Attempts have been made
GA = precious fuck, fucking precious, reviews range from insightful to moronic depending on whether or not the film’s qualities are self-evident. GA loves Traffic and Usual Suspects, which require a brain to resist. GA hates Hitchcock’s Trouble with Harry, which requires a heart to not resist.
GB = seems okay
GE = accurate
DP = good
DAt = good
TR = good, bad, ugly (it varies)
CPe = seems good so far // likes Becker☺
CA = double good
CA/DMacp = good
CPea = good, good // gets Greenaway
DCA = ?
DT = okay
HM = insightful; not like GA
JWin = good
NF = okay so far
RM = good so far
RMy = hit and miss
FF = fucking fool
TM = okay; not always right, but okay
TCh = gets it, mostly
RR = good
SJo = good
to protect the innocent.
These reviews are either dead-on, dead-wrong or somewhere in between. Some of the comments are little notes to myself because I’m now too busy/lazy/important to distinctify my own personal files from yours. So from now on, a new era, wherein I just straight dump my word files into .html and put them on the site. Wow. This is going to be different.
I have occasionally turned spoiler lines into white text, so you can still read the reviews and still remain a virgin. If the entire blurb is a spoiler, I have so indicated.
The following blurbs are in glorious alphabetical order.
Originally released in 1934 in a mutilated version restored, Vigo’s first and only full-length feature (he died tragically young) is one of cinema’s greatest masterpieces. Its story is very simple – newlyweds Dasté and Parlo that living on a cramped Seine barge brings tension to their relationship, and strive to continue through compromise – but Vigo creates a rich array of comic, suspenseful and heartrendingly romantic moods to explore the nuances of every single emotion. Produced on a minute budget, it exudes an invigorating rawness but the lyricism of the camerawork, the childlike wonder of the performances – the moments of genuine surrealism situate the film poetically between objective realism and subjective Simon’s bestial Père Jules brings magic and bizarrely into the brew as he dithers between jealousy and – desire that his life on the boat should continue uninterrupted, Dasté and Parlo reveal a vulnerable intensity in their chastely erotic scenes together. Acting, setting, script, music and photography, which includes startlingly beautiful special effects, merge to create the loveliest, least maudlin study of human desire ever committed to film. GA
I could not agree more with this blurb. It is the last good blurb you will see from GA.
[spoilers] Autumn Spring [spoilers]
As the title of this comedy drama suggests, youthful impulses encounter the constraints of advancing years. Elderly friends Fanda (Brodsky, a veteran of Czech cinema) and Eda (Zindulka) have adapted a light-hearted approach to immanent extinction, impersonating dignitaries and generally fooling around in a pretty harmless manner. Fanda’s wife Emilie takes a more pragmatic line, carefully saving for the inevitable and living within her age. Then Fanda drains the pot to clear some debts. This pretty predictable, reasonably played and heightened a little towards the close, but nothing special. GE
[spoilers] L’Avventura [spoilers]
Though once compared to Psycho, made the same year and also about a couple searching for a woman who mysteriously disappears after featuring heavily in the opening reel, Antonioni’s film could not be more dissimilar in tone and effect. Slow, taciturn and coldly elegant in its visual evocation of alienated, isolated figures in a barren Sicilian landscape, the film concerns itself less with how and why the girl vanished from a group of bored and wealthy socialists on holiday, than with the desultory nature of the romance embarked upon by her lover and her best friend while they half-heartedly look for her. If it once seemed the ultimate in arty, intellectually chic movie-making, the film now looks all too studied and remote a portrait of emotional sterility. GA
Okay, if you’ve seen the film, I think you can agree when I respond, “duh” to this blurb. I could have written this blurb from reading the back of the jewel case for crying in loud!
[spoilers] Badlands [spoilers]
One of the most impressive directorial debuts ever. On the surface, it’s merely another rural-gangster movie in the tradition of Bonnie and Clyde, with its young ‘innocents’ – a James Dean-lookalike garbage collector and his magazine-addict girlfriend – first killing her father when he objects to their relationship, then going on a seemingly gratuitous homicidal spree across the Dakota badlands. But what distinguishes the film, beyond the superb performances of Sheen and Spacek, the use of music, and the luminous camerawork by Tak Fujimoto, is Malick’s unusual attitude towards psychological motivation; the dialogue tells us one thing, the images another, and Spacek’s beautifully artless narration, couched in terms borrowed from the mindless media images she’s forever reading, yet another. This complex perspective on an otherwise simple plot, developed even further in Malick’s subsequent Days of Heaven, manages to reveal so much while making nothing explicit, and at the same time seems perfectly to evoke the world of ’50s suburbs in which it is set. GA
Okay, I agree with pretty much everything above. Alright.
