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The Cheat (1931)
The world of the decadent rich during the depression
For once, a remake that is superior to the original! Cecil B. Demille's 1915 version of the same story was campy and boring, although Sessue Hayakawa was a fascinating presence.
In this film, the motivations of all the characters make more sense. While the husband in the first movie was a sap, the husband in this one is a man who loves his wife and is willing to sacrifice himself for her. The wife in the first film is somebody who loves her self respect, and finally throws it out the window in a grand sacrifice, but the wife in this film is a woman of the world, who wanted to tell the truth from the beginning. The villain in the first film was an inscrutable Oriental. He simply plays by different rules. However, the villain in this one is a lustful, decadent monster, who is also a liar.
George Abbott knows how to move the camera... and gives a fascinating view of the world of the rich... with the decadence just under the surface.
They really don't make 'em like they used to... The closest I have come to the perversion in this film has been David Lynch's Blue Velvet.
Yihe yuan (2006)
Chinese girl leaves her home to Beijing University... and gets lost. So does the film
A girl leaves her home in a provincial city to attend university. She was in a sex relation; it was a good excuse to escape that. She is a poet, and her poetry seemed interesting in English translation...When she arrives in Beijing, she meets lots of people... and soon falls into a sexual relationship. She seems to be the sort of person who cannot connect to others otherwise. She gets a real boyfriend... but their relationship seems about to break up when the big demonstrations of June the second start in Beijing. While neither of the lovers has any interest in politics, the girl is obviously unhappy... her boyfriend from her home town comes to "rescue" her just as the police move in.
If the film had ended there, it would have been excellent. The focus remained on the girl up to that point.
Unfortunately, the film started to follow other characters and went on for the rest of the film discussing them. These people and their relationships were uninteresting. The film which had begun well with a clear focus ended up scattered and pointless. When the movie was over, I didn't even care about the woman who had been the focus at the beginning. I was just glad it was over with.
As the first half was excellent, I gave the film 5 of 10 stars.
El gran calavera (1949)
In order to get a man to stop getting drunk every night, his family convinces him that he has been in a coma for a year... but he turns the tables.
A completely original film. A man's family tries to stop him from drinking himself to death by pretending that his drinking has driven them to the poorhouse, and that he has been in a coma for a year. When he finds out the ruse, he turns the tables on them. He convinces them that he really is bankrupt, and that they will have to continue with their odd jobs in order to make ends meet. His daughter, the only member of his family who is not a layabout, discovers that a poor but hardworking boy who lives near the hovel the family lives in now is far more worthy of her than the rich fiancée/gold digger she had abandoned. The closest this sort of storyline has come to being made into a movie is "Trading Places," but this story is a lot more original... and more interesting. While it certainly isn't typical Bunuel, any director would be proud to have made it. Surprisingly, all of the loose threads are tied up tight.
Valse brillante de Chopin (1936)
Performce of Chopin's Valse Brilliante by a young Alexander Brailovsky
Ophuls was able to record this performance from above, below, from left and right, from in front and in back. The film is edited to the beat of the music, and it is never boring. Brailovsky (1896-1976) is performing on a platform on top of another platform on top of another platform... and at one point the camera jumps from platform to platform as the music rises in tone.
I wonder how many times Brailovsky had to perform the piece in order to get the effects that I watched! There seemed to be only one camera... And unlike Ophuls film of Ave Maria, there are no slow spots. This is film-making at its best and most delirious. The movie actually makes the music more interesting.
Ave Maria (1936)
performance of Schubert's Ave Maria by Elizabeth Schumann
Ophuls tries to give this piece of music context through editing, moving camera, the use of veils, etc. The beginning is the most successful showcase of Ophuls skill.
Elizabeth Schumann's (1888-1952) singing is not as beautiful as I would have hoped... perhaps the print of the film I saw was not kind to her.
There are some lovely backgrounds and foregrounds, but somehow I don't think that these things enhanced the experience. This sort of thing eventually led to Disney's Fantasia... so it is interesting to see how a director of genius could enhance the music. Ophuls did a much better job with a piece of music in Valse Brilliante... which is a true tour de force.
