March 26, 2006

Week-end in Havana – very 1940s

While you couldn’t call it a great movie, I was surprised at how much fun was to be had with the musical film Week-end in Havana (1941).

For one thing, it just looks good. It’s technicolour and, from a 1940’s perspective, very exotic (it’s set in a Hollywood version of Havana, after all). But it also has four great performances - Cesar Romero, John Payne, Alice Faye and the always singular Carmen Miranda.

Romero, in particular, is wonderful. He’s dashing and he’s funny at the same time. As, in a different way, is John Payne. Alice Faye is your basic Hollywood female star, and she’s very good at it.

This is a very programmed movie, meaning its story is a Hollywood template. And yes, you know more or less how the story is going to go, but that’s fine. In fact, in many ways, that is the point of the movie. It tries to deliver what is expected of it. What makes it work is how well it does this and what it can do within those tight parameters to make it stand out.

Week-end in Havana may not be a movie for everyone; it may be just for people who like this kind of film: classic Hollywood, a musical, a standard story line. This is 1940’s escapism. But my, it is so much fun to watch! At least for me.

- I love Cesar Romero's off-white linen suit when he dances with Alice Faye (the white shoes, not so much).

- Strangely, I found the comic romantic scene between Carmen Miranda and John Payne a tad erotic - perhaps it was Carmen's feistiness.

- There are a number of great innuendo moments in this film. John Payne opening the champagne is a good example.

- Carmen Miranda's outfits are wonderfully outrageous. I love them.
Week-end in Havana:
- (U.S.)
- (Canada)

Tag: , , , , ,

March 21, 2006

Pride & Prejudice – I loved it

I’m extremely annoyed with myself because I had written the beginnings of a piece on the film Pride & Prejudice and I can’t seem to find it now. So, starting from scratch …

I loved this film. But let me start where my first version started. With Jane Austen.

When you go to university and get your degree in English literature you end up reading a lot of books. That makes sense; it’s reasonable. However, it should be noted that many of these books, in fact (at least initially) are mind-numbingly dull. So it’s a hard slog.

This isn’t to say the books are without worth. They would not be on the curriculum if they were. But books are more than arranged words. They are ideas. They are culture. They are societies. And they are history.

So, when reading an older book, particularly one from the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries, you are dealing with attitudes, culture, syntax and many other things that are not your own. Thus, many older works are not as readily accessible as contemporary ones. It takes some time to acclimate to the author’s style and the world he or she is telling about.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was the first novel I read while studying Enlish literature that I almost immediately was absorbed by. I couldn’t believe how easily it read. I couldn’t get over how much I liked it. Yes, the sentence structure and characters and story overall seemed a bit formal, yet it read so well. It was so engaging.

Why? There is a litany of reasons you could list off, beginning perhaps with wit, but I think the main reason is behaviour. Jane Austen has human behavior nailed down.

Now, finally getting to the film, what I most like about the movie Pride & Prejudice is how it articulates and shows human behavior. I don’t have Austen’s text memorized so I can’t compare the film and the book, but I’m pretty sure the movie takes numerous liberties with her story. But that’s okay. I think it remains true to its essence, how people behave.

More than anything else, I love how the film depicts women. I think a lot of this is communicated by camera work, editing and sound/dialogue. I noticed how the camera (using a steadi-cam) is often moving, moving, moving when we have the several sisters together. In a house full of women (Mr. Bennet excepted) it captures the constant activity of women, the several conversations that occur simultaneously, just as women seem to do when they are together. One is playing piano, two are chasing one another through the house, another is working on the table setting … all are doing something, yet all are interacting with the other women in the house. And all at the same time.

And Mr. Bennet stands back bemused and befuddled by it all, and also in love with all of it.

This is what I most love about this movie – the depiction of women.

