Monday, March 23, 2020

Nosh 188: Emma., And Then We Danced, Max von Sydow

David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.
NOTE: As theaters shutter during the viral storm, so must Flix Nosh go into hibernation. Hopefully we and all theaters will return this summer.  Stay tuned, and stay healthy! 

APPETIZER (Reviews of Emma. and And Then We Danced)

What about that period at the end of Emma.? Maybe it means this is it, period, wrapped up forever. But no, Jane Austen movies will go on, forever remade for new generations of (mostly) women. My guess: it means that the story’s dear subject and prized object, Emma Woodhouse, finds the period-stop moment which closes her long, spoiled girlhood and begins her less conceited womanhood. You could make the period an exclamation, because Emma is a pristine starburst for Anya Taylor-Joy, 23. Born in Miami, raised in Argentina and Britain, the former juvenile (The Witch, Split) casts a sunrise beam over fond memory of Gwyneth Paltrow’s 1996 Emma (in Paltrovian terms, her Goop is more gilded). In Austenian terms Taylor-Joy is tailored for joy, with pert blonde ringlets, pink-peach skin and big eyes that cat-pounce with attention. Silly and silky, funny and tart-tongued, her Emma seems something new: taffy with edge.

Oh what a clean and crispy, tart and tricky lass she is, flitting round the  manor house 16 miles from London, lady-lording over her awed, plainer friend Harriet (sweet Mia Goth), whom she tries to marriage-shop upscale while denying any matrimonial interest herself (what man could possibly be worthy?). Emma flaunts her dauntless intuition (“I have not yet been proven wrong”), and cozies her spindly old dad (flawlessly cast Bill Nighy), who is terrified of drafts and seems made of desiccated doilies. Emma., as tightly joined as a glowing parquet floor, is funny in the very English Austen way. Stylized to an almost Wes Anderson degree, it is rich in counterpointed, often pastel colors (the local church is like a delicate candy box). Fabrics and paintings are caught pin-sure by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt’s lighting. Amid the sweeping manorial grass of the plot a dark snake slithers: class snobbery, cutting through all the busy bother and zippered dialog (“I only know what is generally known – that she is poor and of no consequence.” Harriet, blessedly, will rebound).

In a comedy of manners bad manners can be tragic, and Emma will find her heart beyond her wits, via social come-uppance. Prompted by rich, sneering Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), she stops a country outing cold with an insensitive snark to dull but endearingly daffy Miss Bates (Miranda Hart, doing a fresh variant on the fabled English dowager specialist Edna May Oliver). Emma falls into funk, abashed by her faux-pas, her hauteur broken. The story is about the synchronized humbling and self-recognition of Emma. Inevitably, Austen education ordains a reward, some caviar to go with hard cheese. As we suspected, this is Johnny Flynn as Emma’s previously critical and now smitten friend, the equally curly-blonde George Knightley. Suave but shy, his romantic emergence is like dough rising in the oven of Emma’s radiance (these two could mascot The Great British Baking Show).

The chef in charge, cooking her debut feature after many videos and shorts, is director Autumn de Wilde (using Elizabeth Catton’s adaptation of Austen). All gourmet ingredients come to full flavor: terrific acting including the delectably snippy-nice vicar played by Josh O’Connor, superb production design by Kave Quinn, costumes by Alexandra Byrne, and deft inserts of music from folk ballads to Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. I could go on, burbling like a snuff-stoned twit, but I’d rather watch the movie again. Period.   
And Then We Danced
Titled like a vintage studio musical, And Then We Danced might have gotten lost in the cliché grid of gay coming-of-age pictures, a factor even in the best recently, Call Me by Your Name. Context is crucial, and this time it’s Georgia, not the Atlanta one but the Tbilisi one – capital of the small Caucasian nation northeast of Turkey. Using foreign (French, Swedish) money and support, writer and director Levan Akin focuses (many close-ups) on an aspirant for the national dance troupe, the fiercely boyish Merab. He dances with Nureyevian fervor, but his bearish teacher is blood-loyal to ritual tradition. To him Merab, son of a former dancer, is gifted but rather “soft,” and too individual (meaning: not very macho, meaning … you know). “You should be like a nail,” barks the teacher, surely aware that the most famous of all Georgians was (and is) Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, whose Bolshevik name means “steel” in Russian. Georgia, fighting wars since Rome vs. Persia, is proudly masculine. Athletic ramrod males dominate dance, moving to drum music as icons of national virility. Nothing Swan Lake about it, and no room for Mark Morris.

The first half is best, tracing the pressure on Merab’s ambition as his sexual crisis emerges before being outed (not totally) by his virginal crush on an older, probably bi dancer. Intuitively upset is Merab’s partner and presumed girlfriend (she, like nearly all the young dancers, is hooked on smoking – evidently nobody expects a very long career). Melodrama jangles the story, building to family crisis and Merab’s audacious audition. In hilly, picturesque Tbilisi, the people often seem trip-wired for emotional and physical conflict (beware My Big Fat Georgian Wedding). The core of interest, all the way, is lean, intense Levan Gelbakhiani as Merab. With his foxy, vulnerably candid face pointing the way, we enter a culture that most of us have never known. Georgian traditionalists must find Merab’s James Dean moods and eloquently twisting body very post-Stalinist.    

The 12 Best Films of Max von Sydow
Max von Sydow, the supreme Nordic crag of film history, died at 90 on March 8, in Paris. Lifted to global icon status by director Ingmar Bergman, the long-faced Swede also did major work for Jan Troell, notably as indomitable farmer Karl Oskar in The Emigrants and The New Land and fascist writer Knut Hamsun in Hamsun. I leave off this list The Greatest Story Ever Told, with his touching but almost geologically rigid Jesus, and his devil-chasing priest in The Exorcist and its even more kitschy sequel. In my opinion, his best work was:

