Thursday, December 06, 2007

Monster House (Gil Kenan, 2006)

***
USA

A scary-cuddly Dreamworks cartoon that bears the heavy imprint of executive producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. It's slight and sometimes awkward but the titular villain is a clever invention and the voice work - Maggie Gyllenhaal's in particular - is spot-on.

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Ginger and Fred (Federico Fellini, 1986)

***½
Italy/France/West Germany




Part grotesque satire of television and contemporary urban decay, part poignant screen reunion between Fellini and his beloved Marcello Mastroianni and Giulietta Masina. They play a dance team moderately famous for imitating Astaire and Rogers in the 1940s, and reuniting for the first time since then for a TV special swimming with circus-friendly faces.

Fellini's bile at the TV industry isn't very grounded, since the show he ridicules is really just an aggressive, unrealistic update of the kitsch that Masina and Mastroianni's characters would have taken part in 40 years earlier (which is itself held in vague, fuzzy nostalgia). Where he used to focus on the joy and camaraderie of these things, here he emphasises the bitterness and vulgarity.

All the same, much of the movie is made up of predictably lovely sequences and bears an organic warmth that was generally absent from Fellini's late career output.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bend of the River (Anthony Mann, 1952)

***½
USA



Anthony Mann directs Jimmy Stewart in this essay on the hardships that faced the Oregon pioneers in the 1840s. It features lots of sweeping vistas and is entertaining enough, but it's wobbly and lacks the complexity of the other Mann-Stewart Westerns (it's probably the weakest of the five).

Arthur Kennedy plays the shifty though charismatic villain, and it's astounding how much sexual tension he musters up with Hollywood's most wholesome movie star. In the opening half-hour alone, they exchange enough heavy leers, pregnant pauses and ambiguous grins to fill several montages on gay subtexts and cowboys. Then there's all the innuendo about giving up one's wild ways and the psychological struggles of settling for the straight and narrow. The two continue sizing each other up for much of the film and Jimmy looks on with frustrated jealousy every time Kennedy forced himself to kiss the very pretty Julia Adams.

Funnily enough, Rock Hudson also pops up in an early role, more to flash his blinding set of teeth than to do any acting.

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