Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Getaway (1972) Directed by Sam Peckinpah

As Astrid is away, it's possible that action movies and their ilk appear here. I like watching nothing better than a good old shoot 'em up! Certainly The Getaway is in essence something like a modern western where a man confronts his personal demons head on. This is a middle Peckinpah. It's no Pat Garrett or Wild Bunch or even anywhere near as crazy and original as Bring Me The Head Of Alfred Garcia. But still it's a lesson in the Heist genre which Peckinpah handles with aplomb. The main draw here are the two leads. The weird chemistry between Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw is the heart of the film.
They met on set and then fell in love. It was big news. They seem opposites. McQueen is hard, macho, cool. MacGraw seems preppy, conservative and upper class. They are a hot couple. McQueen wears cool shades, MacGraw a series of tan casual dresses. Based on a Jim Thompson novel and scripted by the great Walter Hill, The Getaway is about a recently released prisoner Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) and his wife Carol (Ali MacGraw) going on the run after a bank job goes wrong. They are chased by assorted villains and cops across various states for the half a million dollars stolen from the heist. They are trying to save their marriage after an earlier indiscretion of Carol's. Rarely for a Peckinpah movie Carol holds her own against Doc, the woman is given equal billing. The chase intensifies till they end up in a hotel in New Mexico, the High Noon style climax is a fittingly violent finale. Perversely, with so little morality on show, Peckinpah ends the movie with a comment on the sanctity of marriage!
The film has a mood which is intense. The cinematography by Lucien Ballard is superb, rich colors fill the screen, this really looks like cinema. Peckinpah regulars Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and Bo Hopkins appear in various supporting roles. A pointless, misjudged sexist side plot featuring Sally Struthers and Al Lettieri still can't derail the film. Peckinpah's legendary slow motion action scenes are much in use most notably where McQueen destroys a police car with a pump action shot gun and later when the couple are ejected from a garbage dumpster. In fact the finale with McQueen on a killing spree against his hunters is a reminder for me that this kind of film was once mainstream cinema. It's risk taking in it's mood, with an experimental bent and no sentimentality on show. Why do we accept so little from our thrillers nowadays? McQueen's iconic presence is enough to suspend disbelief. I've watched this film many times and it only get's better. Tarrantino alludes to this kind of cinema but often misses.
Cool, brutal and great.

Leon (1994) Directed by Luc Besson

Nick :
I'm coming down with flu, so Sunday needs to be an undemanding movie experience. Around the time of Leon's release Besson was being touted as some kind of serious director. Subway (1985), Le Grand Bleu (1988) and Nikita (1990) established the Frenchman as a director with style and a good eye for action. Leon was Besson's real international introduction (the Director also scripted).
The story of a contract killer reluctantly taking in a 12 year old who's family have been wiped out by some seriously crooked members of the NYPD caused a stir. Yes, the Professional Killer Leon (good performance from Jean Reno) develops a not so ambiguous relationship with the 12 year old Mathilda (a never been better Natalie Portman). The way this relationship develops is the focus and the main interest for me in this film. It's moving, touching and a little funny. The rest, well...the violence is slick and flashy, the plot is full of holes and somewhat lacking plausibility. The script and characterization is vacuous at best. Special mention has to go to Gary Oldman as Stansfield, the evil, psychotic Detective who pops pills, wipes out Mathilda's family and is generally crazy throughout. This is pure ham from Oldman, one of the great over acting performances that would make mid period Pacino proud. People really rate this film. It's certainly not aged well, but it's still entertaining in a trashy kinda way. Besson however, is a man with little taste. Having Sting play out over the closing credits is unforgivable.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Down By Law (1986) Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Jarmusch's third Film is a wonderfully shot, dry, moody three part story arc that deals with the arrival of the other. Zack and Jack (Tom Waits and John Lurie) are both the victims of police set ups that lead them to the same New Orleans prison cell. Never quite feeling comfortable in the small cell, there only bond is the fact that they are both innocent tough guys. Roberto, an Italian immigrant with poor English skills, is put in the same cell as Zack & Jack. Roberto (played by Roberto Benigni) , loves Walt Whitman and quotes Robert Frost. He's funny and annoying at the same time, he reveals he killed a man with an 8 ball between the eyes. Roberto fashions an escape and the three cell mates go on the run. This film plays like a Tom Waits song set to celluloid, mean , moody and funny. Benigni is hilarious, Waits and Lurie are cool. Jarmusch shows his love for casting musicians (something he does in all his subsequent movies) and Benigni saves his best work for Jarmusch. The sharp Black and White photography and score from Lurie (interspersed with Waits songs) just heighten the atmosphere. Although I've watched this film many times, I never tire of it, it's deadpan wonder works every time.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Be Kind Rewind (2008) Directed by Michel Gondry

