Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Good documentary overall, but wrong about the painting
This documentary gets a lot of things right, but it unfortunately gets a few really important things wrong.
What it gets right: for one thing, his films. It's pretty clear that once Paul Morrissey started directing the movies, Andy had very little if any creative input into them. The films before Chelsea Girls are completely different in approach, and certainly more connected with Warhol's artistic output, than the ones that came after.
As for Andy Warhol the person, I don't know if anybody will ever get to the bottom of that mystery. He was full of contradictions: he was a non-stop partygoer, but also painfully shy. He was a relentless social climber, but also enjoyed hanging out with colorful low-life types (at least until he got shot by one.) He was hardnosed about business and in the way he manipulated people, but full of superstition about his health and about religion. As for "the philosophy of Andy Warhol" -- he may have published a book with that title, but I think it's best to take it with a grain of salt.
What does the film get wrong? I think primarily the nature of his painting. The "experts" they interview all say things along the lines of "Andy wanted to remove himself from the process of painting" or "his work aims to present reality without any comment." Are they even looking at the paintings that are shown on top of their voice-overs? Throughout his life, Andy painted in a noticeably expressive, painterly style. He almost never presented a subject in flat solid colors, like the color-field artists. There is almost always some sign of the artist's hand in his work, whether it be brushwork in the background, or manipulation of the foreground image, by doubling, tripling, overlapping, varying the sharpness or intensity of the image, etc. By no means was he a Duchampian maker of "ready-mades".
But overall, yes, if you're going to see one Warhol documentary, this is the one to see. Just try to go and see some of his paintings in person if you get the chance.
Bureau of Missing Persons (1933)
Interesting only for Davis and O'Brien
If you've already seen all the well-known studio films from the early 30's, it's fun to go back and fill in with some lesser known ones, like this typical Warner's B-movie.
Its director, Roy del Ruth, was strictly B-list at this point in his career. The supporting cast -- Allen Jenkins, Ruth Donnelly, Glenda Farrell, Hugh Herbert -- are familiar from the Busby Berkeley movies, and each brings a stereotyped character briefly to life, which is what they were paid to do. Farrell in particular is funny as a gold-digger.
Pat O'Brien is actually the lead, although Bette Davis was given top billing. He's best known for playing butch types -- reporters, cops, soldiers, manly priests. (In this one, Butch is actually his character's name!) His performance here is surprisingly subtle and varied; it makes me want to see more of his movies.
Unfortunately the story is hopelessly implausible and unconvincing. Davis does the best she can with a confusingly-written part, although I can't quite tell whether she's trying to do an accent or not. And she changes from a blonde to a brunette halfway through -- was she shooting another picture at the same time?
The whole thing looks like it was thrown together in a couple of weeks. Probably the only really demanding scene to film was a car chase near the end, shot on location (or was it stock footage?).
All in all, probably worth 72 minutes of your time if you happen to run across it on TCM. Don't expect too much though...
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
The wrong actor got the Oscar
In a far off land beyond the pale of civilization, there lives a powerful ruler whose merest whim is iron law to his people. Charismatic but childlike, his moods swing between extremes of generosity and cruelty. He takes a liking to a British person who is in the country to look after the ruler's many wives and children in a professional capacity. This person befriends the lowliest of the ruler's wives, with unfortunate consequences. At the end the British person is sadder but wiser.
That's right -- this movie is a remake of The King and I, only without the songs (unless you count Loch Lomond and Me & Bobby McGee). Don't let the up-to-date hand-held camera work, authentic locations, and fast-paced editing fool you -- at its heart this movie fits comfortably into the good old fashioned white-man-in-darkest-Africa genre.
Other time-honored Hollywood clichés make an appearance as well. For example, how can we tell when Idi Amin crosses the line into madness? Simple -- he screens a copy of Deep Throat while the soundtrack bursts into some oh-so-decadent heavy metal music. That ought to give second thoughts to all the millions of us who saw that movie and listened to that music in the 70's!
