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10/10
Unique, Compelling, Haunting - A Very Great Work of Art!
31 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A tale of forbidden love, TABU is best-remembered today as legendary German director FW Murnau's last film - he was killed in a car accident only one week before its New York premiere. Murnau had been working in Hollywood since the mid-1920s, and had already directed several films in the United States, but of these, only the famous SUNRISE (1927) was a success. By 1930, Murnau had become tired of the Hollywood system and was thinking about returning to Germany, but a timely introduction to Robert F. Flaherty - at that time famous as the director of the classic documentary NANOOK OF THE NORTH - sparked an ill-fated collaboration that resulted in this gorgeous, hypnotic and unforgettable film.

At first, Murnau and Flaherty intended to produce a "Nanook-style" documentary of Tahiti and its people, but several problems intervened: Flaherty and Murnau turned out to have radically different ideas about film-making in general and this project in particular; Flaherty's skills as a cinematographer were not up to the task and another DP had to be called in; and Flaherty's working relationship with the domineering Murnau fell apart when - instead of being co-director as the two had agreed - Flaherty found himself spending most of his time in the lab developing Muranu's film. Only one scene directed by Flaherty remains in TABU - the opening spearfishing sequence - and sad to say, the quality of this scene is no match for Murnau's exquisite footage. In addition, Flaherty decided that he hated the story - he found it too Westernized and fairy-tale-like. After a period of mutual discontent, Murnau bought out Flaherty, sent the entire Hollywood crew back to California, and took over the project completely - even training Tahitian natives in film-making techniques so he could employ the locals as his crew. With the exception of Anne Chevalier - a local French/Tahitian woman whom Murnau discovered performing in a bar in Bora Bora - the entire cast and crew save Murnau and his cinematographer was made up of nonprofessionals.

The film which resulted from this choice is a unique hybrid of documentary and fiction, with a mythic, fantasmatic air about it that is very hard to define - there is no other movie like TABU. Certainly, the fact that we are watching actual Tahitian natives going about their daily business rather than professional actors lends the film a patina of authenticity and realism which makes it impossible to categorize TABU as some sort of Western-colonial-white people's fantasy of the South Seas - in fact, the film's depiction of tribal culture is quite complex and thought-provoking, as we will see...

The plot of TABU is diagramatically simple - the idyllic lives of a Bora Bora fisherman (called Matahi) and his beloved, Reri (Anne Chevalier) are destroyed when tribal elders decree that Reri is so perfect a specimen of local womanhood that the gods have selected her for the honor of becoming their sacrificial victim. Reri immediately becomes TABU - forbidden - to Matahi as she must come before the gods untouched by man. Not surprisingly, Matahi disagrees with the gods' choice. He kidnaps Reri and the two flee to a neighboring island where they believe they will be safe. Unfortunately, this particular island has been taken over by Western civilization and thus the innocent Matahi and Reri have to navigate some very unfamiliar and peculiar customs - like debt and credit. Matahi begins working as a pearl diver, but he is unable to understand money (or handle liquor) and is threatened with violence when he cannot repay a debt. The couple flee once more, desperate for a safe haven, but they do not find one. Matahi and Reri's lives become more and more insecure and in due course of time, the tribal elders track them down anyway. Realizing that the only choice they have is to return to the world they know, Reri resigns herself to her fate, but will Matahi accept the inevitable? A mere plot-summary cannot fully express what TABU is like as a visual and intellectual experience. The film's treatment of native culture is extremely complex - unlike the "noble savage" cliché so popular among Western audiences and seen most recently in AVATAR, Murnau's Bora Bora seems like Eden on the surface, but is governed by a rigid code of conduct which squashes individuality and personality. Matahi and Reri's innocent love is doomed from the beginning, as they are caught between two worlds and unable to find a place in either. Ultimately, the beauty and simplicity of tribal life in Bora Bora - so seductive to the eye and ear in the first part of the film - is shown to be a soul-destroying deathtrap governed by superstition and groupthink. Of course, Murnau depicts the Western system as being no better - European civilization is shown as not much more than drunken, greedy, exploitative artifice out to rape the entire world for a fast buck. TABU is in many ways a terrifying film, where pure love is doomed in the face of money and authority, and even the gorgeous purity of the Tahitian Islands seems tainted by human greed and foolishness. This masterpiece will haunt you for a long time after you have seen it, partly because of the riveting story, and partly because of the exquisite cinematography by Floyd Crosby, who deservedly won an Academy Award for his efforts. Do not miss this legendary masterwork of cinema!
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10/10
A Documentary Film as Legendary as its Subject - Unforgettable!
8 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Although this remarkable documentary is usually known in the English-speaking world as "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl," the German title (in translation) is "The Power of Images: Leni Riefenstahl." The difference is not merely one of semantics - Ray Muller's biopic of the woman best remembered as "Hitler's favorite filmmaker" goes beyond its subject to raise profound questions about the deepest effects of art and the visual image on history and human consciousness. Leni Riefenstahl's 1930s films - the NASDAP films "Victory of the Faith," "Triumph of the Will," the little-known (and long-thought-lost) "Day of Freedom: Armed Forces," and "Olympia" simultaneously broke new ground in the development of cinematic form, made her the first internationally-celebrated female director, and created an image of National Socialist Germany so powerful and compelling that to this very day, images from Riefenstahl's work are routinely stolen and used to symbolize the Nazi period in literally hundreds of television programs (just watch anything on the History Channel!), usually without any credit to her. Indeed, as Mueller points out, it was Riefenstahl whose work transformed a ragtag, motley band of German politicians and soldiers into awesome figures of terrible strength and force - as Muller notes, "She made the Nazis look like Nazis." Already one of the most famous women in Europe long before she started working for Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl was a legend in her own time and is still the best-known female director in history, despite the fact that she made only one major film after 1938. This documentary artfully mixes period footage, extended clips from Riefenstahl's films, and interviews with the director and her associates, including cameramen who worked with her and her longtime companion (who was 40-plus years younger than his famous lover!). Proceeding in chronological order, Muller's film covers every aspect of this amazing woman's life, from her early days as a dancer in the mode of Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, to her ground-breaking and technically stunning "Mountain Films" where she was usually cast as a lovely daredevil, to her later work as a photographer in the Sudan and in the deepest ocean.

It is impossible to watch this film and be unimpressed with Frau Riefenstahl's talent, drive, and sheer force of personality - one can hardly believe one's eyes when one watches this tiny, wizened ancient bellowing orders at the director and literally shaking him senseless (a man a quarter her age and half her size!) when he has the temerity to disagree with her suggestions on how she should be photographed. It is also impossible not to be disgusted by Frau Riefenstahl's complete self-involvement and her total refusal to consider that the content of her work might have a political component beyond her original intent.

Riefenstahl is a rare example of a female aesthete - a woman whose whole life was governed by a vision of ideal beauty. Beauty, however, is not a democratic phenomenon, and this is where Riefenstahl's life and career begin to raise some very dark and troubling issues for those of us who like to tell ourselves that art is always a force for good. To the end of his days, Hitler saw himself first and foremost as an artist - an individual who uses their powers of perception to shape a new reality. For both Riefenstahl and Hitler, the art of ancient Greece and Rome represented the pinnacle of human physical capacity and offered a vision of perfect beauty beyond time and space, a vision which Hitler was determined to transform into reality, using the "Aryan" German people as his raw material. A single shot in "Olympia" makes this notion quite clear - the famous lap-dissolve between the white marble of Myron's celebrated "Diskobolos" and the living, moving body of an Olympic athlete hurling his discus into space. Connoisseurs of art will know that the pose of Myron's statue is in fact anatomically impossible to assume (try it yourself), but Riefenstahl's evil genius and simplistic mind equated physical reality with the principles of classical art, itself almost always ideal rather than real. Our own society over the past few decades seems to have succumbed to a kind of thinking which - like Riefenstahl, Hitler and the Ancient Greeks - equates physical beauty with moral virtue and ultimate truth. No wonder Riefenstahl's visual style and photographic skills are copied again and again by sports shows and commercials - all of which are usually selling a product to a viewer by appealing to our vanity and desire to be "perfect" - and thus loved and adored. This is why Leni Riefenstahl's work is so dangerous - consider the suffering generated in our own society by the obsession so many of us seem to have with being "beautiful" and "perfect." In a world where plastic surgery is now a multi-billion dollar business and millions of people seem to have no other ambition than maximizing their physical attractiveness, shouldn't we be asking ourselves some very serious questions about our own aesthetic ideals and their consequences, given the fact that the cult of beauty and perfection in our age seems to result so often in death and pain? Ray Muller's film is one of the few works of art in our time to raise these questions seriously. Whatever you may think of Riefenstahl and her art, the fact remains that her life and career are more relevant than ever. "The Power of Images" indeed.
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10/10
Haunting, Sensual and Unforgettable...
