Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Silver Linings Playbook

2012, US, directed by David O. Russell

A film antic enough that we could almost believe we had a wild New Year's Eve instead of packing the kids off to bed so we could watch a rare full-length film without getting up exhausted; wonderful chemistry between the leads, though, of that real movie-star wattage.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

2014, US/New Zealand, directed by Peter Jackson

A fairly satisfying conclusion -- although the title pretty much describes what happens, even if we had a hard time keeping track of the exact number of armies involved -- to a somewhat unsatisfying trilogy. Still, it's hard to imagine going back to the well to watch this set of films again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Parallax View

1974, US, directed by Alan J. Pakula

Impossible to imagine this being made in anything like the same fashion forty years on -- there's no way the combination of downbeat tone, paranoia, and astonishing visuals would emerge from the studio system these days. Still one of the most unsettling films of the 1970s, even if much-imitated.

Love Affair

1939, US, directed by Leo McCarey

Most of the films I watched over the past few months are getting short shrift, though I feel a bit more guilty about not giving my full attention to this one: I can't figure out if that's the reason why the film didn't sing for me nearly as much as other McCarey films from the same time period. The stars are charming and the plot complexities quite satisfying but the downbeat tone was a little wearing at times in comparison to the lightness of touch on offer in other films, even those with a poignant overall message.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Mission: Impossible

1996, US, directed by Brian De Palma

Seen again for the first time since the cinema release, as a follow-up to reading David Bordwell's excellent blog post on visual storytelling. I'm not a big De Palma fan but for the most part the film remains quite fresh nearly twenty years on, unlike many of that year's other big hits (Independence Day, TwisterJerry Maguire, The Rock, all of which seem more and more obviously formulaic); the set-piece above is especially good, though the TGV-set finale shows its age a good deal more.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Desert of the Tartars

1976, Italy/France/Germany, directed by Valerio Zurlini

A viewing inspired by Judy Dean's excellent consideration of the film as part of David Cairns' 2014 Late Films Blogathon. It has mythical-colonials aspects that pair it very well with the near-contemporaneous Le Crabe-tambour, also featuring Jacques Perrin, though few films can compete with the astonishing locations of Zurlini's film. The picture is imbued with a profound sense of the absurd, with the protagonist discovering that his longer-for escape from the stifling life of the provincial nobility is, if anything, even more constricted with rules. It's also an exceptionally subtle work, with the days becoming months and perhaps even years through a very careful, discreet use of elision; the same discretion marks the film's attitude to death, generally turning away and allowing the characters to their own fates. The cast is quite remarkable, and Vittorio Gassman looks more than ever like something hewn from a Roman coin.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Awful Truth

1937, US, directed by Leo McCarey

Just as perfect as on many previous viewings, with the exception of the very final shot, which comes in sharp contrast to the resolutely non-mechanical interactions of the rest of the film.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Babadook

2014, Australia, directed by Jennifer Hart

I spent the three months from December 2014-March 2015 making a final push to finish my PhD. In had little time to watch films and even less time to blog about them -- and I suspect that for want of brain space, many of the films I saw during that period will be too quickly forgotten, though director Jennifer Hart's supreme control over her material, and her film's extraordinary soundscape, will linger for quite some time.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

He Walked By Night

1948, US, directed by Alfred L. Werker (and Anthony Mann, uncredited)

A fine procedural, in that 1940s docu-fiction mode that came complete with narrator, although the staging by Werker, Mann and cinematographer John Alton is more than strong enough to stand on its own, especially the atmospheric sequences in unusual, semi-desolate Los Angeles locations. The minutiae of the police investigation is fascinating and conveyed very crisply: Jack Webb has an especially nice part as the key tech man, but the scenes of interrogation also have a brisk rhythm that still allows time for the minor performers to sparkle. There's no mystery to the identity of the criminal: we spend a great deal of time in his company, with the tension coming instead from the gradually closing net. The template was, of course, carefully followed by television in the 1950s, including Webb's Dragnet, but it's also the skeleton for big-budget fare like The Day of the Jackal a quarter-century later.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Un Singe en hiver

1962, France, directed by Henri Verneuil

A meeting-of-the-generations picture, the only time that Gabin appeared with Belmondo, the most iconic actor of the New Wave, and their distinctly different styles work very well here: Gabin's mostly disciplined technique -- there's a good deal to Farran Smith Nehme's comment that Gabin lets the action come to him, both in the film she's discussing and in his broader career -- contrasts with Belmondo's bundle of nervous energy, although one of the film's great pleasures is the way that the two quite different actors move toward the centre as their characters develop an unlikely friendship. The pair seem to have an entirely unforced camaraderie onscreen, though Belmondo suggested in an interview that Gabin barely spoke to him when he wasn't delivering a line; the magic of the movies, indeed. Verneuil is not an especially innovative director, but he did have a fine sense of how long to allow a scene to play out, and the set pieces are especially well-calibrated -- drunken antics can easily become tiresome, whether onscreen or off, and Verneuil knows just when to cut away to the next scene while still indulging our desire to see the actors play broad strokes. After the fun, the ending is surprisingly poignant -- something of a rueful hangover and yet invested with a great deal of affection.


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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