J.M. Vargas wrote:I've watched so many movies/TV shows over the past few days that I've decided to break them into two groups. First group gets posted tonight (again, in chronological and not viewing order) and the second one tomorrow.
Well, that was on Sunday and since then a ton of work came between me and my last batch of watched movies during last week's vacation-induced free-for-all. Here's Part II of last week's watching binge: Topper
(1937) on TCM for the first time. Based on the TCM promo that got me interested in watching this I expected a lot more of Cary Grant than what I got (what with him being one of the two 'ghosts'). Constance Bennett and Roland Young carry most of the film well though, and the screwball antics have a nice pace that builds nicely and pays off when all hell breaks loose at the hotel. With the right cast and a good writer/director that knows comedy this could be a good remake to shop around Hollywood. Union Station
(1950) on TCM for the first time. Wow, talk about an undiscovered gem! The location shoot really maximizes it's single locale (a bustling train station filled with tunnels, trains and passengers) for all the tension it's story (about an abducted victim being held for ransom) could possibly generate. William Holden and Nancy Olson are excellent as the station detective and passenger (respectively) running against the clock to save an innocent blind girl from Lyle Bettger's suave heavy. Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru
(1952) on IFC for the first time. Like a Japanese Willy Loman (right down to the unappreciative grown-up son), Takashi Shimura (an exceptional Kanji Watanabe) feels that his carefully constructed, decades-long dull life as a Japanese government official is crashing down on him when he finds out he has less than six months to live. Unlike Loman though, Shimura gets a purpose in life that drives him from unexceptional to something akin to an anomaly: a productive government employee. As powerful an indictment of governmental bureocracy as I've ever seen captured on film (the scene after Shimura's funeral is both heartbreaking but also sobering in it's believability) what I will remember "Ikiru" for as long as I live are Kanji Watanabe's sad puppy eyes begging for something (the love of life from a young female co-worker, approval from the Deputy Major, etc.) to keep him going just long-enough to savor another day. The next time Criterion has a sale "Ikiru" will be a must buy.Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni
(1953) on IFC for the first time. Like "Amarcord" (which I loved, unlike more memorable Fellini stuff with emphasis on visuals like "8 1/2" that I simply couldn't get into) this is a Fellini semi-autographical movie in which memorable imagery (like the indoor party/carnival) takes a backseat to a very simple story. We observe five thitysomething male friends going about their aimless daily lives in a small Italian town circa 1952 when one of them, Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), is forced to marry the girlfriend (Eleonora Ruffo) he knocked up. Rather than grow up Fausto continues his womanizing ways, which almost threaten to drag his more level-headed friend Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi, who narrates) and family into more chaos. Like "American Graffiti" and many other films about grown-up men refusing to grow up (metaphor to post-WWII Italy?) Moraldo's act of rebellion at the end of "I Vitelloni" is the exclamation point of an acutely observant look at a long-gone time and place in history. Second Fellini film in a row I like! Sansho the Bailiff
(1954) on IFC for the first time. Epic yet intimate Japanese period (set in the Heian period) about the family members of an exiled province governor being sold to slavery and their decades-long struggle to both survive, uphold their father's compassionate teachings and get together again. Director Kenji Mizoguchi doesn't overplay his actors or has them coming off as stooges in this f***ed-up morality tale, which ends with one of the most heartbreaking reunion scenes I've ever seen on film. Even though Yoshiaki Hanayagi's grown-up Zushiô becomes a central figure (the movie's title character is peripheral to the main storyline) Kyôko Kagawa's Anju and Akitake Kôno's Taro characters were my personal favorites. Kinuyo Tanaka is also solid in her very few scenes as the matriarch that sees her family ripped from her hands by the cruelty of fate. Diabolique
(1955) on IFC for the first time. I knew nothing about the plot or the ending going in, and yet after the movie finished it dawned on me how many cheap thrillers (on movies and television) over the past 53 years have ripped off Clouzot's masterpiece. A psychological noir to the bone, the tension builds and builds toward a rather far-fetched but satisfying conclusion that had me slapping my forehead because I didn't see it coming (love the dire text warning at the end to audience members not to spoil the ending for others). Véra Clouzot's Christina earned my sympathy despite her horrible deeds (she looks sooooo innocent and 'purty'). Simone Signoret and Paul Meurisse, combined with Armand Thirard's excellent B&W cinematography (dig them shadows!), make for a terrific genre picture far removed from Clouzot's own "Wages of Fear."A Town Like Alice
(1956) on TCM for the first time. Had I not seen Ken Burn's magnificent "The War" mini-series last year (or more realistic portrayals of war captivity like "The Killing Fields") I probably would have enjoyed this inspired-by-a-true-story British WWII movie a little bit more. A group of British POW women and children are forced by their Japanese captors to wonder Malaysia for years and hundreds of miles on an endless death march. One of these women (Virginia McKenna) falls in love with an Australian POW driver (Peter Finch) that her group keeps running into on their endless back-and-forth walks. He sneaks foods and other stuff, she promises they will one again after the war. Told in flashbacks, "A Town Like Alice" has decent leads and an interesting premise. Tran Van Khe's Captain Sugaya also makes for a great bad guy to hate. Shame that the well-groomed female cast and direction don't convey the feeling these British POW's are suffering as badly as the premise tells us they are. For death march victims the women in "A Town Like Alice" don't look any less than fabulous except when they're pretending to die from exhaustion. Worthy subject matter, mediocre execution.The Tingler
