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Mr. Wu (1927)
tale of forbidden love between races
full of usual mgm production values: magnificent sets, costumes. locations within the mandarin's palace are often framed within archways or over walls to emphasise its other-worldliness. it indicates our access into another civilisation but also suggests that this is a world of entrapment. the love plot between East and West civilisations is not original and is told conventionally. there is also recourse to racial stereotyping typical of the era. a domestic 'coolie' is presented as an object of fun. the chinese are presented alternatively as a child civilisation (in comparison to the developed West) or else, in the figure of Mr Wu (Chaney), fiendish and despicable. a film of historical interest rather than one that will entertain.
We're in the Money (1935)
two smart girls have fun
a minor warner studio output using up its contract players. blondell and farrell spark off each other like an early version of thelma and louise as they serve witness summons on a range of male lugs: a crooner, a wrestler and a wiseguy. an interesting film for the potential it offered for female leads, a potential that hollywood has always underexploited.
Perfect Strangers (1945)
A film containing some good sequences
Overall this film has dated and lacks depth. However it contains some good sequences. The best involves the cross-cutting between the principals as they journey toward their home after three years apart. In a shot which seems to anticipate Bergman, we see a close-up two-shot of Deborah Kerr and Glynis Johns. Kerr faces camera expressing her doubts and concerns with Glynis Johns in profile to one side. The other very good sequence is in the pub after they have agreed to divorce, a scene treated with a sensitive touch. Deborah Kerr adds complexity to her role. Glynis Johns is excellent as an independent-minded female, a role model situated half-way between old-fashioned suffrage and post-war feminism. Unfortunately, the implications for gender roles in a post-war Britain are cast aside in favour of a romantic resolution.
Conspiracy Theory (1997)
enjoyable thriller with hitchcockian elements
Has anyone observed the Hitchcock-like touches. The opening credits wrapping around the taxi cab position Gibson within a conspiracy of the film-maker's choosing. Reminiscent of the North by Northwest credit sequence, they seem clearly modelled on Saul Bass' designs. Gibson/Fletcher is a man pursued in the mould of Richard Hannay in The Thirty-Nine Steps or Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest. Also, like Hitchcock, there are some set-piece scenes: the wheelchair interrogation; the getaway on the bus. Finally, Donner follows Hitchcock in adopting the theme of the good law/bad law. In North by Northwest this is represented in the characters played by Leo G Carroll and James Mason; in Conspiracy Theory it is the CIA/FBI and Patrick Stewart/Dr Jonas. The point is that both are to be distrusted. The photography in Conspiracy Theory works in the same way as in a David Fincher film (Seven, Fight Club), presenting an exterior universe which reflects the inner psychological state of the hero. The film ultimately lacks sufficient wit to sustain the narrative's general lack of plausibility. However, there is much to commend and by the final reel Julia Roberts' smile has been restored.
The Set-Up (1949)
washed up fighter has one last fight
Boldly filmed in 'real time', the actual boxing match takes up one third of the film and is photographed and edited to nail-biting effect. In its own way, as good as raging bull. However, it is debatable if these films actually denounce boxing as some claim. Whatever exploitative practices go on, and however brutal it is, the sense of beauty, pride and dignity provided in victory is always strongly conveyed.
A Farewell to Arms (1932)
excellent details but insufficient drama
Interest sustained throughout by art direction, Lang's photography, the battle sequence editing, and Helen Hayes' performance. Cooper is satisfactory but overall the main fault is lack of narrative drive, the story principally devoted to the romance between the two leads. The anti-war theme is present but hardly developed in any intelligent fashion, apart from Menjou's comments on capturing successive mountain ranges. Far better treatment of anti-war themes can be found in All Quiet on the Western Front.