I would add, too, that for someone (me) who pays more attention to story and structure and isn’t terribly observant when it comes to the visual aspects of films, I was also struck by how this film was shot. As I mentioned above, there is a great deal of camera movement, usually in informal scenes, especially when the women are relaxed, being themselves with one another. But the film is also quite static and consciously framed in the more formal scenes. In fact, there is a certain Sergio Leone quality to the way some scenes are staged for the framing. Or so it seems to me.

In some films, this could be a problem. It would be simply too much cinematic artifice for a convincing film. But I think in this case, with the world it is showing us, it works perfectly and it’s definitely one of the aspects of the movie I most enjoyed.

I also loved all of the performances. Although a few have disagreed, I think Keira Knightly is perfect as Elizabeth Bennet, as are Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet and Rosamund Pike as Jane. It is, however, a bit misleading to mention those three since everyone in the film is bang on.

Finally … to be honest, the film works because it begins with such extraordinary material. Jane Austen has to be credited with that. It is simply a great story, well told. The movie itself is a success because of how it presents that story, and that lies in the excellence of the screenplay, direction and performances.

This film is about as close to a perfect love story as they get.

Tag: , , , ,

March 20, 2006

Great lines – Out of the Past

I finally watched Out of the Past tonight (starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer). It’s a great film noir piece and there are a lot of great lines in it like, “And then I saw her, coming out of the sun …”

Yes, great lines. But my favourite line has to be:

“He couldn’t find a prayer in the Bible.”

Now that was funny. Of course, this is noir and it’s not a comedy – still, that was a funny line.

As movies go, Out of the Past is great. Unfortunately, it’s late so I can’t ramble on about it. But take my word for it, this is good and highly recommended.

Tag: , , ,

March 19, 2006

Lombard, Dietrich ... and John Ford?

Looking at some of the discs due to be released in the coming weeks and months, it seems clear companies like Warner Bros. are determined to keep me from paying off my mortgage. I mention Warner in particular because of some of their box sets and their planned HD-DVDs (due in April). Have a look at what's coming:

March 21:
- The Busby Berkeley Collection (Footlight Parade / Gold Diggers of 1933 / Dames / Gold Diggers of 1935 / 42nd Street)
- Stalag 17 (Special Collector's Edition)
- The Ten Commandments (50th Anniversary Edition)
April 4:
- Carole Lombard: The Glamour Collection (Hands Across the Table/ Love Before Breakfast/ Man of the World/ The Princess Comes Across/ True Confession/ We're Not Dressing)
- Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection (Morocco/ Blonde Venus/ The Devil Is a Woman/ Flame of New Orleans/ Golden Earrings)
- Mae West: The Glamour Collection (Go West Young Man/ Goin' To Town/ I'm No Angel/ My Little Chickadee/ Night After Night)
We're Not Dressing)
- Films of Faith Collection (The Nun's Story / The Shoes of the Fisherman / The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima)
June 6:

The John Wayne-John Ford Collection - This a 10 disc set that features 8 movies from the team of John Ford and John Wayne, including ...
- The Searchers: Ultimate Collector’s Edition
- Stagecoach: Two Disc Special Edition
Although both of these have previously been available on DVD, it looks like now they will be getting the kind of disc treament they should have. I'm hoping these will look great - in the case of Stagecoach it will be restored and remastered from the best available film elements. But the collection will also include three films previously unavailable on DVD:
- Fort Apache (1948)
- The Long Voyage Home (1940)
- Wings of Eagles (1957)
From what I understand, many of the movies in The John Wayne-John Ford Collection will be available individually, however not all of them will be. You read more about this planned release and take a look at some of the artwork by a quick visit to DVD Times.

Tag: , , , , , , , , ,

March 18, 2006

The Talk of the Town (1942)

This is something I posted a while back that I decided to post again after seeing a few other mentions of it online. I rated it as a 3 out of 5.)

This is a movie that mixes romantic-comedy and thriller, though the emphasis would be more on the former. But because The Talk of the Town mixes the two, it falters a bit. But not a lot.

