Monday, November 6, 2017

Born to Be Bad

Many of the roles Joan Fontaine played throughout her career could be best described as mousy. Whether it's her collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock or any of her films following them, it became a sort of typecasting for her. Granted, as is often the case with actors, sometimes there's a want for change.

Now Fontaine actually subverts her usual character type for Nicholas Ray's Born to Be Bad. Her Christabel Caine initially seems to be like the actress' former roles but her true colors emerge once she's settled in. She's not some shrinking violet; she's consumed by her status in society.

Being made the same year as Ray's more prolific noir In a Lonely Place, it's understandable as to why Born to Be Bad isn't as well-known. And admittedly it doesn't have the same quality as the more famous film but regardless of that fact, it's still intriguing to watch it unfold.

And Fontaine has a pretty solid lineup of co-stars for Born to Be Bad. It has the likes of Joan Leslie, Zachary Scott, Robert Ryan (no stranger to noir), and Mel Ferrer, showing that very common aspect with other titles of the 1950s: the star-studded feature. (And Ray himself would partake in that several times over.)

Born to Be Bad may not be top-tier Ray but as he showed with his debut They Live by Night the previous year, noir was where he excelled. And while Fontaine didn't regularly play such roles like Christabel, she's clearly having some fun vamping it up. (It would've been nice to see her in more parts like it.)

My Rating: ****

Monday, October 23, 2017

Suburbicon

You'd think the people associated with George Clooney's Suburbicon would mean it's a good movie: directed by Clooney, a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, Matt Damon and Julianne Moore as the stars...what could go wrong? Well...everything, really.

First off is that script by the Coens. Initially the premise of Suburbicon makes it sound like as though chaos is unleashed following a black family moving into the predominantly white titular suburbs. It happens but it quickly gets demoted to a B-plot. (That probably explains why they very seldom have non-white actors in their own films.)

Now Clooney has obviously proven his worth as a director with Good Night, and Good Luck but all his efforts since then have fallen short. Suburbicon only bolsters this claim. Hopefully Clooney will get out of this slump soon. (And knowing his status, he probably will.)

Back to the script's flaws for a moment. Being written after the Coens made their debut Blood Simple, it could be excused as them not having found their voice yet. That may be the case but that barely explains the very predictable events in the story. (If anything, it tries too hard to be like Double Indemnity.)

Suburbicon is clearly a low point for those involved. (Then again, its lone saving grace is Oscar Isaac's presence, and even then he's underused.) Obviously those involved will recover from this (the reason why is clear once you see the principal people involved) but still, it's not exactly an ideal film in actuality. (On paper, maybe.)

My Rating: ***

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon


Had she been as lucky as older sister Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine would've been turning 100 today. (She passed away in December 2013, not that long ago.) To celebrate, Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema are hosting a blogathon on the late actress. Surprise, surprise, I decided to join in and cover her Oscar-nominated roles. Those movies (and whom she lost to) are:

(1940, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Lost to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle
(1941, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
WON
(1943, dir. Edmund Goulding)
Lost to Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette

(More after the jump!)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Dunkirk

World War II is often a go-to source for media both fictional and factual. Sometimes those involved in these projects were also participants of the many battles, other times it's from those who did extensive research. Either way, there's been a barrage of them ever since the fighting's conclusion over seventy years ago.

With Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, he explores what happened after the Battle of France and the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the benches of the titular French commune. Using three perspectives of the events (and using his now-familiar non-linear storytelling), he depicts a non-glorified re-telling of history. But how well does he do it?

Nolan recruited only three of his regular actors (Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Michael Caine) for Dunkirk, the rest of the cast being made up of established actors and relatively fresh faces. Was this aspect a deliberate decision on Nolan's part? Perhaps, but as his previous films showed, he's more interested in the story rather than those responsible for acting it out. (Okay, The Prestige possibly being the lone exception.)

But Dunkirk isn't only Nolan's shining achievement; many of the technical aspects make the film what it is. The combination of Hans Zimmer's score and Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography make for a claustrophobic pairing. (That's a good thing, mind you.) And like Saving Private Ryan before it, it'll take your breath away.

Dunkirk is probably Nolan's best film to date, showing that there's obviously more to him than star-studded CGI-heavy productions. It's perhaps the most human of his career, and hopefully he'll do more films of a similar nature. (But maybe on a smaller scale.)

My Rating: *****

Sunday, August 27, 2017

An Elegy for Brian

Earlier this year, I read a graphic novel called The Fifth Beatle, which -- as its subtitle so clearly painted -- was about the band’s manager Brian Epstein. The words and images from Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker have stayed with me in the months since I first opened it. But what stood out the most for me was how Epstein was painted in tragic irony: he managed a band who regularly sang about love yet he himself couldn't express it.

Living in a country where being gay could land you in prison if you weren't careful -- something that the likes of Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing have learned harshly before him -- Epstein was in a constant state of anxiety. It's particularly telling when he talks about an instance where he was beaten up by a man whom Epstein initially thought was interested in a dalliance:
All I could see was a haze of red. I thought I might die. For the next several weeks, I lived under a kind of cold fear. My life felt -- scripted. And all I could do was wait nervously for the episode to be revealed.
It had to have been frightening to be a part of that society, not being able to express what or whom you deeply desire. If I were to speak to Epstein at this very moment, I would tell him that he shouldn't be ashamed of who he is. If anyone is at fault, it's those who think such behavior is an abomination. And there's a quote from Epstein preceding the afterword that’s just heartbreaking:
I think Beatles ought never to be married, but they will someday -- and someday, I might be too...
The reason I write all of this is because on this very day back in 1967 -- fifty years ago -- Epstein's pain and anxiety finally ended when he passed away from a drug overdose. (In a cruel twist, homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain just the previous month.) But the question remains: was it an accident or did he take those pills purposely? The truth went to the grave with him, leaving those he left behind to wonder what really happened in his final moments.

In his thirty-two years he was alive, Epstein had many personal highs and lows, and was a caring person to those around him. But in the end, he died alone and unloved…or so he thought. Because of his decision to turn four lads from Liverpool into international legends, he was -- and still is -- loved.

September 19, 1934 - August 27, 1967

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Too Much, Too Soon

There's a part in Art Napoleon's Too Much, Too Soon where John Barrymore (Errol Flynn) proclaims to his daughter Diana (Dorothy Malone) that alcoholism isn't genetic. As anyone who's familiar with that family's stormy history (or from simple psychology), they know that's far from the actual truth. And boy, does Diana learn that the hard way.

Based on her memoir, Too Much, Too Soon chronicles Diana's relationship with her famous father and how she inherited his bad habits instead of his acting abilities. (Her mother mentions that she'll only get famous because of her surname only.) And don't expect anything sugarcoated.

Being a recent Oscar winner for Written on the Wind, Malone follows the likes of Ray Milland and Susan Hayward in depicting problem drinking at its ugliest. She shows how low Diana is willing to scrape by (including doing lousy impressions at a seedy dive bar), looking for something to fill that emptiness in her life. And knowing that the real Diana died just two years later, it adds a tragic twist to the title.

