setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


Your average fantasy story relies on some, at the least, improbable things being allowed to occur unimpeded, like the impetuous attractive protagonist and the virtuous attractive love interest having their relationship coincide with the precarious affairs of the state. So effective parodies often make hay by making things more complicated, which is the case with 1956's The Court Jester. Many unforeseen complications take this would-be Robin Hood tale right off the rails despite the best and worst intentions of its characters and the result is one of the greatest comedies of all time.



Danny Kaye stars as Hubert Hawkins, not a court jester but a former carnival performer who's joined up with the merry men of the Black Fox (Edward Ashley). The Fox is basically Robin Hood, robbing the rich and giving to the poor in defiance of a tyrant, Roderick (Cecil Parker), who's seized the throne. The rightful heir is an infant and in the care of the Fox. Part of Hubert's duty is to flash the purple pimpernel on the baby's butt to confirm the lad's royal status to the crew.



Hubert and Jean (Glynis Johns), one of the Fox's captains, are charged with taking the baby, hidden in a wine cask, to an abbey where it'll be safe. But on the way, Hubert and Jean fall in love and run into the jester Giacomo (John Carradine in a cameo) who's on his way to the castle. Jean immediately realises it's an opportunity to smuggle Hubert into the castled in the guise of Giacomo where he can steal a key from the king's quarters, enabling the Fox and his men to sneak in and take the castle through a secret passage.



It all seems simple enough, though audiences might have already been disconcerted by the fact that the Black Fox isn't the main character. But now the plates really start spinning because at the castle there are two plots already cooking against the king--one from his daughter, Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) and her witch servant, and another from the king's advisor, Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), who's plotting to kill some new rivals for the king's patronage. The comedy comes from how these plots unpredictably intersect due to each player's imperfect understanding of the situation.



Kaye is quite good, not just at the funny stuff but his sword fight at the end with Rathbone has some of the energy and skill seen in the duel between Rathbone and Errol Flynn in Robin Hood. Lansbury is very good but even more crucial is Glynis Johns in a role many directors might have been content to cast with a lightweight. But playing the straight requires a special skill--a big part of how well the famous "vessel with the pestle" bit works is Johns' ability to say the tongue twister like it's so easy she truly can't understand why Hubert can't get it. She also has a pretty funny scene where she convinces the king she has a terrible contagious disease in order to ward off his advances.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Is Ghostbusters 2 really so bad? Well, yes, it has some big, crucial flaws which a few virtues can't make up for. But there are a few virtues. I've certainly seen worse. Like, the 2016 reboot, for example.

Like the Star Wars prequels, Ghostbusters 2 has become a byword for bad followups for popular franchises. The Star Wars prequels, in my opinion, don't quite warrant the casual rancour they get but in any case they're certainly more complex than people give them credit for. Ghostbusters 2, as many, notably Roger Ebert, complained at the time was like a rough draft of the first film, a far less satisfyingly complex version, in other words. The broad outline is there--Dana (Signourney Weaver) is a normal woman whose encounter with the supernatural forces her to bring the vexing and eccentric Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) into her life. The Ghostbusters struggle at first to be seen as legitimate, they're threatened by a vindictive government functionary before the mayor (David Margulies) grudgingly admits these clowns are the only ones who can save the city and they become improbable, everyman heroes right in front of a massive, cheering crowd.



The necessity of rebooting the relationship between Peter and Dana creates a lot of problems directly tied in to one of the biggest flaws in the film, Bill Murray's performance. In the first film, he has his cheap little tricks and jokes, but you could also see why Dana was eventually charmed by him. In Ghostbusters 2, he just comes off as a pushy creep. His saying to her baby that he might have been his father ought to be sort of sweet and sad but it just seems presumptuous and obnoxious. He's filled with nervous energy throughout the sequel whereas in the original his charm was his ability to remain calm with maybe a simmering anger. But what's worse is that his anxiety in Ghostbusters 2 seems to have nothing to do with ghosts or Dana but seems oddly hostile to everything. Like he didn't want to be in the movie.



Egon (Harold Ramis) and Ray (Dan Aykroyd), though, actually come off generally well. The film lacks the sense of real guys struggling that the first part of the original film benefited from but I love the idea of Ray having an occult bookshop. And Egon's experiment with the couple in marriage counselling is genuinely funny.



I was a big Ghostbusters fan as a kid--I was ten when Ghostbusters 2 came out and by then I was already close to having worn out a VHS copy of the first film and avidly watched the cartoon series. I don't know if it's like this for all kids, but oddly I didn't think about whether one film was better than the other, I was just happy that there was more. In a sense, kids are easy to please, but despite the fact that the second film is more kid friendly than the first, no VHS copy of it was ever in danger of getting worn out. Why is it, when I had no idea what they were talking about when Ray took out a second mortgage on his childhood home or even really understood what was happening when they were getting kicked out of college I still enjoyed the first film more? Maybe it's because when you're a kid you're used to not understanding the things adults do but still sense an underlying logic so the sense of authenticity was more satisfying even then.



Certainly watching the second film as an adult has provided me with insights I never had as a child, like the mood slime that unfortunately takes up so much of the plot. I can't be the only one who raised eyebrows when, shortly after Venkman speculates on whether the Statue of Liberty is naked under the robe, the guys get inside her and immediately begin spraying love goo from some very phallic guns. Some might be tempted to see this as a metaphorical rape but I see no reason not to see it as consensual--I mean, there's no reason that would make less sense. I don't know if Ramis and Aykroyd were thinking of symbolism when they wrote the screenplay but I actually found the concept peculiarly resonant--because of the thoughtless every day behaviour of American citizens, a destructive natural force has gradually gained power and now threatens their destruction. The Ghostbusters wondering if the city can actually consciously reverse course on environmentally harmful, habitual behaviour surprisingly had me thinking of the reaction to climate change. Suddenly the mood slime didn't seem so silly. How symbolic sex with the Statue of Liberty fits into it I couldn't exactly say . . . and yet I think one could tease out a meaning. Like human behaviour in positive harmony with nature (consensual sex as a representation for a love of liberty) versus human behaviour as a selfish, destructive influence (climate change).



I remember really finding Vigo fearsome as a kid. Now I still think Max von Sydow as his voice is pretty impressive. Peter MacNicol as a foreign man from no distinguishable country is funny as a sort of harbinger of Tommy Wiseau.



I really like the scene on the abandoned subway tracks, Winston's (Ernie Hudson) only real moment to shine, first when a demonic voice speaks his name in the darkness, then when he's struck by a ghost train. The severed heads that appear briefly around the group feels more Evil Dead than Ghostbusters but it works, especially in contrast to the softball subway scenes in the new film. I liked the weirdness of the Titanic coming to dock and Janosz flying in as a demon nursemaid seemed like kind of a nice homage to Darby O'Gill and the Little People.