This film was such a mess it's hard to know where to start. Mike (Mos Def) agrees to look after Be Kind Rewind, a video cassette rental store, for aging owner Mr Fletcher (Danny Glover), who has to go out of town for a week. Jerry (Jack Black), a mutual friend, has an accident and his brain becomes magnetized (yes, this is a Gondry film!) and on entering the VHS store he accidentally erases all the VHS cassettes. Mike & Jerry then decide to re-make all the erased films themselves.
Gondry's film is not only a nod to the amateur film makers found on You Tube but to the essence of cinema itself. No CGI in this film, just many ingenious camera shots as Mike and Jerry re-stage among other films RoboCop, When We Where Kings, Driving Miss Daisy and 2001. The re-shooting of Ghostbuster's is hilarious and after this it feels the film falls flat. Able acting support is provided by Mia Farrow and Melonie Diaz, but sentimentality takes over at the end. Gondry, so perfect in his earlier films (especially the under rated Science Of Sleep) delivers a film that's mired in social cliche. Yes, It's analogue, but is it any good?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Videodrome (1983) Directed by David Cronenberg

Video Cassettes that breathe, TV sets that reach orgasm, stomachs with vagina like slits where guns can be lost, Debbie Harry using her breast as an ash tray. Just some of the things you'll find in Cronenberg's video shocker. Because of the nowadays redundancy of VCR's this gives the film an even more sci-fi edge. It's also the first time Cronenberg does sex, specifically S&M and snuff movies. The plot is fairly ridiculous. It features an excellent James Woods as immoral TV exec. (Max Renn) who finds a violent pornography show (called Videodrome) via satellite TV that he'd like to introduce to his TV station's programing. Of course it's Snuff TV, and without Max knowing it, it induces a violent hallucinogenic state, literally opium for the masses. His girlfriend Nicki Brand (played by a dead pan Harry) is a sado-masochist who thinks the show's made for her. Tracking the show's origin to Pittsburg, she auditions. The fun in this Burroughs like nightmare is trying to work out reality from dream state sequence and after awhile it becomes impossible. Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers & Crash films would later discuss similar themes in a slightly less dramatic , more controlled manner. Don't let this put you off, Videodrome is a classic. An angry, voyeuristic, risk taking blast of social comment from a director who's status as a a master is just being realized. Long Live The New Flesh!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Solo Review Days

For the next couple of weeks this blog will be running differently:
one of us is not sitting next to the other one watching the same
films. We are going to report on our separate cinema experiences instead.
Mostly this honor will be Nick's, but today I (Astrid) have the privilege
to begin.

Pierrot Le Fou (1965) Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Watching Pierrot Le Fou for the second time confirms to me that it
really is one of my favorite movies. Ever. With the actors
Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo, Godard creates an almost
unbearably good-looking and stylish film. The movie proves to me
how surface and content are equally important. Sometimes surface
is the content. And the French seem to know more about this than
anyone else.

The story of the two lover's roadtrip or a getaway drive is dream-like.
It's a fairytale possibly happening only in the imagination of
Fernand as he is taking his family nanny, Marianne, back to
her home at night. Whatever the motivation in the story, I love
how it flows: from Paris to small roads, in stolen cars, by foot,
to the seaside, to domestic settling, boredom, back to traveling
and the end. Marianne (Karina) kills many troubling people on
the way. Outfits change from great dresses and suits to other
beautiful concoctions at least for times – so do cars.

Fernand/Pierrot is always reading and quoting Baudrillard.
Why does Marianne insist on calling him Pierrot?
He is the imagination, she is the action and the impulse.
Godard uses film as if a philosopher writing his theory.
This is not only entertainment, because the director demands
you to become aware of your position as a viewer.
In the middle of the couple's discussion both characters
sometimes look into the camera, Belmondo even speaks
to the audience commenting on Karina's character.
These breaks in the film's internal order turn it into an
intellectual and emotional study of structure and context.
They break borders.

But even without the clever ideas, great lines, internal jokes,
just the visual 1960's feast of color and shape is enough.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Verdict (1982) Directed by Sidney Lumet

I could tell you about David Mamet's great, but faulty script. I
could mention really good supporting performances from
Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden and James Mason. I'm laying it
down that this movie captures autumnal Boston on screen in a
beautiful way, each shot carefully composed. I might point out
that Lumet's storytelling skills are a little obvious, in a wishy
washy, tearjerker, "makes you feel good at the end" kind of way.
I could point to the smug liberalism on display here that actually
stops this being a great expose of the USA legal system.
This film definitely has many flaws and many things to admire.
But all considerations are off when you watch Paul Newman as
alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin, who's given one last crack at a big
case that will save him being "lost" if he wins. What's interesting
here is that Newman is so good in this film he gives credence to
all it's faults. He makes us ignore what is in essence a typical court
house drama, a David & Goliath story which will only ever have one
obvious outcome. It's in his blue eyes, etched in the lines of his great
face at the final summing up. His attempt at redemption is
fascinating viewing. Newman makes this a great movie.

