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February 28, 2008

Be Kind Rewind

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Michel Gondry - 2008
New Line Cinema 35mm Film

It took almost three months to get me back into a mainstream multiplex. Michel Gondry is one of the more idiosyncratic filmmakers to get a wide release which was my main incentive. And now that I've seen his new film, I'm not sure what Be Kind Rewind is really about in any clear, concise way. What did strike me as interesting was the presentation of a multi-culti America, as well as one that embraced people people of differing generations.

Erich Kuersten at Bright Lights After Dark has already written primarily about the relationship of the male characters portrayed by Jack Black, Mos Def and Danny Glover. Gondry has also chosen to have as his lead female character, Melonia Diaz. There is a quote attributed to Marcel Proust, "Let us leave pretty women to men devoid of imagination." Which is not to say that Diaz is unattractive, but that this round faced, dark eyed young woman should serve as a reminder that lead actresses needn't come from the same cookie cutter. As Alma, the "actress" enlisted to star in the movie remakes, she not only becomes the brains of the group, but maintains her own independence, neither deferring to the men, nor becoming a girl friend or sex object. I had to look up Diaz' filmography to realize I had seen her previously in Raising Victor Vargas.

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And then there is Mia Farrow. Here's proof that she can be quite funny without Woody Allen at the helm. Farrow plays an older woman who's sharper than she is perceived to be, and the one who acts as the catalyst for Jack Black and Mos Def's filmmaking excursions into "Sweded" movies. After seeing some of the videos, one may wish that Michel Gondry remade almost every Hollywood movie from the past twenty-five years. His Ghostbusters with its home-made special effects made me laugh much more than the original. Jack Black may also be noted for starring in Peter Jackson's King Kong, and a second time playing the title role in one of the several film excepts shown.

King Kong sized mythology is part of what Be Kind Rewind explores. The claim that Fats Waller was born in Passaic, New Jersey is false. What informs Gondry's film is a generosity of spirit towards the kind of people usually marginalized in mainstream films. That their sweded films will never be as "good" as Hollywood product is besides the point. It is Gondry's love of his characters that reveals the true size of his imagination.

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Posted by peter at 12:28 AM | Comments (4)

February 26, 2008

The Arrangement

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Elia Kazan - 1969
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

It may sound morbid, but one of my favorite parts of watching the Academy Awards has been the in memoriam tribute to the deceased actors and crafts people of the past year. What never fails to happen is that I will see a clip from some film and wonder why I'm not watching a good, if not great, classic film, instead of complaining about the seemingly endless boredom of the Oscar show. Not having cable, or even on-air television at this time may have proven to be a good thing for me. I had my own in memoriam tribute by watching a film starring Deborah Kerr.

I didn't see The Arrangement when it was originally released. At the time I was put off by the generally negative reviews, plus Andrew Sarris' designation of Elia Kazan in "Less than meets the Eye" in his "American Cinema". In retrospect, at least for myself, it was better to see The Arrangement after having greater familiarity with Kazan's career, and seeing most of his films. Some to the stylization of The Arrangement makes the film visually unlike Kazan's other work, although there are also moments that are echos of his work on stage. There are elements of autobiography in the film which was based on Kazan's novel. I haven't read the novel, or Kazan's massive autobiography, but the film The Arrangement is the work of someone who felt the deep need to prove themselves still relevant at a time when a new generation of filmmakers were making themselves known.

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Kirk Douglas portrays Kazan's alter-ego, Eddie Anderson, an advertising executive who wants to chuck all of the trappings of an affluent lifestyle in favor of his original goal of being a writer. Following a failed suicide attempt, Anderson attempts to face his past and figure out his future. Kerr is the seemingly perfect wife, Florence, whose life is wrapped up in her husband living a life of material success. Faye Dunaway is the girl friend, Gwen, who may not always want to be with Anderson, but encourages him to confront truths about himself. Parts of the film are flashbacks of Anderson remembering parts of his past life. One very theatrical device is shots of Douglas seen with his younger self and his parents, something that may remind some of Wild Strawberries, but also recalls Kazan's stage work with Arthur Miller. There are also scenes of Anderson past and present, in conversation. The advertising executive Anderson is easily recognizable by his mustache which makes Douglas resemble a cheerier version of his similar appearance as a gangster boss in The Brotherhood, released the previous year.

