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Looking for Richard (1996)
Frequently fascinating film that is mostly documentary-based, with footage of a Richard III production inserted. Interviews are conducted and we see Pacino visiting key places in Shakespeare's history as well as interviewing actors (such as Vanessa Redgrave and John Gielgud) as well as academic historians. Lots of insight is given into the acting process as well as the difficulties Americans in particular may face when dealing with Shakespeare. Indeed, Pacino and his colleagues themselves are self-deprecating and frank when it comes to admitting what they do or do not understand, historical moments, and so on.
Certainly one that Pacino fans should admire, as well as there being something quite perceptive for fans of the bard, also. The production of Richard III that we see in between other pieces of footage still manages to be stirring, and is memorably performed. It's hard not to get a kick out of actors like Pacino and Kevin Spacey discussing their craft and then seeing it in motion.
Still of the Night (1982)
Moderately entertaining thriller. It's set in New York but it's not drawn on enough - or as successfully, as it should have been. Still, the film is at its best in its trashier, cliché moments - there's a suspenseful walk through Central Park at night as well as the proverbial 'don't go there' scenes where the audience wonders about the protagonist's intelligence in putting himself at danger. Schneider is competent in the role, although Meryl Streep less so, it may be one of her worst performances. She looks striking all right, but there's not much depth to what she's doing (like much of her worst work, it's all external). The actor that impressed me most was Joe Grifasi as the cop; his scenes worked well.
The film does get better as it goes along, and for fans of thrillers, it's worth sticking with. The early scenes are stuffy and claustrophobic (perhaps this adds to the mood, but it's all rather static) and the scenes with Jessica Tandy are a bit of a distraction.
As a thriller, 'Hollywoodland' is a disappointment. It does, however, attempt to be more than that and in some ways it is successful. There is an engaging theme throughout of people wanting to rise above in Hollywood - the constant battle between success and pride, artistry. George wants to be a respected actor, but cannot break through. The problem with this is that the man's talent is never visible. It's hard to feel anything for someone who was essentially a mediocre TV actor. There are gifted people that can't get anywhere in the industry - what is so special about Reeve, who did after all, have some success? George's lover, Toni, is similarly discontent with her life - the plight of a middle aged woman in Los Angeles, is surprisingly genuinely affecting.
Ben Affleck, in a tremendously overrated performance, does not convince or demonstrate as much range as I had anticipated. In parts, it reminded me of his know-it-all characters that I have seen in previous films - I couldn't correlate this character with the real Reeves. Diane Lane is a lot better than Affleck, of course, but the acting is always quite obvious. She's theatrical and you would be forgiven for assuming that she too was playing an actor. The best performance is from Brody, but it's low-key and the segments of the plot involving him are not the most interesting, which leaves him mostly stranded.
There are embarrassments. I wanted to be anywhere else during a scene in which a home movie is played of Affleck valiantly trying to exercise for a wrestling match. He can't do it, he's not in shape, he's too old and isn't it sad that he has to do this nonsense? We're asked to weep for the character's nobility and anytime a film asks you to do that - it's time to run for the exit.
Finally, I would hesitate to refer to this movie as a 'neo-noir'. There has to be more than flashbacks and murder for a film to really contain a noir atmosphere. 'Hollywoodland' does not have it.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
An important comedy
An important movie in the 'New Hollywood' movement, 'Bob & Carol...' is an engaging comedy that still might seem daring today. The masterful opening scene (it is hard to believe that this is Mazursky's first movie) replete with nude bodies sets the mood well and tells us that what we're seeing is something different, something new. The film meanders and is full of great moments, in a way that often seems alien to contemporary movies. These are all multi-faceted characters - the humor is mined from their situations and their personalities, rather than being punchline driver.
The performances to watch out for are those particularly from Gould and Cannon. Both are energetic and fresh - Culp is fine too, but weakened by playing opposite Natalie Wood. She isn't an embarrassment by any means, but the difference in acting from her studio experience, to the more naturalistic style of the late 60s/70s is apparent. She's never quite convincingly there, not inhibiting her character as Cannon (she and Gould deservedly were both nominated) does.
The final sequence is uplifting and memorable, leaving the audience on a high.