Aside from Bill Murray and the less adult storytelling, I'd say the biggest flaw is the score. Elmer Bernstein's score for the first film is something I associate even more with it than Ray Parker's familiar theme. The Randy Edelman score from the second film just feels like a cheap imitation and it's distracting.

Twitter Sonnet #1035

A night in steady pulses waits again.
In bronze balloons were cast to dream of work.
A shifting eye's behind the system's spin.
And yet the green and drifting spirits lurk.
In to the seat descends a walking lamp.
Beneath the cushions coins're coarse to take.
Above the bait the fish have built a ramp.
But fins refuse to step or scales to bake.
On tongues and tips, retried the trees demurred.
And soft, the step of glancing wisp to pass.
In brighter lights the aether last inured.
As armless birches sway in candid grass.
Misplaced the squash's found asleep inside.
In catered stories roles and hills reside.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Vast American spaces and Harry Dean Stanton star in Wim Wenders' 1984 film Paris, Texas, a lovely, easy-going, melancholy film about dislocated family. Wenders' beautiful compositions benefit from a brilliant performance from Stanton.



He walks out of the desert at the beginning of the film in a dusty suit and an incongruous red baseball cap. He seems incapable of speech and can't give a name to the man who finds him--it's as though he somehow materialised out in the wilderness. Stanton's ability as a performer is crucial as he manages to convey so much silently with his extraordinarily expressive face.



Eventually his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), finds him and we learn his name is Travis. They travel back to Los Angeles where Walt lives with his wife, Anne (Aurore Clement), and Travis' seven year old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Walt and Anne have an impossibly nice home on a hill overlooking the city so Wenders can continue his beautiful compositions of vast American spaces.



Hunter considers Walt and Anne his parents now--Travis has been missing for four years--but it doesn't take him long to adjust to the idea that he has two dads and eventually he wants to run off with Travis to seek out the also vanished Jane (Nastassja Kinski), Travis' wife and Hunter's mother.



Hunter must be one of the most amiable kids I've ever seen in a movie. He doesn't seem very anxious and never wants to argue. In one sense this is a much more down to Earth (literally and figuratively) story than Wings of Desire and at the same time there's also something abstract about it. Travis, Hunter, and Jane feel like lost archetypes; the independent American man, his hot young wife, and their obedient kid, but the two adults have found themselves all too human and messy to force that dream on the big American landscape. Stanton and Kinski both imbue their characters with much more raw human frailty than the characters' conceptions can take. This is developed when we finally learn about the circumstances under which they parted and we hear it told like spoken prose. Travis tells the tale like it's about some other, hypothetical couple, turning their failed attempt to live out a story back into a story. But it's to show how broken a thing it is.



And Jane has gotten a job where she appears in little erotic tableaus, performing fantasies of cafes and clinics for customers who watch unseen behind a mirror. It's hard not to think of Harry Dean Stanton's everyman looks and Kinski's glamorous beauty as representing the relationship between the average American and the dreams represented in film and television, so one is compelled to read the dysfunction between the two as a commentary on a larger disconnect between fantasy and reality. But the film doesn't reduce Jane to a puppet--Kinski's performance is amazing as she delivers a dialogue about her point of view and her own troubled relationship with the dream.



But it's Stanton's performance that anchors the film. He appears in almost every scene and he creates that magical intersection between the otherworldly and the absolutely grounded.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


It's a cool woman indeed who keeps her poise when her husband brings a mermaid home. Googie Withers manages to carry it off when her husband carries home the beautiful Glynis Johns in 1948's Miranda, a charming comedy that uses a mermaid as a metaphor for the foolish roving eyes of new and soon to be husbands.

A doctor named Paul (Griffith Jones) goes to Cornwall on vacation without his wife, Clare (Withers), and is promptly captured by a mermaid named Miranda (Johns).



She plans on holding him captive in her underwater cave forever until she's taken by the idea of spending some time among humans disguised as a woman paralysed below the waist, one of Paul's patients. She's worried she'll suffer the same fate as her aunt Augusta, who was pickled and exhibited in a sideshow, so she compels Paul to keep her identity a secret from everyone, including his wife.



But when Paul brings a beautiful young woman into the home, who seems delighted to be carried around by men whom she doesn't hesitate to call "beautiful" and shower with other compliments, Clare seems more bemused than angry and she chats knowingly with her best friend, Isobel (Sonia Holm), about Paul's likely ulterior motives.



But Isobel and the servant, Betty (Yvonne Owen), are less amused when both their fiancés--an artist named Nigel (John McCallum) and a butler named Charles (David Tomlinson)--become infatuated with her.



Tomlinson's character might have been comforted to know he and Johns would play husband and wife sixteen years later in Mary Poppins.

The only woman who really likes Miranda is the only woman who knows she's a mermaid--the nurse Paul brings in to care for her played by Margaret Rutherford.



Paul had described Nurse Carey as an eccentric and had apparently decided not to employ her anymore but somehow thinks she's perfect for this job--explained when, upon seeing Miranda naked in the bath, Carey exclaims happily that she's always believed in mermaids.



1948 was a good year for mermaid movies--Miranda was released in Britain the same year Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid was released in the U.S. While Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is a gentle forerunner of Lolita, lampooning how ridiculous the reality can be when a much older man tries to live out his fantasies with a real young woman, Miranda is more about anthropomorphising those fantasies. Miranda is truly not human, her selfless ease with being a companion to all men, her constant even temper, and her complete inability to fulfil anyone's sexual needs make her very much like a breathing pin-up poster or, to put it in grander terms, like a muse. Indeed, given how much delight Nurse Carey takes in her the latter term might be more appropriate. But just like a pin-up, as much as she freely gives to men she's not troubled at all by her inability to fulfil their ultimate desires. And just like a pin-up, the men look extremely foolish when they want to leave their girlfriends and wives for her.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


In spite of everything, life carries on, a fact that's both wonderful and horrible in 1937's Humanity and Paper Balloons (人情紙風船), the final film of Sadao Yamanaka--Yamanaka died of dysentery at the age of 28 the following year while serving in World War II. Set in 18th century Japan, it's an ensemble film depicting the lives of various people in a slum community, effectively using comedy and naturalistic character development to show how these people have been conditioned to see one another as disposable.



The film opens on a morning when the community are slowly discovering that an impoverished samurai who lived among them has committed suicide the night before. We overhear some of the gossip that starts to go around about it, and we gather that the samurai was forced to hang himself rather than commit hara-kiri because he'd long ago sold all his blades. Led by a barber named Shinza (Kanemon Nakamura) people in the neighbourhood take the samurai's death as an excuse to throw a party.



The landlord reacts in shock to the atmosphere that's more like celebration than a wake though one suspects he's more worried about property damage.

The film introduces and develops several characters, including an amusing blind man who knows exactly who stole his silver pipe at the party and is just waiting to take it back until after the thief gets the flue fixed.