The Arrangement seems to have anticipated Kazan's own filmmaking career. Just as his character of Eddie Anderson leaves behind his "successful" life, Kazan's next film was also his first to be made outside of the Hollywood mainstream, the low budget The Visitors. While trying to stretch himself as an artist is a worthy goal, some of the stylization of The Arrangement should have been resisted, especially a scene with Douglas imagining himself in a fight with another of Dunaway's suitor, punctuated with the kind of comic book title cards better associated with the "Batman" television series that had already fallen out of favor. More effective is when Anderson talks about his uncle and we briefly see a clip from Kazan's most personal film, America, America (still overdue a DVD release). The Arrangement offers an interesting little time capsule of when major stars took advantage of the new ratings system with on-screen nudity for Douglas, Dunaway and, yes, Miss Kerr. In his own autobiography, Douglas stated, "I enjoyed doing the picture . . Kazan was trying to do something different, bold, go inside the head of my character in all his confusion over his career, his women, his father, his life. Screening of the picture drew mixed reactions. In the editing, Kazan changed the ending. I felt that he hadn't made the movie that was based on his book, the movie that he had shot." What may be the most troubling aspect of The Arrangement is this indication that Kazan himself compromised his own story about authenticity and integrity, neither trusting his audience nor himself.

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Posted by peter at 01:46 PM | Comments (1)

February 24, 2008

Coffee Break

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Jack Lemmon and Patricia Smith in Save the Tiger (John G. Avildsen - 1973)

Posted by peter at 08:55 AM | Comments (1)

February 23, 2008

Coffee Break

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Maria de Medeiros and Javier Bardem in Golden Balls (Bigas Luna - 1993)

My internet is down. I hope to post more fully on Tuesday.

Posted by peter at 07:49 AM

February 20, 2008

Ugly Me

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Pretendiendo
Claudio Dabed - 2006
Arcangelo Entertainment 35mm Film

I liked that a film from generally ignored Chile was getting a theatrical release in the United States. The only time I had seen a true Chilean produced film was El Chacal de Nahueltoro, over thirty-five years ago, for a class on Third World Cinema. That film is a work worthy of revival, and based on a true story, presents a solid argument against the death penalty. Ugly Me, a lousy title for a somewhat untranslatable word, has less lofty goals. If the goal is to satirize the culture of machismo, and how women are perceived, the film fails in all sorts of ways. On the positive side, Ugly Me provides an introduction of Barbara Mori to a potentially wider audience.

Starting off in the ultra-modern Santiago, Mori's character, Amanda, is introduced by filmmaker Dabed as the sum of her parts with shots of her legs, breasts and rear in a tight fitting blouse and short skirt. The accidental cell phone transmission informs her that her boy friend is having an affair with her best friend. Amanda's response is to show up with a shot gun, blowing off the front door lock and frightening the lovers. When asked by a prison psychiatrist how she feels about her criminal act, she expresses a sense of satisfaction. Amanda soon returns to her job at an architectural firm where she finds that she's taking the fall for business decisions she opposed, that cost the firm. Amanda decides to start in a new life in Valparaiso, disguising herself to make herself look unattractive with extra padding and false teeth, vowing never to fall in love again.

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Amanda finds herself working for a small architectural firm where she wows the boss with her innovative solutions. Her co-workers are the office nerd, the hottie, and the stud. And here is where the film falls apart. The actor who plays ladies' man Marcelo, Marcelo Mazzarello, hardly looks the part. The film never bothers to clarify if Marcelo is totally pretending about his way with women, and gives little reason why either Amanda or any other woman would want to be with him. Even worse, while the film gives lip service to the idea of looking beyond the physical appearance of people, it ends up as an endorsement for traditional relationships with the guy marrying the smarter, more attractive woman.

I wouldn't be surprised if an English language remake was already in the works. Consider that Nicole Kidman gets an Academy Award for a fake nose. Barbara Mori's transformation isn't quite going into Eddie Murphy territory, but by comparison, it's very close. With her extra padding, bad teeth, wig, and dowdy clothing, Mori's character isn't really ugly. I'm not sure if average is the right word either. Still, the message is lost that beauty is not restricted to conventionally attractive women. Ultimately, Ugly Me has little to say, and doesn't seem to have even the courage of it's feeble convictions.