It begins smartly by establishing itself with quick, mostly non-dialogue scenes. A factory burns, a man dies in the fire. Arson is the cause, and Leopold Dilg is arrested (Cary Grant with an unlikely name). It's a rush to justice; Dilg’s guilt is a foregone conclusion.

The factory owner has the town stirred up against Dilg and everyone is calling for an execution. Dilg, with no seeming choice, escapes prison.

He flees to a house where Nora (“the prettiest girl in town”) is preparing for a tenant. She hides Dilg in the attic. The tenant, the very straight-laced and famous law professor Michael Lightcap (Ronald Coleman) arrives early and Nora is in a fix – what to do with Dilg?

Up to the moment the scene shifts to the house and Nora (Jean Arthur, hair done up and shaded a light brunette here), the movie is very dramatic. While it’s quick and very well done, the shots of a brooding Cary Grant somehow don’t work.

In fact, through the whole film Grant somehow doesn’t seem quite right when playing the brooding part.

This may be less his performance than baggage brought from other roles (pre-conceptions of the Grant character), but it doesn’t seem quite right. He’s best when he finally steps out of the shadows and starts engaging both Nora and the Professor in banter.

The story of the film is how the three main characters work to get to the truth of things and prove Dilg’s innocence. The real story, though, is how Nora and Leopold loosen up the Professor, and the conflict Nora has with whom she loves. She loves both men – who will she end up with?

In fact, this movie is really Jean Arthur’s movie, and she is wonderful in it, even if she is playing the Jean Arthur character – pretty self-assured till she’s in a fix, then a bit scrambled.

The best performance, though, may come from Ronald Coleman. His tight-bummed Professor, and the arc he follows to loosen up, is excellent. He plays serious perfectly, while also playing innocence without any false notes.

Overall, The Talk of the Town is a very good romantic comedy, though somewhat overlong. It works best when focused on its comedic aspects and seems to lose itself when veering off for a moment or two to be serious.

I think director George Stevens may have been trying to comment to some extent on mob justice, and the rule of law.

However, as in his movie Shane (and generally any film that has a message), all this does is bog the movie down with earnestness. It becomes an appeal to the head rather than the heart.

Films tend to operate best viscerally.

The Talk of the Town (1942):
- (U.S.)
- (Canada)

Tag: , , ,

March 14, 2006

In A Lonely Place and the tragic flaw

Although I've put this assessment of In A Lonely Place online before, elsewhere, I like the movie so much I'm posting it here. And I'm thinking I'm may watch it again tonight.

Watching In a Lonely Place, I couldn't help recalling all those English Lit classes about tragedy and the hero with a tragic flaw. This is a film noir with Humphrey Bogart playing such a character and the result is a great, if heartbreaking, movie.

As someone else commented (somewhere on the Web - I don't remember where), it's a little eyebrow raising to find out the set was a replica of a place where director Nicholas Ray lived and the film is called In a Lonely Place.

This is a movie about loneliness. As with many noir films, the hero (or anti-hero) is an outsider. He's isolated from everyone around him. Here, however, he has a chance to alleviate that loneliness, finding love with a woman he feels understands him (Gloria Grahame).

Humphrey Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a Hollywood screenwriter with a less than stellar career. He's cynical about the business he's in, dislikes its commercialism, and goes about with a chip on his shoulder. He also has a volatile temper. The anger he carries around with him is generally repressed but always on the verge of boiling over. Often, it does.

He's given a novel to read to see what he can do about turning it into a script. But rather than read the novel, he gets a starry-eyed hatcheck girl to come over to his place and tell him the story (since she has read it).

Later, after leaving, the girl is found murdered. Steele becomes a suspect, the lead detective's prime candidate.

Steele has an alibi, however. It comes by way of Laurel Grey (Grahame), his neighbour across the courtyard. Steele and Grey develop a relationship and are soon in love. This love frees Dixon from his demons, at least for a time, and he starts riding a creative wave, writing the script he's been asked for but, at the same time, turning it from a trashy novel into something considerably better.