But mainly the film focuses on Shinza and another down on his luck ronin samurai in the community, Unno (Chojuro Kawarazaki). Unlike his neighbours, Unno and his wife clearly feel the disgrace of their living situation and every day Unno tries to speak to the local lord, Mouri, whose position, Unno believes, was achieved only by the aid of Unno's father. So Unno constantly tries to present a letter from his father to Mouri, hoping to be taken into Mouri's service, but guards at the gate of Mouri's manor invariably turn Unno away and Mouri constantly puts Unno off whenever they meet in the street.



Through all this, Unno acts as though propriety demands he never directly acknowledge that Mouri clearly has no intention of ever employing him. Despite always being turned away at the manor gate, Unno always humbly submits when Mouri tells him he can't talk now when they meet in the street and that Unno should come to the manor the next day. But Unno's despair gradually starts to show through his facade, and he starts to drink more, despite promising his wife he wouldn't.



Mouri is trying to arrange a marriage for a wealthy pawnbroker's petulant, sheltered daughter. Shinza, who's being bullied by the local gangsters allied with the pawnbroker, comes across the daughter alone taking shelter under a temple arch one rainy day.



The movie doesn't take any of the typical routes for a melodrama you might expect from here and we see Shinza and Unno have motives that the language of those melodramas couldn't understand. When Shinza kidnaps the girl, enlisting Unno's aid, it doesn't even seem like he wants money. He certainly has no interest in assaulting her. His and Unno's demands seem entirely based on humiliating the more privileged class, and after this neither of them seems especially concerned about dying. It's an eloquent final statement on the lives they've been forced to lead up to that point.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


The moral demands of youth may be untenably expensive, as seen in Mikio Naruse's 1933 silent film Apart from You (君と別れて) about the son of a geisha who's ashamed of his mother's profession. The film is halfway between a melodrama characteristic of the silent era and one of the more complicated stories of financial desperation typical of Naruse's later films. Beautiful compositions and good performances come together for a nice story about tragic circumstances that are painful and, above all, expensive.



Kikue (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) is a geisha, introduced in a pleasant scene of well executed silent comedy as she and her coworkers laugh at their madam who accidentally puts her pipe in her mouth backwards.



Kikue's best friend and confidant is Terugiku, played by the stunning Sumiko Mizukubo who turned 100 last year. Kikue asks her friend to help her pluck a grey hair from her head.



The tone of this casual and friendly scene shifts through an ingenious sequence of cuts between title cards, first to a closeup showing Kikue placing the grey hair among several other strands on a peg on her mirror.



Then to a close profile shot of Kikue from the opposite side of the scene's establishing shots after a card quotes her as noting that she's getting old now.



Kikue's worried about her teenage son, Yoshio (Akio Isono). Yoshio's embarrassed by his mother's profession and runs with a street gang, carrying a knife at all times. Kikue is deeply troubled when a messenger inadvertently reveals to her that Yoshio hasn't shown up at school in some time. Kikue later begs Terugiku to talk to Yoshio and make him understand that Kikue has to do what she does for a living to support him and herself.



The sentiments in the film are pretty close to many American films of the time like Blonde Venus or The Sin of Madelon Claudet that play upon a tension between venerated motherhood and the taboo of sexually free women. Naruse distinguishes his film mainly through his characteristic mindfulness of the financial reality behind the pathos. Terugiku's plan to make Yoshio see reason involves simply taking him to visit her home where her parents and siblings all live in poverty and are completely dependant on her.



A romance begins to develop between Terugiku and Yoshio, making him seem more like an obnoxious hypocrite and Terugiku as more saintly, emphasised by her calm and extreme beauty in close-ups. Naruse's later films would make his many female protagonists more complex but his silent films are certainly outstanding.

setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


A massive, run down Italian manor serves as a setting for strange murderous games in 1972's cumbersomely titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave). The second giallo film I've seen based on my favourite Edgar Allan Poe story, "The Black Cat", it has a lot more elements of the original story than 1981's The Black Cat but it still fails to capture the essence of the story, which is its fascinating psychological portrait of one man's escalating perversion. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key contrives far more commonplace motives for its killer and keeps that character's identity secret for most of the film so the focus is more on a pulpy sex plot than on an examination of cruelty. That said, the pulpy sex plot is pretty fun.



The not especially well off man and wife in the original story are replaced by a jaded, wealthy writer and his strange, nervous wife. We meet them in the midst of one of their many extravagant, hedonistic bashes where half the party-goers are getting naked and the other half are singing.



The cat belongs to the writer, Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli), and his wife, Irina (Anita Strindberg), detests the animal. She stabs out its eye one day when she catches it in her dove coop, which essentially means the roles from the original story have been gender swapped. The cat's name, rivalling the film's title for subtlety, is Satan.



But the murderer's identity isn't revealed until later in the film--when it is revealed, it doesn't quite add up with what's been established earlier in the film and feels very much like it was a decision made late in filming.



The highlight of the film is the beautiful Edwige Fenech as Oliviero's niece, Floriana, who comes to stay with the couple after their maid has been murdered. The cool and happily amoral Floriana, who doesn't remotely resemble anyone in Poe's story, is soon having sex, separately, with Oliviero, Irina, and a delivery man.



She seduces Oliviero after catching him sneaking into her room--she's already prepared, wearing his mother's dress under the covers, an over the top 16th century costume--Oliviero's mother was an actress who is frequently compared in dialogue to Mary Stuart for some reason.



It's hard to say exactly what game Floriana's playing but there's definitely some method in her debauchery along with a fetching twinkle in her eye.



Floriana seems to be allied more with Irina, who is verbally and physically abused by Oliviero, but ultimately she's more interested in sexual pleasure and jewellery. The movie errs in not having more of Floriana, spending more focus on Irina, though Strindberg's hard, cat-like face and anxious performance are fascinating to watch.

setsuled: (Default)


With all the rejoicing across the internet to-day over the news that Corey Trevorrow is out as director of Star Wars: Episode IX there's naturally been a lot of speculation as to who'll take over the reins. I say; get Gordon Cole! That is, David Lynch. He was, after all, George Lucas' first choice to direct Return of the Jedi and if Lynch makes a pile of money off Star Wars maybe there's a better chance we'll see another season of Twin Peaks. Well, I can dream.

Rumour has it the current front runner is Rian Johnson and even not having seen Last Jedi I wouldn't mind that choice at all just on the strength of having seen Looper and Brick.

In any case, we've dodged a big, dumb bullet, as everyone knows whose seen that garbage heap called Jurassic World. And with everything going wrong in the world to-day it's nice to know one incompetent blowhard has been removed from a position of authority.

Anyway, obviously my mind's still on Twin Peaks.

Spoilers for Twin Peaks after the screenshot.



