Friday, March 30, 2012

L'Atalante and 1934

I just watched Jean Vigo's surrealist/realist portrait of the first year of marriage, L'Atalante, on Hulu (thank you, Hulu/Criterion collection collaboration), and it got me thinking about the year it came out, 1934, and how that was a pretty amazing year at ye olde picture shows.

Not only did we get Vigo's only full-length film (he sadly died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis), but we got the following:

 Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century.

Capra's It Happened One Night. I'll put this one up against any romantic comedy, then and now.

The greatest Tarzan film ever made, Tarzan and his Mate, and I'm only slightly swayed by the pre-code nudity.

The first Thin Man, and still one of the best comedy/mystery/romances ever made.

Hitchcock's brilliant English thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much.

 Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat.

 Bette Davis and Leslie Howard in Of Human Bondage.

The first pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee.

And Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra in DeMille's epic. Seen here bathing in milk.

Film Frames Friday

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

A kidnapping thriller that unfolds more like a three-character play. It's the first film by British director J Blakeson and it's pretty good. Solidly made, filled with surprising and not ludicrous twists. Poor Gemma Arterton gets to spend the majority of the film handcuffed to a bed but she has her moments too. So many kidnapping films intercut between the kidnappers and the police; this movie is only about one side, and it's a nice twist.

Also, nice music from Marc Canham. I checked him out on IMDB and he's only ever scored video games, including the video game version of Reservoir Dogs. Learning something new every day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dream House

If I were asked to quickly name my three favorite contemporary actors it's very possible that I would come up with Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts. These three, of course, are cast members in Dream House, the Jim Sheridan film that came out to god-awful reviews last year. And there are stretches (long stretches, really) of this particular film that are truly god-awful, like, for example, the last twenty minutes.

That said, it's possible to sort through the wreckage of this film and see that at one point there was a genuine and interesting movie here. And Daniel Craig gives what I think is a truly brilliant performance as a wrecked man. There are a couple of sequences, one in a psychiatric hospital, and one with Rachel Weisz involving their two small children, that in a different movie would garner Craig an academy award. He's that good.

Then just when you think the film is going to keep going in this particular direction, it turns into a clumsy hackneyed thriller. Watching it, it seemed pretty clear to me that something had gone wrong with this movie: that someone wrested control away from someone else. IMDB confirmed this: apparently Sheridan, Craig and Weisz all refused to do press for this film because the Morgan Creek producers had re-cut the film against Sheridan's wishes.

Hey, as Daniel Craig said, "The movie didn't turn out great. But I met my wife. Fair trade."

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Little Kiss

I have no intention of blogging about Mad Men on a week-to-week basis. There's too much to say about any given episode. But I will say this, having watched last night's premier episode, "A Little Kiss" (that's the English translation of the French song Megan sings for Don at his surprise birthday party): If the speakers on my TV set burned out I would still watch Mad Men for its unbelievable compositions and set designs. What a gorgeous show. Don Draper's new swanky apartment (picked and decorated by Megan) is worthy of a Sirk film at its very best.

I liked Peggy's Bean Ballet idea for Heinz. Maybe if they'd pitched at at Heinz's international headquarters of 1966 they'd have had more luck. That's the actual lobby in the picture below. Click on it for a better look.

Poetry Monday

Since I mentioned it this weekend here is my poem about Howard Hill, the great archer who worked on Flynn's Robin Hood.

Howard Hill  
by Peter Swanson    

He must have had hands
     that could deliver a martini
          with a meniscus across a shuddering room

of dancing inebriates
     all the way to his best girl,
           never a spilled drop. He must have had a heart

as big as a breadbox,
     vision exact as bomb sights,
          and when, in 1938, he was asked

by some studio man
     to do all the archery work
          on the new Robin Hood picture with Flynn—

to fire arrows
     toward the chests of stuntmen—
          he must have said yes without a flash of hesitation.

When he saw the square
     of balsa, felt-backed, steel-plated,
          fitted under the costumes, he must have seen a target

he could master
     like the prune he could pluck
          off the head of a man a half a football field away.

And when, on Curtiz’s cue,
     he launched the first arrow
          through the smoke-blue air of the set to land,

note-perfect, quivering,
    into the chest of some underpaid player,
          he must have looked more myth than mortal,

at least seven feet tall,
     lighting a smoke with no wasted moves,
          eyes already hunting into the distance, designing

arcs yet to happen, ready
     to take his mark and shoot
          another shaft safely toward the heart of a man.    

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Archery in the Movies

I haven't seen it yet but I will be checking out The Hunger Games some time in the next couple of weeks. I enjoyed the trilogy of books and hope to feel likewise about the films themselves--I've done a little web browsing to garner opinions and am not surprised that the backlash has begun, with all sorts of critics (Andrew O'Hehir of Salon comes to mind) taking potshots at the phenomenon more than the film. Oh, and by the way, a lot of critics have pointed out that the film does the same thing that the imaginary government does in the film's narrative, i.e. doles out entertainment via teenagers killing one another. News alert: in the film's narrative real kids are dying while in the film it's faked. There is a difference. A big one.

I'm off-topic here. What I really wanted to say in this post is that I'm looking forward to some archery-related violence in this film. I've long been a fan of the bow-and-arrow action hero. It makes for great visuals and satisfying sound effects. A few of my favorites here:

Melina Havelock (Carol Bouquet) in Roger Moore's best Bond outing, For Your Eyes Only. She plays a revenge-seeking Greek who dispatches her victims with a crossbow.

One of the nice things about Legolas (Orlando Bloom) in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is how versatile he is with his weapon. Firing two arrows, long distance shots, shooting through doors, dispatching oliphants etcetera.

The greatest archery film ever made, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), with Errol Flynn. Flynn deserves credit, of course, for making the green tights look good, but the archery credit really goes to Howard Hill, the genius who actually fired arrows at costumed extras, making sure to hit the wooden block underneath their outfits. Inspiring stuff, prompting me to at one point compose a poetic ode to Mr. Hill. I'll leave that for another post.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Poetry Monday

At the Airport

by Howard Nemerov

Through the gate, where nowhere and night begin,
A hundred suddenly appear and lose
Themselves in the hot and crowded waiting room.
A hundred other herd up to the gate,

Patiently waiting that the way be opened
To nowhere and night, while a voice recites
The intermittent litany of numbers
And the holy names of destinations.

None going out can be certain of getting there.
None getting there can be certain of being loved
Enough. But they are sealed in the silver tube
And lifted up to be fed and cosseted,
While their upholstered cell of warmth and light
Shatters the darkness, neither here nor there.


Friday, March 16, 2012

The 400 Blows (1959)

It's always nice when a film you've always heard is a masterpiece turns out to be a masterpiece. This is the beautifully told story of a juvenile delinquent in Paris that manages to be both unsentimental and heartbreaking at the same time. It's currently available for free on Hulu.

Film Frames Friday