September 26, 2005

Separate Tables - great actors, good story

Separate TablesYou know, I've always liked this move, this Separate Tables, directed by Delbert Mann. I think this is the kind of story I always like because of the kinds of characters it highlights.

Here, they are all lonely. But more than that, in one of the primary story lines, they are frightened people (Sibyl Railton-Bell and Major Pollock). They are not the usual heroic figures you normally get, which isn't to say there aren't aspects of them that are interesting.

In fact, it's sort of the same reason I always liked Joyce's novel Ulysses - it's the characters of Leopold and Molly Bloom I like in that.

But getting back to Separate Tables ... I wouldn't say it's a great movie but it is worth seeing because it's awfully darn good. And what a great cast: Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, David Niven and Burt Lancaster. And also, one of my favourites in the movie, Wendy Hiller who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her performance. (This was back in 1958.)

By the way, it's worth listening to Delbert Mann's commentary, if only at the beginning of the film, to hear how he felt about them using the appalling theme song by Vic Damone over the opening credits. It was not supposed to be in the final cut - well, not until the boneheads said screw the director, let's make a board room decision.

It's also interesting for his comments about some other changes that occurred in the film after it was taken out of his hands.

Yes, a movie definitely worth seeing. But a bit low-key by today's standards. Be warned: this ain't no Matrix. (Thank heavens.)

(By the way ... on the subject of Rita Hayworth ... I watched 1957's Fire Down Below, which stars Rita along with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon. Some nice scenery, the odd good moment, but not an award winner by a long shot. A kind of over-the-top, silly disaster movie - though that's really all in the third act.)

Poor Rita!

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September 21, 2005

Morgan's Creek - Sturges & Co. are brilliant

The Miracle of Morgan's CreekI watched The Miracle of Morgan's Creek tonight and all I can say is if you haven't seen it yet, you must.

It is so funny. Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton, not to mention Willam Demarest and Diana Lynn, are so perfect, and so killingly comedic in their roles. It's beyond words.

How this ever got past the censors of the time, I dunno. But thank God it did.

I think they may be right. Preston Sturges was some kind of comic genius.

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September 17, 2005

Some recommendations - movies, music

Gods and MonstersI've got the four disc Ben-Hur - Collector's Edition but that's on hold. I didn't want to devote the time to it tonight - maybe tomorrow. A movie this good, this long, and with special features that include a silent 1925 version, well that requires a bit more available time. Something like a Saturday. (And would you look at the clock - it's Saturday now! But a little too early on a Saturday for movies ...)

Blah blah blah ... In lieu of that, I watched God and Monsters tonight. Is it really a movie from 1998? So says IMDb, so I guess it must be so. Doesn't matter ... it's a great film. Recommended. (This one actually has a story! Not to mention a brilliant performance by Sir Ian McKellen.)

Also recommended ... Highly recommended ... don't know how it happened but I picked up two Duke Ellington discs recently. Piano in the Background was first and, today, I picked up Piano in the Foreground.

I think one reason they are so good is the time period - both are roughly early 1960's recordings (like, 1961 or thereabouts). Time period is irrelevant though - these are two kick ass discs if you like this kind of music.

I wish I were more articulate when it comes to explaining why some music is so damn good, but I'm not. So you just have to take my word for it. These are very good. If my Dad were alive, he would be beating you with a stick to make you get up off your bum and get them.

Anyway ... you've been told. Gods and Monsters. Piano in the Background. Piano in the Foreground. All attractively priced, by the way. So there.

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September 15, 2005

To Kill a Mockingbird SE – A great DVD package

To Kill A Mockingbird - Special Edition DVDI wish I could come up with a clever headline but I can’t. So ... All I want to do, since I don’t have time to write anything worthy of it, is simply say the DVD of To Kill A Mockingbird - Special Editionis easily one of the best DVDs of the year.

To begin with, it’s a great, classic film. No time to rhyme off the reasons why, but take a gander at AFI's top films (note #34). I’m not alone in thinking this.

Secondly, the package. This has some great special features, including two great documentaries – and Gregory Peck’s wonderful acceptance at the AFI tribute to him.

Special features are so often a tedious recounting of building special effects. These features are about the story, the performers and the performances.

Big, BIG thumbs up. Five stars out of five. Maybe the best DVD of the year.

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September 12, 2005

Mr. 3000 - a stand up double

I just watched Mr. 3000 and while it's not Shakespeare it's a pretty entertaining movie of a certain kind. "Of a certain kind" is important.

There are certain movies that keep getting made, over and over. The reason, I think, is because there is something in the story we like to hear. Some stories, whether they be in film or books or oral, are worth repeating. It's not a question of the story's originality, it's how well it is told.

In this case, it's a sports movie - specifically baseball. Sports movies, while peppered with sports images, are never about sports - not if they are good. They are about who we, as people, are and what kind of spirit we have.

In Mr. 3000, this comes across well. Certainly not stellar, not the best ever, but pretty well. And Bernie Mac is so engaging, and so amusing, the movie connects. I don't think this movie is a comedy, though it has its humorous moments. It's simply a nice story.

Some people don't like that kind of thing. But I do. The movie doesn't attempt to be Citizen Kane. It simply tries to be a well made feel-good film and, by and large, it achieves this. I'd give it maybe three stars out of five.

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September 11, 2005

Chinatown begins with a great script

As embarassing as this is, I decided I'd post this since it's a review I did some years ago of Chinatown. Frankly, I sound like a twit who doesn't know what I'm talking about. For example, I'm a bit misleading when i talk about the sepia tone carrying on through the film. (And what's with the dancing business? What was I thinking?)

