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You know that a Terrence Malick film about the music industry won't be
like any other film about the music industry but then a Terrence Malick
film won't be like anything other than the Terrence Malick film that
preceded it and the one before that and quite possibly the one before
that. You could say that Terrence Malick's films are unique..except
they aren't; nowadays they all look and sound the same which is why so
many people have written him off. I think I may be one of the very few
people who not only liked "Knight of Cups" but actually chose it as my
best film of the year.
That was about the movie industry, or at least about an actor in Hollywood, and "Song to Song" is about the music industry or at least about a handful of people involved with the music industry and like the last couple of Malick pictures it basically dispenses with dialogue and 'conversations' in favour of a stream of consciousness narration, or several narrations, as various characters take up 'the story'.
What story, you may ask? Perhaps unusually for Malick there are more characters than usual on display with at least three stories running through the picture. The central characters are Faye, (Rooney Mara), a would-be performer, Cook, (Michael Fassbender), the Svengali-like producer Faye is sleeping with in the hope that it will advance her career and BV, (Ryan Gosling), another musician with whom she embarks on an affair. Then there's Rhonda, (Natalie Portman), the waitress that Cook marries and Amanda, (Cate Blanchett), the older woman BV falls for, not to mention an extraordinarily good Patti Smith playing herself. Each of these characters has 'a story' to tell and all are beautifully played. In many respects this is Malick's most accessible film since "The Tree of Life".
Of course, how you respond to it will depend on how you respond to Malick in general. Personally I think this is a vast improvement on "To the Wonder" and it's certainly the equal of the vastly underrated "Knight of Cups". This is an intelligent and surprisingly engaging film and once again the dazzlingly brilliant cinematography is courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki. It really shouldn't be missed.
Something rare; a remake that is actually better than an already
outstanding original. Sofia Coppola's film of "The Beguiled" may offer
a slightly more pro-feminist take on the subject than Don Siegel did
but otherwise it's business as usual; the plot is very much the same
and the creepy, Gothic feel remains unaltered though this time there is
a much darker streak of black humour running through the picture.
Against the aggressive sexuality of Clint Eastwood and the hysteria of
Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman we have a much more subtle and
subdued Colin Farrell, now a potential Irish mercenary fighting for the
Yankees, as much a victim as a seducer to Nicole Kidman's steely, and
still gorgeous, headmistress and Kirsten Dunst's tremulous spinster not
to mention the kind of little girls whose idea of fun is probably
pulling the wings off butterflies.
The pace, at least for the first two-thirds of the picture, is deceptively slow until all hell breaks loose and the film gets nicely sanguine. Coppola handles these tonal shifts with considerable assurance, (she won the Best Director prize at Cannes), and draws superb performances from her small cast. Farrell, in particular, has seldom been better and both Kidman and Dunst are bodice-rippingly good. It's also gorgeously photographed by Philippe le Sourd with frame after frame resembling old prints brought to life. Of course, this won't be to everyone's taste. Anyone expecting an action picture or a conventional horror film will be bitterly disappointed. This is an art-house movie that has sneaked into the multiplex and I loved every minute of it.
The title could refer to any of the cast or crew of this hugely
enjoyable western though "The Professionals" of the title are actually
Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Woody Strode and Robert Ryan who are hired
by Ralph Bellamy to rescue his wife, Claudia Cardinale, from kidnapper
Jack Palance. It's a handsome, exciting picture and it earned director
Richard Brooks an Oscar nomination, (Cinematographer Conrad Hall was
also one of the film's three nominees), but it's the cast who carry it,
not, of course, that they have to do any 'real' acting. This is a movie
that depends on star power and by the time this was made, (1966),
Marvin, Lancaster, Strode and Ryan were already approaching 'old-timer'
status; certainly their stars had been in the ascendant for awhile.
As the wife, Cardinale is more of a guest star and while the film did not launch her in America I wonder if Leone saw her in this before he cast "Once Upon a Time in the West". Palance is Palance which is all you want him to be while Bellamy seems grateful just to get a decent part at this stage of his career. It may not be a classic but it certainly stands up to repeated viewings.
