Saturday, May 26, 2007

Princess (2006)

****
Denmark

It's tempting to brand Anders Morgenthaler's first feature a 'dogme-meets-anime', but it's too bracing and startling to be reduced to a 'something-meets-something'. It has the flaws you'd expect of any movie about a priest out to avenge his dead porn star of a sister as well as the rape of her five-year-old daughter (and Morgenthaler does routinely veer into sensationalism and exploitation). But its minor (and, for that matter, major) imperfections are overwhelmed by an overarching, galvanising vision.

dir: Anders Morgenthaler
voices of: Thure Lindhardt, Mira Hilli Mølle Hallund, Stine Fischer Christensen, Liv Corfixen, Tommy Kenter, Margrethe Koytu

The Science of Sleep (2006)

***
France/Italy

Gael García Bernal has trouble distinguishing his dream-life from his day-to-day. Michel Gondry (directing his first feature script) is half-fascinated by this condition, but mostly he just wants to make a feature-length video clip with trippy effects. It's Bernal - in a refreshingly unaffected performance - who brings in some humanity.

wr/dir: Michel Gondry
cast: Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou, Pierre Vaneck, Emma de Caunes, Aurélia Petit, Sacha Bourdo, Stéphane Metzger

The House of Yes (1997)

***
USA

An arch, mannered stage-to-screen transfer about the brand of quirky-dysfunctional-family that has an unfortunate power hold over inexperienced writers. It's too sassy for its own good, but Parker Posey - living up her rare shot at a lead role - makes it more entertaining than it has any right to be.

wr/dir: Mark Waters
cast: Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton, Tori Spelling, Freddie Prinze Jr., Geneviève Bujold, Rachael Leigh Cook

They Were Expendable (1945)

***
USA

John Ford and Robert Montgomery's sensitive tribute to an American boat squadron stationed in the Philippines in WWII has some sweet scenes of wartime camaraderie and emotional farewells. But the battle scenes drag on and become repetitive, as does the entire film. Well before the final 135th minute, you grow impatient for the characters to move beyond their wide-eyed wholesomeness already and hurry up and assume their preordained status of modest heroism.

dir: John Ford, Robert Montgomery
cast: Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond, Marshall Thompson, Paul Langton, Leon Ames, Arthur Walsh, Donald Curtis

The Man with Two Faces (1934)

***
USA

A routine suspense melodrama, chiefly distinguished by the rare chance it affords Edward G. Robinson to play pompous. He excels at it.

dir: Archie Mayo
cast: Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, Ricardo Cortez, Mae Clarke, Louis Calhern, John Elderidge, A.S. Byron, Henry O'Neill

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Love and Death (1975)

****½
USA

Possibly the best thing to come out of Woody Allen's daffy, pre-Annie Hall phase. It's a bit like if the Marx Brothers in their prime took on the past couple of centuries of earnest Russian literature (along with the past couple of decades of earnest Ingmar Bergman). As the village coward who is forced to fight Napoleon's army, Allen is terrific (though technically he does nothing here he hadn't already done and wouldn't go on to do many times over), but as the woman he loves, Diane Keaton is downright revelatory. Seen here years before she adopted and grew suffocated under her neurotic affectations, she is fresh, energetic and completely adorable for her unflappable commitment to the picture's lunacy.

wr/dir: Woody Allen
cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Alfred Lutter, Harold Gould, George Birt, Tony Jay, Jessica Harper



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Red Dust (1932)

***½
USA

Brando did in Streetcar and maybe Paul Newman did in a couple of things, but beyond that few men in Hollywood over the past century have oozed sex so effortlessly and overpoweringly as Clarke Gable does in this otherwise overwrought dinosaur about the sex life of a rubber plantation boss in Indochina. If Clarke Gable isn't your kind of thing - and even if he is - you also get to enjoy Jean Harlow taking a bubble bath in a barrel and saying some rather naughty things. As a prim wife temporarily disoriented by carnal impulses, Mary Astor gets in her way for a significant stretch and she's lovely, as ever, but misplaced.

dir: Victor Fleming
cast: Clarke Gable, Jean Harlow, Mary Astor, Gene Raymond, Donald Crisp, Tully Marshall, Forrester Harvey, Willie Fung

Casque d'or (1952)

***½
France

When you think of France in the Belle Epoque, you conjure up a fantasy of a place so sensuous and otherworldly in its beauty that it could arguably never be captured by a mortal filmmaker. Several highly esteemed movie fans however, believe Jacques Becker achieves precisely that in this glowing romance between the immaculately sculpted Simone Signoret at her most bewitching and an intelligent though miscast actor called Serge Reggiani, who sports a moustache approximately three times the size of his head. The plot is very much in the pulpy noir tradition - a misunderstood convict falls for a femme fatale and finds himself trapped in the crooked dealings of the underworld - but Becker milks it for evocative mundanities and grounded emotions.

dir: Jacques Becker
cast: Serge Reggiani, Simone Signoret, Claude Dauphin, Raymond Bussières, Odette Barencey, Loleh Bellon, Solange Certin, Jacqueline Dane, Gaston Modot

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Marie Antoinette (2006)

**½
USA

What's jarring about Sofia Coppola's misguided biopic isn't the casting of people like Molly Shannon and Jason Schwartzman as an 18th-century French aristocrat and king respectively (along with a potential Abercrombie & Fitch block of wood as a dashing Swedish soldier and love interest to the scandalous queen). It isn't the American cheerleader smalltalk exchanged between the iconic Dauphine and her ladies in waiting; and it isn't the inclusion of such 80s pop culture staples as Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" on the soundtrack. What's genuinely jarring and disheartening is that a picture that combines all of these elements has ended up so lifeless and generic. At its best, Coppola's direction recalls a film school undergrad aping Terrence Malick. At its worst, it resembles a bloated perfume ad. And Lance Acord photography has never looked so kitschy or constrained.

wr/dir: Sofia Coppola
cast: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Rose Byrne, Asia Argento, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, Steve Coogan, Danny Huston, Marianne Faithfull, Mary Nighy