Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dark Victory

Early on in Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory, socialite Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) has a horse riding accident but suffers no serious injury. However, she admits to having headaches for several months. She receives grim news from Dr. Steele (George Brent): she has a brain tumor.

In a stark contrast to some of Davis' other roles, Judith is noticeably more upbeat than, say, Margo Channing or Mildred Rogers. It's partly because of her gaining a new lease on life but it's also a way to cope with the fact that she's dying. (People react to bad news in different ways after all.)

Even after over seventy years, Dark Victory hasn't lost much of its emotional impact. (That's more than can be said about other films released the same year.) Very rarely does melodrama stand up after all these years. (Even Douglas Sirk's films haven't stood up to the test of time in their entirety.)

Dark Victory also contains one of the ten performances that earned Davis an Oscar nomination. It doesn't take much to see why. Here, Davis continues to prove why she's one of the greats of Hollywood's Golden Age. (Goulding supposedly had Davis channel her distress over her personal life into her performance.)

Dark Victory shows its age in some scenes but overall it remains solid. Thanks to the work from Davis, the film has a brisk delicacy not often seen nowadays. (Sometimes you just can't beat the classics.)

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Guest

Adam Wingard's The Guest is clearly influenced by films of the late 70s and early 80s, Wingard's editing in some scenes is reminiscent of similar scenes from action films. A few of the music cues sound almost like the infamous theme from Halloween. In fact, were it not for a few props, it would look like a film from that time period.

Adding to the homages, The Guest behaves like a film from the era. Robby Baumgartner's cinematography sports a muted palette. The characters are openly flawed, much like those found in films of the then-new Hollywood movement. Not very often do you see a film paying tribute to a particular era of a genre.

And even with the various homages, The Guest knows how to stand on its own. It's a film that starts on relatively normal terms but slowly shifts into something far more disturbing. (To be honest, those are the best kind of films.)

At the center of The Guest is Dan Stevens. He seems quiet and polite but beneath those piercing blue eyes and that charming smile, something dark lurks. Suffice to say that with this performance Stevens took his Downton Abbey image and smashed it into a thousand pieces.

The Guest is very well done though it does lose some momentum in certain scenes. That said though, it's one hell of a slick ride. And oh, that ending is a stunner. "What the fuck?" indeed.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, January 22, 2015

After the Wedding

Susanna Bier's After the Wedding starts off on relatively normal terms. In an effort to stay in good graces, Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) attends the wedding of a businessman's daughter. But it's during the reception that things begin to unravel.

Many times in fiction do you see calamities at wedding ceremonies. (Most of the time it's in comedies and before the actual ceremony.) But with After the Wedding, none of the calamities are of a comedic nature. (It's a Danish film, so what else can you expect?)

Also a familiar feature in fiction is how the dynamics between people can change. Throughout After the Wedding, this happens with the characters. The people they start as and the people they end up as are stark contrasts.

Though by many means, what's shown in After the Wedding isn't anything original. If you're familiar with any standard family drama, what happens in the film becomes rather obvious. Still, Bier manages to make the most out of the familiar traits.

All in all, After the Wedding is good but not great, That said, however, Bier and the actors know how to hit the right notes. In other words, it's worthy of a look.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Foreign Correspondent

Our first glimpse of John Jones (Joel McCrea) in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent shows him clearly being unimpressed by his newspaper job. Shortly after his introduction, he gets sent off to Europe to cover a peace organization's conference. Soon he finds himself entangled in political intrigue.

Released the same year as the more popular Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent was one of several films of the era with a political slant. (Well, it was an era of political unrest.) And has it lost any of its bite after all these years? Not in the least.

There are certain elements of Foreign Correspondent that are rather grim in hindsight because of what would happen in the following year. There's talk of disagreements throughout Europe, not mentioning the possibility that the rest of the world would be on the brink of war as well. Ah, life and its cruel ironies.

On a different note, McCrea makes for an ideal Hitchcock leading man. Bear in mind this was before Hitchcock used the likes of Cary Grant and James Stewart but either way McCrea (better known for comedies like Sullivan's Travels and The More the Merrier) proves what he's capable of. It's a shame that he and Hitchcock didn't work together again.

