The Illusionist (2006) - Written and directed by Neil Burger, starring Edward Norton, Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti.
One of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had at the cinema in a long time. How heartening that the film industry can still produce an intelligent, well-written, well-crafted and thoroughly entertaining film once in a while. It’s not an indie film – this is a classic
Le Mépris (Contempt) (1963) - Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, cinematography by Raoul Coutard, starring Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance and Fritz Lang.
If you ever wondered what Godard might have been like as a
'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945) - Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey.
I discovered the British filmmaking duo Powell & Pressburger via IMDB’s Classic Film Board, where several of their movies are included in an ongoing (and fairly interesting) Top 200 film list. To describe I Know Where I’m Going as a romantic comedy really doesn’t do it justice. First of all, it’s set in the stormy, moody Hebrides Islands of Scotland. It’s not a slapstick romantic comedy but something more natural, with touching performances by Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey. Hiller was also no ordinary actress but had been handpicked by George Bernard Shaw to star in his productions of Saint joan and Pygmalion. Her strong-willed Joan Webster “knows where she’s going,” only things don’t work out quite as planned. I hate to say too much about the plot because it unfolds so pleasantly and organically. I will say that La Reina liked this film very much, and we had to watch most of it again the next day. It’s just a marvel of good acting, good writing, good story and good filmmaking. A funny, very human movie. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Before Sunset (2004) – Directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy.
I enjoyed Before Sunrise (1995), Linklater’s first film with Hawke and Delphy playing these same characters (Jesse and Celine), but avoided this one for some reason. Maybe I wasn’t sure there should have been a second film. The idea of two young people meeting unexpectedly in Europe and having a brief but intense relationship seemed fairly realistic as it was portrayed, but those kind of fleeting relationships are exactly that – fleeting, and one doesn’t usually meet up with the same person ten years later. But I was pleasantly surprised when we finally watched Before Sunset. Written by Linklater, Hawke and Delphy, the dialogue-heavy screenplay works well and was nominated for an Oscar and three other film awards (losing each time to Sideways.) Basically, Jesse – a struggling writer - has finally published a novel that's based on his experience with Celine that was detailed in the first film. When he comes to Paris do a book-signing, she shows up, and they spend the afternoon walking around the city, discussing their brief relationship, what’s happened to them since then, and other topics of interest to two intelligent and cultured people who have the benefit of a screenplay to work from. My only real complaint about the film is that their conversation seems too natural and perfect. But they both imbue their characters with interesting touches of humanity, and Paris (the third actor in this film) looks stunning in her gown of late afternoon light. What saves the film from being overly precious is the heartfelt struggle of two people in their late 30s trying to see if their deeply romantic ideals have any place left in their increasingly mundane lives. It’s achingly and honestly nostalgic. And I could relate. Too well, perhaps. RECOMMENDED.
Pal Joey (1957) - Directed by George Sidney, music by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak.
Along with the Gershwins and Cole Porter, I love the music of Rodgers and Hart. If you don’t know or don’t remember how good they were, I suggest investing a little capital in Ella Fitzgerald’s Rodgers and Hart Songbook, Vol.1 & Vol.2, which were the first, and are still considered the best, of her songbooks of American composers. So when I saw the trailer for Pal Joey, I ignored Sinatra’s cheesy monologue and listened in amazement as one great Rodgers and Hart tune after another went by in 5-second blips. A few moments later, I was on the internet, reserving a copy of the DVD from my local library. As it turns out, the film version of this Broadway production holds up pretty well. Though sanitized for 1950s
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) - Directed by Ken Hughes, screenplay by Roald Dahl (from an Ian Fleming novel), starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes and Lionel Jeffries.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang gets a bum rap, if you ask me. Slapped unjustly with the “kid’s movie” label, it gets stuck on a shelf where adults forget to look for it. At the public library, I literally had to go up into the Children’s Room to find the DVD. Yes, it is a great “kid’s movie,” but it’s also a highly imaginative and well-crafted film, period. Based on an Ian Fleming novel (yes, the James Bond guy), with a screenplay by Roald Dahl (yes, that Roald Dahl) and produced by Albert Broccoli, who produced the "Sean Connery" Bond films, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is really a magical comedy-adventure set to music. The delightful score is by Richard and Roger Sherman, who were nominated for nine Oscars for Mary Poppins, and won two, and were nominated for this film as well. I'll bet you money that you can't see this movie and not spend the next two days singing "our fine, four-fendered friend" while driving around in your car. Dick Van Dyke is wonderful as the eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts. I had forgotten what a complete performer Van Dyke really was, singing and dancing very well, and bringing great comic presence and timing to the role. Lionel Jeffries takes a fun turn as Grandpa Potts, and Sally Ann Howes, a Tony-award winning British stage actress, shines in the role of Truly Scrumptious, daughter of the candy factory owner. But the best performance of the film, and one that lingers longer than you want it to, may be that of Robert Helpmann, who plays the creepy and chilling “Child Catcher.” The film moves along at a good pace and, for dessert, offers the delirious