Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Last Picture Show (1971)

*****
USA

Peter Bogdanovich’s adaptation of a Larry McMurtry novel set in the lonely, barren town of Anarene, Texas, 1951, centred around the local bored teenagers and their yearning for a sense of fulfillment (mostly sex) as they cross the threshold into a bored adulthood and its yearning for the past. The film is shot in a soft, melancholy monochrome, its soundtrack is speckled with crackle and subtle echo effects, and further strewn with a plethora of early 50’s radio hits (many of them by Hank Williams and all of them gems). Like several of the key figures in it, it’s suffused in nostalgia – not cheap, wholesome nostalgia, but the pained, paralysing kind that builds with years of disappointment and torpid regret. It’s an elegant, elegiac, intensely moving portrait of a steadily decaying mid-West. And with its relaxed depiction of budding sexuality and frustration, in some sense it plays like the de-chastened underside of the sunny rites-of-passage movies of the 50s – but done with subtlety and sensitivity, and no unnecessary fanfare.

dir: Peter Bogdanovich
wr: Peter Bogdanovich, Larry McMurtry
ph: Robert L. Surtees
ed: Donn Cambern
pd: Polly Platt
cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan, Sam Bottoms, Randy Quaid

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Intimacy (2001)

***½
France/UK/Germany/Spain

Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox meet up for anonymous, dysfunctional sex every Wednesday at his grimy bachelor pad. It becomes apparent very quickly that the movie is based on a book (specifically, the stories of Hanif Kureishi): there are several mannered patches in the script (resulting in some awkward bits in otherwise perfectly solid performances). But overall, director Patrice Chéreau keeps the introspection raw and compelling, aided enormously as he is by Eric Gautier's moody, precise camerawork.

dir: Patrice Chéreau
wr: Patrice Chéreau, Anne-Louise Tridivic
ph: Eric Gautier
cast: Mark Rylance, Kerry Fox, Timothy Spall, Alastair Galbraith, Philippe Calvario, Marianne Faithfull, Susannah Harker

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

****
USA

Kazakhstani ambassador Borat Sagdiyev's half-doco movie film is sincerely nutty in a way that far too few American comedies have been seen the heyday of the Marx Bros. Beyond Sacha Baron Cohen & co.'s skilled skewering of an America that would gleefully lynch gays and Iraqi babies (as well as an America that would patiently tutor a guileless foreigner on the proper system for dispensing with faeces), it's a joy to watch a flamboyantly moustached funnyman wreak havoc on a mass scale with flawless timing and wide-eyed delirium.

dir: Larry Charles
wr: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips
cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Pamela Anderson, Pat Haggerty, Alan Keyes

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sunshine (2007)

****
UK

The Sun is dying. The last team of astronauts sent to resuscitate it disappeared without a trace seven years earlier. So it's now up to Cillian Murphy and a cast that brings memories of a Benetton-ad to save humanity.
On paper it sounds like a daunting thing to sit through, but the plot exposition, along with the less intriguing performers, is disposed of early on and what follows is uncommonly enthralling sci-fi. It's both mildly philosophical in accordance with current zen-sci-fi trends as well as unnervingly tense in that more enduring slasher-sci-fi tradition. On top of this it boasts a high-strung, fatalistic emotionalism that is difficult - and probably pretty pointless - to resist. The soaring anguish of the strings on the soundtrack is an easy enough weapon in itself, but it's that much more stirring matched as it is to awe-inspiring imagery.

dir: Danny Boyle
wr: Alex Garland
ph: Alwin H. Kuchler
ed: Chris Gill
m: John Murphy, Karl Hyde, Rick Smith
pd: Mark Tildesley
cast: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Troy Garity, Mark Strong

Monday, April 16, 2007

The 400 Blows (1959)

*****
France

The picture that began Antoine Doinel's battle against a casually cruel world and introduced to said world the offhanded poetry and delicate, invigorating sensibility of François Truffaut. It's probably cinema's least pretentious portrayal of the struggle of The Outsider and one of the most enduring and intimately affecting tales of maturing into teendom.

dir: François Truffaut
wr: François Truffaut, Marcel Moussy
ph: Henri Decaë
ed: Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte
m: Jean Constantin
cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Guy Decomble, Georges Flamant, Patrick Auffay, Jeanne Moreau

Macbeth (1948)

***½
USA

Orson Welles' movie adaptation of Shakespeare's story - easily the best of the American ones - is famous for having been made in 21 days. The sets were made of papier-mache and have an otherworldly quality that aids the mood enormously. The performances vary in tone and conviction - as do the Scottish accent attempts - though they're generally adequate at the very least.

dir: Orson Welles
ph: John L. Russell
cast: Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O'Herlihy, Roddy McDowall, Edgar Barrier, Alan Napier, Erskine Sanford, John Dierkes, Keene Curtis, Peggy Webber, Lionel Braham, Archie Huegly, Jerry Farber, Christopher Welles

Running with Scissors (2006)

***
USA

Augusten Burroughs' memories of his hyper-dysfunctional adolescence are barely believable as it is - it's what makes them compulsive - but in his movie adaptation writer-director Ryan Murphy chooses to further amplify and gaudify them. The more seasoned among his performers lend honesty to scenes they are allowed to play in minor key, while Murphy himself seeks out moments of schlocky transcendence - and in all the wrong places at that.

wr/dir: Ryan Murphy
cast: Joseph Cross, Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alec Baldwin, Gabrielle Union, Patrick Wilson

The Singer (2006)

***
France

A thoroughly inoffensive, arthouse-grandma-friendly concoction about a middle-aged performer in rural dance-halls and a much-younger single Mum who has a one-night-stand with him and gradually grows to regret it less and less. The intelligent, professional performers turn in intelligent, professional performances and writer-director Xavier Giannoli's overarching mission is to send you home content and mildly chipper at having witnessed another thoroughly neat, thoroughly redundant May-December romance.

wr/dir: Xavier Giannoli
cast: Gérard Depardieu, Cécile De France, Mathieu Amalric, Christine Citti, Patrick Pineau, Alaine Chanone, Christophe