The same can be said for Flynn, who died the following year. Here he is playing his former drinking buddy, and you have to wonder how much of his performance was merely himself. Now a bloated shadow of his former self, you can see the regrets of throwing it all away in his features. The line between these two lives is blurred greatly.

While Malone and Flynn's performances are solid, the same can't be said for the rest of Too Much, Too Soon. It does get overly dramatic after an hour (probably expected for a biopic on a Barrymore) and the ending's flimsy. Still, they tried their best (but not very well).

My Rating: ***1/2

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

BOOK VS MOVIE: The Beguiled

"Something wicked this way comes," proclaims one of the witches in William Shakespeare's Macbeth. And many times in the centuries since the play's first performance, that line resonates with other works. Whether it's with a lone character or the whole premise, we as an audience are fascinated by the dark recesses of our species.

More often than not, such depictions involve the supposed fair sex. Society has expected women to be reserved and composed, not letting one fraction of what they're really feeling to be shown on their face. But when that veneer of civility starts to wear away, that inner ugliness makes its presence known in the harshest ways.

Set during the Civil War, Thomas Cullinan's The Beguiled follows the remaining residents of a Southern boarding school as their usual routines change. As a wounded Union soldier takes refuge within their walls, their reactions are chronicled through the changing perspectives. But how long until the fibers of Southern hospitality begin to fray?

Compressing Cullinan's novel into a film eking past a ninety-minute runtime, Sofia Coppola's adaptation omits a few characters and amps up the sexual tension. (Having Colin Farrell as the lone male of the story makes the latter easy.) That said, however, does that excuse having a story set in the South during the Civil War feature no characters of color? Of course not.

So which is better: Cullinan's novel or Coppola's film? Cullinan is more descriptive in the mindsets of the women whereas Coppola explores their behavior under stress. Both are lurid stories featuring a battle of the sexes amid a far bloodier war. One, however, captures it all much though both have their merits.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Big Sick

We've been subjected to so many movies where romance is the main theme. Sometimes it works, other times it's unabashedly crammed down our throats. Either way, people will pay to see the passion blossom. (Let's be honest, such a plot was practically a requisite seventy years ago.)

Of course, these stories maintain a stronger sense of believability if they're real-life ones.Such is the case with Michael Showalter's The Big Sick but whose courtship provides the film's basis? The one between co-writers Kumail Nanjani and Emily V. Gordon, of course. But what's their story?

Kumail (Nanjani) is a fledgling stand-up comic whose culturally oriented family expects him to get into an arranged marriage. He meets Emily at one of his gigs and they have a brief relationship. After they break up, Emily falls ill and is hospitalized, and Kumail faces off with her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter).

What's shown in The Big Sick is something most other romantic comedies tend to miss the mark on: total devotion. And not the "I'm hopelessly devoted to you" variety, the "I will stay truthful to you" type is what other try to achieve and fail. (Granted, Kumail isn't exactly forthcoming to Emily at first but he rectifies that.)

The Big Sick may result in your standards for future partners/spouses to reach an absurdly high level but that aside, it's a unique work. Nanjani has obviously been a standout in various projects in recent years; hopefully because of this he'll get more lucrative parts (and not as the token comic relief).

My Rating: ****1/2

Wonder Woman

There's something irritating about how most comic book adaptations don't have their female characters do much of anything outside of looking pretty for the camera and being worried for the superhero (if they know their alter ego, that is). Granted, male writers can be to blame for such a scenario but honestly, it's 2017. Must men be at the forefront for every comic book movie?

Thankfully, someone at Warner Bros. decided that a woman should be directing the long-overdue adaptation of Wonder Woman. And following the somewhat odd recent tradition of hiring directors with only small productions to their name, they hired Patty Jenkins, an interesting choice to say the least. (Her last film was about a real-life serial killer, for Christ's sake.) But was it a wise choice?

While it is nice to see a female comic book character actually have something to do, there's still some bumps in the road when it comes to the writing. There are moments in Wonder Woman where Diana's (Gal Gadot) general naiveté towards anything outside her own world provides some humor in some scenes but her headstrong attitude can be grating in others. Granted, some of that blame can be directed towards the character's writing.

Still, how often do we get to see women in the spotlight for action movies? Usually they play second fiddle to, well, pretty much everything so seeing them not linger in the background is refreshing. But still, there's a long way to go before all is right on the cinematic front.

Wonder Woman is accessible without being pandering to either side (though that bit of serious fan service on Chris Pine's part -- so to speak -- is clearly directed towards a particular demographic or two). Jenkins obviously should be more in-demand because of the two films she has contributed. She knows what she's doing.

My Rating: ****1/2

Baby Driver

Within the span of a decade, Edgar Wright has become one of the most popular directors working today. His spark of creativity has yet to either falter or disappoint (and hopefully never will). It's safe to say he has nowhere to go but up.

So how has he fare with his American debut Baby Driver? Being more action-based than his Cornetto Trilogy or his TV series Spaced, it has car chases that would make Steve McQueen proud, a soundtrack of variety, and a rather solid lineup of actors involved. (Again, it's a testament of how Wright works that gives the film industry a much-needed spark of originality.)

As he showed with his more British-oriented productions, Wright has the editing play just as crucial of a role as the script. Thanks to the work from editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos and sound editors Mary J. Ellis and James Peterson, what Wright had envisioned becomes reality. That said, it's not without its bumps in the road. (That wasn't intentional, honest.)

Wright doesn't exactly have the best track record with female characters, and Baby Driver only furthers that claim. (The only reason Spaced worked was because Jessica Hynes was both co-creator and co-writer of it.) Granted, Wright still has time to rectify this but when will it actually happen?

Baby Driver continues to prove Wright's worth as a writer-director. Yes, it has some flaws that were also found in his works with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost but in the long run, who cares? It's rad as hell.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Hero

You know how some movies have roles that were written specifically for their actors? Sometimes it's after regular collaborations, other times it's who the writer aspire to see in that role. Most of the time the intended actors don't accept the role but there are those few exceptions.

It doesn't take much to see Brett Haley's The Hero has one of those exceptions. Going by some of the dialogue, the character of Lee Hayden was most definitely written for Sam Elliott and him alone. Between the allusions to his golden and distinct mustache to his background in westerns, it gets kind of blatant after a while. (They even cast real-life wife Katherine Ross as his ex.)

But what is The Hero about? It follows out-of-work Lee as he interacts with family and friends, tries to get a gig, and comes to terms with a cancer diagnosis. Admittedly it has many tropes we've seen countless times before (Lee's estranged from his daughter, has a fling with a younger woman) though Elliott more than makes up for them.

Much like what he did with Blythe Danner with his previous film I'll See You in My Dreams (where Elliott has a supporting role), Haley provides a solid role for Elliott to sink his teeth into. After decades as a character actor, it's nice to see his name first and foremost on the poster.