Posted by peter at 07:37 PM | Comments (2)

February 18, 2008

The Gnome-Mobile

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Robert Stevenson - 1967
Disney Region 1 DVD

This is where my curiosity takes me . . . I checked the IMDb listing for Upton Sinclair. I had wondered if there were any earlier film versions of Oil! that had since been forgotten. What caught my eye was seeing that the last time there was a film version of any Sinclair novel, it was one made by Walt Disney. I was unaware that Sinclair wrote a children's book, titled The Gno-mobile. Even more surprising, given that they were politically opposite, is that Disney made the film. Sinclair was primarily a socialist, with writings critical of big business. Disney, the capitalist son of socialists even had a kingdom named after himself. The Gnome-Mobile was first released in July 1967, almost half a year after Disney's death. It would have been interesting to know if Sinclair had seen the film and what his reaction had been.

To some extent, Sinclair's allegory is recognizable. The head of a conglomerate, D. J. Mulrooney, is introduced as having made his original fortune with lumbar. Taking time to go on a road trip with his two grandchildren, they stop for a picnic in one of the forests areas that he owns. The trio discover two gnomes, young man Jasper, and his grandfather, Knobby. The Mulrooneys learn that the colony of gnomes living in the area were almost all driven out by the tree harvesting by D. J. Mulrooney. A decision is made to help the gnomes find another colony to join, which will allow Jasper to marry a gnome bride. While on the road, the group encounters Horatio Quaxton, who hopes to feature the gnomes with his traveling freak show. D. J. Mulrooney is temporarily held prisoner in a psychiatric facility. There also are some talking animals who discuss with the gnomes whether the humans are to be trusted. I can't be totally certain as I haven't read Sinclair's book, but I would guess there was some kind of message concerning ecology, responsibility to nature, and consideration to indigenous people that pretty much gets forgotten by the end of the film. More attention seems to have been devoted to the female gnomes Tinker Belle style costumes, and the male gnomes ghetto fabulous pimp hats.

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I vaguely recall part of an interview with Howard Hawks where Walter Brennan offered to play a part with or without teeth. Hawks decided Brennan was much funnier without teeth. In The Gnome-Mobile, Brennan plays Mulrooney with teeth and Knobby without teeth. He's not very funny either way. As Knobby, Brennan is simply cantankerous rather than cantankerous and endearing as he was in Rio Bravo. Likewise, the character of D. J. Mulrooney could have potentially been a friendlier, more successful version of the sly entrepreneur, Old Atrocity, in Barbary Coast. Better are the smaller roles, such as Sean McClory as Quaxton, in a part same seemed intended for Jack Carson. The two have some physical resemblance, and Carson was virtually typecast as the guy who was always selling something to somebody. Two refugees from "Green Acres", Frank Cady and Alvy Moore, provide seconds of pleasure. Perennial punching bag Richard Deacon and Ed Wynn, in his final performance, are virtually wasted. It may be that Robert Stevenson knew all along that he could never repeat the success of Mary Poppins, or that being house director for Walt Disney had simply taken a toll on his energy.

For Oscar prognosticators, they should consider how film adaptations of Upton Sinclair's novels might not have won Academy Awards, but have attracted Oscar winning talent. The Wet Parade was directed by future winner Victor Fleming, and featured Walter Huston. While Robert Stevenson had to content himself with a nomination for Mary Poppins, Walter Brennan had bragging rights to three wins compared to one solitary Oscar (so far) for Daniel Day-Lewis. Is that enough reason to see The Gnome-Mobile? Not really. But it does provide an amusing footnote, and a reminder as to why the Oscars should never be taken too seriously.

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Posted by peter at 12:06 AM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2008

Coffee Break

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Edwige Fenech in Strip Nude for Your Killer (Andrea Bianchi - 1975)

Posted by peter at 12:49 AM

February 15, 2008

Shrooms

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Paddy Breathnach - 2006
Magnet Releasing 35mm Film

My only time seeing a film previously by Paddy Breathnach was Blow Dry a fun little romp about hair stylists in love and in competition. Shrooms is a fun little romp as well, but also creepy and unnerving as times, as it should be. To the casual observer, this may be yet another kids lost in the woods horror tale that gained a modicum of critical respect with The Blair Witch Project. Shrooms may not be totally original either, but Breathnach and writer Pearse Elliott know enough to flash just enough of their smarts, and let the conventions of the genre do the rest of the work.

