Doy! Vs. Joy, Take a Guess Which Decade Did Film Better

I watched the movie Happily written and directed by BenDavid Grabinski Friday and then had the joy of watching City Lights written and directed by Charlie Chaplin for two nights straight. And now you already know which was the DOY! as in the DUMB of the two films.
To be fair BenDavid (a tellingly ridiculous name) grew up in the ‘everyone gets a prize’ new abnormal and hence is crippled as far as honing true creativity. But even I could write a better script than Happily. Who watches the end result on this cast and pats themselves on the back for a job well done?
And to spread my criticism, ditto the eye roll for J Blakeson, same generation, for I Care A Lot, which was at least a little smarter. But the people who truly ‘enjoyed’ this, given a lie detector test, would admit it was great mainly for the hot actresses.

Why did I bother with Happily in the first place? Joel McHale. I loved him for The Soup which he took over from Greg Kinnear and kicked it up a notch. I was also happy to see Al Madrigal former Daily Show correspondent who received only two minutes of screen time. Unfortunately, great comedians can’t salvage crappy writing. The only actress who impressed me in the cast was Natalie Morales, who plays a no nonsense alpha. The movie had a great premise: an overly happy married couple is suspected as weird or alien by all of their cynical and unhappily coupled friends. And from there is devolves into stupidity.

To Gen Xers and Millenialls: dark comedies are lazy. “Ooh let’s team laughter with bloody violence and mistreatment.” Guess what? NOT funny.

Go back to film school and see how to pair comedy with pathos (City Lights a great way to start). You wonder why society’s so angry? It’s because no one slows down enough to feel anything, hence, without being self-aware, folks walk around deprived of tough and real emotion (both love and hate).

Sometimes ya gotta go back to a French classic…Purple Noon, not a typo for Rain, but there could have been a raspberry beret

I’ll take a movie recommendation from anyone who says one of his favorites is Before the Devil Knows Your Dead…SOLD. so I took in a couple of lazy stay out of the melanoma hours of sun to watch Purple Noon, directed by Rene Clement. Yes, it was in French with subtitles, but good for the soul.
In French, but filmed gorgeously in Italy, Purple Noon stands the test of time 40 years later. The cinematography was off the charts and almost off the boat…I can’t believe there weren’t serious injuries filming the rough sea and mano a mano action. This movie required the stars to have tremendous agility and physicality.
As one of the original Mr. Ripley’s, Alain Delon is a combo Rob Lowe and Charlie Sheen (young healthy Charlie) with a crafted tanned six pack, who is/was a serious actor. Even nominated way back three years after this film for a Promising Newcomer Golden Globe in The Leopard. the other male in this greed triangle was Maurice Ronet who came to an early end at 55 of cancer, but fortunately made the most of his years by acting and marrying Charlie Chaplin’s daughter. The female part of the triad was played by Marie Laforet who reminded me so much of one of my former students it was eerie. She has a sad, ruminative face, and no doubt after you read about her traumatic upbringing.
Purple Noon held my attention to the bitter end and was worth the 3.99 amazon rental. I’ll never get to Italy, but felt like I ‘got the picture’ from the gorgeous fish market scene and wonderful historic buildings.

Rebecca, the Original 1940

In anticipation of watching the Armie Hammer remake, I had to first watch the original Rebecca from 1940, which is the only film Hitchcock ever won an Oscar (and this for film, not direction).
The 1940’s version starts Laurence Olivier as the oxymoronic man both aloof and temperamental. The character, at least portrayed here is a bit of a yawner, not compelling enough to elicit a response. Likewise, IMO, Joan Fontaine is also boring and mousey in character, hence again, evoking apathy rather than feeling. The characters with the most acting challenges and achievement were Judith Anderson and George Sanders*, the jealous chambermaid and Bedswerver respectively (thank you https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/7-obscure-words-for-cheating-and-infidelity). A fun runner up with a minor (but comedically shrewish) role is Florence Bates.
I will say for 1940, the cinematography is very realistic and impressive (George Barnes). The screenplay was also titillating enough to almost make it through the 2 and a half hours in one shot. And of course Hitchcock’s takes with photography were gorgeously done.
Fun actor/actress facts:
*George Sanders was married to two Gabor sisters; Zsa Zsa and Magda. And Joan Fontaine was the younger sister of Olivia de Havilland.
Joan was snubbed on the set by Oliver who wanted his then girlfriend Vivian Leigh to get the part. She was also snubbed by her sister at the Oscars after saying an unkind remark about Olivia’s husband.

