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Holmes the great friend
I was quite doubtful about this show. I have been enjoying the recent Sherlock Holmes movies and the British Sherlock TV show, while sometimes being a bit dismayed by the elaborate and over-the-top plotting, piling one adventure on another. Holmes and Watson have become brilliant themes on which wonderful actors can riff for our delight. Nothing boring here! What more is needed?
Well, the Holmes of Elementary, while he is eccentric, arrogant, disrespectful, etc., is also a good, kind person, and this was true of the original Holmes, who was capable of gentleness, charm, and anger at those who inflict suffering. He is selfish and self-centered--after all, since he is always right, you should be doing what he says--but he is also generous and cares about Watson and about crime victims. Jonny Lee Miller is developing a strong character who likes dealing with the kinds of odd urban crimes that are really Holmes's province.
It's true that Law and Order:CI presented a similar team, but that show isn't on any more. I am finding Elementary fresh and worth watching.
Painted Lady (1997)
Going for Baroque
I watched this on TV over a decade ago, kept a tape of it at whose spine I looked fondly from time to time, and finally saw it again on Netflix with my husband last night. He was not immediately enthralled (though I was, all over again). After the first hour or so, we had to keep watching as the suspense and loose ends multiply, and I had forgotten the twists and turns. I love way the plot works out and the loose ends are tied up. On second viewing, however, with a more critical companion, I realized how absurd some of the best plot developments and most memorable scenes actually are.
At some level, the production works because of the way it is haunted by images of Baroque paintings, saints in various violent and twisted poses and situations. The love of art is intense in many of the characters, and when Maggie finally sees Artemesia's Judith canvas her face tells us that this violent, even horrible scene is beautiful. (Another important painting in the story is a Goya bullfight scene.) As in a Caravaggio painting, the faces--the performances--stand out as realistic, everyday people, recognizable in the street (or at least the streets of drama)--they are complex, confused, liable to do stupid things or to misunderstand a given situation completely. Many of them are obsessed by symbols, too--Charles dies at the beginning of the story because he cannot bear to see his long-dead wife's rather ugly portrait damaged; Maggie carries her father's cigarette case like a fetish. The way these characters meet each other and interact in the gloom of the plot is beautiful and moving. But their motivations remain murky and incomprehensible.
Mirren performs a fabulous double role--Maggie the tough streetwise bohemian earth-mother artist and her alter ego The Countess, whose knowledge, apparent prosperity, and aristocratic manner hide a terrible fragility. Maggie is of course acting the role of The Countess, worrying that the mask may slip, but her sister at one point implies that she is also acting the role of Maggie. Maggie lives in her own world, a world of music, in which emotional attachments last a long time and give life shape and meaning. That "explains" everything.
Screen Two: Heading Home (1991)
Still thinking about it after all these years
I went to check this out on IMDb after seeing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) because I remember it as a really great performance by Gary Oldman. I had taped "Heading Home" from TV and watched it several times. Since it has few reviews and no plot summary, here goes.
As the other reviewers noted, the story is set in the early 50s, at a moment when England is still recovering from the war and there are all kinds of ferment in London: artists and poets have their own marginal culture, supporting each other's efforts to develop a new British aesthetic, while other, less educated men, like Oldman's Ian and the gangsters who lurk in the background of his life, are scrambling in the economic chaos to make their own pile of money.
Beautiful Janetta comes to London from the country and falls in love with a handsome poet, who displays her to his friends as his muse. Then she meets Ian, who is not handsome or educated but who is full of energy, hope, desire--and intelligence. Ian sees her personal charm as something to be put to work, and gives her a job and the possibility of making money.
The final scene, in which Janetta talks about the fragility of the truths she knows about that era, moved me at the time very deeply and still echoes in my memory. Richardson was great, and Oldman's Ian was one of the most alive characters I have ever seen on the screen.
Orlacs Hände (1924)
Hands of Orlac, restored
This is not a great movie, I admit. Certainly the acting is bizarre (though often moving) and the rhythm takes getting used to. But I thought I would put in a good word based on a recent viewing experience. I am not rating it high but I really enjoyed it a lot.
6 or 7 years ago I went on a Conrad Veidt spree and bought copies of some his silents from an ebay seller/devotee. The quality varied and I recall that he particularly apologized for this item, which was barely viewable. All you could really see was Veidt's face... The other night TCM showed the Kino restoration and I sat down to see the film "for real." It was a pleasure to be able to take in the wonderful decors and costumes, and to get a relatively coherent version of the plot. The train wreck scene is stirring. And Veidt's face, again, as he progresses from sensitive soul to tormented monstrosity... In short, it was very rewarding.
The Countess (2009)
Rashomon in Transylvania
Well, actually, in the Little Carpathians, apparently, which are not part of Transylvania, or so Wikipedia tells me.