But I was on the money about the script, even if I am a little over the top and, well, twitish. So for what it's worth, by take on Chinatown:

Chinatown, a wonderful movie, is an example of what a script can do for a film.

It's like finding the right music at a party. Someone feels compelled to dance, then another and another.

Soon, everyone's up dancing. And dancing well.

In Chinatown, just about every artist is dancing their damnedest because the script has pulled them onto the floor. Director, actors, lighting people, costume designers … they're all performing at their highest level.

It's Robert Towne's script that has done this.

One of Roman Polanski's great talents is creating mood and few films do it so well and so quickly as the opening of Chinatown. I can't think of many movies I would watch simply to see the opening credits but the look and the marvellous music of the introductory credit sequence is just so good with its period lettering and sepia tone (which carries through the movie), that you're hooked even before the movie has presented its opening shot.

Modelling itself on the film noir style (particularly films like Howard Hawks' movie The Big Sleep), the film's mystery is created by presenting the story through the eyes of detective Jake Gittes, the Jack Nicholson character. We know what he knows, we're puzzled by what he's puzzled by, we're misled by what misleads him. In fact, just as Bogart was in just about every scene of The Big Sleep, Nicholson is in just about every scene in Chinatown, either as a participant or as an observer.

But the film isn't dependent on Nicholson. Faye Dunaway is perfectly cast as the enigmatic, and troubled, Evelyn Mulwray. It's hard to imagine anyone else but Dunaway in that role. The movie is also bolstered by brilliant supporting performances, particularly John Huston as Noah Cross.

I also love the leisurely way the movie unfolds. Unlike the quick cuts and thrumming soundtrack of most current movies, Polanski takes his time. And it works so well. This may be the reason why it works. You're seduced by the mood, and become involved with the characters, and thus the story.

Chinatown is a great, fascinating movie that illustrates the importance of beginning with a great script.

With the DVD … it's okay. Not great, could be a lot better, but adequate. It's largely clean and clear, but certainly not on the pristine level. This is partly due to it being an older film (1974). For extras, there is really just one (I don't count trailers as extras).

There is a documentary of sorts. It features interview clips with director Roman Polanski, writer Robert Towne, and producer Robert Evans. There are some interesting comments, but there is really no depth to it ... Par for the course with DVD extras.

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September 10, 2005

Chinatown? Mockingbird? Decisions ...

I'm not big on double features. So given the glum weather, and my decision to stay in and watch a movie at home, I have to decide which one. The problem is, I can't decide.

Chinatown or To Kill A Mockingbird?

Ack! ... I just remembered, I was also planning to watch Crash again this weekend.

What to do? What to do?

(Honestly, I'm not as pathetic as this makes me sound. Or am I? ...)

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September 7, 2005

One day I hope to have a smiley face

Me not smiling.I don't know why, but whenever I try to fix the lame ass pictures I have of myself I get ones like this ...

Bill as man with serious despondancy problem. Or as ineffective wanker. Not sure which.

But I promise, one day I'll get one with a smile. This looks like a wannabe male model well past his expiry date. Absence of smile = hip, cool look. Sheesh!

This post can be ignored. Just some mumbling grumbling blather. (Also known as burbling.)

September 5, 2005

Suddenly, Last Summer - an oddity

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)This film is odd, which I suppose is to be expected given that it is based on a Tennessee Williams play of the same name. The story is bizarre and horrific and fascinating. But the end result of Suddenly, Last Summer, as a movie, is both compelling and tedious at the same time.

A doctor who specializes in lobotomies is asked to perform one on a rich widow’s niece. The niece appears to have gone mad following the death of the widow’s son in Europe, the Mediterranean area.

The widow wants to preserve the memory of her son (at least, her memory of him) and the niece’s madness seems to undermine this. The truth is the widow wants the lobotomy done in order to calm the niece down and, more significantly, to remove any memory that might not be in agreement with the widow’s remembrance of her son.

The doctor, however (played my Montgomery Clift), is not about to perform the operation before first understanding the case and the reasons for the niece’s madness (the niece is played by Elizabeth Taylor, the widow by Katharine Hepburn).

So he begins to interview the niece. As he questions and probes, her story begins to unfold and with it the truth.

The film, overall, looks and feels like what it is – a play. What this means is the entire story unfolds through language. While there are some interesting images (especially that of Mrs. Venable, the widow, descending/ascending from the floor above in her private elevator), and persuasive performances, the medium of film isn’t really used to tell the story – just to capture the play on film.

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)The story and the language are riveting. However, at times they are tedious.

While there are some nods made to the medium of film – some flashback shots, the sets – it is really all dialogue.

The story is literally told by the characters – initially by Mrs. Venable, then in the second half by Catherine, the niece.

Frankly, I don’t know how else it could have been done while retaining the words and essence of Williams. (The adaptation was done by Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal.) Still, while the film’s gothic look is engaging, as is the story and language, in many ways it doesn’t feel like a film.

Having said that, there are a few scenes that do make a nod to film and they are gripping, such as Catherine wandering in a mental asylum with inmates reaching for her, and a murder scene near the film’s end.

The story at the heart of Suddenly, Last Summer is a harrowing one. In some ways, the movie is a murder mystery, but one told with the linguistic, poetic voice of Tennessee Williams. From this point of view, it is fascinating. At the same time, the lengthy speeches, wonderful as many of them are, just don’t seem to belong on film.

The real problem with the movie is one I don’t know how you get around. How do you translate what Williams does in words (the speeches) into a visual language that reflects them?

Maybe you can’t.

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