Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Film Week

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

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)
And not, as I've been saying in my head, Inside Llewelyn Davies. I found this film very profoundly depressing when I saw it. I just felt kind of hopeless after seeing it. Now, saying that, I think it's a very good movie. The Coen Brothers are feeling something here... I think it's sort of a revisiting of the same subject matter they explored twenty years ago in Barton Fink: making art for money, and just how futile that can be. The difference between this film and that film is that they clearly don't find compromise, power brokers, and the feeling that the forces of the universe are lined up against you funny anymore. I don't think they make the point here as forcefully or as interestingly as they did in A Simple Man, but Oscar Isaac is excellent in the lead, and the music is great. I liked John Goodman's weird performance, and I'd really like to see Adam Driver in more movies. I just found the drift of Llewyn's life a bit too familiar, is I think my problem. ***1/2

MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936)
Gary Cooper plays a hayseed who inherits a bunch of money and doesn't want it, so everyone thinks he's crazy. I'm too cynical for this one. I found Capra's "common people know everything and you city folk have become too disconnected" attitude pretty pandering. It's pandering so thin and hard that the mechanics are just insultingly obvious. Long, boring, and obvious. I know it's a classic, I just don't care. **

THE GIRL HE MET ONLINE (2014)
Soft core porn movie, just missing the sex. This Lifetime flick about an emotionally disturbed girl who meets a guy online and then things happen is just like watching softcore porn, with Xanax-ed out leads acting in a bad-yet-subdued way, sleepwalking through a threadbare plot that leads nowhere. I kept expecting it to turn into a porno. Yvonne Zima is pretty as hell, but the movie and everyone involved are so detached from their story that you wonder why anyone bothered. *1/2

BERKELEY SQUARE (1933)
Excellent example in how you can make 90 minutes feel like 9 hours. Stagey, boring flick where Leslie Howard time travels to 1784, apparently just by wanting to really bad, and then mopes around for a while before returning home. I honestly had already forgotten it until I saw it on my list for today. I hate it when Leslie Howard is wasted. I know he played the role on stage, and I wonder if it was more alive there. This film is inert. *1/2

A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984)
David Lean's final film--based on EM Forster's beautiful novel--is gorgeous to look at. He fills it with an emotional resonance to match. I loved this movie about British India and the way people connect and don't connect. Victor Banerjee is excellent as an Indian doctor accused of terrible crime, and who sees what the accusation reveals about the nature of people. Peggy Ashcroft is very good as the most interesting character in the piece, Mrs. Moore. I think the one place where the film falters is in casting Judy Davis in the lead, and only because I found her performance a little too contemporary. Otherwise, perfect. ****

THIRD WHEEL (2014)
A Valentine's Mickey Mouse short, with Mickey and Minnie trying to enjoy a romantic dinner, and an oblivious Goofy tagging along. I saw Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow in the background, which made me happy, but they were sitting apart, which made me sad. This one's heavier on the grossout humor, but I dug it, as I dig all of these. ****

NON-STOP (2013)
Idiotic, pointless Lifetime movie about... oh, who fucking cares? Another one where all of the actors, including star Lacey Chabert, seemed all doped up and disengaged. Seriously, why not just make porn, Lifetime? These are totally those badly-made quickies you see on HBO Zone at 2 in the morning, but without the nudity and fucking that makes those things... well, not worth watching, exactly, but... oh, who fucking cares? Betsy Russell, my love, you deserve better. *

BABETTE'S FEAST (1987)
I honestly didn't expect to like this film as much as I did. It's a fairly simple story--two elderly, pious Danish sisters take in a French refugee (Babette), who cooks for them. One day, Babette wins the lottery, and wants to use her money to cook a real French dinner as a thank-you for the sisters and their friends. The bulk of the film is the preparation and eating of the meal, but the fascination of it is the way these pious people try to refrain from commenting on the earthly pleasures of their meal. However, as the courses go on, their defenses come down and they're lifted spiritually by the rich enjoyment they share; old hurts are forgiven, old loves are rekindled, and wrongs are redeemed. This is a film about community, about giving, and about receiving. It's one of the most affirming films I've ever seen. I liked it very, very much. ****

COUSIN COUSINE (1975)
Looking at the films made over the past thirty years, does it ever seem possible to you that there was a time when audiences liked sex and celebrated it? After decades of slick naughtiness and obsessed taboos and furtive, stolen moments that lead to guilt and darkness, it is nice to occasionally see something from the seventies and remember that there was actually a time when the movies gloried in real sex, and the real joys that come from it. And not only sex, but romance. I really, really enjoyed this movie about two distant cousins who meet, fall in love, and savor their unexpected relationship. Even in the midst of problems with their respective spouses, it's so refreshing to see a movie where love builds up the people sharing it rather than occurring in spite of obstacles or with great guilt attached or whatever. This movie's just so in love with life that I found it impossible not to like. ***1/2

7 comments:

Tallulah Morehead said...

