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The Quiet American (1958)
Michael Redgrave on film, what a treat!
I loved the Graham Greene novel. I admit I picked it up secretly from my father's library when I was 15. It stayed with me. I knew about the existence of this 1958 version written and directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz but I had never seen it until now, thank you TCM. I had seen the 2002 with a terrific Michael Caine but the film - a more faithful version of Greene's novel according to the critics and it may be true but the 2002 version left me pleased but unmoved while the 1958 version is much more unsettling, in spite of some hard to understand choices by the filmmakers. Audie Murphy plays the quiet American, and he is, very quiet. Good looking a real life American war hero but he is not an actor and here he is sharing the frame with Michael Redgrave. Michael Redgrave! The other oddity is the casting of Italian Actress Giorgia Moll as the Vietnamese girl-in-the-middle. She's lovely but I repeat, she's Italian. No, the power force here is Michael Redgrave, A marvelous, fearless performance and that alone makes The Quiet American an absolute must.
Getting into Hitchcock's Psycho, 57 years after its original release is like assisting to a masterclass of sorts. We can now identify what made this little lurid tale into a classic. Hitchcock himself, naturally, but now we know the first director's cut was a major disappointment and that Alma Reville - Hitch's wife - took over, re edited and the results have been praised, applauded and studied ever since. Janet Leigh's Marion Crane created a movie landmark with her shower scene. Bernard Herrmann and his strings created an extra character that we recognize as soon as it reappears under any disguise but, what shook me the most now in 2017 is Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. His performance has evolved with the passing of time and its effect has remain as chilling, as moving, as funny and as real as it was in 1960. It's interesting to watch Gus Van Sant's 1998 version with Vince Vaugh as Norman Bates. If you look at the film, shot by shot with Berrnard Herrmann's strings - it's pretty fantastic. - Play it in black and white if you can. The problem and it is a monumental problem, we wait for Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, if the casting of Anne Heche was really bad - not a hint of Janet Leigh's humanity, the casting of Vince Vaughn was incomprehensible. Not just not credible for a moment but annoying, very annoying. Anthony Perkins brought something profoundly personal to Norman Bates and as a consequence we connected with his sickness. We felt for him. Okay, sorry, I didn't mean to go there but I felt compelled to because I saw again Psycho (1960) ad Psycho (1998) at 24 hours from each other and realized that the main flaw of the 1998 versions is the absence of Anthony Perkins.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Who is Mark Webb? Anyone? Anyone? It is an astonishing piece of work for a first time feature film director. He counts with a beautifully crafted screenplay and two sensational leading performances and that's where the success of this comedy resides. Jodseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are two startling originals with a winning screen presence and a brain, yes, a brain. I was involved in their peculiar relationship because there isn't a hint of shallowness in their back and fourth. I believe it, completely, and when you sit in the dark and believe what you see on the screen, things are going to happen to you the way that happened to me. It is again a confirmation that treating your audience with respect will pay off somewhere along the line. I love Zooey Deschanel, she reminds me of some my favorites of the past without looking or sounding like anybody else. And Joseph Gordon Levitt, well, this young man is something else. He projects a humanity that doesn't need to be embellished. It's just there for us to dive into. Marvelous actor, marvelous performance, marvelous film. I'm so thrilled to be able to say that.
Unaffecting Graphic Violence And Nudity
The success of "Watchmen" is another indication that we're moving away from everything that was dear to me in the movies. Technically brilliant, I presume, but not a single indication of humanity as we know it. In the dialog and intention, of course but in practical terms, zilch. The fact that Billy Crudup's Dr Manhattan sports an Olimpyan style penis that doesn't even make you blink should tell you something. It's all so far removed from human emotion. The men, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Goode and the aforementioned Crudup are thoroughly feminine. The women, Malin Akerman and Carla Gugino, beautiful masculine creatures. The only one depicting some shape of a real character is the wonderful Jackie Earle Hayley. To tell you that the film depressed me is to tell you only part of the story. "Watchmen" is an amusement park ride, one of the most boring I've ever taken. For the devotees of the genre, perhaps, this thing provokes some kind of pleasure, I don't know but for me this was torture. I'm not giving it a 1 (awful) because Mr. Hayley deserves some respect and I must say that Billy Crudup and Patrick Wilson are among my favorites of the new generation but they will be demoted in my estimation if they're going to put their talents at the service of things like this.
