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The Monuments Men (2014)
Superficial and predictable
I went to a pre-release fund raiser screening not knowing anything about this film or it's topic. I was disappointed to say least of the superficial, uneven nature of how such a historically important topic (which I don't believe a lot of people actually know about), which I don't believe has been documented on film prior to this, was handled.
There was a lack of depth in the narrative as we were taken in a particular direction only to have that suddenly interrupted to be taken off in another and not returning to original in a lot of cases. Most frustrating for viewers like myself, keen to know more about this topic. The tongue in cheek humour was the deal breaker for me - it was as if trying to appeal to the masses and win them over and like the film further taking us away from any depth or exploration of this dark time in history and and depth of the topic. It seemed like a pointed insult to the real life people working under such perilous circumstances, but you wouldn't have known that only for the fact the WWII and Nazi's were mentioned.
Film can be a powerful medium in reminding the world of the true horrors of war, in particular the kind inflicted by the Nazi's. I think it's important to do this. This film has a great ensemble of actors but simply misses on a lot of levels in doing the above and it's silly humour only makes it a trite futile exercise. Simply indulgent - a gluttonous waste of talent and time.
Lady in a Cage (1964)
94 mins could have been spent doing something useful
Spend 94 precious minutes watching a bunch of inane, base characters from the absolute extreme low spectrum of consciousness and humanity go through the motions. Olivia de Havilland must have needed the money to have lowered herself to this level. It's not clever like some of the other thrillers of the period with a distinct lack of imagination and creativity in scripting, and production values that I found lacking in subtlety.
I found scant suspense and entertainment value here, just frustration at watching such an inane scenario that therein existed potential unrealised.
I want my 94 mins back.
One nice sleeper
Similar to other Merchant-Ivory productions this one deals with inner struggles of its characters and as with films such as Howards End, I was glued to the screen watching how these interwoven characters travelled leading to a rather surprising climax! The location shooting did make for a better sense of reality here and what a cast! Glenn Close is just tops in her role as the Shakespearean diva. A highlight is brilliant scenes of her rehearsing Macbeth.
The gay plot line was very cleverly woven in as well dealing with the issue of a confused sexual identity. A mesmerizing score only helps with the inner intensity of the characters dilemmas keeping the scenarios in check without an overly dramatic interpretation being added on by this score. Sorry that this did not come to screens here where we live. Highly recommended for those wanting something more introspective and of depth. 9/10
Cairo Time (2009)
Saw this film last night and it is one of the standout films I have seen in a while. It is not a film that is jarred into one's memory with blatant technique and narrative. It is it's subtle pace and nature that is simply music to the senses.
Great to see Patricia Clarkson in a lead role in a film that utilises her ability to not wear her heart on her sleeve. She and the direction draws the viewer into her experience not only in a foreign land but her vulnerability of being in that land more or less alone. I cannot describe adequately the experience of this in the film. Introspective...powerful without overbearing the viewer...bravo on her performance! The visual nature of this film is quite beautiful with the numerous panoramic camera angles woven intricately into the narrative without feeling we were going off on a mini travelogue from it. Sublime scoring is likewise on par and is truly the icing on the cake! The sound mix was obviously handled with care with reference to surround channels evidenced in the detail in the outdoor sequences on the streets of Cairo. I left the cinema feeling uplifted and most satisfied from the duration spent with this rare and well crafted cinematic gem.
History Is Made at Night (1937)
This film has been buried because it was not made by a major studio
I saw this on a VHS release here in the 1980's and was one of those films years later I could not forget. How could one forget this memorable title with a equally interesting and unusual combination of love, comedy, drama and disaster that in many other circumstances would simply not work! Boyer and Arthur's romantic moments...pure magic as is Boyer and Leo Carillo's comedic turns. Produced to the tune of over a million dollars (a very generous budget for 1937) independently by Walter Wagner the look of this "A" production certainly reflects this. The deft hand of Borzage could only keep the goings on fluent with the seemingly challenging narrative in a film that easily keeps the viewers attention. To my mind one of the highlights of 30's cinema. I urge anyone interested in this era - see this film!! Available on DVD (mine is a South American copy and OK print quality).