A working class Italian, out of work for some time, has the bicycle stolen which he needs for a new job; he and his son wander round Rome looking for it. Often hailed as an all-time classic, Bicycle Thieves tries to turn a simple story into a meditation on the human condition, but its greatest achievement is in bringing the lives of ordinary Italian people to the screen. However, like so many of the films grouped together under the heading of Italian neo-realism, its grainy monochrome images and simple storyline never deliver beneath the surface of the characters’ lives to reveal the social mechanisms at work there. It is as if, just by portraying the events unobtrusively, De Sica imagines that they will yield up their essential truth by a process of revelation – a very appropriate image for a strain of liberal humanism strongly influenced by Catholicism. Observant and sympathetic it is, politically perceptive it is not. NF
Umm…oh my…I don’t think I’ve ever read—um…a film critic attacking neo-realism as an art form. Umm…I don’t know what to say. I’m definitely intrigued—I mean…I just have no response to this…
But Ebert does:
“The Bicycle Thief is so well-entrenched as an official masterpiece that it is a little startling to visit it again after many years and realize that it is still alive and has strength and freshness.” – Roger Ebert, 1999
In recreating the Orpheus legend in Rio de Janeiro with an all black cast, Camus celebrates not only the universality of the story, but the exoticism and poetry of Brazil and her culture. Orpheus, a charismatic trolley car conductor and star of one of the Carnival’s Samba schools, is betrothed to the wonderfully brassy Mira but in love with Eurydice. Pursued by Death and the vengeful Mira, the doomed lovers weave their way through a carnival-mad Rio that seethes and strains towards the sweaty release of Carnival night. Although certain of the more sentimental scenes seem rather dated, the relentless—almost abstract—onslaught of colour, noise and frenetic movement stands up very well, compelling one towards the visual splendour of the inevitably poignant ending. FD
More notable for what’s been removed than for what’s been added, this restored version of Scott’s seminal sci-fi movie makes it clear that all its former faults were introduced by nervous studio executives, who thought the narrative too confusing, the ending too bleak. Gone is the redundant noir-style voice-over by Harrison Ford’s blade runner (the plot makes more sense without it). Gone, too, the obviously tacked-on happy ending in which Ford and the replicant (Young) flew off into the sunset (which contradicted what we already knew about the replicant’s built-in obsolescence). With once crucial exception, the effect of the restorations is less radical, although the extended romantic scenes between Ford and Young do flesh out their relationship. More cryptically, Ford’s restored ‘unicorn dream’ is echoed later by an origami figure left by police chief Bryant’s right-hand man Gaff (Olmos) possibly hinting that Ford himself is a replicant. Perhaps this, too, like Young’s treasured childhood memories, is just an implant. In its earlier incarnation, the film was a flawed masterpiece, in Scott’s restored version, it is, quite simply, a masterpiece. NF
[spoilers] Blowup [spoilers]
As often with Antonioni, a film riddled with moments of brilliance and scuppered by infuriating pretensions, full of longueurs, it works neither as a portrait of Swinging London, nor as a bona fide thriller. But as it establishes its metaphysical mystery – Hemmings’ vacuously trendy photographer discovers a purpose to his life when he enlarges a picture that may or may not prove that a murder has taken place – it does become strangely gripping, questioning the maxim that the camera never lies, and settling into a virtually abstract examination of subjectivity and perception. Deep stuff, then, though the surrounding dross – sex’n’-fashion’n’rock’n’roll – makes it pretty hard to watch. Still, at least Carlo di Palma’s camerawork leavens the brew. GA
“Still, at least Carlo di Palma’s camerawork leavens the brew.” Very manipulative writing. To try to suggest the cameraman is responsible for all that is good in the visuality of an Antonioni film. Ridiculous.
The cable car leads us down from the ‘heaven’ of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre to the ‘hell’ of Pigalle, and as the neon is extinguished for another dawn, a weary Bob the Gambler treads his way home from the tables. Melville’s ‘love letter to Paris is shot, like all good city films, between the hours of dusk and dawn, and is a loving recreation of all that is wonderful about the dark American city thrillers of the ‘30’s and ‘40s. What doubles the pleasure, however, is that in spite of the heist, the double-crosses and the sudden death, it is still remarkably light in tone: an underworld comedy of manners. The courtly Monsieur Bob may wear a trench coat and fedora, but he rescues young ladies adrift in the milieu, remains loyal to his friend l’inspecteur, and gives the impression of wanting to rob the casino, not to assuage his gambling fever, but simply so that he can perform a robbery in dinner jacket. A wonderful movie with all the formal beauty, finesse and treacherous allure of green baize. CPea
The film that got Suzuki fired by Nikkatsu, and it’s not hard to see why. It starts almost straightforwardly as a bluesy gangster thriller in pared-down Melville mould. But as ‘number three killer’ Shishido (a Suzuki regular) moves from some beautifully staged hits to perverse obsession with an ultra cool femme fatale and a set-to with ‘number one killer’, the weirder the film becomes. Just as Shishido cracks up and enters a surreal nightmare world, so Suzuki breaks the film down into a bizarre but beguiling chain of absurdist, OTT, barely related elements. It looks a little like golden-age Godard (but far more stylish). The climax, oddly reminiscent of Point Blank (made the same year), shows how much further Suzuki was prepared to push even than Boorman, let alone Hollywood. Occasionally mystifying, but always witty, inventive and dazzling to look at. GA
Useless. Although he’s right to be positive about Suzuki, and Branded To Kill is definitely “all that.”