I am sort of surprised no one seems to have thought of the film's basic premise, which could have been suggested by Roger Corman's The Trip. Five friends from college join a fellow student, Jake, from Ireland on a tour of his native patch. The six are to spend the weekend in a heavily wooded area famous for its hallucinogenic mushrooms. Jake warns the others not to ingest a mushroom with a black bump, noting that if it doesn't kill you, it causes extreme hallucinations that cannot be distinguished from reality. It's the shy little blonde, Tara, who stumbles upon the deadly mushrooms and eats one of the potent fungi. When not having brief seizures, Tara has violent visions. The six are fueled by the drugs, local legends, and growing mistrust of each other.

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There is one giggle of a mention of Carlos Castaneda, but no one is seeking enlightenment here. The kids are sketched in just enough to tell one from the other. What Shrooms primarily offers is visceral thrills, slipping enough between dreams and reality to keep the viewer on edge. Breathnach doesn't dwell on the gore, and the ghosts and other creatures are seen just briefly enough to be unsettling. Running at under ninety minutes, the film doesn't waste time with unneeded exposition, and concludes with and ending that, while not entirely surprising, brings that madness to a satisfying conclusion. Shrooms may not be an entirely cautionary tale about drugs, but at least the filmmakers are no dopes.

Posted by peter at 06:59 AM | Comments (1)

February 14, 2008

Happy Valentines Day!

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Cole Pennsinger and Anna Kavan in Dance Party, USA (Aaron Katz - 2006)

Posted by peter at 07:40 AM

February 13, 2008

Kon Ichikawa: 1915 - 2008

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For most Western viewers of Japanese films, Kon Ichikawa stood in the shadow of his peer, Akira Kurosawa. Only a small handful of his films are readily available on tape or DVD with English subtitles. With directorial credits spanning an amazing sixty years, I would hope that more films would be made available.

What is generally considered his best film, An Actor's Revenge is currently only on letterboxed VHS in the U.S. What is striking is the gleeful audacity of having baby faced Kazuo Hasegawa appearing as a Tokugawa Period female impersonator through the entire film, romantically pursued by Ayako Wakao and Fujiko Yamamoto. Hasegawa's voice and mannerisms are feminine until the time comes to defend himself. The sword fighting scene takes place in a staged setting, filmed reality giving way to a theatricality that draws attention to itself. The visual incongruity works as a counterpoint to a story about the title character, whose theatrical image conflicts with his sense of self.

This examination of private and public personas is part of The Burmese Harp. At the end of World War II, a Japanese soldier pretends to be a Buddhist monk for survival, only to eventually adapt that way of life. Ichikawa's career was varied to include both adaptations of novels by Junichiro Tanizaki and Yukio Mishima, as well as documenting the 1964 Olympics, and making a film starring the mouse puppet Toppo Gigio.

Discussing what was regarded as his stylistic inconsistency with Joan Mellen in the book, Voices from the Japanese Cinema, Ichikawa noted about his films: "I think each should differ according to what is being expressed. I am Ichikawa and no one else, even when I try to change the style according to the theme there is always some some similarity from one film to the next."

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Posted by peter at 09:59 AM | Comments (2)

February 12, 2008

Invisible Waves

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Pen-Ek Ratanaruang - 2006
Panorama Entertainment Region 3 DVD

It has become more clear that the Oscar category of Best Foreign Language Film needs to be reconsidered. What good intentions inspired the recognition of films from beyond Hollywood is now muddled by international co-productions, official choices over critical choices, and the decisions made by a small group within the Academy. While the Academy could be commended for embracing Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, others such as Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci had to wait until they made English language films to get any recognition. If being considered the best film in your own country was enough, than a film like Savage Nights should have been a nominee as well.

That the primary or sole language spoken in the film is that of the particular country is becoming more problematic. The original nominee from Israel, The Band's Visit was considered to have had too much English. Conversely, and perhaps perversely, I have to ask if Spanish should be considered a foreign language within the United States. Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 was a pan-Asian film with the different actors speaking the language of their respective countries, even to each other. Invisible Waves flips that around with the characters primarily speaking English. For a brief while, the film was Thailand's nominee for Best Foreign Language Film even though there is hardly any Thai spoken.