I really enjoyed this film (at home on pay-per-view)though I think it is intended for a pretty narrow audience. As others have noted, the dialogue is amazingly stilted (very literary, rather like a French novel of the 17th or 18th century) and delivered in near-monotone. I kept feeling that the whole movie had been dubbed into English. On the other hand, I found the acting very fine, and I admired the insistence on presenting these characters as not at all like you, me, or the folks in the latest TV drama. The Countess in particular is a strange, unique portrait--her piety, her desire for amorous adventure, her pride, her intelligence. And that's before you get to the blood-of-virgins part.
The film proposes that what we are seeing before our eyes is not the truth about the Countess. We are watching a fantasy of a noblewoman enacting a tale "told by the victors"--by the men who were enriched by her downfall and relieved, too, to be rid of the very possibility of an intelligent woman. The tale is told, too, by the peasants and others whose sons are fighting in her army. Yet the man who questions the gory story is her lover, and he too may be deceived. There is no simple answer to the question, what really happened?--no resolution.
In short, it's an intellectual (and visual) treat, but it won't affect your blood sugar.
How it's made.... far from Mood
This show is delightful! The episodes I've seen involve the two most outrageous Project Runway designers shopping in small towns for fabric to create dresses for women who normally are way too busy raising kids, pulling down a paycheck, or putting deer meat on the table to wear a dress. It becomes a chronicle of the various ways in which women "wear the pants"--literally--around the country, doing various jobs where a dress would get in the way.
It is indeed charming, and whoppingly sentimental (dad's eyes tear up as he sees his 30-year-old little girl all dolled up), but really delightful, too. It is a paean to "real people" and small communities, the kind where the only yardage in any store is quilting fabric. Austin and Santino are fish out of water and it is clear that they are learning a lot, too. They bring to it such warmth and zest--and humor and love of their work--that it is a pleasure to watch them.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Butter, Butter, Butter, and Time
I decided to write on this movie because, unlike most of those whose reviews I have read, I really enjoyed BOTH parts of the movie.
Yes, the Julia-and-Paul-in-Paris segments are over-the-top wonderful. They are superbly acted, funny, delightful, full of mouthwatering food and wonderful eccentric women in hats--and they present a romance of mythical proportions. Streep as Child is a double goddess, and Stanley Tucci stands tall as a man whose various disappointments in life fade beside his satisfaction in his wife.
But I thought the Julie-and-Eric-in-Queens sections made a good contrast. Instead of ebullient postwar Paris and beloved colleagues and "penpals," you get sad, litigious New Yorkers and the somewhat dismal options open to a smart, educated, idealistic young couple living hand to mouth on two jobs. At the beginning you get some classic Ephron satire, but pretty soon the story focuses on food and love. Julie's life turns out to include friends who appreciate both. The modern folk aren't so witty, so ironic as the Paris group, though. They deal in compromises and sincerity. Julie is resigned to seeing herself as a bitch, rather than a goddess, and Eric pleads not to be called a saint.
But Julie accomplishes in one year what Julia needs more than eight years to do: get a book contract. Everything is faster, cooler, sadder and yet less potentially tragic in Queens than in the Childs' kitchens. This contrast was what made the glorious Child sections work. Myth and grimy reality.
Amy Adams was perfect. She gave Julie a depth and believability--the depth of shallowness, maybe, but still a touching quality.
Children of Purgatory
The enthusiastic reviews here led me to purchase this DVD--I couldn't find it to rent and, after seeing the recent touring production of Saltimbanco, I was particularly eager to see the mime René Bazinet who, I gather, created the original mime role in that extravaganza. Unfortunately, the most interesting bits for a Cirque fan are the extras, which include two beautiful sequences of performers in strangely appropriate European settings and a few compelling seconds of Mr. Bazinet actually performing as a mime rather than as an actor (he gets to do this briefly at the end of the movie, also, when his character is finally integrated into the circus, having kissed his true love). I expected something like the film Children of Paradise, which presents the extraordinary relationships between a clown and his public, true love and the realities of daily life. Although these are the themes of Alegría, the relationships are so poorly drawn that the result seems a muddle.
This is a confused, sentimental, and somewhat monotonous film (narrated in voice-over). The "real world" presented in it was as fantastic and beautiful as the circus world--just less disciplined and well-lit. The hero, Frac, is supposed to be a Little Tramp everyman character, but his mime makeup and costume are there from the start and he sings like a bird. His plumage is rather dull in the "real" world of Felliniesque whores and retired opera singers and exotically dressed child flower-sellers he inhabits. We never learn anything about the past which is represented by the photographs of himself he tears up, nor about his relationship with the child Momo. When the circus arrives the main difference between it and the dark, supposedly terrible and desperate street world is that it has better lighting (there is even a little speech about "stepping into the light" of the stage, awkwardly inserted to support a dramatic moment) and the women are a lot skinnier (the better to tie themselves in knots). When the children finally escape the dark world to come to the circus, they discard their bright clothes and choose to dress in uniform white--this is visually impressive but symbolically disturbing, I think, as if the circus requires both performers and audience to discard individuality, to bring nothing of the past to the experience. Perhaps this is the intended message, but if so it is no more liberating than the sermons of wicked Marcello, the child-enslaver. The symbolism of flowers (Marcello runs a flower factory, which since it has no light or dirt presumably grows flowers from the children's energy; but when Frac wants to give his true love a symbol of his feelings, he chooses flowers, and she treasures them) is messy rather than complex, too.
