Reviews written by registered user
|6 reviews in total|
Coming on the heels of Splendor in the Grass and All Fall Down, one can
surmise the reasons behind Warren Beatty's decision to play the male
lead in Lilith. In those two earlier films, he had played brooding and
laconic young men, a group to which Vincent Bruce belongs. Beatty had
also previously played a callous gigolo (to great effect) opposite
Vivien Leigh in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Lilith would provide
him with the opportunity to reprise his earlier portrayals, with the
added shades of a seemingly compassionate, diligent young man.
Had Lilith required Beatty to exude only these facets of Vincent Bruce, his performance would have been more than adequate; but the character has additional complexities which Beatty never registers well. For that reason, I believe he is miscast in this film. On the other hand, Jean Seberg truly shines as Lilith Arthur, the disturbed young woman. Her expressions in the close-ups disclose her unhinged state of mind. Seberg's performance could profitably be used in acting classes everywhere. Anne Meacham, Peter Fonda, Kim Hunter, and Jessica Walter are also very good, but Gene Hackman deserves a special mention for a brief but indelible appearance.
Beyond the performances, the film is a languorous, plodding vehicle, sometimes too painful to watch, as is the scene between Peter Fonda and Warren Beatty in the garden, toward the end. Beatty's disengaging comportment invalidates any sympathy the spectator might feel for him in the end, unlike, say, Shutter Island, for which this film might have served as inspiration.
Made in the heyday of the studio system and movie stars, Waterloo Bridge is one of those films that once seen, will remain forever unforgettable. It features the upbeat Robert Taylor and the incandescent Vivien Leigh. Forget the outdated elements of the plot: surrender yourself to the luminous on-screen presence of Vivien Leigh, and you will not be able to take your eyes off her. That face goes through a gamut of emotions, particularly in the restaurant scene when she waits for Lady Cronin alone at her table, as she slowly turns her attention to the newspaper. Robert Taylor is no slouch here, too. He shines in the opening scene of the film, as he stands on the bridge. Both actors are outstanding, and there is a palpable chemistry between them. Virginia Field, Maria Ouspenskaya, C. Aubrey Smith, and Lucile Watson complement the two stars in one of the most romantic films of all time.
To me, psychological thrillers are endlessly fascinating for the
multiple-layered ways they engage with the viewer's mind. They work
best when they succeed in accessing the viewer's curiosity and
emotional involvement. Think of Hitchcock's Marnie, Christopher Nolan's
Memento, Dominik Moll's With a Friend Like Harry, David Lynch's
Mulholland Drive, and François Ozon's Swimming Pool. Shutter Island
ably managed to pique my curiosity, but it did not recruit my empathy
for Teddy. The film is a compendium of cold images, albeit beautifully
composed and photographed, which at very few instances secured my
engrossment by Teddy's predicament.
Watching Shutter Island was similar to attempting to realign Rubik's Cube: a challenging distraction, but ultimately of little lasting value. I believe the viewer's detachment is largely due to casting: although DiCaprio has overcome the boyish charms he emitted in the 1990s, he does not exude sufficient distress for the viewer to care for him. Another actor (Mark Ruffalo or John Turturro, for example), might have met the challenges of the role more skillfully than does DiCaprio.
If one disregards the romantic involvement of Julie Andrews's character
with James Garner's, this 1964 film bears a striking resemblance to
Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove", also from the same year. Both are
black comedies about the absurdities of war and the foolishness of
military men. Kubrick's film is indisputably the superior of the two:
while "Dr. Strangelove" is unremittingly consistent in its treatment of
the plot in dark tones, this film alternates between the naturalistic
and satirical modes. That may be accounted for by the historical
context of this film, while Kubrick's was entirely fictitious. Yet both
films are unabashed exposés of the insanities of war.
That said, this film features excellent performances by the then veteran Melvyn Douglas and the young, energetic James Coburn. James Garner and Julie Andrews, who were mostly featured in wholesome, sometimes less-than-substantial roles in the early sixties, take on meatier roles in this film and do very well indeed. Though there is no Peter Sellers to carry "The Americanization of Emily", it is still a rewarding film to watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are some things wrong and some things right with this movie, but
the former outnumber the latter.
