Monday, September 19, 2011

Jane Eyre (1943)

Charlotte Bronte's novel given the romantic, thundery, film noir treatment. Adapted by John Houseman and Aldous Huxley (!) and directed by Robert Stevenson, but the real authors of this film are its photographer and composer (more on their contributions in a minute). It stars Orson Welles as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as the title character. Now, I have a problem with both of these actors. Welles, aside from being a brilliant director, was an absolute spellbinder on talk shows. When seated in conversation with Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, or Merv Griffin, he was a peerless raconteur. As an actor, he (for me) never managed to translate that charisma to the screen. In play acting, he comes across as showy, blustery, and fake. Then there is Miss Fontaine. I've seen at least half a dozen of her films, and in two of them (Hitchcock's Rebecca and Max Ophul's astounding Letter From An Unknown Woman) she is absolutely perfect. However, there is the other Joan Fontaine: The wooden, tense, plastic one...the one that clutches her bosom, sighs, and contorts her eyebrows. That's what we get here. She keeps making faces that look as if the assistant director were dangling a puppy right off camera. As you would expect, huge chunks of the book are gone or distorted for the sake of economy. The book is very cinematic, yet the filmmakers pass so many moments by on their race to the finish line.

The cinematography is by the great George Barnes, one of the most esteemed (and lengthy) careers in movies. It looks as beautiful as anything that came out of Germany during the silent era. It's a hackneyed sentiment, but every shot does look like a photograph, a photograph worthy of a museum wall. Then there is Bernard Herrmann's music. This guy was the greatest composer to ever write for films, his scores can stand on their own, and have often outlived the films they were written for. Herrmann's film music is actually performed by symphony orchestras all over the world. At one point while watching this, I realized that the intense emotional reaction I was having was due to the music. This is Herrmann's movie. There is a recurring motif, introduced early in the film, that is not only some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard in a film, but some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard. It holds the entire movie together like glue.

Vanity Fair (2004)

Whitewashed version of Thackery's novel directed by Mira Nair, who manages to shoehorn Indian characters, locations, anything Indian into every film of hers I've seen. Rented this because Andrew had recently read the book and loved it. According to him, the Becky Sharp character (Reese Witherspoon, whose British accent comes and goes with every sentence) was a lot more bitchy, unlikable, ambitious (in other words, interesting) in the book. For crying out loud, the subtitle of the book is "A novel with no hero." I'm sure you know that kind of sardonicism doesn't fly in the movies, they had to make her the heroine. Anyone who likes the novel should stay away. Anyone who likes movies should stay away as well. Dull script, clunky direction, unsure ass began to itch around the thirty minute mark.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Limitless (2011)

Bradley Cooper stars and executive produces this thriller about a shiftless slacker who's handed a pill by an old acquaintance that lets you access your entire brain, making your I.Q. soar hundreds of points. There is little difference between "dumb" Bradley Cooper and "genius" Bradley Cooper performance-wise, he just talks faster on the drug, and his make-up (he's pale, with dark circles under his eyes when he's not taking it, and has that orange, shellacked look when he is). I don't quite get the appeal of Mr. Cooper, especially in something like this. He ain't handsome, and has no personality whatsoever. He has a rockin' bod, I'll give him that, but he looks like Tweety Bird on steroids. He has a comedy face, he's not action hero material. The film is fine, it was exciting here and there, but it has a generic MTV look to it, and a really dated, run of the mill (and obtrusive) soundtrack. Not great, just a harmless, occasionally effective B-film full of chase scenes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Vidal Sassoon: The Movie. (2010)