7 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Banned in Indonesia for nearly 20 years after its release, Peter Weir's 1983 political melodrama THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (TYLD) remains the only film in existence set during the failed Communist revolution of 1965 which swept corrupt dictator Sukarno out of office only to replace him with the equally corrupt Suharto. The plot revolves around the coming-of-age of neophyte journalist Guy Hamilton (played by Mel Gibson before Hollywood stardom ruined his looks and bloated his ego to titanic proportions), recently arrived in Djakarta from Australia and looking to break big stories and make a name for himself - fast. Guy is befriended by ace photographer Billy Kwan (more on "him" later), a half-Chinese, half-Indonesian dwarf who has connections in very high places and believes in President Sukarno's benevolence. The political situation in the country is tense - mass protests block traffic in the streets while a Communist revolution brews behind the scenes and Sukarno's position grows more anxious by the day. Naive and self-centered, Guy sees his new world entirely through selfish eyes - as though all Indonesia existed only for his personal entertainment and enrichment. Guy is far from alone in this regard, as the racist and sexually-exploitative behavior of his fellow-journalists demonstrates (a scene in which one of Guy's colleagues takes his pick from literally a score of desperate girls all too eager to sell themselves for a few dollars is horrific). Despite the post-WW II setting, European colonialism in Asia seems alive and well, with Western diplomats and expatriates living lives of material abundance far removed from the miserable reality of Asia's slums. Thanks to Billy Kwan's connections and friendship, Guy not only gains access to leading political players - making his name via an exclusive interview with the head of the Indonesian Communist Party - but meets the beautiful Jill Bryant (played nicely by Sigourney Weaver, whose acting is better than her accent). Jill is an assistant at the British Embassy and as such, is privy to a great deal of classified information. The pair seem to be wildly in love, but is Jill more important to Guy than his career? Before the story ends, Guy Hamilton will see blood spilled, lose his best friend, learn that Asian politics isn't a spectator sport, and that his white skin is no guarantee of safety and security. Truthfully, TYLD is something of a misfire as a political thriller - somehow, the plot doesn't quite cohere, the period setting is less than convincing, and indeed, the political aspects of the piece ultimately take a backseat to what starts to become the real story of the film - Guy's loss of arrogance and innocence, the development of his relationship with Jill, and the self-destruction of Billy Kwan. Taken as a romance and as a character study, TYLD succeeds beyond its wildest expectations. Weir - always a master of that intangible yet essential quality called "atmosphere" - creates here what has to be one of the most sensuous films of all time. The heat of the equatorial air is palpable, the crowded slums visceral. As many other reviewers have noted, the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver in this film is breathtaking - the sequence where they get caught in a sudden downpour, take shelter in a car, and ALMOST kiss is to this reviewer one of the most erotic scenes in all cinema - and perhaps rarely have two attractive humans been photographed so superbly as they are here - so much so that one can overlook Miss Weaver's tenuous English accent, which comes and goes at intervals before finally vanishing altogether. Linda Hunt's Oscar-winning gender-crossing portrayal of the brilliant but doomed Billy Kwan is superlative - what, indeed, is to be done about such mass poverty and suffering? The Vangelis soundtrack is also brilliant - lush waves of synthesized chords wash over the viewer, making the perfect aural counterpart to the film's rich photography. The ending - in which Guy has to make a choice between his ego and his lover - is gripping and suspenseful. The film's slow, even languid, pace only adds to the hothouse and strangely self-contained atmosphere. This movie isn't just something you watch - it is a remarkable sensual experience all by itself and a reminder of the power and beauty that the screen can bring to the human face. This reviewer has loved this great film ever since watching it repeatedly on cable TV as a child in the 80s - there is nothing quite like this movie's atmosphere anywhere else. Don't miss this sexy and though-provoking work of art!
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Australia (2008)
9/10
The Kind of Movie That Just Doesn't Get Made Anymore!
5 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Despite its failure at the box-office in the USA, "Australia" is nevertheless the most financially successful and popular film ever produced Down Under - with the exception of CROCODILE DUNDEE back in 1984! The reasons for this much-maligned film's massive worldwide success are simple - this movie is the kind of crowd-pleasing, action-packed melodrama that used to be the film industry's bread-and-butter, but that no one today seems to know how to produce - except Baz Luhrmann! The director - who knows his film history - stated at the outset that he wanted to make an Australian version of GONE WITH THE WIND, and this reviewer believes that Mr. Luhrmann - for better and for worse - succeeded completely in realizing his dream. "Australia" is a deliberate throwback to what some people might think of as cinema's "Golden Age," and what others might think of as a completely archaic, totally out-of-date style of film-making which was thought overdone and "cheesy" by many even in the 1930s. This is not a "subtle" or "challenging" motion picture - like the Hollywood epics of the 1930s and 1940s (such as 1937's THE GOOD EARTH) which it is imitating, "Australia" is quite similar to GWTW in that it is an uneasy fusion of "action-adventure" and "women's melodrama" - everything about this movie is simultaneously simplified and exaggerated, meant to be watched with tongue thoroughly in-cheek! Let's begin with the first cliché - the characters: It is summer 1939. Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, an English noblewoman who journeys to a remote ranch in the Outback with the goal of retrieving her errant husband. Sadly, Lord Ashley died just before his estranged wife's arrival, but Sarah is far from grief-stricken...When she learns that her remote estate is much more valuable than anyone previously thought (except a villainous foreman named Fletcher), she decides to assume responsibility for running the ranch herself. Aiding her in this endeavor is the rough-and-tough-but-oh-so-sexy "Drover" (and the ridiculous name should tell us all that this film is not meant to be "realistic"). Drover is incarnated by Hugh Jackman - who will probably never look or be photographed better than he is here. Naturally, the elegant aristocrat and the gritty cattle rustler take an instant dislike to one another, but the Widow Ashley will change her mind soon enough after a few glimpses of Drover's monumental physique...This is one of those movies where the male lead is far more sensual and voluptuous than his leading lady (and shows a lot more flesh, too), and if that bothers you in any way, then you are not part of "Australia's" target audience, which appears to be women, male homosexuals, and movie buffs of all ages. Lady Sarah and Drover spend the next 3 hours of your life keeping the ranch from being sold, exposing dastardly villains, endangering themselves for love, journeying through sere-but-gorgeous Outback landscapes, surviving Axis attacks as soon as the movie switches time from 1939 to 1942, and protecting the local Aborigines from exploitation and abuse. Watching "Australia" is like taking a roller-coaster ride at an amusement park - you already know exactly what kind of experience you are going to have, the only question is - will the experience live up to your expectations? Unlike so many reviewers, this writer enjoyed every second of this light-hearted, entertaining, thrill-a-minute ride - not DESPITE but BECAUSE of the stock characters, clichéd dialogue, shameless emotionalism, and overuse of antique cinematic devices cribbed not just from 1930s movies, but from 1930s-style nostalgia-pix like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK from a generation ago. While the characters are less fully-developed than those of GWTW - Mr. Luhrmann's stick-figures cannot compare to Margaret Mitchell's unique and unforgettable Rhett and Scarlett - the whole epic smorgasboard is done with such vigor and played so well by all the principals that one eventually becomes caught up in it - or perhaps surrenders to it! If you want to see a film that recalls an old-fashioned "Night At the Movies" - this is the film for you. "Australia" has no profanity, no explicit nudity, and no blood or gore - it is a near-perfect piece of light entertainment with something for everyone. Special kudos should go to Mr. Luhrmann for making this film the first in history to deal accurately and intelligently with the "whitening" policy of the Australian government - for many decades, any "half-caste" children were removed from their families and sent to state-run homes where they were given European educations and taught to blend into the white race as part of a deliberate social policy intended to breed the aborigines out of existence. Some might find the film's depiction of the Aborigines as - naturally - the source of all knowledge and spirituality to be racist in and of itself, but at the very least, "Australia" tackles a part of history which has been rarely touched, and it does so in a refreshingly non-didactic manner. Try this movie on for size on a cold or rainy night and you will be surprised at what a good time you have. "Australia" is EPIC FUN!
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Don't Even Try to Figure Out the Plot - Just Watch!
5 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Full disclosure: THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is this reviewer's all-time favorite Orson Welles picture - less didactic than KANE and far more entertaining than AMBERSONS...Originally produced in 1946, LADY was not released until 1948, thanks largely to studio interference during post-production. Columbia studio-head Harry Cohn hated the picture from day 1 due to his obsession with Rita Hayworth - Cohn detested Welles and loathed the director's shearing and bleaching of Hayworth's famous long hair for her role as a combination trophy-wife/underworld boss lady. Cohn also found the film incomprehensible - after Welles' screened his initial, 2.5 hour cut, Cohn actually offered $1000 cash to anyone who could explain the plot to him in a way that made sense (there were no takers!)...Despite the flaw of an often-confusing storyline - such essential points as just how Rita Hayworth becomes the leader of the Chinese underworld, exactly who is being targeted for assassination and why, and what Welles' hapless-sailor character Michael is doing in the middle of all of this are never really explained - LADY FROM SHANGHAI is a feast for the eyes and the imagination which rewards multiple viewings. Sadly, unlike the magnificent restoration of TOUCH OF EVIL a decade ago, there will never be a "director's cut" of LADY, as the excised footage (much of which was apparently concerned Elsa Bannister's life in Shanghai as mistress to the leader of the Chinese underworld) was deliberately destroyed on Cohn's orders. Those who complain about LADY'S being difficult to follow should keep in mind that we only have about 50% of the film which Welles actually made. On the other hand, it's hard to see how LADY FROM SHANGHAI could have made any "sense" in the first place, given that the film's plot and script are cloaked in deliberate obscurity. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is less a coherent narrative than it is an elaborate visual and aural extravaganza. This film contains some sequences which will literally take your breath away, with the legendary mirror-maze climactic shootout being the best known, but the love scene in the aquarium and the trial sequence - among others - are equally rich in style and impact. After several viewings, you will be able to just relax and enjoy the bizarre journey. No matter what you think about the movie's plot (or lack thereof), the final 20 minutes of this movie will blow your mind, especially when Rita Hayworth starts speaking fluent Chinese! DO NOT MISS THIS PICTURE if you want to see true storytelling genius at work!
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Star Trek: The Menagerie: Part I (1966)
Season 1, Episode 11
9/10
The Best Original Star Trek Episode - Hugo Award Winner!
