Friday, March 29, 2013

The Godfather, Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

****
USA
Um, has anyone seen this recently?
It is not the greatest sequel, or the greatest anything. 
It doesn't expand on the original, thematically or otherwise, and it certainly doesn't add any psychological layers: it just picks up the ones that were perfectly palpable in the first part, then repeats them hysterically and ad nauseam.
It is clunky and bloated and erratic and more than a little bit pretentious. The timeline shifts are not only arbitrary but often absurdly misjudged.
The cast is filled with names that inspire gushing awe, but the performances range from the uneven to the faintly embarrassing. Pacino is initially magnetic but quickly runs out of variations on 'eerily malevolent'. De Niro comes up with two completely illogical accents (Corleone grew up in Sicily - why does he pronounce 'tre' as 'tree' and 'padre' 'pad-ray'? And if he's gonna try grapple with Brando's iconic half-voice half-wheeze, why must he pile a disappearing-reappearing Italian-a-stereo-type-a accent on top? This is by far the sketchiest performance from this, his strongest period).
Keaton is intriguing when in the background, but still hasn't learned to be comfortable when in the foreground. Only Cazale comes up with a coherent character and is granted the film's sole genuinely moving sequence.
But ultimately the most vital carryover from the original is Gordon Willis' photography, which even makes sepia tones feel atmospheric and non-lazy. 
Had it been in any way possible to view this film outside of the context of its electric, monumental predecessor, I wonder if I wouldn't be a little more impressed. But at the same time, the main reason it's any fun at all - and I should emphasise, it's still loads of fun - is the afterglow from Part I. The main pleasure here ultimately comes down to the opportunity to re-enter a beguiling and fully formed world, already invested in characters that would otherwise merely amount to one-note caricatures.
 

Also, this is very likely the last review I will put up on this blog, at least for a while. But I am now posting ratings at http://letterboxd.com/ykantgoranrite/ Come hang out!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

LOOPER (Rian Johnson, 2012)

***
USA
Fun in the way a tacky de Palma is. The setting is twenty-forty-something but Johnson's grasp of womanhood and violence reeks of 1982. All the same, the plotting is so stupidly, solemnly confident, you'd be stupid not to go along with it.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

#teammargaret

Monday, February 13, 2012

SHAME (Steve McQueen, 2011)

****
USA
The phrase ‘Misery porn’ never seemed so apt. The pacing and the composition render it thoroughly immersive, and with a velvety-woozy Manhattan backdrop, ‘immersive’ is exactly how I like my misery porn.

And the performances are so unaffected (and am I allowed to say ‘raw’?) that they impact you on a primal level and even lend the cliché-riddled narrative an emotional force it doesn’t properly earn.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (Louis Malle, 1958)

****
France
When Jeanne Moreau looks at the camera as at a lover, there is no need to suspend disbelief. She has you comfortably wrapped around her finger.

She wasn't yet famous when Malle directed her in this, but she already carries herself like a movie star. She takes her allure for granted.

The rest of the film is a little bit all over the place plot-wise, but relaxed about it.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Pedro Almodovar, 2011)

****
Spain
Almodovar is king of odd, bold, blunt Movie Movie images (not to mention plots). Nobody else manages to wring this kind of sensual pleasure out of colours, bodies, faces and strange juxtapositions. In some ways it’s a minor film – the various psychologies turn out to be deceptively pat – but it encapsulates and renders irresistibly gaudy the essence of what’s wonderful about cinema. And in a timeless way too: you could remove the entire (characteristically intoxicating) soundtrack and it would still work. It’s a movie to gawk at, laugh with and get drunk on.

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THE DESCENDANTS (Alexander Payne, 2011)


USA
So vitally misjudged, insensitive and implausible, it makes you want to go back and reconsider Payne’s and Clooney’s entire respective filmographies.

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Friday, November 04, 2011

KAWASAKI'S ROSE (Jan Hrebejk, 2009)

**
Czech Republic
All of Hrebejk's films are didactic but usually lively and complex enough to compensate. This one is complicated rather than complex. And it has no life.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Woody Allen, 2011)

***½
USA
Hardcore Woody Allen acolytes have had a decade to learn to look past the often cheap gags, the increasingly unimaginative plotting, thin (if lively and well-acted) caricatures and over-conceived under-developed scenarios purely to bask in images and cadences that bring memories of Annie Hall and The Purple Rose of Cairo. For me at least, watching each year's fresh-yet-familiar Woody Allen frivolity is precisely and entirely about tripping on nostalgia, entering a warm, somehow cynically idealised smartalecky heart-gradually-emerging-on-the-sleeve world.

