Monthly Archive for July, 2009

F for Fake (Vérités et mensonges)

F for Fake (Vérités et mensonges) (7/30/09) Netflix (1974 **1/2) Written and Directed by Orson Welles, featuring long lingering shots of Oja Kodar‘s anatomy. “This is a promise: For the next hour, everything you hear from us is really true and based on solid fact.” This documentary (that’s not really a documentary) began with an examination of art forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer, Clifford Irving. Irving went on to write the well-known autobiography of Howard Hughes, which was, of course, a hoax. Who better to explore this world of fakery, than the man whose 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast sent people running scared into the night? The quick cutting editing style Welles used throughout the film was probably ahead of its time and reminded me of the beginning of Oliver Stone’s JFK. (Caution: Spoilers ahead!) I rented this film because I’d read that it was actually a trick in and of itself. Though true to Welles’ “one hour of truth” promise, after the one hour lapsed (following a somber consideration of Chartes Cathedral), what followed was a surreal fabrication (presented as fact until it’s revealed to be fiction) about a young woman who slept with Picasso in exchange for 22 paintings. The story was just bizarre enough to be plausible, but that was the point. Ultimately I wish I could give this film a higher recommendation. I admired the technique, but it wasn’t an easy film to watch and was frequently confusing.

Shopgirl

Shopgirl (7/29/09) Netflix (2005 ***) Directed by Anand Tucker, screenplay by Steve Martin (based on his novella), starring Steve Martin, Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman. I liked this film considerably better than the novella on which it was based, which I found too dry for my tastes. It was definitely a small film and was beautifully shot. The red/green color motif showing Mirabelle the shopgirl’s development and affinities was a little obvious, though, and I found myself with each shot looking at the color composition. Ultimately the life messages of the film were subtle, but I got the impression from the book that was kind of the point.

Jules and Jim

Jules and Jim (7/27/09) TV-TCM (1962 ***1/4) Directed by François Truffaut, based on the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, starring Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner and Henri Serre. Set before, during and after World War I, two friends, one French, the other German, share a friendship and a woman named Catherine. This was a charming film, though watching it with my jaded modern eyes I had a harder time appreciating it than I undoubtedly would have if I’d watched it in 1962. Also, I feel this is a film I should have viewed for the first time in my teens or twenties. As a man approaching 45, I kept thinking: “Man, what a lot of unnecessary drama. Find another girl, Jules and Jim! She‘s seriously f–d up!”

Angel on My Shoulder

Angel on My Shoulder (7/27/09) TV-TCM (1946 **1/2) Directed by Archie Mayo, starring Paul Muni, Anne Baxter and Claude Rains. A gangster shot by his partner goes to hell and makes a deal with a guy named Nick. There’s probably a Master’s thesis in an in-depth examination of why there were so many “afterlife” fantasies in the 1940’s. Certainly it had something to do with servicemen who didn’t return from WWII. This was an occasionally fun entry in that subgenre, but it was weakened by a central character (Muni) who wasn’t very likable for 2/3 of the film. Somehow the story managed to pull it off, though, and the film ended strongly.

Friends with Money

Friends with Money (7/26/09) Netflix (2006 ***1/4) Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, starring Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand. Aniston played a former teacher with a wealthy circle of friends making a living cleaning other people’s homes. While I liked this film, I’m not really sure what it was ultimately about except that some people are miserable regardless of how much money they have. There were multiple storylines and not all of them intersected or were thematically linked. There were even a few story elements (Aniston stealing expensive cosmetics from a client, for example) that were introduced but not resolved.

Some Came Running

Some Came Running (7/26/09) TV-TCM (1958 ***1/2) Directed by Vincente Minnelli, based on the novel by James Jones, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine. Sinatra played an Army veteran / disillusioned writer who returns home and finds himself torn between a woman too good for him and a woman he treats more or less like a faithful dog. This film was one of the 52 recommended in Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week, which I read recently, and I was lucky enough to already have it on my DVR. As a drama, Some Came Running occasionally drifted into melodrama, but that was really a product of the period in which the film was made. It was still compelling throughout, and even though Sinatra and Dean Martin’s characters had a lot of despicable traits, I still cared about what happened to them.

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week (7/26/09) Nonfiction (1999 ***1/4) My purpose in reading this book was as research for a writing project I’m considering. The premise of Movie of the Week (Bogdanovich recommends a classic film for each week of the calendar year) was a little flimsy. The material was a revised form of short weekly columns originally published on the TV page of New York Observer magazine. Though clearly written for a broad audience, I still found Bogdanovich’s writing a little dry at times. However, he had the advantage of having interviewed several well-known directors for his previous book, Who the Devil Made It?, and that first-hand contact often informed and added weight to the essays in this collection. Also, I couldn’t help but notice that Bogdanovich appeared obsessed with long, continuous shots, and whenever a director employed that technique he pointed it out.

The Barefoot Executive

The Barefoot Executive (7/25/09) Netflix (1971 ***) Directed by Robert Butler, starring Kurt Russell, Joe Flynn, Harry Morgan, Wally Cox and John Ritter. In spite of my recommendation, I beg you: Do not watch this movie! Its theme song will become lodged in your brain and there will be no escape. Its awful lyrics are not even available on the internet, they‘re so toxic! If you do choose to watch it, consider yourself warned. Okay, infectious theme song notwithstanding, I actually liked this movie quite a lot. Not only was Kurt Russell imminently likable, but the premise of a chimpanzee who picks top-rated TV programs provided plenty of fodder for satirical commentary about American society.

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet)

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) (7/23/09) TV-TCM (1957 ***1/4) Directed by Ingmar Bergman, starring Max von Sydow, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand and Bengt Ekerot as Death. Set against the backdrop of the black plague, a knight (Sydow) returning from the crusades plays chess with Death. I watched this film once before, in college, though I didn’t recall any of the particulars. It’s a good film, a true classic, one that has the audacity to ask one of the fundamental questions of human existence: What is the nature of God? Beyond that, I didn’t really understand the film or what hidden meaning motivated many of its scenes. It wasn’t completely inscrutable, but I confess it did leave me scratching me head a few times. Why did some characters escape Death while others did not? Was it a matter of belief? Perhaps.

The Shaggy D.A.

The Shaggy D.A. (7/22/09) Netflix (1976 **1/2) Directed by Robert Stevenson, starring Dean Jones, Tim Conway, Suzanne Pleshette and Keenan Wynn. The 1959 film The Shaggy Dog was such a success, it’s no wonder Disney decided a sequel was in order, albeit 17 years later. Though it was well-executed and populated with what seemed like dozens of familiar, likable faces, I’m afraid it was somewhat of a disappointment. What was missing, I’m afraid, was heart. We were never given much of a reason to like or root for Wilby Daniels (Jones) and his family, and most of the film was devoted to one madcap chase after another. Maybe it’s silly, but in my mind there was a far more satisfying sequel that might have been made.