14 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Imagine that you could have anything you wanted, go anywhere you wished, be anything you'd ever dreamed of being - through thought alone. Now imagine yourself sharing this gift with the love of your life. What would you do? Would such powers be worth your soul? This is the dilemma presented to Captain Christopher Pike in "The Cage" the now-legendary pilot episode of the original Star Trek series. Famously deemed "too cerebral" and "too cold" by NBC brass and rejected, "The Cage" was nevertheless the most ambitious and costly pilot ever made in the history of the network at the time, and Gene Roddenberry did not want to let all that effort and expense go to waste, with the result being this truly classic Star Trek episode, which embeds "The Cage" into a frame story which deepens and extends the emotional and philosophical depth of this haunting tale, a landmark in TV history and one of the first truly serious sci-fi stories ever filmed for the small screen...Star Date 3012: The USS Enterprise diverts to Starbase 11 after Mr. Spock receives an urgent message from the former commander of the Enterprise. Surprisingly, the message cannot be from Captain Pike after all, as he is now confined to a wheelchair, mute and horribly disfigured after a tragic accident. Kirk and Starbase commanding officer Commodore Mendez attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, but before the matter can be cleared up, Spock - for reasons as yet unknown - commits an act of open mutiny, kidnapping the helpless Captain Pike and hijacking the Enterprise via a brilliantly thought-out and timed plan aided by a few Vulcan nerve pinches. Soon, the Enterprise is headed for the remote, forbidden planet of Talos IV. Mendez informs Kirk that Talos IV is under interdiction, and any contact with the planet by Starfleet vessels or personnel carries an immediate death sentence, meaning that Spock appears to be deliberately destroying himself, and Kirk as well, given that the Captain will be held responsible for the ship's activities. Appalled, Kirk and Mendez give chase in a shuttlecraft, which itself becomes dangerous when the Enterprise refuses to answer their calls or pick up the craft until power and oxygen are nearly gone. Spock - knowing that Kirk must be the one following the ship - is of course unable to consign the Captain to certain death. After ordering the craft to be retrieved and the occupants beamed aboard, Spock reveals what he has done to McCoy and demands to be arrested, after having set the starship on an irreversible course to Talos IV. Upon reassuming command, Kirk demands an explanation, whereupon Spock requests immediate court martial by a tribunal of Starfleet commanding officers - of whom there are three on board - Mendez, Kirk, and the crippled invalid Captain Pike. Spock's encyclopedic knowledge of Starfleet regulations enables him to manipulate the tribunal into allowing him to present otherwise inadmissible evidence. Spock presents video recordings of the only contact ever made between the Federation and the inhabitants of Talos IV - a journey taken 13 years earlier by the Enterprise itself under Pike's command. Kirk expresses doubts about the authenticity of the video due to its extreme detail, but the reality of the events depicted is confirmed by Pike himself, who turns out to have been lured to Talos IV by a distress call from the alleged survivors of a Federation research vessel which crashed there 18 years previously. Among the survivors is Vina, a stunning beauty said to have been born just before the disaster. Pike is attracted to the girl and allows her to lure him to an isolated spot, whereupon he is waylaid and captured by the Talosians, a race of androgynous humanoids with enormous cranial capacity and the power to transform thoughts into virtual reality. After Pike's capture, the rest of the "survivors" vanish as none of them really existed except Vina. The episode ends when the tribunal learns that Spock's "evidence" is in fact being transmitted to the Enterprise directly from Talos IV, in violation of Starfleet regulations. Starfleet orders an immediate halt to the transmissions, and we wonder what will happen next...To be continued in a review of "The Menagerie: Part II"!
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Darling (1965)
9/10
"I Don't Want to THINK! I Just Want to DANCE!"
12 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Despite beings graced by one of the finest screen performances in post-1950 cinema - Julie Christie as "Diana Scott" - this film as a whole has become somewhat forgotten - infrequently revived and often dismissed as a dated, overly-trendy 1960s period piece (as can be seen by reading many of the IMDb reviews on this site!). Seen as a bit of production design, DARLING is indeed wholly of its time, but if you can you look past the clothes, hair, music and now-faintly-ridiculous slang, DARLING becomes something quite different - a serious exploration of the transformation in manners and morals which overwhelmed the world in the mid-60s and continues to shape all our lives today. DARLING is seen by many as a "satire," but for this reviewer, DARLING is something more - a conservative film in the true sense of the word, a work which holds the new morality of our age up to a harsh light and forces us to ask some very hard questions about ourselves and the world in which we live now. DARLING tells a very traditional story - that of an ambitious woman who uses her face and figure to climb into society's upper echelons - but unlike similar characters such as Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp or Edith Wharton's Undine Spragg, Diana Scott is less interested in rising to the top of Europe's landed aristocracy or the American Old Guard than she is in securing a place in the "New Aristocracy" of Cafe Society, where lineage and breeding matter less than looks, money and publicity. As the story opens, Diana Scott is a young English rose gifted less with brains and ambition than an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. Wanting something more than her council-flat, working-class background can provide, Diana chooses marriage as her way out, but she quickly sheds her bumbling teenage husband when she meets Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), a well-known (and married) TV journalist who becomes infatuated with the free-spirited young model and eventually succumbs to her demand that he leave his wife for her. Domestic bliss proves short-lived, however, as Robert's quiet, scholarly, and intellectual life-style bores the restless Diana out of her wits. Seeking a more exciting world than Robert can offer, Diana allows rich cad Miles Brand (Lawrence Harvey) to seduce her. Becoming part of his fast-moving "swinging" set, Diana heads off to the Continent and finds herself running around with a wild crowd and becoming more and more well-known as a model, actress, and "personality" despite her complete lack of artistic talent - in one pivotal scene, Diana actually flees an important audition! Eventually, Diana attracts the attention of a minor European royal - an Italian Prince - who courts her and eventually marries her in due course of time. The marriage ensures Diana a place in the rarefied world of international celebrity at the cost of her personal happiness, since it rapidly becomes obvious that she is nothing more than a trophy wife - the Prince leaves his new wife buried in the country to make incommunicado trips to Rome, ostensibly to visit his "mother". Realizing that she has made a terrible mistake, Diana escapes to England and tries to reconnect with Robert Gold - whom she now thinks was her one true love - and for one night she succeeds, but Robert quashes her fantasies of a new life together very fast when he informs her that he agreed to meet her for the sake of old times and in fact has no intention of allowing her back into his life. Rejected, Diana returns to Italy, hounded by the press and facing an uncertain future. Julie Christie is simply flawless as Diana, who cannot be blamed for the vanity and superficiality of the world around her and still manages to come across as an innocent no matter how many men she sleeps with or how many drugs she takes. DARLING is sometimes a bit heavy-handed and obvious in parts, but it remains valuable today as a critique of the new manners and morals of the 60s. The film's cinematographic style is extraordinary - Schlesinger and his DP shoot the tale in a cold, distant fashion which prevents us from identifying ourselves fully with any single character and makes the film seem like a documentary rather than a work of fiction. DARLING's detached, cold style sheds an interesting light on the characters and their activities - we are encouraged to observe, watch, evaluate and judge these rootless, disconnected, superficial people along with the society they inhabit. Of course, the film's final irony is that Diana Scott spends the whole thing longing for deep intimacy and true connection with another, only to lose the love of her life because she was incapable of appreciating him until it is too late, and preferred glitter to gold. Don't miss this remarkable picture!.
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The Legacy (1978)
6/10
One of the Best "Happy Endings" Ever Filmed!
23 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
THE LEGACY is a film with many, many flaws - not the least of which are a weak and clueless protagonist with less screen time than the male lead (always a mistake in this kind of film), uneven pacing and and a script containing plot holes so large that one can drive a lorry right through them! That said, director Richard Marquand indeed accomplishes what he sets out to do - create a genre-bending mix of country-house-mystery, gorefest and BBC-family-melodrama which zooms along so quickly one hardly notices the flaws on the first go-round because one is too busy being entertained! Katharine Ross stars as "Maggie Walsh," a sweet California decorator summoned to rural England - ostensibly to take a decorating job for which she has already been paid in full (to her own surprise) a rather large sum. Accompanied by her Significant Other, Pete (played with classic Marlboro-Man machismo by the hirsute and callipygous Sam Eliott), Maggie duly heads off to the UK, only to become involved in a road accident which totals Pete's motorcycle and leaves them stranded at Ravenhurst, the remote manor of the other party to the mishap, elegant landowner Jason Mountolive (played with superb menace by John Standing). The American couple are very surprised when they arrive at Mountolive's house only to find a room already prepared for them by Mountolive's combination housekeeper/home health aide/shapeshifting familiar Nurse Adams - as if they were expected guests rather than accidental pick-ups. A quick test of their new Jacobean 4-poster canopy bed perks up Maggie & Pete's tense mood until other guests start arriving - all of whom appear to have been expecting Maggie's presence in their midst, which only increases Pete's suspicion of these smooth Europeans. Mountolive does not appear for dinner, and the other guests express great surprise to learn that their reclusive and deathly ill host has in fact met Maggie in person already. Suddenly, one of Mountolive's guests dies horribly. The shock loosens tongues and Maggie learns from conversing with the other guests that all of them are beholden to Jason in one way or another for their worldly success, that he is dying, and the time has come for a new heir or heirs. Eventually, Maggie is summoned to Jason's rooms for a private audience. Approaching the sick man's veiled bedside, Maggie is scared out of her wits when she is grasped by a wizened, clawed hand which forces a signet-ring onto her finger. After she realizes that the ring cannot be taken off, Maggie listens to her suspicious boyfriend and agrees to leave, only to find that they are somehow unable to do so - no matter which road they take, the path always doubles back to return them to Jason's mansion, but Maggie is getting caught up in the spirit of things now, so only Pete seems to mind that they are trapped on the estate. Soon, more deaths occur among the guests as part of the selection process, and in due course of time, Maggie learns that she is in fact the reincarnation of Jason Mountolive's mother - a witch and Satanist named Lady Margaret Walsingham who was burnt at the stake hundreds of years earlier. Jason himself is the designee of his mother's legacy - a legacy not just of wealth and property, but of witchcraft and Satanism - and must be at least 350 years old. Finally dying, he must transmit the legacy to a new generation...After the last bit of human competition is removed via yet another strange death, Maggie chooses to accept her destiny and mind-meld with the dying Jason, embracing her heritage of horror and Satanism and becoming the new "Lady Margaret," mistress of the Ravenhurst estate and all it represents. Pete survives and accepts his new role as Lady Margaret's consort, allowing her to slip an unremovable signet-ring onto his finger in the final moments of the film. Now Maggie has everything - money, land, position, title, her preferred mate and Satanic powers - and one can only imagine what she'll get up to! Of course, none of this makes much sense, but it is directed with such panache that somehow one doesn't mind. Script flaws are legion and far too much time is spent on the Sam Eliott character but the visuals are rich and atmospheric - the Jacobean country-house setting is especially appropriate - and so suggestive that they almost make up for the disjointed script and senseless plot. Scenes like Jason giving Maggie the ring, the attempted escape, and anything involving Nurse Adams keep the whole thing going. Amusingly, Pete's Marlboro-Man-Machismo winds up being completely ineffectual in the face of aristocratic European witchcraft - the final scene where an enraged Pete destroys Jason's bedchamber in a vain attempt to save Maggie from a fate she herself now freely accepts is a perfect lesson in the limitations of brute force as a means of problem-solving. There is something very satisfying about a movie in which the "Rambo" antics of the Typically-Macho-American-male lead are treated as the harmless play of a child and the character is shown as a buffoon rather than a role model, and it is doubly satisfying because this is a movie in which the female lead actually accepts a new life as Satan's disciple and not only survives, but gets everything she wants as well. It's one of the most unusual "happy endings" ever scripted - and one of the most enjoyable! Don't expect plausibility or a coherent plot from this one - just enjoy the creepy atmosphere, fine acting, and striking images on a cold rainy night and you'll have a very pleasant evening of thrills and chills. An extremely entertaining film that practically cries out to be remade...soon...Enjoy!
