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Ring of Bright Water (1969)
Film Genre: Ga-ga for otters...
For me, at least, this film was stultifyingly boring and yet still likable. That was part of it's charm. Stultifying and yet mezmerizing in its languor and torpidity all at the same time.
The location shots of London and the scenery of Scotland were what kept me watching. Scotland was beautiful. The Scottish brogue was very pleasing to the ear. And the two co-stars were quite good in an uber minimalist kind of way
But whenever the otter took center stage, I found myself seeking refuge in enjoying the cleft in the chin of William Travers or wondering if the sweater he was wearing would be difficult to knit. Anything, anything but that drat otter.
I don't think the film really established Traver's initial connection to the otter very well. The sighting in the shop window came off as contrived and undeveloped. I think more time could have been spent in showing his life in London so that his desire to escape it would have been more keenly felt.
Dietrich vs Schell. Dietrich wins. Maybe....
I haven't seen that much of Marlene Dietrich's work. Not enough to get a comprehensive historical perspective. This film filled in some of the gaps and made me want to seek out more of her movies and to read more about her.
Aside from everything else this documentary presented, the dynamic between Marlene Dietrich and Maximilian Schell alone made it well worth watching.
Schell is obviously a very impressive, accomplished and charismatically attractive guy, no doubt accustomed to getting his way. Especially with women. But even at the advanced age of 82, Marlene Dietrich not only held her own but prevailed against him.
This film makes plain that before she agreed to do this documentary with Schell, Dietrich had spelled out her conditions very specifically. But although she made sure that her terms were all there in black and white in the contract, Maximillian Schell apparently believed that this "contract" was just a formality for getting his foot in the door. And he could then draw on his charms, those that he had so often used to his advantage, to make her drop her conditions to accommodate his vision of the documentary and his path to getting there.
But Marlene Dietrich instead handed him a big surprise. Here was one woman who seemed immune to the Maximillian Schell Onslaught. He could not charm her, he could not cajole her, he could not pressure her, he could not jolly her, he could not dazzle her with his estimable intelligence and good looks.
Dietrich stood firm. She did not appear on camera even though he kept stepping up his insistence that she do so. And at every point along the way, she controlled the information. She told him as much as she wanted him to know and no more.
And who can blame her. She had spent a lifetime of hard work creating this Marlene Dietrich persona and filling it with substance. It wasn't a mirage. Who was he to think that he had the right now, at this point in her life, to define her. She had already earned the right to define herself.
There are a lot of interesting aspects to this documentary. The give and take between the two of them when she calls Maximilian Schell a prima donna and an amateur are more amusing than harsh. When he walks out on her and she spiritedly takes him to task about his wretched manners is quite funny, too.
The ending is also quite powerful. As the film proceeds, you are left with a sense of Marlene Dietrich as this very pragmatic and practical person who mocks and seems impervious to displays of sentimentality. And yet she grows tearful and emotional when Maximillian Schell recites with her a poem from her childhood. Giving a glimpse into the complexities within.
In fact, that is what Schell's documentary accomplished, IMO. It provided a valuable glimpse into the complexities, dualities, and contradictions within.
American Friends (1991)
Unrealized Potential -- Pretty darn awful !
It was actually painful to watch this because it was as if many of the elements for success had been carefully gathered together but then spectacularly botched in assembly.
It's the cubic zirconium version of a Merchant/Ivory production.
The production design and the location cinematography were wonderful but they were sabotaged by everything else.
The tone of the film was relentlessly morose and the pace too slow for something so little charged. I usually hate Alfred Molina (for no good reason) but his character here (although a villain) actually became the most welcome presence on the screen because Molina, at least, brought some spark and energy and vibrancy to his part.
The others seemed to be walking through a field of molasses. The casting was atrocious, at least in my opinion. There was no one to root for. Palin is usually very likable but his approach to this part was wooden and monotonous. No shading at all. Not to mention that Michael Palin apparently thought that transforming his normal attractiveness into big-screen unsightly was somehow more "authentic" and "artsy." And if the audience is expected to care about his character's depicted "romance," how about casting an actress with some charisma, some ability to enthrall and enchant. To make the filmed version of the true-life story believable. Or at least watchable.
All in all it was a missed opportunity to make a good film. This one was, in my opinion, not worth watching. The back story is much more interesting than the film itself.