The Seventh Seal (1957), The Magician (1958), The Virgin Spring (1960), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Hawaii (1966), Shame (1968), The Touch (1970), The Emigrants (1971, photo below), The New Land (1972), The Flight of the Eagle (1982), Never Say Never Again (1983), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Hamsun (1996).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
In 1951 Orson Welles accepted Laurence Olivier’s invitation to stage and star in Othello in London. Some British critics disliked the cuts and changes he brought to the text. One viewer was unusually responsive: “Early in the run, Winston Churchill attended a performance and Orson heard some low murmuring from where Churchill was sitting. He thought the old man was either sleeping or talking to himself, unaware that Churchill often attended the theater and would mouth the words of the principal parts, even whole soliloquies he had in memory. Later Churchill went to Orson’s dressing room and began their visit with ‘Most potent, grave and reverent signiors, my most approved good masters …,’ then went on with a great deal of extra emphasis to give some of Othello’s speeches, always including the cuts that Orson had made.” (Richard Burton’s Hamlet was subject to the same treatment. Quote from Frank Brady’s Citizen Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
With all of its messy pulp, 1970s blaxploitation filming was a rude, overdue rebuke to the movie biz, in which “mainstream (white) Hollywood’s mind had not greatly changed since 1936, when John O’Hara, flush with studio pay, boasted to F. Scott Fitzgerald of his new ‘white house, Southern style,’ including ‘a brand new Picasso, a Packard phaeton, a couple of Negroes …’ Deeply talented Sidney Poitier enjoyed a long tenure as the industry’s official black star, but, observed Armand White, ‘Poitier’s march through ’50s and ’60s Hollywood didn’t stamp out the problem of stereotype.” (From the Pam Grier/Jackie Brown chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.) 

DESSERT (An Image)

Farmer Karl Oskar (Max von Sydow) with wife Kristina (Liv Ullman) and child in The Emigrants, one of the greatest films about migration to America (Warner Bros. 1971; director and d.p. Jan Troell).

For previous Flix Noshes, scroll below.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Nosh 187: Portrait of a Lady on Fire & More

David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.

APPETIZER (Review of Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

Inevitably sold in this country as a “lesbian romance,” Portrait of a Lady on Fire is so clearly a French art film of complex ambition that you wonder how much of it will be absorbed by prurient peepers. There is some informal and tender nudity, but the sexuality is in the pervasive, pensive sensuality that begins to build at the start. Maybe it was to deflect such shallow voyeurism that the English title female is a “lady” instead of a “young girl” (the French title is Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, a variant on the more familiar jeune fille en fleur, young girl flowering).Well, vive les nuances, because they are the essence, manner and method of one of the most elegant movies of recent years.

Céline Sciamma, the director and writer whose previous work centers on young, modern girls and women, has by all accounts found her finest platform, by going to the late 18th century (not very late; no mention of the Revolution or Napoleon). She has re-imagined it as a stylized feminist idyll of discovery, though “feminist” doesn’t exist for these women. Héloise (Adele Haenel) is brought home to a seaside villa from a convent, to replace her recently dead (likely suicide) sister, who went over a nearby cliff before an arranged marriage. Her mother, the widowed Comtesse (Valeria Golino, a long way from her young work in Big Top Pee-wee), is the arranger. She wanted to marry the lass to a Milanese nobleman so that she, an Italian, can return home in high style.

Now Héloise returns home, ordered to marry the unseen foreigner who expects an oil portrait that will ratify his choice. The sister’s male painter departed in haste, leaving the portrait’s face as a smeary remnant of loss, rage or ineptitude. His replacement is Marianne (Noémie Merlant), daughter of a painter, herself a very talented artist and art teacher, but as a woman denied access by the art patriarchy to male nude models, crucial to major Salon themes. Héloise, who misses her convent so free of males (few appear in the story), fears marriage and refuses to pose. But shyly, slyly she opens to Marianne, who at first sketches her covertly. The home’s large, spare rooms (evidence of fading income?) are like canvases, with the story seemingly painted into place by the impeccable brush strokes of glances, moods and confidential talk. This is the most exquisite vision of the era since Eric Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke (2001), which created revolutionary Paris with wonderful painted and digital backdrops.

The deepening suspense is the testing intimacy between the women through shared intelligence and longing. Cinematographer Clair Mathon embraces them in a chiaroscuro from fireplaces and candles, in fine fabrics both actual and painted, all beautifully composed. Even with talk about the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, the liaison is never bloodless and seems to anticipate Romanticism. Merlant’s Marianne has an advantage. More arrestingly pretty with her dark, piercing eyes, she gets to paint, and thrill Héloise by playing Vivaldi on a spinet. Haenel, however, projects more mystery and yearning. Their visits to the sea seem to evoke the future beach vistas of Courbet, Corot and Monet. Sciamma doesn’t need to emphasize sex, because her movie is a pulsing tapestry of quietly erotic touches, clues and portents.

At times we notice the educated French urge to map out feelings as concepts. Some dialog emits a parfum analytique de Sorbonne, like “In solitude I feel the liberty you speak of, but I also feel your absence.” The silences feel loaded with thought. The sequence of the two women helping their charming little servant find an abortion, using the folk wisdom of peasant women, seems rather imported, to add a more modern social solidarity and feminist urgency to the story. Still, you can’t blame the French for being French, and the lesbian romantic theme is so deeply sensitive and exquisitely poignant that only a clod would not be moved. There is a wistful double coda, one at the official Salon in Paris, and one at an orchestral concert that pushes the emotional pedal. But who can complain about hearing Vivaldi again?     



12 Major Performances by French Women in French Films
Each is indisputably special (with director, year):
Marie Falconetti as Jeanne in Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (Dreyer 1928), Jeanne Moreau as Catherine in Jules et Jim (Truffaut 1963), Juliette Binoche as Julie in Three Colors: Blue (Kieslowski 1993), Simone Signoret as Marie in Casque d’Or (Becker 1952), Anna Karina as Nana (photo above) in Vivre Sa Vie (Godard 1962), Isabelle Adjani as Adele Hugo in Histoire de Adele H. (Truffaut 1975), Catherine Deneuve as Severine in Belle de Jour (Buñuel 1967), Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (Dahan 2007), Arletty as Garance in Les Enfants de Paradis (Carné 1945), Maria Schneider as Jeanne in Last Tango in Paris (Bertolucci 1972), Dita Parlo as Odile in L’Atalante (Vigo 1934) and little Catherine Demongeot as Zazie, seen in the photo below from Zazie dans le Métro (Malle 1960).  