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Interiors (1978)
7/10
"Dad, she's a VULGARIAN!!!!"
15 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Back in 1977, Woody Allen was the "King of the World" (to quote James Cameron) following the massive success of the justly-famous, multiple-Oscar-winning ANNIE HALL. ANNIE HALL - unlike most Woody Allen films - was also a box-office hit across the country (despite his international reputation, most Allen films just don't "play" in the USA outside the coastal cities, but they are usually so inexpensive to produce that Allen easily makes back his costs nevertheless). Being in such a position, Allen could do anything he wanted as a follow-up, so he chose a project which was very dear to his heart and which wound up disappointing just about everyone and became something of a joke for a long time afterward - a phenomenon so widespread it was referenced by Allen himself in 1980's STARDUST MEMORIES when a character says to the "Allen" stand-in - "I liked your early, funny, movies! INTERIORS violated audience expectations because it is not a comedy and Allen isn't in it (thank God), both of which were "firsts" in Allen's long career. Believe me, there is nevertheless a lot of humour in INTERIORS - but it is of the unintentionally funny kind, as we will see later...The film in fact slipped through something of a crack in UA's production schedule - preoccupied at the time with Cimino's out-of-control epic HEAVEN'S GATE, the money men trusted Allen and allowed him to do as he wished, but the box-office failure of INTERIORS was in its day thought to be just another example of a self-indulgent director getting his comeuppance and the film became another nail in the financial coffin which destroyed the only remaining major independent studio in Hollywood. Thirty years later, INTERIORS has perhaps finally gained the public recognition it deserves as one of Allen's richest, most rewarding and beautiful films. Derivative of Ingmar Bergman it may be, but a disaster it is not. The plot is simple - one day at breakfast in the Hamptons, WASPy lawyer Arthur (EG Marshall), coolly informs his elegant-but-domineering wife, Eve (Geraldine Page), that he wishes to separate. Eve - a controlling and perfectionistic decorator (hence the title) - promptly suffers an emotional decline which her children feel helpless to stop and which eventually leads her to suicide after her ex-husband remarries. This soap-opera material is lifted above the banal by three things - fantastic performances all around, a complex and demanding non-linear cinematic structure, and stunning photography and production design. INTERIORS is a perfect example of Allen's ongoing fascination with the psychological terrorism, physical restraint, and emotional coldness which he (rightly) sees as basic features of WASP society. Although portrayed in the story as the cause of everyone's problems, Eve is in fact the most sympathetic character. Only two of her three daughters - Renata (Diane Keaton) and Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) play a major role in the story, and both of these younger women are partially responsible for their mother's death due to their own problems - Renata is a frigid, neurotic woman whose success as a poet and author bring her no happiness, and who constantly competes with her sister for the attention of their father, while Joey is a highly-strung, perpetually unsatisfied individual who envies the talents of her sisters despite her own successful marriage. Neither one of them can stand their mother or each another, and Joey goes so far as to tear Eve to shreds psychologically in a devastating monologue at the climax which at last pushes Eve over the edge, causing her to walk into the open ocean just outside the family's Long Island residence. Joey frantically tries to save her mother, only to nearly drown herself. She is brought back to life by Arthur's new wife, Pearl (Maureen Stapleton), whose knowledge of CPR proves critical. Pearl is a slightly trashy yenta whose lack of intellectual refinement and sensuality charm Arthur (and the rest of the male characters!) but repulse the uptight daughters. Despite this, Pearl without hesitation saves the life of a girl who publicly insulted her at her own wedding just hours earlier! Photographed superbly by Gordon Willis, the drowning sequence is one of the most perfect in 1970's film-making. On the negative side, it has to be said that Allen's dialogue is often both pretentious and unintentionally funny - nobody actually talks like these people (the title of this review is one of the movie's funniest lines - watch for it), and their claim to the status of "intellectuals" is undercut by a lot of needlessly arch and senseless statements which reveal that Allen himself is far from the "intellectual" he is generally thought to be. Also, no one seems to have had a happy moment in their lives despite their money, talent and expensive real estate. Renata treats her husband like a fashion accessory, while Joey is an unrelenting nag and complainer ("Why do you stay with me! I give you nothing but grief!" she says to her grad-student husband - and she's right!). Nevertheless, the superb performances and fine photography give this film an emotional power - even a grandeur - which make it unique among Woody Allen works. You may not "like" this film, but you MUST SEE IT nevertheless, as few American films have ever even attempted to do what INTERIORS does. For his guts in making a movie which he knew would probably be rejected by the masses at the height of his own popularity, Allen deserves a great deal of credit. Within certain limitations, this reviewer regards INTERIORS as Allen's most personal masterpiece - it is an unforgettable and compulsively watchable film despite its flaws.
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Suspicion (1941)
9/10
Hitchcock's Finest Tale of Erotic Obsession & Madness!
17 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The story of SUSPICION is well-known: Repressed, spinsterish Lina (Joan Fontaine) meets a devastatingly handsome man on a train who turns out to be Johnny Aysgarth, a local socialite. Unmarried, Aysgarth excites the desires of every woman who crosses his path. When he and Lina meet again by chance, he becomes smitten. A wary Lina refuses his attentions until she overhears a conversation in which her parents speak of her dismissively, saying that she's just not the marrying type & that they will therefore "have her on their hands" forever. Afterwards, Lina pursues Johnny - in fact, she stalks him, tracking his movements by telephone and obsessively reading everything about him. The ill-matched couple are married in due course, but Johnny turns out to be a ne'er-do-well and a schemer. Ultimately, Lina convinces herself that her husband is a murderer and she is meant to be his next victim until a glass of milk triggers an open confrontation...

Hitchcock's follow-up to REBECCA was a huge success back in November 1941 and remains one of his most popular today, but over the years has suffered a decline in its reputation, thanks largely to Hitchcock himself - for decades, he complained to anyone who would listen that RKO studio executives forced him to alter the conclusion. Yes, it is true - the ending of SUSPICION is NOT what Hitchcock CLAIMED he would have preferred, nor is the ending of the film the same as Francis Iles' 1932 source novel, "Before the Fact." In both the novel and the unfilmed ending, Johnny Aysgarth is a cold, manipulative sociopath who does indeed kill his best friend and later his wife. Certainly, the ending proposed by Hitchcock - in which Lina allows herself to be poisoned but not before she asks Johnny to mail a letter for her, a letter which reveals her husband's crimes - would have worked. The fact of the matter is that such an ending was impossible to shoot in 1941, when suicide could not be portrayed on screen. A legend has grown up that Hitchcock was forced to alter the "real" ending after a disastrous test screening, but that particular conclusion was rightly rejected by audiences - in it, Johnny brings Lina the famous glass of milk, then realizes what she is thinking. Stunned by the knowledge that his wife believes him capable of killing her, he leaves her to join the RAF, where he fights bravely in the Battle of Britain and becomes a hero. This ridiculous ending wound up where it deserved to be - on the cutting-room floor! I might be in the minority here, but I love SUSPICION as it is and have no complaints about the ending, which as it stands is one of the most shocking reversals in movie history. Rather than providing us with a tale of a murder from the victim's point of view, the stunning surprise of the ending turns SUSPICION into a tale of erotic obsession and sexual madness. Early memos between Hitchcock and the RKO production staff demonstrate that Hitchcock wished to concentrate on the main female character's inner fantasy life early in the production's development, as several biographers have now confirmed through research in studio archives. In a way, SUSPICION may be the ultimate MacGuffin - the entire movie is a clever bit of misdirection whose abrupt ending completely changes all that has come before. Rather than focus on the problem, "Is Cary Grant a killer?", a more appropriate question to ask oneself might be, "Is Joan Fontaine completely insane?" Despite Grant's top billing, this is Joan Fontaine's movie all the way, and she richly deserved her Best Actress Academy Award. SUSPICION is built around something very unusual in movies of this time - a woman's erotic, desiring gaze. It is Lina who initiates the relationship, staring so hard at Johnny when they meet that he becomes physically uncomfortable. It is Lina who pursues him, and it is Lina who - based only on slim evidence - convinces herself that her man is a killer. Unlike the source novel - which was about Johnny Aysgarth - SUSPICION places its female protagonist front and center. We experience the film entirely from Lina's viewpoint, and so of course we find ourselves believing that "Cary Grant is a killer!" and we are of course frustrated and puzzled to find out that it is all in Lina's mind at the end - because if Lina's perceptions were faulty, then so were ours! Bad vision and inaccurate perception are major themes in the film right from the start: Lina's myopic gaze - she cannot truly SEE what is right in front of her - becomes a metaphor for her character's inability to leave her dream world and perceive her husband and his actions with accuracy. Instead, Lina prefers the fantasy she has constructed inside her warped mind. Underneath its lush, glossy surface (few Hitchcock films are as physically beautiful as this one), SUSPICION takes us on a dark and disturbing journey into the mind of a madwoman who succumbs to paranoia and fear. Ironically, the reaction of so many to this film - a response based entirely on "what-might-have-been" fantasy rather than an unbiased look at the film as it really is - merely confirms the power of Hitchcock's scenario! If you fall into this mental trap, you are behaving exactly like Joan Fontaine's character in the movie! When you change the way you look at this film and accept it for what it is, the real brilliance of the story and the ending becomes apparent - Lina MIGHT be correct after all, but of course we will never know!