Foreign Correspondent is certainly a lesser-known work of Hitchcock's and it's also one that should be seen. Sure, some of its politics may not resonate nowadays but the rest of them do. It's only a matter of time before we're at war once again.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, January 17, 2015


Carol White (Julianne Moore) of Todd Haynes' Safe has a good life though a dull one. Married but sexually unsatisfied, a housewife though bored, content yet ambitionless. Then...something...begins to happen to her.

In a stark contrast from Haynes and Moore's next film Far From Heaven, Safe moves away from the comfortable domesticity of the former film. It instead focuses on the suffocating nature of life people sometimes encounter. (It is common, you know.)

It's a small detail of Safe but it's one worth bringing up. The white noise heard throughout the film adds a certain sense of paranoia. The noises from television sets and radios only makes it more clear that something isn't right with Carol.

And Moore's performance is one that must be seen. This was only a few years before she got her first of five nominations, and it's clear that her work here should have gotten more recognition than it did. This was proof that she really knew what she was doing as an actress.

Safe has its flaws but it really gets under your skin. Thanks to the work from Haynes and Moore, it's a film that will linger in your mind long after it's finished. Sometimes the scariest things are those around you...

My Rating: ****

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cleo from 5 to 7

The opening moments of Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 have singer Cleo Victoire (Corinne Marchand) receiving grim news from a fortune teller. She fears she has cancer. While waiting for her test results, she witnesses the sights, sounds and people of Paris.

Cleo by no means is a deeply likable person. She's often quick to anger and she possesses an arrogant air. (She's frequently called "spoiled" by some of her acquaintances.) But as the film wears on, she gradually softens into someone more sympathetic.

What Varda does with Cleo's perspective is very subtle. It goes from her being the center of attention to being one of the many people walking the Paris streets. It's a quiet detail but a very distinct one.

Similarly, the cinematography by Jean Rabier captures the film much like a photographer would. It focuses on the faces, buildings and bustle of Parisian life. Much like how Control and Ida would be shot in the following decades, Cleo from 5 to 7 is shot like photographs coming to life.

Cleo from 5 to 7 is hypnotic and beautiful. It's a quiet film but Varda and Marchand do wonders with it. It's also proof that female film directors should get more recognition than they currently do. (Honestly, more progress in the film industry would be nice, don't you think?)

My Rating: *****

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Relationships in fiction are often only depicted one of three ways: straight, gay and lesbian. They're all fine but very rarely do you see bisexuality in fiction. Characters are either straight or gay, nothing in between.

This is why John Schlesinger's Sunday, Bloody Sunday is a nice departure from what's usually seen. Focusing on the complicated relationship between doctor Daniel (Peter Finch), divorcee Alex (Glenda Jackson) and sculptor Bob (Murray Head), it's far from the usual LGBT fare we frequently get nowadays. It's a film about people and their complexities.

Here's the thing about Daniel and Alex. They're fully aware that Bob is seeing both of them and they're fine with the situation (though the occasional pang of jealously passes through them). This is another feature of Sunday, Bloody Sunday that's very rarely highlighted in fiction: polyamory. Many relationships focus on only two people. If a third person's involved, that's frequently a sign of cheating.

This had to have been a daring film to make at the time. Not was it depicting sexual relationships as a normal aspect of everyday life, it was made at a time when opinions on sex were changing. (This was made four years after homosexuality was legalized in Britain.) And much like Carnal Knowledge (released the same year), the film shows how sex isn't so straightforward.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday is a gorgeously complex film. (Would you believe this was Schlesinger's follow-up to Midnight Cowboy?) It's been more than forty years since its release, and we still haven't made much progress when it comes to depicting various types of relationships and sex. How much longer until we have?

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

BOOK VS MOVIE: Inherent Vice

The nostalgia filter. It's something frequently seen in fiction, always painting a particular time period in a flattering light. Though as of late (such as Mad Men and Masters of Sex), fiction is willing to show the not-so-ideal lives of the past.

Such is the case with Inherent Vice. Set as Charles Manson's trial is underway, it's a story with a menagerie of characters, a whirlwind plot, and the dying era of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

Thomas Pynchon's novel is a work of sheer insanity. It's a work that reaches many bizarre levels and being unfamiliar with Pynchon's writing style, it was hard to know what to expect. The result is something adventurous and original.