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Pen-Ek's film is about a Japanese chef in Macau, who is also the lover of his boss's wife. Sent on a cruise to Phuket by his boss, the chef, Kyoji, finds himself literally adrift, where he meets one of the few passengers, Noi, a woman with her own secrets. As in Last Life in the Universe, not all of the characters are who they claim to be. With the notable exception of a scene taking place in the boss's home, the settings for Invisible Waves are ramshackle, if not simply shabby. A major part of the film takes place on the decrepit boat. Whether battling an errant shower head, or a folding bed that won't stay down, Kyoji seems to be waging a losing war against the mechanical world. The deadpan humor of the sequence is reminiscent of a Jim Jarmusch character lost in the world envisioned by Jacques Tati.

Invisible Waves was written by Prabda Yoon who had also written Last Life in the Universe. Both films also had Tadanobu Asano as the lead character. In the latter film, some of the same ideas of identity are explored, but the narrative is stripped down, rendering the film more abstract and elliptical. Some of the more dramatic events are off screen, heard but not seen, or barely suggested by one or two quick shots. Adding to the effect of abstraction is that all of the settings are depopulated. Spaces may be cluttered with things, but there are very few people.

With a cast including the Korean Kang Hye-Jeong and Hong Kong mainstay Eric Tsang, whatever interest there is in Thailand or Thai identity is incidental to Invisible Waves. I had to wonder if the Thai committee responsible for making the film the official entry last year had actually seen the film or had based their decision on Pen-Ek's reputation with three previous entries. The replacement entry, Ahimsa: Stop to Run, is almost as unconventional in its story about a young man encountering karma in the form of a guy in a red track suit. What makes this choice stranger is that the film was released in Thailand in 2005. Pen-Ek wasn't considered for this year's Oscar race as Ploy was almost banned in Thailand due to sexual content. Those who have some awareness of Thai film were the least surprised that Chatrichalerm Yukol would have his film chosen to represent Thailand. Aside from being more traditional, the story about King Naresuan is a celebration about Thai identity. Additionally, Prince Chatri is a member of the Thai royal family which explains why the release of his two films on Naresuan were considered national events. When some film critics ask why certain films are anointed for Oscar consideration, it is not that the waves are invisible, but that closer observation is required.

Posted by peter at 12:37 PM | Comments (3)

February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider: 1932 - 2008

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All That Jazz (Bob Fosse - 1979)

Posted by peter at 01:41 AM | Comments (2)

February 10, 2008

Coffee Break

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Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger in Twelve O'Clock High (Henry King - 1949)

Posted by peter at 12:29 AM

February 09, 2008

Golden Balls

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Huevos de Oro
Bigas Luna - 1993
Lolafilms Region 1 DVD

With Javier Bardem receiving a slew of awards lately, it's a good time to look at his earlier work. Certainly the title of this film should be enough to elicit notice. Bardem has typically portrayed characters who are generally self-assured, and it does not take much to imagine what the title means. Bigas Luna makes certain that the viewer gets the, er, point of the film with a plethora of phallic imagery.

Golden Balls moves into unexpected directions as a film about a man whose sexual and professional identities are firmly connected. The symbolic aspects of the film are obvious. Bigas Luna isn't stating anything profound about Spanish machismo, or perhaps male identity in general. The strength of the film in the close-ups of lips, hands, shoes floating in a pool, a stopped Rolex, and ants exploring the human body. While Bardem's character speaks frequently about his admiration for Salvador Dali, and copies of his paintings are seen in his house, it is the images of the ants that brings to mind similar images from Un Chien Andalou.

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Bardem's Benito Gonzalez is convinced he can bluff his way into the construction business, with the the Spain's tallest building, in other words, a very big erection. Benito charms a model, Claudia, into his life, eventually keeping her as his mistress after marrying a prominent banker's daughter, Marta. For a brief period, Benito appears to have achieved his dreams. Where the story takes it turn from the comic is when the images of success collapse.

Unlike a film with a similar plot from an Anglo-American filmmaker, there is no shyness regarding the sexual aspects of Golden Balls. As Claudia, Maribel Verdu is first seen dancing on a table, her feet between large plates of paella. Even Maria de Medeiros, as Marta, eventually sheds her clothes and her demure manner. Even when Benito achieves his fantasy of having the two women at once, Luna lets us know that once Marta and Claudia discover each other, no one else is necessary. (It may be coincidental, but Woody Allen may be borrowing a page or two from Luna. Allen's new film shot in Spain stars Bardem involved in a menage a trois with two women who have their own relationship. One of the women is played by Penelope Cruz who gained international exposure starring with Bardem in Luna's Jamon, Jamon. Oscar watchers may want to note that Golden Balls features an early performance by future winner Benicio Del Toro.)