I found myself thinking about Naido (Nae Yuuki) some more and I realised there was a very obvious question no-one, myself included, seems to have been asking--just what the hell was Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) looking for? What did he expect to find when he got to the right coordinates? Andy (Harry Goaz) said people were trying to kill Naido but didn't say why. This is another reason I don't think Naido was simply Diane (Laura Dern) in another form. If her name is really meant to be a reference to the naido, "inner path", concept in Buddhism, it would make sense if Mr. C, as a force of destruction, might be trying to kill this representative of an internal world. There's no reason he would be hunting Diane after having taken her to the convenience store himself. The death of Naido seemed like it would represent a much greater victory for Mr. C.

I feel like I might have a few more posts about Twin Peaks in me. I'm certainly going to be watching the third season again . . . and again . . .
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


It's been really hot here in southern California lately, another year of record temperatures, and once again autumn is shaping up to be hotter than summer. Often in hot weather my mind starts to dwell on movies where characters complain about the heat so this morning I found myself watching Yasujiro Ozu's 1959 film Floating Weeds again.



I was surprised to learn the film's Japanese title, Ukigusa (浮草), translates to "Floating Grass". The term "weed" seems to impose a greater negative connotation for the film's characters. But they are certainly unrooted and disruptive.



Unlike Ozu's best regarded films, Tokyo Story and Early Spring, Floating Weeds isn't as tightly focused on its main characters, its first scenes diffusing and broadening the perspective to include a community, similar to Ohayo. But all these films, and all the Ozu movies I've seen, have in common the idea of bonds being tested or broken by abnormal or extreme circumstances.



The lives of a travelling kabuki troupe are not romanticised for their "floating" nature, the film is very much about how their mode of existence is a disruptive influence for themselves and others. The tendency in fiction, when talking about artists, is to focus on successful and talented artists, but doing so is to neglect what is much more often true, that artists are not typically successful and not always talented--and even if they are, the talent might not be channelled properly. The troupe portrayed in Floating Weeds are not particularly skilled--Ozu's original title for the film was Ham Actor--but the declining popularity of kabuki may as much be to blame for their lack of success. In any case, it's a brutal career that so punishes people for not being masters or superstars.



There's a horrible moment late in the film when an old man, a member of the troupe's staff, cries silently while his young grandson tries to speak to him. His motionless face and lack of response eloquently show how little point he sees in nurturing the confidence of his grandson, a horribly effective statement on just how hopeless the man knows his life is now.



Of course, along with the problems that come with being artists, the members of the troupe are as imperfect as any human being. Without the traditional bonds of family, any mistake or especially bad behaviour can lead to permanent destruction, which is the essence of the film's central tale. Komajuro (Ganjuro Nakamura) has a son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), in town, living with his mother and Komajuro's former mistress, Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura). Komajuro's current lover and fellow actor in the troupe, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), is naturally jealous when she starts getting clues about these two people who are probably the reason Komajuro brought the troupe to the little town. Both Komajuro and Sumiko do things to each other over the course of the film that from a purely justice minded standpoint would be unforgivable. They don't seem to have the ingrained motivations of a traditional structure to keep them together, any more than Komajuro can claim attachment to Oyoshi and her son. At any time, these floating people can be cut loose and sent along down the stream, by people with comparatively normal lives and by each other.



So it's essential for Ozu to establish a sense of the town without any particular character's point of view, something his characteristic unmoving camera and careful compositions are well suited for. We briefly meet the barber and her daughter, the prostitutes at the local brothel, the men working in the post office, many of whom talk about the kabuki troupe, wondering if it's worth seeing them perform. The whole point of the actors' profession is to make their performance seem valuable in its own right and you can't fault these people whose lives, rendered so beautifully by Ozu, might be full enough without the actors but obviously it's a cruel state of affairs. So cruel Komajuro seems unable to face it in the end, coming off as almost delusional, but there's a suggestion that this illusion can be a foundation of another kind of bond.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Humanity is sweet and clumsy in Jacques Tati's 1953 film Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot). The debut film of Tati's Chaplin-esque silent comedy protagonist, the film differs from a Chaplin or Buster Keaton film in that it's not so much about one extraordinary fool but about a population of accident prone people with one sterling example of miraculous clumsiness. There's an affectionate quality to it, though, and alongside the genius for comic situations it presents a strangely sweet experience.

Men and women, young and old, arrive at a seaside resort--some only after a lot of confusion in a large orchestrated gag at the train station.



Everyone seems to be performing in a beautiful but ridiculous ballet. There's the man who doesn't realise his seat has been turned around a moment so puts his card down on the wrong table before being turned around to his own poker game, after which confused arguments erupt. There's the man painting his boat when it starts drifting back into sea.



But the king of these fools is Monsieur Hulot, played by Tati himself.



Here he is in the most impressive gag of the film, one that must have taken incredible skill, timing, and patience to pull off as he allows the tide to pull the paint bucket away and back again, apparently unnoticed by Hulot. He never speaks, like a silent comedy star, though many of the supporting characters speak. None of the dialogue has much impact and the impression, along with the general awkwardness, is of an entire species adorable for its exaggerated belief in the control it has over its world.



There's a suggestion of a romantic plot between Hulot and a beautiful young woman (Nathalie Pascaud) but it never gets very far. She seems to observe the silliness around her with a little more detachment than everyone else and a bit of the affection I think any viewer is liable to feel. There's not quite the bittersweet quality of the more developed romance in a Chaplin film. Part of the charm of Monsieur Helot's Holiday is that nothing so meaningful seems like it could ever happen.

Twitter Sonnet #1029

A blinking light invites an echo round.
Discursive routes erupt in cords of glass.
And here the green cathedral last was found.
Beneath the gates, a thin and tangled mass.
The full completed leaves of mint emerge.
On brothy seas a soup conveyed the bowl.
A cauliflower briefly will submerge.
The heat departs though pencil punctured hole.
Through higher shoes the fibre burns for air.
In cautious steps alarming crowds arrive.
Unsorted seeds become a drunken dare.
From here a class of statue gods derive.
A jelly stakes no learning on the bench.
A washer makes the shadow of the wrench.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


It's hard to see precisely where the battle lines are drawn in the conflict between the head and the heart in Mikio Naruse's 1956 film Sudden Rain (驟雨). Setsuko Hara and Shuji Sano star as a young married couple whose unexamined issues are exacerbated by a sudden series of financial woes, portrayed with Naruse's characteristic delicate, inexorable cruelty. This beautiful picture addresses the emerging influence of feminist social change, ably touches on fundamental human anxieties, and has the wisdom to avoid tidy resolution.



Everything seems fine as the film begins--Fumiko (Hara) and Ryotaro (Sano) have a small, obviously inexpensive home and have typical arguments in the morning about whether they should go out more and about Fumiko cutting recipes out of the newspaper they can't afford for her to make. Kyoko Kagawa plays Fumiko's sister, Ayako, and she pays the couple a visit. She's distraught over her husband's behaviour and she needs Fumiko to confide in.