The Hero follows the usual conventions found in similar works but maintains solid material for its lead. As he did with his previous film, Haley has an actor of a certain age get their due as a performer. And as this and his previous film have proven, he'll be around for some time.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Monty Python's Life of Brian

If there's anything that's absolute fodder for immediate controversy, it's any depiction of religion. Anything where the merit of such beliefs are questioned, there will be an uproar of some magnitude. (Even for those that only examine the subject very briefly.)

Once one has seen Terry Jones' Monty Python's Life of Brian, they may not be at all surprised that it was met with some scorn. (The last scene is probably the most audacious thing the comedy troupe had put on film.) But at the same time, it provides a surprisingly smart commentary on the hypocrisy within religion.

Much like the previous endeavors of the sextet, they provide many of the roles in Monty Python's Life of Brian and again have Graham (ironically) as the titular straight man amid the absurdity. That's not to dis the casting decision but it would've been interesting to see a change in their usual lineup. (John Cleese lobbied for the lead before the others convinced him to let Chapman play Brian.)

But let's muse on Chapman for a moment longer, shall we? What would've become of his career had he not died from cancer in 1989? Would he have continued with comedy or would he have ventured into more serious material? It's been almost thirty years since his passing but the questions still linger.

Anyway, Monty Python's Life of Brian still holds up nearly forty years later. It may be (somewhat) more serious than Monty Python and the Holy Grail but that's possibly because of the group's change in style. As any good comedy can prove, it has to be both progressive and accessible to the masses throughout the coming years. And the Pythons have done just that with their many contributions.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, July 14, 2017

Megan Leavey

Usually when war stories (be they fictional or factual) get the Hollywood treatment, they tend to boil down to these factors: innocence shattered by bloodshed, moments of high tension, and an inability to forget what was witnessed. But nine times out of ten, these tales of battle are led by men.

Sure, there are some with women as the focus in such narratives but very few of them have women behind the camera. Hence why Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Megan Leavey stands out. Based on real events, it follows the titular Marine (Kate Mara) as she serves her country. But that's not to say everything is as clean-cut as it sounds.

It's established early on that Megan feels out of place amid her surroundings. (There's also mentions that she has difficulty connecting with other people.) Sure, the "outsider in the military" trope is far from anything new though Cowperthwaite shows how women in this profession tend to be treated differently by their peers. (Sometimes not for the better as some reports can verify.)

Though it's her younger sister who's become more famous, Mara proves her own worth as an actress in Megan Leavey. Depicting the many plights her character faces both in and out of combat, she follows in the footsteps of many actors before her in capturing feeling perpetually out of the loop.

Megan Leavey doesn't have a lot to write home about but it's still good nonetheless. In the many years of military films with male leads, it's nice to see women at the helm. (It's not a long way since, say, Zero Dark Thirty but baby steps.)

My Rating: ****

BOOK VS MOVIE: My Cousin Rachel

Daphne du Maurier may not be a familiar name to most people but mention some of of her works and then they'll recognize her (more so if they've seen the adaptations of them). Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Birds, Don't Look Now...if you want to find thrills from a female author, du Maurier is your best bet.

But even then, her works have the tendency to be classified as romantic works. (Perhaps in a similar vein to the Brontës' novels?) The Gothic element there's no denying, and there is passion amid the suspense. However, don't expect it to follow the usual conventions.

Her novel My Cousin Rachel in particular is an example. Following him in the aftermath of his guardian Ambrose's sudden death, Philip Ashley grows deeply suspicious of his widow Rachel. But once he meets and gets to know her, Philip's doubts about Rachel's character morphs into infatuation.

Roger Michell's adaptation maintains a more ambiguous tone than du Maurier's novel or Henry Koster's telling of the tale from 1952. Is there merit to Philip's suspicions or is something else unfolding before his eyes? In the lead roles are Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin, both of whom have had eclectic careers over the last few years. (And boy, Claflin certainly has the jawline for the male lead in a Victorian thriller.)

So which is better: du Maurier's novel or Michell's film? Both provide a feminist slant towards Victorian customs, showing a certain hypocrisy of the times. Though one actually manages to maintain a better sense of paranoia while the other showcases more of the story's opulent details. (Then again, it varies within both of them.)

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman

Stuart Heisler's Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman opens at a hospital, focusing on a patient who's heavily bandaged and delirious. The patient is Angie Evans (Susan Hayward), a former nightclub singer. What led her to this situation?

The film goes back to when Angie was still working. After marrying rising singer Ken Conway (Lee Bowman), she becomes a stay-at-home mother as his career begins to skyrocket. But in her attempts to appear happy, she slips deeper and deeper into alcoholism.

There's an element of truth in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, it being loosely based on real events albeit with changed names. The character of Angie was inspired by Dixie Lee, the first wife of Bing Crosby. (Her own career came to a standstill as her husband's took off.) It's almost a miracle the studio didn't face a lawsuit from either Lee or Crosby.

As she would do a few years later with I'll Cry Tomorrow, Hayward shows a very ugly side to alcoholism. With The Lost Weekend still lingering in the minds of moviegoers, she further proved how the alcoholic character is far from the comic relief  commonly seen throughout the previous decade; it's a frightful ailment millions of people are afflicted with.

Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman still packs a punch after seventy years, providing a wake-up call for those who indulge themselves in such a destructive craving. (And like any work that depicts the grotesque nature of addiction, it may make those who don't partake in it to stay far away from any such vice.)

My Rating: *****

Monday, June 19, 2017

Lucky

Mortality: the very thing most of us don't want to face. More often than not, we only start thinking about death once we've had a close brush with it. It's simply something we can't escape.

That's what the titular character (Harry Dean Stanton) experiences in John Carroll Lynch's Lucky after he falls in his house. Before that incident, he lives a rather nondescript life in a small town. He has his usual routines for his day, nothing completely out of the ordinary. But now he starts re-examining his life.

Stanton has been in Hollywood for decades now, having the kind of presence that's of the welcoming variety. Whether it's a supporting role or something on a smaller scale, he always delivers. And as he shows here, he has no trouble being the one in charge.

And since Stanton is the star and Lynch the director, it seems almost fitting that a litany of character actors round out Lucky. Each of the side characters have their own personalities, some of them mirroring their actors' traits. (The most telling one is with David Lynch's.) But as stated earlier, this is Stanton's show.

Lucky continues to prove that Stanton is a valuable performer. Here's someone who's been a regular presence for decades it's almost impossible to think of a film that wasn't improved by him being in it. There's nobody else like him, and there never will be either; he is simply one of a kind.

My Rating: ****1/2

Landline

As Gillian Robespierre showed with Obvious Child, there's nothing wrong with being imperfect. We're all expected to make mistakes and bad decisions, it's basic human nature. But boy, does Robespierre drive that point home with her latest Landline.