There is a deceptive simplicity to Becker’s work which may explain why, alone among the major filmmakers, he has never quite achieved due recognition. This elegant masterwork is a glowingly nostalgic evocation of the Paris of the Impressionists, focusing on the apache underworld and an ill-starred romance that ends on the scaffold, with an elusive density, a probing awareness of emotional complexities, which reminds one that Becker was once Renoir’s assistant. Not his equal, perhaps, but the relationship is inescapable in the texture of the movies themselves. Signoret, as voluptuously sensual as a Rubens painting, has never been more stunning than as the Golden Marie of the English title; and she is perfectly partnered by Reggiani, seemingly carved out of mahogany yet revealing an ineffable grace in movement, as the honest carpenter who defies the malevolent apache leader (Dauphin) to claim her. Along with Letter from an Unknown Woman, one of the great movie romances. TM
David Thomson calls Clouzot’s a ‘cinema of total disenchantment.’ This exposé of a malicious small town in France must be one of the most depressed films to emerge from the period of the German Occupation: everyone speaks badly of everyone else, rumours of abortion and drug addiction are rife, and a flood of poison-pen letters raises the spiteful hysteria to epidemic level. Clouzot’s misanthropy concludes in total defeat; his naggingly over-insistent style occasionally achieves a great blackness. CPe
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Like Les Anges du Péché, Bresson’s second feature, based on a self-contained anecdote in Diderot’s novel Jacques le Fataliste, is in many ways atypical of his oeuvre. He uses, quite brilliantly, professional actors. The visual texture is not muted grey, but sharp and contrasty. The camera is constantly prowling and tracking. The dialogue (by Cocteau) is brilliant jeweled, literary to the point of preciousness, the very antithesis of the later monosyllabics. Ter as one watches the elegant socialite (played by Casarès with superbly steely venom (spin a cold blooded plot to destroy her rival after being humiliatingly spurned in a liaison in the interest of true love, one could hardly be anywhere but in Bresson’s world. Sexuality takes precedence over salvation, but there is the same interiority, the same intensity, the same rigorous exclusion of all inessentials. TM
Headstrong mistress (Signoret) and retiring wife (Clouzot) conspire to murder the man they share, a tyrannical headmaster of a seedy boarding-school whose curriculum offers nothing but stagnation and decay. But in this black world (where) ironically, only the dead comes to life) everyone is in the end a victim, and their actions operate like snares setting traps that leave them grasping for survival. The camera watches clammy proceedings with a cold precision that relishes its neutrality. At least one source claims that all Clouzot’s films were shot in an atmosphere of bitterness and recrimination. It shows. But in this case it makes for a great piece of Guignol misanthropy. CPe
And that source would be…CPe?
In its own strange way, even more genuinely surreal than Buñuel’s later version of Mirbeau’s novel about a key-hole-peeking chambermaid whose arrival in the household of a decadent and eccentric aristocratic family wreaks havoc. What’s so bizarre about Renoir’s adaptation (scripted and produced by Meredith, then husband of Goddard) is the sheer artificiality of both setting and performances, emphasizing the power struggles that develop as a theatre of deceit and delusion. Less bitterly savage than Buñuel, but equally sharp in its satire, it stands on an otherwise uncharted point between La Règle du Jeu and, say, The Golden Coach. GA
Less bad than most of his reviews, but equally useless in its uselessness, it stands on an otherwise uncharted point between his really bad reviews and, say, his one or two good reviews.
Moreau as the beautiful, ambitious Célestine makes it from Downstairs to Upstairs by manipulating her right-wing boss (Piccoli), his leftish neighbour (Ivernel), and his fascist gamekeeper (Géret). Octave Mirbeau’s muckraking 1900 novel has abiding insight into the deep structures of French political instability. Buñuel shifts the story to the rise of Fascism in the ’30s. He digs right down to the spiritual grunge which links political, sexual and social positions (and impositions) as equal perversions of human desires (in turn perversions of animal desires). Like many Buñuel heroines, Célestine is intuitively a feminist, but before her time, and blows it by her egoism and ambivalence before male ruthlessness. Moreau’s baleful charisma complements Buñuel’s sardonic sadness. It’s the greyest film since Nazarin, and all the more troubling in its impassive flow, which successive explosions of strange desire can never quite disturb. RD
Overall a good blurb, but I object to “and blows it by her egoism and ambivalence before male ruthlessness.” Not that the doesn’t have “egoism and ambivalence,” but that this is necessarily “blowing it.” Perhaps she is merely a Machiavellian exemplar? Ask Buñuel, or, on second thoughts, better not.