Fumiko is amused by the complaints that seem like high crimes to Ayako. Her husband yawned at a dinner with guests, he flirted with a waitress right in front of her--Fumiko explains that this is simply what men are like and that being married means becoming acquainted with the faults of one's spouse. When Ryotaro comes home, though, helpfully trying to explain the situation that may have caused Ayako's husband to stay out all night, Fumiko gradually becomes angry herself at her husband's dismissive attitude regarding the faults of another man.



There is a literal sudden rain shortly after but the film's title seems more to refer to three problems that strain Fumiko and Ryotaro's already strained finances--a thief picks Fumiko's pocket at the market, stealing her wallet; Ryotaro's boss announces the company he works for is going under; and a stray dog the couple had been feeding has been stealing and destroying property throughout the neighbourhood. People have begun to demand restitution from Fumiko and Ryotaro.



In a more predictable film, the dog would eventually bring Fumiko her lost wallet or something but Naruse never gives his characters that kind of easy out. The dog is an especially effective part of the film. Even as their problems mount, the couple still can't resist feeding the dog and its hard not to see his innocent but destructive hunger as reflecting the same impulse that keeps the couple together despite their problems.



Fumiko calls Ryotaro old fashioned and feudal, not just because he won't let her work to bring in extra money but also because he presumes that he can go back to his home village at any time and earn a living as a farmer. He threatens to do that several times, each time saying how Fumiko would need to stay in the city because country life wouldn't suit her, a slightly cowardly way of floating the idea of separation. Two opportunities present themselves for Fumiko to get work--first as an errand woman for a newspaper, then as a waitress in a restaurant Ryotaro's co-workers propose opening. The argument between the couple over the issue is particularly insightful for the ways arguments tend to go over such ideological issues--Ryotaro says he doesn't want to be supported by a woman and seems to see any kind of work as degrading for her while Fumiko seems insulted by the very idea that one of them is supporting the other by bringing in money, seeing it instead as a matter of maintaining their existence. The disagreement between the two is exacerbated by each being offended by the other's conceptual presumptions.



But no ideas either one has seems to influence their behaviour, illustrated neatly by a really funny final scene which at the same time does nothing to dispel any of the sources of anxiety.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


To-day it was announced that Tobe Hooper, the director of the great, original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, passed away at the age of 74. I haven't seen a lot of Hooper's films but I really do think Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a masterpiece. I once wrote about it:

Familiar aspects of the self are a catalyst for a chain of dream logic terrors in Tobe Hooper's 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The self, both physical and mental; an unexamined every day intimacy with flesh and blood is teased out into a cunning, gleefully beautiful and grotesque nightmare. Even the extraordinary skill and talent for filmmaking on display aren't enough to account for the singular brilliance this movie achieves.

You can find my full review of it here.

It seems strange that I'm writing about Tobe Hooper when I didn't spend any time talking about George Romero and very little talking about Jeanne Moreau. Of the two, I'm probably a greater fan of Moreau, but I do love Romero's first two Dead films. And there was a lot more to him than zombies--there's a nice interview with him included on Criterion's release of Powell and Pressburger film opera/ballet of Tales of Hoffmann, for example. I was fascinated to see that Romero was listening to the soundtrack to The Quiet Man when he died.. And I think, out of the ways one could die, that has to rank pretty high up there. I remember John Wayne's character in the film describing the fictional town of Innisfree (named after a Yeats poem) as sounding like heaven when his mother told him about it as a child.



But the reason I wanted to talk about Tobe Hooper to-day was because a few days ago I saw this video from The A.V. Club by writer Paul Scheer listing his top five worst films of all time. One thing was clear to me right away--if these are the worst films Scheer has ever seen, he hasn't seen a lot of movies. Included on his list is Spider-Man 3 which, to be sure, is a bad movie but the fact that it was made with a basic competence in film craft puts it miles ahead of thousands of other films. His number one worst film, The Room, is such an obvious contemporary choice. It is a bad film but, as Scheer points out, it's one of those films which are fascinating in the way it is bad. "So bad it's good", in other words. There's the weird cadence of the editing and dialogue, the exterior shots limply inserted at random, the actors delivering lines with a kind of tonelessness that suggests a complete lack of direction (rather like Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, actually). But what makes the list a crime is the inclusion of Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce at number two.

In my own review of Lifeforce, I talk a lot about what is silly and kind of stupid in the film. But there's a boldness to its gender reversal of Dracula, the real reason for the naked woman Paul Scheer seems to take such pleasure in deriding. He may not like seeing naked women, but saying a film is bad because of that is like saying Singing in the Rain is bad because you don't like musicals. It's not like she's naked on accident. Lifeforce has problems but Mathilda May's body isn't one of them.

I considered at the time writing a rebuttal list. Now that Tobe Hooper has died I feel honour bound. So here's a top five worst films, subject to change. And naturally I'll be drawing from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 a lot.

5. Lost Continent 1951

What makes this film worse than an average b movie adventure film from the 1950s? In the ominous words of Dr. Forrester: "Rock climbing".





4. Manos: The Hands of Fate 1966

Any serious worst movies list must include Manos: The Hands of Fate, or, as Spanish speakers know the film, Hands: The Hands of Fate. Aimless shots of unremarkable fields rolling by at the beginning of the film give way to poorly framed dialogue scenes with bad sound. What more can be said about a movie with so little to say?



3. Outlaw of Gor 1988

Presented in its entirety on YouTube by the officially licensed Mystery Science Theatre 3000 YouTube channel is Outlaw of Gor--no, not Outlaw with Jane Russell, Howard Hughes' legendary mediocre western. Its weirdness makes the Hughes film a cut above this low rent attempt to cash in on the audience for 80s fantasy films like Conan the Barbarian. Outlaw of Gor is set in the fictional fantasy world of Gor, a cheesy sexist fantasy conceived of by author John Norman who very badly wishes he was Robert E. Howard. The film takes Norman's embarrassing fantasy and adds tone deaf performances, sub-Halloween store quality costumes, lousy special effects, and a very unfortunately slumming Jack Palance as some kind of wizard.



2. Track of the Moon Beast 1976

Here's one I don't think gets as much attention as it deserves. My favourite from MST3k's final three seasons on the Sci Fi channel, it has none of the charm of Final Sacrifice and none of the competence of Final Justice. Track of the Moon Beast begins with a prank pulled on the main character that obviously must have looked very effective to the screenwriter but in practice turns out to involve the protagonist looking up and seeing a reflective mask and not reacting to it. This would be awkward in itself but it's followed up by what seems like fifteen minutes of dialogue from bad actors explaining the prank. This kicks off a movie with the luscious production design of blank white walls and characters who memorably drone on about stew recipes.