Landline follows the Jacobs family and their bumps in the road: mother Pat (Edie Falco) has a tendency to rule the household with an iron fist; eldest daughter Dana (Jenny Slate) gets cold feet as her wedding day approaches; and youngest daughter Ali (Abby Quinn) prefers partying over studying. As for father Alan (John Tuturro)? He's having an affair.

Yes, that does seem like a lot to put all in one movie but hey, Robespierre's last one was a comedy with abortion as its main theme. So having her follow-up have adultery as its focus isn't too much of a stretch. (And for the record, Landline is decidedly darker than Obvious Child.)

Seeing as how she was also in Robespierre's previous film, Slate stands out in Landline. Falco and Tuturro also provide much of the same. But it's newcomer Quinn that makes the biggest impression amongst the four leads. (Be sure to keep an eye on her.)

Landline doesn't reach the same levels as Obvious Child but it has its merits. Robespierre continues to show her worth as a director and writer, likewise with Slate as her muse. Of course, to say both of them are ones to keep an eye on would be redundant. (After all, they earned that distinction from their previous collaboration.)

My Rating: ****

Sunday, June 18, 2017

God's Own Country

Johnny Saxby (Josh O'Connor) of Francis Lee's God's Own Country seems content if sometimes irritated with his uneventful life in Yorkshire. He helps out on his family's farm during the day, gets trashed at the pub at night, and squeezes in the occasional hookup here and there. It's when Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) enters the picture that things start to change for Johnny.

By no means is God's Own Country the first film to follow such a premise, regardless of the sexuality on display. But what Lee does with his debut is he captures an awakening for Johnny. He's so accustomed to making himself numb, the thought of something meaningful in his life practically scares him.

There are similarities to Brokeback Mountain in God's Own Country, the most telling being the first sexual encounter between Johnny and Gheorghe. (In fact, that scene and several later ones practically parallel Ang Lee's film.) But to compare the two films merely reduces the worth of both works; they need to be appreciated individually.

While Lee shows immense promise with his career, the same can most definitely be said for O'Connor as well. The actor -- a relative newcomer to the profession -- depict's Johnny's frustrations towards his dull routine. (It's once Gheorghe becomes a part of his life that Johnny becomes more open emotionally.) Safe to say we'll be seeing O'Connor more in the coming years.

God's Own Country is a deeply intimate story, something not often explored in similar works (straight, gay or otherwise). Usually lust is mistaken for romance but Lee makes sure not to make the blunder others have made before. And the result is one that's essential viewing.

My Rating: *****

The Ring Thing

What are the dynamics of any given relationship? We often see how two people meet and start too become more comfortable with each other. But what about when the honeymoon phase starts to wear off? Are they still feeling the same way?

William Sullivan's The Ring Thing follows Sarah (Sarah Wharton) and Kristen (Nicole Pursell) after the former accidentally proposes to the latter. Sarah has a slight fear of commitment whereas Kristen was more than willing to accept the proposal. As a result, both take different methods to understand the possibility of marriage.

The whole accidental proposal trope is sometimes fodder for the occasional comedy but The Ring Thing is purely drama. Sullivan depicts how situations like these can be far from a laughing matter, perhaps causing a rift between the couple. (Hey, it can happen.)

Another thing explored in The Ring Thing is divorce among same-sex couples. (A supporting character is undergoing the task.) With Sarah being a child of divorced parents, her phobia of settling down becomes more understandable. But is it possible for her to overcome it with Kristen?

The Ring Thing is in some ways a lesbian equivalent of Blue Valentine. It alternates between past and present, chronicling the ups and downs of a relationship. The distinction between the two time periods does blur at times, causing some confusion. Still, Wharton and Pursell do make a cute couple.

My Rating: ****

Friday, June 16, 2017

Lady Macbeth

Within the opening scene of William Oldroyd's Lady Macbeth, we get a faint sense of what to expect from Katherine (Florence Pugh). She seems rather disconnected during her wedding ceremony, indicating she's most definitely not marrying for love. (And the abuse she gets from her husband and father-in-law further solidifies that.)

It's once she gets the manor to herself that Katherine's true colors begin to surface. Gone is the passive demeanor she puts on for her husband and father-in-law; now in its place is a much more dominant personality, especially when she takes servant Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) to her martial bed. (Certainly puts the title into better context.)

What makes Lady Macbeth stand out from other costume dramas with female leads is how brazen Katherine becomes. After some time, she doesn't care who knows of her affair with Sebastian nor what they think of it. Is this what she's really like or is this what happens once she gets that taste of control?

And there's no denying that Lady Macbeth is a star-making turn for Pugh. Between her demure expression and her icy stare, her Katherine shows potential in the actress doing similar roles. (Because, honestly, a woman is much more multi-faceted than what male writers tend to depict them as.)

Lady Macbeth is as wicked as the title implies. Don't expect the genteel nature found in the work of Jane Austen but rather the tone of her commentaries from them. In fact, a line from William Shakespeare's own quill could best sum up Katherine: "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it."

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fear Strikes Out

There are always those actors who get typecast. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood will always be the hero gunslinger, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the quintessential action movie stars, and Cary Grant and Gary Cooper were the epitome of the leading man. Of course there are other examples beyond these.

Take for instance Anthony Perkins. In the years since his 1992 death, audiences tend to acknowledge him as Norman Bates from Psycho. While there's no denying the greatness of his performance in it, that doesn't mean the rest of his filmography is to be ignored for the sake of that one. (He was an Oscar nominee, people!)

Interestingly, three years before Alfred Hitchcock's film, Perkins had a role where his character was under the thumb of a domineering parent. The role in question was baseball player Jim Piersall (who passed away last week) in Robert Mulligan's Fear Strikes Out, and there are similarities in how Perkins plays the two parts. (Pay attention to Jim's body language when he feels threatened.)

Though Fear Strikes Out is marketed as a biopic on Piersall's career, it's much more of a depiction of his stormy relationship with his father (Karl Malden). He's pushed beyond his means mentally to be the best at the sport, and you can see in some scenes him starting to crack under pressure. (Can you at all blame him for what happens?)

Fear Strikes Out is one of several prominent roles of Perkins' that's forever lost in the shadow of his most prolific one. It may not have the same punch it might have had when it was first released but what stands out after all this time is how the long-term effects of emotional abuse can affect more than the person who bore the brunt of it. (It's definitely cause for immense concern if it continues.)

My Rating: ****

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Twelve O'Clock High

There's a moment early on in Henry King's Twelve O'Clock High that sets its mood. After a day in London, Harvey Stovall (Dean Jagger) heads to what at first appears to be a field in the English countryside. The camera follows him, and the music changes as it's revealed Stovall's at the now-derelict airfield where he served during World War II.

What follows in Twelve O'Clock High is how the soldiers of the 918th Bomb Group are treated by their commander. Upon succeeding Col. Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill), the aptly named Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) starts doling out strict rules to toughen them out. But how long until Savage starts to connect with them?