Savour the profound imperialist symbolism of a Coke bottle dropping out of the sky like an apple of discord into a Botswana bush tribe of beatific innocents; delight in gags of such stunning originality as banana-skin pratfalls and speeded-up car chase scenes; gladden in positive, new images of the developing countries (bumbling black bureaucrats; evil but incompetent terrorists, of course routed mainly by the white ‘stars’; and the simple, primitive tribe, with a plumy, patronizing voice-over constantly reminding us how quaint and comical they are). Offensively racist and too gormless even for the kids at whom it is evidently aimed: Third World cinema of a quite…uncommon kind. SJo
Yeah. I can’t argue with anything he’s saying. Except that the film is hilarious. It really is. And racist or no, the film has a magic about it, which I will vouch for if SJo won’t.
Centered loosely on a New Jersey family of three grownup sisters, their parents, partners and children, Solondz’s brave and adventurous second feature takes misery, loneliness and cruelty as a given in contemporary life; everyone here is (justifiably or otherwise) unhappy with their lot—or should be, if they could only stop deluding themselves. Right from the painfully funny opening, it’s a bible-black comedy of considerable assurance, but gradually the humour subsides to be replaced by a core of despairing human sympathy, most noticeably for the paedophile father whose heart-to-hearts with his teenage son come to form the emotional backbone of the movie. Very often, you’re unsure whether you want to accompany Solondz on his journey into a modern purgatory, but you should take the trip; it’s worth it, and something you’ll never forget. GA
The age-old story of a country boy, urban corruption, and a bad end. The guy is Jimmy Cliff, the city is Kingston, the bad business is the reggae industry, and the crime is killing a cop who’s in on the ‘ganja’ trade. The film’s tone is righteously angry, but it doesn’t go for the easy targets: it views Cliff’s image of himself as a hero as ironically as it denounces police violence and missionary-style religion. Along the way, it offers a richly textured picture of Jamaican shanty-town life, composed with a terrific eye for detail. The action is as gutsy as the well-integrated score, which makes the movie’s Hollywood-style gloss a little anomalous, but the basic humour and toughness emerge unscathed. TR
Though acclaimed as a magnificent return to form, Kurosawa’s first Japanese film since Dodes’ka-den is something of a disappointment,. The basic story, clearly Shakespearean in inspiration, is fine enough: a disreputable thief is spared execution due to his physical resemblance to the lord of a warring clan, in order that the enemy might not learn of the lords’ death in battle. Ample scope, then, for the depiction of deceitful intrigues in court, not to mention the occasionally touching attempts of the double to acquire the noble demeanor of the clan chief. But for all Kurosawa’s splendidly colorful recreation of 16th century Japan, and though Nakadai’s performance is impressive enough, it’s all ultimately rather empty and tedious; it could easily have been cut by almost an hour, while the grating Morricone-like score only serves to underline the fact that the director fails to achieve the emotional force of his finest work. GA
Wow. It’s true the film does not pack the emotional punch of Ran. This is likely the result of it being multiple separate stories all in the backdrop of epic feudal Japan rather than all tightly wound around one thread. But everything else he says is ridiculous. Yes, “it could easily have been cut by almost an hour,” but why?
[spoiler] The Last Wave [spoiler]
Weir up to his usual tricks with ‘civilised’ man coming up against an alien, apparently less rational, society. In this case it’s Chamberlain’s white liberal lawyer who, in defending a group of Aborigines accused of murder, stumbles across a world of ritual mysteries and prophecies of apocalyptic proportions. From the opening scene, in which an inexplicable and ferocious hailstorm hits Sydney, Weir creates an impressively unsettling atmosphere; sad, then, that all the stuff about primeval voodoo is both simplistic and patronizing. Even sadder, however, is the final, climactic image, in which the threat to civilization as we know it is presented in the form of a puddle shot through a fish-eye lens. GA
Without a doubt, Weir has his flaws. But GA does not understand them.
Roeg’s hugely ambitious and imaginative film transforms a straightforward science fiction story (novel, Walter Tevis) into a rich kaleidoscope of contemporary America. Newton (Bowie), an alien whose understanding of the world comes from monitoring TV stations, arrives on earth, builds the largest corporate empire in the States to further his mission, but becomes increasingly frustrated by human emotions. What follows is as much a love story as sci-fi: like other films of Roeg’s, this explores private and public behaviour. Newton/Bowie becomes involved in an almost pulp-like romance with Candy Clark, played out to the hits of middle America, that culminates with his ‘fall’ from innocence. Roeg, often using a dazzling technical skill, jettisons narrative in favour of thematic juxtapositions, working best when exploring the clichés of social and cultural ritual. Less successful is the ‘explicit’ sex Roeg now seems obliged to offer; but visually a treat throughout. CPe
Nic Roeg is one of the last undiscovered geniuses. I say undiscovered not because there haven’t been several Criterion releases. But he has a unique vision, which will only grow in its film historical importance over time.
