Mittwoch, 30. November 2011

Laura (Preminger, 1944) - TSPDT #304

 A homicide detective tries to solve the murder of a young career woman when the victim suddenly appears before him - alive and well.

The story is very interesting, but the trope of a guy falling asleep in his chair and dreaming the whole story has been played out so many times in exactly this way, that I thought the latter half of the picture being a dream. I am not totally sure if Preminger did play with that or if this type of trick was already common back then. There is also a strange shift of character. We begin with Waldo's voice-over, but we completely lose his perspective during the film. In Sunset Boulevard, that has worked better, where in consequence the dead man still owns his voice-(over).

The red baron (Müllerschon, 2008)

The young flying ace learns about the horrors of war and falls in love with a nurse.

I felt strangely detached from the main character and lost interest in his way of thinking about 10 minutes into the movie. The only fascinating person was the younger brother, striving for some kind of fame and overshadowed by his famous older brother. Most of the subtext was actually said from one person to the next, and many scenes could have been edited down for efficiency clarity and interest. There must have been some TV people involved, because it was made sure that everybody in the room understood when a character was "angry" or "sad". Quite annoying and ultimately extremely boring.

I really wonder, how the English language version I've seen was conceived. Maybe due to budget issues, the actors talked their version themselves. Needless to say that everybody in the room had more than one raised eyebrow (should have watched the German version)

The actors could shine, but the script just didn't work at all. The CGI was good, but same here: no interest to support the imagery.

Out of the Past (Tourneur, 1947) - TSPDT #117

A detective is hired by a shady rich man to find his girlfriend and falls in love with her.

The story felt very much like a blueprint for the typical film-noir. The detective falls for the girl he's trying to hunt or pin down and goes to all sorts of lengths to protect her from perceived evil. The first part of the film is a pretty long flashback but then it continues in story present, which was quite surprising for me. A lot of important decisions hinge on being at the right place at the right time (ie wrong) and there are one or two moments where I felt that randomness did overtake a bit.

Mitchum and Douglas are incredibly impressive, the other characters are not completely one-dimensional but the film is simply too short to give them a lot of time to delve into character. Especially Greer should have gotten more screen time to get more evil out of her character, I felt.

Dienstag, 29. November 2011

Shadow of a doubt (Hitchcock, 1939) - TSPDT #330

Young Charlie's favorite Uncle Charlie appears to be more adventurous than she could have ever hoped.

The story is told very straight forward and I've spotted many small visual humorous gags by Hitchcock, like depicting the Santa Rose community as an ideal community by showing a happy traffic officer standing on an intersection, whistling away. Hitchcock's gentle mockery of small-town morale seems to manifest in a cardboard characters society with the daughter trying to express "everything that's wrong with her world" by staring at the ceiling and thinking. Cotton's character came across as the only more or less "real" person in the movie.

When Charlie tries to ring that police officer and she cannot find him at any of the addresses he has left her I was wondering, where the film was supposed to go on from there - it felt a bit like a plot hole.

The grapes of wrath (Ford, 1940) - TSPDT #127

A family from Oklahoma is driven west by the economic downturn, hoping to find a future in California.

The film is structured into scenes that were very carefully selected to underline the humanism and helpfulness of many of the fellow people that the family encounters. I remember the book being much more depressing and the ending nothing short of scary. The arc of Tom's arriving back to his family was pretty awesome. I've strongly felt that this could also be a post-nuclear war story, with everybody struggling for crumbs of the cake.

The acting is breathtaking by everybody, especially the preacher and the mother character were so convincing that I went back to see some of their scenes again.

Photography is also very intense, a lot of very high contrast imagery, that transformed the landscape into sinister sets when the car was driving through.

Montag, 28. November 2011

The Red Shoes (Powell, Pressburger, 1948) - TSPDT #128

An upcoming ballet star has to decide between her career and her heart.

