Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

This is a very likable movie. I'm kind of surprised it took me this long to see it, actually; I'd been told for so many years as a younger man that I would absolutely love this love letter to cinema. And I did; I loved it. It's a warm, engrossing film that encompasses love, friendship, sentimentality, pragmatism, and youth, and all surrounding the cinema. I love the way the cinema is portrayed in this small Italian postwar town as the center of the community. It's idealized, but I think the director, Giuseppe Tornatore justifies it as a memory, and we all idealize the good ones. I think it's interesting how the main character, Toto, idealizes his youth but at the same time remembers the warnings of the projectionist he looks at as a father to never give in to nostalgia, but rather to follow your path. Beautifully realized, with a gorgeous score by Ennio Morricone. **** (Note: I saw the 155-minute version of the film Miramax released in 1989; it just happened to be the one TCM was showing.)

What an experience this film was. I find it hard to describe; there's not really a plot so much as a premise. Perhaps it's due to the film's style; observational but never intrusive. The premise is that there are angels who watch over Berlin, weaving around humankind but never interfering, observing in a sort of fascination and maybe able to create the possibility of hope. Otherwise, they simply observe, never participating, and it's amazing how well director Wim Wenders and his cinematographer, the great Henri Alekan (who shot one of my all time favorite films, Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast), create true loneliness even among crowds. The angels--Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander--can see everything but are a part of nothing. They are cut off from experience and feeling. Bruno Ganz, as Damiel, begins to fall in love and wants to feel; he is tired of being alone. To me the film suggests that the fact that he knows he's lonely at all is the first step outside of himself. For me, the film re-created exactly the feeling of holding yourself detached from everything, and the intense longing when you begin to with you were a part of something outside of yourself. It's a bit of a flawed film, but not in a way that derails the impression of it; it's like a symphonic tone poem where not every piece works, but the imperfections somehow make it feel more alive. It doesn't grab you by the throat and force you to see what it wants. It simply observes and leaves you to get what you can from it. I liked that. It's very much in the New Wave tradition of filmmaking. I need to also mention Peter Falk's performance as himself; he seems to be arguing that even the most mundane sensations and experiences are important. He's magical in a magical movie. ****

This is the most confident and masterful Scorsese's been in a long time; probably because it's basically the same tone and structure as GoodFellas, except that it's about Wall Street, which is arguably where the bigger criminals are, anyway. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as real life stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who started his own firm and basically seemed to push both hedonism and stock fraud as far as he could. It's a dynamic movie, and Scorsese's energy is easily matched by DiCaprio in possibly his greatest performance. (Also, unlike the last time this happened, I do think Jonah Hill deserves the Oscar nomination here, although I wish he'd shut up about "real acting" as though comedy is just goofing off and doesn't take talent.) It's a funny movie, too, not only in the way it satirizes these assholes and their ridiculous tastes, but just in how loony it's willing to get in its depiction of their bizarre lifestyle without totally breaking the reality of it. One of the best movies of last year. ****

9 1/2 WEEKS (1986)
This was like watching a movie version of 50 Shades of Grey but without all the character depth. If you've been reading my posts about that novel, you know what that means. I wanted to like it, but it's so slick, so pretend-dark, so light and fluffy... maybe it's just because I've grown up in a world with all the sexy movies that came after, so I've already seen the evolution and this just looks like an episode of Silk Stalkings to me, with its cheesy music and it's sweaty softcore scenes, pretending to be so transgressive... it just seemed really, really silly and not erotic to me at all. Kim Basinger was at the height of her beauty then, but it's like she has no character. I never knew who she was or how I was supposed to feel about what was happening to her, because I never had a sense of where she was at in her life and what this meant. Mickey Rourke smirks and mumbles his way through the film, like Bruce Willis without the charisma. (Take that as you will.) I know it sounds like I hated this movie, and I didn't really, but I didn't connect with it on any level. I thought the "You Can Leave Your Hat On" striptease was nice, because it was basically a well-shot music video. Maybe I just couldn't see all of the emotional sincerity some reviewers saw through all of the gloss and slickness. **

Passionate drama about a singer (Judy Garland) who is discovered by a fading actor (James Mason) and becomes a movie star. In director George Cukor's hands, this story becomes almost operatic in its grandness. The emotions here run high and intense. Mason, effortlessly good, is a drunk whose star is on the wane and who finds something in Garland--a fresh-faced, sincere singer who becomes very popular very quickly--and tries to cling to it. I liked how their emotions for each other seemed genuine. To me he never came across as desperate to cling to her fame; he was very much in love with her, which makes the whole thing more tragic, as he becomes a hopeless alcoholic and she tries her hardest to stand by him, even when she knows it will damage her career. It's a beautiful-looking film, the first Warner Bros. film in widescreen CinemaScope, and an interesting range of songs. (To be honest, you could have dropped the entire "Born in a Trunk" sequence and I wouldn't have missed it; I much preferred Garland performing "It's a New World," a beautiful sequence where she performs at home for Mason and which she's quite playful in, and especially "The Man That Got Away," held for a single take.) Garland's performance is what really holds the film together; when she breaks down in the makeup chair, it felt so real it gave me chills. There's a satirical edge, too, but the real heart of the movie is in the grand display of two people tragically in love, one of them self-destructive, the other's optimism eroding away. I loved it. **** (Note: the version I saw on TCM was the 176-minute restored version.)

It's been very interesting looking at the interpretations of this dreamlike film online since I viewed it. I'm very glad to have finally sat with it. Many of you have seen it by now, I'm sure, so I don't want to get deep into describing it, and I'm not sure any description of it will be adequate, anyway. I just want to say I think it's a great film. Bold opinion, I know. Very, very glad to have seen it. ****


Roger Owen Green said...

I probably saw the 123-minute version of Cinema Paradiso in the movie theater at the time. LOVED it. You saw what the director originally released. And apparently there's an even longer version, 179 minutes, which was royally panned.

SamuraiFrog said...

I honestly didn't feel like it was missing anything, and I remember reading Roger Ebert's review of the longer version, where he basically says that the shorter version seemed more complete.