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This piece of satire from 1957 was probably considered edgy and sharp back then, but it really didn't age too well, and there isn't much else about it to make it stand on its own legs as a classic. The witty send-ups of television, the advertising industry and celebrity culture seems tame and mellow now that real celebrity culture is so much more extreme than anybody in the 50's might have guessed, and reality had surpassed any possible satire. The film is still watchable, even entertaining - the script is solid and smart and has more double entendres than most writers back then and which probably should have never received the Hays code's approval. Joan Blondell is hilarious and steals the show whenever she's on screen, and obviously Jayne Mansfield is a screen presence to be reckoned with, and she nails her role here and is a real pleasure to watch. Tony Randall spoils it a little - he's just good enough to be passable as a dull straight man, but he's far more wooden and dull than the role calls for, and he did better before and after, most notably in TV's The Odd Couple. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is worth keeping if only because Jayne Mansfield films are so precious few, and it still has the slightly campy fun of a 50's comedy, but it isn't a classic worth lingering on.
While it's hard to take a Tinto Brass film as anything more than a guilty pleasure, L'uomo che guarda may be the closest he ever came to making a film with real depth and it succeeds in juggling campy erotica with character study and a statement about human nature. While the blatant sexuality and skimpy outfits often border on the absurd, and often make it difficult to take the story seriously - especially in the scenes with Dodo's father and his assistant - this isn't as extreme as in Brass's recent work, especially the hilarious Cosi fan tutte. And in several other scenes - the one with the bisexual photographer stands out, as well as the nudist beach dream sequence - the nudity and sex are used in a more mature, and even disturbing fashion. Brass isn't known for subtlety or minimalism in his sex scenes, and this film is no exception, but he uses it more smartly this time, constructing an interesting and complex character in Dodo and saying something more interesting than usual about voyeurism in human sexuality and, as an extension, in film. A smart erotic film that tries to make the viewer think rather than just turn them on, and definitely one worth checking out for anyone not offended by nudity and blatant sexuality.
My only real complaint about Smashed would be that there's just not
enough of it. Things happen way too fast, we get very little time with
the relationship between Charlie and Kate before it starts crumbling,
and I have a feeling that an extra fifteen minutes in the first act of
the film - focusing on Charlie and Kate, rather than extra time given
to Nick Offerman and Octavia Spencer, who do remarkable work but whose
characters are given far too much screen-time - could have driven
Smashed right into modern classic territory. Because the ingredients
are all there - the screenplay is insightful, clever and touching, and
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul both deliver fantastic, fresh,
funny and very real performances.
As it is, Smashed mostly remains a light-hearted slice-of-life dramedy that doesn't quite hold enough substance, nor does it make up its mind about how seriously it wants to treat the subject matter. Offerman offers a strange and disturbing comic relief where Aaron Paul's character - which seemed interesting and complex - is left barely explored. Winstead pretty much has to carry the film herself, and she does just that - her performance is the real revelation of the film, and she makes Kate a fascinating, real and complicated character who's hard not to love and care for, whatever questionable decisions she might make. Her performance and the screenplay make the story an engaging one that's hard to resist and made me just want to see more of.
When Night is Falling is notable for one of the strongest and most
realistic depiction of a lesbian sexual relationship ever seen on
screen, and to its credit it portrays a lesbian relationship more
naturally and positively than most films do, and if it helped any
person anywhere feel better and more secure about their own sexuality,
then it did its part and I applaud it. As a piece of cinema, though, it
didn't really work for me. Pascale Bussières and Rachael Crawford are
both quite good, but I didn't see any real chemistry between them;
there's a sense of connection between the two only in the (very
powerful and sensual) sex scenes, and since the film tries to portray
their relationship as a romantic one in addition to a sexual one, I
feel like it failed. Camille and Petra are clearly attracted to each
other and Camille is in love with the concept that is Petra, but I
never felt convinced that there's any genuine feeling between them. The
romantic relationship between the two women remains a fairy-tale, and
it doesn't have the realistic emotion that the film tries to achieve.
It doesn't help matters that the film tries for a statement against organized religion for trying to repress same-sex relationships. The problem here is that in the same breath the church chastises heterosexual relationships with about the same fervor as same-sex ones, and the criticism comes off muddled and vague.
