Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Recent Movies

The Good German (2006) was one of those experiences where I wanted it to affect me more than it did. I love Steven Soderbergh's films, always have. The choice of filming it in washed out, grainy black and white, was jarring at first. But even after I got used to it, it felt gimmicky. I mean, I know that when the story took place, this is the kind of film that would have been available if someone was making a documentary, or some such. The film quality isn't that velvety silver screen sort of black and white: it's very naturally lit and grainy in texture. I just wanted it to look real. But that's a choice, an experiment, and it was interesting. Emotionally I was there until the end, where it kind of fell apart for me. The homage to Casablanca just served to emphasize the triumph of that film and the iffiness of The Good German. It's like when I saw Rent in NYC. I believe this musical would have stood a better chance of working if its composer had lived to edit it through it's growing pains. But I just sat there, and as the strains of Puccini's La Bohème were woven into the score, it just left me wishing I was at the opera instead. And that doesn't happen every day! Having said all that, The Good German stars Toby Maguire (who knew he had such range! I do now), George Clooney, and... the chameleon-like, ravishingly talented, and timelessly beautiful Cate Blanchett. People talk about George Clooney being our new Cary Grant. What a rough comparison for any man to live up to. But if we ever had a true star, a magical presence on screen today, it's Goddess Cate.

As much as The Good German hasn't stayed with me, Little Children (2006) has. It's one of those films that just sneaks back into my conciousness every day or two since I saw it three weeks ago. Director Todd Field started out acting. The first time I really noticed him was in Ruby in Paradise (1993) with Ashley Judd. Now he's making films, the only other one I've seen being In the Bedroom (2001). Little Children is searing and discomforting, with an assortment of emotionally scarred characters, who seem as helpless most of the time as the vulnerable children in their care or their community. I won't go on, I'm still digesting it. Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Noah Emmerich and Jennifer Connelly are all superb with an Oscar-nominated performance by Jackie Earle Hayley, who is about as removed from his character in Breaking Away as he can be.

Le Placard (The Closet, 2001) is delightful French film with a very satisfying array of French actors. Daniel Auteuil is Pignon, a mild-mannered accountant who discovers that he is about to be fired from his job at a condom factory. His wife has left him, his teenage son despises him and he is about to chuck it all in. His neighbour, the wonderful Michel Aumont, comes to his rescue, of sorts. He suggests to Pignon that if he subtley let slip that he his gay, his company won't dare fire him, fearing sexual harrassment issues. The plot is a bit of stretch, but this is comedy, with some serious undertones. Michèle Laroque, who was so charming in Ma Vie en Rose (1997), is Pignon's gorgeous boss; Gerard Depardieu is the thuggish, rugby-playing colleague who torments Pignon; Jean Rochefort (who I loved in Le Mari de la Coiffeuse - The Hairdresser's Husband, 1990), is the director of the company; and the always suave Thierry Lhermitte is a mischevious co-worker. Both my thumbs up and all my toes!

Well, here's an example of a master-director, Billy Wilder, filming a movie in 1959, setting it in the late 20s, and going with black and white, a very risky venture at a time when - if you were starring Marilyn Monroe, you wanted that blond bombshell in Technicolour at the very least! And apparently that blond bombshell needed some persuading. Thank goodness it worked. With Some Like it Hot (1959), words ALMOST fail me. I don't know how many times I've seen this movie, and yet it remains fresh, delightful, eternally funny. According to the trivia notes on, a preview audience laughed so hard in the scene where Jack Lemmon announces his engagement that a lot of the dialogue was missed. It had to be re-shot with pauses (and the maraca gimmick) added. Marilyn Monroe is enchanting. It's a dreadful thing when starlets have tried to imitate her over the last forty-odd years. There is no-one like her, there never can be. She was radiant, innocent, sexy and funny. ("Real diamonds? They must be worth their weight in gold!") Tony Curtis was at the height of his matinee-idolness and even in drag he is oddly attractive. Jack Lemmon is most likely - in drag - the most unattractive woman imaginable. The script is brilliant. What can I say? If you haven't seen it, run to the video store tonight!

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