Based on his involvement with other artistic projects, the more obvious aspects of Golden Balls may say less about Luna's own sophistication than his desire to reach a mass audience. The scant information in English about Luna indicates that there is much more to explore beyond his films. It should be noted, for those with even less knowledge of Spanish than myself, that the title translates as "Eggs of Gold". And eggs appear throughout the film. It is a more apt metaphor for masculinity as well as slang for part of male anatomy. For Luna, men ultimately a like eggs - hard on the outside, soft inside, and unless handled carefully, quite fragile.

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Posted by peter at 12:37 AM

February 07, 2008

Summer Palace

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Yihe Yuan
Lou Ye - 2006
Palm Pictures 35mm Film

I had written about two earlier films by Lou Ye about a year and a half ago, when reports were published of Lou's ban from filmmaking due to his use of footage from the Tiananmen Square student strike. Some of what I wrote then still applies to Summer Palace. Even more so than Godard's imagined students of the Sixties, Lou's characters are the true children of Marx and Coca-Cola. Even though Summer Palace takes place primarily in China, covering events from the late 1980s on, the film has the feel of a classic French New Wave story. There is a sense of exhilaration with the students away from home, creating their own society in the dorms, trying to make sense of this new freedom in their lives. The connection with the French New Wave is cemented with a brief clip, seen in the background, of Jean-Pierre Leaud running on the beach in The 400 Blows.

The Tiananmen Square strike in only one small part of the film, and is almost incidental to the Lou's characters. Lou spoke about the film an an interview at the time his ban from filmmaking was announced. Two of the students expelled from the university are the best friend and former lover of the main character, Lu Hong. It is not political activities that get the students in trouble, but being caught making love in a dorm room. The characters are not so much affected by the various political shifts in China and Germany as much as those changes are used to counterpoint the characters own changing relationships.

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Lou makes use of pop music as he had done previously. One of the scenes that is the most fun is of the students getting together for a dance, in which Yu Hong meets the student who would become her lover while the two are in Beijing. For some reason, one of the songs everyone dances to is Seven Little Girls, a novelty hit from 1959. Was this then almost thirty year old song popular in China in the late Eighties? Was there any other reason why Lou chose this song? If the lyrics offer any kind of clue, it may be that what goes on in the world is less important than the the physical and emotional connections that bring people together.

Posted by peter at 12:42 AM | Comments (3)

February 05, 2008

Random Harvest

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Mervyn LeRoy - 1942
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

Random Harvest managed to worm its way into my heart. This in spite of the many preposterous plot points that defy even minimal common sense. Even when you know that, of course, Ronald Colman and Greer Garson are going to end up together, finally, after so many travails, the film zips ahead leaving logic far behind. Next to the more famous film from the more famous James Hilton novel, Random Harvest makes Lost Horizon seem more believable.

Instead of escaping to Shangri-La, Ronald Colman escapes into his own head. A shell shocked British World War I veteran, suffering from amnesia, Colman finds his way out of the asylum and onto the streets where he is picked up by showgirl Greer Garson. Garson whisks Colman away to the country in an attempt to cure him. The two get married, have a child, and Colman begins a career as a writer. Just when everyone is happy, a traumatic experience causes Colman to regain his memory, but temporarily lose Garson.

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If that's not enough, there is an extraordinary sub-plot involving Colman and Susan Peters. First introduced as a girl of Fifteen, Peters decides at first sight that the much older Colman is the man for her. The young girl and the older man is a favorite Hollywood staple, yet there is a patina of unhealthiness in Peters' determination. That a man like Colman would show a more active interest in Peters would not be thinkable in a 1940s MGM production, but the thought occurred to me that had the opportunity been available, Ronald Colman might have made an interesting Humbert Humbert.

At this time of discussion of Academy Award winners, past and future, Random Harvest may be seen as bolstering the argument that the losing films are often more fun to watch then the winning films. Greer Garson was essentially competing against herself, with Random Harvest losing every nomination to the more serious minded Mrs. Miniver.