Last Chance Harvey (2008)
Emma Thompson makes the whole thing worth it
Yes, it's one of those "nice" movies but Emma Thompson's presence alone raises the worthiness of this movie several notches. We believe everything we see in her wonderful complicated face and that's the hook that will carry you along, it certainly did me. Dustin Hoffman, is the unlikely romantic door that opens to Emma, poor girl. But she sees something in him that I, quite honestly, didn't. At the end of the day if it's okay with Emma, it's okay with me. There are a couple of marvelous moments but that's about it. Another element that helps us enormously to escape the predominant flatness is Eileen Atkins as Emma's mother. All in all I would recommend you to see it, preferably on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Entertaining Drama In One Single Note
Let me start by saying that I wasn't bored for one second and that it is always fascinating to see great actors chewing the scenery. Meryl Streep is one of my heroes she will always be be here something happened. Her performance is devoid of highs and/or lows. She goes through it in second gear. I had hoped for a performance of the Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratchet with a pleasant almost benign exterior but a monstrous center and Philip Seymour Hoffman, another great, doesn't project any kind of sexual vibe so the sexual allegations may work on a stage play but not on the screen. The part needed a John Garfield. On top of that, there is something missing on the structure of the story. We're taken through two acts but the third act is missing. I didn't believe in that ending it felt to come out of left field. So yes, I was entertained but dissatisfied.
The Women (2008)
The Women 08 It's Not A 30's Movie
It was an impossible task to update a classic that was embedded in its time and as such could travel the waves of time intact because we could adapt to its historical context. Now this 2008 version seems the one that's dated. I used to love Meg Ryan, reminded me of Carol Lombard now she's more like Joan Rivers, in appearance if not in spirit. There is nothing funny about her. Strangely enough she looks better in the second part of the film. In any case, the modernity of Norma Shearer's performance is unbeatable. Annette Bening is better but couldn't cancel the memory of Rosalind Russell, who could? If one can divorce oneself from the George Cukor original, and one must to be able to sit through it, there are a few pleasures to be had, mostly thanks to Cloris Leachman, Candice Bergen (playing Meg Ryan's mom for the second time, remember "Rich and Famous"?) and Bette Midler in a much to brief stint playing the part once played by Mary Boland. The most unforgivable blunder is Eva Mendes's Crystal. She couldn't fill Joan Crawford's shoes not even by mistake. Her performance is vulgar, jarring and ugly. How strange that someone as smart as Diane English could give us such a confusing picture of women. Oh well, I had to see it, I saw it and I'm very disappointed but hardly surprised.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
A Pretty Missfire
Relentless like one of those loud action movies. The entire cast seems to be on speed. I didn't quite get the director's intentions if any. I wonder if she's ever seen a Stanley Donen, Vincent Minnelli or even a George Sidney musical. Structure, please! This is one hell of a mess and I loved Abba. The costumes the unflattering photography - unflattering towards the actors but loving towards the locations) The one thing that makes the whole thing bearable is the sight of Meryl Streep making a fool of herself. No chemistry with her friends (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) think of Streep with Lily Tomlyn in the Altman film and you'll understand what I was hoping for. I was embarrassed in particular by Pierce Brosnam and Colin Firth. The audience, however, seemed to enjoy it so it probably it's just me.
The Queen (2006)
An Acting God As A Royal Queen
It was Meryl Streep no less to call Helen Mirren "an acting God" and she wasn't kidding. I saw "The Queen" again last night, a year after the hype, the awards and the masses of superlatives thrown Helen Mirren's way and you know what? It was all richly deserved. Her performance got an extra something along the year and I believe it will continue to grow like most wonderful true things. Helen Mirren is not an actress who "dissappears" behind a character , no, she is in total control and that's what makes her creation so moving. The illusion is fueled by her own conviction - the character's as well as the actress's. Last night I wondered, during the Queen and her Prime Minister's walk, how did the real Elizabeth II reacted to this portrait. I'm sure she's seen it and I'm sure that she must agree that nobody could have done it better or more fairly.
Primary Colors (1998)
A Southern Fried Comedic Tragedy
A thinly disguised couple, one of the most famous couple of the last decade. They carry the "come as you are" kind of attitude, apparently, so, yes, at least apparently. Looking at it from where I'm standing in 2007 she may become the first USA woman president and he was, for 8 years, one of, if not the most popular American president since JFK and with the benefit of hindsight, he was probably a much more talented politician than JFK. I'm not necessarily a Democrat but I became, eventually, pro Clinton. Junk food and "momathons" infidelity and at times right down vulgarity doesn't blur the intentions of the couple and a couple is what they are. It may not have been John Travolta's most popular performance but for my money it's his best. Emma Thompson deals with Elaine May's superb and telling dialog with all the depth and poignancy, let alone fun, that the character deserved. She is magnificent. Kathy Bate's time bomb character is an unnerving fun to watch. Her Libby is a close relative of her "Misery" Mike Nichols keeps it really domestic. The most important things take place in Motels or kitchens. She wears yellow plastic gloves to do the dishes when big decisions are taken and cleanses her skin with a tissue in front of the preppy Adrian Lester the first time she meets him. They are ordinary southern folks with an extraordinary destiny. She's the one with a sense of history. Imagine that. See it now, again or for the first time before the next elections. It's a very good movie too.