These kinds of dry 1970's-style movies are popular in this
household. A lot of drained color, a lot of misery. Although I like
them usually, the court dramas and political thrillers of this period
have made me yawn a couple times. The Verdict (a court drama
indeed) is unsentimental to the point of unattachment, but
somehow this works for it in the end. Probably, because of Paul
Newman, who becomes very likable during the two hours. It is also
always inspiring to see the small people winning against big
corporate crooks. This is Erin Brockovich without Erin. But there
is Charlotte Rampling again. I'm starting to think that Rampling
only took roles where she could play the emotionally disturbed
miserable woman (always in that same beige camel coat).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) Directed By Woody Allen

Woody is very close to my heart. Especially the 1970s classic
Woody paired with Diane Keaton. A Midsummer Night's Sex
Comedy is an early 1980s extension to his great period.
Mia Farrow has stepped in and stolen what would have been the
obvious Keaton role in the previous decade. Farrow plays Adrian,
the bride-to-be of an elderly professor, but really she is the center
of all men's desire in this comedy. Woody plays an inventor with the
usual Allen-characteristics; sexual failures, inhibitions, general
uncertainty. But this time the setting is an early 20th-century
country house in the middle of the most gorgeous summer.
The director is clearly realizing one aspect of his Ingmar Bergman

In this visually harmonious setting the plot of the movie is nearly
a farce, while the script is as intelligent as any great Allen script.
The characters (who begin to lust after each others' partners
plotting secret rendezvous here and there) ask not only for practical
advice in sex, but they question each other on the relationship
between love and lust. Andrew, Allen's inventor character, says
that the difference between the two is that "sex alleviates tension,
love creates it".

Tony Roberts appeared in practically all the early Woody films.
His function is usually to play the opposite to Woody's neurotic,
short, procrastinating, New York-obsessed characters. So
usually Roberts represents business-oriented thinking, success in
Hollywood, health, doing instead of thinking and so on – everything
that Woody is not (and that he despises at least to some extend).
Roberts is a kind of unlikely sidekick, but he has been there
throughout the 1970's for Woody and thus I want to mention him
here, doing his final film with Allen.
In A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy Roberts plays Doctor
Maxwell Jordan. He always turns up to his friend's house with
a new lover, considers marriage a trap, writes books about nature
and therefore represents bodies and instinct (against intellect and
knowledge without experience). As it turns out, Andrew's (Woody)
marital problems are also lifted when his wife admits to having
had sex with Maxwell the previous summer.

Of course, Woody wouldn't be Woody if he did not reverse these
stereotypes within his story, but I won't spoil the plot more
than this.

You can define Allen's movies into distinct periods: The early
funny ones, The Keaton years, The Farrow years, the post
Farrow/scandal years and now the Johansson/European Years.
This is the first movie Allen made with Farrow. An inventor and
his wife invite two other couples to their country home during high
summer. Sexual games ensue, with various illicit rendezvous' amid
naughty digressions. Allen gives a nod to Shakespeare (title) and
Bergman (apparently this is loosely based on an Ingmar Bergman
story). I think the Bergman influence is more in the look which is
exquisite. It's also a rare move out of the city for an Allen movie,
you have to go back to the very early films to find such green

The performances are all excellent, with Mia Farrow and Jose
Ferrer being my picks. This is Woody at his best, a sharp script
(poking fun at intellectual arrogance), a great look and of course
very funny. This film was followed by Zelig, Broadway Danny Rose,
The Purple Rose Of Cairo and Hannah & Her Sisters and was
preceded by Manhattan and Stardust Memories.
Has there been a better run of films in modern American Cinema
by one director? This is beginning to look like Allen's greatest
period. Why is this singular Allen film so underrated ?
Not sure, but if you haven't seen it,
just track it down , it's a gem.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Nightporter (Il Portiere di Notte) (1974) Directed by Liliana Cavani

I Love Dirk Bogarde. He is wonderful in films like The Singer Not the
Song, Victim , Darling, the Joseph Losey directed quartet he
made from the 60's onwards and so much more. Adam Ant named
an album after him (Dirk Wears White Sox). As a young adult I
read his books. Dirk had one of the best on-screen quiffs. And of
course he was gay (though it wasn't the kind of thing you discussed
around Dirk). He was as close as the UK got to Montgomery Clift,
although unlike Clift, Dirk really did hold it together. Dirk was a
massive movie star who, in later life, took risks with his movie
choices. This meant that when Dirk appeared in European
Arthouse movies, you took it seriously. Dirk had a good track record
in this field (Death In Venice, Providence).

