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Yoidore tenshi (1948)
Shimura is wonderful
I enjoy early Kurosawa more than the later one; I guess it has to do with social issues being addressed versus samurai codes of ethics. Takashi Shimura gives an outstanding performance as the frustrated doctor who's surrounded by corruption and cowardice on all sides. The filthy pond full of industrial effluent and food waste symbolizes the world he has to struggle with, and his angry outbursts at the yakuza Mifune are wonderfully effective. Mifune, who reminds me of a Japanese Montgomery Clift, does a fine job of playing the menacing, tubercular thug who can't stave off doom no matter what he tries.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1984)
Not the best production, but good enough
I came to this after seeing the Newman-Taylor film again; I was mainly curious to see how the freer moral code of the 80's would affect the story. In general, I was pleased by this version: some of the acting could be improved, but the greater licence offered to the later version led to more truth. In particular, the story of the Moroccan woman and her daughter as told by Rip Torn to his bemused son could hardly have been told by Burl Ives to Newman. Big Daddy as played by Torn is much tougher, more cynical than the Falstaffian figure of Ives, and truer to life.
Torn's performance is better than Ives's, Jones is at least as effective as Newman, Kim Stanley outshines Judith Anderson as Big Mama, and that's saying something. Only Jessica Lange has trouble with her part: her voice is too breathy, lacks firmness. Elizabeth Taylor has no trouble being Maggie for the ages.
Le feu follet (1963)
The drunk man looks at the world
The film is not balanced; in other words there is one tremendous, career-defining performance by Maurice Ronet, and then a succession of bit parts played sometimes well and sometimes badly by supporting players. It's all Alain, all of the time. True, Dubourg the Egyptologist is given some cogent lines to speak trying to call Alain to reason, but we know immediately that it's no use, Alain is firmly committed to his downward path. He knows he's only a gigolo with women, not a husband; a poseur in political movements--what must his Algerian army buddies really think of a man with no solid commitments to either the French or the Arabs? Yes, Alain is a fraud on all fronts; he's not even a writer although we see him scribbling some trifling thoughts in his room at the clinic.
I think of Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, J-L Trintignant in The Conformist, Robert Ryan in Caught: men who have lived catastrophic lives because they can't understand their emotional dissonances. I add Maurice Ronet to this list of very damaged men.
En lektion i kärlek (1954)
It has Bjornstrand and Dahlbeck, and that's enough for me
This is not one of the great Bergman comedies, not comparable to Smiles of a Summer's Night, Secrets of Women or The Devil's Eye, but it has its pleasures. Chief among them is the partnership of Gunnar Bjornstrand and Eva Dahlbeck; you might call them the Swedish version of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (or Cary Grant and Hepburn in Philadelphia Story). He's staid and a little timorous, she's volatile and humorous, with great comic timing. They're beautifully photographed and posed within the frame. I'm ready to forget the incongruous scenes that seem thrown in on a whim--what is that fight between the two women in the bar all about ? it comes out of nowhere.
Harriet Andersson probably wanted to get the sexpot image out of people's minds when she accepted the part, but Nix is a confusing character: tomboy and developed woman in the same body. Her acting shows the unease she must have felt about the character. Ake Gronberg as the bearish Carl-Adam has some funny lines but his part is fairly tiresome in the end. Minor Bergman except for the fabulous main couple.
Les misérables (1958)
I got through it
The worst of the four versions I have seen. Gabin is dull, uninspired--and look at the director, Le Chanois, no more than a journeyman when an artist is required for one of the great classic novels. Bourvil is excellent as the supreme hypocrite Thenardier, while Delorme has some touching moments as the unlucky Fantine.
You can pass this one up, watch Fredric March and Charles Laughton instead; Laughton gives another of his superb performances as Javert.
La Belle Époque (2019)
I'd thought of writing a long, involved review of this one, concentrating on the plot antecedents, but what's the use? It's so much fun watching this comedy with dramatic touches that my critical sense is forgotten. Daniel Auteuil is splendid as Victor, and he makes the comic transitions from scene to scene very well. Fanny Ardant changes from sourly critical to warmly emotional as needed--haven't seen her as good at comedy since 8 Women. That's all; I hope to see it again on video.
Les gazelles (2014)
Disappointing script, but those actresses...
... are really fun to watch. Audrey Fleurot especially, as the one who broke away from the pack, went to the States and had a kid. Camille Chamoux is vaguely reminiscent of Jennifer Aniston in her better moments, while Anne Brochet (who at almost 50 is too old to play a 30-something) has some good lines. Olivia Cote as Marie's boss steals every scene she's in; neurotic, demanding and with that sick dog who seems to rule over her, a little bit pathetic.
Get Out (2017)
Very good, very spooky
I enjoyed Jordan Peele's restrained horror film very much. Mostly for the acting; Daniel Kaluuya shows us the growing unease his character feels, Allison Williams is cool and reasonable in the early stages, then menacing later on, while Catherine Keener was superb with her teacup and spoon antics. Peele gave us reasonable action when it was called for, and craziness at other times.