Sans lendemain (1939)
To entertain her true love for one day, woman must go way over her head into debt
A woman, forced to work in a low class cabaret to support her son, meets her old boyfriend by chance... and decides to entertain the boyfriend for one day. However, her friends do not have the money required to entertain her old boyfriend. She borrows the money, under false pretenses, from a villain. Sort of like Capra's Pocketful of Miracles, but more realistic and tragic.
While not as innovative as Ophuls' other films, this film is a story well told. Ophuls' well known fluid camera does not call attention to itself... It operates to tell the story. I believe this is the film upon which Ophuls reputation ought to rest.
Gabriel Over the White House (1933)
God appears to an ordinary man who is President and directs him to solve the problems of his country.
What is missing from the reviews I have read of this movie is the idea that the political process as it existed was not interested in taking on the obvious problems of the nation. The process had another agenda. Even though the problems of the nation (and the world) had become unsustainable, the process was still interested in maintaining the status quo. This is why this film is less a story about how a dictatorship comes to be than an appeal for somebody.... somehow.... to recognize that the problems exist and to solve them.
The fact that the President takes dictatorial power then becomes easier to understand. While the removal of civil liberties and the execution of criminals made me uncomfortable, the bribery of cops and the violence of the criminals were a problem that the political system was not solving.
What many may forget at this late date was the demonstration of air power which convinced the world that the priority to constantly upgrade weapons systems was simply a waste of money... that other countries could solve their own problems if they stopped upgrading weapons systems.
What was astounding about this is that, at the time (1932), to suggest that air power could be used to sink battleships was science fiction. General Billy Mitchell was court-martialed around the same time for urging that the United States beef up the air force... and that the Japanese had already done so.
Van Gogh (1948)
Documentary connecting Van Gogh's life and art
I saw this on a Japanese DVD with other early Resnais and Godard short films. (The title of the DVD in Japanese is Alain Resnais, Jean Luc Godard tampen kessaku sen. It is easily available in Japan.) The narration of the film was in French, with Japanese subtitles. As the narrator tells about Van Gogh's life, the camera shows Van Gogh's pictures (in black and white) of the house where Van Gogh lived at the time... the camera is constantly moving... you feel as if you are entering the house and moving from room to room as the camera cuts from one picture inside the house to another....an interesting way to describe the life work of an artist. The technique leaves the viewer wanting more.
Portrait of a swindler, and of his age
Belmondo plays a swindler in early thirties France... His greatest creation is a new identity for himself. Completely amoral/immoral, he plays all ends against the middle.... in fact he is a Jew in France in order to swindle... and his existence is contrasted with (the Jewish) Trotsky who comes to France for political asylum... and a young Jewish actress in France to escape the Nazis.
In the end, everyone is betrayed, but the complicated story makes it extremely difficult to follow.
While it was going on, however, it was beautiful to watch and listen to.
Les 1001 nuits (1990)
A revisionist 1001 Nights...Catherine Zeta-Jones debut is a knockout.
This is a retelling of the story of Scheherezade and the 1001 nights. All of the famous heroes of the 1001 Nights are shown to be quite different than the heroes they are portrayed as. That and the fact that the Genie is a 20th century man who keeps appearing in 8th century Arabia with a 20th century bag of tricks is what makes for the humor. It is not hysterically funny humor, but it is effective satire.
This is Catherine Zeta-Jones debut film... and you can't take your eyes off her! Not only is she beautiful, but she has charismatic presence.... this is a star-making role for her.
I saw this film on Japanese TV... in English. It was so entertaining that I tried to buy a copy. One can find VHS copies dubbed in German (Amazon.de). It is also possible (but more difficult) to find English on eBay...
As for why the film is so difficult to find, considering the star and director.... I would guess that it is hard to find for the same reason it is hard to find a copy of Ecstasy with Hedy Lamarr....