Monday, September 18, 2017

Twelve more movies

[No sentence count. No spoilers.]

Hail, Caesar! (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2016). Hollywood in the fifties, with movies within the movie: an aquatic extravaganza, a biblical epic, a drawing-room drama, a Gene Kelly-esque musical, and a western. And in the plot of this movie itself, a vaguely Hitchcockian story of a politically motivated kidnapping. Great fun. “Would that it ’twere so simple.”


Max Rose (dir. Daniel Noah, 2016). Jerry Lewis as an eighty-seven-year-old jazz pianist, widowed after sixty-five years of marriage, wondering whether his wife was unfaithful and setting out to learn the truth. An unflinching picture of what it can be like to be old — a pill regimen, endless television, and the past and present blurring. The film jumps the shark (during a phone call to Max’s devoted adult granddaughter) but manages to recover. I learned about Max Rose only with the news of Jerry Lewis’s death.


Un peu de festival du René Clair

Sous les toits de Paris (dir. René Clair, 1930). A love quadrilateral, with a beautiful woman (beauty seems to be her only defining feature) and three male rivals: a street singer, his best pal, and a crook. The street-singing scenes are wonderful; the story itself is thin. The camerawork might make you wonder, even now: how did they do that?

À nous la liberté (dir. René Clair, 1931). A comic masterpiece about work and freedom. “Le travail, c’est la liberté” is a slogan that comes up in the film. To which Clair replies, Non. Prison is one form of prison. Work, as prison escapees discover, is but another. Chaplin shamelessly borrows from this film in Modern Times. I’m convinced that O Brother, Where Art Thou? contains a respectful tip of the hat.


Un pequeño festival de Pedro Almodóvar

The Flower of My Secret (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1995). A romance writer and her discontents. Tired of formulaic plots, Leo Macías (played by Almodóvar regular Marisa Paredes) writes something much darker. What kind of plot will now develop in her life? Intertextuality alert: Leo’s dark fiction becomes the stuff of Almodóvar’s Volver (2006).

Talk to Her (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2002). Two women in comas, one a bullfighter, the other a dancer. Two men, each devoted to one of the women. A friendship between the men. A compelling story of fidelity and its evil twin obsession. To watch the elements of this complex narrative begin to fall into place is pure delight.

All About My Mother (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1999). A bereft mother leaves Madrid in search of her past life in Barcelona, where she makes a new life in the company of a transgender prostitute, a young nun, and two actresses. All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire figure heavily in the narrative. A further intertextuality alert: a scene from The Flower of My Secret becomes a crucial element here. Of the eight Almodóvar films I’ve now seen, All About My Mother and Volver are my favorites.


Down Three Dark Streets (dir. Arnold Laven, 1954). An FBI procedural. When a fellow agent is killed in the line of duty, Broderick Crawford takes over his three cases, hoping that one of them will lead to the killer. Some genuine shocks and surprises, some good Los Angeles location shots, and a great turn by Marisa Pavan. And there are telephone EXchange names. At YouTube.


Borderline (dir. William A. Seiter, 1950). Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor as drug smugglers, sort of, and Raymond Burr as a drug kingpin and something of a poor man’s Laird Cregar. (There is only one Laird Cregar.) With a weirdly comic overlay of sexual attraction between MacMurray and Trevor, à la It Happened One Night. “Noon in front of the monkey cages — have you got that?” At YouTube.


Manhattan Tower (dir. Frank Strayer, 1932). Pre-Code life in a tall office building, with adultery, financial speculation, leering clerks, spunky secretaries, one sugar daddy, many wisecracks, and Art Deco interiors. Ira Morgan and Harry Reynolds take us from floor to floor with inventive camera work and editing. At YouTube.


The Big Bluff (dir. W. Lee Wilder, 1955). Do you remember Martha Vickers, who plays young, damaged, sexy Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep? Here is Vickers with only two further efforts remaining in her film career, playing a wealthy, terminally ill woman who falls for and marries a con man (John Bromfield) who soon has her drinking, smoking, and staying up till all hours. You can guess why. An alarmingly low-budget production (the director is Billy Wilder’s brother), the kind of movie in which dialogue is unintentionally funny, shadows and patches of light move around on walls, and a corner filled with two or three tables signifies nightclub. But with an interesting twist at the end. At YouTube.


The B-Side (dir. Errol Morris, 2017). A portrait of the photographer Elsa Dorfman, best known for portraits made with a Polaroid 20×24 camera. Dorfman appears to be an entirely untortured artist: her comments on her life and work often end in a happy, unself-conscious giggle. But this film, even at seventy-six minutes, feels endless: it’s mostly Dorfman holding up a rejected (“B-side”) photograph and talking a bit (she makes two exposures per sitting; the customer chooses one); then another photograph; then another. We never get a really good look at the rare camera she uses, much less an explanation of what makes that camera or her photographs distinctive.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen films : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Oh wait, twelve more : Twelve or thirteen more : Nine, ten, eleven — and that makes twelve : Another twelve : And twelve more : Is there no end? No, there’s another twelve : Wait, there’s another twelve : And twelve more : At least eleven more : And twelve more : Another twelve

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