Friday, January 23, 2015

#527: Bad Timing

Directed by: NICOLAS ROEG
1980, TSPDT Rank #911

In the 1970s, Nicolas Roeg made a number of films (Walkabout, Don't Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth) which presented fairly simple narratives in a trademark style which combined hypnotic visuals and innovative editing for an end result that was quite unlike that of any other filmmaker. With his first film of the 1980s, Roeg turned to the done-to-death story of a well-respected, unassuming man falling in love with a free-spirited, promiscuous woman, and eventually descending into unmitigated and unending jealousy. I don't think this is one of Roeg's best films, but there are a number of things which set it apart from the myriad of other films which have used this basic plot. First of all, the story of the torrid, rocky romance of the two lovers (played by Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell) is told through a jagged series of flashbacks, which in itself is not unusual; only in this case, the flashbacks are intercut with a framing narrative set after Russell's suicide attempt. Doctors are shown performing graphic operations on her - as she is in a state of advanced coma after arriving at the hospital - and Garfunkel is shown being investigated for his potential role in her suicide. This unsettling structure turns what would otherwise have been a fairly commonplace story into a kind of thriller. Harvey Keitel's vaguely menacing performance as the detective in charge of investigating Garfunkel's character also helps to add a definite sinister atmosphere to the proceedings.

However, once the novelty of its presentation evaporates, much of the film fails to be all that compelling. The settings of Vienna and (briefly) Morocco add a somewhat exotic flavor at times, but the narrative arc of the flashbacks seems nearly identical to that of many other similar films. Toward the end, the film takes some particularily unsavory turns which accentuate certain thematic elements of the story that would normally be glossed over in similar films, but by this point in the film it doesn't seem to make much difference. To me, this seems to be the type of film which relies almost entirely on form over content. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself, but in this case the form seems intended to present some sort of heightened meaning to the viewer - something which I don't think was really achieved. By the end of the film, it just feels cold and vacant. Maybe this is meant to be symbolic, but ultimately it makes for a film which isn't really that interesting or satisfying in any kind of way.

Monday, January 12, 2015

#526: Young Mr. Lincoln

Directed by: JOHN FORD
1939, TSPDT Rank #513

Orson Welles considered John Ford to be a "cinematic poet", and Young Mr. Lincoln is just one of many examples of Ford's sublime poetry. A sequence early in the film showing Lincoln's relationship with his first love, Ann Rutledge, is just about as beautiful (and succinct) as film can get. As for the rest of the film, Ford does his best to evoke early American times and the beginning of Abraham Lincoln's career as a lawyer. He is clearly more concerned with presenting Lincoln as a humble, unassuming legend than recreating history, but the film is all the better for it. The fact that Henry Fonda bears a frightening resemblance to Lincoln in the film only adds to the film's effectiveness. Young Mr. Lincoln is just one of numerous masterpieces which Ford made during this time period of the late '30s and early '40s, and it serves as a prime demonstration of the talents of one of the most singular and distinctive American filmmakers of all time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

#525: Sullivan's Travels

1941, TSPDT Rank #214

Sullivan's Travels might be Preston Sturges' most multilayered film: managing to function as a rollicking, convoluted comedy, a work of social commentary, and a personal mission statement all in one film. The plot is vintage Sturges - so chock full of twists and turns that it seems to contain a few different films over the course of 90 swift minutes. But basically it concerns the story of a successful Hollywood director who tries to "get in touch with the common man" in order to make a serious film about social issues, but ends up getting in way over his head in more ways than he could have imagined. Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake are perfectly cast in the two leads: they have impeccable chemistry, and this has to be Lake's most successful and iconic role of all time. Her film noir appearances with Alan Ladd throughout the 1940s are also worth seeing, but in this role she is at her most charasmatic and delightful. It's too bad that she didn't make more films with Preston Sturges - or more films in general for that matter. Overall, Sullivan's Travels is definitely an essential Preston Sturges film - even if films like The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek do a better job of exemplifying the type of out-of-control screwball comedies that Sturges is known for.

Monday, January 5, 2015

#524: Amarcord

1973, TSPDT Rank #77

The most famous film of Fellini's later period, Amarcord is a free-flowing stream of nostalgia much like Satyricon is a free-flowing stream of Roman decadence. This film's sense of nostalgia is so potent that the images, events, and characters may feel instantly familiar to the viewer, even to those who have never seen it before. It's a film to be enjoyed and cherished - humorous, earthy, beautiful and permeated with a feeling of a faraway place in time. Fellini presents this remembrance of his childhood in Rimini in the episodic style which had become his trademark by this point in his career: characters float in and out, seasons come and go, situations arise and then pass like visions seen through a fog. The end result is a moving and unprententious film - clearly realized, but hard to pin down. In other words, Amarcord is a shining example of the merits to be found in Fellini's later work.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Interim compendium

And just like that, there has been another lengthy lapse in my blog activity. Funny how time slips away. I didn't mean for the blog to fall by the wayside, but unfortunately school and other time constraints have kept me away. However, since I do still have a backlog of films that I've watched from the list during that time, I've decided to put together a digest post showing the films I've watched over the past few months, along with some brief thoughts.