And who better to adapt Pynchon than Paul Thomas Anderson? Sure, it has the usual traits of a film adaptation (characters reduced/removed, scenes changed/taken out), but Anderson keeps Pynchon's wild nature intact. Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin ("Motto panukeiku!") are great but special mention goes to the rest of the cast as well. (Also, though not in the novel, the last scene between Phoenix and Brolin is hilarious.)

So which is better? Pynchon's novel does have some gems (a good portion didn't make it into the film) though Anderson's film has an easier flow. Well, that consensus made things a lot easier, don't you think?

What's worth checking out?: The movie.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


There's a sort of cruel irony with Ava DuVernay's Selma. We listen to Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) as he speaks of equal rights while the society we currently live in has barely made any progress within the last fifty years.

Much like how Fruitvale Station was released amid the frenzy of the George Zimmerman trial, Selma was released following the outrage over the failure to indict the murderers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. All of these acts of pointless violence is just proof that, to quote George Santayana, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Similar to The Imitation Game, Selma focuses on the life of a revolutionary man rather than the tragic way it ended. But unlike The Imitation Game, which depicted Alan Turing as a martyr because of his homosexuality, Selma doesn't make King (or any of the other characters) a sinner or a saint. The film merely depicts him as what he was: a human being.

Speaking of the other characters, Selma is more than just a film about King. (Oyelowo, by the way, is electrifying as King.) Selma is a film about, well, the people of Selma. DuVernay and cinematographer Bradford Young both focus on the many faces of the small Alabama town, showing how crucial they are to both the story and to history.

Selma is without a doubt a film that will stand out as the years pass. Thanks to DuVernay, Oyelowo and the many other actors involved, this is a film that will resonate with those who watch it.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Tarnished Angels

Early on in Douglas Sirk's The Tarnished Angels, reporter Burke Devlin (Rock Hudson) gets a scoop in the form of stunt pilot Roger Shumann (Robert Stack) and his wife LaVerne (Dorothy Malone). Through LaVerne, Burke finds out that Roger is far from the dashing pilot image that he puts on.

It doesn't take long to realize that The Tarnished Angels is a stark contrast from Sirk's other titles like All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession. It's more jaded than the usual fare Sirk is renowned for. (Being based on a William Faulkner story might have something to do with it.)

Another telling sign that The Tarnished Angels is a departure from Sirk's more renowned films is the way the film's shot. Rather than the Technicolor-drenched cinematography of Russell Metty, The Tarnished Angels has the crisp black-and-white cinematography of Irving Glassberg. The contrast is very telling.

And the performances from the trio of actors are great. Stack and Malone (both recognized for their work in Sirk's earlier film Written on the Wind with the latter winning) give their roles a troubled but raw edge. And Hudson proves (as he had with his other collaborations with Sirk) that he's capable as an actor. (His drunken monologue towards the end is a prime example.) It would be another nine years before Hollywood could see what Hudson could do. (The result being Seconds.)

The Tarnished Angels is easily Sirk's best film. It's a shame that Sirk made only two more films before retiring. He was really starting to make great films.

My Rating: *****

Friday, January 9, 2015

Boys Town

Early on in Norman Taurog's Boys Town, Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) is inspired to open a home for wayward boys. It's not an immediate success but fortunately donations start to pour in.

Enter Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney), a small-time hoodlum who acts like he's James Cagney. Father Flanagan has hope that he can reform Whitey. But Whitey proves that he's a tough nut to crack.

The contrast between Father Flanagan and Whitey is an interesting one to watch. Flanagan is patient while Whitey is short-tempered. Kind against volatile. Caring against careless. It's the sort of yin yang that was often seen in films from the era (and something that should come back into practice for today's films).

And the performances from Tracy and Rooney make Boys Town what it is. Tracy (who won an Oscar for his work) provides the right amount of sentimentality for the role. Rooney, meanwhile, gives an ornery performance which gradually softens as the film wears on. They're not the best performances of all time but they make the film work.

