I’m not sure even the hallowed Cahiers du Cinéma could convince me that Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life is a good movie.
Maybe I’m missing something, but after about five minutes of this noisome, overdone film I’d had enough. I stopped watching, preferring to listen to the dialogue as it buffeted my ears.
Sirk may be highly regarded in some circles, but I just didn’t care for this weepy, obvious picture, and I suspect I’d feel the same way about many of his other flicks. Yes, I’m generalizing, but if this is the kind of thing Sirk is known for, I’m not interested. Give me Seven Samurai any day.
Oh, I realize I’ve got to supplement my intake of Kurosawa with lesser works now and then. I already do. Imitation of Life, however, is not something I want to revisit again; I’d even rather watch an old Steven Seagal hack-a-thon instead.
Though I hope I won’t have to make that choice. Anyway, on to better cinematic options.
When you’re watching a movie and start thinking that a Robert Bresson film is faster than what you’re currently viewing, you know that’s not a good sign.
That’s what I thought about Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s tedious, overly praised exercise in navel-gazing that takes us through 12 years of a young man’s life. And oh, what a long, uninteresting ride it is, lasting approximately three hours … at least one of which could’ve ended up on the cutting-room floor. Plus, it has two of my least-favorite performers in it: Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. All of these ingredients add up to a pretentious whole, which is reflected in the flick’s general, all-encompassing title.
There’s a difference between something that’s deliberately paced and something that’s just plain slow. Boyhood is slow, and the dialogue doesn’t drive it; instead, it cuts the flow, makes it wallow in narcissistic pseudo-introspection. The characters aren’t intriguing. The plot isn’t involving. Yes, the concept is unusual, but in practice, it doesn’t work … at least, not in this movie. And it’s not like it hasn’t been done before; Michael Apted’s Seven Up! series followed the lives of people from childhood to adulthood, and so Linklater’s conceit isn’t unique or, for that matter, so innovative.
I’ve watched longer films that felt like they took no time at all. Never one of my favorite directors, Linklater has shown with Boyhood that if a simple subject is extended over the period of a decade in movie time, it can feel like a millennium for the filmgoer. Not an exciting prospect from a cinematic perspective … and certainly one that I don’t want to repeat.
If I live that long.
Most movies that start viewers off with narration bother me.
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is no exception, and I had to turn it off last night before getting past the first half hour or so.
Narration is a crutch frequently used, it seems, to offset the fact that a story somehow isn’t told traditionally through the action onscreen. The problem is, it usually winds up being tiresome and suspense-killing, which you don’t want in a movie. That’s what happened in TAMiB.
But what really happened there? A lot of talent was wasted in this film – including Robin Williams, Peter Dinklage and Mila Kunis – which had something to do with a very peeved lawyer (played by Williams) being told erroneously that he has 90 minutes to live. Oh, goody, that plot device. No wonder I couldn’t watch the picture.
The script was a mess, to say the least. It was hard to say what it was going for: a comedy or a drama. Or perhaps both. It didn’t matter; I lost interest. And I don’t expect to resume watching it soon.
If only there wasn’t any narration. Maybe things would’ve been a little better.
OMG … I actually liked a movie with Joan Crawford in it!
That film was Humoresque, which I watched for the first time on TV last night. Quite a fun, if melodramatic ride, centering on the love affair an egocentric though brilliant violinist (played by John Garfield) has with a married socialite (Crawford). Normally, I don’t care for pictures with Joan in it, but this one had a good script co-written by Clifford Odets and able direction from Jean Negulesco. Plus, simply glorious violin playing by the incomparable Isaac Stern, who did the virtuoso performances attributed to Garfield’s musician character.
So does that mean, all of a sudden, that I’m a big Crawford fan? Not at all. This film rose above the usual sordid plotlines her flicks so often seemed to encapsulate, making it altogether a more interesting work. I frequently find her acting overdone, but in this case, she kept her portrayal in check. Whether that’s due more to the direction or her own ability, I don’t know.
Certainly, any film that features snippets from Bizet’s Carmen and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde has got to be good, right?
Well … the jury’s still out on that.
Last night marked the first time in my life that I’ve watched the Donald Petrie movie Mystic Pizza.
OK, it’s not a masterpiece. But this charming slice-of-life comedy-drama, which concerns the romantic trials and tribulations of three young women as they shepherd slices and pies to customers in a Mystic, CT, pizzeria, has a lot to offer, including solid performances and slick direction. Though it’s a bit unfocused – there doesn’t seem to be a central character, and the film veers from one relationship to the other without honing in on any single one – the script offers some telling observations, particularly when it comes to prejudice in small-town America. (The three women are of Portuguese heritage, and the strongest personality, played by Julia Roberts, encounters bigotry from her rich boyfriend’s family.)
I liked this picture. I wouldn’t rush to see it again, but it was a pleasant diversion. And I’m going to refrain from calling it a chick flick; in my opinion, if a movie is good, it’s accessible to and enjoyable for everyone. So it is with Mystic Pizza: pretty solid filmmaking, and I’m glad I got to watch it. Frankly, there’s nothing mystic about that.