Not bad but not real Cronenberg
I was a great admirer of Cronenberg in the 80's: The Fly, Dead Ringers, Scanners, the Dead Zone and maybe most of all Naked Lunch (that mujahideen typewriter!). I think the daring went out of his work in the last couple of decades, and looking at Cosmopolis, I feel a bit dismayed. I don't see that Cronenberg really owns this story; rather it's a faithful--I assume--rendering of Delillo's novel. Crazy things happen, but behind a mask of indifference. The actors have no affect: can Pattinson and Gadon really be married? Seems like they met just that morning. The parade of stars and semi-stars (Binoche, Morton, Giamatti) don't improve matters.
Manon Lescaut (2014)
Takes a while to get going
This production from London's Royal Opera House does take a while to get going, but once the police are on to Manon's activities things start to heat up. I'd only seen the Kiri te Kanawa-Placido Domingo production and have to compare it to this one--I'd say Kaufmann and Opolais are not quite up there but there are some lovely moments, especially in the final act. Worth seeing.
Another cast member
This La Scala production from December 2015 has Carlos Alvarez singing Giacomo, instead of the lesser known baritone that the previous reviewer heard. It's a wonderful show, and shows how Netrebko's voice has firmed over the last few years; she's really a formidable singer now. Alvarez and Meli offer good support, although in the latter's case it's a bit hard to get over the gold paint that Leiser and Caurier have put on him. Recommended.
Mon père avait raison (1936)
More talk than I can handle
Arrow Academy must be a wonderful company; their Guitry set is well-produced, up to Criterion standards. I can now boast of seeing six Guitry films in all, these four are fairly representative of his output. The trouble with Guitry has always been, for me, the excessive talkiness of his scripts. You long for an idea to be expressed through a look, a gesture, a positioning of the body this way or that way, and it never occurs. instead we get words--often very eloquent as in the long scene between Sacha and Betty Daussmond as his estranged wife--but action is wanting and it is missed. I give 10 for the idea and the way it is worked out, but only 3 for the action.
Dolor y gloria (2019)
I'm going to be brief: when Almodovar does a film about things he cares about deeply, he rarely goes wrong. He's made some films that haven't measured up to his considerable talent and they have hurt his reputation, but here he is at his most Proustian and it is a pleasure to watch. Banderas is wonderful in his restraint, Cruz and Serrano as the mother do very well, and Asier Etxeandia (who is new to me, and has a wonderful resemblance to Viggo Mortenson) is really good as the actor with whom Banderas broke off all ties over 30 years before. Strongly recommended.
First, for which audience is this movie targeted? Sébastien Japrisot was known for tightly plotted, even if somewhat off the wall thrillers (Piège pour Cendrillon, L' été meurtrier) and the WWI story Un long dimanche de fiançailles. Most of the viewers of this one will not have seen any of these films, so the attraction must be the versatile BD artist and director Joann Sfar. I enjoyed Sfar s previous film Gainsbourg--it had a dreamy quality I liked--so I was prepared to like this one.
But the confused plot didn't help any. There is just no way somebody can control the behaviour of another person, until researchers come up with a chip that is implanted in the brain, and even then... No, this story just does not work. The performances range from super-glum (Biolay, Martin) to whimsical and sometimes anxious (Freya Mavor, whom I would like to see again).
The Spanish Main (1945)
Andrew Sarris said wonderful things about Frank Borzage: that tyrants invaded "the emotional privacy of individuals, particularly lovers, those blessed creatures gifted with luminous rapport". Henreid and O'Hara become lovers on the pirate ship, and are threatened by Walter Slezak, who is given most of the funny lines. The romantic mood of this movie is hardly ever broken, and it's a delight to watch. Henreid does very well as the pirate, O'Hara is superb as the bride to be of the sinister governor (Slezak), and there's all the swordplay you could want. Sheer heaven.
The Wings of Eagles (1957)
Not a war movie, just Hollywood serio-comedy
This was the fifth and last picture Maureen O'Hara made for John Ford, and it's one of her least interesting. She's used mostly for flavouring; a female to spice up an almost entirely male cast. You have to wait for the sea battle footage late in the picture to get a real grasp of what the challenges of war were all about. The scenes with Ward Bond savour of the Hollywood insider and are not so interesting. Dan Dailey's manic Jughead is the most memorable character.
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Dance, dance, dance
This was in the Maureen O'Hara TCM compilation, along with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wings of Eagles and The Spanish Main. It may be the weakest of the lot. You just don't care much for Maureen's struggling ballet dancer--her battles with Lucille Ball raise few laughs--and the supporting cast is not very strong. Ralph Bellamy is not as effective as he was in His Girl Friday, or any number of other films, and Louis Hayward doesn't impress me at all. My first Dorothy Arzner picture, and I won't look for more.