Cavani's The Nightporter was a cult film as I was growing up.
You read that it was shocking, it's concentration camp scenes
groundbreaking and realistic, the sex was adult, X-rated and
outrageous. It still holds a cult following and certainly the
image of Charlotte Rampling, topless save for braces that don't
cover her nipples, wearing a Nazi officer's
hat has eased into pop culture folklore. Iconic indeed. It's such a
shame then that this film is terrible. It's a Last Tango In Paris
made on a mini budget without the Tango (and without a Brando
more's the point). Substitute butter for strawberry jam.
This is a snooze fest, the perfect cure for insomnia. The script is

The plot, simplistic and a complete farce, ex-war
criminal fucks ex-concentration camp victim, they had a thing
for each other all along when back in the Camps. Once back
together he protects her from mad Nazi's in 50's Vienna.
The sex portrayed on screen is lame, pitiful and certainly a long
way from erotic. Flashbacks to the concentration camps suggest
that obviously as people were dying and starving they were just
thinking about having sex. I'm not making this up. What possessed
Bogarde & Rampling to do this? I'm sure intentions were well
meaning at the start. Unless Rampling spills the beans we'll never
know. Maybe she wanted to get it on with Dirk and who can
blame her. The aforementioned scantily dressed scene with
Rampling singing to the Nazi officers is the only decent thing
in this. I did watch this when young and thought it was bad at
the time, why did I put myself (and Astrid) through this again?
I'm not waiting for the inevitable Von Trier re-make.

I could not stay put during this movie. I was fidgeting, checking my
emails, crawling on the floor a little and stretching into different
directions. What started with cool titles and good looks ended with
ridiculous gun shots that just did not matter to me.

At the (cold) heart of this movie there is the love between an ex-nazi
officer and his beautiful victim – whom he obviously saved in
order to have kinky sex. When they accidentally meet years later
as a hotel guest and portier, they fall back into their oppressive
games. They are lamely trying to convince me that there is
something iconic and understandable about willingly going back
to your oppressor. I know there is a suggestion here that
the viewer (especially a woman) would immediately relate to this
sickness. I felt repulsed and bored. What is so sexy about wallowing
in your trauma? Accepting your wounds? Refusing to change?
So what if P.J. Harvey was really inspired by a particular outfit-
scene in this movie. Why should women relate to this love of their

Luckily, this film is from 1974. Interestingly it was directed by a
woman. Yes, Charlotte Rampling looks amazing and wears
gracefully her repertoire of upper-class beige outfits, as well as
starvation. But is the way she looks really enough to carry a movie?
The director at one point attempts to convey that this is a question
of the woman's choice – therefore not oppression (possibly even
feminism). Do you want my opinion: she's stupid.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mulholland Drive (2001) Directed by David Lynch

Although I consider myself quite a Lynch fan, this was the first time
I sat through the whole of Mulholland Drive. The most precious
content of this one, for me, was the non-linear storytelling.
Lynch is questioning the logic of constructing movie plots, but he is
also drawing the viewer into questioning the necessity of
distinguishing between the real and unreal.

Could this really happen? That is not a concern in Mulholland Drive
and accepting this makes me immediately apply Lynch's broad-
mindedness to life outside of cinema as well. Inspiring.

I have been told that this movie has sparked numerous and
passionate interpretations. People have had the need to 'solve' the
storyline and be right about how it all makes sense. I found this
line of conversation annoying even before I had watched the entire
film. Now my opinion is that it is unnecessary to Understand.
It would be boring to narrow down the meanings we can give to
the blue box, or to Camilla for that matter.
Watching Mulholland Drive was much like dreaming: if you go with
the flow and accept the passenger's seat, then you will be rewarded
with wonder. Exercise in letting go.