(1959) on TCM for the first time. Why isn't this movie a bigger cult classic, ala "Rocky Horror Picture Show"? Thank you God for giving b-movie entreprenuer William Castle a nutsack gigantic enough (with no shame to boot) for him to appear on camera at the start of "The Tingler" to warn us with a straight face about the horror about to take place (I know, Hitch did it too but at least he backed his on-screen mugging with some pretty damn good flicks). What follows is a silly but thoroughly entertaining scholck feature (the type gently spoofed in Joe Dante's "Matinee") with everything from 'fake' color effects on the B&W print to a memorable monster-on-the-loose scene inside a movie theater playing a silent flick. Vincent Price is omnipresent throughout the film as a pathologist that will stop at nothing to discover 'the tingler,' a bug-like creature hidden in all of us whose only physical manifestation happens when a terrified person can't scream (cue the 'blackouts'). Seeing Vincent trip on acid trying not to scream alone makes the "The Tingler" worth seeing. Everything else, including a surprisingly strong performance by Philip Coolidge as the husband of the germophobic deaf-mute woman (!) Price wants to experiment on, is just gravy. Here We Go Round the Mulberrry Bush
(1968) on TCM for the first time. A dated swingin' 60's British youth movie (the type Mike Myers' first "Austin Powers" movie satirized so perfectly) about a 16-year old lad named Jessie (Barry Evans) trying to score with either one of five girls he keeps running into so he can lose his virginity. Jessie feels like a cross between Ferris Bueller (he talks to himself aloud but never looks directly at the camera or breaks the 4th wall) and Tom Courtenay's Billy 'Liar' Fisher (Jessie imagines himself scoring with the chicks he's around in recreations of classic movie scenes). Not as naughty as it thinks it is (despite some explicit nude/sex scenes) "Mulberry Bush" will be best appreciated by people who lived through the era and/or are classic British movie enthusiasts. Blink and you'll miss "Raiders of the Lost Ark's" Denholm Elliott as one of the parents of a girl Jessie is trying to ask out (nutty!).Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander
(1982) on Sundance Channel for the first time. Bergman goes epic yet remains intimate in this three-hour plus tale (theatrical version, not the 300+ min. Sweedish TV version) of the good times and bad, trials/tribulations and triumphs, bitter realities and fantastic escapes (plus the deaths, lives and births) of various members of the Ekhal clan circa the early 1900's. The first third of the movie dedicated to a family reunion/party on Christmas eve is easily it's best. The time period detail, attention to detail, colorful performances (dozens of characters are introduced) and unspoken-but-ever-present sense of dread Bergman brings to his work is simply masterful. Things pick-up at the midway point when Jan Malmsjö enters the scene. He makes a jeer-worthy bad guy in Bishop Edvard Vergerus, a man so cold and distant his greatest crime is driving his first children and wife to kill themselves (off camera) before the arrival to his esterile monastery of the widow (Ewa Fröling) and children (Pernilla Allwin and Bertil Guve as Fanny and Alexander, respectively) of deceased Ekhal son Oscar (Allan Edwall). The last third of the movie is an uneven mix of fantasy (both real and imagined through the eyes of Alexander), allegory and hope with the character of Isak (Erland Josephson) pulling some rather unbelievable stuff that is matched by the script's tidy resolution to Alexander's family problems. Guess I need the rent the Criterion DVD to put this flick into proper perspective. On first impression this one is an uneven but enjoyable Bergman flick though, the closest he ever came to mainstream-type entertainment.Oldboy
(2003) on Sundance Channel for the first time. Even though I saw the 'twist' coming early on (something I rarely catch on, which surprised even me) this is one helluva convoluted but never dull contemporary revenge 'noir' with that now-distinctive South Korean flavor for cinematic flare that's threatening to become mainstream in the States. The 'hallway hammer fight' sequence is nothing short of magnificent (perfect use of the anamorphic frame composition) and, like Hitchcock with "Psycho," the greatest trick director Chan-wook Park ever pulled in "Oldboy" was fooling his audience into thinking the movie is a lot more violent than it actually is. Not for the easily offended or those that can't look past its most lurid parts for the beautiful message beating at the heart of the story.
And, last and certainly least, watched the last five episodes of NBC's Heroes Season 2
(2007) on Mojo HD along with the Season 3 Two-Hour Premiere
(2008) on NBC-HD back-to-back. After the paint-drying bore that were the first six episodes of Season 2 the final five episodes (from the writer's strike-shortened 2007 season) catch-up pretty nicely and deliver some genuine 'WTF!' moments (most of them in the "Four Months Ago" episode) that reminded me of how much fun the first season was. Joyce asked in another thread if this is an "X-Men" homage or a ripoff. Since series creator Tim Kring claims to not know much comic book lore before he created the show (hence he can't be paying homage to something that isn't near and dear to him) it's definitely a ripoff, albeit one done by people with more knowledge of how to do network dramas (like Kring's own "Crossing Jordan").
The newest two episodes though (particularly "The Butterfly Effect") have effectively robbed "Heroes" of any sense of tension or urgency from overreliance on the beaten-to-death time travel space continuum 'deus ex machina' plot device. Some characters are acting 180 degrees of how they were (Mohinder is becoming a clone of "The Fly's" Seth Brundle, right down to that movie's camera shots and Goldblum appearance) while others continue to be/act like idiots (Hiro and Peter) more because of how they're written than portrayed. There also needs to be a massive thinning of the herd of heroes (new and old) for any one of them to get more than a handful of minutes a week to tell their stories. I'm still watching but damn if "Heroes" isn't about to become the "Jerry Springer" of primetime scripted shows: an ongoing slow-motion trainwreck you can't take your eyes off of.