Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rich and Strange (1931)

This is a strange film. It's essentially a comedy about a young bored suburban couple. They inherit money from an uncle and travel all around the globe, getting into various misadventures, including infidelities, for the both of them. Throughout it all they remain droll and unsentimental. It's actually a pretty charming film, although it's episodic and some episodes are much better than others. Some people think that it's Hitchcock's most autobiographical film, a portrait of Alma and him on their honeymoon.

The title comes from Shakespeare, some of the most brilliant lines he over wrote. Out of the mouth of Ariel in The Tempest:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Poetry Monday

This non-bleak poem is for Kevin.

The Prisoner of Zenda
by Richard Wilbur

At the end a
The Prisoner of Zenda,
The King being out of danger,
Stewart Granger
(As Rudolph Rassendyll)
Must swallow a bitter pill
By renouncing his co-star,
Deborah Kerr.

It would be poor behavia
In him and in Princess Flavia
Were they to put their own
Concerns before those of the throne.
Deborah Kerr must wed
The King instead.

Rassendyll turns to go.
Must it be so?
Why can’t they have their cake
And eat it, for heaven’s sake?
Please let them have it both ways,
The audience prays.
And yet it is hard to quarrel
With a plot so moral.

One redeeming factor,
However, is that the actor
Who plays the once-dissolute King
(Who has learned through suffering
Not to drink or be mean
To his future Queen),
Far from being a stranger,
Is also Stewart Granger.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Salt (2010)

A fun, well-made action flick. I don't have a lot to say other than that. I love chase scenes when one character is trying to get away from basically everyone, and since this movie is essentially one long chase sequence, I enjoyed it. There are a few ludicrous things in this movie and you just have to go with them and not let them ruin your good time. Also, Angelina Jolie is pretty good in this; she knows how to be still in a scene, which is a trait that not a lot of modern actors have.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Soft Touch (1953)

An almost perfect piece of pulp fiction. What's particularly great about this novel is that the narrator, Jerry Jamison, has all the trademarks of a typical MacDonald hero: war vet, hard working, straight-shooting, a romantic. And yet he goes bad. The final couple of chapters are some of the most chilling bits of first-person narration I've read. This is a great place to start for anyone interested in MacDonald's hard-boiled novel period.

A few more covers for you:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rescue the Hitchcock Nine

I've been watching (and in some cases re-watching) Hitchcock's silent films, and as anyone who's seen them can testify, the surviving prints are pretty much in terrible condition. The BFI is currently running a fundraising campaign to raise money to restore the following nine films:

The Pleasure Garden
The Lodger
The Ring
Easy Virtue
The Farmers Wife
The Manxman

The image above is from Blackmail. Check out the campaign by clicking on the banner on the side of this blog.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Imperial Bedrooms (2010)

Bret Easton Ellis is a writer who is becoming more interesting as he ages. I loved his last novel, Lunar Park, and Imperial Bedrooms, a pretty twisted sequel to Less Than Zero (his first book) is along the same lines, a sort of autobiographical horror novel. In LP, the main character is named Bret Easton Ellis, and that character inhabits an over-the-top haunted house, full of literal and figurative ghosts. In his latest novel, Ellis returns to the characters from Less Than Zero and revisits them in the present day. The result is a genuinely chilling detective story, and a sharp moral rebuke to anyone who might have read Ellis's first novel and romanticized its excesses.

The Empty Trap (1957)

A fun read and a genuine page-turner. A hotel manager steals his boss's wife and his boss's money and makes his way to Mexico. What happens next is gruesome, unexpected, and slightly over-written. Whenever John D. wrote about Mexico he tended to romanticize the place and its people, something he never did when writing about America. It's a flaw, but a minor one.

Black Narcissus/Inception

This is a trailer mash-up with shots from Black Narcissus, scored with the music from the Inception trailer. Works great. This came from Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blackmail (1929)

Considered the first "talking" picture produced in England, this Hitchcock film was begun as a silent. It now exists in two versions. I've seen the silent before, in a theatre with live accompaniment, and now I've watched the talkie version. I don't love this movie, find it pretty dull. The scene when Alice, the protagonist, is talked into going into the artist's studio, and subsequently stabs him to avoid being raped, is first-rate. The rest is pretty ponderous until an exciting chase through the Egyptian wing of the British museum.

