Saturday, July 14, 2007

Black Book (2006)

****½
Netherlands/Belgium/UK/Germany

It's such a release to see a great filmmaker bail Hollywood and breathe again. To be fair though, Paul Verhoeven does retain all the positive aspects of the Old Hollywood instincts for action, pacing and tension buildup in presenting this cheeky thriller about a Jewish woman who joins the Dutch Resistance and starts sleeping with a Nazi towards the end of WWII. This may be why several people who should know better dismissed the film as an enjoyable but empty genre feature. But how many empty genre features present a noble Nazi, undermine the heroics of the Resistance, equate a choral hymn with a barrel of shit and question the automatic vilification and easy branding of collaborators. With terrific, subversive intelligence Verhoeven mixes genre with things that genre traditionally avoids or confuses, and even as he threatens to tie history into an insufferably neat end, he chooses to finish on an ambiguous, unsettling image that provokes some urgent thought.
Also keeping in line with the movie's credo of deeper things bubbling beneath the gloss, the star, Carice Van Houten, reveals beneath her soft, porcelain, 1940s-screen-siren features, a guile, tenacity and ferocity to be reckoned with.

dir: Paul Verhoeven
wr: Gerard Soeteman, Paul Verhoeven
m: Anne Dudley
cast: Carice Van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman, Halina Reijn, Waldemar Kobus, Derek de Lint, Christian Berkel, Dolf de Vries, Peter Blok, Michiel Huisman, Ronald Armbrust

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76. King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedstack, 1933)

77. Jules and Jim (Fraçois Truffaut, 1962)

78. Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)

79. Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

*****
Italy/France

This funny-melancholy-searing tale of a low-rent Roman prostitute, coming as it did out of Fellini's grounded phase, is more indebted to the Italian neo-realist tradition than his famed plunges into surrealism. It tends to get buried under Fellini's sexier achievements, though in truth it's one of the two or three best things he ever did.
Cabiria is marked by the same goofy irrepressibility as Gelsomina, though (The Great) Giulietta Masina takes on her with a fresh ferocity that charges both her performance and her many tragedies with a hefty visceral impact. The squalid milieu that Fellini paints around her has all the vividness and resonance of those in the most urgent neo-realist works but without the self-consciousness and sentimentality. Above all things, Fellini is committed to building and fleshing out his great character (and Cabiria is unquestionably one of cinema's great characters) and exploring the kind of isolation that comes caked in layers of self-preservation and insecurity. So the surrounding detail and social context and the grace and humanism seeping out are purely a happy by-product.

dir: Federico Fellini
wr: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Pier Paolo Pasolini
ph: Aldo Tonti, Otello Martelli
ed: Leo Cattozzo
m: Nino Rota
cast: Giulietta Masina, François Perier, Franca Marzi, Amedeo Nazzari, Dorian Gray, Aldo Silvani, Ennio Girolami, Mario Passante

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80. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle, 1939)

81. Breakfast at Tiffany's (Blake Edwards, 1961)

82. Le Corbeau (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1943)

83. Aguirre, Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

La Régle du jeu (1939)

*****
France

"I wanted to depict a society dancing on a volcano" said Jean Renoir in regards to this wise, worldly and intricate comedy of pre-war upstairs-downstairs parallels and vicissitudes. He plays it wry and cheeky, but don't underestimate his bite. He paints an outwardly elegant though charred milieu, where characters know all there is to know about their own as well as each other's caprices and shortcomings, and have learned to be quite relaxed about them - those that haven't are bound to suffer. And though Renoir is eager to inject wherever possible his famous generosity of spirit, he's too shrewd to be at all optimistic. You could accuse him of cynicism, but you'd be misguided. He's long past cynicism.
Either due to Renoir's guile or due to the decades-worth of mishandling of its prints (it was suppressed, savagely recut, pronounced forever lost, then finally restored in the 50s), the picture is bathed in a frothy, silvery haze, which does wonders for its atmosphere.

