Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Sapphires

2012, Australia, directed by Wayne Blair

A bit of a genre mishmash, crossing Good Morning Vietnam with The Commitments and adding a dash of Rabbit-Proof Fence, with the result about as confused as you might expect, and miles away from the true story that inspired the film. The film is a good deal better on Australian soil than Vietnamese, with the outback setting quite nicely evoked in both its positive and negative aspects, while the actors, particularly Deborah Mailman and Chris O'Dowd, are both energetic and effective. There are some very amusing moments in the first half, too, as the musical act slowly takes shape, and before the film enters bumpier territory with respect to the Vietnam war backdrop.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A New Leaf

1970, US, directed by Elaine May

I couldn't quite decide whether it was my sense of humour or an unfamiliarity with Elaine May's work, but it took me a while to get into her gently scathing satire, with its two richly-drawn central characters, played by May herself and Walter Matthau. The latter is highly enjoyable in a buttoned-down mode, but the real revelation to me was May's apparently substantial influence on Wes Anderson. I think it says a great deal about the relative oblivion into which May has fallen that this connection isn't made rather more often. I remember David Ehrenstein commenting somewhere that in a sense Anderson's great obsession is the preservation of good manners in all situations, and Matthau's character in particular could very easily slot into a Wes film. Visually, I was on the fence, though: the film certainly seems quite typical of its time period, with striking -- even grotesque -- closeups, although sometimes this has terrific comic effect, particularly in the shot where Matthau reacts with great alarm to the possibility of an ample bosom being unveiled in his direction.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Double Indemnity

1944, US, directed by Billy Wilder

I hadn't seen this for years, and it looked quite wonderful on the big screen. As much as I remembered the performances, particularly the against-type turn from Fred MacMurray, I had forgotten just how spectacularly sour the film is -- a disturbing portrait of two people who deserve each other in the worst possible sense. It's a film that casts a long shadow, too -- it's not hard to find traces of the flinty personalities across the Atlantic a couple of years later, in fare like Macadam.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

1973, US, directed by Peter Yates

A very fine Boston film, one I can't believe I'd allow to escape me for so long. I've an ongoing correspondence with a film-loving friend, and this film provoked one of our few mild disagreements: where he was lukewarm owing to the faded "insouciance and swagger and magnetism" this was, for me, precisely what makes the film compelling, the viewer's awareness of the star's past greatness functioning as a very useful backdrop for a character who is a mere shell of himself. It's also an absolutely fascinating picture of early-1970's Boston, with Yates's outsider eye as useful here as it was in San Francisco a few years earlier for Bullitt. At times, the procession of low-rent diners and bars -- and low-rent patrons -- reminded me of Cassavetes circa Minnie and Moskowitz, although the tone is quite different.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Les Marmottes

1993, France, directed by Elie Chouraqui

I'm not quite sure why this one remained on "to see" list so many years -- perhaps a friend had mentioned it back in college, or perhaps it was the rather wonderful cast list (including the object of a major 1990s crush, Virginie Ledoyen), but there's no getting around the fact that the film was a major disappointment. The characters are far too self-absorbed to make them worth caring about, and the storyline is filled with highly artificial narrative turns over the course of a Christmas family gathering (at the well-heeled end of the spectrum); very few of the actors poke through the material, either, to get at something more interesting, though there are very occasional moments that hint at an alternative outcome (the lively opening that promises rather more than it delivers, or the deeply uncomfortable scene when one character goes rather too far in divulging a fantasy). Ms. Ledoyen is, predictably, lovely, but even she couldn't revive the film; even so, co-screenwriter Danièle Thompson clearly liked her work here since she recycled elements rather shamelessly two years later in the Christmas-set family drama La Bûche.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Les Salauds

2013, France, directed by Claire Denis

Not, I think, Claire Denis's strongest work but certainly bracing in its view of human nature, and in that respect the film leaves a deep mark; the soundtrack by regular collaborators Tindersticks is both hypnotic and distressing at times, really adding to the saturated atmosphere. However, the central depiction of the rich as terrible human beings is perhaps lacking in a certain originality. More worrying was what seemed like a degree of predictability. The problem isn't so much repetition -- Denis has used some of the same techniques over and over, often to invigorating effect -- but rather the way in which things like the appearance of her fetish actors came to seem distracting -- oh look, right on cue, here's Alex Descas. And Grégoire Colin! Vincent Lindon, though, is brilliant -- the most exhausted looking man in French film since Alain Delon's heyday. Lindon hasn't always been in perfect films, but his performances over the last ten years or so are never the weak point. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Picture Show Man

1977, Australia, directed by John Power

A feather-light film by comparison with much of 1970s Australian cinema, this is still a wonderfully enjoyable romp -- exploring a more distant cinematic past to that of Newsfront with some of the same peripatetic spirit but less ambition to social commentary. The great pleasure is seeing John Meillon in a very rare front-and-center role: so memorable as a sidekick or character actor in everything from Wake in Fright to Crocodile Dundee, here he even gets to show off his song and dance skills. Harold Hopkins is well cast as his son, too: sometimes, he's a bit too caffeinated for my taste, but the youthful energy works well on this occasion. Less successful is the return down under of Rod Taylor as Meillon's nemesis: Taylor seems removed from the spirit of the enterprise both in accent and attitude and I'm sure a locally-based actor like Ray Barrett could have done more with the role.


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Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States