#511: Night of the Demon
1957, TSPDT Rank #800
-This famous satanic horror film would work a lot better without the disappointing shots of the titular demon inserted at the behest of the film's producer. With these shots in the film, the staunch skepticism displayed by Dana Andrews' paranormal psychologist seem ridiculous, and undermine what could have been a very unsettling and effective horror film.

#512: Point Blank
Directed by: JOHN BOORMAN
1967, TSPDT Rank #507
-A highly stylized and unconventional revenge film, starring Lee Marvin as an escaped convict hell-bent on recovering his share of a heist take from his double-crossing partner. This film is like a double-edged sword - working as both an unflinching study of violence and an electrifying, straight-ahead neo-noir.

#513: Rebel Without a Cause
Directed by: NICHOLAS RAY
1955, TSPDT Rank #536
-James Dean is the quintessential American icon of rebellious youth, and this is the film that cemented his legend. His character in this film is a misunderstood victim of circumstance who has to stand up and prove himself for those he cares about. Another of Nicholas Ray's critiques on American society which rocked 1950s America to the core upon its release.

#514: Seven Chances
Directed by: BUSTER KEATON
1925, TSPDT Rank #734
-Buster Keaton's comic brilliance is once again on display in this film, in which he tries to get a woman (preferably the love of his life) to marry him by 7 p.m., in order to collect a sizable inheritance from his grandfather. 

#515: Gilda
Durected by: CHARLES VIDOR
-This film noir is reknowned mainly for Rita Hayworth's title character, the image of whom became one of the classic pin-ups of post-war America. But the film is anything but a straight-forward film noir. Instead, it's more of a strange, psychosexual melodrama, with many moments that miss the mark. Hayworth's iconic scenes and electrifying screen presence balance out these moments, but the film is still somewhat disappointing given its reputation as a classic.

#516: The Last Detail
Directed by: HAL ASHBY
1973, TSPDT Rank #862
-A rollicking, partially improvisational road movie about two Navy officers escorting a young soldier to military prison for petty theft, eventually deciding to show him a good time along the way. Part of a movement of similar films which Easy Rider was responsible for initiating, it's the kind of film which was unique to the late '60s/early '70s era of American film. Jack Nicholson's performance gives the film an extra spark of rebellion and restless energy.

#517: Odd Man Out
Directed by: CAROL REED
1947, TSPDT Rank #765
-James Mason gives a memorable performance in Carol Reed's supremely atmospheric and suspenseful film noir classic about the wounded leader of an Irish revolutionary group trying to evade police over the course of a rainy and snowy night in Northern Ireland.

#518: Mildred Pierce
1945, TSPDT Rank #876
-Another well-known film noir which entertains, but doesn't fully live up to the towering hype attributed to it. Joan Crawford's performance saves it from being merely ordinary.

#519: Zéro de conduite
Directed by: JEAN VIGO
1933, TSPDT Rank #215
-This absurdist schoolboy rebellion fantasy is like nothing else in cinema history, although people like Francois Truffaut and Lindsay Anderson famously borrowed from its premise and characters. Brief and inexplicable, surreal and beautiful - a crucial component of Jean Vigo's legend.

#520: Day for Night
1973, TSPDT Rank #449
-Francois Truffaut's most famous post-'60s film, for good reason. Its ensemble portrait of the people responsible for the movies we watch is a prime example of life imitating art.

#521: Stolen Kisses
1968, TSPDT Rank #974
-My favorite of the later entries to the Antoine Doinel series. Probably also the lightest and most entertaining of the series as well. Don't miss Antoine as a private detective!

#522: Out of the Past
1947, TSPDT Rank #178
-A quintessential slice of classic film noir, starring Robert Mitchum as an unlucky but perpetually cool private detective. All of the pieces fell into place for this film - which shares a similar premise with films like The Big Sleep, but has a different sort of mood - with a sharp, shifting narrative and steady momentum. An impeccably crafted and extremely entertaining film - rightly deserves its classic status.

#523: Fellini Satyricon
1969, TSPDT Rank #465
-Fellini outdid himself with this film - an impossibly extravagant and surreal depiction of Roman debauchery. I can only imagine how audiences reacted to this film upon its release - it still feels completely insane and unfathomable today. A film which truly could not have been made by anyone else.