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
For Orson Welles, the supreme French director was Jean Renoir (and he was right). Here is a taste of his 1979 obituary salute to Renoir in the Los Angeles Times: “It’s safe to say that the owners of Pierre Auguste Renoir’s paintings in Bel-Air and Beverly Hills are (mostly) connected with the movies. And it’s just as safe to say that not one of them has ever been connected with any movie comparable to the masterpieces of the painter’s son Jean. Some of these were commercial and even, in their time, critical failures. Some enjoyed success. None were blockbusters. Many were immortal.” (From This Is Orson Welles, by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich).

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
Funny Face (1957) is not a great French movie – it isn’t even French – but it has the most joyous salute to tourist Paris. After arriving at Orly airport, Americans Jo (Audrey Hepburn), Dick (Fred Astaire) and Maggie (Kay Thompson) “separately invade 38 sites, their lyrics landing in giddy, overlapping rhythm at Les Invalides, Notre Dame, Sacré Couer, Versailles, St. Cloud, etc. Jo cheerfully informs the Left Bank that ‘I want to philosophize with all the guys, around Montmartre.” In musical sync each pilgrim intuits the obligatory finale, uniting at the Eiffel Tower: ‘We’re strictly tourists, you can chatter and jeer / All we want to say is Lafayette we are here – bonjour, Paris!” (From the Hepburn/Funny Face chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.) 

DESSERT (An Image)

As Zazie, Parisian scamp of Zazie dans le Métro, Catherine Demongeot became a vanguard mascot of the French New Wave and its impudent energies. Seen here with co-star Philippe Noiret (Pathé 1960; director Louis Malle, d.p. Henri Raichi).

For previous Flix Noshes, scroll below.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Nosh 186: Olympic Dreams, Jojo Rabbit & More

David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.

APPETIZER (Olympic Dreams and Jojo Rabbit)

Olympic Dreams
There are “small” romantic movies that sneak up and plant a lasting kiss. Movies like Roman Holiday, Brief Encounter, I Know Where I’m Going, Marty, The Whole Wide World, Ghost, Before Sunrise, Once and Southside With You. In cozy smallness Olympic Dreams is closest to the last two. It has some obvious touches to go with the generic title, but this shy, gentle, pensive valentine is enjoyably heartfelt.

Here’s the signature extra: it takes place at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Penelope (Alexi Pappas) is a cross-country skier with big, needy eyes, her face a strong echo of Jennifer Gray in Dirty Dancing. Penelope faces brutal weather and gets no medal, but she’s an Olympian! She is also lonely, prone to feeling out-of-it. Ditto for Ezra (Nick Kroll), a voluntary dentist for the Olympics. He has nice, nerdling looks and some verbal cavities (before Penelope’s big ski race he says “break  a leg”). They meet, not too cute, then keep meeting. The hitch is that he still carries a flickering torch for a woman back in America. Penelope quavers but calls up her emotional courage, pushing through his resistance. There are endearingly odd moments. She: “You have such adult hands.” He: “They’ve been in so many mouths.”

Kroll, who has done stand-up comedy, avoids shtick as Ezra. Pappas is a long-distance runner, a 2016 Olympian (for Greece) and the American-born wife of director, writer and cinematographer Jeremy Teicher. Their seemingly impromptu movie is anecdotal, yet remarkably touching. It doesn’t try to wow us with athletics (there’s a wry salute to curling), or Korean tourism, or Olympics glory, or sex. This sweet, droll movie is about two people who find their bearings shakily, but honestly. The ending seems tenuous, then stronger as you think about it. Charm takes the gold.        

Jojo Rabbit
A comedy much talked about, Jojo Rabbit is not to be confused with Richard Pryor’s Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, a debacle. This movie is … what? Original, if you don’t know the derivations. Brave, if you don’t mind historical evisceration (the Nazi terror blitz is reduced to a few partially seen Gestapo hangings). Funny, maybe, if you never knew the primal impact of crazy-time Hitler humor in Mel Brooks’s The Producers (1968). Reportedly Brooks, now 93, gave an approving smile to Jojo Rabbit, and why not? The Fuhrer-goof genre is always in short supply. The new wacko-meister is director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), whose very bloodline – New Zealand Maori and Ashkenazi Jewish – is Hitler’s nightmare.

Classic Mel can still cast a spell of hilarity. Jojo gave me scattered chuckles and iffy giggles. Set in a quaint Bavarian town near war’s end, it centers on little Johannes, “Jojo” (adorable and talented Roman Griffin Davis; another good find is Archie Yates as his pudgy pal Yorki). Father is gone, mother is present though often taffy-headed (Scarlett Johansson sprinkles Deutsche sparks like “Heil me, kid,” and Sam Rockwell slouches as a lazy-slob Nazi bigshot). Jojo, 10, is mad-keen for Hitler Youth, but is named “rabbit” by Aryan bullies after he tries to protect a bunny. Here we are, meine Herren und Damen, in the worst time (1944-’45) of the 20th century and many Jojo viewers will feel most worried about the fate of a rabbit. The top conceptual device is a curveball: Jojo’s imaginary paternal advisor is his very own Adolf Hitler, played by Waititi as a chipper, vaguely gay wise-ass who sometimes (oops) explodes into rants. Waititi has some fun, but never the wild inspiration of Dick Shawn’s hippie Hitler in The Producers. The escalating “Heil Hitler!” routines are closer to Hogan’s Heroes (no need for inspiration from early Nazi-busters Chaplin, Lubitsch and Wilder).

Waititi’s fizzy lampoon comes in comic-strip colors, notably Nazi flag red and Wehrmacht green. The story’s “lessons” seem to be that kids are susceptible to conformist propaganda and that sadists love company. There is an achingly symbolic Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), hiding in Jojo’s attic.  If you ever imagined Ann Frank as a John Hughes comedy teen from a Chicago suburban shtetl, Elsa is your reward. In The Producers Mel Brooks twisted his satirical swastika in four synchronized angles, spoofing Broadway kitsch, Damon Runyon hucksters, gay camp and the infernal cult of Hitlerism. He also had Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder achieving mutual genius. Waititi’s daffy-dark ironies and simple gags never reach beyond the g-golly surface. Trivialization is never a good foundation, and tropes can be traps. Jojo Rabbit is a silly bunny with a swastika tail.