1. Transformers: Age of Extinction 2014

Finally, here's one from outside MST3k. I know what I said about basic filmmaking competence, but this one gets extra negative points for being the product of predatory greed and cynicism. Most of the worst movies on MST3k at least have some heart to them. If you've seen Tim Burton's film about legendary bad director Ed Wood, you've seen how, even if these guys were lousy at what they did, they at least did it with love and that kind of love gives their films a peculiar charm. Truly, the lowest level of Hell ought to be reserved for films that are designed to exploit the medium as a cold, ugly, moneymaking machine. From my review:

Some movies, we see to be entertained. Some, we see for a transcendent experience, to challenge our intellect, to learn new things about the human condition, to gain perspective. And then some movies are like cancerous tissue; they perform none of these functions but sustain to sustain, drawing resources from product placement and heavily stipulated investments to ensure a profit over the budget required to pay actors who don't care about the project and bloated special effects studios.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


The Wikipedia page for 1973's Battles Without Honour and Humanity (仁義なき戦い), the first in a famous series of yakuza films, says the film is "often called the 'Japanese Godfather'." The single source cited for this assertion is a one paragraph review that mentions the comparison briefly in order to say it's inaccurate. Though the review considers this a positive point, apparently believing the Japanese film displays greater realism, I would argue the two are certainly different but realism has nothing to do with it. The Godfather is filled with memorable characters and effective family drama while Battles Without Honour and Humanity features a collection of character types with leads played by a few remarkably handsome and rugged men. The film doesn't quite rise above a loving celebration of the genre established over the fifteen or so years preceding it, revelling in typical plot turns and deliberately invoking typical plot mechanics. Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter, released a few years earlier, almost feels like a parody of this film, so sincerely does Battles without Honour and Humanity devote itself to well worn devices, despite the fact that the film is supposedly based on a true story. But it has some nice bits of style and the actors are attractive.



This is my favourite shot in the film--the film's hero, Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), having sex with a prostitute and revealing to us in the process his massive fish tattoo. This is his last taste of freedom before he assassinates a rival yakuza boss at the behest of his own comically weak and sobbing boss, Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneko). I can imagine what Don Corleone would say about him.



Yamamori promises to make Hirono his heir after the long prison sentence. The protagonist going to prison for a hit reminds one of Pale Flower while the soldier's admirable loyalty to his unworthy boss is reminiscent of a number of yakuza films, most notably Tokyo Drifter.



Bunto Sugawara as Hirono is certainly an exceptionally good lead, charismatic and rugged. I'd like to see him in some more action films but his character is a bit weightless here. His loyalty doesn't feel very natural and then instances of his disloyalty feel less so.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


Some of the most beautiful sound stages posing as exteriors can be found in Fritz Lang's 1955 film Moonfleet. A swashbuckler with a great cast to go with its visual style and exciting story, its only real flaw is that it centres on a child actor who delivers a very weak performance. Still, he's not as annoying as Bobby Driscoll.



There are a lot of reasons one might think of the famous adaptation of Treasure Island made five years earlier--both are told mostly from the point of view of a little boy trying to figure out who to trust among a bunch of roguish characters, even as he's drawn to one sinister but charismatic father figure. Moonfleet is adapted from a Victorian novel that was itself likely influenced by the book Treasure Island.



But instead of pirates, the film deals with smugglers in mid-18th century Dorset. Little John Mohune (Jon Whiteley) has unexpectedly come to stay with his mother's former lover, Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger). Jeremy is doing well for himself living in a crumbling manor house and living a life of nightly debauchery so he doesn't want some kid around cramping his style. John walks in when a gypsy woman (Liliane Montevecchi) is giving an impressively mad, wonderful table dance for Jeremy's drunken guests.



Among these guests is George Sanders as Lord Ashwood in a somewhat disappointingly small role. Lady Ashwood (Joan Greenwood) has much more valuable screen time later as she vigorously attempts to seduce Jeremy.



This film is under an hour and a half and mostly focuses on John and his hunt for his ancestor's treasure but somehow Jeremy manages to have three memorable lovers in that brief runtime--living with him his Mrs. Minton (Viveca Lindfors).



The fantastic sets are reminiscent of the opening scenes of Treasure Island but Fritz Lang brings a great deal of his own legendary visual instincts to the table. Moonfleet has one of the greatest graveyard sets I've ever seen.



And Lang has a keen sense of how to direct action--the first shot of a peculiar stone angel is as likely to startle the viewer as it does John. And it's not even moving.



The greatest action sequence in the film, though, involves a duel between Jeremy and one of his men in an tavern. The gentleman Jeremy tosses his opponent a rapier but the man throws it away in favour of a massive halberd from the fireplace which he immediately begins swinging around.



If not for the little kid, this movie would be a thorough pleasure. The treasure hunt scenes have a wonderful Indiana Jones feel to them and the dialogue is often delightful.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


A nice, handsome guy and a nice, beautiful woman are stuck on a deserted island together, not having sex. That's because he's a marine and she's a nun in John Huston's 1957 film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, a sweet, respectful World War II film about commitment to roles assigned by institutions. Taking place on a Pacific island but shot at Trinidad and Tobago, the film is filled with great, effective exteriors and lovely performances but the film isn't quite an effective counterpoint to the eroticism of Black Narcissus.



Why should I think of Black Narcissus? Deborah Kerr plays a nun in both films--Anglican in Black Narcissus and Catholic in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Black Narcissus was the subject of controversy when it was released in 1947, partly because it depicted nuns driven mad by bodily lusts which devotion to Christ was inadequate to overcome. Released ten years later, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison shows Kerr as an Irish nun, Sister Angela, trapped alone on an island until an American named Allison (Robert Mitchum) washes ashore in a life raft.



Huston establishes the story from Allison's point of view and I loved the eeriness as the marine cautiously ventures into the island and through an ominously abandoned village.



There's no hint of love at first sight when he finds Sister Angela alone in the church. The two strike up a very platonic friendship as they work together, making do with the limited supplies in the village and cooperating hunting for a sea turtle He always calls her "Ma'am". Allison's curious about nuns and the two swap info about their respective orders, coming to the conclusion that marines and nuns have a lot in common in terms of discipline, self-denial, and devotion. It's not until Allison gets drunk on some sake left behind by some Japanese troops who briefly occupy the island that he gets to talking about just what these physical and mental uniforms of theirs mean when there's no-one but the two of them.



By the way, even though none of the Japanese troops become characters, Huston never portrays them as inhuman caricatures. A scene where Allison hides in the rafters watching a couple Japanese men getting drunk and playing Go is oddly human and charming and in stark contrast to other World War II films where Japanese troops are portrayed as ridiculous goblins.



Anyway, Kerr's performance is really nice and I can believe someone like her really could be so steadfast in her devotion to not even for a moment be tempted by pleasures of the flesh. And I like how Allison's more aggressive mood when he's drunk is never overplayed and he feels deeply ashamed of himself afterwards. But the film's simply not as impressive as Black Narcissus with its vivid, gorgeous colours and its more complex characters. If the two movies are different sides of an argument, Black Narcissus brings a lot more evidence for its side. By contrast, the more realistically shot Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison oddly comes off as a light fantasy for those who believe in the power of chastity.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


There's a long tradition now of fiction about repressed psychological trauma manifesting in violent telekinetic powers. In 2013, Marina de Van added her own entry to the genre with the unfortunately titled Dark Touch. A pretty, austere colour palette, some good performances, and moments of delicate human feeling aren't enough to pull this film out of a downward spiral. It feels very much like, after a few early good ideas, de Van completely lost inspiration and ditched a series of half formed ideas for a clumsy, cartoonish climax.