First, what's right: the art direction. Every image, every shot has been executed with great attention to detail and the authentic look. The New Orleans of the 1920s and thereafter, the New York of the 1940s, the episodes at sea during WWII feel right and credible. I'm not sure how much of these scenes were computer-generated, but the money spent was not wasted. The same can be said with regard to all the CGI work.
Next, the love story: I believed the chemistry between Benjamin and Daisy, as well as the lifelong mutual attraction they felt. First love often refuses to wane,even if circumstances intervene and impede it, as they did in this case. For this reason, the middle part of the movie where Benjamin and Daisy reunite is the most watchable. Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt are convincing in the display of passion for one another. In fact, all of the actors in the film are very good, outstanding among them the actress who plays Benjamin's mother, Queenie, the actor who plays the Irish captain, and an actress I admire, Tilda Swinton as the British diplomat's wife.
I also think, however, all the actors were wasted in a film whose point is lost upon me, and this is where my dissatisfaction with the film lies. I believe it attempts to say and do too many different things, and it fails to accomplish any of them compellingly. If this is a love story, then it's formulaic and hardly original. We've had too many movies where an elderly person on his or her deathbed recalls a great love once lived. That storyline was used in The Notebook and Evening with better results. If, on the other hand, the point of the movie is to depict 20th century historical events in the US, then where was the Depression of the 1930s? The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s? The Vietnam War? The social conscience of the 1960s and the 1970s is replaced with footage of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. And the formula of looking at history through an individual life was done better in Forrest Gump. If, finally, the film attempts to underscore the fragility of our lives and the random events that shape them (Daisy's accident and the end of her dance career), that point was made early on in the movie, as soon as an elderly character began repeating to Benjamin that he was struck seven times by lightning. All references to life's tenuousness became repetitive after that, which brings me to my last complaint: the film was too long. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is, indeed, a curious film, not in best sense of that word. It tries too hard to be significant, and it fails.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Since the early '90s, there have been several attempts to bring
Shakespeare's plays to the screen, updated to our postmodern age and
addressed basically to a teenage audience. After Men of Respect,
Romeo+Juliet, A Thousand Acres, My Own Private Idaho, 10 Things I Hate
About You, Romeo Must Die, the upcoming O, Michael Almereyda's Hamlet
(in this case, the mother of all Shakespeare's plays) is the latest
Although one should give this film credit for succeeding in its parts, it does not adequately capture the essence of Hamlet. My first complaint is the actors' diction of Shakespeare's words: almost no one in this film makes any effort to articulate or pronounce them in an urgent manner. It's as though the plot has replaced the poetry of the lines. Some actors are even incomprehensible: Sam Shepard's Ghost, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are all examples of this, especially the messages the latter leave on the answering machine. On the other hand, one should give high marks to Julia Stiles' Ophelia: never in recent memory was there an actor who said so little yet conveyed so much on film. She is excellent! So is Liev Schreiber, whose Laertes bristles with all the right emotions. As Hamlet, Ethan Hawke is fine because he looks so sullen and morose all the time. Kyle McLachlan is menacing enough as Claudius, but I thought Diane Venora's Gertrude looked a little too young to be Hamlet's mother. Finally, Bill Murray: all the reviews I've read of this film praise his acting, but I didn't see what all the fuss was about. He was good in one scene ("Brevity is the soul of wit"), but then almost everyone is good in one scene or another in this film, and that is what makes the film watchable most of the time. Hamlet's scene in Gertrude's bedroom, for example, works, but the fencing scene at the end does not, because it is difficult to imagine anyone settling a bet in this century in this fashion.
That said, the use of electronic media in the film is effective and clever, because video and computers are so much a part of our lives. For this reason, making Hamlet a filmmaker was ingenious, but changing Denmark to a corporation and Elsinore to a hotel??? We are not told the corporation's business, what's at stake, or why should Claudius want to kill his brother (lust for Gertrude?) Why do these people live in a hotel? Why is this film set in New York? Except for some aerial shots, the Guggenheim Museum, (another scene that works well, by the way), the city is almost nonexistent as the setting of the film.
The choices made by the filmmaker leave unanswered questions. As a result, individual scenes are good, but the sum of Hamlet is much less than its parts.