SALAD (A List)
My 15 Favorite Movies of the 2010s
The limiting element is that I was away from reviewing for most of 2012-2015. By preference, with director and year:

The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino 2013), Roma (Alfonso Cuaron 2018), Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino 2019), The Kid With a Bike (Dardenne bros. 2011), Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar 2019), The Florida Project (Sean Baker 2017), Inherent Vice (P.T. Anderson 2014), Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda 2019), American Hustle (David O. Russell 2013), Jackie (Pablo Larrain 2017),  The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper 2010), Norman (Joseph Cedar 2016), Aquarius (Kleber Mendonca Jr. 2016), Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2013, Paterson (Jim Jarmusch 2017) and Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson 2012).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
One of Orson Welles’s money-grab gigs was as Gen. Dreedle in Mike Nichols’s big 1970 dud Catch-22 (its hopes largely dashed by Robert Altman’s MASH). Having wanted to direct, Welles had tensions with the new wonder boy. Actor-writer Buck Henry recalled the scene when Dreedle pins medals on WWII airmen: “So we’re all standing in line. Orson does a throat-clearing Aaagggrrhh, then says to Nichols, ‘Mike, listen, there’s a lot of words in this scene and a lot of them don’t mean much, they’re just gags. What would be helpful, and make us move twice as fast, is if you read the script and say the lines the way you hear them in your head, then I will repeat them.’ (Henry): I thought, Jesus, what will happen if Mike gives a reading Orson says is stupid? How messy can this get? But it didn’t. Orson repeated every syllable, every uptick and downtick. It was fabulous. Line readings are generally poisonous to an actor, but Orson figured he’d get back to the hotel sooner – and to the bottle of brandy waiting for him.” (Quote from Ash Carter and Sam Kashner’s Nichols book Life Isn’t Everything.)  

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
In essence Wim Wenders’s great Paris, Texas (1984) is about Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) trying to save his past love and their child. Those who made the movie knew all about the fault lines: “Wenders had married four times. (Writer) Sam Shepard had left his wife for Jessica Lange. (Child star) Hunter Carson came from (writer) Kit Carson’s failed union with Karen Black. Nastassja Kinski had survived her almost demonic father Klaus and several hard romances. Dean Stockwell’s second marriage brought two kids, then divorce. Roving coyote Stanton, never married, had one or two offspring he had not seen. Caringly, the gods of art saved Paris from going down the soap drain.” (From the Paris,Texas chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.) 

DESSERT (An Image)

Orson Welles looms as Gen. Dreedle over Richard Benjamin and Austin Pendleton and (in front) Martin Balsam and Buck Henry, in Catch-22 (Paramount Pictures 1970, director Mike Nichols, d.p. David Watkin).

For previous Flix Noshes, scroll below.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Nosh 185: 'Parasite', 'Weathering with You' & More

David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.

APPETIZER (Parasite and Weathering with You)


Why Parasite now? It opened months ago, and on Jan. 3 was among the worthy also-rans below my Top 12 list for 2019. It has obvious virtues (ace photography, design, acting, direction, themes), but as other movies crowded into the year-end line I lost the thread. On Feb. 9 the South Korean art film dominated the 92nd Academy Awards, grabbing baldies for best movie, international feature (formerly foreign film), direction and original screenplay. The real show ribbon was director-writer Bong Joon-ho, in accepting so blithely gracious, sly, charming, funny, stunned but never speechless. Academy Town has never heard so much Korean, and no foreigner had so vamped it since goofy Roberto Benigni in 1999 (Life is Beautiful). A smash, but vote tallies, which are never released, would probably reveal that Parasite barely slipped past 1917 and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.

Feeling a little neglectful, I streamed into re-viewing with a home encore. Again I found the look, moods and timing excellent.  Bong (The Host, Snowpiercer) is a high-craft auteur. The title parasite is the scrounging Kims, a family reduced to living in a septic basement flat (Dad welcomes street fumigation sprays, blowing through the window). Despite high IQs, Kim prospects are bleak. By luck, pluck, smiles and guile the Kims leech onto the Park family as servants. The Parks live la vie de luxe in a fab modern home perched above Seoul. The contrast between fathers (furtive, amoral Kim and smug, radio-voiced Park) and moms (Mrs. Kim a truck of hustle, Mrs. Park a sweetly vapid princess) echoes through their kids. The families virtually merge, like a mutant hybrid of Korean tensions and options (there is brief, black laughter about the hell regime up north). Story and dialog rhythms often have a dry comical edge, yet many reviewers have downplayed that, instead truffling for message tropes about extreme class division in urban capitalism. Few noted debts dated 1963: Akira Kurosawa’s great High and Low, in which that division is analyzed with a less gothic mastery, and Joseph Losey’s sinister Pinter drama The Servant.

Parasite purrs seductively, subversively, and its portents darken on smooth arcs of suspense. But the climax violence, shot in ironic sunlight, broke (for me) the spell. After long passages of tricky build-up, we get ambushed by morbid pulp, a generic squish. And for all the good acting, the virtual star is the grand modernist home (architect: production designer Lee Ha-jun). I couldn’t help wondering if the movie vamped the Academy because so many of its voters live in such trophy homes, or aspire to them, or fear losing them to the grubby groundlings down in the crowded Valley. When, in Zabriskie Point, Antonioni blew up (repeatedly) a modern desert home, it was a cartoonish overload of radical chic. Bong is playing a smarter game, yet for my taste Parasite rides clever, calculated rails to an over-determined payoff. I was never bored, but I felt played. But hey, I’ve never had an Oscars vote.

Weathering with You    
A brief Seoul flood in Parasite is a drop in the bucket next to the torrents hitting Tokyo in Makoto Shinkai’s often astonishing animation, Weathering with You. In Shinkai’s 2016 hit Your Name, Japan faced a “millennial comet.” Now the immense city endures a summer-long monsoon in which Shinkai’s team creates fantastic skyscapes and city vistas, tropically fluent with downpours, magical drops, seepage, rust, rot, rainbows and spells of radiance. It all pivots on a magical teen girl. She has a miraculous Buddhist rooting in the highest, puffiest clouds of dream, myth and meteorology. The nature raptures recall Miyazaki’s  animations and, ancestrally, the pounding rain at the grand gate which opens and closes Kurosawa’s Rashomon.