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10/10
"Nuns Don't Wear High Heels!"
16 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is a perfect film in every way, still just as magical and entertaining an experience as it was in November 1938, when it was released to great success on both sides of the Atlantic, becoming the biggest hit film ever produced in Britain up to that time. This movie has it all - action, adventure, romance, comedy, suspense, witty dialogue, terrific acting, and a great plot. Set in the fictional Central European country of "Bandrika" ("One of Europe's few undiscovered corners"), THE LADY VANISHES details the trials and tribulations of one Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), a world-weary sophisticate ("I've had caviar at Cannes and played baccarat at Biarritz. What else is left for me but...marriage.") on her way home to an aristocratic fiancée about whom she seems unenthusiastic at best. On her last night in her Alpine hotel, she meets two people who will change her life: a charming middle-aged spinster who calls herself Miss Froy, and an impoverished musicologist with a sarcastic mouth named Gilbert (Michael Redgrave in the role which made him an international star & you will see why!), whose company she immediately finds less-than-delightful - although she will change her tune soon enough...On the train the following day, Iris renews her acquaintance with Miss Froy during tea, only to awaken from a nap sometime later to be told by everyone around her that there was no Miss Froy. After a totally fruitless attempt to garner support from the other first-class passengers (all of whom have seen Miss Froy and all of whom deny it for different reasons of their own), Iris decides to take up the search herself, running into Gilbert and reluctantly enlisting his help. At first, Gilbert is merely humoring Iris, and he too comes to the conclusion that she is delusional after she pulls the emergency brake in a rage and faints...but then, he stumbles across a bit of evidence which proves to him that Iris is telling the truth and since she is, that there must be something very, very suspicious unfolding on the train. From this point on the movie goes into high-gear, becoming the mother of all action films, chock full of kidnappings, chase scenes, battles-of-wits, shootouts, and last-minute escapes. Don't worry - if it all sounds complicated, it isn't - I just don't want to spoil the many marvelous plot twists! Perhaps not until 1963's THE BIRDS would Hitchcock have as many delightful character roles as he does here, with an Italian spy, an adulterous couple, an imperious Baroness, a sinister psychoanalyst, and a nun with inappropriate footwear all playing their parts in the unfolding adventure. Special mention should go to the team of Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford as Caldecott and Charters - a pair of dimwitted, xenophobic, sports-obsessed English gentlemen whose definition of catastrophe is being unable to learn the scores of the latest cricket matches but who can be trusted to do the right thing in a tight spot. They are delightful comic relief and play these stereotypical roles with such ease and chemistry between them that they themselves were elevated to stardom in the UK and spent the next decade replaying similar characters in a host of other movies, even doing a few films where they took top billing. Looked at from the point of view of today, the film exudes a very peculiar atmosphere - the atmosphere of Europe in 1938, of a world about to end and a terrible time to come - but Hitchcock accomplishes this by indirect means. The terrifying political situation of Europe in 1938 is never referred to directly, except to make a ironic joke. "Bandrika" itself could be any of the countries which were drawn into the Third Reich (the "Bandrikan" language is, for those who are curious, NOT an actual language but a combination of modern Italian, Hungarian, Greek and German filtered through Pig Latin) and in a way it is all of them. But one doesn't watch this movie for a history lesson - THE LADY VANISHES is one of the all-time great pieces of cinematic entertainment, as fresh, witty, exciting and pleasing today as it was 70 years ago. Every time I watch this film to study its construction, I get caught up in the irresistible flow of the story and skip the analysis in favor of a rollicking good time! Perhaps the ultimate tribute to Hitchcock and his team is that they managed to come up with a completely original plot - which has since been reused again and again, most recently in a film set on a plane starring Jodie Foster. Essential viewing! Don't miss this one!
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Frenzy (1972)
9/10
Brilliant, Disturbing & Not for the Faint of Heart!
16 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Alfred Hitchcock's penultimate work was both a critical and commercial success on its release, hailed by many as a return to form by the Master of Suspense following the comparative failure of TORN CURTAIN and TOPAZ in the 1960s. Be warned - this is not a film for the faint of heart, and you probably won't want to sit through this more than once, because in this case, once is definitely enough. FRENZY in many ways brings Hitchcock full circle, back to THE LODGER in 1926 - the setting is London and the tale concerns a man falsely accused of murder - but whose suspicious behavior makes him an excellent suspect. Unlike THE LODGER however, our protagonist, Richard Blaney (superbly played by Jon Finch) is one of Hitchcock's least sympathetic central characters. A veteran (of precisely which war is never stated) of the RAF, the down-on-his luck Blaney seems unable to reintegrate himself into civilian life (we might say today that Blaney is obviously suffering from PTSD) with any success. He is highly intelligent, but impatient, rude, aggressive, pride-filled and generally disliked by everyone around him except his current girlfriend, a barmaid called Babs (Anna Massey), and his ex-wife, Brenda (Barbara Leigh-Hunt), who still has a soft spot for him - which will lead to some very unfortunate consequences for them both. The only other friend Blaney has in the world is Bob Rusk (Barry Foster), a Covent Garden greengrocer. Rusk's apparent kindness to his friend, as we shall see, is in fact nothing of the sort...As the story opens, London is being terrorized by a serial killer nicknamed the "Necktie Murderer" for his particular choice of strangulation device. We are led to believe that Blaney is the killer, but this is quickly revealed to be a bit of Hitchcockian misdirection when Brenda Blaney is brutally raped and murdered before our very eyes - by the mild-mannered greengrocer! This particular scene is without doubt the most hideous, ugly scene in any Hitchcock film. Rather than "glamorize" the assault through a fetishized presentation of a beautiful actress in peril (see DIAL M FOR MURDER or PSYCHO), Brenda Blaney's death is presented under flat office lighting and we are forced to endure it in "real time." Afterwards, due to an unfortunate sequence of events, Blaney finds himself arrested and convicted as the "Necktie Murderer," while we of course know him to be innocent. Blaney knows that Rusk is the real murderer, and he breaks out of prison to catch and kill the man who framed him. He is prevented from doing so only by Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) of Scotland Yard, who, unbeknownst to Blaney, has been on Rusk's trail for some time. FRENZY disturbs because the "wrongly accused man," is a far from sympathetic character. Blaney is crude, violent and selfish, is certainly capable of murder, and indeed, we see him sink to Rusk's level by the end of the film. On the other hand, the actual killer, like PSYCHO's Norman Bates, seems like a calm, generous man who "loves flowers and fruit," and "has things to give," but is actually a volcano of rage and hate. These complex characterizations leave the viewer in an uneasy frame of mind, as we are forced out of our usual Hollywood good guys-bad guys conditioning to identify with characters who are morally ambiguous, to say the least! The film's treatment of women is also horrifying. The rape-murder of Brenda Blaney is indeed drawn out to a near-excruciating length. The camera dwells on the sight of Brenda's violation and strangling with an unbearable explicitness. Brenda wears a pale green sheath similar to Melanie's dress in THE BIRDS, and it seems that Hitchcock symbolically extinguished the figure of the chilly blonde who preoccupied him for so long. Also, FRENZY makes a constant connection between women, food, sex, filth and pollution that is as repugnant as it is thought-provoking. Look for the perfect comic relief provided by Inspector Oxford's ditzy wife, who serves her husband "gourmet French" meals which are totally inedible! FRENZY fascinates because it is so well-made, so elegantly directed, and so humorous. Our emotions are quite spectacularly manipulated by this film - you will find yourself cringing in revulsion one moment and laughing out loud the next, and this strange dichotomy makes for a - to say the least - unique viewing experience. Special kudos must go to Jean Marsh as Brenda Blaney's secretary - look out for a scene where her powers of recall stun the police, to which she replies, "In my work, I've learnt to keep a sharp eye on men." Hitchcock's eyes were never sharper & at 70-plus, he gave us a film whose dark perspective will haunt your mind and make you wonder whether or not everything we like to tell ourselves about "humanity" is nothing but a bad joke. Watch FRENZY if you can - I dare you!
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2012 (I) (2009)
1/10
The Disaster is THE MOVIE!