Released a year before the far superior Babadook, Dark Touch's cinematography reminded me of the newer film's faded navy blue colour palette, also extending to an improbably coordinated wardrobe. If I see three more films like this, I'm going to call the genre film bleu. It doesn't serve Dark Touch well and seems part of a general lack of a sense that we're seeing real people in real families. The film is about children but the children depicted are all solemnly staring most of the time when they're not in some way dealing with the issue of child abuse. It's like watching something go horribly wrong in the lives of the people in stock photos.



The film centres on a good performance by Missy Keating as Niamh who miraculously survives after her parents are murdered gruesomely by the furniture. I wonder if you'd need to have seen the many other films in this genre to pick up right away that Niamh is the source of the Poltergeist. Hints of her abuse are loud and clear, too, from the peculiar way her parents snap at her and a few suggestive shots of the father's hand and a bruise her baby brother's belly. Her father tries to explain her nervousness as being due to the creaking of a country house--I don't know if it's supposed to seem absurd that we're meant to take this as a creaky old country house.



Niamh goes to live with her neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Galin, and their two children. Nat Galin (Marcella Plunkett) seems to have a connexion with Niamh that is never explained, getting psychic flashes into Niamh's mental state and hearing a high pitched sound just before incidents of Niamh's telekinesis.



Niamh doesn't trust any adults, something not helped by the fact that nearly everyone seems to hit their kids with no warning. Even at a birthday party Niamh attends, all the little girls are hitting and berating their dolls. It's hard to tell if they're deliberately trying to antagonise Niamh or if some of this behaviour is in Niamh's head or if they're all imitating their parents. Maybe this disorientation is meant to put us in Niamh's point of view where everything looks suspicious, I'm not sure.



In one very effectively tender scene, a pregnant councillor named Tanya (Charlotte Flyvholm) is the first to make Niamh feel safe enough to be held, in part because Niamh likes putting her ear to Tanya's tummy. For the most part, Niamh seems to feel an automatic, silent bond with other children, particularly abused children and a brother and sister she meets at school. Niamh very quickly goes from someone who's helpless to and horrified by her own powers to a deliberate vigilante as she organises a little army of silent kids.



This broad idea eclipses a lot of other threads the film leaves unresolved, like a subplot about the Galins' deceased little girl who was apparently a friend of Niamh's despite Niamh mysteriously lacking any memory of her. Nat Galin is framed as a point of view character and the camera evokes a lot of sympathy for her but her motives and personality are left completely ambiguous outside the actress' performance. But she still gets a lot more than many other characters do.

Twitter Sonnet #1024

The lawn mistook the stone for something felt.
The man's no longer sure of wrapping vines.
The moon resounded 'neath where metals melt.
The dust of sugar monks invade the mines.
Enlarged in part by drams of oranges sing.
Allotted spots, assorted dots arise.
In space the speckled band implies a ring.
The serpent's eye is pretty, sharp, and wise.
A curling fish predicts a reddened sun.
It's on the sea collected in the palm.
The horses in the sky began to run.
A hundred ships abide in lingered calm.
The flour tipped in steel was hard to see.
Combined, a thousand eggs became a sea.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


I'm often surprised by the light-hearted attitude 1940s British comedies take towards World War II. A vivid example being 1946's I See a Dark Stranger, a comedy spy thriller about a naive Irishwoman who becomes a spy for Germany during the war. The film is a finely crafted enough comedy by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder and I couldn't help feeling affection for the characters even as I felt its treatment might be a bit too breezy. On other hand, maybe something like this wasn't wholly a bad idea at a time when Britain, Ireland, and Germany were trying to find a way of being at peace with each other after bitter conflict.



The film's opening scene is really remarkable for its context. Set in a pub in an Irish village, an old man tells a story of fighting in the Irish Revolution and stirringly describes killing English soldiers. Mind you, this is a British film. If the Irish characters here seem a bit buffoonish, they're no worse than the English characters shown later on. In fact, they're a bit less buffoonish.



Deborah Kerr, whose Irish accent sounds a lot more natural than her American accent, plays Bridie Quilty who's been raised on the stories of the revolution, her father having fought in it. It being her twenty first birthday, she decides to go to Dublin and meet with her father's old comrade, Michael O'Callaghan (Brefni O'Rorke), to join the IRA. To her disappointment, O'Callaghan has come to accept peace with Britain and tries to convince her to do likewise. O'Rorke plays the character as calm and wise in contrast to Bridie's youthful rashness and I suspect part of the motive with this film was to reassure British audiences that Ireland was an ally and dissenters were sentimental old men and adorable young fools. On the one hand, it's a nice idea to put everyone at ease with each other, on the other, it's a bit patronising. Still, O'Callaghan comes across as easily the wisest character in the film.



Spotted in a bookshop buying books on learning the German language, Bridie's recruited by a German spy who goes by the name of Miller (Raymond Huntley). Of all places, he puts her on assignment in an English town with a statue of Oliver Cromwell, whom Bridie takes every opportunity throughout the film to curse.



And, wouldn't you know, Miller has her seduce a British officer named David Baynes (Trevor Howard) who says he's there because he's working on a thesis on Cromwell. As with the explicit details of World War II and the Irish Revolution, Bridie never manages to say precisely why she and everyone back home hate Cromwell so much. Discussing slaughter at the hands of Cromwell and his men at Drogheda would risk making Bridie not seem so foolish.



Because the German agent is a buffoon, his assumption that David is an intelligence officer based on the fact that David says he's not in town to fish turns out to be utterly wrong. This puts Bridie into a rage after she's wasted a whole afternoon falling in love with David. Miller's not nearly as buffoonish, though, as the leader of the German spies in England we meet later played by a portly Norman Shelley in a ridiculous check sport coat and boater hat.



Witnessing his interrogation technique of slapping someone in the face a few times can only seem insultingly trite at this point.

But meanwhile, the British COs in the Isle of Man, where Bridie and David end up, are a strange pair of philandering big men with matching moustaches and bald heads who routinely fumble in their jobs.



The film actually shows some British military police getting shot so I wonder how comfortable war veterans were laughing at this movie. But many of the gags are very good and the leads are charming.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


In the weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbour, handsome soldiers and beautiful women are caught in private, passionate melodramas in 1953's From Here to Eternity. The screenplay is much too broad to make most of its stabs for emotion very effective but the actors carry a lot, both for their performances and for their physical appearance.