The Millionairess (1960)
This film works very well, IMO, on the level of pure entertainment. There are many elements to be enjoyed.
It is not a film in which one is swept away by the story and the characters. It's a film you watch with a certain detachment and never really suspend disbelief.
But there is a lot of fun to be had in the amused detachment. A lot of the dialogue is really hilarious. That alone would have made it worth sitting through. But on top of that there is the way Peter Sellars interprets his particular character. The body language he brings to it and some of the nuances in his schtick are both intriguing and highly entertaining to observe.
Then there is the stunning beauty of Sophia Loren which is further enhanced by a steady stream of wardrobe changes, each more spectacular than the one before.
And then there is the parallel running commentary you can have in your own thoughts about how the movie plot line brings to mind some possible similarities that there may have been in the real-life relationship Princess Diana had with her very own Indian doctor, Dr. Khan, said by some to have been the love of her life.
Again, a lot to enjoy about this film and well worth seeing, JMO.
Never Ever (1996)
See it -- you'll be glad you did!
There is a lot about this film to like. I liked its intensity. It was a compelling work. I liked enormously how it showcased the beauty of Paris. I liked that it was bilingual. Hearing both French and English being spoken was very pleasing and added a lot of texture to the film. I liked much of the cast.
But most of all, what I liked best and what made the biggest impact on me was the presence of Charles Finch himself.
He's a really wonderful actor. I'm disappointed (to put it mildly) to learn that this has turned out to be his only starring role to date.
Finch radiates charisma from the screen. Considering that he, from what I have learned, had far and away the least acting experience of any of the others in the cast, he not only held his own but pretty much, in my opinion, charisma-wise wiped out all of the others.
In fact, the lack of experience probably worked in his favor. It made the charm less practiced and, therefore, the story felt more real. And it made me, as the viewer, keep wondering, Wow, who is this guy anyway?
Although there was a scene at the beginning of the film that was off-putting because it seemed to be such a self-conscious and manipulative attempt at being provocative for provocative's sake, the story itself then served to get things back on track.
Unfortunately, it was also the story, specifically the ending of the script, that finally sabotaged and derailed the film. This same film I had been experiencing as so compelling and enjoying so much. Until it fell apart at the end. At least for me.
The story concerns an extramarital affair. Sandrine Bonnaire plays the love interest.
Her character is a professional woman in her mid to late thirties.
She becomes involved with a married man displaying not even a hint of a troubled conscience at this fact. That would indicate that Bonnaire's character has participated in this circumstance before.
And yet when complications arise, the script has this woman turn into a drama queen. A drama queen with a very strong sense of entitlement.
Even before the script turned her character into someone who lacked credibility, Bonnaire did not deliver in this film -- at least from my perspective.
This was surprising because I'd never before seen Sandrine Bonnaire as anything less than excellent. For example, in Regis Wargnier's film, East/West, she was superb. She always brings such depth to a part and is captivating to watch. And yet here, she was subpar. Again, only my opinion. Maybe it had something to do with the language barrier. I don't know. But Bonnaire did not have her usual mojo. Nowhere near it.
In contrast, Charles Finch's acting and presence continued to be very effective throughout the entire film but the sensibility behind the ending of the script (which Charles Finch wrote)left me disaffected, disheartened and rueful.
Yeah, he's a fascinating and charismatic looker but maybe not all that great of a guy in real life was the sentiment I was left with by the end of this film.
Finch, as the scriptwriter, attempted to spin his character's behavior as not only understandable but (gag) admirable and even attempted to sell it as somehow (gasp) noble.
Um. Sorry. Not buying it. It ruined the film. And it tainted respect for Charles Finch himself. Fairly or unfairly.
Come September (1961)
Among the best of this type of comedy!
I came to this picture expecting to only skip through parts of it.
I had watched Kevin Spacey's "Beyond the Sea." That sent me to seek out Dodd Darin's book about his parents, Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee.
This autobio/bio (Dream Lovers:The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee), by the way, turned out to be one of the best written and compelling bios ever. Dodd Darin came across as so obviously a person of very high integrity and he wrote about his life and his parents with a very strong priority on finding and presenting the truth. So different from the many bs-laden, so-called autobiographys with all of their "composite characters" (code for I'm lying)littering the market.
And then that book led me to want to watch "Come September." It was on this picture that Darin and Dee first met. It was also Bobby Darin's first role.