We are back in the Hermitage but unlike the swirling, continually
moving camera of "Russian Ark", Andres Duque's camera hardly moves at
all, for the subject now is not the art on display but the small,
strange-looking old man who has entered the long hallway and is
regaling us with a tale of how he braved the snow to get there. He is
Oleg Karavaychuk, the great composer and pianist and it really is a
pleasure to meet him.
Karavaychuk was almost 90 when this lovely documentary was made and he died shortly afterwards. He may have been a recognized musical genius in Russia and yet he was someone most Russians would not recognize on the street, (Mubi describes him as looking as if he had stepped out of a novel by Gogol). A great raconteur and a true eccentric he was, of course, the best guide to his own life and music and he makes for wonderful company. However, there is also a touch of the 'Grey Gardens' about Duque's film which might make it uncomfortable viewing for some; was it Oleg's genius or his eccentricity that hooked Duque? But then does it matter? Here is a man the world needed to meet and hopefully this film will receive the widest possible distribution, at least on the art-house circuit. I found it, and Oleg, really quite wonderful.
He wasn't always the old glum maestro. Although the young lovers in
"Summer with Monika" might have fitted quite easily into a British
Kitchen Sink film, this early Bergman is less grim than we later came
to expect and although minor, this film has much to admire; it actually
reminded me a bit of "A Kind of Loving".
A young Harriet Andersson is Monika and Lars Ekborg is Harry, the boy who loves her enough to want to spend a lot longer than just the summer with her. You might say that for Bergman this is a very simple picture filled with very simple people but Bergman treats them with a fair degree of sympathy. Monika may be just a little tart or simply a young woman trapped in an early marriage while Harry is always seen as trying to do the decent thing and the ending, if not exactly upbeat, is less of a Bergman downer than usual. No masterpiece, then, but an essential part of the canon nevertheless.
You don't go to a Mario Bava picture expecting an Antonioni picture or
a Fellini picture. Bava does exactly what it says on the tin and what
it says on the tin here is "A Bay of Blood" so basically you know what
you're likely to get and what you're letting yourself in for but Bava
is as much an auteur as any Italian maestro and the killing that opens
this film proves it. Working almost exclusively within the genre of the
horror picture Bava was, above all, a great visual stylist, (as well as
directing "A Bay of Blood" he was also the DoP), and unlike most films
that might be termed slashers this could almost be called art, albeit
of a very kitsch kind.
Budget-wise Bava had to achieve his effects with very little, other than sheer imagination. "A Bay of Blood" may be a fairly basic giallo in terms of plot but it is also creepy and clever and thankfully tongue-in-cheek, (with a laugh-out-loud pay-off), and Bava knew that by including a few 'cult' names in his cast, (Isa Miranda, Laura Betti), he could draw in the cineastes. It may not be in the same class as some of his better known works but it's still worth seeking out.
One of the best of all conspiracy theory movies and a brilliant
political thriller, "The Parallax View" came from a time in the
mid-seventies when American cinema appeared to have reached a peak in
providing intelligent, grown-up entertainments that were both fun to
watch and which required bringing your brain into the cinema with you
rather than leaving it in the foyer with the popcorn. It begins with a
political assassination on top of Seattle's Space Needle. At this stage
the audience doesn't have apply any guesswork; we can see the set up.
We can see the killing of the apparent assassin and we can see the real
assassin get away.
Step forward three years to a grubby Warren Beatty, who was there that day working as a reporter and who is now being contacted by another reporter, (Paula Prentiss in a tight cameo), who was also there and now fears for her life. It seems almost anyone who was there at the time is already dead; cue Warren off to uncover the truth. If the plot feels reasonably predictable, the treatment is superb. Alan J Pakula was the director, working from a screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr and the great Gordon Willis was the cinematographer, working a lot more in the light for a change and there's an excellent supporting turn from Hume Cronyn as Beatty's editor and a brilliant one from the underrated William McGinn as the guy tasked with recruiting assassins. There's a twist in the tale you will probably see coming but it doesn't lessen the effect. As I said, this is a smart piece of multiplex entertainment from a time when movies like this were commonplace. Those, as they say, were the days.
