two or three years. If pressed to tell you why, I’m not sure I could. Not with any degree of firm conviction, anyway. To say that it is a comedy is correct, on the face of it, but if you watched it expecting belly laughs like you might experience with, say, Laurel and Hardy, you’d be disappointed. I have seen it at least 4 times, and I have never really laughed out loud at anything onscreen. Playtime’s pleasures are more quiet and sly than robust.

I ‘ve always had this little crazy theory lurking in the back corners of my mind that Jacques Tati got the inspiration for Playtime from an ant farm. Yeah, an ant farm – That thing with a colony of ants sandwiched between two plates of glass. That’s what I feel like when I watch Playtime: It’s an observation of a species.

Tati had already has a big hit with Playtime’s predecessor Mon Oncle, which takes a look at the impersonal modern world, as M. Hulot struggles to cope with a futuristic house. As good as Mon Oncle is, it’s view of the modern world is a tad sour. Playtime, on the other hand, can be seen as a celebration of humanity on the face of the onslaught of modernism.

The film revolves around M. Hulots experiences in a world of glass and concrete. Early in the film, he has an appointment with some bureaucrat for some reason or another. This is one of the first of the film slyly humorous scenes. Hulot waits while an elderly security guard punches numbers into a huge bank of buttons and lights. He sits and waits, and finally we start to hear the clicking of shoes on a hard floor as the camera looks down a long corridor. Finally, a speck appears at the other end, and the man walks up to meet him. To describe this scene does it no justice, but in seeing it in a theatre, the ludicrousness of the little man, the long, long hallway, and the clicky shoes is disarmingly funny. It’s a normal human being doing a normal thing in an absurd scenario.

Take the sequence where Hulot is told to wait before the guy sees him. The waiting room is a glass cube, which is funny enough, but the walls are festooned with portraits of stern authoritative types, who all seem to be looking at him. Hulot can see the world outside, others can see him, but he’s still like an ant under glass.

It would be wrong, however, to assume that Playtime is just a cute broadside against the modern world. To be sure, it isn’t an accident that the architecture is presented the way it is – Cold grays and blues, and right angles everywhere. Tati compensates for this with the people that he populates this world with, however. They aren’t cold automatons, but rather a living community. The subtle message of Playtime seems to be that even in this austere world, there is poetry. Whether it’s a man doing a bizarre ballet atop a rolling office chair, or an angry man slamming a noiseless door, Tati never makes his folks less than human.

The film tradition that Tati belonged to was that of the great silent comedians, like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. More than any other characteristic of Playtime (and of M. Hulots Holiday, and Mon Oncle), I love his brazenness in essentially doing away with dialogue in his films. You can hear people talking in Playtime, like the gaggle of American women, or the little security man I wrote about earlier, but it really doesn’t matter what they say. The construction of he film is so clever that dialogue is completely irreverent.

The centerpiece of Playtime is an extended sequence at a posh new restaurant where just about anything that can go wrong, does. As the time for the party approaches, work crews are literally just finishing up the contraction, and there is a running gag about a floor tile that doesn’t want to stick. Look at the patrons of this place as they start to flow in – They are all well dressed, affluent and perhaps somewhat uptight. Being uptight just won’t do in this movie, however. Tati brings several gags to simmer simultaneously during this sequence. There’s a fish dinner that never seems to get to the correct person. There’s a waiter with a torn coat that the others come to borrow stuff off. There’s a serving window that is too small to pass a dish through. All this stuff is whirled together as a jazz band plays, and gradually you notice that everyone has loosened up and packed the dance floor. The rowdiness builds and builds until Tati finally boils it over, and then brings it all back to earth in what is probably my favorite Tati scene.

Tati doesn’t really believe in bad guys, and that helps give his films that sweet glow that they all carry. With no real rooting interest in the outcome, you just sit back and observe. This was always in evidence in Tati’s films, but in Playtime, it’s carried to its logical conclusion. Although the film ostensibly centers on M. Hulot, he isn’t really the “star”. Playtime is much more diplomatic than the earlier stuff in the way the focus is distributed. The American lady played by Barbara Dennick is essentially as important to the film as Hulot, and others get significant screen time, like a fun-loving loud American diner, and the long-suffering headwaiter.

Playtime doesn’t end with bang, either. There are no great romantic moments, no revelations, and no grand comic flourishes. After spending the raucous night at the restaurant, the people just quietly go their own ways. I couldn’t have made that ending sound more boring, but Playtimes closing passages are pitch-perfect. The tourist ladies climb into their bus, and they meld back into the city. The bus joins into a roundabout with all makes and shapes of other vehicles. It’s instructive to notice that after bathing most of the rest of the film in sterile grays and blues, that this scene is a cacophony of color and noise.

That brings home to me what I love so much about this movie, and about Jacques Tati. Even in a cold mechanical world, people are people, and they’re the best things going. You just have to look.



Roger Eberts Great Movies

Cinema Styles on Playtimes’ color palette

My essay on the restaurant scene

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Ingrid Thulin

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Week of Movie Watching

Stage Fright – Another Hitchcock crossed off my list. SF was made in 1950, and was the last film before Hitch began his Golden Age with Strangers on a Train. This one centers on a man (Richard Todd) hunted for the murder of the husband of his lover (Marlene Dietrich). Stage Fright is interesting for the peculiar romantic quadrilateral that develops between Todd, Dietrich, Jane Wyman as Todd’s other girl friend, and Michael Wilding as an investigating detective who falls hard for Wyman. This one is interesting for about three quarters of its length, and then it falls off the rails. Dietrich’s character spends the whole movie acting as guiltily as she can, and then the movie throws a big curve at us, and it just feels contrived. A lukewarm recommendation.