The film tries hard to make itself memorable with some very pretty cinematography and tons of metaphors, but in the end it felt clumsy and amateurish to me. On one hand it strives for an honest and realistic depiction of a love affair; on the other it muddles it up with religious imagery and spiritual symbolism and it all feels like too much of an effort. It's all quite pretty, and the film indeed has some very memorable scenes, but it doesn't help the story or the message in any way, and it's not done well enough to make the film a real artistic achievement. For all the good it does, it stays on the level of an after-school special, rather than a true piece of cinema.
Those only familiar with Stephen Frears more recent and
audience-friendly work (High Fidelity, The Queen, Mrs. Henderson
Presents) may not know what to make of The Hit, but it's a masterpiece
deserving of much more attention than it usually gets. With the
distinction of being Tim Roth's first big-screen role, as well as
starring veterans Terence Stamp and John Hurt, it's a surprise that the
film isn't better known, but despite the shiny cast and the subject
matter that could have made a blockbuster for Tarantino or Guy Ritchie,
The Hit is not an easy watch. Frears took a premise right out of the
crime drama genre, and turned it into a poetic road film, a character
study and a thesis in existential philosophy.
It works incredibly well thanks to the chemistry between the three leads, all excellent actors in top form who deliver very memorable performances, and thanks to Frears' sensitive treatment. The Hit is a simple, minimalistic film, and it's at its best when it's nothing but three men on the road together reacting to one another and to their own fears. The mob-movie framework gives the story its meat and its context but doesn't dominate it - at its heart it's all about the characters. It's an unusual, striking and effective film that, at its best, rivals Reservoir Dogs in its brutal and honest dissection of honor among thieves and the relationships between violent people.
The big problem with Quantum of Solace isn't that it's a horrible movie
- it's better than most Pierce Brosnan headed Bond films, and director
Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Stranger Than Fiction) clearly tried to
inject some of his skill and sensitivity into the shots and the pacing.
Perhaps, had he been given a stronger screenplay to work with, he might
have made it memorable; as it is, Forster's talent is wasted on one of
the most forgettable, unnecessary Bond films ever made. Even the
silliest of Roger Moore adventures had more to make them stand out and
make an impression than this one.
It's possible that this feeling derives partly from the fact that Quantum of Solace was intended as a direct sequel to Casino Royale, more so than any Bond movie made before; but more than a sequel, it feels like an appendix to that other film. Casino Royale made a mark partly thanks to the novelty of Daniel Craig as Bond and of the darker, more realistic atmosphere, which Quantum of Solace follows, but it also had a simple yet intriguing story, a memorable villain and an interesting romantic interest - all of which Quantum of Solace lacks. Mathieu Amalric makes for one of the most nondescript of all Bond villains, and his fiendish plot is far less fiendish and far more complicated than it needs to be to get us interested; the Bond girls (Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton) barely have anything to tell them apart.
Instead of a coherent story, gripping action scenes or interesting characters, Quantum of Solace attempts to make a larger point about the nature of revenge, but the script isn't good enough to give that any weight. Craig does his best, as does Judi Dench, and their scenes together are by far the strongest parts of the film, but since we're talking about a Bond film after all, these little moments of human drama take up a very small part of the film, and the rest just doesn't work well enough. Quantum of Solace, despite having possibly the shortest runtime of all Bond movies, manages to be more confusing and complicated than most; and at the same time, feel like little more than an interlude between Casino Royale and Skyfall, making me feel that it could have just been inserted into an extended version of the first Craig film. Bond enthusiasts may want to check it out, but it's a film that the rest of us can easily live without.
It's easy to compare The Ice Storm to American Beauty and Happiness,
both of which also dealt with disillusionment and the disintegration of
the American Dream and the traditional family cell in the suburbs, and
to a lesser extent The Sweet Hereafter which explored some similar
themes in small town Canada. The Ice Storm is as cynical as those other
films, but it's much more subtle in masking its sardonicism, and has
aged much better than American Beauty, which had the appearance of a
masterpiece at its release but looks flat and shallow now. The people
in The Ice Storm feel more real and more human than the ones in
American Beauty and Happiness; and the film walks that fine line
between character-based slice-of-life storytelling and metaphorical
satire, which works only because the viewer cares for the characters
and their fates, while also absorbing the bigger issues under the
That would not work without a strong ensemble cast; the actors in The Ice Storm are not among my favorites, yet they all outdo themselves and produce sympathetic, powerful, convincing performances - Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver are all at their very best, and the younger actors (Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Adam Hann-Byrd and - amazingly - even Katie Holmes) all deliver too. In contrast with the (intentionally) despicable characters in Happiness and American Beauty, these actors form a group of very average people that the viewer relates to and cares about - but the dysfunction and sickness is right there beneath the surface, waiting for the right catastrophe to explode.