Early on in Twelve O'Clock High, Davenport makes remarks about the soldiers' frames of mind following their missions. The way he describes their ailments sounds a lot like post-traumatic stress disorder (then known as combat fatigue) so is it possible that this was the first fictional depiction of the condition? (Then again, The Best Years of Our Lives showed that three years prior.)

This being a film starring Peck, naturally he's the main draw acting-wise. Merrill, a year away from doing All About Eve, also stands out. But Jagger -- who won an Oscar for his work here -- especially holds his own.

Twelve O'Clock High is a now-underseen work from those involved, and it honestly shouldn't be. Being made after World War II, it's understandable as to why it isn't as known (there were many similar themed works in the years since V-J Day). But the work from its actors and King proves its own worth from other features. It's fascinating to watch.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, June 1, 2017

BOOK VS MOVIE: Their Finest Hour and a Half/Their Finest

There have been countless pieces of fiction set during wartime. Sometimes it's the creators recalling their own experiences, other times the setting's merely for the sake of adding drama. But what of those stories that don't take place on the battlefront?

Nine times out of ten, tales about life on the home front will feature women waiting anxiously for the men in their lives (be it family, friends or lovers) to return home alive and in one piece. Obviously some of those were written by men with a faint grasp on how the fair sex thinks and behaves; more often than not, there were women who wanted to contribute to the war effort any way they could.

Lissa Evans' Their Finest Hour and a Half focuses on a woman doing just that. Catrin Cole goes from working at an advertising agency to co-writing a movie based on real life (albeit loosely) to boost the country's morale. As the novel follows Catrin and other people associated with the film, Evans paints a portrait of a looming war and how it affects those living in that time.

Condensing the plot (and title) to something more manageable, Lone Scherfig's Their Finest resurrects a bygone era, something the director had done previously with An Education. Featuring an embarrassment of riches amongst the cast, it depicts how the passing of time affects some people and benefits others. (Though it does get a bit sentimental towards the end.)

So which is better: Evans' novel or Scherfig's film? While it's refreshing to see women beyond their expected domestic roles, was the romantic subplot that necessary? (It feels like it was put in to attract a bigger audience.) Because honestly, that's just another blatant way of saying someone's life isn't complete without a significant other. That said, it's nice to have a story set during a war that doesn't have women worrying for their men overseas as their sole purpose.

What's worth checking out?: Both.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Quiet Passion

Early on in Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion, it's established that Emily Dickinson was way ahead of her time. She expresses little interest in being pious or a dutiful wife. Instead, much of her time is devoted to her poetry (even if it's published anonymously) and speaking her mind.

As Davies also showed with The House of Mirth and The Deep Blue Sea, A Quiet Passion shows how the fair sex was anything but. While Lily Bart lost her social standing and Hester Collyer the men she loved, with Emily she loses those close to her be it through marriage, death or her own sharp tongue. In short, it seems that Davies is fascinated by imperfect women leading tragic lives.

That's not to say A Quiet Passion is a somber picture from beginning to end. There are exchanges throughout Davies' script that would make the likes of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde proud. (Speaking of which, why hasn't Davies adapted Austen yet?) It's a point driven home further with nearly every line from Vryling Wilder Buffum (Catherine Bailey).

Back to Cynthia Nixon for a moment. More associated with Sex and the City, she has in recent years proven her worth beyond the cult television series. And her work in A Quiet Passion continues to solidify this claim. Hopefully it's a performance that won't be forgotten in the years to come.

A Quiet Passion is a portrait of a woman whose self-isolation both influenced and crippled her work. As Davies also showed with The Long Day Closes, he shows one's contained life of simple pleasures, unrequited desires and familial bonds (the level of closeness varying between the works). But all in toll, it's a story of someone with immense loneliness.

My Rating: ****1/2

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

There's a certain finesse to being a bullshit artist. It requires a knack for weaving lies and managing to keep them all straight. It's also something where having a charming personality is crucial. (Losing friends in inevitable but who cares once you start going places?)

All of that sums up Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) of Joseph Cedar's Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer to a T. He schmoozes so much that he would make Sidney Falco look like an honest person. Of course, such schmoozing can only let one person go so far before it comes back to bite him in the ass.

We follow Norman in his usual routine as he tries to maintain a sense of orderly business. But a number of people he encounters reacts negatively to him, finding Norman perhaps a bit too desperate for their business. It's when he meets Israeli politician Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) that things start to take a turn for the better...at first.

There's an impressive of performers on display: Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Steve Buscemi, Josh Charles and Hank Azaria. They all stand out when they have their moment in the spotlight (Sheen in particular) but this is Gere's show from the get-go.

As is the case with fiction featuring a political and/or business slant, one needs to stay alert throughout Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer to know what's happening. (The average person can only grasp so much in a single sitting.) Still, Gere (who's been getting a lot of consistent roles as of late) continues to show there's more to him than his leading man roles from the 1980s and 1990s.

My Rating: ****

Chuck

Sometimes the works of fiction we hold in high regard have a kernel of inspiration to them. Billy Wilder got prompted by a later scene in Brief Encounter and made The Apartment fifteen years later. And there are who knows how many songs ignited by what has happened in the songwriter's life.

Take also for instance boxing classic Rocky. The movie franchise that launched Sylvester Stallone to superstardom, it earned twelve Academy Awards nominations (winning three) and $1.4 billion in box office receipts. But as some may not know, Stallone got inspiration from a match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner.

Philippe Falardeau's Chuck focuses on how the success of the first Rocky movie went straight to Wepner's head. Already a minor celebrity in his hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey, he expects those he comes in contact with to know who he is. But his inflated ego starts to rub those close to him the wrong way.

Of course Rocky plays a crucial role in the film but another boxing film that has a key role in Chuck is Requiem for a Heavyweight. (Wepner states at one point that it's his favorite movie, and he quotes it at other times.) Apparently Luis Rivera provides a more accurate portrait of Wepner than Rocky Balboa ever did.

Chuck is less of a biopic of a forgotten figure in 1970s sports than it is a display of how fame can be poisonous to some people. (Hey, A Face in the Crowd also proved this sixty years ago.) Liev Schriber continues to prove that he should be given more starring vehicles (though he's also good in ensemble pieces). But overall, this is worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Friday, May 19, 2017

BOOK VS MOVIE: The Lost City of Z

The thrill of adventure. We've read numerous books and watched countless movies over the years that capitalize such a feeling. And some of those fictional adventures were inspired by real-life ones.

Take for instance Percy Fawcett, During the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century, he had a burning desire to discover new lands and the treasures they contain, But such an expedition he led into the Amazon in 1925 resulted in Fawcett and his companions -- his son Jack and Jack's friend Raleigh Rimell -- disappearing from the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from again. What has the Amazon been hiding for over ninety years?

David Grann's novel The Lost City of Z chronicles both Fawcett's feats of exploring and his own attempt to uncover what happened to the famed adventurer. (Grann was far from the only person to undertake such an endeavor; he's just one of the few to come back from it.) And he also writes about the obsession that followed Fawcett throughout both his life and in the decades following his disappearance.