Godard offers ’15 precise facts about the children of Marx and Coca-cola: a series of scattershot observations of young people in Paris in 1965. This is pre-political Godard, which means that it attacks on all cylinders without having any strong line of its own. But its parodies and satires are recklessly inventive, and its fundamental pessimism isn’t as flip as it may at first seem. TR
Fundamental pessimism? Flip? Huh?
[spoilers] Me You Them [spoilers]
Waddington’s deliciously surprising second feature starts out incredibly bleakly, with its none-too-lovely pregnant heroine (Case) leaving her cursing mother’s home in the arid wastelands of north eastern Brazil, only to return with her son to find the old battle-axe dead, her elderly landlord proposing marriage and turning out to be an idle tyrant. Then gradually the film mutates into an unsentimental but uplifting comedy celebrating Case’s rise to power over not one but three husbands, all living under the same roof. Inspired by a true story, the film subtly observes how the woman plays on her suitors’ jealousy, insecurity and pride, using her patience, good humour and earthy sexuality to place them in unlikely, unspoken but very real competition with each other. Heading a superb cast, Case is simply extraordinary; Gilberto Gil’s music is both lovely and entirely in keeping with the film’s shifting moods; and Breno Silveira’s ’Scope camerawork is both admirably to the point and visually stunning. A treat. GA
I liked this film as well, but I think GA may even be going a bit overboard in his praise. Maybe not though. I definitely am a fan of Waddington. And the film is beautiful and fun. I just think…oh who cares what I think.
Tarkovsky goes for the great white whale of political art—no less than a history of his country in this century seen in terms of the personal—and succeeds. Intercutting a fragmented series of autobiographical episodes, which have only the internal logic of dream and memory, with startling documentary footage, he lovingly builds a world where the domestic expands into the political and crisscrosses back again. Unique its form, unique its vision. CPea
Wayyyyyyy not enthusiastic enough.
An old friend (Caine, looking like a man who sweats horribly into his pyjamas) gives minor-league villain Hoskins a job as a chauffeur to a dauntingly elegant prostitute (Tyson). This triggers one of the most affecting love stories in recent cinema, between a short, overweight racist and the ‘thin black tart’ who helps him adjust to a world he finds alien and asks him to find her friend, who has vanished in the mire of big city vice. Plotting a slow descent towards, hell, the film deliberately invites comparison with Taxi Driver, though Hoskins, unlike Scorsese’s solipsistic avenger, is an utterly ordinary hero, romantic, lost amongst the pimps and hoods, at ease only when listening to old Nat King Cole numbers. A wonderful achievement, a dark film with a generous heart in the shape of an extraordinarily touching performance from Hoskins. RR
This charming bitter-sweet evocation of childhood is something of a minor gem. Set in the Sweden of the 1950s, it describes the 400 Blows suffered by a resourceful, witty and energetic 12-year-old boy who is farmed out to country relatives when his antics and demands for attention prove too much for his ailing mother. Hallström nurtures from his young star (Glanzelius) a performance of remarkable range and maturity, presenting a poignant picture of youthful tenacity struggling to come to terms with disappointments and events that may be beyond his comprehension, but which he manages to negotiate with his quirky, open-eyed optimism intact. Witty, touching and perceptive as he contrasts the rural village and its strange but generous-hearted eccentrics with the harsh realities of the city, Hallström makes it a seamless mix of tragedy and humour. WH
Picasso was famously reluctant to be filmed at work. But when persuaded in 1955 to sketch before the camera of Henri-Georges Clouzot, master (and miserabilist) film director, he evidently took to it with relish. Stripped to a pair of shorts, parading his square torso, the 75-year-old Pablo plays up to the camera, even turning out a sketch to a five-minute deadline. Because he was asked to work on transparent screens, allowing the camera fully to frame the emerging picture instead of having to peep over the artist’s shoulder, we get to see the work develop, with Picasso’s different styles accompanied by a soundtrack that moves from bebop to flamenco. RY
A comic celebration of the nerdy teenage underdog, this low budget feature debut (a big hit in the US) comes across as a live-action cartoon. It’s certainly packed with caricatures, from Napoleon himself (Heder) – a pasty, red-haired geek – to his harelipped Mexican friend Pedro (Ramirez, an unlikely candidate for class president) and Napoleon’s retro-obsessive Uncle Rico (Gries), who just wishes it was 1982 all over again. A bit ridiculous? Yes. A series of gags and stunts delivered by 2-D characters with no bearing on reality at all? You bet. DCa
[spoilers] Platform (Jia Zhang-ke) [spoilers]
Fenyang in Shanxi Province, Jia’s hometown and already the setting of Xiao Wu, provides the anchor for an epic account of the changes in China’s pop culture in the 1980’s as seen across lives of four friends. In 1979 all four are members of a state-run variety troupe, presenting Maoist propaganda shows to passive audiences in the sticks. By the mid-1980s, when state support is withdrawn and the troupe tries to reform as a private enterprise, everything is different. The Maoist repertoire is buried, Taiwanese pop is ubiquitous, ideas of personal wealth and independence are on the rise – and old friendships are under strain. And by the end of the decade the couple seemingly made for each other have gone separate ways, while the joker/live wire Mingliang (Wang Hongei) has become a somnolent husband and father. Jia uses large-scale vignettes, filmed in sequence shots, to chart ten years of far-reaching social changes and their psychological repercussions. A masterly achievement (A ‘streamlined version’ cut by 35 minutes also exists)) TR
Useless but informative expositional blurb.
