Samstag, 31. Dezember 2011

Great Expectations (Lean, 1945) - TSPDT #360

 A blacksmith's boy is sponsored by an anonymous benefactor to become a gentleman.

I'm not quite sure if I should understand the film as a coming-of-age interpretation (the lead seemed way too old for the role) or some comment on the English social classes that might have started to disappear apart after WW2 even faster than before or maybe Lean was just fascinated with the story. The movie is quite an enjoyable watch and holds enough tension to keep you interested through the rather hairy twists from the original book.

Absurdly, I felt that it have a TV-movie quality to it, the framing was rather unspectacular. There are some extremely beautiful shots in the beginning where the boy is running along the sea. Generally, the inside stuff didn't work too well for me.

Alec Guinness and Jean Simmons worked really well in their support roles.

Mittwoch, 28. Dezember 2011

The Lost Weekend (Wilder, 1945) - TSPDT #1622

An alcoholic, struggling writer goes on a long drinking binge ending up at the lowest point of his life.

A very powerful and gripping story, the flashback structure of the story is not revealed until the end, as it serves the cold, analytical way that the "hero" looks at his own life and his continuous string of failings, deceits and misdemeanors. His struggle is not so much with the drug but with his failed expectations in his own persona. Ray Milland's performance is astounding, and holds up totally realistic even 60 years later.

There is a lot of bitter humor in the picture which serves it very well and some great directorial ideas on how to convey ideas in simple pictures. My favorite was the little rings that shots of rye leave on the bar and how they multiply over time.

Definitively worth a re-watch and in-depth analysis.

Dienstag, 27. Dezember 2011

The shop around the corner (Lubitsch, 1940) - TSPDT #237

A shop clerk falls in love with a woman through letters while squabbling with the young lady he gave a position in the shop.

A very play-like story, most of it taking place in the shop and in the manager's office, and as a apron the store door in the morning. The story is pretty straightforward and is entirely set in the daily universe of the participants.  I like how all the different characters story came together in the end and the story only had to rely on very few "information bringers" - there is the detective reporting the infidelities of his wife to Matuschek - and even there he is only shown once to clear up the store owner's mistake.

There was a strong nostalgic and (obviously) Christmasy atmosphere throughout the film, but it was still quite enjoyable.

Arsenic and old lace (Capra, 1944) - TSPDT #869

 After his wedding a sworn bachelor finds out that his family is completely insane ... and very murderous.

Obviously, the film is very stagey, but although Grant highly disliked his own performance in this film it was quite obvious for me that only this caricatured way would work good.

It took me about 30 minutes to get used to this style of comedy, but once I got past the cringe moments I really enjoyed the rest of the film. There are some funny twists at the end and I really liked the setup with the toxic wine that never gets payed off (a really nice idea) and more than once throwing me off the track.

Montag, 12. Dezember 2011

Gwoemul - The Host (Bong, 2006) - TSP21 #151

A mutated monster fish kidnaps a small girl and so her remaining family members hunt for her in the sewers of Han river.

There are some really nice twists in this huge commercial success especially in terms of characters. I really like the main actor Kang-ho Song - similarly to Memories of a murder he plays a rather dumb, ignorant character and is extremely convincing at it too. There were some dangling storylines at the end and I felt that the other characters could have been beefed up a little bit, especially the conflict of the siblings with Song.

The animation and vfx are so-so, but it doesn't really matter - it's the relentless stubborness coupled with a glaring naivete of the main character that makes the whole thing fun to watch.

Safety Last! (Newmeyer, Tayler, 1923) - TSPDT #1300

A poor shop clerk that has moved to the city for a better life lies about his status to his countryside fiancee, when she comes for a surprise visit.

For me, this was one of the easier Lloyd films to approach and I must admit, that for reasons unknown to me I just can't get around liking his work. Mostly, I feel strangely at unease with the strange pacing of the story and the cheesy intertitles don't help. In contrast to Chaplin and Keaton, Lloyd's performance has a documentary quality to it, that I have a hard time to connect to. And the set-up of the story (angrying the policeman) didn't work inside the boundary of this realistic set-up. (Maybe a different type of run-in with the law might have added to the story instead of this stupid "pushing over" trick)

On the other hand, many of the scenes on the facade were breathtaking and still hold up easily with many other things today. The clock scene definitively deserves its place high up in the ranks of classics.

Samstag, 10. Dezember 2011

Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945) - TSPDT #495

With all means a single mother tries to win the love of her daughter, giving up everything.

A very well constructed films with a long flashback bracing the actual story, that Joan Crawford tells at the police station. I deeply hated the Veda character, in my opinion one of the top evil baddies I have seen in a long time. (Maybe the boy in Au hasard, balthasar was even worse?)

