Thursday, August 7, 2008

Time for Catch Up

Yes, I realize I haven't posted on here in quite awhile and I'm trying to remedy that situation. I'm ready to get back on track but in order to do that, I need to write about the 12 films I've seen in the past week or so. So, here are my quick thoughts about those films:

Funny Games U.S. (Michael Haneke, 2008): People either love or hate this film and I found it profoundly interesting in the way it played with our expectations. The basic message about it all being "only a movie" is not new, but the way Haneke presents it here is just as fascinating as when we first saw it in Sherlock, Jr. I loved the rewind scene and how Haneke's refusal in letting the audience get the revenge they want to see. Bold and imaginative. B+

The Hurricane (John Ford, 1937): Another excursion into overrated John Ford territory. Films about Pacific island natives were in vogue during the 30's, but The Hurricane doesn't have Mutiny on the Bounty's strong narrative and performances or Bird of Paradise's hott, shirtless Joel McCrea. The film's main problem is that it presents the rebellious jailed character played by Jon Hall as the hero; more than anything, he's a hopelessly annoying boy who can't take his minor six month sentence and just move on with his life. Ugh. Even the usually reliable Mary Astor and Thomas Mitchell (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, the only reason I watched this film) are boring. D-

(Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955): For being considered one of the scariest films ever made, I probably think Diabolique is a tad overrated in that sense. However, I must admit that I was on pins and needles throughout the whole damn film. Just when you think the film is over and you're lulled into a false sense of security, Clouzot finds a new way to jolt you and make you worry for the main characters (a hard-as-nails Simone Signoret and a frail Vera Clouzot). That final scene when Clouzot's character wanders the boarding school in the dark is one of the most intense scenes I've ever seen. B+

The Battle of Algiers
(Gillo Pontecorvo, 1968): The story confused me at certain points, but it's hard not to deny the impact of Pontecorvo's directorial style. It can be seen as both a blessing and a curse since it's influence is felt in both the "cinema verite" style of independent filmmaking and the shaky cam action films. B+

Murder, Inc. (Bob Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg, 1960): Peter Falk is the whole show here as soulless hit man Abe Reles in this middling gangster film that is completely stuck in the Production Code despite being from the 60's. C

The Letter (Jean de Limur, 1929): The first version of Maugham's short story is quite an achievement for an early sound film: de Limur doesn't have too many scenes where the dialogue runs on for an unnecessary amount of time and the he does attempt to tell the story visually at certain points. I'm not familiar with the structure of the source, but I think the way de Limur's The Letter lets us in on the crime right away so we figure out Leslie Crosbie (Jeanne Eagels) from scene two eliminates nearly every reason to see this movie (Contrast this with Wyler's version 11 years later which slowly unravels Leslie's story until we realize her ultimate motives at the very end). Eagels was nominated for an Oscar for this performance and God know's why since most of it is a shrilly, over the top mess. She completely unnatural in front of the camera and has the most annoyingly theatrical voice I think I've ever heard. Her only redeeming scene is her final moments when she reveals the truth to her husband and her violent line readings hold the most impact. C-

The Most Dangerous Game
(Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1932): A stupid story and incredibly wooden acting dash the hopes of The Most Dangerous Game becoming the great lost classic of horror film. However, the editing is some of the crispest and most fascinating that I've seen in a film from this time period. The hunting sequences were spectacularly done and incredibly suspenseful even though you knew what the outcome was going to be. B-

Miller's Crossing (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1990): It's no Fargo or The Big Lebowski and I don't think the dark comedy is as funny or as out in the open as it is in those two masterpieces. As a 30's style gangster film, though, Miller's Crossing is still a pretty damn good film. There are so many characters to keep track of and so many double crossings that it probably needs a couple more viewings to get everything straight, but I still think it's a fun time trying to figure out Gabriel Byrne's character and loving Marcia Gay Harden and her immaculate hair. B+

On the Edge of Innocence
(Peter Werner, 1997): I'll admit that the only reason I watched this film was because James Marsden stars as one-half of the romantic duo in this teenage mental hospital patients in love and on the run TV movie. The film is pretty silly in it's depiction of bipolar disorder (in my experience with my brother, the highs and lows are never that high and low) and the ending is simply stupid, but it's fun cheering on this Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple and Marsden is never bad to look at. C-

(Doug Liman, 2008): What a complete waste of time. From the first voiceover by Hayden Christensen, I was completely over this film. How do you sound that unconvincing and just plain awful in the first 30 seconds? Jamie Bell and Rachel Bilson (whom I loved on The O.C. and actually provoked a couple of seconds of laughter from her reading of "Yeah, I don't speak your language") deserved more than playing second fiddle to Christensen and did the best they could with the completely shitty material. D-

Let Us Be Gay
(Robert Z. Leonard, 1930): The only point of interest in this completely average and horribly edited MGM light comedy is the pairing of Norma Shearer and Marie Dressler, two of the most respected and beloved actresses in their day but now nearly completely forgotten and misunderstood. The interplay between these two actresses was hilarious and silly, exactly what the nature of the film calls for. Dressler proved that she was ready for more challenging work and Shearer gives one of her most delightful early performances (and her best between The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg and Private Lives). C

The Cranes Are Flying
(Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957): Who knew the Soviet's could make a romance this tender, emotionally fragile and completely honest. Possibly the greatest straight war time romance since The Big Parade. The deep focus photography, straight out of Citizen Kane, was impossibly beautiful and the long tracking shots, which had to have been majorly difficult, were pulled off with ease. A


goatdog said...

The Most Dangerous Game has a "stupid story"? Tell that to my 9th grade English teacher, who made us read the original story! Seriously, though, I can't agree. It's one of the best adventure films ever made; and McCrea is great as usual, and while Banks can't be accused of being subtle, his style fits the film really well. He's one of my favorite film villains.

Also, have you seen Ballad of a Soldier? It's another surprisingly touching Soviet-era love-during-war film.

Dame James Henry said...

Okay, maybe "stupid story" was a little extreme since my main problem was during the hunting sequence and the fact that the screenwriter didn't seem to know what to do with McCrea and Wray. They just seemed to wander around and then had them go into the swamp when it had been mentioned before that others had tried that and all died. And then it was kinda strange how Banks shot a couple of arrows, left for about 5 minutes and then came back. I seriously kind of lost interest here. To me, it was just incredibly strange. I love Joel McCrea as well, but the early scene in the boat was too forced and ruined him for the rest of the film in my eyes. Alas, I'm kind of nitpicking here and I really did enjoy the film quite a bit. A great action adventure film that I think people would still find thrilling today.

I haven't seen Ballad of a Soldier yet but I've heard great things about it and after my positive experience with The Cranes Are Flying I'll definitely have to give it a try.