Altering a few details aside (omitting Rimell from the narrative entirely, for instance), James Gray's adaptation follows what happened during Fawcett's many expeditions truthfully. But what Gray shows with his film is more than just a standard biopic or adventure flick; instead, it's a portrait on the depths of Fawcett's being. (And can someone cast Charlie Hunnam in more roles like this?)

So what's better: Grann's novel or Gray's film? Both works show the highs and lows of Fawcett's excursions, how his constant traveling began to affect his home life. But they also show that he was very much a human being, warts and all. (Not a very common aspect on stories about real people.)

What's worth checking out?: Both.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Great McGinty

There's something worryingly ominous about Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty. The titular McGinty (Brian Donlevy) rises amongst the political ranks through means of bribery and other dirty means. At first he only uses his position in office as a title. It's once he starts developing something of a conscience that he starts getting into some hot water.

This being Sturges' first time in the director's chair, The Great McGinty displays the traits found in his later works. Being made in a time of looming unrest (the United States' involvement in World War II was just around the corner), he knew that moviegoers -- as he would examine in Sullivan's Travels -- wanted to escape from everyday life periodically. (They didn't want reminders of what was happening beyond the theater's exits.)

An interesting bit of trivia about The Great McGinty for you. Sturges sold the script to Paramount Pictures for $10 (which is under $200 in today's money) on the condition that he directs it as well. He had already spent several years in Hollywood so Paramount must've had faith in Sturges. (Him winning an Oscar for the script also helped his budding career.)

In a way, The Great McGinty bears resemblance to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington from the previous year. Both Dan McGinty and Jefferson Smith are thrown head-on into a corrupt political circle. The main difference is that Smith's ideals are unwavering; it's when McGinty starts listening to the people that his initial beliefs begin to shift.

The Great McGinty provided audiences a glimpse of what to expect from Sturges in the coming years. With a mix of satire and slapstick, it's clear that its director and writer wasn't going to suffer fools gladly by those more privileged than him. He would cut them down to his level.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

BOOK VS MOVIE: The Zookeeper's Wife

There's no way in denying the lengths a society will go to keep their world "pure". The most egregious example from history is the Holocaust. Millions of innocent lives either destroyed or cut short, all for the appalling sake of ethnic cleansing. But even amid those atrocities, there were those who weren't going to let defenseless people suffer.

The most famous of these saviors amid slaughter was Oskar Schindler but there are those who, outside their native countries, aren't as prominent. Take for instance Jan and Antonia Żabiński. After their native Poland was invaded by German forces -- the catalyst for World War II -- they used their home and bombed-out zoo to help those escape from Nazi persecution. As a result, they saved nearly 300 people from certain death.

Diane Ackerman's novel The Zookeeper's Wife chronicles the Żabińskis lived their lives as the German army occupied Warsaw. In their many ways to conceal those in hiding, they had to be discreet about the extra people within their home while at the same time fighting and aiding the enemy. (They had to stay on their toes for a long time.)

As well as using Antonia's diaries for further details, Niki Caro's adaptation follows Ackerman's novel to the letter. That said, there are a few details clearly fabricated for the film. (The most glaring one are the scenes of supposed intimacy between Daniel Brühl -- who should probably invest in a different agent -- and Jessica Chastain.) Still, Caro tightens the reins on those as well.

Does Ackerman's account of the Żabińskis' heroics reign supreme or does Caro's claim the title? Both shines a light on names forgotten by history as well as the hypocrisy of the Nazi Party's actions. However, one of them doesn't get overly softhearted for the sake of reaching a wider audience.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A United Kingdom

It's an unfortunate aspect of life that one's worth is proved by the color of their skin. Not their intelligence nor their personality, the very thing they have no ability to change. It's an ugly blight on humankind, and it's something that should be rectified immediately.

Of course racism is regularly a focus in fiction as it is in real life. Many creators -- regardless of their respective races -- have covered the subject and its effects extensively throughout the years. But sometimes the more compelling stories are the real-life ones.

Amma Asante's A United Kingdom depicts the romance between Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), one that was met with immense controversy when they wed. (This was after World War II, mind you.) With Seretse being an heir to the throne in Bechuanaland (now Botswana), their marriage causes an even bigger strife amongst his people.

As she showed with her previous film Belle, Asante depicts a political angle on race. With a then-controversial relationship, she chronicles the extent of the scorn Seretse and Ruth faced. But at the same time, Asante becomes a little too interested in the politics of the story (which -- coincidence or not -- is what also befell Belle.)

That quibble aside, A United Kingdom is very good. Asante continues to have audiences keep an eye on her career path, and hopefully it won't be much longer before she gets that project that firmly puts her amongst the greats. (Seriously, not many female directors -- let alone ones of color -- have made a big impact from their first two films alone.)

My Rating: ****

Get Out

From the opening scene, it's clear that Jordan Peele's Get Out will stand out. Sure, the premise resembles more along the lines of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner for the modern age. But as stated before, there's more to it than that.

This being released during a time of continuing racial strife, Get Out seems almost timely. And Peele -- someone much more associated with comedy -- sinks his teeth into the genre's polar opposite. (Seeing as this is his debut as a director, it's safe to say he's someone to keep an eye on.)

But how does Get Out hold its own? It may be marketed as a horror film, yes, but there's so much more to it than a simple category placement. It shows a certain depravity most horror titles merely flirt with; it takes real guts to actually depict it.

That's the hard thing about reviewing horror films, isn't it? Trying to talk about them without spoiling any details. (Granted, it's a problem with reviewing any film but it's especially hard with this genre.) As could be applied to titles of this type, it'd be wise to go into Get Out completely blind. (thus rendering this whole review null and void...)

Anyway, Get Out shows immense promise for both Peele and star Daniel Kaluuya. In a time where symbolism is quickly becoming a maligned form of storytelling, Peele knows how to be subtle with it all (which warrants potential re-watches to pick up on them). We need more movies like this during these times.

My Rating: *****

Colossal

If there's one thing fiction is sorely lacking, it's a regular depiction of flawed women. More often than not, Hollywood shows the fair sex as pure beings with every aspect of their lives in perfect order. Obviously, that's bullshit. (And a load of it, too.)

This is why Gloria (Anne Hathaway) from Nacho Vigalondo's Colossal is very much a welcoming entry. When we're first introduced to her, she's unemployed and has a bit of a drinking problem. And to top it all off, her boyfriend Tom (Dan Stevens) has broken things off between them. Can her life get any worse? (Spoiler alert: it does.)

In examination of its first half, Colossal bears resemblance to the likes of The World's End. (The most telling comparison is in Gloria's drunken escapades.) But it's because of these escapades that make them frightening in the second half. (Heavy drinking is no laughing matter, folks.)

Speaking of the second half, it could be viewed as an unflinching portrait of abusive relationships and how to deal with them. Gloria and Tim don't get along very well following their breakup, especially with him constantly being at the end of his rope with her. (Surely he could've helped her get out of the hole she was in?) But boy, that's nothing compared to what Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) doles out.

