May 29, 2006

What a difference - Kingdom of Heaven

The theatrical version of Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven was an okay action film. This was the version initially released on DVD. Now they've released the 4-dics version - the Director's Cut, what Scott calls his favourite version.

It's like a completely different movie and it rocks! Maybe the best thing he's done. I can't get over how much better it is than the theatrical version - they've added 50 minutes (from 144 minutes to 194) but the edit has also changed, to some degree. And what they've added isn't extended battle scenes but character development and plot (especially in the beginning). Wow.

Anyway ... I'm not much of a Ridley Scott fan but I absolutely loved this. And while it's longer, somehow it doesn't seem a long film.

For me, the difference between the two versions is amazing. Usually these director cuts are a waste of time. This time, it's a better movie. A much better movie.

May 20, 2006

What kind of movie is The Big Heat?

I watched The Big Heat (1953 – Fritz Lang) again this week. I love this movie. Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame are fabulous. (In both cases, the performances are up there with their best – and in Grahame’s case, I think it is the best, at least of what I’ve seen).

And Glenn Ford plays the central "hero" character bang on. Although this lead character, Bannion, makes this film noir not really a noir. Although it feels like one and has that look.

But he’s not really flawed in a self-destructive way like noir heroes (or anti-heroes) normally are. No, he’s really a good guy with a hate on. This is really more a template for those films Clint Eastwood became successful with (like Dirty Harry or his westerns). It’s a revenge story.

But however it’s described or categorized, The Big Heat is one of my favourite movies. (And I’ve always loved Gloria Grahame’s look – must be her mouth and that pout. Or is it the eyes? I’m not sure …)

By the way ... The DVD (Columbia Pictures, or Sony if you prefer), released in late December 2001 I believe, is adequate although there is a great deal of wear, such as flecking, at the beginning and end of the film. In other words, it could stand a bit of restoration work.)

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May 14, 2006

Why I like Tom Cruise

It boils down to this: he’s been in a lot of movies that I love. I pay as little attention as possible to his public appearance hoo-hah, his marriage to Katie whoever, the baby, Scientology … blah blah blah. Though, obviously (since I’ve mentioned them) I can’t escape that crap.

But for the most part I don’t pay attention. I roll my eyes and change the channel or whatever.

Everything about the Tom Cruise public image makes him someone that makes me want to tear my hair out. And I wish to heaven he’d stop making the work-out movies like those endless Mission Impossible films. (As an aside, when any film is associated with the term “franchise” I head for the hills. It means it’s a hamburger.)

But … Cruise has been in great movies and, part of why they have been great is – hang on to your drawers – Tom Cruise. That’s the puzzler about him. He’s remarkably good. So why is he connected with all the other nonsense?

Well, people are odd. All of them. Including, and perhaps moreso than others, Tom Cruise.

But look at what he’s been involved with (when not flying planes or jumping on Oprah’s couch):

- Collateral
- The Last Samurai
- Minority Report
- Jerry Maguire
- A Few Good Men
- Rain Man

Those films make it difficult for me to dismiss Mr. Cruise. In fact, I prefer to dismiss the other nonsense and see him in terms of those films. He’s really very good at what he does. Perhaps too much so – maybe when you are that good it gets too easy to be self-indulgent and follow whatever random notion captures your imagination.

Whatever the true view of Tom Cruise is there’s no denying he’s good at what he does when he commits to it. So my hope is the current nonsense passes soon and, as I suspect is the case, he gets back quickly to simply bringing great performances to films of good stories.

Tom Cruise, the actor (as opposed to the celebrity) is extraordinarily good at his job. The celebrity is simply annoying. The actor, on the other hand, is about as good as it gets.

May 13, 2006

Mrs. Stone’s grim spring

Much as I like Vivien Leigh, and the work of Tennessee Williams, I can’t say I was terribly taken by The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961 - directed by José Quintero). I’m pretty sure this was the first time I had seen it and I’m also pretty sure I’ve never read the short novel it was based on (by Williams).

I think I like the idea of the movie less than the actual film itself. I wish there were more films about people in their latter years. But this one was just too … I dunno. Bland, I guess (though that seems an odd descriptive for something based on a work by Tennessee Williams).

Part of the problem is there is a bit of an anachronistic feel to the film. It looks and feels very sixties – but maybe that’s just the hairstyles and clothes. More seriously, it is just too somber. Not that that is inappropriate, but it is unrelieved. So there is no sense of balance.

Oddly, there was drama going on around the filming, at least with Vivien Leigh and her break up with Lawrence Olivier, and that probably informed her performance, which is quite good.

And Lotte Lenya is extremely good as an evil procuress. As for Warren Beatty, I was fine with his performance (though others are not so kind) but still would have preferred an actual Italian in the role.

Yes, I think my biggest problem is the seriousness of tone that never lets up. Somewhere in all this there should have been some “oomph,” whatever that might be. On the whole, I found Mrs. Stone’s spring slow-moving and grim.

Much more like fall.

May 4, 2006

Tonight I watched The Night of the Iguana

Today was a happy day as my order arrived – the DVD set Tennessee Williams Film Collection. So that’s six movies plus a disc with a documentary (Tennessee Williams’ South).

While I’ve always liked Williams, and thus have a fondness for films based on his plays (and one novel), I really bought this set for one movie, the one I watched tonight: The Night of the Iguana (1964), directed by John Huston (and starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr).

While I don’t think it’s a great movie I certainly think it’s very good. And I suppose it’s also what the movie is about, and how it is about it, that appeals to my own tastes in film and art generally.

It’s about frail people at the edge of endurance. The how, that appeals to me, is that it is through character and dialogue (Williams is, after all, a playwright) and it’s done with great empathy – kindness, I suppose, though it also has its harshness.

Williams work, at least as done cinematically, does have a certain histrionic quality seen at this distance (2006, whereas most of the films were made in the fifties and early sixties) but that doesn’t really bother me. I find it pretty easy to settle into the tone of the films. But that may not be so for everyone.

In The Night of the Iguana, by the way, as much as I like Richard Burton, and particularly like Deborah Kerr (her character has some of the best speeches), it is Ava Gardner who really stands out for me. Her performance is wonderful.

And now I have five more films to look forward to. The only problem is deciding which one is next. The set, by the way, includes these films:

- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Two-Disc Special Edition
- Baby Doll (1956)
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) Deluxe Edition
- The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)
- Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
- The Night of the Iguana (1964)

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May 2, 2006

Reading about Clark Gable, movie star

I'm currently reading Clark Gable: a Biography by Warren G. Harris. While not great, it's certainly pretty good. I'm almost finished it and I have to be honest, what I find most interesting is how uninteresting Clark Gable is.

Perhaps a more rigorous biography might have helped this - a bit more psychological focus, assuming there is sufficient information available to do that.

The book itself is interesting enough, but it just seems a bit odd that someone of that "star" stature should be so ... well, bland. But perhaps that's the real story of Gable - a huge success in that Hollywood world, yet really just an average guy.

Of course, I should also say that while I've never disliked Clark Gable movies, and there are few I like quite a lot (Gone With the Wind and Run Silent Run Deep, for instance) I've never been a huge fan of his.

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