Tati’s Hulot on the loose in a surreal, scarcely recognizable Paris, tangling intermittently with a troop of nice American matrons on 24-hour trip. Not so much a saga of the individual against an increasingly dehumanised decor, it’s more a semi-celebratory more symphony of Tati’s sensational city-set, all reflections and rectangles, steel, chrome, gleaming sheet metal and trompe l’oeil plate glass. Shot in colour that looks almost like monochrome, recorded in five-track stereo sound with scarcely a word of speech (the mysterious language of objects echoes louder than words), this jewel of Tati’s career is a hallucinatory comic vision on the verge of abstraction. SJo
While the British film industry tumbled into one of the more serious of its periodic crises, an unlikely bunch of radicals and adventurers set out to breathe life into GBS’s pre-First World War excursion into language and materialism. They produced a very radical – if still very male – film. Unlike the later My Fair Lady, the stress here is on Higgins’ creation of a princess from ‘a heap of stuffed cabbage leaves.’ There is no Cinderella story. Eliza’s transformation is forced and painful, and Higgins’ final ‘Where the devil are my slippers’ a refusal to forget, sentimentally, the enduring reality of patriarchy. Above all, the film is remarkable in that it strengthens rather than dilutes Shaw’s insistence on language as the vital instrument of power and oppression. RMy
If you go to this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel expecting to see a horror movie, you’ll be disappointed. From the start, Kubrick undercuts potential tension builders by a process of anti-climax; eerie aerial shots accompanied by ponderous music prove to be nothing more than that; the setting is promising enough – an empty, isolated hotel in dead-of-winter Colorado – but Kubrick makes it warm, well-lit and devoid of threat. Granted, John Alcott’s cinematography is impressive, and occasionally produces a ‘look behind you’ panic; but to hang the movie’s psychological tension on the leers and grimaces of Nicholson’s face (suited though it is to demoniacal expressions), while refusing to develop any sense of the man, is asking for trouble. Similarly, the narrative is too often disregarded in favour of crude and confusing visual shocks. Kubrick’s unbalanced approach (over-emphasis on production values) results in soulless cardboard cutouts who can do little to generate audience empathy. FF
A little like David Byrne’s True Stories, minus the music and plot, this is a freewheeling, documentary-style celebration of the bizarrely normal, charmingly oddball, and terminally hip residents of Austin, Texas. It starts with a guy boring a taxi diver to death with talk about parallel realties, shifts gear when the backseat philosopher sees a woman get hit by a car, then swerves into comic absurdity when the victim’s son is arrested for her murder. And that’s just the first five minutes. After this, one character from each scene provides the link to the next, as we encounter a string of bar-room philosophers, New Agers, old anarchists, and other weirdly entertaining specimens – one of whom is hawking what she claims is Madonna’s cervical smear. At times, it’s like watching someone else’s home movies, but there’s something oddly compelling about such studies eccentricity. NF
It is “oddly compelling.” Pretty much an accurate sum-up.
Bergman’s first major success, inspiration for both Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Music and Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, this enchanting comedy of manners assembles a team of couples, ex- couples and would-be couples, and puts them through their paces in a game of love at a country house party during one heady midsummer weekend in 1900 Ruthless towards its characters’ amorous pretensions, but extending a kind of ironic tenderness when they get hoist with their own petards, it is a wonderfully funny, genuinely erotic, and quite superbly acted rondo of love. Dig too deeply and it disintegrates, but its façade—decked out in elegant turn-of-the-century settings and costumes—has a magical, shimmering beauty. TM
Yes it’s attractive film stock. But this film is nowhere near the quality of Bergman’s masterpi. And TM should have done better to acknowledge the films flaws, if he saw them.