Random Harvest persists in the memory due to a scene that is unnecessary, and pads the running time to over two hours. To call Garson's performance of a song called "She's Ma Daisy" as musical number may be something of a stretch. Garson's singing voice, assuming she wasn't dubbed, is passable. Whatever it is she's doing on stage can't really be called dancing even though there is some evidence that choreography was involved. Garson's performance during those few minutes is a much needed antidote to those overly dignified appearances in most of her other films. Maybe it's just the legs and that very short kilt. For those few minutes, Greer Garson gives new meaning to the idea of a highland fling.

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Posted by peter at 12:27 AM | Comments (1)

February 03, 2008

Coffee Break

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Brenda Sykes and Jim Brown in Black Gunn (Robert Hartford-Davis - 1972)

Posted by peter at 12:03 AM

February 01, 2008

The Burt Reynolds Blog-a-thon: 100 Rifles

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Tom Gries - 1969
20th Century-Fox Region 1 DVD

Blog-a-thon host, Larry Aydlette, had a poll regarding the favorite actress to star opposite Burt Reynolds. As good as these leading ladies may be, none of them have the pure sex appeal of Soledad Miranda. It is those few minutes of Burt and Soledad that provide the high point of 100 Rifles. Even the presence of Raquel Welch is less charged than that of the woman whose character is named "girl in the hotel". In her only English language film, Miranda was probably seen by more people than in any other film before, or after. 100 Rifles was released the year before Miranda became the muse for Jesus Franco, a productive period that ended prematurely with Miranda's death in an auto accident in August 1970.

But this blog-a-thon is dedicated to Burt Reynolds, after all. 100 Rifles is notable for being the third billed Reynold's first appearance in a film produced by a major studio. Prior to this film, Reynolds was primarily known for almost a decades worth of television appearances, notably a supporting role in "Gunsmoke", as well as his short-lived detective series, "Hawk". Reynold's previous film role was starring in Sergio Corbucci's Navajo Joe as the title character, two years earlier. Now Reynolds was back playing another part Indian character, Yaqui Joe.

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Yaqui Joe describes himself as the son of a Yaqui Indian mother and a father from Alabama. Reynolds plays him for most of the film as the good ol' boy he would perfect in such films as Gator, White Lightning and Smokey and the Bandit. This is classic Burt, with the infectious laugh and the self-effacing humor. 100 Rifles may be considered significant in providing the origin of one of Reynolds' more enduring relationships, with stunt man Hal Needham, who eventually directed Reynolds almost ten years later in some of their best (Hooper and worst Cannonball Run II) films as a team.

Yaqui Joe is wanted for robbing a bank in Arizona. The money was used to buy the 100 rifles on behalf of rebelling Yaqui Indians. Joe is being chased in Mexico by a part-time sheriff named Lyedecker, played by Jim Brown. The Indians are being oppressed by an evil Mexican general portrayed by Fernando Lamas. The audience is set up to hate Lamas and his army because in the first scene of 100 Rifles, they hang Raquel Welch's father. In case anyone misses the point on how evil Lamas is, his German military advisor suggests genocide for dealing with the Indians, giving the audience a proto-Nazi to hiss at as well. Lamas steals the cache of rifles. Reynolds, Brown and Welch steal them back. There is also some back and forth business with railroad magnate Dan O'Herlihy who is willing to do business with almost everyone.

Considering some of the talent involved, it's a wonder that 100 Rifles wasn't a better movie. Having no familiarity with the source novel by Robert MacLeod, I can only observe that the character of Yaqui Joe and the concern about Indians rights thematically fits with the other works of co-screenwriter Clair Huffaker. Co-writer and director, Tom Gries had previously made that critically acclaimed, but little seen Will Penny the previous year. Huffaker also wrote Rio Conchos, the film that served as Jim Brown's film debut. It should be noted that the DVD release is a PG version of a film originally rated R. As I haven't seen the film in over thirty years, I can not say exactly what all the alterations are, although there is some obvious doodling with inaudible or muffled dialogue. One can see Reynolds lips move while uttering a bon mot after a priest is killed. 100 Rifles will never be considered a classic, but Fox's tampering of the film is questionable, disallowing this curio to speak for itself.

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Posted by peter at 12:18 AM | Comments (5)