Mr. Arkadin (1955)
My head hurt
Putting it simply, my head hurt after viewing this! The poor copy with out of sync and sometimes unintelligible dialog released as "Confidential Report" on DVD here didn't help. The overwhelming and chaotic qualities I felt were aided by Robert Arden yelling much of his dialog. It did arrive at an outcome after flashback from the start of the film however the journey is convoluted, busy and somewhat confusing. Also a rich, visually textured one. I can see and appreciate the genus of Welles here in light of certain sources stating he was excluded from the editing process and he himself calling it a big mistake. Dreamlike - YES! Maybe another viewing is needed. Maybe. Seeing a decent 35mm print on the big screen would be the way to go.
Dark Waters (1944)
I first saw this film when I was about 12 years old and it scared the living daylights out of me. I saw it again recently on a nice DVD with a print from the UCLA archives and enjoyed it once more with less of the initial reaction of a 12 year old.
There are a number of elements in this productions favour.
The setting of the swamps and the remote plantation provide generous doses of eeriness for starters.
Oberon, whose star was on the decline, is perfect with her very British genteelness and performance of a woman in a vulnerable state. We are given indicators (such as the her discarded telegram) early on, that all is not well - she thinks she in going deeper into madness. She pulls this off very well.
I am a huge fan of the orchestral scoring during this period, however the lack of it here, and instead lots of sounds of the swamps, adds generously to the suspense, in addition to a number of nighttime shots.
The directors montage at the start of the film is a perfect and dramatic beginning to one of the sleeper suspense films of the period.
In This Our Life (1942)
Drama, incest - it's all here in a magnificent melodrama
Many viewers use the terminology "melodramatic" and complain about "too much over the top music" of films of this type. This sort of description is I feel quite negative, inaccurate and does indicate a definite lack of understanding about the films of this era.
This terming of "melodramatic" is also usually the result of not looking at the film the way a contemporary audience would have seen it.
Firstly the definition of the genre of melodrama literally means music and drama.
Orchestrated film scores were the order of the day in this "studio system" period. These scores were there to support and intensify the narrative on the screen for the viewer. This was still only 15 years after the development of sound with film, and only about a decade the orchestral scoring had found it's place in sound films with the scoring of "King Kong" in 1933, also by the composer for this film, Max Steiner.
Were not silent films just prior to this accompanied fully by music? Steiner was probably the greatest and most prolific composer in classic Hollywood. MGM, the king studio of the block, never packed such punch in relation to musical scoring of their films, as did those scored by Steiner over at Warners.
Davis said herself in a self critical fashion of the artist that this was "the worst movie ever made". This I feel was more through vanity than anything else.
Audiences at previews commented unfavourably on her make-up. Davis was a star and this was going against the glamour image a star was supposed to look like. The make-up WAS exaggerated (just check out those over made-up lips!), and her costumes help her along when she flounces around (no-one flounced better than Davis) and really helped bring this crazy southern belle to life.
All the above was intentional by Huston running into problems all the way through production with the studio heads that it was all too excessive. This is what gives the character of Stanley the wallop and impact.
Hooray for Huston for sticking to his guns leaving us with a true and definitive melodrama!