But the investigation of the murder haunts Dixon and Laurel. His temper soon resurfaces and she sees this part of him. Soon, she (and we, the audience) start to wonder if Steele is innocent or not. His temper certainly makes it seem possible he committed the crime.

Doubt and distrust begin to eat away at Dixon and Laurel's relationship and it soon starts to spiral downward.

Bogart is tremendous in this movie and you could make a good case for this being his best performance. While you can empathize with him to an extent, and want the relationship of Dixon and Laurel to work, you can't help also disliking him because of his anger and suspicions. With a personality such as his, with his emotional problems, it's easy to see how if the relationship were to work it would soon become characterized by domestic violence.

Gloria Grahame is also perfect. It's difficult to imagine anyone else in this role. You can see the love and fear battling within her. In noir movies, she's the ideal femme fatale. (See The Big Heat, for example.)

The movie also has a perfect ending. It has something of a twist to it but it doesn't seem forced or imposed. Rather, it seems inevitable.

While In a Lonely Place begins with the appearance of a potboiler murder story (which I gather the book it came from was), the murder here is just an excuse to tell the the real story - the relationship between Dixon and Laurel, and how Dixon's flaw affects and determines its end.


There is also some great black and white cinematography here. Roger Deakins has mentioned this as one of the movies that influenced the shooting of the Coen brothers The Man Who Wasn't There.

In A Lonely Place:
- (U.S.)
- (Canada)

Tag: , , , , , ,

March 12, 2006

I regurgitate my thoughts on Kiss Me Deadly

A couple of years ago I watched Kiss Me Deadly for the first time. While I know the movie is well thought of by quite a few people, I have to be honest: I hated it. Here's a portion of the review I wrote back when I saw it:
While the tonal darkness of the film is appropropriate, the lack of balance with anything off-setting makes the overall movie feel like a lengthy root canal procedure. It's painful and unrelenting. The ending, while fitting, leaves you wondering about the point of the whole thing. The film begins in darkness and ends in deeper darkness and while this may make it almost the quinessential noir film it also reveals the weakness of the noir approach, at least when taken to excess. As with consuming too much of any good thing, you're left feeling queasy.

The film makes for an interesting study though. As one of the latter films of the initial wave of noir films (roughly mid 40's to mid 50's), it shows the style at its furthest reaches of development. Its strengths have now become weaknesses. The darkness that informed the style in its beginnings and created a tone for the telling of certain stories has now become the dominent feature of the stories. It's far too excessive here.

Noir, I think, is essentially romance turned on its head. It's about disappointment and its mood is melancholy. In Kiss Me Deadly, the undertone of romantic loss is gone and is replaced by self-indulgent cynicism (the ultimate opposite end of romance). It ends now not in disappointment but horrific "I told you so" disaster.

While I suppose it's as legitimate viewpoint as any, as a film experience it's an unpleasant one.

Recommended for noir freaks only. Definitely NOT recommended for anyone suffering from depression.
You know, I'd like to give the movie another chance. But I had such a negative response to it the first time, I find it difficult to bring myself to watch it again. But maybe one day.

(By the way ... there's an interesting discussion about in this thread, Kiss Me Deadly debate.)

Kiss Me Deadly:
- (U.S.)
- (Canada)

Tag: , , , , ,

March 10, 2006

Missing jade necklaces: Murder, My Sweet

Needing to get back to some older movies after a pretty lengthy drought, tonight I watched one that had been in my movies on-deck circle for some time, 1944’s Murder, My Sweet directed by Edward Dmytryk and written by John Paxton based on the Raymond Chandler novel.

First of all – it’s good. Not great, but a good noir film and it captures most of the noir elements. It stars Dick Powell in the Philip Marlowe role and, if the scribblings on the packaging are to be believed, Powell was Chandler’s “favorite screen Marlowe.”