Forest Whitaker is good as Amin, but his performance has been absurdly overpraised. In reality, he doesn't break any new ground -- all he really had to do was thumb through his Actor's Handbook until he found the entry for Dictators, African. The real Idi Amin (seen briefly in documentary footage just before the closing credits) seems to have been a much more disturbing character -- less colorful, less charming, but even more brutal. If anything, this movie soft-pedals the reality of his regime.
And anyway the best performance in the film, and the best reason to watch it, is James McAvoy as Dr. Garigan. This character is really a slime ball -- he could teach Amin a thing or two about moral decadence. In the classic style of a 70's middle-class "rebel", he's really only out for #1, and to have a good time. He starts out his African sojourn by showing up for work late, having stopped off to bang an African babe he met on the bus. Next he attempts to seduce the wife of the saintly doctor (but Gillian Anderson, of course, is nobody's fool).
Garigan hesitates only briefly before switching from saving lives in the bush to the soft life in Kampala, after which he wastes no time in currying favor with Amin by ratting out the Minister of Health. By the time he sleeps with Amin's wife, with predictably gruesome results, I have to admit that I wasn't entirely sorry to see him end up in the hands of torturers. Nevertheless, the last shot of him on the plane seems to suggest that he may have finally figured out a few things about real life, or even perhaps about himself.
All in all, Garigan is a much more complex and ambiguous character than than this film's version of Amin, although obviously less showy. And McAvoy is brilliant -- it's a shame that he hasn't gotten more of the kudos that have been heaped on Forest Whitaker. I hope we get to see more of him, soon.
One of the all-time great performances highlights an absorbing picture
Maggie Cheung turns in what is quite simply one of the greatest film performances I've ever seen. She doesn't portray Emily -- she IS Emily. If you watch the interviews on the DVD, she explains that she didn't anticipate what she was going to do in any scene, she just reacted in character to what happened to her. I know, I know -- a lot of actors say this. But this time I think it's really true. As a result her performance has a spontaneity, and a breadth and a depth, that is truly breathtaking.
Did I mention that she's acting in three different languages? That hasn't been done since Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice, I believe. She's also completely convincing in portraying the character's downfall from chic rock star to humble waitress.
This is not to take away from the other actors, who are also excellent, especially Nick Nolte (what an underrated actor he is!) and Don McKellen.
PS I have friends who didn't want to see this because it sounded yet another movie about a junkie. Well it's not really -- that's only a secondary part of the story. It's really about a woman's transformation, and the victory of a mother's love over desperate circumstances.
See it, see it, see it.
Must Love Dogs (2005)
Veteran cast rescues a ho-hum script
This movie doesn't have a mean bone in its body, even if it also doesn't have an original thought in its head. The screenplay, about two people who meet through personal ads and then fall in love, might have been cryogenically frozen in, say, 1998 and only just thawed out (see You've Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle or ...). There are cringe-making moments (the Partridge Family singalong, Diane Lane's "date" with her father, the super-suspenseful scull chase), as well as some insufficiently developed subplots (I had trouble following the character arcs of the various dogs, and the running gag with the butcher did nothing for me).
But never mind. Any time you can get Diane Lane, John Cusack, Christopher Plummer, Stockard Channing, Dermot Mulroney, and Elizabeth Perkins (the queen of the best-friend roles) together in the same movie, you know there are going to be some memorable moments, and there are. Hearing Christopher Plummer, one of the great Shakespeareans, recite Yeats's Brown Penny gave me goosebumps. He's equally moving in the scene where he talks about his marriage with his late wife. Stockard Channing gives real vitality to a somewhat hackneyed character, and John Cusack is as charming as always, if a tad less cute than he was in Say Anything.
But the movie really belongs to Diane Lane, a talented and beautiful actress who hasn't had the career she deserves. For my money, she ought to have been churning out romantic comedies for the last twenty years (even though she's only just turned 40). If you're in a sentimental mood, by all means rent the DVD, especially if you're the kind of person who tears up when you hear the Dr. Zhivago theme.