Lacombe, Lucien – This 1974 Louis Malle film centers around a young Frenchman who is seduced to join the German police at the tail end of WW2. Malle makes Lucien a blank slate – He doesn’t seem to have any great affinity for the Gestapo, he just likes the idea of carrying a gun and seeming important. The core of the film is the boys’ relationship with a Jewish tailor and his beautiful daughter. The tailor (Holger Lowenalder) has lived a comfortable life, and is quietly realistic about what his future holds. Lucien begins by clumsily trying to seduce the daughter, but begins to build a cautious friendship with the old man, as well. Beautifully acted and photographed, and a harsh indictment of French corroboration. A great film.

Dinner for Schmucks – Some pretty good laughs here, mainly from Steve Carrell. The film centers around a corporate ladder-climber played by Paul Rudd who needs to bring a guest to his slimy boss’ “Dinner for Idiots” in order to secure his promotion and get a posh new office. When he meets Barry (Carrel), whose hobby is creating dioramas out of dead mice, it seems like a match made in heaven. The performances of the two leads reminds a bit of the great Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for the way it mixes a sweet doofus with a chronic tight-ass. The film kind of goes down the trail you think it will, but it’s a fun ride, nonetheless. Recommended.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

And Also Starring...

The name Mike Mazurki is not likely one you’re familiar with. The face – now that’s a different story. If you have even a passing familiarity with the film Noir era of the 40’s and 50s, you have seen him.

As with Edward G Robinson, Mazurki’s facade masked an intelligent and refined nature. The university-educated Mazurki played some football and did some wrestling in his younger days, and it was his imposing bulk and tough–looking mug that got him in the door playing heavies in the glory days of gangster movies in the 1940’s. A look at his resume shows him popping up often in the best B movies of the era. There he is as the murderous Splitface in Dick Tracy. He’s fresh-from-prison crook Moose Malloy in Edward Dmytrks’ Murder My Sweet. He’s there playing nicely to type as a carnival strongman in the great Nightmare Alley, and most notably for me, as fiery wrestler The Strangler in arguably the greatest Noir of them all, Night and the City. He also got to help George Raft send up the gangster persona in Some Like it Hot, and has a smallish part in John Ford’s last great film, 1964’s Cheyenne Autumn.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Monday, November 07, 2011

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Stephane Audran

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Week of Movie Watching

In Bruges – Liked this a lot. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are a pair of mismatched hit men forced to cool their heels in Bruges, Belgium, whilst awaiting further instructions. Farrell is deeply depressed due to botched hit, which resulted in the death of a child. Gleeson is introspective and philosophical, and finds himself given the job of offing his friend. Ralph Fiennes has a show-stealing role as their nasty, nasty boss. This is a "black comedy" in the very best tradition of the both words. The subject matter is bleak, but the film has some big, big laughs. The dialogue between the two killers is some of the best I’ve heard in a long time. A final point – If you watch this film, you WILL want to visit Bruges. Highly recommended.

Captain Newman, MD – Not bad comedy from 1963 is set in an Army psyche ward, and actually has something to say about post-combat mental illness. Gregory Peck is the title MD, and Tony Curtis is his assistant – a kind of cross between Radar O’Reilly and Milo Minderbinder. Eddie Albert and Robert Duvall have roles as two of Newman’s more challenging cases. Like I said, it’s an OK movie, but I wish it taken a more serious path, because the comedic portions get in the way a bit. A lukewarm recommendation for this one.

The Marquee

Room at the Top


Gary Cooper

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Moments of Distinction

No commentary really necessary - The great final passages of Five Easy Pieces.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Week of Movie Watching

Sleeping Dogs – This early effort from Kiwi director Roger Donaldson is a fantasy detailing the imposition of martial law in New Zealand. Sam Neill stars as a troubled writer who finds himself radicalized against his intentions. The great Warren Oates has a small role as the leader of a gang of American mercenaries. This one starts from an interesting premise, but falls short for me. The film’s plot – About how the government brutally cracks down on pro-union forces is presented with all the subtlety of a jackhammer pulverizing a walnut. Not really recommended.

Smash Palace – Another early Donaldson film, this one about an obsessive race driver who manages to drive his wife into the arms of his best friend. The performances are mostly good, especially Bruno Lawrence as the racer, but this film didn’t quite pull itself over the hump. The payoff at the end looks promising, but doesn’t quite deliver.

The Postman Always Rings Twice – This was the John Garfield / Lana Turner one from 1946. I know this is considered the definitive version (At least the definitive Hollywood version – The great Obsessione from Luchino Visconti is the best), but I consider the Jack Nicholson / Jessica Lange version to be better. Nothing against Lana - She sexy here, but the 1981 film is better able to illustrate the primal lust which this story requires. Due to the period, the ‘46 version couldn’t really go there. Still, I recommend it as one of the pillars of the film Noir era.

Le Plaisir – This was my second encounter with the work of Max Ophuls, and there will be more to follow. The title translates as “The Pleasure”, and the film consists of three stories built around the concepts of pleasure – The lengths people will go to achieve it, and the things that keep then separate from it. The bulk of the film is taken by the middle portion, in which the denizens of a respectable brothel venture into the country to attend a first communion. This chapter contrasts the women of the night encountering the holy ceremony of the communion and the so-called respectable men of the city turning on each other without the calming influence of the women. The real strengths of the film however, are the short opening and closing chapters. In the first, a stricken gala attendee is revealed to be an elderly man in disguise, who cannot bear the fact that his life is passing him by. In the conclusion, a seemingly idyllic marriage between an artist and his model turns to mistrust, violence, and attempted suicide. This is a great film, and Ophuls’ use of costume, music, and sweeping camera shots is masterful. Highly recommended.


Lauren Hutton