Not mine, however. And that is not to say I didn’t like him in the role. But I came away with a great desire to go back and watch Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe in The Big Sleep (also as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon).

Again, this is no knock on Murder, My Sweet but, good as it is, it’s not an out of the park home run. (What’s with the baseball metaphors?)

The movie has a lot of what you would expect from a movie of this kind: a lot of uncertainty as characters appear to be good, then bad, then good again, then bad. Marlowe seems to think one thing then it’s shown he was only pretending, although a later scene shows he actually does think and feel that way. In other words, it twists quite a bit and in many cases the twists are arbitrary for the sake of being a twist and to sustain the mood. But they don’t make a lot of sense.

But that’s okay, it’s what we expect and want from a movie like this.

While this isn’t the best noir film of all time, it’s definitely a good example of the genre and an entertaining movie.

Murder, My Sweet:
- (U.S.)
- (Canada)

Tag: , , , , ,

March 9, 2006

Water – Deepa Mehta’s very human film

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Deepa Mehta’s film Water. My impression going into it was it might be a little too earnest for my taste. But I’m happy to say that isn’t the case.

I watched it tonight and really liked it. As mentioned in one of the featurettes on the DVD, the way it is shot, the look, counterbalances to a degree the somewhat despairing aspect of the situation so you are not overwhelmed by it and continue to be carried along by the story. It’s as visually engaging as it is engaging in terms of the story, though in a different way.

(That probably makes no sense unless you’ve seen it – it simply means, it’s well lit, coloured, and shot … and the story is compelling.)

And I was happy that the theme, and how it is explored, is more than simply about women in history, some pretty awful conditions and a dreadul situation. Rather, it uses the situation of widows in India as a starting place to tell a much more encompassing human story.

I’m trying to explain this without explaining the story and probably haven’t done a good job. (I'm trying to avoid a recounting of the plot - something I generally find pointless in movie reviews and, in some cases, revealing of the movie in a way you don't want.) I’m probably sounding more muddled than anything though I think what I’ve tapped out here makes a bit more sense once you’ve seen the movie.

The point of this post, however, is that this is a good film and well worth seeing. The story captures you and carries you along. It is definitely a film to be recommended as it is wonderfully shot and constructed (both in terms of story and visually).

On the two disc DVD edition that I have, just released in Canada (I don’t think it’s available in the United States yet), there are two versions. One in Hindi with subtitles and another “alternate version” shot in English – not previously released. I have only seen the Hindi version so far so I’ve no idea what the English one is like.

But I would say this about the Hindi version. Unlike some subtitled movies, this film is very visual so following the subtitles is not that difficult. In fact, at times I forgot to read them as so much of the story is conveyed visually. (As opposed to some films where a great deal is in the dialogue and you can’t really watch the film – you’re too busy reading subtitles to follow the story.) So I think you’re probably better off watching the Hindi version. It is, after all, set in India, 1938.

Water - Special Edition (2 discs):
- (Canada)

Tags: , , ,

March 6, 2006

Clueless Hollywood - the Oscar scolding

This morning following the Oscar broadcast I found it interesting to listen to what people were talking about.Two things seemed to dominate - the Academy's message about DVDs and Jon Stewart as host. Stewart seems to have received universal approval.

The same can't be said for the DVD message. What were they thinking? It seemed a very patronizing and ill-informed approach to a genuine problem. They seem to equate DVDs with piracy, whereas I thought they made quite a bit of money on DVD sales.

My guess is that Hollywood will go down the same road as the music industry: not understanding, accepting and adapting to changing technology and audiences but rather fighting it tooth and nail and thereby driving more and more people to pirated materials, if only because the industry is so pig-headed.

They need to also consider that, in the light of reduced revenues, while piracy may be a problem it was not movie audiences that chose to make a movie like The Dukes of Hazzard.

Tags: , , , ,