The theater behind-the-stage liveliness and the dance sequences are beautifully filmed and haven't aged at all (some of the special effects have) - the visual interpretation of Victoria Page's psychological state expressed through her dance is marvelous without feeling forced. The build-up to the story took quite long and some of the essential love story moments were only hinted at - I wonder why.

Camerawork is generally fantastic and I can hardly remember a film being so colorful except maybe some of Kurosawa's later work.

True Heart Susie (Griffith, 1919) - TSPDT #849

An innocent country girl is in love with her neighbor that marries an infidel girl.

A comparatively linear story, compared to the other DWGriffiths films I have seen so far. The pacing is extremely slow, and it might be interesting to know what had moved Griffith to take on this movie. An amusing side note are the intertitles. The English is obfuscated at least, perhaps meant to be in the tone of a romantic poem, but pretty confusing for me.

There is already quite a lot of use of geometry inside the image frame, which sometimes work really nicely. The scene ends are clearly marked by fades to black or title cards.

Modern Times (Chaplin, 1936) - TSPDT #48

 A factory worker is fired and befriends an impoverished girl and they try to survive in a middle-class fantasy.

As beautiful as the scenes are, they also seem strangely unconnected. Chaplin's work within the frame is stellar, but the whole holds together rather loosely. I had much better memories of the film and although it's production value has aged really well, the story as a whole has the very strong feeling of assembled from shorter stories.

Production design in the factory is fantastic and I loved the "monitoring" of the boss. I realized that there is a lot more incidental sound in the beginning than in the end of the movie, where the film becomes practically the classical silent film in a slow but amazing transformation.

Donnerstag, 24. November 2011

For a few dollars more (Leone, 1965) - TSPDT #1867

Two bounty killers hunt the same insane criminal escaped from prison.

There is something really strange about the structure of this film: although Eastwood is definitively the leading man, he lacks of the ultimate motive to go after the bad guy. So the lead is somehow shared between Van Cleef, who has a real (and totally clear) motive to follow and Eastwood only being a facilitator for the greater mission of the guy. It works somehow, but I couldn't help the feeling that Eastwood (the actor) tried to minimize his lines and his impact on the story wherever he could - that could just be my own interpretation.

The title sequence is hilarious, even comic. There is an interesting quality to the lighting in most of the scenes - strong and hard kicks and sidelight - this visual style is more perfected in other films.

Mittwoch, 23. November 2011

Yip Man (Yip, 2008)

Cheesy story of the young Wing Chun master Ip Man (Yip man?)

There is not much to this film in terms of story, or structure - the emotions are cardboard in their very best moments and the acting is so wooden that some of the wooden planks the pupils practice on come off much better.

For me as a layman having been dragged into this thing, the only thing I did notice about it was the notorious use of moving camera - so much that it gets annoying after only 5 minutes. I assume the director chose this angle of attack to decoupage to make the fight scenes more interesting to watch. This was the only interesting thing from the film: this was not wire-fu, but straight down to earth acrobatics and some fighting (or the other way around). What separated it from the few other films I've seen so far in this genre: It's completely humorless. There is no fun in the fight scenes. From this I deduce that the makers knew that martial arts students will study the moves and the scenes carefully.

I should have stayed away from this one. I even disliked it more than Kurosawa's awful Judo films. No more bad reviews on my blog, I'm not a film critic.

Dienstag, 22. November 2011

Sunna no onna - The woman in the dunes (Teshigahara, 1964)

An insect collector is lured into a sand dune where the locals decide to keep him imprisoned.

A wonderful story and it's amazing how this works in this extremely confined space of the dunes. As the two inhabitants of the dune turn against and then for each other I was easily swayed back and forth with feeling sorry for the woman for not having any other opportunity to exist and the then again for the man for being trapped down there. The female character is endlessly kind and the man is rather brutal, ignorant and selfish - I didn't think that the man already changed the attitude towards the woman at the end of the movie, but one could definitively see the ground shift, he was standing on.

The shots of the sand dunes are amazing and they took on very different meanings throughout the movie.

Sullivan's travels (Sturges, 1941) - TSPDT #171

A rich director tries to research the life of the poor by unsuccessfully living as a tramp.