"I found Capra's 'common people know everything and you city folk have become too disconnected' attitude pretty pandering. It's pandering so thin and hard that the mechanics are just insultingly obvious."

Ah, you've summed up just why it is that I dislike pretty much all of Capra's work so much. (I do enjoy Pocketful of Miracles though.)

Re: Barkley Square: I generally find that Leslie Howard's mere presence adds 3 hours of subjective time to any movie. He was the reason my mother hated Gone With the Wind. Said Mother: "I'm supposed to believe for four hours that there's some woman on earth who would prefer Leslie Howard to Cark Gable? Do they think I'm blind? I've seen more-charismatic lumps of mud."

There's another spot where A Passage to India flounders, and flounders badly, in the ludicrous casting of Alec Guiness. His brown-face performance is embarassing at best.

Kelly Sedinger said...

My mother disses Gone With the Wind for the same reason!

I've never seen Cousin, Cousine, but the 1989 American remake, Cousins, is a favorite movie of mine.

Roger Owen Green said...

You KNOW I feel almost exactly the same about Llewyn Davis. My, it looked GREAT. Those sweaters one of the groups was wearing reminded me of the Irish Rovers. And it was true that lots of artists lost out on money they should have gotten - heck, that was true of the early Beatles stuff. But I guess the "joke" wore thin on me too.

SamuraiFrog said...

Tallulah: The first time I ever saw Leslie Howard was in GWTW, and for the longest time I thought I hated him as an actor simply because he was so boring in that movie (so boring that when Victor Fleming and David O. Selznick brought in Ben Hecht to work on the screenplay, the first thing he suggested was getting rid of the Ashley character). But there are some movies I love him in, which came as a surprise when I got to them. But when he bores, he BORES.

I did forget to mention Alec Guinness, perhaps because his role is small. When we watched it, I turned to my wife and said "But they had Saeed Jaffrey RIGHT THERE."

Kelly: I saw Cousins way back in high school and really enjoyed it. Now that I've seen the original I'll have to revisit the remake.

Roger: This is the first time in a while that I've felt like I *had* to get the soundtrack. When the songs were going, I found myself more forgiving, even "Please Mr. Kennedy." But there is only so much unredeemed human misery I can take in a movie like that.

Tallulah Morehead said...

What an odd thing for Hecht to say. As one of our greatest screenwriters, surely he could see that the character of Ashley Wilkes is essential to the story. Everything Scarlett does until the final scene is motivated by her obssession with Ashley. It's not possible to eliminate him, quite apart from the fact that, if they had made such a gross and outrageous butchering of the novel, he and Selznick would have been lyynched. You think Star Wars and Twilight fandom is rabid today? The hoardes of women across the nation in the late 1930s who loved the novel GWTW more than they loved their husbands or children, especially in the deep south, make modern fans look apathetic.

What they needed to do was recast the role.

I've seen Leslie Howard's Henry Higgins, and while it's a fairly good movie, he's still nothing to seize one's attention. (Plus, I had seen Peter O'Toole play Henry Higgins on Broadway with Amanda Plummer, Sir John Mills and Lionel Jeffries, not in the musical, obviously, and O'Toole was SPECTACULAR!)

Yes, there was just no excuse for casting Guiness, and no excuse for Guiness taking the role when offered.

SamuraiFrog said...

Hecht talks about it in his book; I think he just felt the character was so boring and was under the impression that they wanted to make the movie shorter. If I remember correctly, he hadn't read the book. But I've always thought that (as have many), that they just needed someone more dynamic in the role.

I do like Howard in Pygmalion, but I'd have loved to see O'Toole.

Apparently Alec Guinness had to be talked into taking that role, because he and Lean had had a big falling out, and then most of his role ended up on the cutting room floor, anyway.

I say again: Saeed Jaffrey was right there!

Tallulah Morehead said...

"I say again: Saeed Jaffrey was right there!"

Yup.

O'Toole was magic. Every moment he was onstage was thrilling. And Lionel Jeffries managed the I'd have thought impossible feat of making Pickering, the most thankless role ever written, interesting and entertaining. Best Pickering I've ever seen. And, of course, Sir John Mills just cleaned house as Alfred P. Doolittle. He was magnificent. Meeting these giants after the performance was as exciting as the show itself. (The program cover, with the autographs of all of them is framed on my living room wall.) It's tragic it wasn't captured on film or video tape.