The Parallax View’s 1974 Sage Advice for 2020

Coincidentally themed, Rashomon (1950) and The Parallax View (1974), a film I watched last night, both address how an object (in both films the object in question is a crime) can look different depending on the angle from which you view it. An not to sound too much like Mister Rogers, but, ‘Kids, isn’t that true of life as we know it?”

For instance, one angle of Covid19 is the profound tragedy, including the hundreds of thousands of deaths and vast financial ruin. YET, another viewpoint unfolds a necessary pause from a world spinning out of control, re-uniting families and friends to a more natural, non-material goods based relationships. Mature folks can hold on to both realities and take a breath realizing that beauty can be found even in our restricted lives. We breathe, we have water, food and electricity.

In The Parallax View, a Presidential candidate assassination spurs a reporter to uncover a conspiracy.

First and foremost, Gordon Willis (Oscar nominations for Zelig and The Godfather III) deserved huge credit for the cinematography. If you want a vicarious travel experience, watch this film. You get a trip to the Space Needle in Seattle, the Skagit River Gorge Dam, as well as the wonder of watching two colorful marching band scenes. Equally praise worthy are the trio of sound men [Dockendorf, Grenzbach (Oscar winner for Platoon) & Overton]. if your jaw doesn’t drop going from rushing rapids sound to absolute quiet, you’re not listening.

The acting is also topnotch: Warren Beatty, probably the most handsome man from the ’70’s, Hume Cronin, at a young 63 years of age, William Daniels (the Dad from The Graduate, still alive into his 90’s), and Paula Prentiss (also still kicking and still married to Richard Benjamin).

The story, originally from a novel by Buffalo born Loren Singer and was directed by Alan J. Pakula, (three time Oscar nominated for writing Sophie’s Choice, directing All the President’s Men and To Kill A Mockingbird).

Not sure which writer to blame for the last twenty minutes which slowed down to the same pace as the kiddie train ride Beatty takes to procure a fake i.d., but until then, The Parallax View is a thrilling ride of color and sound, with the added eye candy and panache of Beatty, Daniels and Cronin.

Rashomon (1950): I Know Nothing, How Invigorating!

I grew up a poor white child…ok, that’s take off on The Jerk, but seriously folks, I’ve got holes in my cinematography education since all my learning has been self-taught. So Covid 19 is a mighty fine time to study some greats of whom I am ignorant.

Kurasawa for Pete’s sake! I started with Rashomon at the direction of a movie guru friend. I feel stupid and relieved at the same time. After all, it is the Buddhist way to admit we really know nothing. This is good advice anytime but it’s especially appropriate as we become bombarded with increasingly venomous and often erroneous, if not entirely false, journalistic renderings.

In fact, I just got off the phone with someone who read the Cliff Notes of Hamlet. Man, was Hamlet a really mentally disturbed human being. Did you know he slept with his mother? This is an analogy of the Live Press Conference last night that someone read ‘highlights’ from. Folks, the truth is only what facts are put through your most objective brain. Do NOT let journalists tell you what is true. Nor politicians. Listen to the doctors who only know what science and data has shown them today. Tomorrow we will know even more. Have hope.

Back to the story/movie which spawned an effect called you guessed it, the Rashomon Effect which basically means that eyewitness testimony is not always objective. Coincidence? In the end, we must believe what we take away from the story. Whose story do I believe?

The bandit? portrayed by the great Toshiro Mifune (so I’ve heard, this is my second Kuroasawa). He obviously has a personal bias to stay out of jail. Hence, he did not rape the girl and felt quite despondent after killing her boyfriend.
The woman? She wants to save her pride and say she wanted to be killed.
The ghost/spirit of the deceased? (Noriko Honma plays the medium through which the deceased speaks in my favorite portion of the film) wishes to move on from purgatory and look noble.
The onlooker? Perhaps he (gorgeously poignant performance by Takashi Shimura) is most reliable having less at stake, yet even he hid facts due to a temptation he could not resist.

The onlooker’s attempt to right his wrong; intervene at the movie’s end instead of just look on, restores his young friend’s hope in humanity. Was this restoration due to: a. his friend’s remorse of stealing a dagger? b. his friend’s attempt to learn from previous mistake, consequently saving someone despite of it possibly backfiring? or c. because his attempts to care for another human when he has so little?

Or does that even matter? Restoration of faith and love for humanity is crucial. Anyone who tries to help and give hope is noble. Anyone who loves and claims to be ignorant of what’s ahead is also heroic. You only know what you see with your own two eyes. Avoid news and love yourself AND your neighbor. Talk positively and realistically. This is all we can hope to do.

