Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

Secrets & Lies (dir. Mike Leigh, 1996). A young black Londoner (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) discovers that her birth mother (Brenda Blethyn) is white. More to follow. Family dysfunction and class distinctions, with many Leigh regulars. Best lines: “We’re all in pain. Why can’t we share our pain?”

*

Vi är bäst! [We Are the Best! ] (dir. Lukas Moodysson, 2013). I like the cheerful Dunning-Kruger confidence of the title. Three Stockholm girls (only one of whom can play an instrument) form a band. But — they insist — they are not a “girl group.” They are a punk band, complete with suitable haircuts. Their one song is inspired by their gym teacher: “Hate the Sport!” But in the film’s crucial scene, they show a gift for improvisation.

*

Vera Drake (dir. Mike Leigh, 2004). Working-class London in 1950. Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton of Leigh’s Another Year ) cleans houses and performs abortions (without charge) for women in need. A secondary plot concerns a wealthy young woman (played by Leigh regular Sally Hawkins) and the means by which she ends her pregnancy. The 2004 Academy Award for Best Actress should have gone to Imelda Staunton.

*

I’ll Cry Tomorrow (dir. Daniel Mann, 1955). Susan Hayward as stage and screen star Lillian Roth, who sank into alcoholism and found a way to sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous. If the name Lillian Roth is new to you (as it was to me), here are just four samples from YouTube: 1, 2, 3, 4.

*

Mr. Holmes (dir. Bill Condon, 2015). Ian McKellen as a ninety-three-year-old Sherlock Holmes, living with a cranky housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her sweet son (Milo Parker), fighting memory loss as he tries to solve an old case. The plot is less than coherent, the ending dippy, but there are good meta elements: the Holmes stories are the work of John Watson, really, and Holmes finds himself measured against both print and film versions of himself. (The pipe and deerstalker cap are Watson’s embellishments, Holmes says: he prefers cigars.) The one reason to see this film: Ian McKellen.

*

Weiner (dir. Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg, 2016). Anthony Weiner, disgraced Congressman, disgraced mayoral candidate, on camera: “I still have this virtually unlimited ability to fuck things up.” Scenes from a mayoral campaign, scenes from a marriage (to Huma Abedin), and scenes from medialand, whose sanctimonious talking heads quote Pascal and Shakespeare from memory (yeah, right) as they take Weiner apart. The best (worst) moments: Weiner offering to come on MSNBC every night and kick Lawrence O’Donnell’s ass, Weiner responding (at length) to a Brooklyn man who insults him. (Here’s footage from someone on the scene.) We then see Weiner dismayed when he watches the encounter on the news, not because he made an ass of himself but because the camera caught his bald spot.

*

Dry Wood (dir. Les Blank, 1973). Louisiana Creole culture. Mardi Gras festivities, Ash Wednesday ashes, hog butchering, sausage making, children at play. Music by accordionist Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin and fiddler Canray Fontenot.


[A masked reveler.]

*

Hot Pepper (dir. Les Blank, 1973). Accordionist in a landscape: a portrait of zydeco musician Clifton Chenier. Best line, from a man in a barbershop: “Whatever you is, be that.”

Dry Wood and Hot Pepper are both included in Criterion’s 5-DVD set, Les Blank: Always for Pleasure . Does Les Blank exoticize his subjects? I don’t think so. It’s those of us watching other people’s daily lives on DVD who are the strange ones.

*

On Dangerous Ground (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1951). Film noir in a snowy countryside, if such a thing is possible. A rogue cop (Robert Ryan) is exiled to the sticks to help solve a murder, where he falls in love with the killer’s blind sister (Ida Lupino). Lupino’s performance and the Bernard Herrmann score are good reasons to see this film. In 2008 Elaine wrote about Herrmann’s use of the viola d’amore in this film.

*

Sabrina (dir. Billy Wilder, 1954). Audrey Hepburn as a chauffeur’s daughter, in love with her father’s employer’s thrice-married playboy son (William Holden, hair dyed blond). But then there’s another brother, the Homburg-hatted fuddy-duddy Humphrey Bogart.

Hey, Sabrina: you’ve just spent two years in Paris, you’re a dead-ringer for Audrey Hepburn, and these guys are your only options? An unfathomable fairy tale.

*

Paris When It Sizzles (dir. Richard Quine, 1964). William Holden and Audrey Hepburn in Paris. He is Richard Benson, a hard-drinking screenwriter; she is Gabrielle Simpson, his typist. As he works out a script for The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower , we see its story play out on the screen, false starts and all, with Holden and Hepburn in the starring roles as Rick (“Monsieur Rick”) and Gaby. Many meta moments, beginning with Sabrina , the name Rick, and Holden’s previous turn as a screenwriter in Sunset Boulevard . Several cameos, unannounced in the opening credits, make for fun in the film within the film.


[Two characters in search of a screenplay. Click for a larger view.]

*

Party Girl (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1958). Prohibition days. Nightclub dancer Vicki Gaye (Cyd Charisse) falls in love with lawyer Tommy Farrell (Robert Taylor), who works for gangster Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb). When Tommy is no longer willing to follow orders, Rico threatens the two lovers. Party Girl looks at first like a bit of CinemaScope song-and-dance fluff. But it has moments of deliriously theatrical violence. This evidently obscure film is a true surprise.

What have you seen lately that’s worth watching?

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve

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