Friday, September 01, 2006

Recent Screenings

Bas-fonds, Les [The Lower Depths] (1936) - Directed by Jean Renoir, screenplay by Renoir and Charles Spaak (based on the play by Maxim Gorky), starring Jean Gabin, Louis Jouvet, et al. Renoir, Gabin and Spaak teamed up the following year for Grande illusion, one of the great films of all-time. Les Bas-fonds never reaches that level, but it's very strong and definitely worth watching. Despite its title and its setting among destitute characters living in a flophouse, the film has a good sense of humor and a strong dose of Renoir's humanity, which prevent it from ever getting dreary. A good pace, great dialogue, excellent camera work and Jean Gabin. I often refer to him as a mix of Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart. He's more like Tracy here. Louis Jouvet as the Baron is a delight. RECOMMENDED. 8/10

Through a glass darkly (1961) - Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, cinematography by Sven Nykvist, starring Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Harriet Andersson and Lars Passgård. The first part of a trilogy that includes Winter Light and The Silence, Through a Glass Darkly won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Björnstrand plays a writer who has had trouble matching his earlier success and who has become somewhat estranged from his children in the pursuit of his art. He joins his 17 year-old son, his daughter, and her husband for a vacation on an island. The daughter, Karin, struggles with her sanity, and the emotional and spiritual tension increases until the film reaches a haunting climax that transforms all parties involved. Part coming-of-age story, part theological exploration, part psychological thriller. Excellent writing and acting. Andersson's portrayal of the daughter is especially powerful. Nykvist's beautiful camera work adds a lot to the interesting, somewhat melancholy atmosphere. I hadn't seen a Bergman film in a while, and this was a great reminder of how good he really was. I'm looking forward to the other two parts of the trilogy. RECOMMENDED. 8/10

Jane Eyre (1944) - Directed by Robert Stevenson, screenplay by Stevenson, Aldous Huxley and John Houseman, starrring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. La Reina loves Charlotte Bronte's book (yes, so do I), and this is the third film version we've seen. Given the people involved in the project, I was hoping for a little more. Like many other literary figures who wound up in the brave new world of Hollywood, Huxley struggled as a screenwriter, and I can't say that he and Houseman really do justice to the original work. They actually show you pages of a book at times, and Fontaine reads little bits in a voice over, but the passages aren't really from Bronte's book and don't stand up to her own writing. (I can't decide if that's an interesting post-modern touch or just a misleading Hollywood trick.) Luckily, Welles and Fontaine did a good job as Rochester and Jane, and they make the film worth watching. In a few cases, I thought Welles was overacting, but he has so much presence and such a great voice that you can't help but enjoy him on the screen. Stevenson's direction is a little heavy-handed at times, and I don't really like his desperate attempt to create a Gothic atmosphere. The dry-ice budget for this film must have been extraordinary, what with all the fake mist and fog covering everything. Look for a very young Elizabeth Taylor in a small role in the first part of the film. 7/10

Stalker (1979) - Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky's a brilliant director at times. He has a stunning visual sensibility and a masterful way of letting the camera linger on a scene for a long period of time, creating a unique and powerful atmosphere in his films. In many quarters, Stalker gets rave reviews - on IMDB, for example, a hefty 51.6% of the people rating it give it a 10, which is unusal. But I found the film pretentious rather than profound, and painfully slow, even for Tarkovsky. I say this as someone who enjoys slow films and settled in on a rainy Sunday afternoon to linger in that world for a while (163 minutes, to be exact). Unfortunately, I came away frustrated, with my estimation of Tarkovsky diminished. Perhaps the translation (from Russian) was weak, but lines that were supposed to be spiritually penetrating seemed like they belonged on a Yogi tea bag. Maybe if I'd never seen a Bergman film or Kieslowski's Dekalog, or if I hadn't done a lot of reading, then Stalker would have struck me as being more profound. As it is, people lying in the mud moaning about their existential dilemmas seems like something out of a Monty Python skit. While I can't recommend the film, I realize others might find it powerful. And Tarkovsky is worth investigating. 6/10

Enigma (2001) - Directed by Michael Apted, screenplay by Tom Stoppard, starring Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Northam, et al. This romance/thriller takes place among British codebreakers during WWII and invloves Nazi spies, a missing woman, and a mathematical genius trying to recover from a nervous breakdown. I loved Apted's Thunderheart, and Stoppard certainly has a great rep, which makes this run-of-the-mill production all the more disappointing. Not bad, but given the crew invovled, it should have been much better. Don't be fooled by the back of the DVD, which promotes it as a highly "intelligent" film. It's about intelligence agents, but it's not particularly intelligent. 6/10

40 year old virgin, The - Directed by . . . Does it matter? Starring Steve Carell. When I saw the trailers for this film, I thought, "Wow, that really looks bad." Then it did well last summer and I heard some good things. ("Carell was on the Daily Show for a while," yadda, yadda, yadda.) One of my trusted friends (you know who you are) even recommended it. So, looking for a comedy last week, I thought I would give it a chance. No. Should have listened to my gut instincts. This is a weird mixture of raunchy sex talk, bathroom humor and cliched sentimentality. I still can't figure out who the target audience was - the humor seems aimed at 13 year-olds, but it's rated R. Adults really find this funny? There are also some disturbing sexist and racist undercurrents throughout the film, which no one ever mentioned. Yes, it has some humorous scenes here and there, but I can only laugh so much at a drunk woman puking on a guy's face. I'm missing something here. Wouldn't be the first time. 4/10


Liam said...

The only Tarkovsky movie I have seen iS Andrei Rublev (sp?) which I think might be one of the best medieval-themed movies I've ever seen. I would like to see it again now that it's come out all spiffed up and with new subtitles in DVD -- the old VHS was pretty funky all around.

cowboyangel said...

After 3 Tarkovsky's, I have mixed feelings about him, but I am going to see Andrei Rublev. I liked Solyaris. I thought Nostalghia was visually one of the most incredible films I've ever seen, and liked the first 2/3 until it started to feel pretentious to me. Stalker confirmed that feeling. You don't get many truly spiritual filmmakers. I just wish I didn't feel like he took himself too seriously.