The Graduate, a Wonder

Seeing The Graduate on the big screen today at Burns Court Theater was a delight. Despite the two chatty Kathy’s sitting behind me, “This is too much!” exclamations through the first third of the film, this film was So good that it shut them up! Miracles never cease.

I just wanted to mention a few details in the film that I appreciated:
Dustin Hoffman’s wet suit scene seemed so symbolic of him being the trained seal for his parents. They wanted him to do ‘tricks’ for them, as do many overzealous parents. Pool scenes have certainly had an impact in other more recent films as well, most notably Love & Mercy (Paul Dano!) and Booksmart (thank you Olivia Wilde).

Part of the pool charm was due to the cinematographer/director of photography’s name was Robert Suertees, a three time Oscar winner for Ben Hur, The Bad and the Beautiful and King Solomon’s Mines. He also did other great films such as The Last Picture Show.

Proof that a movie takes a team, Sound Department Maestro Jack Solomon (winner for the Oscar in Hello Dolly) was a genius in the same wet suit scene. We hear Dustin breathing, while seeing his parents mouth their excitement at his upcoming ‘stupid pet trick’.

Mike Nichols, winner of the Oscar as Best Director in this film, was a former comedic partner with Elaine May. In this film, he showed his comedic chops, along with Buck Henry (screenwriter’s Oscar nominee) in an s & m type of humor. We laugh, but understand the dramatic undertones as well.

The late 60’s and early 70’s was a hot bed for new contemporary comedy dramas and The Graduate certainly holds up over time.

My First Foray into Luis Bunuel: “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”

This offering was presented to me after an astute lady referenced Bunuel in comparison to Bong Joon Ho. I had heard Bunuel’s name certainly, but not his work. Thus I went for his winner of the 1973 Best Foreign Film, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”.

I like social and economic class satire (a recent book by Stephen Wright Processed Cheese was certainly a hoot) and thought Parasite was very thought provoking especially in its statement on space and housing. We know living in Sarasota that we have a disparity between multi-million dollar and multi home/condo owners and the homeless. Mixed in the middle are people living in the lower number streets and we middle classers sandwiched among what I’ll term, old, golden parachuters, along with the well kept widowed and divorced. types. Point being I’m always up for an undercover look.

Bunuel went further into the sociopolitical nature of wealth and mental health or lack thereof. What struck me most about the absurdist plot was the distractions faced by the three couples. The frenzied nature of dinner interruptions, coitus interruptus, and murder turned dream sequences had a prescient notion to our current technology laden distraction.

Besides that familiarity, and the old adage that wealth protects one from legal trouble, I did not feel this film was special or transcendent. Perhaps once I see his other nominated film The Obscure Object of Desire or Tristana, I will feel differently. Until then, adios and au revoir.

Over the Story Board Shuffle Limit: Little Women

I’m standing by my original review below, but do like the story of Little Women more now that I’ve learned some context. I didn’t grow up with reading this story and now understand the narrative is part of many family’s (especially New Englanders) tradition. Having said that though, the film lover in me still had problems.

Dear Greta,

I’m sorry I didn’t love “Little Women”, I wanted to, trust me.

I’ll be positive first: Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet should be in every movie you ever do. When they are on screen, I’m in hook, line and sinker.

Beyond them, though, your film was too bloated and yes, by that I mean probably the original was, too. Leave Chris Cooper (an acting God), Meryl as well, but ix nay all the others. And come on, you’ve been an innovator before and The Favourite should have given you courage that old stories can be modernized. The cloying speech of the 1800’s just sounds silly coming out of Laura Dern’s mouth.

The flashbacks were way too numerous and you needn’t bother showing us someone almost dying if you’ve already showed us later times when the character survived. I also don’t need to see schmaltzy dance and play scenes that are self-congratulatory in a look how cute we all are.

The biggest sin was a pivotal scene near the end between Saoirse and Timothee, when the camera could not sit still on Timothee. What’s up with that? The bouncing stole some of the crucial and worthy emotion Mr. Chalamet does so well.

And everyone loooved the ending. Oh really? So we want women to sell out and marry which is exactly what Jo was against?

I enjoyed and appreciated Jo’s argument of needing to be loved more than feeling love, but I guess as soon as her intellectual equal came back to town, she found her heart. Ironically, I cancelled a second date due to being easily spooked combined with men in their enthusiasm who overly complicate or use high pressure sales.