dir: Jean Renoir
wr: Jean Renoir, Carl Koch
ph: Jean-Paul Alphen, Jean Bachelet, Jacques Lemare, Alain Renoir
ed: Marthe Huguet, Marguerite Renoir
cast: Nora Gregor, Marcel Dalio, Julien Carette, Roland Toutain, Jean Renoir, Paulette Dubost, Mila Parély, Gaston Modot, Odette Talazac, Pierre Magnier, Eddy Debray, Claire Gérard, Anne Mayen, Lise Elina, Pierre Nay, Richard Francoeur, Léon Larive

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

84. He Walked by Night (Anthony Mann, 1948)

85. The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)

86. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)

87. The General (Buster Keaton, 1927)

88. Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)


89. Love Affair; or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (Dušan Makavejev, 1967)




90. The Gold Rush (Charles Chaplin, 1925)


91. Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1949)


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

92. Stray Dog (Akira Kurosawa, 1949)


93. Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)

94. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

95. My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946)


96. Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)


Frozen City (2006)

****
Finland

One of the year's strongest European films, Aku Louhimies' gritty-melancholy portrait of the inevitable meltdown of a Helsinki taxi driver, never made it out of festival purgatory (its predecessor, 'Frozen Land' [2005] was also restricted to the festival circuit).
Though it begins in a worryingly familiar fashion with clumsy Travis Bickle referencing, it very quickly ditches the hipster homage angle and evolves into something much meatier and more resonant. Unlike most excitable young male filmmakers, Louhimies isn't interested in the fetishising of antisocial macho vendettas. His particular anti-hero, as played by the sensitive, amiable Janne Virtanen, is a recently divorced Dad scrambling to balance alimony duties and a paltry paycheck. When he finally does go berserk - in circumstances as messy and obscure as only real life could ever deliver - there is no sense of release or exhilaration, only the suffocation of the last remaining glimmer of hope. It's a sincerely dark, devastating picture.

dir: Aku Louhimies
wr: Mikko Kouki, Aku Louhimies, Paavo Westerberg
cast: Janne Virtanen, Susanna Anteroinen, Aada Hämes, Hannele Lauri, Santeru Nuutinen, Jari Pehkonen, Vivi Hämes

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Slumming (2006)

****

Austria/Switzerland/Germany

A rare and accomplished foray into fiction for well-regarded documentarian Michael Glawogger, it concerns the crossed fates of, among others, an alcoholic bum and a couple of bored rich kids with a taste for degrading every person they meet. Glawogger shows great skill in drawing up and piercing complex, unconventional psychologies as well as an infectious sense of adventure. He directs his film with a youthful energy, while at the same time displaying a refreshing awareness of a greater world existing beyond the twenty-something slacker milieu that transfixes the vast majority of young filmmakers.

dir: Michael Glawogger
wr: Barbara Albert, Michael Glawogger
cast: August Diehl, Paulus Manker, Michael Ostrowski, Pia Hierzegger, Maria Bill, Martina Zinner, Brogitte Kren, Loretta Pflaum, Martina Poel, Andreas Kiendl, Dragana Mirkovic

Knocked Up (2007)

****
USA

There is a pink elephant at the centre of this frathouse-friendly contemporary screwball of sorts: why is the intelligent, radiant Katherine Heigl prepared to potentially sacrifice a blossoming career and a bright future for an unwanted child with bonghead Seth Rogen? Writer-director Judd Apatow dodges the issue with some awkwardness, but otherwise he doesn't strike a false note both in terms of nutty sex comedy and in terms of grounding the picture in the realm of palatable human relationships. The actors - from the deceptively clever leads right down to the incidental, perfectly pitched cameos - are roundly excellent, and the dialogue is tight, natural and frequently very very funny.

wr/dir: Judd Apatow
cast: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Allan Tudyk, Kristen Wiig, Harold Ramis