There's an undefinable something that stops The Ice Storm short of becoming one of my favorites. The ending fits the mood of the rest of the film, but doesn't offer the catharsis that is needed, and it left me with a bitter taste. In the end, I found myself wishing that the film said more, and left more of a mark; the fact that it isn't often recognized as one of the best films of the 90's is simply because there's something not quite memorable about it. It's incredibly engaging throughout, though, and is definitely one of the strongest dramas of its time, beautifully shot, and a gem that's well worth discovering.
A Paul Schrader film set in the dark and gritty streets of Manhattan
should always be a good sign, but rather than feeling like a welcome
return to Taxi Driver territory, Light Sleeper feels like an attempted
knock-off by an inferior writer and director. On the surface, it has
everything it takes to be an instant classic - quality actors, gorgeous
cinematography, a tormented and torn protagonist. But it doesn't add up
to a coherent and captivating film; the various subplots go nowhere and
don't lead to a satisfying conclusion, Dafoe's narration is filled to
the brim with clichés of the genre, which doesn't help his character
feel any more interesting than it does. The music is awful and feels
like it was dragged out of the 80's, and destroys any pretense of a
neo-noir atmosphere the film may have. And while Dafoe gives a solid
performance, and Susan Sarandon is absolutely terrific playing
decisively against type, Dana Delany and Jane Adams didn't work for me
and took a lot of credibility away from the film.
Light Sleeper looks and feels like it should a neo-noir with old-fashioned storytelling and character study, which is why I wanted to like it much more than I did; maybe the high expectations are why I ended up disliking it more than it deserves. It's not a terrible movie - just one that should have been great, and is instead utterly forgettable and disposable. I remain a loyal fan of Paul Schrader, Willem Dafoe and Susan Sarandon, but to me this isn't a high point for any of them.
Labeling Den brysomme mannen as a comedy or a fantasy is misleading,
but the film is nevertheless both hilarious and dream-like in its
atmosphere. It's a Kafkaesque nightmare, funny and disturbing at the
same time, and it successfully draws the viewer into a dream-like haze
and puts you in the shoes of the lead character, a fish out of water in
an eery plastic utopia. The film works on two levels - immersing the
viewer in the experience for the duration of the film, while satirizing
modern western society and specifically the perceived coldness and
detachment of city life in Norway.
The film starts out incredibly strong and judged by its first two acts, it could have been one of the best films of the year; unfortunately it loses some wind in the last act, and allows the satire to lose its subtlety and become much more prominent than the atmosphere, throwing the viewer right out of the immersion built up during the first half and losing a lot of impact. Some scenes, especially the subway scene and the finale, are too over-the-top for anybody to be able to still be in the protagonist's shoes. And so, the last half hour make it a very good film rather than a great one, but still it's a fascinating and unusual film that will make you laugh and cringe, beautifully shot and well-acted, and well worth the time.
Thomas loves his girlfriend Marie, but she dumps him because he's not
mature enough and she feels their relationship isn't going anywhere.
When a convoluted (and barely explained) string of events leads to
Thomas being stuck with having to take care of a baby, he somehow
decides that it would be a good idea to try and convince Marie that he
changed by pretending that he's the father. Obviously he gets caught in
his own web of lies, and obviously he gradually comes to truly care for
the baby and grows as a result, with a series of obvious and
predictable hi-jinx and plenty of poop-jokes to go around leading up to
the obvious happy ending.
I caught La stratégie de la poussette by chance on a flight from Paris; otherwise I never would have heard of it. It's a nice reminder of the screening process that doesn't apply to American cinema, and therefore makes it seem like European film is inherently better than American one simply because the truly bad or bland movies never make it out of their countries of origin. La stratégie de la poussette is the blandest and most predictable of rom-coms, one that could have been made in the 80's as easily as in 2012, and every joke is a painful cliché, even if Raphaël Personnaz is charismatic enough to make a couple of them work. There's some inspiration in the first and last scenes, but everything in-between would have felt right at home in an episode of Baby Daddy or in Three Men and a Baby (whether it's the French or American version). A sub-par, cheesy and outdated chick flick that will never make it outside of France, and has no right to.
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