Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Movie Diary 2-21 to 2-23-11


Night of the Hunter(1955) A truly delightful film, despite the fact that it's actually quite menacing at times. Robert Mitchum plays a false priest who travels the country marrying widows and killing them. While in jail for stealing a car, he meets a man on death row for killing a guard during a bank robbery. Knowing the money was never found, and rightfully suspecting it was hidden somewhere on the man's property, Mitchum begins to romance his widow(Shelly Winters) and menace her two children. The film is at times comic, at times horrific, and features an odd, stilted, dreamlike quality even before the lengthy sequence where the children drift calmly down a river, watched over by nocturnal animals on the shore and followed always by Mitchum. Character actor Charles Laughton's only directorial effort utilizes archetypes and iconography in a more effective manner than most, from the Love and Hate tattoos on Mitchum's fingers to the exaggerated set design and use of shadows. A wonderfully expressionistic film, full of moments that will stick with me.


Machete(2010) Machete has enough gonzo moments for a dozen films, but also feels strangely lifeless. That's surprising for a movie with so much bloody violence and nudity. Robert Rodgriguez mimics the 70's sleaze and exploitation films he clearly loves, but brings none of the energy present in his earlier films to the table. It gets a lot of the details right - the smash cuts, the aggressive zooms, and of course the violence and nudity - and amplifies them to ridiculous heights, but the film lacks the vibrancy and energy of even some of the worst grindhouse films.


Great Expectations(1956) Commonly cited as the best Dickens adaptation, and for all I know it is. The film is a perfect distillation of the novel, keeping most of the main characters while spending only as much time with them as is necessary to keep the plot moving. The story, for those unfamiliar, concerns Pip, a young blacksmith's apprentice who finds himself the beneficiary of a large sum of money and the promise of property. His benefactor wishes to remain anonymous, but it's fairly likely that the mad Miss Havisham, locked away in her mouldering mansion, is behind it. Casting is fantastic, as Joe Gargery, Miss Havisham, Herbert Pocket and Estella are all exactly as you would imagine from reading the book, although I imagined Pip to be a bit more nebbishy than the film made him. Most of the alterations to the plot are merely omissions, as every full length novel contains too many plot points and characters to adequately squeeze into a 2 hour movie(let alone a book as filled to the brim as Great Expectations), although the film's ending swaps out Dickens' original ambiguously bittersweet finale for a more definite happy ending. Director David Lean does a great job crafting a cohesive film out of moments lifted directly from the novel, but ultimately it serves to remind you the book is still there, ready to be read again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Movie Diary


Black Orpheus(1959) Adaptation of the Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice set during Carnaval in Rio. New to town, Eurydice stays with her cousin, who lives next to Orfeu, a young man engaged to be married. The two begin a romance, set against the constant festivities of Carnaval. The film follows the myth pretty closely, with Eurydice dying at the hands of a costumed man who follows he through most of the film, and Orfeu following Hermes to a religious service that promises to bring Eurydice back. The finale offers it's own take on the Maenads who tear Orpheus apart. The film gets a lot of mileage out of the locale(the wooden shacks in the hills above the city), the constant bossa nova rhythms, and the incredibly likable leads.

The Mummy(1959)The film is an official remake of the original Universal film, although in this film the mummy is an instrument of revenge for a third party, rather than a resurrected man trying to revive his lost love. There are several scenes in The Mummy that are particularly creepy, like the image of Christopher Lee in fully Mummy garb rising slowly from a moonlit bog, but for most of the film it looks like someone wrapped a wetsuit in brown plaster of paris. Hammer stalwart Terrence Fisher does his usual job of keeping things lively, even when we get to see the same flashback three separate times.


Topper(1937) I've always found Cary Grant to be a little... off. I can't quite put it into words, but he never seems quite right in any of the films I've seen him in. Sure, he has charisma, and he seems perfectly likable, but he never seems to relax into any of his roles. It's fortunate, then, that the heavy lifting in this film are prompted by Constance Bennet as his wife. Grant and Bennet play George and Marion Kerby who, following a fatal car crash, try to perform one good deed and get into heaven by enlivening Roland Young's suppressed banker. A perfectly charming film that spawned a slew of sequels and a television series.

The Producers(1968) Subtlety has never been one of Mel Brooks' strong suits, yet this would almost qualify as such when compared to his other films. Sure, Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel flail and shout constantly, but there are no puns to be found, and there's only one notable moment of breaking the fourth wall.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Movie Diary


Thunder Rock(1942) Michael Redgrave is a lighthouse keeper on Thunder Rock in Lake Wisconsin. A former war correspondent who has become fed up with the apathy and entropy of the outside world, he lives alone and doesn't even leave his post to cash his paychecks. For company he spends his evenings among the ghosts of immigrants who drowned on the lake 100 years earlier, although the movie mentions that these are constructs of his active imagination who have taken on their own life. Through the life stories of the (imaginary) ghosts, he comes to the conclusion that he's given up on life prematurely. The ending should feel sappy and treacly, but feels redemptive after the persistent grimness of the rest of the film. James Mason gets second billing despite appearing only briefly in the beginning of the film.

Husk(2011) Convoluted beyond belief, but let me try to sum it up: a loner, outcast farm boy kills his more popular brother and hides his body as a scarecrow. Now, many years later, his spirit possesses whoever wanders into his cornfield and turns them into other scarecrows. He uses these husks to terrorize future travellers, and the cycle continues. The good news? He can only possess one scarecrow at a time. The story's inner logic holds, I guess, but it's never explained WHY any of this is happening, or WHY the rules are there, or WHY one of the victims keeps having flashbacks to the killer's childhood. This last question is a particularly annoying plot point that was obviously put in place by a writer who couldn't come up with any other way to advance the story, and there is absolutely no payoff to it whatsoever.

The Threepenny Opera(1931) Highly entertaining adaptation of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill opera. Cuts out some of the songs, but of course keeps Ballad of Mack The Knife(along with other personal favorites Pirate Jenny and The Cannon Song). It's hard to imagine an American version of this highly cynical and bleakly funny tale. None of the characters are redeemable, least of all Mackie Messer, a pedophile, thief, arsonist, murderer, pimp and rapist. Or Peachum, or rules the many homeless beggars of England by extorting from them large fees for the right to beg. The ending of the film(and opera) give these, and other undeserving characters, a ridiculously happy ending while the true poor and unprivileged shuffle back into the shadows.