Back in 1938 this might have been immensely popular but nowadays, Boys Town doesn't pack the same punch. If it weren't for the performances from Tracy and Rooney, there's a strong possibility it would have been buried amid the many titles of that year. That said, it's still worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dark Passage

Delmar Daves' Dark Passage employs an unconventional method of storytelling. Within the half hour or so of the film, it's mostly told through the eyes of escaped convict Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart). We watch as he hides from the police and within San Francisco, thanks to Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall). All of this unfolds before Vincent decides to hide through plastic surgery.

Following the surgery, Vincent spends the next several scenes with his face wrapped in bandages. It's during these scenes that showcase the acting abilities of not only Bogart but also Bacall. Bogart says so much with just his eyes changing slightly. Bacall in turn does something similar but of a more sensual nature. (Take note of the final moments.)

Once the bandages are removed, Vincent begins to seek out who sent him to prison. In a different way from other crime films of the era, Dark Passage isn't interested in depicting a blood-soaked revenge (This is from 1947, after all.) It still shows a very driven revenge regardless.

Dark Passage is the third of four films starring Bogart and Bacall. Though not as prominent as the first two (To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep), it's clearly driven by the stars' real-life marriage (as was the case with Hollywood marriages at the time). Still, it's not without its moments.

Dark Passage is good but not great. It plays up the new emerging themes of psychology in the post-war era, something that would blossom over the next decade or so. All in all, it's worth a look.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Synecdoche, New York

The first several scenes of Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York establish how average Caden Cotard's (Philip Seymour Hoffman) life is. Decent home life, steady job, nothing too out of the ordinary. But then his health starts to deteriorate and he begins an ambitious project.

Kaufman is a familiar name for his quirky but original screenplays such as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So how did he fare with his directorial debut? Well, you can definitely tell it was written by him. (That's always a good sign, having a distinct writing style.)

Though as the film progresses, you have to wonder about what's being shown. Is all of this actually happening or is what we're witnessing the result of Caden's decaying health? Kaufman doesn't make it very clear though it is fascinating to see the line between fiction and reality slowly become nothing.

Seeing as this is a philosophical film about life, it's become more bittersweet to watch because of Hoffman's passing last year. Watching Caden wither away into an old man is harder to watch knowing full well that Hoffman would never experience that in his lifetime. Like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe in the decades before him, Hoffman was a Hollywood legend that's forever young.

Synecdoche, New York is something that only a select few would truly appreciate. It's not your usual cinematic fare but it's also worth a look. (In other words, if you like Kaufman's writing, you'll probably like this.)

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Baby Doll

It's established early on in Elia Kazan's Baby Doll that Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden) and his child bride Baby Doll (Carroll Baker) aren't exactly living in the best conditions. Their house is falling to pieces, they're constantly's only a matter of time before something else catastrophic happens.

Enter Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach), Archie's competitor in the cotton business. Infuriated, Archie burns down Silva's cotton gin. Silva, having a good idea as to who did it, plans to seduce a confession out of Baby Doll.

By many means, the premise would read rather tame nowadays. But bear in mind this was released back in 1956 (and was written by Tennessee Williams), so naturally some controversy bubbled up. And boy, you can see why. It's easily the most sexually charged work of Williams' career. (And this is someone who wrote A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.)

Now onto the performances. Malden, a familiar face amongst Kazan's films, shows a stormy nature that merely hides Archie's insecurities. Baker in turn highlights a provocative nature beneath her supposed innocence. But Wallach makes one hell of an impact with his film debut. Very rarely do you see a performance this fiery and driven. (God, did we lose one of the greats last year.)

Baby Doll is easily one of the unsung greats of both Kazan and Williams' careers. It's a film that was way ahead of its time and it hasn't lost any of its bite. Be sure to see this film.

My Rating: *****

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Americanization of Emily

There's a certain level of audacity when it comes to war comedies. Sure, war is hell but sometimes those opinions on war get by without controversy because they're in a comedy. Still, they're sometimes insightful

Such is the case with Arthur Hiller's The Americanization of Emily. (Being written by Paddy Chayefsky certainly helps in that situation.) There weren't many films from that time period with such a jaded nature but even then there's a romanticized nature added to it.

Starring in The Americanization of Emily are James Garner and Julie Andrews. (Yes, a whole eighteen years before Victor/Victoria.) As would also be established in Blake Edwards' film, Garner and Andrews have great chemistry together. (They also stand well on their own.)