I could feel that this movie is following some kind of blueprint for romantic comedy, or maybe, invented it for itself. The plot is quite predictable and the twists are silly to say the least. Most of it seems to work due to the absolutely amazing screen presence of Lake. There are some interesting playful attempts at nudity - the shower scene for example must have given the censors a headache and make Sturges grin diabolically.

Sonntag, 20. November 2011

The Manchurian Candidate (Frankenheimer, 1962) - TSPDT #362

A group of soldiers are captured in the Korean War and have been hypnotized to perform a deadly mission.

I loved the flashbacks - the interesting part was that there was not too much guessing when Sinatra's character realizes that he must have been hypnotized while imprisoned. The mental adaptation were adapted by the different soldiers in personal ways - it adds bizarre humor to the story. The characters were strongly identifiable and everybody did quite an amazing job with acting - especially the mother is so evil just on the brink of overdoing it, but her performance worked fantastically well.

The added revelation about her character in the end was maybe just a tiny bit too far-fetched. But it didn't matter I was willingly suspending my disbelief. The showdown is also quite fantastic in the way the spatial geometry of the hall is translated into a cunningly edited sequence of locations inside the building when Sinatra tries to find his way to the man.

Some impressive camerawork using unfocused foreground in relation to the background.

Samstag, 19. November 2011

King Kong (Cooper, Schloedsack, 1933) - TSPDT #115

A documentary filmmaker captures a living beast on a remote island to bring it back to New York.

The film and the remake are very close to each other, mostly differing in tone of story. I sensed that the naiveté in which the original was approached has served it to huge advantage as compared to Jackson's take. The humanizing of the ape is not really tried but it works all in the head of the viewer - we don't feel too sorry for the beast, but we can sense slightly that something has gone awfully wrong. And I believe that faintness of this feeling is what makes the original so much more compelling than the one on CGIroids.

The pacing of the film is quite interesting, spending a lot of time with the setup and later rushing through capturing and the escape in New York.

Donnerstag, 17. November 2011

The Pianist (Polanski, 2002) - TSPDT #1338

A jewish pianist gets dragged into the horrific events of the Warsaw ghetto.

Extremely well structured in the sense that there is the "one good" Nazi in the end which gives some hope for humanity and bizarrely makes quite an optimistic piece.

Comparing this to Schindler's List there is an interesting difference in the choice the directors made how time progresses. Polanski's leaps in time seem rougher and he just touches certain events that were more drawn out in Spielberg's interpretation.  In the Pianist there is a "rough" quality to the jumps, which helped to make the middle more interesting to watch - I remember I had some trouble in Schindler feeling slightly bored, maybe because I feel that Spielberg overexplains certain characters (mass audience vs mass audience europe?)

Salinui chueok - Memories of a murder (Joon-ho, 2003)

The local inspector of a small Korean village and a detective from Seoul try to catch a serial killer on the loose.

This is quite an amazing film. The characterizations are fabolous, the local detective plays his brutality with a lightness that makes it look comical. You cannot help but like him, although this is a pretty stupid, ignorant, brutal and stubborn character. Amazing work. The amazing thing is how I took part with the "good" cop from Seoul until I realized that this is also a film about changing sides, probably what makes the film so great.

One of the few films where I am pleased to say that films with historical background can work wonders, if the characters are well developed. Keep in mind for further analysis.

Amazing outdoor footage. The night footage had a slightly artificial look through the use of strong rim lighting.

Mittwoch, 16. November 2011

The Lion King - (Allers, Minkoff, 1994)

 A young lion prince is tricked into fleeing his kingdom by his treacherous uncle.

The structure of the film is a very classic adaptation of a fairy tale. I always wonder about the effectiveness of putting songs in animations. There seems to be an either traditional historic aspect or an economic thought behind this arrangement. The nice thing though is that the animators can show off.

Jeremy Irons works great as the thundering voice of the baddie.

Black Swan (Arronofsky, 2010) - OscarNom 2011

 An ambitious but uptight danseuse delves into the dark side of her personality.