Much has been made of the twist in Mulholland Drive, David
Lynch's dream-like meditation on an aspiring young star trying
to make it in Hollywood, who finds a car crash victim suffering
from amnesia in her borrowed apartment. You could try to work
out what is going on in a linear fashion, it is all there for you to do
so but somehow I don't think this is the point. The film deals with
dreams, the dream of making it. It's about identity and
finding oneself. I'm not sure if Mulholland Drive works as a
cohesive film, but it has 4 or so stunning scenes and at times is
very funny. It's also incredibly pretentious and slow.
What makes this a good Lynch movie rather than an OK one is
Naomi Watts. This was perhaps her calling card. Watts is one of
the top actors working today and Mulholland Drive is saved by
her performance, it's a brave turn which she gives her all to
(much like in the sensual audition she takes in the film) and the
twist that arrives is only credible due to Watt's believable
transformation. Laura Harring on the other hand is cardboard,
chewing the lines as if in the Bold & The Beautiful. Perhaps her
wooden performance is an intentional joke from Lynch.
Let's remember that this was originally a TV pilot, one that was
turned down. It's quite possible that the twist in the film was
purely the only way that Lynch could finish Mulholland Drive
within a cinema time frame, abandoning the original plot for the
twist we see on screen.

So, finally, this movie just works within Lynch's regular themes.
The sense of dread and fear, eroticism, modern noir and surrealistic
dream-like states that play throughout Mulholland Drive have been
visited by Lynch before, more notably with Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) Directed By Billy Wilder

The Private Lives of Sherlock Homes is one of those
films with a growing
reputation, a mystery in itself,
one of the Holy Grail films that movie
re-evaluate, different prints turning up all over the
world at
various screenings, always enhancing the
reputation, increasing the

Billy Wilder's Holmes film was a disaster on release.
The film cost 10
million to make (huge sums in 1970)
and delivered 1 million at the box
office. A troubled
production, Wilder's three-and-a-half-hour vision
taken out of his hands and cut down to 2 hours.
His original principle
players were to be Peter Sellers
as Watson and Peter O'Toole as Holmes.
When O'Toole
dropped out he was replaced by Robert Stephens
who portrays Holmes as though he were
infused with Oscar Wilde's genes.
Stephens was a choice
that for some reason Wilder regretted casting.

The first third of the film pictures Holmes as initially
a closet
homosexual, a suspect misogynist who takes
large amount's of cocaine to
relieve his boredom.
Dr.Watson (a comic turn by Colin Blakely), feels a
is needed to pull Holmes out of his druggy stupor.
Once a sexy and
mysterious Gabrielle Valladon
(played by Geneviève Page) turns up at Baker
apparently the victim of a murder attempt, a
web of intrigue
unfolds and the film turns into a
formulaic search for Valladon's husband.

Initial resistance to the woman is strong from
Holmes but as the adventure
reaches it's conclusion,
Holmes feelings towards Valladon become more than
platonic, the film reaching a moving climax.

This film I've watched many times and there are
new things to admire
with each viewing. The look,
the performances, a strong supporting cast

(Christopher Lee, Irene Handle), a great score
from Miklós Rózsa, the slow
pace and old style
of film making, great studio sets, dreamy

cinematography. Billy Wilder's subversive,
subtle and personal take on the
famous detective
is a gem and probably his last masterpiece.
I'd rate this
as high as Wilder's more celebrated
films like Some Like It Hot, Sunset
Boulevard or The
Apartment. Once aga
in, in its strange way, this film
moved me.

Sherlock Holmes was a great summer read when I was a child. It
represented Englishness to a girl who didn't know anything about it.
The life and culture was something foreign to me and sometimes so
scary that I was afraid to go to the outhouse of our summer cottage
after reading the stories.

This movie version from 1970 did not relate to my previous
experience with Sherlock. To me the message here was: Sherlock
is gay. The film presented him as a dandy who sometimes resorts
to binging on cocaine (to kill boredom). His relationship with
Doctor Watson is easily interpreted as that between two life
companions. Holmes hates women, mistrusts them and
is prone to ridiculing women for stereotypical feminine behavior.
There is a certain persistent vagueness in Holmes' characterization,
which has also been a typical way of portraying gay men
in cinema. Wrapped in ambiguous air, as Morrissey has been,
but later and in music.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is an entertaining and
relatively early endeavor in discussing homosexuality in English
film. I think it shares this sensibility with
The Servant from 1963 (directed by Joseph Losey).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Family Plot (1976) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock's last film is not highly rated. Often dismissed as a gentle
it's without doubt the least celebrated film of his latter years.
What struck me
watching Family Plot for the first time was how the two
stories about two different couples whose paths eventually cross
potentially deathly results looks initially so un-cinematic. The
first hour
or so comes across as an average episode of 1970's detective
series Columbo.

