Saturday, June 30, 2007

Clubland (2007)

***
Australia

An Aussie variation (with a seasoned Brit in the lead) on those dysfunctional family quirkfests that bag multimillion-dollar distribution deals at Sundance. Brenda Blethyn plays a failed stand-up comedian, who grows uncomfortably overprotective of her son when he starts getting laid. It's cloying and derivative, but fortunately watchable thanks entirely to an ensemble's worth of intelligent, natural performers (aside from one conspicuous exception).

dir: Cherie Nowlan
cast: Brenda Blethyn, Khan Chittenden, Emma Booth, Katie Wall, Frankie J. Holden, Emma Booth, Rebecca Gibney, Richard Wilson

The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

*****
USSR

It's becoming increasingly fashionable to pick apart the sacred cows of cinema (and for things like Lord of the Rings and The Shawshank Redemption to ransack the space formerly reserved for the likes of Intolerance and L'Atalante on greatest film polls). And the day draws nearer that Eisenstein's tour de force reconstruction of the stunted 1905 Kronstadt revolution will be stripped off what Pauline Kael termed its "unholy eminence". And admittedly the earlier sections are a tad choppy and repetitive. And there is little more than anthropological value to its slant on recent history and its cartoon message.
But be wary of anyone who'll tell you there's nothing more to this dinosaur than the [still incomparably harrowing] Odessa Steps sequence. They probably haven't seen the rest. So they wouldn't know about the startling, epic fervour of the sailors' uprising or the dreaminess of the mist encroaching the ports of Odessa or the sheer bewildering awesomeness of the fleet reunion that closes Eisenstein's masterpiece.

dir/ed: Sergei Eisenstein
wr: Sergei Eisenstein, Nina Agadzganova-Shutko
ph: Edouard Tissé, V. Popov
cast: Alexander Antonov, Vladimir Barski, Grigori Aleksandrov, Mikhail Goronorov, Levchenko, Repnikova, Marusov

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Zodiac (2007)

****
USA

David Fincher returns to the serial killer genre with this look into the as-yet unsolved Zodiac murders in California in the late 60s. He drops the moody, upstart showiness that had heretofore marked his films and delivers instead the kind of sombre, reserved, detail-driven suspenser that Sidney Lumet is committed to.
It's very much a movie-movie: Jake Gyllenhaal plays the handsomest and most clean-cut of dishevelled, bookish true-crime nerds; the killings and near-killings wouldn't look out of place in any sadistic slasher flick; none of the victims and near-victims are permitted a personality; women exist only for purposes of exposition; and every location is glazed in a Technicolor sheen (though, astonishingly, no celluloid was involved in the production).
And within the realm of its movie-movie-ness, it's tense, compelling and thoroughly satisfying in the way that every efficient studio picture should be. The actors help, certainly, as does the script by James Vanderbilt, who throws hooks at you at a finely judged rhythm and avoids the traditionally clunky dialogue that haunts the genre. And though neither Vanderbilt nor Fincher adequately pursue the fascinating strand they open up about mankind's compulsive need for closure above factually supportable justice, they do at least touch on it, and within the realm of movie-movieness, that's enough to be commended.

dir: David Fincher
wr: James Vanderbilt
ph: Harris Savides
cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, Chloë Sevigny, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Donal Logue, Clea DuVall, Philip Baker Hall, John Carroll Lynch

Days of Heaven (1978)

*****
USA


Terrence Malick exclusively delivers masterpieces and this, his second film (preceding his third by twenty years exactly), is considered by many respectable people to be his best.
The story is vaguely concerned with a gradually destructive love triangle that evolves in the idyllic wheat fields of the Texas Panhandle pre-WWI. Precocious teen Linda Manz delivers the folksy and possibly most successful of the gently meandering voiceovers that form a driving force in every Malick movie. The great Nestor Almendros was responsible for the lensing of the ethereal, paradisiacally beautiful images. A streak of nihilism underscores Malick's usual meditativeness here and ultimately adds a chilling overtone to the picture's intoxication with fleeting, day-to-day romanticism.

wr/dir: Terrence Malick
ph: Nestor Almendros
ed: Billy Webber
m: Ennio Morricone
pd: Jack Fisk
cast: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz, Robert Wilke, Jackie Shultis, Stuart Margolin

An Unmarried Woman (1978)

****
USA

Paul Mazursky's wry, seasoned, warm though unsentimental look into Jill Clayburgh's divorce and recovery after a 16-year marriage. Mazursky's grasp over the craft is rudimentary - he's shot it the way you would a feature-length sitcom, with a cutesy, jazzy Bill Conty score and everything - but he's working off a terrific script and his handling of his actors is masterful. Clayburgh won laurels for her sassy, ballsy divorcée, though hers is only one of an ensemble's worth of uniformly, sensationally authentic performances.

wr/dir: Paul Mazursky
cast: Jill Clayburgh, Alan Bates, Michael Murphy, Patricia Quinn, Kelly Bishop, Lisa Lucas, Linda Miller, Cliff Gorman, Andrew Duncan, Penelope Russianoff

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

*****
USA

The only slightly less excellent of two highly excellent adaptations of Raymond Chandler's relatively excellent "Farewell, My Lovely" (which was this film's UK title, as well as the original title of the terrific 1975 remake). Dick Powell is no Bogart (or Mitchum, for that matter), but he's a surprisingly solid Marlowe, and Claire Trevor - almost as surprisingly - a delectable femme fatale (you can hear the [new] money in her voice).
1944 was pretty much early days for noir, but Edward Dmytryk already had the tone and unmistakable visual style down pat. Writer John Paxton tidies up Chandler's typically unwieldy plot and fills in most of the holes. The dialogue, as you'd expect, is cracking.

dir: Edward Dmytryk
wr: John Paxton
ph: Harry J. Wild
ed: Joseph Noriega
cast: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Mike Mazurki, Otto Kruger, Miles Mander, Douglas Walton, Donald Douglas, Ralf Harold, Esther Howard