Thursday, June 30, 2016

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Films: Michael Clayton
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of George Clooney as an actor. There are times when I really like him, when he seems like the right guy to be there, and times when I think he’s just relying entirely on being George Clooney. He’s hit or miss with me, which leaves me wary. Michael Clayton is clearly his movie, despite Tilda Swinton winning the only Oscar out of its many nominations. Honestly, I only recorded this because I scrolled past it and I didn’t know what to expect from it.

Michael Clayton is the story of a lawyer who both has problems and whose main talent is fixing problems. Our titular character (played by the aforementioned George Clooney) is currently about 75 large in debt to a loan shark. The debt comes from a restaurant he and his brother attempted to open. Sadly for Michael, his brother is a junkie and used the money to fuel his drug habits, leaving Michael—who refuses to sell out said brother—on the hook.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Workman's Comp

Films: The Devil and Miss Jones
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the surprise pleasures I’ve had on this blog over the past 18 months was discovering The More the Merrier, a sort of screwball comedy right in the heart of the war years. That movie featured the talents of Charles Coburn and Jean Arthur as well as those of Joel McCrea, and it’s an entertaining little romp that is probably exactly what people needed in the middle of the war. The Devil and Miss Jones comes from a couple of years earlier and is thus an earlier pairing of Coburn and Arthur, and minus Joel McCrea. McCrea is replaced by Robert Cummings, who is pleasant enough, but hardly of the same caliber.

Anyway, this is from 1941, so the winds of war were certainly starting to blow, but hadn’t yet reached American shores. Because of that, The Devil and Miss Jones is not about any sort of war effort, but about the plight of American workers and the problems encountered with the men who run such companies. In truth, it’s a lot closer to a 1940s version of “Undercover Boss” than anything else.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Skin Deep

Films: The Rose Tattoo
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

Most of The Rose Tattoo takes place inside the house of the main character, a good indication that this was based on a stage production, which it was. Tennessee Williams apparently wrote this with his friend Anna Magnani in mind, but she didn’t feel she had a good enough command of English to play the role on stage. Four years after the show debuted, Magnani did take the role in the Hollywood adaptation, one for which she won an Oscar. It’s a pretty straightforward play, based almost entirely around a single character.

I’ve seen plenty of Tennessee Williams adaptations--A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof--but this one was new to me. It’s also substantially different from some of Williams’s other plays, particularly when it comes to the ending. That’s not a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just a thing worth mentioning. Like many of his plays, though, The Rose Tattoo focuses on a woman in the south who is repressed in some significant way and damaged by the events of her past.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Thai-ing One on

Films: Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness
Format: Turner Classic Movies on laptop.

Documentaries have a long history, and early documentaries have an interesting history in that realism was often eschewed in favor of compelling narrative. That’s at least partially the case with Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, the only documentary ever to be nominated for anything like a Best Picture award. It was actually nominated for Best Unique and Artistic Picture, an award that vanished after the first Oscars and became essentially a part of the Best Picture category. This is sort of an ethnography, albeit with some bits that were staged. To the credit of the filmmakers, though, these events were evidently restaged because the original footage didn’t turn out, so these are at least based on real events.

Chang is the story of a “family” in Thailand back when it was still called Siam. On its face, it’s the story of a family trying to survive in a jungle and trying to raise a small crop of rice while dealing with predatory cats and stampeding elephants. Based on that, it’s hardly a shock that this was such a hit the year that it was released.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Polonaise

Films: A Song to Remember
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin' flatscren.

I can’t claim to have entered A Song to Remember with my normal neutrality. The truth is that I’ve only liked Cornell Wilde in a single film and I haven’t been impressed by Merle Oberon beyond her beauty in anything. A movie that puts them as a romantic pairing is, to me, the bland mating with the wooden, and it’s difficult to work up enthusiasm for that. Fortunately, there’s an interesting historical context to put A Song to Remember in, one that makes this far more interesting than it might have otherwise been.

This is the story of Frederic Chopin, the great Polish composer, best known for his waltzes. Chopin, greatly acclaimed, died young, and A Song to Remember attempts to tell us why. We start with the young Chopin (played as a youth by Maurice Tauzin) and his instructor, Professor Joseph Elsner (Paul Muni). Young Frederic is a talented pianist and even a budding composer before his 12th birthday, but is terribly troubled by the problems of Poland, specifically by Poles being taken into custody by Russian authorities.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bear Down

Films: The Revenant
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When The Revenant came out last year, it because the latest film to start the chant of “Give Leo an Oscar!” Well, this time it worked, and strangely enough for the film in which Leonardo DiCaprio says less than in any other of his films. Someone needs to start that chant for Richard Deakins, by the way—the man has 13 nominations without a win. Anyway, even before I saw the teaser of the next version of the 1001 Movies book, I figured The Revenant was a virtual lock. It’s got everything the compilers of the book want in a film. It’s long, it’s daring, it’s highly acclaimed, and it’s got a star they love.

It’s also worth noting that it’s evidence that several people had a really good 2015. Tom Hardy was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this and also played the title role in Mad Max: Fury Road. Domnhall Gleeson plays prominently in this and was in Brooklyn, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the critically-acclaimed Ex Machina, a film that also starred Oscar Isaac, who was big in the latest Star Wars film and Alicia Vikander, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in The Danish Girl. It’s like Six Degrees of Oscar.