I’ve always been a bit bothered by the ending of David Lean’s otherwise masterful film of Great Expectations.
Pip winds up tearing the curtains off the windows to rescue Estella from a Miss Havisham-esque fate, and that just didn’t happen in the Charles Dickens novel.
The question is: Does it work in the context of the film? If so, maybe that’s not such a big problem after all.
I’m an advocate of that idea – that a scene need not be in the original source material to be warranted in a film version. Filmmakers change such content all the time in their adaptations of classic works for all kinds of reasons … sometimes, dare I say it, for the better. So why does it distress me so much in Lean’s version of GE?
It certainly makes a big impact at the end of the movie, and although I do find it somewhat melodramatic, the scene is very powerful. I think it’s also in line with the characters, as Estella was groomed by Miss Havisham to be … well, an awful person. Having her consider becoming her former mentor is an interesting way around the book’s ending, and Pip’s “rescue” ties her back to him in a romantic fashion.
Maybe I should watch this sequence again; sometimes, the more you get used to a film, the better it becomes. And I could definitely stand watching this great picture at least one more time. Especially if I’m looking to understand the ending better.
That just might happen.
Yesterday, while at the theater to watch Nightcrawler, I saw the trailer for the Jon Stewart film Rosewater.
I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical about this production. Stewart directed the movie and wrote the script for it, and although I think he’s a funny, often insightful guy, I’m far from a devotee of his work and don’t agree with him on everything. This serious picture, which documents the imprisonment and questioning of a journalist in Iran, is hardly comic material, and comedy is Stewart’s specialty. From a cinematic standpoint, it’s a big risk.
On the other hand, the trailer suggests some interesting cinematography and intriguing dialogue, which would be a big step forward for the usually lighthearted Stewart. It’s also topical subject matter, given the tyrannical regime currently in Iran, and might call further attention to the events occurring there. So there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to seeing it.
The question is: Will it be good? It’s hard to say. I guess I have to wait and see.
I hate doing that.
I’m not a huge fan of Robert Altman’s movies, so I admit I went with trepidation to see his film 3 Women at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts last night. Fortunately, the evening was bolstered by the presence of composer Gerald Busby, who wrote the score to the picture and was slated to speak about it after the showing.
It was a good thing he did, because the film was very peculiar and not all that successful. The tale of a California nursing-home worker (Sissy Spacek) obsessed with her quirky colleague (Shelley Duvall), 3 Women at times was like watching the most intriguing, bizarrely colored paint dry. It had an off-the-cuff feeling that gave the impression it was made up as the shooting went along, and the characters’ motivations weren’t always believable. Busby’s score was the best thing about it: a dissonant, modern chamber piece replete with mournful, dread-filled horns and winds. Following the screening, he took the podium to talk a little about the movie, and it was quite a treat to listen to this dapper, elderly gentleman.
Busby spoke about Altman being “a Gershwin man” yet wanting something different and abstract for his film, as well as the process of showcasing his music to a room full of Altman staff and regulars stoned on marijuana. (According to Busby, he was one of a few composers to be considered for the film, and as part of the process, the compositions were played in the room to see how long people could go without speaking about them; people listened to his work the longest without saying something, which helped solidify the choice.)
All in all, it was quite a lovely evening, and I got to meet Busby as well, who lived in the same building as a good friend of ours. Plus, it was free, so that made watching the film all the more palatable. A not-so-typical New York night out, but a memorable one, nonetheless.
Saw the rest of Cloudburst the other night.
Sadly, it declined toward the end as it ventured into forced sentimentality and easy plot lines, including (spoiler alert) the death of one of the protagonists. I don’t care for this sort of thing; it’s a simple, common cinematic tactic and rarely garners the effect it seeks. There also was a quirky funeral involved which, like some of the content I referred to in my previous post, stretched credibility.
This film started off very nicely, with strong dialogue and sharp characters. But, as is the case with so many movies, it fell apart in an effort to be crowd-pleasing. I was hoping that it would stay on its likable path and refuse to be pegged into a hole that fit. Oh, well. Hopefully, the next film I see will be more rewarding.
And it was good. Not a masterpiece. But very well done.
Some might find it slow. I didn’t; I though the pace was perfectly fine. I did, however, feel that it used one particularly loaded line a bit too much; it was something about “the wrong train” getting you to “the right place,” and I think a less heavy-handed application of this would’ve suited the film better. It’s not a deal breaker, however. The movie still worked.
I wonder why it’s so difficult for American movies to take such simple plots – The Lunchbox was about two people connecting via handwritten notes in misplaced lunch deliveries – and pace them in a way that’s both not too fast and not too slow. Of course, there are exceptions, but it seems the slam-bang styles have more of an appeal in this day and age to the general public … that is, if we are to believe what the movie previews tell us.
Anyway, I enjoyed The Lunchbox very much. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested in a laid-back film that deals honestly with people’s problems, it might just be what you’re seeking. It was for me.