Back to Chayefsky's script. Cynicism was rare but unheard of when it came to Hollywood during its Golden Age. (After all, Billy Wilder's career was in full swing during this time.) Much like what he would do with Network the following decade (and Marty in the previous one), Chayefsky shows that we live in a bitter world and we have to make sacrifices for the sake of brief happiness. At least The Americanization of Emily is a bit more cheerful than Network.

The Americanization of Emily is good though it does get a bit too Hollywood in some scenes. The speeches delivered throughout the film (especially the ones from Garner) establish what was to be expected from Chayefsky in the years to come: a jaded perspective.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Brighton Rock

"This is a story of that other Brighton - now happily no more." So begins John Boulting's Brighton Rock. Based on the novel of the same name by (and co-adapted by) Graham Greene, it's a film with a compelling and very different view on redemption.

Starring in Brighton Rock is Richard Attenborough. Similar to Richard Widmark's work in Kiss of Death (also released the same year), Attenborough's Pinkie Brown is a gangster with no qualms over his violent actions. His face remains unmoved though this is a performance that relies on the eyes. Look at them.

Similar to other crime films of the era like Pickup on South Street and Odd Man Out, Brighton Rock focuses on the seedy side of the big city. The people of the city play just as a crucial role as the crimes committed. To quote The Naked City, "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."

So where does the element of redemption come in? That is in the form of Rose Brown (Carol Marsh), a waitress who gets unwittingly ensnared in Pinkie's criminal behavior. She (wrongfully) assumes that Pinkie is interested in her. (For his sake, it's because she knows too much.) Will she be able to make him change his ways?

Brighton Rock is very good thanks in part to one hell of a performance from Attenborough. (The script by Greene and Terence Rattigan certainly adds something as well.) Definitely worth a look, especially for that bitterly ironic ending (which, to no surprise, was changed from the book's).

My Rating: ****

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Carnal Knowledge

The opening dialogue of Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge shows how differently Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) and Sandy (Art Garfunkel) think when it comes to women. Sandy ponders about the emotional connection whereas Jonathan is only concerned about "big tits". This resonates throughout the film.

Bearing in mind how the characters in Nichols' first two films Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate interacted, it should come as no surprise that the characters of Carnal Knowledge behave in a similar manner. The insecure (Sandy) being manipulated by the deeply jaded (Jonathan). (See also Nick and Honey by George and Martha, and Benjamin Braddock by Mrs. Robinson.)

It's worth mentioning that this film was made at a time where sex was a very open topic amongst mixed company. (It should also be mentioned that this was made before the feminist movement was in full swing.) This was certainly something that couldn't have been made ten, fifteen years prior.

And there's also how masculinity is depicted throughout Carnal Knowledge. In an early scene, Jonathan and Sandy see Susan (Candice Bergen) and Sandy behaves in an awkward manner as he tries to meet her. This scene establishes how even though both men act confident around women, they're actually deeply unnerved when it comes to women.

Carnal Knowledge is very well done but the chauvinistic nature of it can be a bit much in some scenes. Still, the work from Nicholson, Garfunkel and especially Ann-Margret makes up for it. Sometimes sex brings out the worst in people.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, January 2, 2015

Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams' sudden death last August left an unspeakable loss throughout the entertainment industry. He wasn't just a comedian. He was an actor, a performer, an entertainer. He was one of a kind.

His work in Peter Weir's Dead Poets Society is one of several examples that proved Williams' abilities as an actor. (Other examples include Good Will Hunting and One Hour Photo.) Here, he provides a performance that's honest and down-to-earth. (The latter is certainly not something you can easily apply to some of Williams' other roles.)

Admittedly there are some elements in Dead Poets Society that are now a bit hard to watch, particularly if you know how Williams met his fate. That said, however, there are other elements of the film that are all the more poignant because of Williams' passing. Very rarely does the latter happen.

But Dead Poets Society isn't just Williams' show. There are a number of young actors amongst the cast. (Some of the actors include the likes of Robert Sean Leonard and Josh Charles long before their big breaks on television and a baby-faced Ethan Hawke.) They're all great in their roles.

Dead Poets Society works most of the time but not all of the time. Thanks to the work from Williams and the young actors, the film could easily be an influence for those who watch it. Carpe diem, after all.

My Rating: ****1/2