Although not a Kubrick project (he took over direction from Anthony Mann, and had no hand in Dalton Trumbo’s script), thus epic account of the a abortive slave revolts Ancient Rome emerges as a surprisingly apt companion piece to Paths of Glory in its consideration of the mechanisms of power. The first half, up to the superbly staged revolt and escape, is brilliant as it details the purchase and selection of slaves, the harsh discipline and routine of the gladiators’ school, the new comradeship balked by the realization that a gladiator must kill or be killed, the point of no return when the black slave (Strode) unexpectedly refuses to break the bond of brotherhood by killing Spartacus (Douglas). Thereafter some excellent performances come into play (Laughton, Olivier, Ustinov) as vested interests spark an involved struggle for power in the senate, but tension is simultaneously dissipated by the protracted battle sequences, and by a fulsome account of joyous fraternization amid the slave army (sing-songs, swimming in the nude, having babies, etc) The sentimentality, rampant in the finale (Spartacus dying on the cross, his wife holding up his baby son before they walk free into the sunset) seems alien to Kubrick. TM
Kubrick can’t win for losing with these guys.
An early encounter between Kurosawa and two of his favourite actors, Mifune and Shimura, both playing detectives in Japan’s uneasy postwar period under US imperialism. When Mifune’s gun is stolen, he is overwhelmed by a feeling of dishonour rather than failure, and sets out on a descent into the lower depths of Tokyo’s underworld, which gradually reveals Dostoyevskian parallels between himself and his quarry. A sweltering summer is at its height, and Kurosawa’s strenuous location shooting transforms the city into a sensuous collage of fluttering fans and delicate, sweating limbs. A fine blend of US thriller material with Japanese conventions, it’s a small classic. CPea
Made at the instigation of Sir Thomas Beecham – who conducts the Offenbach operetta -- Powell and Pressburger’s follow-up to The Red Shoes lacks the earlier films’ coherence and emotional pull, but is equally lavish in its attempts to combine dance, music and film. Basically a trio of stories (plus prologue and epilogue) in which unrequited love figures strongly , the movies is inevitably uneven, and some have pointed to a rather kitschy element in its equation of Cinema and Great Art. But Powell’s eye – aided by Hein Heckroth’s designs and Chris Challis’s camera – is as sharp and distinctive as ever, reveling in rich colours, fantastic compositions, and swooning movements (most notably in the lavish episode featuring a Venetian courtesan). Sumptuous spectacle. GA
Idiot. This reads like a Zagat review.
This model French gangster picture set the rules for the great sequence of underworld movies from Jean-Pierre Melville that followed. An ageing and weary Gabin attempts to retire after one last robbery. Instead he finds himself in a world of moody double-crosses. Becker’s film, full of neat angles and delightful little bits of business, is laconic and admirably methodical. If its code of honour and its world of safe houses (and the absence of any police) make it seem like a wartime resistance film, it does also show what other gangster movies often ignore, that the reason for earning money dishonestly is to be able to live in style. And this film takes as much pleasure in watching Gabin open a bottle wine as it does observing him in action. A fine supporting cast includes a young Lino Ventura and an even younger Jeanne Moreau. CPe
Trouble In Paradise
Right from its opening joke – a Venetian romantically serenading a gondola full of garbage – Trouble in Paradise spins a wonderful, sophisticated tale in praise of immorality, money and sex, with two aristocratic imposters (Marshall and Hopkins) battling over their plans to rob a rich widow (the languorous Kay Francis). Lubitsch’s regular script collaborator Samson Raphaelson never bettered the lethal irony of his dialogue here, as the thieves pass insinuations to and fro with same lightning grace they give to pickpocketing. And the director’s famed ‘touch’, which can on occasion seem like a thump, remains featherweight and incisive throughout, matching the performances of his charmingly bogus lead players. If ever a film slipped down a treat, this one does. GB
“which can on occasion seem like a thump”
Judging by his demeanour, the D stands for Deep Depression. But the old man at the centre of De Sica’s famous film from the heyday of Italian neo-realism hasn’t got much to be happy about, stripped bare as he is of all money and all friends except a little fox terrier. There’s no denying the Director’s comparison, nor the dignity and strength of Carlo Battisti’s performance, but there’s nothing so wilting as doom and gloom couched in sweetly sentimental terms. GB
The D stands for Drizzle. That’s what it stands for.