Colossal continues to prove that there are, in fact, original works out there. (Sometimes all one needs to do is pay attention.) And while she had been getting hate for the last few years (for reasons unknown), hopefully this will regain respect for Hathaway.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hidden Figures

There are always those events that probably never would've happened had it not been for certain people and their involvement. The Beatles probably never would've become the music legends they are today had Brian Epstein not discover them in an underground bar in Liverpool, nor if Paul McCartney and John Lennon had never met. But what of those names that history has the tendency of overshadowing?

That is precisely what Theodore Melfi's Hidden Figures -- as the title so implies -- shines a light on. Its subject is on three African-American women -- Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) -- as they try to prove their worth at NASA in 1961. As they continually face adversity, they become involved in a mission that changes the course of history.

While it is refreshing to see black women in the spotlight, one of the faults of Hidden Figures is the fact its director is neither black nor a woman. The fact that some of said spotlight focuses a good chunk of the time on some of the supporting white characters -- including making one of them responsible for certain changes. Honestly, that's just a cheap ploy to make the film more accessible.

Still, Hidden Figures makes up for that blight by having solid work from its three leads. Henson and Spencer have both proven their worth as actors (both being recognized by AMPAS, for instance), and Monáe (also a standout in Moonlight) shows promise with her acting career. Hopefully the three of them will continue to get consistently strong roles.

Hidden Figures was just one tweak or two away from being great but it's an important film nonetheless. History books constantly overlook the accomplishments of those not white, straight and/or male. It's high time for those stories to be told.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Cobweb

Ah, the star-studded productions of the 1950s. Basically the easiest way for studios to re-coup the budget and earn a tidy profit. And sometimes said production doesn't always need the best of scripts for its actors.

And boy, is that last detail on full display in Vincente Minnelli's The Cobweb. More than once the actors' dialogue sounds either stiff or overwrought, admittedly not an unheard of fault in some films from the same time. Still, at least some of the many big names of the film rein it in towards the overall flimsy script.

But whom is amongst the cast of The Cobweb? An enviable roster of performers, that's for sure: Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Gloria Grahame, Charles Boyer and Lillian Gish. But of the names that stand out amid a rather forgetful project is John Kerr. (Also of note is Oscar Levant -- himself a victim of his own neuroses -- in an inspired bit of casting.)

With a Best Picture winner (and a failed marriage to Judy Garland) under his belt, one would think Minnelli would be able to salvage The Cobweb, especially considering the film's primary location. But even with the various ups and downs in the director's personal life, perhaps his lack of conveying them into the film only adds to the production's faults. (Maybe Douglas Sirk would've been a better fit at the helm?)

The Cobweb could've been a continuation of Minnelli's transition into more serious fare but the shaky script prevented that from even remotely becoming a reality. (At least he had more luck the following year with Lust for Life.) The cast does try their damnedest to make it work to little avail. (Similarly, at least some of them were more successful with later projects.)

My Rating: ***

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Battleground

How does one depict an event that they themselves were a witness to? Sure, there's the occasional embellishment here and there but overall it's more or less a recollection of what they saw. And an often common setting for those stories involve war.

William Wellman's Battleground is such an example. Written by Robert Pirosh (who witnessed the Battle of the Bulge firsthand), it's a story about the weariness of war. (Having several of its actors having served in World War II and the actual 101st Airborne Division as extras certainly adds to it.) But how does it compare to other World War II-based works of the time?

In comparison to other war pictures both past and future, Battleground doesn't boast an all-star cast. (While some of the actors would go on to make names for themselves, the more famous of the cast was Van Johnson.) That's not to say such a detail is a fault of on the film's part. In fact, it could make the viewer feel sympathy for the whole infantry rather than just a small handful of recognizable faces.

There's a speech delivered towards the end of Battleground that still rings relevant nearly seventy years later. In an attempt to rally the weary troops, a chaplain gives a sermon condemning the actions of the enemy. ("We must never again let any force dedicated to a super-race...or a super-idea, or super-anything...become strong enough to impose itself upon a free world.") In light of recent events in the United States, they continue to repeat history because they've failed it. ("We must be smart enough and tough enough in the beginning...to put out the fire before it starts spreading.")

Battleground may have been released amid other similar works but it's Wellman's direction that makes it remembered all these years later. Many films depict how war is absolute hell; only a select few show how it affect those fighting it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, March 2, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro

There are several worrying notes throughout Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro, especially in light of the last few years. Using clips from the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, the words from James Baldwin become painfully relevant in the years following his 1987 death. But how so?

Peck provides a juxtaposition between Baldwin's words from the past and events from within the last decade. (There's also a dissonance with its music choices; it cuts from clips from Doris Day movies to photos of lynching, its cheery music still playing.) Yeah, it's that kind of documentary.

Narrating as Baldwin is Samuel L. Jackson. The way Jackson reads Baldwin's letter adds to the author's weariness towards the senseless violence aimed at the black community, how exhausted Baldwin has become towards police brutality. He'd be spinning in his grave if he had any clue what the country was like now.

Baldwin also notes how movies have the tendency to mangle one's personal beliefs, how audiences are fine with westerns where Native Americans are slaughtered but not so much with Sidney Poitier as a sex symbol or viable leading man. (Clips from five of Poitier's films -- A Raisin in the Sun, No Way Out, The Defiant Ones, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night -- are shown. See a theme?) To say things have changed since Baldwin's time would be a lie.

I Am Not Your Negro shows that those who fail history are very much doomed to repeat it. (How many times must we as a society be forced to endure the mistakes of our past?) There's no denying that much still needs to be done since Baldwin's time but we as a society can make that a potential reality, and the time to do so is now.

My Rating: *****

The Red Turtle

Who said that animation was solely for children? (Clearly someone with no sense of imagination.) If anything, it can be considered an art form if done properly. But as of late, we rarely get to see the hard work the animators have contributed during this lengthy process of production.

This is why Michaël Dudok de Wit's The Red Turtle is a welcoming entry to the genre. It's one of those films that doesn't need overused pop culture references and crude humor to make it accessible to its audience; it just needs to be.

Being a mostly dialogue-free film, The Red Turtle focuses more on the sounds of the film's locale. The rustling of leaves in the wind, the ebb and flow of the ocean...it may be without actual lines but it manages to speak volumes in its near-silence.

Speaking of which, Laurent Perez del Mar's score adds so much to The Red Turtle. Going from suspenseful to adventurous to heartbreaking, the music provides much of the film's torque. It's not often that a soundtrack tells a story, even more seldom for it to work well. But it does just that here.

The Red Turtle is a beautiful piece of filmmaking. The lyrical combination of its elements leads to something unlike any other. It's truly a transcendent work of art. (Suffice to say that this genre is far from being one foot in the grave.)