13 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
2012 cost 260 million dollars and is 158 minutes long. At roughly 2 million dollars a minute, one might at least expect a thrill-a-second work of exciting entertainment, since one does not go to a Roland Emmerich movie expecting either art or deep meaning. Unfortunately, the many millions spent on this bloated, overblown "B" genre programmer could not guarantee the filmmakers a good script with a tight plot and interesting characters. Emmerich treats his own screenplay (co-written by Harold Klausner) with a level of seriousness customarily reserved for the Holocaust or biopics of figures like Jesus Christ or Mahatma Ghandi. There is no plot to speak of - Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) learns of the impending end of the world and has to rescue his offspring and ex-wife from danger. That's all that happens in the entire movie - for over 2.5 hours! By the 4th or 5th time we have seen Jackson and his gang escape death (whether by earthquake, plane crash, volcanic eruption, tsunami, etc., etc.) the whole thing has become so turgid and wearisome that one finds oneself rooting for the tsunami to kill them all just so the movie can end and one can go home. The thin plot might not be all that bad if the film were better-paced and more exciting, but Emmerich wants you to know that he is A Serious Auteur and that 2012 is an Important Film About Our Time, so every sequence keeps going WAY past its sell-by date. Watching this movie is like being hit in the head with a wooden plank multiple times - one is eventually stunned into abject submission. Emmerich does everything at least twice, and his respect for his own material seems to have convinced him that 2012 could not have been shorter by one second, when at least 45 minutes of useless sub-plots involving disposable minor characters as well as repetitive sequences of cities collapsing, flames covering the sky, 1500 meter waves drowning everything in sight and famous monuments crumbling into depthless chasms could and should have been left on the cutting-room floor. By the time Jackson saves the high-tech ark containing what's left of North American civilization (don't ask), apparently by channeling Shelley Winters' swim scene from The Poseidon Adventure, any sense of awe which the sight of huge waves washing over the Himalayas should generate in the audience has been replaced by a numb wish that the whole thing will be over soon and a prayer that one's brain death will only be temporary. After watching a whole lot of cities get destroyed again and again, one simply becomes mentally and visually exhausted by the whole bloated mess. Surprisingly strong performances from a thoroughly professional cast are wasted on tissue-thin characterizations - but believe me, these performers earned their money just from being able to say the bland, clichéd lines they are given with a straight face. Furthermore, despite the appearance of realism thanks to some technically flawless CGI, there is no blood or gore - there should be body parts raining down from the sky during the destruction of LA, but somehow no one seems to be on the streets. On the other hand, a lot of blood and gore might have reminded the movie audience that one is in fact watching a film about the extinction of literally billions of living things, but why should something so petty be more important than seeing whether John Cusack will get back together with his ex-wife and become a hero so his whiny, spoiled son will accept him? In any case, what does it say about contemporary society that a movie showing nothing less than the destruction of the entire world is rated "PG-13"? As far as the "science" and "facts" behind this utterly ridiculous bit of piffle, the less said about that, the better. Of course, this piece of overblown trash will probably turn hundreds of millions for its makers and secure Emmerich's position as one of the top commercial directors of the day. At least if the world actually ends in 2012, all copies of 2012 will be destroyed.
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Rope (1948)
9/10
"These Hands Will Bring You Great Fame!"
12 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Hitchcock once said that his movies, "went from being failures to being masterpieces without ever being successful." Perhaps none of his films deserves this description more than ROPE, made in 1948 as the first project for Hitchcock's own (short-lived) production company, Transatlantic Pictures. On its initial release, ROPE was received with overwhelming hostility, either derided as nothing more than a stunt and a gimmick, or actually banned outright in parts of the USA, the UK and Europe due to its exceptionally disturbing subject matter, of which "homosexuality" is the least important. Of course, it was a box-office failure. As a result, ROPE was removed from circulation for 25 years after its release by Hitchcock himself (who personally owned the rights), and only became available for viewing in 1983 a few years after the director's death. It was unavailable on video until the 1990s, and as a result gained something of a reputation as a "lost" film. Only now is ROPE getting the recognition it deserves, and its presence on the IMDb "Top 250" list is one of many indicators that ROPE's time has finally arrived. I will not comment on the film's extraordinary technique or on the homosexual innuendo, as so many others have already done so. Instead, I wish to discuss only the film's themes. Set entirely within a luxurious Manhattan apartment, ROPE depicts the downfall of Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger), a pair of thrill-killers who murder their school chum David (Dick Hogan) because they believe that they are "superior" beings who have the right to decide who will live or die. Unlike any other Hitchcock film, the murder occurs within the first 60 seconds, and we spend the remaining 74 minutes of the movie wondering whether and how the killers will be caught. In an act of supreme arrogance, Brandon and Philip have planned the murder to coincide with a party which will be attended by the victim's father, aunt and fiancée, among others, and even go so far as to serve a buffet-style dinner on top of the very chest containing David's dead body. ROPE is one of Hitchcock's most disturbing films because it implicates the audience in the murder and then forces us to side with the killers - bizarrely, we do not want them to be caught and most of the film's extreme tension and suspense result from this psychological dilemma. You will be on the edge of your seat during one scene where the camera just sits there while the housekeeper clears away the dinner remains off of the chest - you just KNOW she is going to open it, and you actually breathe a sigh of relief when she is stopped at the last moment! Furthermore, ROPE operates at some level as a critique of upper-class manners and morals (or the lack thereof) - Brandon and Philip seem to be exemplary members of the US upper crust. One of the party guests - Rupert Cadell (a badly miscast Jimmy Stewart, in a role which was refused by a number of stars beforehand) - eventually begins to suspect something strange, but even he cannot bring himself to believe that his former students have actually done what he fears, because David Kentley's death becomes his fault. Rupert Cadell is a type easily recognizable to anyone who has experienced the hell of graduate school in an elite Northeastern university - gifted, but glib, facile, and espousing fashionably nihilistic theories based on complete contempt for the entire human race as a means of amusing others, inflating one's personal reputation as an "original thinker" and rising on the social ladder. Isolated in his ivory tower, Rupert seems completely oblivious to the truth that ideas have consequences. Like the 1990s American PSYCHO, ROPE raises some serious questions about the morality of the American elite - these are not ghetto gang-bangers, but the best and the brightest. Just a few months ago in the real world, a handsome, educated young medical student became known as the "Craigslist Killer" due to his slaughter of a masseuse he met online. The newsmedia were full of pundits who were shocked beyond belief that an attractive youth from a "good" background could in fact be nothing more than a callous killer. This kind of thinking equates an attractive appearance and a moneyed background with moral rightness. ROPE is a masterful critique of this brainless American mindset in which reality and appearance are one. America seems to be suffering these days from an epidemic of arrogance in which money and power are believed to be the same as virtue and decency. In ROPE, Brandon never questions for a single second either his own presumed "superiority," or the notion that this putative superiority gives him the power of life and death. Even more importantly, Brandon kills to please an authority figure, Rupert, who until the night of David Kentley's party, professes fashionable nihilism and misanthropy as a "philosophy of life." ROPE is a powerful critique of all those who believe that their membership in any elite group gives them the right to decide who will live and who will die. It becomes more thought-provoking and disturbing with each viewing. I have been to parties in New York where the conversation has revolved around such subjects as the astrological signs of movie stars, and every time I watch ROPE, it makes me look at those around me in a new and disturbing light. This is why I think ROPE is actually the most frightening film Hitchcock ever made - its world is so recognizably our own.
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Rebecca (1940)
10/10
"I am Mrs. de Winter NOW!"
10 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Despite the fact that Hitchcock himself tended to be dismissive about this film (telling Truffaut, "It has held up remarkably well. I have no idea why."), REBECCA is undoubtedly one of his timeless classics - the kind of work which has become so embedded in the collective unconscious that certain scenes, lines and characters are mythic, to the point of parody (think of Carol Burnett's riffs on this story in her 1970s comedy show, or Stephen King's use of Mrs. Danvers' image in his "Bag of Bones"). This is also one of Hitchcock's great crowd-pleasers - when first released, it played in New York for a year - held over repeatedly due to audience demand - and in England the movie went through the roof, running in London for virtually the length of World War II. It's been playing constantly since then in frequent revivals and television screenings. REBECCA's production was fraught with tension and pain: principal photography started only days before the outbreak of WWII, to the great personal distress of the nearly all-English cast and crew; Hitchcock exploited Joan's Fontaine's inexperience by telling her that she was terrible and everyone hated her so as to deliberately keep her in a near-constant state of defensiveness, fear and anxiety which was 100% appropriate for Fontaine's character; and it soon became quite obvious that Selznick and Hitchcock could not stand one another and would be unable to work together in the long run. The resulting motion picture, however, brought nothing but good fortune to everyone connected with it - Laurence Olivier's long-desired Hollywood career finally took off, Hitchcock's reputation in America was secured, Joan Fontaine became an international star overnight, Selznick won his second Best Picture Oscar in a row and dominated world box-office for another year, and Judith Anderson became an icon, just for starters. This is one of those rare instances where a fantastic book was brought to the screen and made into an equally good film. Miss DuMaurier's plot is legendary: On holiday in the south of France, the untitled Cornish nobleman Max de Winter meets and marries a sweet young girl (Fontaine) whose timely attention perhaps stops him from suicide in one of the best meet-and-greets of all time. Mr. de Winter's subsequent proposal ("I'm asking you marry me, you little fool.") rescues the girl from the hell of her life as a paid companion ("I didn't know companionship could be bought," says de Winter) to the Gorgon-like American socialite Edythe Van Hopper (Played with true verve by Florence Bates: "Give me a chocolate quick!" she cries as she stubs her umpteenth cigarette out in a jar of cold cream). After a whirlwind courtship and fast Italian honeymoon, de Winter brings his bride to the ancestral estate of Manderley. The second Mrs. de Winter is not happy in her new home, which seems to be overshadowed by the presence of Maxim's first wife Rebecca, dead for some time in a boating accident. Matters are not helped by her own complete ineptitude in her new position of Great Lady, or the hostility of the housekeeper, black-clad Mrs. Danvers (superbly incarnated by Dame Judith Anderson in the only successful one-note performance in movie history), who seems to have a strange fixation on her dead mistress, keeping Rebecca's clothes, personal possessions and rooms exactly as they were during Rebecca's lifetime. De Winter himself behaves like a different man - brooding, gloomy, temperamental and even verbally abusive. Poor Joan Fontaine blames herself for her predicament, contrasting her awkward plainness with Rebecca's alleged poise, grace and popularity...After a disastrous development during a costume ball, matters seem even more hopeless when Rebecca's previously-undiscovered body turns up out of nowhere, and it seems Mr. de Winter has a lot of explaining to do...Strong plot and performances aside, this film has a truly unique atmosphere - George Barnes' Oscar-winning cinematography transforms Manderley into a Gothic symphony of light and shadow where unseen forces seem about to manifest themselves at every turn. Perhaps the greatest bit of showmanship is the way the dead, absent Rebecca becomes a major character - in the stunning and very perverse sequence ("Feel this...") where Mrs. Danvers shows the new Mrs. de Winter Rebecca's things, you can SEE Rebecca in your head while "Danny" speaks. While the film is quite long (over two hours), you won't want it to be shorter by one second! A classic for the ages which the whole family can watch and enjoy together.