I loved the context (of watercolor deluge) and textures (from Turner clouds to rusted iron) but the conceptual subtext is sodden and dippy. The people are caught in the pop taffy of Japanese animé kitsch: jittery teen romance, twinks of flesh, big-eyed nymphets, toys, kittens, even an odd salute to McDonald’s burgers. For a story this fluent such goo is a weak foundation. My advice: turn off the subtitles, swim in the visuals, surf the beauty that Shinkai makes from his morphing of classic Japanese anxieties (storms, earthquakes, atomic power) into the anxieties of  global warming and flooding. Tokyo can take it – maybe.  

SALAD (A List)
My 15 Favorite Asian Movies
In order (with nation, director and year):
Seven Samurai (Japan, Akira Kurosawa 1954), The World of Apu (India, Satyajit Ray 1959), Offside (Iran, Jafar Panahi 2006), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Japan, Mikio Naruse 1960), Ikiru (Japan, Akira Kurosawa 1952), The Music Room (India, Satyajit Ray 1958), An Actor’s Revenge (Japan, Kon Ichikawa 1963), Rashomon (Japan, Akira Kurosawa 1950), The White Balloon (Iran, Jafar Panahi (1995), Ugetsu (Japan, Kenzi Mizoguchi 1954), Shoplifters (Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda 2018), Taste of Cherry (Iran, Abbas Kiarostami 1997), High and Low (Japan, Akira Kurosawa 1963), The Scent of Green Papaya (Vietnam/France, Tran Anh Hung 1993) and The Twilight Samurai (Japan, Yoji Yamada 2002).      

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson Welles was often fond of, and patient with, lesser directors for whom he worked in his check-chasing years. Like English gent Anthony Asquith (The Winslow Boy, The Importance of Being Earnest), the son of a prime minister, for whom he did a small, silly role in the Burton and Taylor star vehicle The VIPs: “He was one of the nicest, most intelligent people ever in films. His nickname was Puffin. I was very happy to be with him, though he wasn’t in real control of that picture. And, my God, he was polite. I saw Puffin all alone on the stage once, trip over an electric cable, then turn around and say to it ‘I beg your pardon.’ ” (Quote from the Welles and Peter Bogdanovich book This is Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
The money angel for Mel Brooks’s best film, The Producers, was showman Joseph E. Levine: “Up from the garment trade, Levine hustled imported schlock (Godzilla) and elite caviar (Long Day’s Journey Into Night), artistic magic (Fellini’s ) and hambone schlock (The Oscar). In 1967 Levine also had something new cooking with Mike Nichols, a quirky comedy called The Graduate (which so enthused him he would sour on Brooks’s film). Brooks took Levine’s $941,000 for a slam-it-in-thc-can, 40-day shoot.” (From the Zero Mostel/The Producers chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.) 

DESSERT (An Image)

The feeling for men in spaces of action is almost encyclopedic in Seven Samurai (Toho Film 1954; director Akira Kurosawa, d.p. Asakazu Nakai).

For previous Flix Noshes, scroll below.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Nosh 184: 'Harry Potter' (Revisited), Kirk Douglas & More

David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.

APPETIZER (Harry Potter Revisited)

Back to a mythic past that has not aged, and which recently came back to me in a very pleasing way:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Revisited)
Some movies spawn much more than sequels. Definitive example: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Perfectly timed, it arrived as generous British balm two months after the trauma of 9-11-01. It also perfectly fit my family’s timetable. As Harry Potter’s movie adventures began at age 11, my daughter Sabrina was a year older, son Travis a year younger. Their adolescence would evolve in parallel sync with their movie heroes. Orphan Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), destiny’s tot, will eventually confront and confound destiny’s rot, the evil genius Lord Voldemort. New school pal Ron (Rupert Grint), a delightful rubber-faced worrier, will prove a warrior under pressure (and ace at chess). Classmate Hermione (Emma Watson), her prim Pekinese face under a bushel of hair crowning a superb brain, is the feminine elixir in the story potion. Raising a proud grind’s hand for every school question, preening her spells and witch’s wand (a rather Freudian challenge to soon-pubertal boys), she often serves as the saga’s mascot, guide and evaluator.

In a San Diego theater on Nov. 15, 2001, the glory started with a rescue, a train ride and Harry’s gaping arrival at the castle of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Scotland. Hogwarts, as packed as a Victorian fruitcake, is Harry’s providential such-muchness after lean years with his crazily mean foster family of muggles (non-magic folk). My kids, at heart never muggles, were eagerly mugged by the movie’s plenitude, and the bond with Harry and his pals was sealed for life. Potter fervor was kept bubbling by book purchase events, part of author J.K. Rowling’s growing empire. With mother Valerie’s guidance everyone was soon dutifully reading except … me. I knew the coming movies were honor-bound to tell the tale faithfully, and as a critic I waved one magic wand: free tickets. Never bothering to learn all the Britannic Talmudic intricacies, I simply enjoyed the brilliant, cascading entertainment with the happiest audience I had joined since the 1977 Christmas feast of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A month later the kids would be dazzled (if never so loyally) by the first Lord of the Rings, a visually impressive series but, to my mind, hurt by its almost metronomic tick-tock of big violence and plot palaver.

Onward with Harry! Six more Potters arrived, including two for the teased-out climax, each film imposingly offered and piously received, with loads of foreshadowing and nearly Wagnerian repetition. I worried that some nerve-gnawing scenes and creatures were too much for young children. But kids like danger, if safely screen-contained (and for many in this case, book-primed). In my prehistoric youth I survived the dog death of Old Yeller, a man consumed by army ants in The Naked Jungle and the freaky Martian death-rays of War of the Worlds. Now we feasted on Rowling’s Voldemort myth (finally revealed as bald, evil-grinning Ralph Fiennes) in a fairy weave of curses, spells, mutations and showdowns. We were in good hands, Sorcerer’s Stone directed with British high craft more than theme park tropes by an American, Chris Columbus (good name to launch a franchise!). There is a titanic troll (but stupid, thus funny). Some blood-draining of a dead unicorn, seen at a rather Disney distance. A gigantic chess match is paced by John Williams’s stirring score, Holst-like, with an Alice in Thunderland quality.