Heat and Dust (1983)
Not up to David Lean's standard
I'm seeing this for the first time. Although I have enjoyed Merchant-Ivory films in the past (really want to see The Bostonians again, and A Room With a View), I can't say I was affected very much by this one. Shashi Kapoor gets off some funny lines, but is otherwise pretty bland. Nickolas Grace is the only memorable character--as he was in Brideshead Revisited. Passion just isn't present in this movie. Watch A Passage to India instead.
La mort de Louis XIV (2016)
A long day's dying
I'm not going to remember Louis's grunts and moans as he lies in bed, attended by far too many doctors to be of any use. No, I will remember the disputes--polite but still angry--between the doctors, sometimes involving a faith healer who has been called in, God knows why, to administer some foul elixir to Louis. The joke is that the doctors know hardly more than the quack about how to treat the sick. An inessential film, but it was good to see Leaud again.
Sharp Objects (2018)
Long drink of misery
The women in this small town remind me so much of The Stepford Wives: mouthing platitudes, faces devoid of affect. Camille sticks out like a sore thumb, at least her speech. Her actions show she hasn't much more feeling in her than the women she derides. Amy Adams plays her very well; it's a shame the script has her consuming truly astonishing amounts of alcohol. The other actors perform effectively--I liked D. B. Sweeney as the father of a murdered girl, and Taylor John Smith as the hapless suspect in the case. Then there is Elizabeth Perkins, who adds just the right amount of zing in her comic turns.
Patricia Clarkson acts with her usual level of distinction, but her part is written so Gothic that my sympathy for her character never really got going. I don't consider Jean-Marc Vallee to be a really outstanding director, just competent as C.R.A.Z.Y., Dallas Buyer's Club and Demolition show. The Missouri Bootheel still needs a good film about it.
Rossini: Otello (2012)
First, why did Rossini give the three principal male parts to tenors? Jago should absolutely be sung by a baritone, as he is in Verdi's greater opera. Edgardo Rocha can't deliver the villainy the text calls for, although he's a good singer.
Second, why the poor costumes for the singers? john Osborn's uniform looks like it came from an army surplus store (which army?).
Thankfully, there is Cecilia Bartoli who is in splendid form. She almost makes me forget this is an inferior work. La Scintilla--love that name--give fine orchestral support.
Shield for Murder (1954)
This noir from the mid-50's is very watchable, even though it bears more resemblance to a TV series than a film. Some scenes could have been filmed by the unit that shot Dragnet for example. O'Brien is good in his sweaty beefy way that you remember from D.O.A., John Agar is stolid, Marla English capable but no more. The only standout is Carolyn Jones as Girl in Bar, and why her character has no name I don't know. She reminds me of Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge, that level of sad understanding.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2019)
Starts strong, peters out
The first hour is very tightly plotted, closely observed and very funny in places. Kristin Wiig and Cate Blanchett play very well off each other and provide most of the pleasure. Billy Crudup and Emma Nelson give good support to Blanchett. Then things start to go off the rails. I haven't read the novel so I can't say if the fault lies there, but I do know that once Seattle is left behind the story falters. It's a shame because the material was so good.
Doctor Faustus (2012)
The Globe does it again
I've written about several Globe productions; I find they're the most enjoyable classical theatre being done in the world today. The sets, costumes and music--especially the music--are all first rate and some of the acting can't be bettered. Paul Hilton as Faustus doesn't have the power that a Paul Schofield would have brought to the part, but he satisfies me very much; he plays the wounded quality of the man's striving after knowledge effectively. Only Arthur (Dr. Who) Darvill disappointed me: he's not devilish enough and his voice is small. I wanted an Orson Welles type of voice for Mephistopheles.
The supporting cast do well. If you have a taste for Elizabethan humour, you'll have a great time with Jonathan Cullen as Gluttony, the incredibly acrobatic Richard Clews as Envy and Iris Roberts as Lechery. A woman emptying a bucket of slops on stage might be less appealing however. Finally, listen to the music by Jules Maxwell, it's very evocative.
Vita & Virginia (2018)
Not bad but not good either
First, let me say I'd go see Gemma Arterton reading the phone book: she has the rare facility of being able to play period stories as well as contemporary ones. She's great as Gemma Bovery and the Duchess of Malfi. She's well supported by Isabella Rossellini as Lady Sackville who tries without success to call Vita back to reality.
Second, what quirk of casting gave us Elizabeth Debicky, not yet thirty, as Virginia Woolf who started her three-year relationship (1925-28) with Vita at age 43? She just can't carry off the part of a woman in early middle age, and what's more she has this irritating drawl/vocal fry that put me off for most of the picture. So if you wish to see this interesting story, be aware it's been handled before (Portrait of a Marriage, The Hours) and sometimes better.