Then something happens, notably a crazy car ride without any brakes on a
winding mountain road (this scene a nod to Cary Grant's drunk drive in
North By Northwest).
This finally demonstrates Hitchcock's classic use of
high wire suspense and
humor. From then on the film is a tense blast, with
Hitchcock once again
referencing himself with a shot of Barbara Harris in
distress that recalls the
shower scene in Psycho.
The performances from the four central actors are
excellent with Bruce
Dern and Harris as out of work actors looking to get
by as a taxi driver
and psychic (!) really shining. Their relationship is
portrayed with a
natural West Coast vibe spiced with lots of witty
British sexy innuendo.
Special mention to Karen Black who dons a blond
wig to portray the almost
quintessential 'femme fatale'.
In other words, eventually, this movie was

I feel sympathetic towards Hitchcock.He became old and ill and knew
exactly how a movie should be done, but the world kept
changing as if it forgot about the aesthetics of Psycho, Birds,

Vertigo, Rear Window or all the others. In Family Plot I see a

director adjusting to the 1970s. There is the slow pace,
not-so-well-educated couple who talk about sex and

want to eat more than one hamburger while conning
a rich
old lady. And their clothes are casual, suits greased and lilac in shade.
This is the fun 'contemporary' side of the film.

Then there are the almost obligatory upper class diamond
A couple that stylistically represent
the classic Hitchcock view, I think.
Karen Black's
blond wig disguise makes her at times the usual femme fatale.
Yet, the fact that she is seen switching
to her own brunette hair in the
couple's car (more than
once) feels almost as if the director peeling his
away his own cinematic fixations.

At times I was exhausted and bored by the predictability of this film.
But in the end
its sympathetic qualities have won me over.

The Age of Innocence (1993) Directed by Martin Scorsese & Remains of The Day (1993) Directed by James Ivory

When I was a teenager I believed that love conquers all social settings
and rules. Back then watching The Age of Innocence was like
witnessing idiots wasting their lives away –– angering and frustrating.
Now I've become a fan of the endless reserve. Both The Age of
Innocence and Remains of The Day are two-hour defenses for
the sexiness of reserve. Anthony Hopkins (in Remains...)
and Daniel Day-Lewis (in The Age...) play their very different
approaches to inexpressible love with excellence. Incidentally,
both movies portray women as weaker and more prone to protest
against social order.

Still, there is something completely distancing and unattached in
both movies, but especially in The Age of Innocence.
The camera lingers on plates of exquisite upper-class food arrangements
one too many times; often it feels that the director doesn't trust
Edith Warton's dry cynicism to carry the movie and he compensates
with too many awe-inspiring shots of velvety interiors.
And by now it should be official: Winona Ryder is simply boring as
an actor and Michelle Pfeiffer is not much better than that.
What was going on in the 1990s casting in Hollywood?

1993 must have been a big year for period drama. Arguably the kings of
the period drama genre in modern times were director
Ivory and his
producer partner Ismail Merchant.
Just a little perusal through their
work gives you a rough idea
of the kind of films they made (i.e.Howards
End, Maurice, A Room With
A View etc). What you normally get in an
Ivory/Merchant film is lots of stiff
upper lip and wonderful costumes.
This story of unfulfilled desire
that the mansion Butler Stevens (played
by an excellent Anthony
Hopkins)feels for the mansion Houskeeper (Emma
is a slight film where etiquette often trumps emotion.

Altman's Gosford Park is a more entertaining film based on a similar

Scorsese comes really unstuck on his adaptation of Edith
Wharton's Age
Of Innocence. Not only is Scorsese more interested
in the cutlery,
flowers, artwork, clothing and general period detail
that populate the
lives of these characters, he leaves us not really
caring for them. The
opulence of these upper class 19th Century
New Yorkers is not so
engaging and so little else is on offer.
Daniel-Day Lewis is superb as
lawyer Newland Archer, unfortunately
Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder
are awful and out of their depth
as the women in Archer's life. The film
looks amazing and is technically
as good as it gets but the over all
effect is so what
and so cold, cold cold.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Watchmen 2009 (Directed by Zack Snyder)

Film adaptations of classic books are always tricky. Film adaptations of
classic Graphic Novels and this being the Holy Grail of Graphic Novels,
adapting Alan Moore's truly fantastic story to the big screen was always
going to be hard. As a comic book fan, Watchmen is a personal favorite
so my interest in the film is high. It's amazing that with Snyder's past
as a film maker (300, Dawn Of The Dead) he succeeds with Watchmen
on some levels.

This was my second outing with Watchmen. I caught it on the big
screen last year and was slightly blown away by the visuals
and the overall feel of the film. Watching the film at home the
visuals once again impressed and with the time to really take in
some of the scenes it's obvious that Watchmen looks as good as
anything out there. The death of the Comedian, the credits sequence
charting the rise of the Minutemen through to the creation of
Watchmen time lined by historical events against a musical backdrop
of Dylan's The Times They are a Changing and the story of
Dr. Manhattan's creation to super human being are all
mighty impressive.