It didn't appear to be a "film noir" to me, because the character I rooted most for (the mother) might finally get what she deserves: peace. Joan Crawfords acting is amazing and I could really feel her love for her daughter coming out of the screen. In her all-giving love she might be a doomed soul, so there is no hope for her anyway. Also the rest of the cast was extremely well placed and worked perfectly - I believed every one of them.

I just realized that Crawford wears a huge bunch of different costumes through that film.

Black Narcissus (Powell, Pressburger, 1947) - TSPDT #138

A group of nuns opens up a new convent at the edge of a mountain abyss and are confronted with their past and needs.

The setup on this one is quite straightforward: The extraordinary location of the old palace where the nun set in at the edge of the steep decline is also a place where all the subdued emotions come floating to the surface. The film focuses on the development of two or maybe three of the nuns, even when all of them are affected.

Kathleen Byrons presence is enormous and even made better by the marvelous use of colors (as in all the Powell/Pressburger pictures I've seen so far) - the pictures of the abyss are breathtaking, and the clashes of cultures was beautifully played out.

The film might have been a bit too short for the number of issues it explores. The love relation between the prince and the beggar woman was a bit too much on the surface and I also would have liked to know more about Dean's back story. His character was extremely interesting but his denial of any human emotions was so complete that he wouldn't let slip anything.


A Matter of Life and Death (Powell, Pressburger, 1946) - TSPDT #126

 A WWII fighter pilot escapes death due to bad weather and appeals his own death for falling in love.

The story is quite straightforward, and at some points already quite campy. There is a certain feelgood tone that reminded me of Capra's "Wonderful Life" - it is a little more highbrow though, and confronts transatlantic tensions between the English and the rest of the world. At the end the film felt a little too academic when in their argument the doctor and the teacher tried to outquote each other. Maybe this is good for romantic kitsch but it felt a little strange.

I also felt that the directors might have taken the giggle at some of the more kitschy approaches to some of the scenes - the little "Technicolor" remark of the angel was quite effective there.

The colors and the cinematography are gorgeous again and especially the opening with the clouds "washing" over Europe was amazing. Some of the more epic shots also looked great, although the matte painting was a bit too obvious - but in intention they worked really well.

Also, definitively one of the most amazing hairdressings (with the appropriate lighting) I have ever seen in a movie. Sort of a mixture of Eraserhead and medieval church painting.


Freitag, 9. Dezember 2011

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Hughes, 1986) - TSPDT #558

Ferris Bueller decides to skip school and enjoy it with his girlfriend and his best friend Cameron.

The structure of the film is interesting, and there are many really nice ideas except for the slapstick part - mostly carried out by the Ed Rooney character. These didn't age too well and I was bored by most of that stuff. Talking to the audience in this ironic self-analytical way that most columnists still not have done with today, was really amusing.

I loved the bits with the frozen close-ups of the deadly bored pupils, while their teachers were blabbering away in their respective mannerisms. Some of the "tableaus" were also quite funny to look at...

The Ox-Bow Incident (Wellmann, 1943) - TSPDT #1089

A posse sets out to revenge a cattle farmer's murder and soon they find three possible cattle thieves.

It is a comparatively short picture but nevertheless I was extremely impressed. It's a very moral play, and basically it all takes place in one and the same place, but there are so many layers that it is an enormous pleasure to watch all the actors. Fonda is amazing, so is Andrews and all the smaller actors are brilliant, and full of little surprises.

Despite its shortness, this is an emotional ride of a lot of hopes and ups and downs. What I really enjoyed here is the "matter of fact" situations - like when everybody stops from the lynching and has a bite to eat. This scene is so eerie that I can still remember my feeling vividly. It gave the three characters a break, but actually it made me catch my breath too - and made all the following actions even more intense.

Study this one!

Donnerstag, 8. Dezember 2011

The Philadelphia Story (Cukor, 1940) - TSPDT #142

 An ex-alcoholic ex-husband tries to win back his wife on the eve of her new marriage.

Strangely enough, I didn't enjoy this viewing as much as I hoped to.

I couldn't warm up too much to Hepburn and Stewart, her seeming a bit too cold and distant and Stewart being a bit over the top at all times. I was really amazed by Grant's performance, he really is a master of comedic timing - although once in a while there was a little help from the editing room.


There were a couple of really funny scenes, my favorite being the opening shot with this totally absurd act of violence of Grant's character towards Hepburn. The side characters had not enough definition for me, especially the mother and Uncle Willy, I would have loved to see them more absurd, like in "The Lady Eve", where everybody is totally over the top.

I could also strongly feel the theatrical character of the play shining through very often. There are often situations where the characters just sort of line up in the frame and there I felt a lack of spatial experience.

Juve contre Fantomas (Feuillade, 1913)

 The sinister Fantomas robs a train, tricks a lady, but Inspector Juve is onto him.