Burt Lancaster must have the broadest shoulders I've ever seen. He easily encompasses Deborah Kerr in the famous beach love scene, the scene that's misled many people into thinking the film was going to be all about romance. Kerr, in something of a breakout role for her in the U.S., has a fairly small part in the film and a really strange American accent. I wouldn't be surprised to learn she was dubbed. There are a few scenes where the filmmakers seem to avoid giving her as much dialogue as possible--a scene where she and Lancaster are worried about being spotted at a restaurant has a long, continuous shot of her face with absolutely no dialogue. It's like watching a silent film actress--and Kerr really makes it work.



Lancaster's a sergeant named Warden and Kerr plays Karen, the wife of Warden's captain. She's known for sleeping around, something Warden tosses in her face angrily in an unintentionally funny moment just after the two have been going at it in the surf. The film is filled with over the top, hot headed guys.



But most of the film focuses on a private named Robert E. Lee Prewitt, played by Montgomery Clift in a wonderful, vulnerable, raw nerve performance. In a plot point nicked from The Quiet Man, Prewitt's a former boxer who refuses to fight now after he accidentally caused permanent harm to another boxer. But the whole reason he'd been transferred to the regiment is because the captain (Philip Ober) wants him to fight for his team. So a bunch of Prewitt's superiors commence giving him "the treatment"--kicking him during training and giving him unfair punishments. Much to their frustration, he takes it all in stride.



He's befriended by a nice, hot headed guy named Maggio (Frank Sinatra) who establishes a dangerous rivalry with the hot headed stockade sergeant, Judson (Ernest Borgnine), leading to two knife fights in the film. Maggio's a good guy whose unlikely misfortune fuels the melodramatic, noble reactions from those around him.

Donna Reed plays a gentleman's club hostess named Lorene, apparently a prostitute in the source novel, which better explains the conflicted feelings Prewitt and she have when he falls for her.



I found myself enjoying the movie most when everyone was just hanging around a bar or the club while Maggio tells drunken jokes and Prewitt plays his bugle mouthpiece, which Reed handles at one moment rather suggestively. But for some reason my favourite visual was Kerr in this dress with what looks like a bunch of wicker disks.



Twitter Sonnet #1022

The tin antennae tune from under clouds.
Like drifting weeds but sharp and hungry leaves.
As the merging shades above become as shrouds.
As holy ants depart with pupa sheaves.
Returning lamps adorn the space at hand.
A liver sorts an ocean if you ask.
I've seen the crows describe a certain band.
In flying carts I can't refuse a task.
A giant hand became the nearest suit.
Some clothes can take a pending hat for song.
Entire towns exclaim sometimes to loot.
In semblance of a sink the trough was long.
The eyes encompass burning ginger fields.
From here a reddish ink composed the yields.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


Normally I'm not a big fan of product placement but I was happy to be seduced by 2017's Atomic Blonde into having a glass of vodka on the rocks. This stylish solo directorial debut by former stuntman Kurt Johnstad is a cool, neon painted contemplation of Charlize Theron's beauty most of the time, and the rest of the time it has her in some really well constructed action sequences.



I can't really say much about the plot. Lorraine (Theron) is an agent from MI6 who goes on assignment in Berlin in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As she testily points out more then once, she's immediately made by the KGB and from then on she's in constant peril as she simultaneously tries to track down a double agent named "Satchel" and acquire a list of sensitive names. This list turns out to have been memorised by a guy code named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) so he becomes a living McGuffin, something that reminded me a bit of The 39 Steps.



But mainly the pleasure in the film is watching Theron with a platinum bob strutting in fantastically chic boots and stilettos through neon haze and shadow. Reviews predictably compare her to James Bond but in her beautiful love scenes with the naive French agent, Delphine (Sofia Boutella), she's nowhere near as annoying as James Bond usually is.



About two thirds of the way through the movie, though, the action aspect of the film really kicks in with a lengthy fight down a stairwell in an apartment building. It seems to be a descendent of the famous sloppy hallway fight in Oldboy though now, after Birdman, it's a lot easier to imitate continuous shots. Johnstad knows this and so pushes it further, having what looks like one shot continue down several floors to outside the building to inside a car driving down the street. And Theron, who apparently trained so hard for this film she cracked her teeth clenching them, does some really impressive work in the fight scenes.



I felt like the plot went through a bit too many convolutions but I wonder if the resulting disorientation was intentional. In any case, the film's not really about that, as I said. It's a bathtub filled with ice, Charlize Theron, and Stolichnaya.

setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


At one point in 1996's Looking for Richard, director and star Al Pacino discusses how difficult it can be to understand people who find Shakespeare difficult to understand. He dismisses the idea that the language is "fancy" as one person calls it and argues that if one just listens and goes along with the story, one will get the gist, even if one doesn't understand everything. The film is a fascinating look at the process directors and actors for theatre and film go through in adapting Shakespeare for a modern audience, using Richard III as a subject. I would've preferred a straight forward adaptation of the play starring this film's cast but its documentary elements are illuminating and fun.



The documentary segments follow Pacino and his collaborator, Frederic Kimball, as they go from the earliest stages of a film production with a focus on casting and discussions with actors. It's funny how movies directed by actors predictably have lots and lots of close ups.



This isn't mere vanity, though. Actors know how much story they can tell with their faces. The difference between the stage and film for Shakespeare is also discussed, with one person, I forget who, observing that the ability to speak in a lower voice on film, without the need of a stage voice to carry across a theatre, allows the actor greater intimacy with the lines. It suggests a more personal connexion between the character and the words.



Pacino interviews a variety of actors and scholars. John Gielgud offers an intriguing though somewhat incomprehensible opinion on the difference between the way American and British actors tend to perform Shakespeare, suggesting it's because the British spend more time in galleries contemplating beautiful art. One can question how true this broad statement is and also whether it's valid in pinpointing why British actors are more comfortable with the material though there's some insight, I think, in the idea that internalising brilliant artifice through rigorous contemplation makes one more comfortable with the scope and beauty of Shakespeare.



The two most interesting commentators, though, were Vanessa Redgrave and Penelope Allen--the latter plays King Edward's wife Elizabeth in Pacino's production. We see Pacino assembling actors in a hotel room to discuss their scenes and it's wonderful seeing how personally the actors attach themselves to characters. Allen's vociferous argument as to her character's motives is inspiring to watch.



Winona Ryder as Lady Anne is probably the weakest point of this production. Her turning on a dime interpretation of the scene where Richard woos Anne is kind of embarrassingly shallow and drains the scene of much of its insight and horror, turning it almost into broad comedy.



Pacino's performance as Richard is really good, as you might expect. He's vicious and magnetic.



The cast also includes Alec Baldwin as Clarence and an underused Kevin Spacey as Buckingham. I saw the film a few nights ago at a free screening at San Diego's Old Globe with my friend, and Shakespeare professor, Edith Frampton. The audience laughed when Spacey, in an interview segment, held forth on the nature of politicians who, in election time, typically promise change and talk about how miserable things are now. This timely comment from Spacey is of course prompted by the timeless insight in the play itself.

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