Moore's story works on many levels and stripping
back some of the major plots from the novel has created a film that
feels disjointed. The politics of the source have been simplified for
mainstream audiences (obviously a commercial consideration for
Snyder and the kind of budget he was dealing with).
The sex presented within the film is clumsy and verging on the soft
porn variety at times. As expected, the violence is hard and at the
same time glamorous. Moore's book deals not only with
gender issues but particularly how women are dealt with within the
super hero fraternity and the pure fetishistic thrill of pulling on a
rubber costume and administering justice. It's also a book about
identity and human nature. What Snyder serves up is a story about
men in tights and women in stockings (and not much else!) trying to
save the world from Nuclear destruction. That he makes it this
simplistic and it still trumps most comic book adaptations is an
achievement even if Snyders' re-writing of the ending is a little too
convenient to convince.

On the downside the casting is a major problem. Malin
Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Cudrup (Dr. Manhattan) &
Matthew Goode (Adrien Veidt) really don't cut it in their roles.
Yes, Ackerman looks great in and out of her costume, but boy is
she bad at delivering lines. You don't really believe that DR.
Manhattan would consider saving the world for this bimbo!
The women in Moore's book just come across smarter than this.
However Jackie Earle Haley makes the Rorschach character
his own and gives the film it's soul.
In fact, Rorschach is wonderful in Watchmen and worth the
effort alone. A director's cut (apparently a 4 hour plus version
with those missing plot lines) is coming this year.
Still, a valiant attempt at bringing some complex issues and
themes to a mainstream audience.

Ok, I have been pressured to watch this movie. I have heard
plenty of monologues on how great it was in the cinema.
I have heard that there will be a 5-hour-version of
the film coming out this year.
I have been told repeatedly to read the book. The Graphic
Novel, not a comic.

I found myself oddly entertained by this movie. Despite
the awful acting, the awkward jumping from scene to scene,
and the violence that made me turn my head away from the
screen. The look of the film was pleasing in its grimness.
The 1980s style and the freedom of style which seems to come
with adaptations of comics/graphic novels were almost inspiring
to me.

But why the awful void in the content, when obviously
the original material has grappled with some fascinating
questions about the universe, physics, and human nature?
My favorite character Doctor Manhattan has been a human
being, but through a physics lab-accident he has turned into
someone who can dismantle his molecular structure and travel
thus in time and place. He is a fascinating what-if character
who holds many powers associated only with god. He has
been used as a weapon by the US government, he is
supposed to save the world from nuclear war as well.
But as Doctor Manhattan is not a human anymore, he has
become too distant from humanity, from emotions.
He is unattached to life for its own sake. For a while he sees
nuclear disaster and the extinction of humanity as not such
a bad thing. All this is great. I respect anyone pondering
on such questions, and using their creativity and imagination
to ask questions about our future/past/present.

Unfortunately, the movie had to also be an entertaining
piece of action, so it could not focus only
on the difficult questions of existence.
I'm sure that with some better actors involved this would
have been a great film.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New York, New York (1977, Directed by Martin Scorsese)


New York, New York has become one of my favorite movies. I can watch it at least once a year for its cinematic qualities, but also for the story itself. I think it is important that the film was made in the 1970s but it depicts the 1940s. The historic setting of the plot is in the 1940s, but Scorsese also refers and borrows from the 1940s Hollywood and their way of making musicals. "Artifice and truth" is what the director is trying to combine (as he says in his intro to the movie). In the film Scorsese combines the magical and unreal (present in movies from the 1940s when they were still a very new art form), with a reality in the characters and their story in a manner that became popular in the 1970s. This combination must be what makes the film so thrilling to watch still in 2010.

From my personal perspective: the exploration of a relationship between two creative people is very fascinating to me. Robert De Niro's Jimmy and Liza Minnelli's Francine fall in love and work together in a band, but for many reasons they cannot live together for very long. They fall apart and become successful on their own. I have to add that even though the director talks of this conflict as a result of their ambition and creativity, it appears from my perspective that the male character, Jimmy, is mad and unstable. He is overly possessive and competitive. His whole manner towards Francine is an attack straight from the beginning. I could claim that Scorsese is depicting a kind of masculinity in this movie that doesn't allow for women to be creative. The old-fashioned male who from the mid-20th century onwards has been struggling for air.
Or at least it seems that Francine's talent and finally amazing success makes it impossible for Jimmy to be coupled with her. The movie does not judge its characters and there is no happy or very sad ending to it, so it is almost impossible for me to decide where the line between creativity and madness is here.