So I was mainly curious to get insight about them and was prepared and expected to have to wade through a mostly boring comedy to do so.
But, surprise on me, "Come September" turned out to be Terrific! Fantastic! Wonderful!
The script was very sharp and clever. There were tons of extremely witty lines. The laughs just kept coming. Quite a few were of the laugh out loud variety.
The film had great timing. It just kept zipping along delivering the entertainment big-time scene after scene.
The casting was superb. Every part was maximized by the respective actor. Walter Slezak was excellent. He contributed a lot to the overall warmth and good-natured tone of the film. Gina Lollobrigida was stunningly beautiful. The cinematography of Italy was stunningly beautiful.
This is just a truly first-rate film. Well worth seeing and well worth adding to a film library.
It has also made me enthusiastic to search out other work by its very talented director, Robert Mulligan and its equally excellent screenwriter, Stanley Shapiro.
Profumo di donna (1974)
Not worth your time!
I came to this film expecting to see something transcendent. After all, the remake of Scent of a Woman with Al Pacino had been so wonderful. And I had never yet seen a Hollywood remake that even approached the original in quality. They are usually shattering disappointments.
So I fully anticipated that Vittorio Gassman's version would far surpass Pacino's.
But Surprise, Surprise. Finally. Who would have thought it. A Hollywood Remake that Ruled!!! Yay! It was not even a close contest, in my opinion. This film with Vittorio Gassman was for me flawed beyond redemption. I'm bewildered to read that it was even nominated for an Academy Award and has received other very prestigious awards.
True, Gassman got the blind part of his role down. He had obviously done a lot of research and put in long rehearsals. And he had the potential to be great.
The trouble was with the script. Gassman's character was a pig. An entertaining pig at times, an interesting pig at other times but never more than a full-fledged PIG.
So while the film could engage you in the spectacle sense, it was really difficult to care about what happened to the characters or to root for them. The script just put them in a series of scenes, the common denominator being coarseness and then more coarseness.
What was most offensive about this film were the scenes near the end in the Nepalese restaurant. Apparently Gassman had been friends with this family for many years -- since their daughters were children. So he was like a uncle figure.
Then when this film catches up with them, the girls have grown into young ladies. And the Gassman character is shown treating them very disrespectfully (to put it mildly), exploiting them and preying on them.
Except for the one he apparently loves. But why was it OK for him to exploit the other young girls? This predatory aspect of the film was so beyond offensive that it ruined the entire film and made it irredeemable and indefensible.
Go see Al Pacino's Scent of a Woman instead. Pacino is brilliant. And the remake has heart and soul -- both of which are sorely absent from the original. The original has noisy drama but it is a hollow soulless drama.
This is the type of film that makes you question your past admiration for a particular director before you stop and remind yourself that there are very few people whose body of work doesn't contain a few clunkers.
The casting in Lelouch's films is of utmost importance because he puts the viewer into such intimacy with the characters. The actors have to bring real screen magic to live up to the intensity. Otherwise it is just hollow.
None of the actors in this film had any of that screen magic, in my opinion.
Jeremy Irons and Patricia Kaas fell far short as the leads. Irons is a talented actor but he was wrong for this part. Lovable rogue didn't suit his strengths. His brand of charm also hit a false note for me here. Iron's persona is too decadence-tinged to fit into a Lelouch love story.
Although I would hesitate to pass up any opportunity to hear an English accent, I also think an American actor would have worked better in this role. So many of the songs that Kaas sings are so closely identified with the Americanness of the particular lyricist that it seemed kind of discordant to then have Jeremy Irons playing the love interest -- even though logically it really didn't matter. It still screwed up the flow of the movie somehow. At least for me.
Of course, it would have had to have been the right American. I think George Clooney would have been great in the part. And he would have brought the screen magic in spades. Brad Pitt could also have done a really good job delivering his particular combination of charming and edgy.
I was also very disappointed with Patricia Kaas. In reading about her, I've learned that she has a hugely successful career as a singer and many fans, so what do I know, but I found her screen presence as a singer very boring. She was actually a much better actress in her speaking scenes than she was a singer in those scenes in which she had to interpret and sell a song. Nothing she sang moved me. She was pleasant but bland.
In contrast, someone like Kate Hudson, who is not a professional singer and has only voice-coach French still would have handled this part a million times better. Not to mention all that stunning French talent out there that could have been tapped into. It was wrenching watching Patricia Kaas take up screen space when there are so many charismatic French actresses who could have been cast instead.