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Family Plot (1976)
8/10
Yes, You Really MUST See this Twice - At Least!!!!
9 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
FAMILY PLOT has earned a permanent footnote in cinematic history simply because it turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's last production. Unfortunately, it did not do very well on its initial release because many found it too comic and lighthearted in tone and not "suspenseful" enough. Even Stephen King described it as a "turkey" in his book DANSE MACABRE! I think the real problem with this underrated delight is that this is one of Hitch's most complex, densely-written stories - Ernest Lehman's script is awe-inspiring, almost novelistic, and chock-full of double meanings and implications which may not strike you on a single viewing. Like all the characters in the movie, FAMILY PLOT is not what it seems to be. On the surface, we have a light, comic thriller involving a psychic (Blanche/Barbara Harris) and her actor boyfriend, Lumley (Bruce Dern) who have been hired by a rich old woman to find her missing nephew, the heir to a huge fortune. The missing nephew turns out to be the thoroughly repellent Arthur Adamson (William Devane, in a role originally intended for Jack Nicholson - who would have been PERFECT in the part but who wanted too much money!), a sociopath who, with the help of his girlfriend Fran (Karen Black), kidnaps important people and holds them for ransom. But Adamson is not just a thief - he is also a killer. When he realizes Blanche and Lumley are trying to find out information about him, he assumes - incorrectly and ironically - that they are undercover agents looking to arrest and expose him as a kidnapper. Of course, Blanche and Lumley know nothing of Adamson's crimes, and thus put themselves in great danger without realizing it. In a way, I consider FAMILY PLOT to be Hitchcock's most perfect work of sheer suspense - after the first 10 minutes, the audience always knows more than any of the characters, and all we can do is wait for them to come together, which makes for some very anxious moments! FAMILY PLOT'S comic tone is belied by some dark moral undercurrents rife with unsettling implications. The dominant characters, Blanche and Adamson, are in fact very similar people, although in dramatic terms one is the heroine and the other the villain. Adamson is a liar, a thief, and a con artist. Blanche (a fake psychic who bilks lonely old women out of their money) is also a liar, a thief (she essentially steals from her clients by faking her "powers") and a con artist motivated by greed. Both heroine and villain also dominate their lovers - Blanche uses her sexual hold over the rather naive (but smart and loving) Lumley to get him to adopt all sorts of identities to further THEIR plot, and Adamson does the exact same thing to Fran, forcing her to assume false appearances in the course of furthering HIS plots. Although one couple is labeled as "good" and the other as "bad", morally, they are not so far apart from one another. Indeed, everyone in the film manipulates and lies to others to achieve none-too-pleasant ends. Even old Julia Rainbird, whose guilt over ostracizing her dead sister and the girl's illegitimate child sets the story in motion, has used and deceived others for her own selfish goals. The vision of humanity in this film is essentially dark - people are monsters of greed and deceit, willing to use anyone and everyone for money, and even risking the lives of those they love in the process. This makes the film's undeniable humor even more disturbing - what are we really laughing at when we laugh at these sad and confused people? The performances by the four principals are top-notch, especially by Harris as the ditzy "psychic" who isn't the dumb blonde she appears to be, and by Devane as the evil killer who presents himself as a respectable businessman. The movie also contains two truly spectacular Hitchcockian "set-pieces" - the justly famous scene where Blanche and Lumley are trapped in a speeding car (has me on the edge of my seat every time!) and a brilliant sequence which begins with the "drop-off" of a kidnapping victim and ends with the long-awaited meeting of Blanche and Adamson. Hitchcock always gave us what we didn't expect, and FAMILY PLOT is no exception. This movie was way ahead of its time and deserves a better reputation than it has. My favorite bit of dialogue: "You're a Capricorn, aren't you?" "No, I'm a Leo." "That's what I thought."
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10/10
Don't You Love the Night Life?
7 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
For the past year, I have watched, fascinated, as popular culture has been inundated by a new wave of vampire product, particularly TWILIGHT and TRUE BLOOD. It seems almost a repeat of a similar fad which swept the landscape exactly 30 years ago, taking me back to my childhood and the year 1979, one of the most prolific years in the cinematic life of Count Dracula/vampires. Two major vampire films - the sensuous "Dracula," with Frank Langella and Werner Herzog's eerie, hypnotic, "Nosferatu" -were released in that year. At the same time, the perennially undead Count also took over the short-lived TV serial, "Cliffhangers" (remember that one!) and who could forget Reggie Nader as a Nosferatu-like vampire in the miniseries of Stephen King's "Salem's Lot." LOVE AT FIRST BITE added comedy to the glut of vampire-related tales produced back then, becoming a surprise hit and one of the top moneymakers of the year. George Hamilton turns in a surprisingly good performance as the undead aristocrat, and Susan Saint-James has her best role as Cindy Sondheim, a New York fashion model who just happens to be the reincarnation of Dracula's long-lost love. Much of the humour in this film is definitely pre-AIDS (and pre-political correctness!), and I find it quite uncanny that so many bloodsucking tales were produced simultaneously in the last year of the wild, decadent (and ultimately tragic) 1970s, and I find it equally odd to be reliving a similar cultural moment a generation later - what does this say about our world and its current direction? All that aside, LOVE AT FIRST BITE - a cable TV staple - has lasted not just because it is very, very funny, but also because Susan Saint James and George Hamilton have a great chemistry between them and actually make their love story convincing! I won't bother to recount the plot as so many others have done so already. I do want to say that this film is a terrific satire on the loose-lipped, zipless, drug-fueled promiscuity of the period - Cindy Sondheim is a woman bored out of her skull with her decadent life - she smokes pot daily, pops Quaaludes like candy, sucks down booze as fast at she can and wallows in therapy as an excuse for avoiding her own disenchantment with the "glamorous" world of a "supermodel." Cindy is waiting for something big to come into her life, and Count Dracula turns out to be it! Unlike most vampire tales, we wind up rooting for the "monster" to win Cindy away from her uptight, creepy, psychiatrist-boyfriend, Dr. Rosenberg/Van Helsing and take her away from a New York shown to be corrupt, violent, and rife with poverty and superficiality. It is strange how a comedy can make some very sharp points about a civilization, and this film works as well as it does because it manages to make fun of just about everything considered "normal." Oddly, the vampire seems to be the only being with any capacity for real love, so when the newly-undead Cindy flies off into the night in the famous last shot, we cheer the lovers on as they escape into the romantic moonlight! (Classic dialogue: "Oh, this isn't so hard! I think I'm going to love being a vampire!" "There is only one problem - we can only live by night." "That's OK - I can never get my s**t together before 6 o'clock anyway!") The hilarious script - filled with too many great one-liners and hilarious scenes to recount - zooms along, leaving the viewer breathless with laughter and feeling better about the meaning and importance of love in a cold, cruel world - and that's an unexpected message in a film supposedly about the undead. I've seen this film a hundred times and it make me laugh every time. I never get tired of it, and neither will you once you see it! BTW, it is truly unfortunate that the studio cannot seem to reach a deal with Alicia Bridges to include "I Love The Night Life" in the film - the recent DVD was a commercial failure and thousands of fans were really, really angry because the absence of this song does RUIN the most pivotal and important scene! Maybe we should start a letter-writing campaign?
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The Winds of War (1983– )
9/10
Stop Criticizing Ali MacGraw - She's Perfectly Cast!!!!!