Nothing to come, however lavish or anticipated, could ever entirely match that first cornucopia, the revelation of 11-15-01: Santa-bearded headmaster Albus Dumbledore, most humane of wizards (parch-voiced but resonant Richard Harris, whose death after two Potters brought the role to stately Michael Gambon); the Hogwarts owls, flying fluffballs of mail delivery; immense oil portraits that speak and move; Hermione’s snippy tartness (“It’s Levi-ó-sa, not Levios-á”) masking a bookworm’s loneliness; the slashing Quidditch match of aerial combat on magic brooms; the kindly giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), his very bulk a safe house; the great piggy awfulness of Richard Griffith’s Uncle Vernon; the stern but loving acerbity of Prof. McGonagall (Maggie Smith); Ron’s charming fretfulness, before he merges chess and courage; gnarly John Hurt as wand master Ollivander; the pure, simple marvel of train platform 9¾ in London. Any nits are barely zits, though I was surely not alone in finding Harry a bit generic, a wonder lad more Tom Sawyer than Huck Finn – but adorable, and deeply cherished.

For the Elliotts one figure stood out like a strange knave in a Gothic nave, the sexy and menacing, black-robed and raven-haired Professor Snape. Alan Rickman pours his shadow-crepe voice through ironclad diction, his every moody pause a gulf of mystery. The potions master knows more than he can tell, and polishes every sentence. “I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory and even put a stopper in death” was as near Shakespeare as any childhood classic need go. Rickman, who once purred “I have a love-hate relation with white silk,” made it through the series quite poignantly, then died in 2016. Far more than a villain, Snape is his marker of immortality.   

Inevitably the franchise, profit-gorged (total take now over $10 billion), would wobble some, resorting at last to a rather conventional battle crescendo. We remained as devout as sworn knights, and the binders of our fidelity were the central triple, the Hogwarts chums. The showmanship felt very wand-spun, more Arthurian than 21st century (none of the groaning futurism of the Star Wars and Star Trek series). As Voldemort’s cold spirit became more visible, we bunkered more into the beneficent warmth of the Hogwarts spirit (an attack on the school is almost unbearable). To absorb this fantasy is to live it, and we were lucky. We were the first Potter generation.

On Jan. 31, 2020, it all came back, like a potion of nostalgic nectar. The grown “kids” provided Valerie and me with a concert hall viewing, the Eugene Symphony briskly hitting its orchestral marks below the screen, with music-stand lights twinkling up at Hogwarts. Looking around at the captivated crowd, often cheering or villain-booing, I knew that some fans were, like us, vets of the first-gen. And some had brought their children to discover the joy, for Harry Potter’s gold is not the billions earned but the many millions pleased. Once again a storm of imagination blessed our hopes, shivered our nerves, widened our eyes, gladdened our hearts, made magic seem not only real but everlasting.

SALAD (A List)
The Best Movies of Kirk Douglas (1916-2020)
Quite a man, well beyond movies. My choices (with director, year):
Paths of Glory (Kubrick 1957), The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli 1952), Lust for Life (Minnelli 1966), Spartacus (Kubrick 1960), Out of the Past (Tourneur 1947), Strangers When We Meet (Quine 1960), Ace in the Hole (Wilder 1951), Seven Days in May (Frankenheimer 1961), Champion (Robson 1949), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Fleischer 1954), The Juggler (Dmytryk 1953), In Harm’s Way (Preminger 1965), Detective Story (Wyler 1951), The Fury (De Palma, 1978), Lonely Are the Brave (Miller 1962) and The Vikings (Fleischer 1958).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Devoted liberal Kirk Douglas was not hounded by the McCarthyite Red hunters, but he helped end the terror when he hired blacklisted Dalton Trumbo to write Spartacus (photo above, with Douglas and Jean Simmons). Orson Welles dealt with the trauma 18 years earlier, when the Hearst press and the American Legion smeared him as a Party member. Welles fired back: “William Randolph Hearst is conducting a series of brutal attacks on me. It seems he doesn’t like my picture Citizen Kane. I understand he hasn’t seen it … I am not a Communist. I am grateful for our constitutional form of government, and I rejoice in our great American tradition of democracy. Needless to say, it is not necessarily unpatriotic to agree with Mr. Hearst … If it weren’t sad, it would be silly. William Randolph Hearst is piqued with Orson Welles. The rest is camouflage.”  

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
As an art-mad  boy I “fell hard for Hollywood’s gospel of art. John Huston’s Moulin Rouge (1952) iconized Toulouse-Lautrec, and Vincente Minnelli’s Lust for Life (1956) enshrined Vincent van Gogh. Lautrec was José Ferrer, with a voice like burning brandy. Van Gogh was Kirk Douglas, flame-haired volcano. Art lover Vincent Price would call Lust ‘the most moving moving picture I ever saw.” (From the Alec Guinness/The Horse’s Mouth chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.) 

DESSERT (An Image)

One of the longest surviving stars from Hollywood’s classic studio era, Kirk Douglas died on Feb. 5 at age 103. As an architect, his secret, hopeless romance with Kim Novak in Strangers When We Meet featured one of his more sensitive performances (Columbia Pictures 1960; director Richard Quine, d.p. Charles Lang).

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Nosh 183: 'The Gentlemen', 'A Hidden Life' & More

David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.
Note: Nosh 184 will arrive Friday, Feb. 14.

APPETIZER (Reviews of The Gentlemen, A Hidden Life)

The Gentlemen
Viewing The Gentlemen is like riding a zip line over a burning pit of scripts at a Hollywood luau. This British show has a blithe, greedy eye cocked to what American studios like. Will American audiences? Maybe it’s too verbal and Brit-hip for U.S. success, though it could flourish in video with subtitles and munchy extras. The core template is vintage Tarantino, as first U.K.-mutated by Trainspotting, Sexy Beast, etc. Director Guy Ritchie, a former Mr. Madonna, cropped this turf before with 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. His subsequent career is an epidemic of derivations: Sherlock Holmes, Aladdin, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Madonna’s beach toy Swept Away. Who needs popcorn in a box when you have it on screen?

The Gentlemen, a silly-putty crime spree both witty and confounding, has gangs of guys. Leading the smartest, and preening his status (as in his weird commercials for Lincoln cars), is Matthew McConaughey. His Yank expat Mickey has cornered the UK black market in marijuana, using hidden, high-tech farms on posh estates. He’s ripe to retire, for a grand price. But England’s other super-rich American, Matthew (Jeremy Strong) wants to take over by cheating. A rich, vulgar publisher (Eddie Marsan) wants his cut. A crew of very stereotyped Asian hoods covets control. And the cool guy called Coach (Colin Farrell), a sort of martial arts Father Flanagan for street toughs, leaps into the action. The suavest player is Mickey’s henchman Ray (Charlie Hunnam). He trades razored lines with Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a hustler who narrates the jigsaw story as a hip franchise pitch (Grant’s Cockney spiels are like a goof on Michael Caine).