In this sense, I even thoroughly enjoyed things like Anything Else and Whatever Works. But in this sense, I've generally been in the very un-hip minority for well over a decade.

By the time I was allowed into a cinema without my parents, Allen's glory days were well and truly over and he was churning out things like Small Time Crooks (which made me laugh - I realise I'm supposed to be embarrassed about this). So to find myself queueing round the block for Allen's latest and leaving the cinema along with a beaming crowd - it's an unreal experience, and I don't know how to explain it.

This isn't some sort of return to form. It's a tender, charming, occasionally a little irritating (Woody, I love you, but name dropping is not a punchline) but perfectly satisfying concoction with a fabulous Woody surrogate and an overarching idea that is touching, thought-provoking and neither deeply nor subtly dissected.

That this particular offering has managed to strike a $50m+ chord with audiences and bring Allen out of 15 barely interrupted years of oblivion makes no sense to me whatsoever. And yet, for no rational reason, it makes me very happy.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

WEST SIDE STORY (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)

**½
USA
Musical theatre and gang warfare. It's an uneasy mix. For the Sharks and the Jets, fists and guns just won't do. They settle their scores the only real way: through dance.

Yes, it's an easy target today, but once upon a time this mix of self-conscious cool and sledgehammer topicality won accolades and Academy Awards.

Admittedly the better numbers - America, the gym dance, bits of Cool - have lost none of their electric charge. In order to get to them, it's almost worth furrowing through all the posturing, the caricatures, the soggy vacant leads, the James-Cameron-hits-da-streets dialogue, the endless moralising and general endlessness (two and a half hours!).

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

UN COEUR EN HIVER (Claude Sautet, 1992)

**½
France
Emmannuelle Béart plays a dour, meticulous, paradisiacally beautiful violinist. André Dussolier is her astonishingly patient lover. Daniel Auteuil is his best friend, and the man Emmannuelle truly loves. And he is drawn to her too, so much so that his friend will politely look the other way when she decides to throw herself at him, not realising that - hélas! - Auteuil is a Man Incapable of Love.

Yes, it's that kind of French movie. They all get together in tastefully lit venues with not a poor person in sight, communicate in strictly ponderous dialogue, smile only in order to express ungraspable pain. You want to go up to each person individually and give them a good shake.

The leads are casually arresting and Sautet utilises Ravel to sneakily hypnotic effect. But this is shallow stuff.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

CASABLANCA (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

*****
USA
A masterclass in atmosphere, dialogue and character colour. In popular culture and most people's memories this famously flukey classic of Warner Bros. backlot intrigue chiefly endures for its breathless love story. You remember vague talk of 'rounding up the usual suspects' and 'shock - shock! that gambling goes on in this casino'. But generally when someone says 'Casablanca' the first images that come to mind are Bogart anaesthetising a broken heart with only a searchlight for company and Bergman melting into his arms to the tune of "As Time Goes By".

So it's always a wonderful surprise to rediscover the film’s self-conscious but thoroughly beguiling aura of 'wordliness', not to mention its disarming balance of blunt cynicism and clear-eyed idealism. Yes, it's fundamentally a romance with blinding star wattage but it has brain too. The ratio of soft-focus swooning to delicious cleverness is not quite as you remember.

In any case you still have to catch your breath when a downtrodden crowd thunders the Marseillaise, when Rick delivers his farewell speech at the airport and every time the camera frames Ingrid Bergman in close-up.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956)

**½
USA
"Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!" This exclamation (by a blitzed Anne Baxter) sums up not only Charlton Heston, his NRA self-righteousness and Zapp Brannigan cadences, but also the visionary mind behind this ultra-kitschy nearly-four-hour pomposity. It's probably the most hilarious of all biblical epics - and that's saying something.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

JANE EYRE (Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2011)

**½
USA
For some reason it's never been more acceptable to poke fun at the very Hollywoodised and rather fabulous 1944 Fontaine-Welles version and its arch theatrics. But Brontë's gothic romance needs theatrics - it needs to be moody, tempestuous, pompous, passionate to an excess. Because when you tackle a plot this foggy with dialogue this mannered, you need to accept that you are dealing in fantasy.

In theory this 'gen-Y' update's handheld camerawork and murky, strictly motivated lighting are irreproachable. In theory so is the attempt at age-appropriate casting and semi-naturalistic acting. But for all their repressed hysterics and clipped line readings, Wasikowska and Fassbender don't muster up a trace of chemistry or any coherent emotional throughline.

The 1944 version was shrill and faintly tacky, but it had force, it had conviction, it was transporting. This 2011 edition is by comparison wan, unconvincing. Bloodless.

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