Good stuff: I enjoyed Frank Langella as the head clown who rules the circus. The little boy acting Momo provides genuine emotion (which the adult Momo's narrating voice drains away, though) The clown wedding sequence is surreal (no voice-over needed, or comprehensible words except for "Mama! Daddy!") and helps tie together the themes of love, the sad darkness of "real life," and performance. And Mr. Bazinet is fascinating when he is allowed to let himself go.
As You Like It (2006)
Boy travelers in Japan
I got interested in Western views of Japan in the 19th century a few years ago, so I knew a bit about the milieu Branagh purports to have chosen for his adaptation of Shakespeare's "As you like it." Well, I can see why he went for it: like Elizabethan theater, Kabuki has men playing the roles of women; there is wrestling in the play, so you can have a sumo wrestler; there are notes hung from trees, and that is something the Japanese know how to do properly; and everybody can dance around in gorgeous kimono at the end. Full stop. There is no attempt at all to think about Westerners in Japan, about the Japanese vs. the Elizabethan concept of nature (Arden looked like California to me), and they didn't even bother to get the sumo referee properly dressed. I didn't see anything at all remotely suggesting Yokohama (compare the wonderful scenes in Last Samurai). The colors were wrong. This Japan is as inauthentic as can be.
So what? It's a marvelously directed film which kept the plot chugging along in full sight, the wonderful speeches singing, and the dialogue hilarious. The actors were all golden, golden. It was just fun. My son got hooked by seeing Olivier's Henry V as a child, my daughter by Branagh's Much Ado about Nothing. I think I want to be sure a copy of this one is available for my grandson.
No Such Thing (2001)
Beauty and the Matter Eradicator
I really like this movie. Partly that's because I like Iceland. You would swear that the Icelanders describing the monster were reciting Beowulf.
No such Thing is a version of "Beauty and the Beast" that would make Jean Cocteau jealous: the need of Beauty for the Beast and vice-versa is stripped of psychology or eroticism, and the likelihood that "this is all a dream" is pushed at us again and again. First, we have the unlikelihood that Beatrice survived the plane crash, or left the operating table under the hands of her Fairy Godmother. Then, there are the terrific little moments like the one where we watch the Beast turn away from us and hunch over, like any carnival fire-spitter, to prepare the mouthful of liquid which he will then spit out in flames. "I saw him breathe fire," says Beatrice later, to clarify that her monster is the genuine article. And then there is the Matter Eradicator, a device designed to convince the Matter that he has no self, that he does not in fact exist.
Like Cocteau's Beast (or the gorgeous beast played by Ron Perlman in the TV series), the Monster is quite attractive and looks very gentlemanly (his costume suggests Heathcliff), is brave, and keeps his promises. Like Cocteau's Beast, he is not pleased with his own murderous nature. He drinks to salve the pain of being inhuman. In No Such Thing, however, we need not fear that the Monster will suddenly turn into a boring human prince. There is no Gothic hint that he is a suitable object of sexual desire, or that lust is something he feels (rather, it is something that his human neighbors project on him by "dumping a piece of ass" on his island from time to time).
The movie keeps its balance between the blessing that Beatrice might bring to the Monster and the role the Monster plays in the human imagination. Helen Mirren's character and her cohorts have developed to a point of civilization where they no longer fear the Monster. They happily express in word and deed their own cruelty and rapacity, which far outrun the monster's. To them he is fascinating as a being who can be tortured indefinitely and in many ways without actually dying. The good scientists, Dr. Anna and Dr. Artaud, on the other hand see the monster as matter to be eradicated. Beatrice, however, who is wholly good, simply loves the Monster.
I think there is no ending to the film because there is no beginning. Beatrice keeps losing consciousness; before our eyes, she shows blind faith in some pretty doubtful tricks. So we are not allowed to suspend belief sufficiently to trust the final sequence of events. The face of Beatrice is offered as a kind of vision at the end, like the vision of God at the end of Dante's Divine Comedy. What would you want to see when you are about to have your matter eradicated? Surely this glowing face of love.
The question, if we did suspend disbelief, would be: can the Matter Eradicator, which we are told relies on the Monster's acceptance that he has no self, work when he sees that face? If not, he is back in the hands of the torturers. He does not need Beauty's kiss; he needs a Minna, as in Coppola's Dracula, to cut off his head. Or a Beowulf.