As for women, there is heavy use of the “c” word (I don’t mean caramel), including from Michelle Dockery as McConaughy’s  tough, loyal wife. Downton Abbey fans may choke when she (forever the beloved Mary Crawley) is almost raped, and when she fires off the line “There’s fuckery afoot.” McConaughey purrs “I like middle age” and is clearly having fun, though below the level of his heyday triple (The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club). This is not a dumb slob party, nor is it so archly clever and brain-gamey as Ritchie seems to believe. When he has Grant evoke “anamorphic cinema” as a legendary heritage, has The Gentlemen earned any right to that evocation? It’s a zingy, fairly entertaining splurge of talent, but the tone is manic, and the projectile vomiting scene shoves us further away from the impeccable English wit of Kind Hearts and Coronets.

A Hidden Life
It opens with famous shots from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, showing Hitler entering Nuremberg for the 1934 Party rally. It should probably open with newsreels of him entering Vienna in 1938, the Austrian-born Führer hailed by joyful crowds whom he, by invasion, has “welcomed home to the Reich.” Austrian farmer Franz Jäggerstätter was present on neither occasion. When inducted in 1943 the devout Catholic refused to take the required military oath to the Führer. In A Hidden Life almost every scene lies close under Hitler’s shadow.  Jäggerstätter’s beautiful Alpine village, St. Radegund, is 45 miles from Hitler’s now-gone mountain retreat above Berchtesgaden. When Franz was taken to Berlin, imprisoned, “tried” and killed, his final months were lived mere miles from Hitler’s huge chancellery.

Geography is crucial because the land, the German Heimat (homeland, roots, tribal memory) saturates Terrence Malick’s  nature-smitten, solemnly paced homage. Glorious crags wreathed in streaming clouds, waterfalls, mills, farmed valleys make the movie seem a Breughel canvas tipping into Bosch (Breughel painted a few Bosch nightmares). Probably few viewers know that the movie also echoes the heroic mountain films of young Riefenstahl, visions that made Hitler choose her for Triumph. In essence, A Hidden Life is a tragic triumph of the will to martyrdom, very sincerely done (sincerity is not a supreme movie virtue – Triumph is so sincerely Nazi, though Riefenstahl was not a Party member).

Even in prison hell, Malick keeps cutting to the exalted peaks and luscious farm, as if we needed extra reminders of what Franz is losing. The lacing of German (public) and English (intimate) speech is artful, but Malick is more a pictorialist than a dramatist. Over three hours he leaves out much. He barely touches on the WWI combat death of Franz’s father as a source of his pacifism. He shows Franz’s chapel-like bedroom but elicits few Catholic thoughts from him. No mention of Franz’s wild youth, when he sired a child “out of wedlock” (having himself been born in that state, to a chambermaid). The villagers are tranced by Hitler, Franz by the land, and the scared, timid Church by its zeal to keep its elegant rococo churches. But there is much time for Franz’s daughters at play, and for farm animals enduring with an innocence almost pious.

Most of the farm labor falls to devoted wife Fani (engrossing Valerie Pachner), who is driven to clawing the earth in agony. To her suggestion that they take refuge in the deep woods, Franz is mute. As Franz, August Diel is appealing and imposing yet says very little. He seems cross-nailed, as an icon of stricken conscience. We humanly regret Franz’s sad fate, yet what movie is best seen from our knees? For cinephiles the bonus is a small, moving performance by the late Bruno Ganz, as a military judge who feels compassion for Franz but knows that the regime demands death (death was its livelihood). In 2007 Jäggerstätter was beatified as a martyr saint by Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, forced at 14 into the Hitler Youth.

SALAD (A List)
Strong Movies of Anti-Nazi Resistance
With main star, director, year:
The Mortal Storm (Frank Morgan, Frank Borzage 1940), Casablanca (Humphrey Bogart, Michael Curtiz 1942), Hangmen Also Die! (Brian Donlevy, Fritz Lang 1943), Rome Open City (Anna Magnani, Roberto Rossellini 1945), Decision Before Dawn (Oskar Werner, Anatole Litvak 1951), Kanal (Teresa Izewska, Andrzej Wajda 1957), The Counterfeit Traitor (William Holden, George Seaton 1962), The Train (Burt Lancaster, John Frankenheimer 1963), Army of Shadows (Lino Ventura, J-P Melville 1969), The Sorrow and the Pity (Pierre Mendes-France, Marcel Ophuls 1970). Come and See (Alexei Kravchenko, Elem Klimov 1985), The Pianist (Adrien Brody, Roman Polanski 2002), Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Julia Jentsch, Marc Rothermund 2005), In Darkness (Robert Wiekiewicz, Agniezka Holland 2011).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
A lot of World War II propaganda was feeble, not just on the Axis side. Orson Welles regretted lending his Wonder Show stage magic to 1944’s Follow the Boys: “It was a Charlie Feldman effort to make money, and he made a lot (by) showing how brave all the Hollywood actors were to entertain the boys. Disgusting morally. But I’d spent so much on the Wonder Show that the chance to make 50 grand, I couldn’t say no, and also had to give Marlene a chance to make her money. We needed it, but we were ashamed to be in the picture.” (Welles to Peter Bogdanovich in This is Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
The superb casting and acting in Quentin Tarantino’s films is no mystery, given that the director “called his films ‘completely performance driven’ and in 2012 told Charles McGrath ‘I write good characters for actors to play. I cast actors with integrity, as opposing to trying to just match whoever’s hot with something going on.’ Larissa McFarquhar noticed ‘a point of honor with Tarantino, that he always sits as close to the actors as possible and watches directly, so they can feel the force of his attention.” (From the Pam Grier/Jackie Brown chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.) 

DESSERT (An Image)
Quentin Tarantino talks to Julia Butters, 10, outstanding in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Columbia Pictures 2019; director Quentin Tarantino, d.p. Robert Richardson).

