Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (7/13/14 - 7/19/14)

Begin Again (John Carney) *** - Coming from the writer-director of Once comes another musical dramedy about struggling musicians. It's not quite as good but it's still a very solid film. This time, a record producer gets fired from his company and falls in love with an female singer-songwriter. The film has a lot of charm, sweetness and heart. I wasn't a fan of rom-com/daddy-has-to-connect-with-his-daughter plot lines but the whole concept of making an album out on the streets is pretty great and will appeal to any aspiring musician or anyone who loves music. It helps immensely that the soundtrack is pretty fantastic especially the songs "Lost Stars" and "A Step You Can't Take Back."

Gertrud (Carl Th. Dreyer) *** - This is the final film of Carl Th. Dreyer, who is a phenomenal filmmaker. I have to admit I have VERY mixed feelings about this film. It all stems from my personal feelings towards the title character. She's a woman who leaves her ambitious politician husband for a younger musician, all the while philosophizing her ideals about love. She wants a man who will love her first and foremost, above all else as much as she loves him. The character comes off as being a cold bitch sometimes and sometimes a sad lonely sympathetic character. Her characterization can alternately be construed as feminist and misogynist. Perhaps that was deliberate. But it is frustrating. It's a film that I admire more than I love. All in all, I strongly....MUCH strongly prefer Ordet when it comes to late Dreyer.

Unfaithfully Yours (Preston Sturges) **** - God, I loved this movie. Preston Sturges is indeed fast becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. This time around it's about a world-famous orchestra conductor who has come to suspect his younger wife might be cheating on him and fantasizes different scenarios on how he's gonna handle it. It is often VERY funny and features Sturges' trademark combo of slapstick and sparkling dialogue but it's also surprisingly dark as well. Rex Harrison is amazing in the leading role, very capable of playing the serious and dark side as well as an excellent physical comedian (the scene where he accidentally wrecks his high-class apartment is almost as great as anything Chaplin and Keaton had done). This is an absolute must-see.

Slither (James Gunn) ***1/2 - Guardians of the Galaxy is about to open and I thought I'd check out a film of its director, James Gunn to get a feel for his style. If that movie is even half as fun as this film, I would say that it's a success. This B-movie sci-fi horror-comedy is so much fun. The plot is simple: A strange alien-like virus crash lands on Earth and starts to take over a small American town. The plot is a mishmash of a lot of films and features lots of references to classic horror and sci-fi movies, all the while making you laugh and giving you a scary thrill ride. Sure, the plot's derivative and in some sense, it's kind of predictable but there's so much fun B-movie stuff in here and such obvious love for the genre that you find yourself really caught up with it.

Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks) ***1/2 - It's been a while since I've delved into the filmography of Howard Hawks, one of my favorite American filmmakers. This one starts Cary Grant as the head of a group of ragtag pilots in an air cargo airline in a fictional South American town. It's not my favorite Hawks film but it's still pretty excellent piece of work. Cary Grant and Jean Arthur are both terrific as is the ensemble of actors playing the different unique characters in the airline (including Rita Hayworth in apparently her first role). Overall, I thought parts of the film are better than its whole and I think Hawks has done better work. But still a must-see for those amazing flying sequences.

People on Sunday (Curt Siodmak/Robert Siodmak/Fred Zinnemann/Edgar G. Ulmer) ***1/2 - In the opening of this film, it boasts that it's a film "without actors" and introduced its five principal cast members as such. They essentially play a version of themselves as they spend the weekend together. It's not exactly a documentary but it's not a straightforward narrative either. The story is interspersed with numerous montages of people and everyday life in 1930 Germany and it creates an almost hypnotic effect that somehow sweeps you up and keeps your attention even though the story is kind of mundane because it is after all about ordinary people. There are moments of pure beauty and even eroticism (they sneaked in a implied sex scene!). It's very reminiscent of Jean Vigo's Apropos de Nice. Oh and Billy Wilder co-wrote the script.

Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood) **1/2 - This is the film adaptation of the hit Tony-winning Broadway musical that's basically the story of Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons. You know, for an adaptation of a Broadway MUSICAL, this film is low on the musical element, with only enough full-blown musical numbers to BARELY qualify as a "musical". Personally, i love musicals so I was disappointed. Without the big numbers, it's just a standard musical biopic. For what it is, it's....fine. But the director is Clint Eastwood and I love and respect his work in general. Though this is somewhat of an improvement over J. Edgar, it's still kind of subpar. It's a pity since there are elements here and there that could have been great and the performances are generally pretty darn good. If you're a fan of the Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons, there's plenty to love. But overall, it's just okay for everyone else.

Storm Over Asia (Vsevolod Pudovkin) ***1/2 - It's no wonder communism in Russia lasted as long as it did. Their propaganda films are so damn good! As is the case in this film. This one is about a Mongolian man who is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan who finds himself in the middle of an attempt for British imperial capitalists to take over his country and his people. This film features some truly breathtaking filmmaking. Pudovkin shot this on location in Mongolia which gave it a documentary-like feel at times. The quality of the copy I saw was not 100% great but still, the cinematography in it was pretty stunning, I can tell. There are scenes that rival great battle scenes even in the age of CGI. A pretty darn remarkable piece of work.

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