The tableau like cinematography is quite interesting, although not always very helpful to the story, since many of the shots are re-used which can be a bit confusing. Possibly there were budget restrictions. The Fantomas actor, René Navarre, makes a very impressing figure on screen.

The train accident are fabulous and many of the details in the story and the picture still hold up pretty well. This might not be the godfather of all crime movies, but there is a certain quality in pacing that I felt similarly in watching the first episode of "Breaking bad".


Mittwoch, 7. Dezember 2011

White Heat (Walsh, 1949) - TSPDT #290

A police mole tries to befriend a crazy mother-dependent gangster after a brutal train robbery.

I did find the evolution of the plot not very convincing as Cagney's character goes from extremely suspicious and brutal to a very trusting guy (at least towards his new cell mate - the police informer). Everything is explained, and the death of Cagney's mother might add vulnerability to his situation but it still felt a little bit conceived to me.

The actors themselves were extremely interesting to watch, I especially liked the mother. Another thing that caught my attention was the brutality of the main gangster and how it was dealt with on the screen. It got past censorship more or less uncut I guess, but the events had a very "modern violence" feel to them.

The scene with the hot steam in the beginning was very interesting as it led even more depth to the ruthlessness of the gangster, serving little else. Also the showdown with the explosions was quite impressive. To me, Cagney's character seemed like the prototype of a Bond movie baddie.

Dienstag, 6. Dezember 2011

The Lady Eve (Sturges, 1941) - TSPDT #114

The son of a rich brewer falls in love with a beautiful con-artist.

Only my second Sturges film and I am really amazed by it. The story has an extremely modern feel to it, although some of the jokes on contemporary morale don't work anymore. I loved the cast and the characters they depicted - it felt that every role down to the last little sidekick had been carefully selected to be played by just the right actor.

The scene with the horse at the sunset was so amazing that I watched it three times through. Not only the horse but the selection of camera angle and framing had been made in such a way that it looked even more grotesque, without turning the lead actors faces distorted, or funny.

Montag, 5. Dezember 2011

Kind Hearts and Coronets (Hamer, 1949) - TSPDT #175

A betrayed remote family member of the Duke of Asgoyne murders his way to the top of the inheritance succession.

An extremely amusing story - the comedy comes a lot from the comedic variations on the same kind of difficult action (ie killing the next relative in line) - watching the actors was a delight and some of the impersonations of Alec Guiness were jaw-dropping, especially the old priest, slightly senile and the "fool of the family".

The open ending helped me to keep the tension and fresh in memory. There seems to have been a different ending in the US, which I haven't seen, but was supposed to give "moral" closure, as crime was not allow to pay back then.

Sonntag, 4. Dezember 2011

The treasures of the Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948) - TSPDT #111

Two drifters set out to dig gold with an old prospector in a remote area. When they find it, the problems start.
Very straightforward and still gripping - I felt that the film's pacing is very even throughout the very different chapters, which gave it a somewhat documentary or even "slice of life" feeling. Bogart goes through an interesting transformation although sometimes he was a little bit over the top, I thought. Walter Huston is amazing to watch and although his character doesn't change a lot through the movie he adds an amazing depth and reality to the prospector he's portraying.

When Bogart's character is killed I was amazed by the situation before - the bandits didn't seem really dangerous (unless to the deranged mind of Bogart's character, of course) they were portrayed amazingly stupid and simple. The ending was predictable but still quite amazing.






Freitag, 2. Dezember 2011

La belle et la bête (Cocteau, 1946) - TSPDT #196

 An impoverished gentleman has to leave his daugther to the beast for stealing a rose from its castle gardens.

The film doesn't make use of a linear logical structure, and it didn't strike me as a typical fairy tale - there is no real morale at the end. It is rather a fairy-tale like fantasy with a more or less modern story. Cocteau didn't bother too much with dangling story lines or back story, things are taken for what they are on screen - there was no recognizable subtext for me, not even some kind of metaphor of present life.

But the movie is still extremely enjoyable - the visuals are gorgeous and watching the actors is entertaining. I felt a sincerity in the innocence of the storytelling that I didn't mind the logic, or some of the technical shortcomings of the time.

I will definitively re-watch with audio commentary (criterion?)

Donnerstag, 1. Dezember 2011

Cymbeline (Shakespeare, 1609)

A princess loves and marries Posthumus who is not noble. He is banished by the king and from abroad tests his wife's fidelity.

I thought it was really captivating until the fifth act. All the story lines were brought to a rather abrupt finale, and several of the smaller characters were cut off-stage, ie the queen's death and, earlier, Cloten's demise. It felt a little bit mixed up as a whole and also strangely paced. Setup in the very first act is really fast, on the other hand there are monologues that only underline the obvious from a characters point of view and end with somewhat illogical conclusions and actions.