The man who liberated women from helmet head, this documentary chronicles Vidal Sassoon's meteoric rise from Jewish orphan to hairstylist to media whore. In the late seventies/early eighties, his commercials were always playing, promising that "if you don't look good, we don't look good". Well, there was a seven or eight year stretch where they must not have looked good. This film isn't a fraction as entertaining as one of those thirty second spots. In fact, this is painfully, dreadfully boring. They talk about the swinging sixties for about ten minutes, you'd think there'd be some juicy stories about the people, parties, etc. No, instead we get to hear his half-assed philosophy on life, which mostly involves Pilates. There are some amusing clips of talk show appearances from the seventies, one in which he puts his legs behind his head and displays his physical agility (and moose knuckle) while he grunts "I'm fifty-five years old!" But we truly learn nothing about the man...perhaps he's just not that interesting.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heartbeats (2010)

Think back to your late teens/early twenties. Remember the excitement, frustration, uncertainty, how deeply you loved, how deeply you hurt. Even colors seemed brighter. This film captures these sensations perfectly. Written, produced, directed and starring 21-year-old French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan. It concerns a male/female friendship (Dolan and Monia Chokri) that starts to unravel when they fall in love with the same man (the serenely arrogant Niels Schneider). The object of their affections proceeds to baffle and lead them both on, and a subtle battle ensues as to which of them will bag this Adonis. For a director of Dolan's age, he shows astounding assurance and restraint. He avoids the pitfall that most, if not all directors in their early twenties fall victim to: the need to show off. Yes, there is some cinematic artiness, but it's never unnecessary, he knows what he's doing...there's always a point to it. It looks gorgeous, full of saturated colors and beautiful compositions, and the script is smart and heartfelt. On top of all that, he's an excellent actor (Monia Chokri is easily as good). This film swoons, it's so in love with love. There were many moments where I saw myself at that age, and I'm sure most hopeless romantics will see themselves as well.

Monday, September 5, 2011

My Dog Tulip (2010)

Animated feature for adults based on J. R. Ackerly's memoir about his fifteen year relationship with his dog, a very naughty German Shepherd. The role of Ackerly is voiced by Christopher Plummer, who describes the dog's bowel movements and anal sacs again and again in vivid detail. The hand drawn animation, by director Paul Fierlinger, is unconventional and very "home made" looking (in a good way). I'll give this points for avoiding the "cutesy-poo" traps and anthropomorphism, but this does go on. Even at an hour and twenty minutes, it felt stretched. I guess you have to be a dog person to really enjoy this. I like dogs, they are cute and I am prone to displays of affection towards other people's dogs. But if I wanted to handle feces, be vomited upon, and get two hours of sleep a night, I might as well buy a baby (filthy little beasts). All the leg humping, shit scooping, anal gland emptying, midnight barking aspects of dog ownership is on display here. Cat people beware.

Source Code (2011)

Stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an army helicopter pilot who finds himself strapped inside a chamber, part of a secret experimental mission where he must travel back in time over and over again to the same eight minutes leading up to a terrorist bombing, in order to prevent it. Time travel movies give me a headache, my mind tends to wander, mulling over the paradoxes that occur, but this handles the problem rather amusingly and cleverly. Gyllenhaal is likable, Michelle Monaghan as the girl inside "the eight minutes" is proper dream girl material, Vera Farmiga is excellent and surprisingly affecting as his commanding officer. Jeffrey Wright, as the head of the program, overdoes the evil scientist thing a little bit, but when we finally catch up with the bomber, baby-faced Michael Arden plays him to creepy perfection. This is a very good, ingeniously constructed B-thriller. Not too fancy or showy, just an intelligent, exciting straight line with a satisfying finish. Written by Ben Ripley and directed by Duncan (Zowie Bowie) Jones.

Friday, September 2, 2011

We Are What We Are (2010)

Mexican horror film about a family who ritualistically murder people for reasons that are never fully explained. What are they? Vampires? Cannibals? Nuts? They are what they are, I guess. I tried not to think too hard about it. Come to think of it, we never actually see them eat their victim's flesh or drink their blood, it seems they just keep mechanically killing because it's a family tradition. Not bad, many scenes were very effective, and it's obvious this has aspirations higher than your average horror film, it made the legitimate film festival circuit. Just vaguely dissatisfying, horror fans might not enjoy it's restraint in the gore department, and those looking for a serious film experience might find it a little silly.