Scorsese's tribute to the Hollywood musical of the 40's, New York, New
York so often dismissed, is arguably maturing to be his masterpiece.
Robert De Niro plays Jimmy Doyle, a saxophonist who falls for singer
Francine Evans played by a never better Liza Minnelli. They meet on VJ day
celebrations in New York, Doyle insistent for a date. Francine helps
Doyle with an audition at a club, they both get the gig and a musical and
romantic partnership is formed. The film follows the creative process
of the leads, who take different roads with there musical dreams
while marriage, childbearing, drugs and alcohol get thrown into the
mix. Has De Niro ever been this good? Coming across somewhere
between the cocky Johnny Boy From Mean Streets and the violent
Jake La Motta from Raging Bull he instills Doyle with a humor that
off-sets the characters self-destructive tendencies.

Scorsese rarely has a female lead in his
films (the excellent Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore being the notable
exception prior to NY, NY). Minnelli not only holds her own
against De Niro but she gives the film it's credibility, it's reference
and it's soul. Watch the long version of the film with the Happy
Endings sequence, a tribute itself to the finale of Singing In The Rain.
Minnelli belts out number after number whilst channeling the spirit
of her mother Judy Garland. Meanwhile Scorsese serves up the visuals
which re-create the atmosphere and vision of Minnelli's father Vincent.
Scorsese with New York New York not only created a film where he
showed the New Hollywood that there was something great in the
method of the old studio system, but in the final scenes he achieves a
mood and emotional truth that he has never reached since. We're
talking one of my all time favorite films here. Not only that, but this
film gives the city maybe it's most recognizable theme song. A classic.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What's New Pussycat? (1965. Directed by Clive Donner)


This mess of a farce directed by Donner is Woody Allen's first filmed script.
It's been a while since I've watched this and the jokes stood up pretty well.
On top of this you have Peter Sellers dressed as a Beatle (though looking
more like John Cale in his VU period), Peter O'Toole dashing as the lead,
Woody in his first film role, Ursula Andress as a nympho parachutist in a
skimpy orange bikini, Burt Bacharach penning the soundtrack and
Hardy in an uncredited cameo. So final conclusion is, despite
the 60's
wackiness, what's not to like?

What's New Pussycat? (1965. Directed by Clive Donner)


We chose to watch something light and comic. Choosing what to watch together isn’t always easy, but this time there was mutual consent. This movie interested me because it is Woody Allen’s first script (and he appears in the film). Importantly: Allen is a kind of demi-god in movies for me; I can watch Play it Again Sam and Manhattan or Annie Hall (plus about 15 other Allen movies) everyday and always revert back to them when in need of comfort. The title sequence is groovy and cool, reminds me already of Bond-movies, a little. At first I am not too alarmed by this. The premise of the movie is that a man can’t seem to shake off all these beautiful women and doesn’t really want to either, but he has to get married. This storyline isn’t as developed as in Allen’s own movies later, but there is already an analyst in this one. He is not played by Allen but he has all the mannerisms down (and is wearing thick black framed glasses). Fun dialogue, endlessly horny men, and what saves this: endlessly sex-crazy women too. The fact that most of these women are famous singers (Francois Hardy) and models (Ursula Andress, Capucine) of the time, extends from the internal story to the mechanism of movie making, I think. The makers of this film want to titillate the hetero male audience while at the same time laughing a little at a culture driven by eroticism and/or sex. Possibly because I know this film is from 1965, I can laugh at the old-fashioned gender roles and sexism this movie is full of.

Devices such as slap-stick comedy and the early Bond-style characterization of men and women would not usually make me applaud. Maybe it is because I’m completely on holiday still, but these things don’t annoy me much at all – I laughed out loud. The etymology of the word pussycat fascinates me more after seeing this piece.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Couple Decide to Begin a Movie Blog

Hello, we are Nick and Astrid. We watch movies almost every night. Today seems like a good day for a New Year's resolution and ours is to start this blog about our film experiences. This afternoon we watched El Cid (1961. Dir. Anthony Mann) –a film Nick watched as a child often at Christmas in England. It was Astrid's first time with El Cid and she was rather bored. Nick enjoyed the intensity, Mann's ambitious scale and the unsentimental approach to such an epic. Astrid was disturbed by what Charlton Heston came to represent later in life, while at the same time mesmerized by Sophia Loren's eyes. The idea of this blog is that we will write our separate commentaries on whatever film we watch, sometimes more sometimes less. For us it will be a record of our viewing habits over the course of the next year.