The music was so important in this film, it could not really work without the music working. And since Kaas delivered so poorly in this respect, the movie never really had a chance.
Lelouch sealed the fate of this movie when he cast Patricia Kaas. JMO.
What Happened Was... (1994)
I found this film emotionally wrenching but with no catharsis. Neither of its only two characters was particularly likable and yet the film permeated and enveloped in such a way as to make it imperative to care about and root for them. Both individually and as a couple.
But the rooting was not without an ambivalence. The film unfolds and draws the viewer in but it never throws out a liferope with a hint of buoyancy to cling to. The man and the woman are intriguing but each of them has very evident psychological obstacles in their makeup. Maybe insurmountable obstacles.
You want things to work out for them but you have to ask yourself to what end. Their lives are each severely wanting and problematical to put it mildly but there is no indication that joining forces would in any way ease the situation.
Noonan never makes it easy for the viewer. It's kind of daring and exciting to realize at the end what choices he made as a writer and as a director. The characters are without any easily accessible wit or accessible charm and yet their dialogue is fascinating.
Their exchanges are agonizingly awkward and yet completely engrossing. Engrossing in a very uncomforable sort of way. The discomfort was probably because it rang so raw and without any tarting up.
I longed for more theatricality in the delivery of the lines. That would have provided an emotional distance and made it easier to take the film. But I have to admire Noonan for not choosing that route as a director.
By going completely naturalistic, there was no barrier, nothing to shield you from the film's impact.
I wish Noonan had chosen to end the film differently, though. I wish there had been more of a glimmer of hope.
Although it's beyond presumptuous to discuss changes to the script, I wish that Noonan had ended the film with the Jackie character giving a different response to the Michael character's invitation to go out with him Friday night. Rather than responding that he should ask her again when they saw each other at work (accompanied by an expression on her face indicating that she had already lost complete interest in him), I wish she had instead said that she would be glad to have dinner with him if it could be a celebratory dinner. It would be conditional. That when he had finished making the preliminary arrangements to complete the credits for his law degree, she would be glad to join him for dinner. And that would be only a small indication of the kind of congratulatory blowout she would plan for him after he had gone on to pass the bar exam.
And if Michael had also in turn given some reciprocal show of support to Jackie. She had no writing talent but judging from her apartment, she had creativity and a good eye. There was promise there. Promise to be encouraged.
I guess I just wanted to believe that there was some small glimmer of hope that they could help rescue each other. But instead the ending was relentlessly and piercingly grim.
Well worth seeing, though! The acting was brilliant, the set design, the cinematography, the music, all exceptional. And the last shot of all the buildings and all the apartment windows was very powerful carrying as it did the message that behind each window was more drama.
Une histoire simple (1978)
Worth seeing but flawed
I think Claude Sautet was a brilliant film maker and A Heart in Winter is one of the all-time great films.
However, A Simple Story, IMO, disappoints in a number of ways.
I think the script cavalierly devalued the role of a father in a child's life. The character of Romy Schneider first unilaterally decides to have an abortion and then, not too long into the future, decides, again unilaterally, to get pregnant. All without any consideration for input from the respective father. The subtext of the script-- the sensibility behind the script -- transmits the message that this is as it should be.
There is also a scene in which a man with whom Romy Schneider's character has broken up waits for her outside her building late at night and drunkenly confronts her. The episode turns violent. This former love begins striking her and even throws her to the ground. A trio of passersby comes to her aid. They begin hitting the guy to subdue him. The Romy Schneider character comes to his defense and tells them to leave him alone. They walk away castigating each other for getting involved.
Although this "domestic violence" episode had escalated to the point where the Romy Schneider character could have been seriously hurt, the film gives the impression that the jerk was not the guy who was being violent, but instead the jerks were the good samaritans who had stopped to help.
This kind of values sensibility behind the script left me alienated from the film and wondering. Claude Sautet -- who are you???
Additionally, the only actors whose work and presence I found interesting were Romy Schneider, the actor who played her son and the actor who played the son's father. Everyone else was pedestrian. JMO. I thought the group of friends surrounding Romy Schneider's character were for the most part boring and not screen worthy.
It was very sad, however, watching the suicide storyline of one of the characters play out, knowing that Romy Schneider herself had several years later tragically taken her own life.