An interesting note: the dishy Anny Ondry, who plays Alice, had a thick Czechoslovakian accent and had to be dubbed, but there was no post-production dubbing at the time. So she mouthed the words while an English actress spoke her lines just out of frame. It is not one hundred percent convincing.

Poetry Monday

Average Torture

by Mary Karr

It's not the child's nightmare slide
down a ten-foot razor into a bath
of alcohol, nor the cobra's hooded stare
suddenly come near, but the multiplying string
of insignificance that's become your life.

The doorbell chimes, a phone
jars you from your book.
Your balding pharmacist recounts
the longest dullest joke
in history, his jaw hinged
like a puppet's blah
and blah and blah as you stitch
a smile across your face. A cop
drags you from your slot
in traffic: go straight to court, wait
for hours, weep shamelessly
to save ten bucks.

Such aggressively minor suffering
wins no handshakes, roses, accolades
and threatens to suck the soul out,

though in a small compartment in your skull
you hope for finer things.
At night you set aside your lists
and dime-sized aches to lift its lid
and find the simple room
in which everything you meant to speak
and shape and do is spoken,
formed and done: thirty-odd
thousand jasmine-scented nights
opening like satin umbrellas
all at once. But less and less

you unlatch paradise.
You learn to sleep through days, standing
like a beast, sleep while turning pages
or crying out from love. You sleep
and sleep. One day you wake up dead.
Strange hands raise you from your bed.
The zipper's jagged teeth interlock
before your shining eyes. Small world.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2006)

I think I'm in the minority in not liking this book as much as the first one. It was a good read but it seemed a little familiar to me, almost like a James Patterson novel. But Lisbeth Salander continues to be a fascinating, original character and I'll definitely read the third book.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Inception (2010)

By far the most fun I've had at a Christopher Nolan film since Memento. I wouldn't say Inception was a complete homerun for me but it will definitely be in my top ten of the year. First off, it's so entertaining. Even as the narrative runs away from itself it has the best interiors, a great score, photogenic actors (I'm looking at you, Cotillard), and some truly brilliant, fun setpieces, none better than Joseph Gordon Levitt in the floating hotel room.

I also felt it was basically coherent, even if it was all pretty much hokum (this is, after all, a caper film about stealing secrets from people's dreams). I thought it was relatively easy to follow, but what makes it fun is the different ways one can interpret certain of the scenes. Notably the ending.

There was a lot of talk coming from Nolan that this was his mind-twister version of a Bond film, and it showed. It had an elegant look to it, but I will say that his big snowy commando setpiece, which was obviously modeled on Bond (and specifically on his favorite Bond film (and mine) On Her Majesty's Secret Service), fell very short. It was the part of the film I was most looking forward to, and visually it kind of failed. It was not that sharply filmed, or coherently edited, especially compared to some of the other pieces, like Paris being taken apart and put back together.

Leonardo DiCaprio was okay in this film but nothing special really. It's what I've come to expect from him. He was out-charisma'd by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Tom Hardy, both pretty good in this. Ellen Page was decent I thought, and Marion Cotillard was stunning as always, plus very good playing an unhinged memory.

Here's some pictures of her, just 'cause:

Film Frames Friday

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Ring (1927)

This was the silent film that Hitchcock made directly after making The Lodger. It's a unique film, partly because Hitchcock is credited with the screenplay, and as far as I know it's the only film he directed that he also wrote. It's also unique because it's essentially a working-class love-triangle melodrama, not territory that one associates with Hitchcock. But it's an excellent film, much better than The Lodger. Fast paced, gritty, creatively filmed. The boxing scene at the end is masterful, as good as any that I've seen. I love the presentation of the boxing world, especially the entourage (pictured in the above photo) that move constantly with the hero.

One more thing. I'm by no means an expert on silent film, and have seen relatively few, but for my money this one had some of the best dramatic acting I've seen in a silent, especially from the female lead, Lillian Hall-Davis (seen below). It was a very naturalistic performance in which you could read all her emotions as they flitted across her face. The actress herself had a tragic end, committing suicide at the age of 35 by cutting her own throat. There is some suggestion in her biographies on the web that she killed herself because she didn't make the transfer from silents to talkies.

Murder on the Orient Express (2010)

Yes, I know it doesn't stick exactly to the source material, but it's not as though the original novel, or the Albert Finney film version, have disappeared. This one's just different, and for my money (or my time, rather) this new PBS production was the best Hercule Poirot I've seen. Dark, morally ambiguous, maybe a little overwrought at the end, but very very good.