Back Street (1932)
Very gentle predecessor to the women's film from the master of substance
At our recent film society screening of this film (we very luckily have a 16mm print in The National Film and Sound Archive here in Australia) it was very apparent of the skill of director and his star in what is an subtle and underplayed telling of this Fannie Hurst tearjerker. There is an absence of musical underscore very typical for the period prior to 1934, and this added to the potency of the effect of Dunne's absorbing and masterful performance, illustrating her as not just a star but an actress as well. Overall this film has a very gentle feel with slow fade-outs used frequently in giving this effect. Dunne is wonderful in her playing earlier in a lighter fashion and makes a skillful transformation into the section of the film where she is older and more serious. I had sympathy for her character in spite of the sacrifices she makes for John Boles, remaining in the "back street" of his life. I see director Stahl as a sort of predecessor to Sirk in his handling of solid fare such as this and "Leave her to Heaven" (1945).
Marked Woman (1937)
Banned here in Australia and Finland!
"Marked Woman" was banned on it's original release here in Australia then abruptly withdrawn at the last moment from it's initial television screening here in 1966. Why all the fuss? Well it's because of those female leads playing "hostesses" in a "clip joint" are obviously playing prostitutes! Shock! And in a film from 1937!
This film followed hot on the heels of the sensational and newsbreaking 1936 trial of mobster Lucky Luciano who was convicted on the evidence of the prostitutes who worked for him. This was the sort of material ("torn from the headlines") that was the staple and was very much a part of the house style of 1930's Warners - gritty, hard boiled, tough stories concerning the working person facing the depression. At the end of the opening credits there is a title card disclaiming any resemblance to persons real or otherwise in the film. This was rarely if ever stated so strongly in films of this period. Warners were obviously very conscious about being seen to be not capitalizing on such a headline event so soon after - which they were!
Simple sets abound reflecting the obsession that Warners had with economy - even the nightclub is rather plain with not too many long shots to expose too much. This nightclub over at RKO would have had a distinctly chic Art Deco look as per the trademark of that studios Art Director, and the whole production is also in stark contrast to the lavish Crawford and Shearer vehicles over at MGM.
This film is late in Davis' "early period" - one which I find fascinating with it's odd mix of narrative concerning women and crime. It is also a very interesting vehicle of Humphrey Bogart still years off from the super-stardom he found from "High Sierra" in 1941. His role is very much the reflection of the censors requirement from 1934 that the law makers be glorified and not the law breakers as was very much the case and staple of pre-1934 Warners output. His speech as District Attorney in court has an abundance of force and conviction.
Other players in the film to my mind fit like a glove. Eduardo Ciannelli is suitably creepy and sleazy as the crime boss. Lola Lane, Rosalind Marquis (both giving us two nice Warren and Dubin numbers in the nightclub), Mayo Methot (soon to be Mrs Bogart in real life in what was a very stormy union) and Isabel Jewell (the perfect little gold-digger) portray with the toughness required and as the other "marked women" trapped in a life on the wrong side of the law. Costuming reflects perfectly their "class" in spite of their lucrative profession.
"Marked Woman" also closely followed the landmark court case between a very unhappy Davis (trapped in what was very much a man's studio) and Warners over the crummy scripts she was repeatedly presented in spite of her landmark performances in "Of Human Bondage" ('34) at RKO and "The Petrified Forest" ('35). After being off the screen for almost a year she lost the case and came back humbly with the studio relieved to have their "upcoming" leading female star back in action (tempramental star Kay Francis career at Warners was winding down by this stage) and eventually giving her more meaty and suitable parts like "Marked Women" with their really coming to the party in giving her "Jezebel" in 1938.
"Jezebel" was the doorway for Davis' "mature" phase for it was the director of "Jezebel" (and subsequent vehicles "The Letter" (40) and "The Little Foxes" (41)) William Wyler was able to tame her and provide much assistance in maturing her performances. Simultaneously Warners became a outfit turning out extremely polished vehicles and one of the champions of the "Womens Picture" through the 1940's.
We are very fortunate in the Australian National Film and Sound Archive having a good 16mm copy of the film which we will be screening at our film society this year. There's nothing like seeing a film like this in it's intended environment - the big screen!
Enter a suspended state of disbelief and enjoy this entertaining and gritty melodrama from Hollywood's golden age!