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Nosh 182: 'Just Mercy,' Great "Caged" Performances & More

David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.

APPETIZER (Review of Just Mercy)                   

Just Mercy
It doesn’t pay for critics to be jaded, and belittle a movie because it fits a worn, familiar category. That’s a typology trap, a quicksand of presumptive judgment. Still, I admit to wariness before seeing Just Mercy. The title is a tad pleading, with hints of homily. And this is another prison and courtroom drama drawn from facts, about an innocent, condemned man who desperately needs a good lawyer (and gets one). Thus, says jaded reflex: another petri dish for earnest close-ups and speeches, with a niche life on cable television. Well, watch and learn. Also: think and feel.

Just Mercy hits generic marks without sinking into them, because director and main writer Destin Daniel Cretton tells the story with astute focal clarity and patient regard for making lived facts live again. When he puts emotional hooks into you, you don’t feel chumped (they’re clean hooks). There is no hint of budget waste, the Alabama settings shot by Brett Pawlak don’t rely on corn, grits or gravy, and the acting is terrific. Jamie Foxx is Walter “Johnnie D.” McMillian, a middle-aged harvester of pulp wood in the pines outside Monroeville. He had a loving wife and nine kids but was known to have shown interest in a white woman. So in 1987 the local law (virtual shorthand for the White Citizens Council of segregation fame) hustled Walter to the state’s Death Row. This was after cops freaked a forlorn, pathetic con into “confessing” that Walter had killed a white teen girl. No confirming  evidence (indeed the reverse), just righteous Caucasian justice. Local whites felt pretty safe from rebuke. Monroeville, hometown of Harper Lee, takes pride in its To Kill a Mockingbird museum, an image shrine and cordon sanitaire for the town’s racial reputation.

Michael B. Jordan is no Gregory Peck as Bryan Stevenson, the black pro-bono lawyer who went down South, saved Walter from imminent electrocution, opened buried evidence, confronted his framers, even got Walter onto 60 Minutes before his cruelly delayed release. Peck’s Atticus  Finch is a fictional ideal, a Southern knight of rectitude. In his more plodding, dutiful way, Jordan reveals Stevenson as a genuine hero. His tense decency and expressive eyes align with Foxx’s haunted, stellar intensity, in a shared purpose that is totally convincing. The excellent cast has Brie Larson as Stevenson’s associate, Karan Kendrick as Walter’s wife, and Rob Morgan as a PTSD war vet who can’t catch a break.

The chaw-down bonus is veteran Tim Blake Nelson. As Myers, the po-boy cracker who framed Walter, Nelson inherits the lowlife mantle of feral racist Bob Ewell (James Anderson) in Mockingbird. But, for all his snarls (“Yew gonna buy me a Coke, first?”) and face deformed by a childhood fire, Nelson’s Myers is a full person, seen with the alert compassion that gives the movie a special grace. In a few small stretches Just Mercy can feel like reading a thick legal brief in a sweaty room. But everyone in the story is entirely alive, and the hum of its truth resonates without hard-squeezing us like Mississippi Burning or A Time to Kill.

Despite my initial resistance, I had to see the film. I’ve admired Destin Cretton since he made the wonderful San Diego short about a bold, boyish dreamer, Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey. Cretton advanced to the bravura Short Term 12, then its feature-length version, and then lifted Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson with The Glass Castle. Here is more confirmation that his care for acting, atmosphere and complex motivation is instinctively right. Rarely has a true story better earned its ending info scrolls, or gotten so much from a Death Row “last mile,” or topped its closing court scene with the pretty judge chirping like a Dixie belle, “Well, y’all made my job easier today.” Not an easy movie – yet easy to admire.

SALAD (A List)
17 Ace Performances of the Incarcerated
Paul Muni as James Allen in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), Burt Lancaster as Joe Collins in Brute Force (1947), Richard Conte as Frank Wiecek in Call Northside 777 (1948), William Holden as J.J. Sefton in Stalag 17 (1953), Francois Leterrier as Fontaine in A Man Escaped (1956), Susan Hayward as Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (1958), Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud in Bird Man of Alcatraz (1962), Sean Connery as Joe Roberts in The Hill (1965), Paul Newman as Luke Jackson in Cool Hand Luke (1967), Tom Courtenay as Ivan in A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1970), Yves Montand as Gérard in The Confession (1970), Robert Redford as Henry Brubaker in Brubaker (1980), Daniel Day-Lewis as Gerry Conlon in In the Name of the Father (1993), Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, also Morgan Freeman as Red Redding and James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen in The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and Sean Penn as Matthew Poncelet in Dead Man Walking (1995).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Citizen Kane was an intensive, happy shoot, with only a few mishaps. When rehearsing the scene of Kane rushing down a stairwell after Boss Gettys, shouting “I’m gonna send you to Sing Sing!,” Orson “fell heavily on his left ankle, chipping the bone. The crew called Welles’s chauffeur Miss Trosper. She took him to the hospital in a limousine. The day began to descend to drunken highjinks when Welles started to self-medicate, drinking brandy from a flask. He was ‘not blind drunk,’ Trosper reported, ‘just sort of cute drunk.’ At the hospital, still in costume as middle-aged Kane, his finely crafted makeup began peeling off. When Trosper went to sign paperwork, Orson wheeled away on a rolling binge. ‘With a whoop,’ she recalled, ‘he went lickety-split down the hallway in his wheelchair, scaring the hell out of people.” (With no help from brandy, the stairwell scene is very effective. Quote from Harlan Lebo’s book Citizen Kane.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
As part of his inspired overhaul of Raymond Chandler’s dated, uneven novel The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman “put Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) into a bachelor pad atop L.A.’s High Tower Drive, a pipe-stem street in a skinny Hollywood canyon. Designed by Carl Kay, the Deco-stucco complex is totally noir, with a separate elevator tower rising to decked flats. A European ancestor is found in Aldous Huxley’s Those Barren Leaves: ‘And the whole is dominated by a tall slender tower that blossoms out at the top, after the matter of Italian towers, into overhanging machicolations.”  (From the Elliott Gould/Long Goodbye chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A fine movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) will fetch brownie mix for topless hippie neighbors on High Tower Drive, but otherwise pays them little mind in The Long Goodbye (United Artists 1973; director Robert Altman, d.p. Vilmos Zsigmond). 

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