My Rating: *****

Friday, February 24, 2017

The LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Actress

Ah, awards season: that wonderfully annoying stretch of months that everyone (okay, most everyone) over-analyzes to the point where avoiding social media as a whole is the best solution. Usually I try not to partake in this but with the LAMB rebooting its Oscar coverage, I felt like chipping my two cents. Hey, I've covered it twice before and both times my predictions were right. Let's see if the third time’s the charm.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Husbands

We're only young once in our short lives. It's once it's all over that we realize that there's not much time left on this planet. And boy, do mid-life crises make for excellent fodder when it comes to fiction.

That certainly comes to a head in John Cassavetes' Husbands. Following the sudden death of their friend, Gus (Cassavetes), Harry (Ben Gazzara) and Archie (Peter Falk) try to go on with their lives. But too much of their confined world reminds them of their late pal so they figure traveling could help clear their heads. But does it?

In the way of how the story's told, Husbands bears strong resemblance to Cassavetes' previous film Faces. It's less of a film than it is a voluntary glimpse into one's life. But as is often the case with Cassavetes' directorial contributions, it sure as hell isn't a glamorous one.

But in contrast to later films of his, Husbands doesn't have the same flow as Cassavetes' collaborations with wife Gena Rowlands. (Though -- as mentioned before -- from a storytelling perspective, this bears some resemblance to their previous film Faces.) Granted, perhaps Cassavetes was still trying to shake off his bad experience directing within studio regulations a few years prior. (There's definitely that air of defiance both here and in his later work.)

Husbands may not rank amongst his best work but it did show that Cassavetes was more than willing to break a few of the expected conventions in Hollywood at the time. After all, this was a time when the studio system was beginning to break down, and fresh blood was crucial to stay relevant with changing times. And guess who was waiting for that last pillar to collapse?

My Rating: ****

Silver Streak

For years, filmmakers have been paying tribute to the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Even when the director was still alive and well, there were works being made with his influence all over them. And they're still being doled out today.

Arthur Hiller's Silver Streak (coincidentally released the same year as Hitchcock's swan song Family Plot) borrows part of its story from North by Northwest. Sure, there have been other imitations since the first film's 1959 release but there's something that Hiller brings to his film that makes it work.

Perhaps that something is -- like Hitchcock before him -- Hiller using an actor that's adept with comedy. Similar with Cary Grant, Gene Wilder has had his fair share of serious and silly roles prior to Silver Streak. And it's because of that detail the later film works as well as it does.

But Silver Streak isn't solely Wilder's show. Alongside him are the likes of Jill Clayburgh, Richard Pryor, Ned Beatty and Patrick McGoohan, just to name a few. They all hold their own, certainly, but it's Wilder's who carries the whole picture away by himself. (Okay, Pryor definitely has his moments as well.)

Silver Streak is further testament of Wilder's ability as a performer. (His collaborations with Mel Brooks during the previous decade merely acknowledged the masses to it.) He was one of those rare comedic actors that added a certain kindness to whatever he was in (which perhaps explains his role in Willy Wonka a few years before this). And that's on full display here, especially his scenes with Clayburgh.

My Rating: ****

Love and Death on Long Island

A matter of days after turning seventy-seven, the world of film lost John Hurt. A performer whose presence was always welcome, he could go from leading man to character actor with complete ease. The quality of the project didn't always matter; you could always guarantee Hurt will deliver.

And he does just that in Richard Kwietniowski's Love and Death on Long Island. As the reclusive Giles De'Ath (note the name), Hurt shows an awakening of sorts during the film's duration. And it all starts by going into the wrong movie at the cinema.

He had paid to see an E.M. Forster adaptation but Giles mistakenly ends up seeing a raunchy teen comedy. Just as he's about to leave, he lays eyes on Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley), one of the movie's young actors. What ensues for Giles is a slowly unraveling obsession.

In a way, Love and Death on Long Island is an update of Death in Venice: a man past the prime of his life yearns for one who's in the peak of his. It's something often seen throughout fiction, that futile grasp at feeling desired when in old age. Many times it's something that merely adds insult to injury for the elder subject but regardless of what one's age might be, it's merely a need found in most of the human race.

Love and Death on Long Island is merely further testament that Hurt was one of the finest actors of his generation. His passing will leave a hole in the world of cinema, one that will tried to be filled but never will be. He was honestly a one-of-a-kind presence, and he will be missed dearly.

My Rating: ****

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Rains Came

At a formal dinner early on in Clarence Brown's The Rains Came, former lovers Lady Edwina Esketh (Myrna Loy) and Tom Ransome (George Brent) reunite. He very much wants to rekindle their affair while she has her sights set on Hindu doctor Maj. Rama Safti (Tyrone Power). She admits she's trying to seduce Rama out of boredom but will it result in something else?

Released the same year as other big screen spectacles like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, The Rains Came is mostly forgotten to today's audiences. But there's one aspect of the film that stands out: the special effects. It doesn't take much to see how it won the Oscar over the two previously alluded titles.

Being made within the Hays Code, Edwina's flirtations are treated with scorn by nearly everyone she encounters. How dare a woman go behind her husband's back (especially if he knows of them) for her own personal urges? After all, women are supposed to only be wives and mothers, nothing else. (At least that's what the most conceited of people would think.)

But Edwina develops a sense to redeem herself after spending more time with Rama. (If you're familiar with other fiction following this premise, you may know the outcome.) Admittedly such a conclusion might seem like cheap writing but bear in mind this was a time when women had very little standing outside a domestic setting; they had to break free somehow.

The Rains Came may follow the conventions of storytelling at the time but the work from its three leads warrant a look at least. (It also showed Power's underused talent.) It has that balance of adventure and romance, a common trait of films from that era, but one that only works a scant number of times. (This, of course, is one such example.)

My Rating: ****

Sunday, February 5, 2017

20th Century Women

As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman. That could be best sum up Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is Mike Mills' 20th Century Women. The woman in question is his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), and what Mills presents is an ode to the women in his life.

Dorothea is of course a representation of Mills' own mother but she's not the only member of the fair sex on display in 20th Century Women. There's also Abbie (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring photographer with a creative mind (perhaps partly based on Mills' wife Miranda July?); and Julie (Elle Fanning), a rebellious friend of Jamie's. And they all try to help Jamie prepare for the world ahead of him.

Like what he did with his previous film Beginners, Mills provides solid work for his actors. Bening gives the best work of her career, Gerwig and Fanning continue to show their potential in Hollywood, and Zumann also shows immense promise with his career. (Boy, Mills sure knows how to pick 'em.)

Similarly, Bening's performance shows that there are in fact roles out there for actresses of a certain age. (It's just that writers are the ones that need to create them.) Just because leading ladies have a limited shelf life in the eyes of Hollywood executives, that doesn't mean their careers have to end in that exact moment.

20th Century Women continues to shows Mills' worth in Hollywood. (Honestly, not every film needs its protagonist to be the default white male.) As the past few years have shown, it's those who are willing to break free from the norms of Hollywood that stand out from the crowd. (Seriously, different is good.)

My Rating: *****