I have to admit I've never been a massive fan of Edgar Wright, (with
the exception of the highly imaginative "Scott Pilgrim Versus the
Wold"). His genre comedies never seemed as ground-breaking as he, and
lots of others, seemed to think; entertaining to be sure, but hardly
classics and now "Baby Driver" arrives, swathed in hype and glowing
reviews and would you believe it, for the first thirty minutes or so I
thought, here we go again, nowhere at very high speed. Then something
happened; I'm not sure what or at what point. Was it a line, (and there
are a lot of good lines), or just a bit of action that didn't feel too
derivative? Anyway, suddenly I started to get drawn in and finally I
What hooked me? Well, not Baby for sure. Ansel Elgort is a good-looking kid, like the guys you see a lot nowadays in advertisements; the kind of guys who are meant to sell you the products but who are actually the kind of guys I, for one, would like to slap...hard. And he never really changes. He meets a girl who is also cute and she has a very wide smile and very white teeth. She's played by "Downton Abbey's" Lily James and I wanted to slap her too though by the end I had kind of warmed to her a little. She's put into danger and I'm a sucker for a damsel in distress. No, it wasn't Ansel and it wasn't Lily that hooked me or even drew me in, so who? That's easy. "Baby Driver" has three of the best bad guys I've seen in a movie in years, not to mention some of the best stunt driving as well as a cracking script from Wright. Easy to get hooked, then. The bad guys are Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm and there's a pretty tough cookie of a bad girl played by Eliza Gonzalez. Spacey is Mr Big. He's a villain but his Achilles Heel is a a soft spot for Baby and Spacey carries off the tough/tender side of his character brilliantly but it's his henchmen, Foxx and Hamm, who are the real villains, (Foxx, in particular, is the kind of guy who would blow away a baby sooner than look at him), and they would lift a movie half as good and send it off into the stratosphere and they do. They make being this bad feel like fun; as does Wright. He was, of course, up against it, through "The Driver" to "Drive", "Baby Driver" had a lot to live up to and it does. There's a moment near the end when it evokes "Thelma and Louise" and any mention of "Bonnie and Clyde" is bound to be dangerous. We're not in that class, I admit, but Elgot and James notwithstanding, "Baby Driver" is still a genre classic.
You know you are in for a sensitive, perhaps even hyper-sensitive,
treatment of homosexuality from the start. A young boy of maybe 10 or
so, Pim, dresses up as a beauty queen, naked all but for a sash, his
mother's jewelry and perfume. His single mother, who likes men, maybe a
bit too much, and to hang out in the local bar, Texas, doesn't scold
him nor do the friendly neighbours he spends so much time with. It is
clear they, like us, can see the man the boy will become.
When we next see Pim he's just turned 15 and is infatuated with the neighbour's 18 year old son, Gino, and we know his future is already mapped out. The only thing is will director Bavo Defurne give us a picture of suicidal teenage angst or something more along the lines of "Beautiful Thing"? Well, let's just say there are plenty of bumps along the way in his film "North Sea, Texas".
In this country, of course, such stories of gay teenage sexuality would be virtually taboo where almost any depiction of sex in which either of the parties involved is under the age of consent is considered child abuse but those pesky foreigners have always lead the way in matters of the flesh, (remember Louis Malle's "Les Amants"?). Here, we might describe this film as brave, even daring, but it's probably quite commonplace in its native Belgium.
All the performances are good with Jelle Florizoone and Mathias Vergels as the teenage lovers, Pim and Gino respectively, slipping into their roles with remarkable ease while Nina Marie Kortekaas as Gino's younger sister, who has more than a crush on Pim, is also excellent. Only the most prurient of minds could take offence at this most bitter-sweet of teenage romances.
Abel Ferrara's masterpiece is in the same genre and the same class as
DePalma's "Scarface". Christopher Walken, (superb, as always), is the
titular "King of New York", a major drug dealer who wants to use his
ill-gotten gains for more altruistic purposes, as in building a
children's hospital. but the police and most of his associates don't
see things his way.
This was as close to a mainstream movie as Ferrara ever made though the somewhat unusual story-line and treatment may not be quite what you would expect. This is a gangster movie that sits somewhere between the art-house and the multiplex. It's also the most visually intoxicating of Ferrara's films; it's got a sheen to it that you don't usually associate with this director and it has one hell of a car chase and gun battle in the rain. It's also got the starriest of his casts; apart from Walken there's David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito and a terrific Victor Argo. Mainstream or not, the film has settled into major cult status and as such is regularly revived.
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