[spoilers] Wages of Fear [spoilers]
Buried at the time of William Friedkin’s shabby remake (Sorcerer) but now blessedly with us again, this confirms the view of Clouzot as one the sourest of modern filmmakers. A slow first hour establishes a world of sweating, poor expatriates hanging out in the feverish bars in French colonial Latin America, which inevitably brings to mind such far-flung adventurer films as Only Angels Have Wings. But Hawk’s classic depends upon the fraternal bonds forged among his existential heroes by flying in the face of death. When Clouzot’s foursome decide to drive a load of nitro-glycerin through the jungle in order to raise some cash, the motive is greed and the results are as black a vision of human infidelity as any since Othello. The cliff-edge tension wracks the nerves, of course, but never obscures the fact that men in contest with each other will crack up and die; one truck blows away without reason; the other only arrives by running over its co-driver, in an oil-pool that looks like the pit of hell. A reeking bandana movie, with all the expected thrills, but a vision of men as scurrying insects with no redeeming features. CPea
What Time Is It There? (2001) (Ming-liang)
Is Tsai ploughing the same furrow once too often? Soon after the death of his father (Miso), ___ Kang (Lee) sells a wrist-watch to a girl (Chen) who’s about to fly to France.
The film then crosscuts between her miserable time in Paris and his increasingly manic behaviour in Taipei (stealing public clocks, resetting timepieces to French time, coping with his batty mother) – until the twin storylines move towards a mysterious synthesis, helped along by _____, who enters Kang’s life on tape (as Antoine Doinel in Les Quatre Cents Coups) and hers in person (as a randy old man in a cemetery). It all looks and feels a little too much like a rerun of The River, but the emphases on time, coping with bereavement and possible reincarnations give it a reasonably fresh spin. And the underlying black humour is still present and correct: how can you destroy time when some ____ invents a new unbreakable watch? TR
That rare thing: an intelligent, beautifully acted, and gloriously funny British comedy. At the butt-end of the ’60s, two ‘resting’ young thesps—Withnail (Grant, a revelation), a cadaverous upper middle class burning-out case with an acid wit and soleless shoes, and the seemingly innocent unnamed ‘I’ (McGann)—live on a diet of booze, pills, and fags in their cancerous Camden flat, until a cold comfort Lakeland cottage is offered for their use. For all its ’60s arcana, this is no mere semi-autobiographical nostalgia trip, but an affecting and open-eyed rites-of-passage movie. Robinson’s debut as writer/director (he scripted The Killing Fields) exhibits the value of the old virtues: characterization, detail, and engagement. His characters are oddball, degenerate even, but rounded—none more so than the elephantine figure of Griffiths as Withnail’s gay uncle Monty. Beautifully scripted, indecent, honest, and truthful, it’s a true original. WH
Most of Godard’s early movies are so much of their particular time that they’ll need explanatory footnotes before long. This was the first of his color/cinemascope tributes to the changing moods of Karina (his then wife); the film’s own soundtrack notes that it might equally be a comedy or a tragedy because it’s certainly a masterpiece. It has a thin thread of plot about Karina’s desire to get pregnant, it flanks her with the pragmatic Brialy on one side and the romantic Belmondo on the other, then stands all of them in the shadow of MGM musical stars of the ’40s and ’50s, and it collages these elements together with sundry gags, worries, contradictions and asides into a kind of movie that nobody had seen before. The result is brash, defiant, gaudy and infinitely fragile. TR
Bedeviled by much-publicized script wrangles (between) Weir and source novelist Christopher Koch) and production difficulties (death threats to the crew on location in the Philippines), this bears too many signs of compromise betokening an at least partly US financed project. Gibson is adequate as the Aussie news journalist on assignment in the turbulent Indonesia of late 1965, teamed up romantically with the assistant to the British military attaché (Weaver), and professionally with a dwarf Chinese-Australian camera-man (actress Hunt, extraordinary as the movie’s Tolstoy-quoting social conscience). Weir’s steamy atmospherics often have the camera standing in for the unwelcome, uncomprehending Westerner in South East Asia to impressive effect; but delineation of the political forces at work in the last days of Sukarno’s regime is often less than clear. The result is a curiously languid affair, rather than the breathless Costa-Gravas-style thriller which was the least one might have expected from this kind of material. RM
RM has a personal problem.
Here is where neither scanned or transcribed the blurbs because I was too lazy or it was just not necessary or they were just not worth it or were 90% spoiler.
GB’s review of The Bank Dick was decent. “By far the best of Fields’ last comedies.” “Totally ramshackle and marvelous.”
RMy overrates Billy Liar. Basically calls it a magical film without acknowledging any of the shortcomings (which I took such pains to do).
DT pretty much calls Cleo from 5 to 7 correctly, although his blurb isn’t worth scanning.
CPea calls The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser quite correctly, although his blurb spoils the plot, so cannot be reprinted.
RM’s review of M is not wrong, but entirely useless.
JWin writes an intelligent review of Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which I didn’t want to bother OCR’ing. Essentially, he expresses the same ambivalence we should all be feeling toward Wes Anderson.
CA/DMacp’s review of Nic Roeg’s Bad Timing – is dead on. Dead on
TR briefly, accurately describes Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun, although his blurb spoils the story.
They try to not like him.
They protest too much.
Their arguments fall flat
On my deaf ears.
GA will die
when I kill him.