The structure of the film is very straight forward, quite possibly it was chosen not to get too experimental, maybe to not to confuse the audience any further. Sure, Arronofsky was afraid of another Gitai moment with Portman - so would I have been. But the story becomes predictable at one point and I've felt that when the bifurcation of the personalities was over the rest was only dance scene - no more story or character development.

Maybe Cassel's character could have been a bit heightened and made even more brutal in his egoistic strive for "his" perfect dance company. On the other side maybe Ryder could have been de-splattered a bit, her psychology is also quite interesting.

Great cinematography and the vfx stayed happily in the background to do a great job. Interesting is the grainy look of the picture giving it a "homely" feeling.

Dienstag, 15. November 2011

Shutter Island (Scorsese, 2010)

A US marshal tries to solve the mystery of a disappeared patient on an island asylum when he realizes he is onto something much bigger.

I really loved the film - it might have some flaws but it was very entertaining and it managed to walk that very fine line of not giving the ending away too obviously - some of the hints I caught others completely evaded me. The coded message on the little paper was not too well devised I thought, it could have been replaced with a letter or so from the patient.

I've watched the turn-around scene at the end many times - the transition of Ruffalo and DiCaprio in that very final scene is awesome. Maybe it would have been nice to extend that twist in the story a little bit, but it also works very well that way.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II (Yates, 2011)

 Harry finds all the other thingies to kill the baddie and lives happily ever after.

Maybe the most stringent of the series, and as everything is speeding up towards the finale it is still very entertaining in a spectacular kind of way. The "19 years later" part was so bizarre that it made me feel like having been cheated for watching any of the other films. It felt like someone (Rowling?) pulled the emergency break - no sequels, please. And for that I'm thankful. It was great while it lasted, and Marvel will suffocate me with franchised sequels for the next 15 years - it's nice to know that at least somebody summons up the courage to come to an end.

For some reason I suspect that Harry would have had to die too (or at least the wizard inside him) to make this legendary material.

Dienstag, 8. November 2011

Der Untergang (Hirschbiegel, 2004)

 The last days of Hitler in a devastated Berlin under siege by the Russians.

As with all biographical attempts that I noted, also this film faces the issue of coming up with a structure to hold the film together. A central (harmless) figure is established, Hitler's personal typist, a very naive young woman from Munich that is indirectly related to some of the higher-ups. Although the film was entertaining to watch, through the enormous pressure to keep all the historical details airtight as far as they are known, I was at times confused about which parts of the stories were real and which were added for dramatic impact.

Ganz's performance is great, he felt a bit too old for the job, but somebody who has read the book assured me, that Hitler really became sort of on old tattery guy towards the end. That also Göring is played by a Swiss actor made me think: No German wanted to play it? Or are they poking fun at the Swiss again?

This film is so close to a documentary - given that you believe what is said - that I couldn't put it into a "fictional" category.

The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1946) - TSPDT #263

 A detective gets hired to... unearth the one secret he was not supposed to discover.

Basically, the archetype of all entertainment crime films. Very easy to watch and some really memorable scenes and dialogue. Lauren Bacall makes an extraordinary impression, basically, because she is so sphinx-like. All the other actors are also quite impressive, even from small parts.

The story might not be the greatest crime story ever and this transforms into the one or other problems with the structure. Generally, although highly enjoyable, is didn't feel very "real" - ie there's practically no naturalistic sense, which makes some of the characters a little bit too cardboard like for my taste.

Broken Blossoms (Griffith, 1919) - TSPDT #112

A Chinese falls into love with the mistreated daughter of a violent local thug and boxer.

Although it is a rather small story stretched out to somewhat improbable length, it holds up amazingly well against time. Some of the photography is quite remarkable. The use of masks to cover up parts of the picture - resulting in vertical cinematography is used quite a bit - the tinting of imagery has been used by Griffith over and over. There are slightly too many plates already, and the language seems a bit strange - like a sort of "passive formulation".