Oh how I yearn for the oxymoron, a complex man who doesn’t need to say too much. The cherry on top of a frustrating film and my disappointing date dissolution (I was as disappointed in myself as I was at him) was the phone ringing and for me to find one of the men for whom I have the utmost regard (unfortunately he’s married and states away). Even with those obstacles, my fun conversation with him made my afternoon. I almost felt like Saoirse when Louis Garrel knocks on the door.

Still Hot After All These Years: McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Vertigo

Consider this review a ‘cleanse the palate course’ after the Oscars (which I thoroughly enjoyed and was pleased about) and the new movie season.

Two films I saw last week were McCabe and Mrs. Miller at my very close confidant’s big screen and then Vertigo on an even bigger screen at the hip Sarasota Cinmeatechue space.

And while they were made 13 years apart (1971 and 1958 respectively), they do have commonalities. First, both directors (Robert Altman/Alfred Hitchcock) while nominated, never received an Oscar.

Perhaps another similarity and larger slight is that neither cinematographer even received an Oscar nomination for these films. Vilmos Zsigmond DID win for Close Encounters, yet in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, I was mesmerized by the snowy landscape and the ending scene with Warren Beatty becoming one with the snow. Pure fascination!

Likewise, in Vertigo, I was transfixed by the camera angles. And yes, I realize a lot of this was ‘Hitch’, but Robert Burks must have had something to do with it as well. Another gripping scene (pun intended and not) came at the film’s end, as Jimmy Stewart, way out of his good guy type casting, man handles Kim Novak up the stairs of the mission to recreate the crime. Even more orgasmically suspenseful is the creepy black shrouded nun at the top of the stairs. Watching this, I totally forgot the creation’s year was 1958, the suspense felt new.

Both films also built the physical and romantic desire to titillating heights. In McCabe and Mrs. Miller, we witness Warren Beatty spellbound by Julie Christie’s voracious appetite, his mutterings of how enervating she is (yet his angst proof that he loves her) and her imploring that he settle affairs or at least seek safe shelter. In Vertigo, Kim Novak utters the sultry film noiresque line, “One person can wander around, but two people doing that are going places.” Hummina, hummina.

So if you’ve got nothing to do, wander over to your tv and rent one of these classic beauties. Or if you’re on a date that’s ‘going places’, both McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Vertigo are pretty darn good foreplay.

Confessions of a 55 Year Old (Classic Movie) Virgin

Ok Ok, I confess. I had never seen Citizen Kane before last night’s showing at Sarasota Film Society’s Cinematheque.

(A quick aside, why the heck isn’t Sarasota Cinematheque packed with Ringling College Film Majors? You’re missing out! Giant screen, great sound, hipster vibe, talk back op…Get over to 500 Tallevast Road on Saturday nights!)

Ok, back to my confession…Much like my virginal metaphor, I had seen the Citizen Kane trailer plenty of times and only noticed some old guy ranting…and hence thought, won’t this be painful? Isn’t it overrated?

But alas, the movie truly is an orgasmic masterpiece. Like my English teacher literary equivalent I tout almost weekly (Ray Bradbury‘s 1959 prescient Fahrenheit 451), Citizen Kane for 1941 is the gold standard for universal storytelling; hoarding to fill emotional needs, the replay of familial cyclical dysfunction (CK’s dad abused him, he then neglects his own son), man’s weakness to infidelity and subsequent political downfalls, the corruption of wealth and power. It’s all there in under 2 hours.

Besides my awe of having missed this for more than half my life, my main takeaways were: Orson Welles (genius, of course, both acting and in storytelling), Joseph Cotton (funniest in the film, especially the nursing home scene where he was trying to remember the name of a place and said a long list ending with Sloppy Joe’s) and the cinematography of doors and windows, shadow, smoke, and in the end, fire. The women in the film, notably three: mother (Agnes Moorehead) and two wives (Ruth Warrick-wow I watched All My Children for years and never knew, and Dorothy Comingore) were all extremely well performed, both due to the writing (strong women for their day) and in believable portraits of women in angst of different varieties.

I couldn’t help notice a strong resemblance of Orson Welles and Leonardo DeCaprio and also how The Wolf on Wall Street seemed to copy Citizen Kane in its mania of wealth gone wild. This is especially seen in the scene where CK acquires the writers from a competing newspaper and gets up to do a number with dancing girls. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that The Wolf on Wall Street or Leonardo is better than CK, just that there is a strong physical and timing resemblance. Surely Scorsese had to have Citizen Kane dreams while filming Wolf.

So, I’m glad I pulled a Tim Tebow and waited because now I know why the film Citizen Kane has been rated the number one movie in American Film history and is far better than Gone With the Wind and Vertigo due to its universal themes and artistic quality.