7 November 2009
Later I will post a second review which discusses the rest of this wonderful series, but first I have to get something off my chest - I think Ali MacGraw is terrific as Natalie Jastrow Henry - in fact, I believe that no one else at the time could have been more appropriate for this great role. Miss MacGraw - whom no one will say is the best actress ever - was perfectly cast as the annoying, yet glamorous, Jewish-American-Princess who marries a Christian without batting an eyelash and gets trapped in wartime Europe. Miss MacGraw's interpretation of the role is far superior to Jane Seymour in the sequel, 1988's WAR AND REMEMBRANCE - Seymour is buried in ill-fitting clothes and a mountain of hair and just does not capture Natalie's fire and passion AT ALL. Back in 1981 when WINDS was in pre-production, Jan-Michael Vincent was one of the hottest TV actors around and had been signed to play Byron Henry early on. Vincent was in his late 30s at the time and because he had already been securely cast, producer Dan Curtis had no choice but to find an actress who appeared to be older than Vincent, as the age difference between them is a big part of their relationship and is frequently commented upon during the course of the story. Many people have since criticized the casting of these two pivotal roles, but I think the fault is with Wouk's otherwise masterful teleplay, which keeps mentioning their ages despite the fact that it is totally ludicrous to, for example, claim that Jan-Michael Vincent is a recent college graduate. Wouk should have changed the script to take into account the actual ages of the performers, but he did not. Also, I think many people attribute their dislike of MacGraw in this role to "bad acting" when in fact, the character is written that way - Natalie is abrasive, temperamental, argumentative and a bit spoiled - and she is one of my favorite characters in popular fiction, the perfect anti-heroine. On the negative side, Miss MacGraw was often badly photographed here (compare her appearance at the dinner table scene in the first episode with her scenes in Lisbon as Byron Henry's bride - in the latter sequence, she is photographed like a dream and looks 10 years younger, whereas in the former scene she is very badly lit and made up), and I also agree that the pacing and force of her lines should have been restrained here and there, but that is the fault of the direction, not the performer. On the positive side, MacGraw and Vincent truly have a fantastic chemistry between them and they are a completely believable couple, bickering and all. When was the last time you watched a show where the female half of a couple was the taller one and it still made sense? They are a very realistic pair and bring an energy, verve and old-fashioned American sass to their eccentric characters which provides a perfect contrast to the chilly manners of the Europeans around them. The scenes where Byron and Natalie are trapped in the German invasion of Poland are wonderful - scary, suspenseful, and exciting to watch while at the same time providing a valuable history lesson. Also, the elegant and slender MacGraw - one of the great beauties of the 20th century, after all - looks beyond chic in her tailored clothes, totally putting Jane Seymour in the shade! When I saw this as a kid, I never even noticed their ages - I just thought that MacGraw and Vincent were both exceptionally attractive people and I was too interested in this series' nearly-flawless recreation of the world of 1939 to quibble about "miscasting." I love Jan Michael and Ali in the Palio sequence, the aforementioned Warsaw sequence and I think their love scenes are just fine. Stop blaming Ali MacGraw for bad lighting and writing, and try and think of anyone else who could have brought off such a complex and deliberately irritating character with such panache and style! If you ever read this Miss MacGraw, I say to you that this was your finest work and I will keep defending your "Natalie" until I am old and gray!
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10/10
Bizarre, Oneiric, Magnificent!!!! DO NOT MISS THIS!!!!
6 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This masterwork - unleashed on a bewildered American public shortly after Pearl Harbor - is without doubt one of the most lurid, corrupt and depraved motion pictures ever produced in Old Hollywood - and there is not a curse word or a nude scene to be found! This movie seems to exude a hallucinatory atmosphere reeking of opium smoke, stained silk and half-finished cocktails. You will literally not believe what you are seeing - and that's not a bad thing. An independent production, THE SHANGHAI GESTURE took over 15 years to make it from Broadway to the big screen. The hit play's themes of sexual depravity, prostitution, greed and drug addiction of course could not be presented in a direct fashion due to the Production Code, and various scripts kicked around for a decade before Austrian producer Arnold Pressburger acquired the rights and hired his friend, Josef Von Sternberg, to direct. A legend thanks to his discovery of Marlene Dietrich, the fabled director of THE BLUE ANGEL had fallen on hard times by 1940 - he had not completed a film in several years, had suffered a nervous breakdown, and had expended the bulk of his fortune to help about 30 members of his extended family flee the Third Reich for Switzerland. Sternberg's autocratic mannerisms and insistence on absolute control did nothing to make him more employable. THE SHANGHAI GESTURE was to be Sternberg's last major Hollywood production. The budget for this film was far less than what he had once enjoyed at Paramount, but despite this limitation, Sternberg infuses every frame with his unique look, as well as giving us one of the most astonishing crane shots in the history of the cinema. This film also contains some of the most gorgeous close-ups ever, and the massive casino set is justly revered. This is a movie you watch in black-and-white but remember in color - it is THAT beautiful (note the review below where the writer discusses the "gold" mirrored screens and "black" lacquer of Mother's dining room). The plot revolves around the degradation of Victoria Charteris (aka "Poppy Smith") at the hands of the sinister Mother Gin Sling, owner of the most luxurious gambling den in Shanghai. Mother seeks to destroy Poppy as vengeance against Poppy's father, Sir Guy, who has ordered the closure of Mother's casino, but in the end she gets more than she bargained for...A very young and celestially beautiful Gene Tierney handles Poppy's transformation from sophisticated femme du monde to coarse, drunken slut with aplomb, while Ona Munson turns in the performance of her life as "Mother." Kudos also must go to Victor Mature, who reeks of sleaze and sex as his "Dr." Omar leads Poppy down the primrose path...To those who decry this film as "racist," please bear in mind that Sternberg had traveled frequently in East Asia in the 1930s, was a connoisseur of Chinese art, and knew exactly what he was doing. This movie depicts a pleasure- and money-mad European colonial society in a state of total moral bankruptcy, a world on the verge of complete collapse from its own inner rot and decay, and it cannot be a coincidence that European colonialism in Asia was destroyed by the Japanese within weeks of this film's release. Sternberg is very careful to depict the colonials as the racist, ignorant fools that they for the most part were (note the scene where the etiolated casino money-counter uses pidgin despite the fact that the Chinese man to whom he speaks is obviously fluent in the King's English), and in Shanghai, corruption is a way of life for all, regardless of race or nationality. This film is in fact a tale of revenge against the European occupier and his exploitations. Sternberg was a master of indirection and implication, and every line here has two and sometimes three meanings. You will find it very hard to believe that this was actually made in 1941, and you will wonder how it got past the censors. Years ahead of its time, this should be considered the first true "noir" and deserves to be much more widely known than it is. A dreamlike masterwork like nothing you have ever seen, you will not be able to stop watching this once you begin. Remember, Mother Gin Sling's casino never closes...
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9/10
Perhaps THE most underrated movie of the 20th century!
6 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A critical and commercial disaster, UNDER CAPRICORN remains burdened with the reputation of being the worst film Hitchcock ever directed. Hitchcock didn't help by publicly dismissing the film in his famous interviews with Truffaut, noting that it was such a failure that the money men repossessed the negative. Even the film's own stars had nothing good to say about it - Joseph Cotten nicknamed it "Under Crap-ricorn," while Ingrid Bergman fought with Hitchcock during its production over her character. Furthermore, UC was cursed by bad timing - within days of its premiere, the massive scandal of Ingrid Bergman's relationship with Roberto Rossellini exploded. Bergman was condemned on the floor of the US Congress as an adulteress, and audiences stayed away from her latest release in droves. Even now, most regard UC as a "dud" - a complete misfire and one of Hitchcock's rare failures. I wish to suggest that the majority opinion on this film is totally wrong! UNDER CAPRICORN is in fact one of Hitchcock's richest, most rewarding films, in my opinion one of his very best works, ever - better than PSYCHO, better than glossy baubles like TO CATCH A THIEF or NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and MUCH better than the bloated and fatuous VERTIGO! It is true that UC is unique in Hitchcock -he had never done anything quite like this before, and would never attempt a "straight drama" again. If you are expecting a typical "Hitchcock" picture - this isn't it and you will be badly disappointed. If on the other hand you are ready for a deep emotional experience presented via a cinematic technique so audacious it will take your breath away, then see this film NOW. Set in Australia in the 1830s, the plot revolves around the marriage of former convict Sam Flusky (Cotten) and his wife Lady Henrietta Considine (Bergman). Years earlier, Flusky was a groom on the lavish estate of Lady Henrietta's family. We are told that the pair fell deeply in love and eloped, an action which resulted in Flusky killing Lady Hetty's brother and his subsequent deportation to Australia. Now, Flusky has accumulated a huge fortune, but he cannot find acceptance in local society, not because of his past, but because of his wife. Lady Henrietta is an unstable alcoholic who stays in bed all day and is under the control of her own housekeeper, Milly (Margaret Leighton), a woman with delusions of her own regarding her future with the master of the house, and some very unpleasant intentions towards her mistress...One day, Flusky meets Charles Adare (Michael Wilding), a high-born Irish gentleman and former friend of Lady Henrietta, and enlists his help in curing the suffering woman. With Adare's aid, Lady Henrietta comes out of her depression, but things take a turn for the worse when Adair falls in love with her and triggers Flusky's jealous temper. Yet not all is as it seems in the Flusky house, and Lady Henrietta has a few secrets of her own...Many reviewers complain that this film is "talky," and the plot is largely driven by dialogue and conversation, but the script is so well-written and intelligent that it demands a level of attention from the viewer that most are not willing to provide, either in 1949 or today. Cotten's tormented, insecure Sam Flusky is one of the masterpieces of his career, and Bergman is astounding as Lady Henrietta. I have never seen a Hitchcock film which presented character and human motivation with such depth and insight. There are no shallow emotions, no cliché characters - each is present as a fully realized person. I was moved to tears for the entirety of the last 25 minutes of the film, and never before have I seen a Hitchcock film where the characters were so realistically written and portrayed. On another level, the film is also a critique of British colonialism and the class-system. Finally, I would like to say something about the film's technique. UC was the immediate follow-up to 1948's ROPE, in which Hitchcock used very long takes lasting up to 10 minutes to create the illusion of a story taking place in "real time." UC continues and develops this experiment, bringing the long take to a peak of development. Long takes have never been fashionable in commercial film-making, and are even less so in our current age, where frenzied MTV editing is the rule. UNDER CAPRICORN offers a very different aesthetic - some shots last for as long as 8 minutes, but Hitchcock constantly moves the camera so that the film never seems static. There are some sequences which will literally make you gasp in awe. Yet the technique is never forced or obtrusive - you might not even notice that some scenes are done entirely in one shot because the camera moves so subtly that you find yourself looking at a new composition without being aware that there has been no cut or editing. The technique gives the actors room to breathe and leaves the audience with a sense of emotional immediacy like nothing else I have ever seen - you don't just watch UNDER CAPRICORN - you LIVE it. I wish I had ignored what everybody else said about this movie and watched it for myself YEARS AGO! Don't listen to the bad reviews here - see UNDER CAPRICORN now and decide for yourself!
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