Thursday, December 07, 2006

Superman Returns (2006)

***
USA

Bryan Singer's attempt to do for the Superman franchise what Christopher Nolan did for the Batman one. It isn't as joyless as Nolan's picture - Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey camp it up with terrific zeal as Lex Luthor and his sidekick - but neither is it as compelling.
Brandon Routh brings a non-presence to the title role that works for Clark Kent (since it's unusually easy to believe that nobody would pick him for a superhero) but sucks the air out of the icon. Kate Bosworth brings a cheerleader's conviction and an odd dye-job to Lois Lane. She's meant to be a Pulitzer-prize-winner in this one.

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

*****
USA

The story goes that after editing on his sophomore picture was finished Orson Welles disappeared off to South America, pursuing one of the many projects he was never to complete. Due to a poor response from test audiences, RKO then went on to drop 44 minutes from his picture, shuffle around the remainder and hire the future maker of “The Sound of Music” to film a new ending. This botched version is the only one that still survives, yet enough of Welles’ vision remains in it to hint at a greatness equalling – perhaps even surpassing that of the great great “Citizen Kane”.
It’s a family saga as much as it is a poignant elegy to a lost age, dressed up very evocatively in Welles’ emblematic expressionistic lighting, fluid camerawork and aural ‘deep space’. The Ambersons start off the twentieth century towering over Indianapolis and pinning their hopes on a despicable little brat who is the sole heir to the estate. But as the brat matures into a piercing Tim Holt, the industrial age sends what remains of the ailing dynasty into bankruptcy. In the meantime we watch the dreaded Automobile evolve into a culturally shaping factor and the aristocrat devolve into a vassal at a dynamite factory.
As Holt’s anguished mother, Dolores Costello is the image of faded elegance. Agnes Moorehead turns in a nervy tour de force of a performance as his spinster aunt and wise and wily Ray Collins is equally effective as his uncle. Perennial also-ran Joseph Cotten plays the automobile inventor and is repeatedly denied Costello’s love. A young and very intelligent Anne Baxter is his daughter. Welles himself doesn’t make an appearance, but he does put in the laconic, hypnotic, omnipresent voiceover, going so far as to recite the credits at the end rather than printing them on-screen.

wr/dir: Orson Welles
ph: Stanley Cortez
ed: Robert Wise
m: Bernard Herrmann
cast: Tim Holt, Dolores Costello, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Anne Baxter, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Richard Bennett, Orson Welles

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Ice Harvest (2005)

***
USA

A cynical noir caper that isn't funny enough to be billed as a comedy (which was reportedly the intention) but as a thriller it's watchable. There is some hardboiled posturing in the script department, but director Harold Ramis keeps things economical and brings it in at 85 minutes, which is a good length for it. The acting is solid and the femme fatale uncommonly sultry.

dir: Harold Ramis
cast: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen, Randy Quaid, Oliver Platt, Justine Bentley

Ménilmontant (1926)

****½
France

Pauline Kael’s favourite movie this was. It begins with a startling sequence of an axe murder as witnessed by the victims’ two teenage daughters and the film ends up faintly disappointing since no other part in it quite matches the raw, hypnotic force of this opening. But it is a remarkable achievement. Russian émigré Dimitri Kirsanoff – evidently a significant figure in early avant-garde cinema – directs with great sensitivity and lyricism, combining Soviet montage techniques with a French Impressionist’s fascination with light.

wr/dir/ph/ed: Dimitri Kirsanoff
cast: Nadia Sibirskaīa, Yoland Beaulieu, Guy Belmont, Jean Pasquier