Light Sleeper (1992)
Typically seedy Schrader movie but worth sticking through. The plot is standard fare (dealer/addict wanting to go clean) and the beginning portion is rather grim but it all gets going soon enough. The noir atmosphere is effective and useful in reflecting the state of mind of the characters. Once the mystery starts, the plot engages although the mystery isn't as suspenseful or as clear as it could be. Still, Dafoe's strong performance as well as Sarandon's carry things along nicely. In spite of the lack of mystery, there's still some genuine intrigue (who will betray him?) in the plot as well as that potent mood make this one of Schrader's best.
Made in England, but one of only two of Allen's films to not find distribution there (the other was the equally underrated 'Hollywood Ending') this is a pleasing little comedy - a trifle and a minor work, to be sure, but engaging throughout.
I was apprehensive about the casting of Johansson (to say 'she's no Diane Keaton' is a sore understatement, let alone Mia Farrow) but she holds up quite well here. While she was flat and stiff in 'Match Point', here she has the unenviable task of 'playing Woody' and acquits herself surprisingly well. I might say this is her best performance - perhaps she isn't trying as much (she rarely seems natural in other films). She lacks chemistry with Hugh Jackman, but the movie bumps along merrily with the plot-driven mystery so you may not care.
Genuine laugh out loud moments (the car crash may be his funniest scene in some time) and charming performances - Scoop deserved a better reception than it found.
Harry and Tonto (1974)
Coast to coast
Like many of Paul Mazursky's quite underrated movies, this is something special. It's not perfect - there are scenes that don't seem to go anywhere (although this is the beauty sometimes of Mazursky's work - everything feels a bit rough, these aren't technically perfect film school pieces) and I was underwhelmed by the Ellen Burstyn segment. But it's got some great things going for it - Art Carney's lead performance for one, as well as other quirky supporting parts that add character, real character to even bit parts. It all feels real. There's considerable pathos in the beginning segment alone with the close-ups of senior citizens, indeed it's perhaps overly sentimental in parts (the old man chasing his cat) but it can get to you without feeling cheapened. This is a worthwhile, rewarding experience; a true 70s gem.
Factory Girl (2006)
Disappointing but strong acting
Sienna Miller gives a surprisingly strong performance as Edie Sedgwick in 'Factory Girl' - she and Guy Pearce as (a rather sinister) Andy Warhol, are the main reasons to see the movie. The film itself does not rise above standard biopic fare and as such, there's a worrying amount of pop psychology. Considering the rich atmosphere with which its dealing (Warhol's Factory at its peak) you might be surprised at the grimness of mood. It's a shame, really, because it should be a lot more fun than it really is - perhaps Miller herself, who makes us feel a bit too much and by the end, the downfall is unpleasant to watch. Still, there are good scenes (the best being when Edie is replaced by Ingrid Superstar) and some strong performances but there are big problems. Jimmy Fallon's character accompanies Edie to New York - he's rather conservative when we see him, but then suddenly there he is as part of Warhol's entourage and never really says anything until he coaxes Edie during filming. No explanation is given - were scenes excised? He just droops around in the background rather strangely. Even worse is the Dylanesque character played by Hayden Christensen. It's a really lousy performance - amateurish with a couple of external mannerisms thrown in and it never convinces. The same can be said for his relationship with Edie that draws the action to a swift halt - it never recovers.
Crossing Delancey (1988)
'Crossing Delancey' isn't an easy movie to discuss. On the one hand, it's a rather banal romantic comedy without real surprise. But on the other, it's something else entirely and worth seeking out. I'm not even quite able to identify what it is that makes it such a rewarding movie - Amy Irving in the central performance, is fine and certainly competent but it's not a big driving performance. I think in some ways, that adds to the character of Izzy - we're not seeing a big star performance, instead it's something more interesting and complex. Irving as Izzy often seems aloof (at least on the surface) and not wholly interesting as a bigger star may seem but I think that adds some realism (how many times have you seen a movie with a real movie star with off the wall charisma playing a timid mouse and found it wildly unconvincing?). That all adds to the movie's appeal.
New York is a secondary character. It's not the gentrified areas you might see now, and because of that there's more charm. There are the random, perhaps crazy people one might see while in a store, as Izzy encounters. It's not a flashy touch, but it adds some kooky realism to the film. There's the contrast between uptown and downtown areas, the restaurants and the music. It's all a very vibrant, rich setting.
This is a special movie, and still, it's hard to explain why. The setting, the performances, the script and the characters all gel superbly.
Watch out for David Hyde Pierce in a bit part.