Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Passage to India at 30

Opening in New York December 14, 1984, David Lean’s A Passage to India is a superbly told tale of the deep thread of racism that underpinned colonialist empires. Set in Bihar circa 1920, the story centers on mild mannered local physician Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) who befriends two women visiting from England: the matronly Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft, who won an Oscar of this role) and a young schoolteacher named Adela Quested (Judy Davis). With Aziz acting as interpreter and tour guide, the trio embark on a sightseeing expedition. All goes well until a visit to the Marabar Caves, where the astonished Aziz finds himself accused of sexual molestation by Quested. The rest of film deals with Aziz’s legal proceedings, and the complexities of finding justice in a system that favors the fragile flower of British womanhood over the dusky, alien tones of the local populace.

A Passage to India features a number of excellent performances, with Ashcroft and the great James Fox receiving the bulk of the praise. But I have always had a special admiration for Judy Davis’ turn as the neurotic Quested; her sad, cold eyes evoking paranoia and narcissism in a subtle and highly believable manner. No one contrasted small, human dramas against enormous backdrops better than David Lean, and here he strips away the veneer of a supposedly benevolent dictatorship, and reveals the high-minded British Empire as just another manifestation of greed and racist oppression. Yet, as the film makes clear, Indian society is both indentured and indebted to its English occupiers, forming a codependent relationship that in many ways resembles an abusive love affair. In typical David Lean fashion, A Passage to India constructs a sweeping view of history by focusing on the daily lives of ordinary individuals caught in its swirling currents. He avoids easy answers, delivering a rich and complex portrait in the process.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

SAG Award Nominees 2014

I'm not that much of an awards geek, but this is year is kind of odd. Some of 2014's most ballyhooed pictures - Selma, Inherent Vice, Mr. Turner, Maps of the Stars, etc. - haven't released yet, but folks are merrily putting out best of year lists and award noms. SAG announced their nominations yesterday. The SAG awards are always a good indication of who will win the Oscar, except for those years when they aren't. Birdman and Boyhood did very well. The biggest surprises to me were Naomi "Moose and Squirrel" Watts for her over the top Russian accent in St. Vincent - and Bill Murray's snub for the same movie - and the complete shut out for HBO's hilarious Getting On. Jon Hamm and Mad Men were ignored for the second year in a row, despite this abbreviated season being one of the show's best. Actors can be a jealous lot; I guess folks figure he's had enough sucess. Check out the complete list below:

Sag Award Nominees

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Joyeux Anniversaire Jean-Luc Godard

JLG turns 84 today. What a career, what a life. Here's our review of  2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967) ✭✭✭✭

The title may sound like a bad romantic comedy from the 1990s, but 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is another one of Jean-Luc Godard’s patented exercises in allusion and abstraction. Made during Godard’s ridiculously productive year of 1967 - he released three feature films that year, including the densely packed Weekend, which should count as two films at least - this outing deals obtusely with language; specifically, the power of language to persuade, to limit and to outright lie.

The baseline narrative involves the Jeansons, a young bourgeoisie family consisting of lovely Juliette (Marina Vlady), her dimpled but distracted husband Robert (Roger Montsoret) and their two kids: precocious Christophe (Christophe Boursellier) and squalling Solange (Maire Boursellier), a four year old who is often tossed about like a sack of potatoes. As is usually the case with Godard, the story of the Jeansons only serves as a backdrop for his larger purpose: the delivery of pointed commentary on the intrusive evils of capitalism.

The Jeansons, like most middle-class families, are madly in love with bright, shiny new things, and laboring to acquire them consumes all their time and energy. Godard intersperses slightly twisted scenes of mundane life with shots of large scale municipal construction projects, paralleling Juliette’s desire for a new dress with the expansionist tendencies of Western governments. The “Her” referred to in the film’s title is the city of Paris and, according to Godard, Paris’s rapid infrastructure growth, President Johnson’s bombing of North Vietnam, and the materialistic lust of consumers all stem from the same deep-seated insecurities.

When Juliette’s addictive shopping puts a strain on the family budget, she turns to the oldest profession as a way to, pardon the pun, make ends meet. While the strumpet/capitalist is one of Godard’s favorite, and most overused, metaphors, in this context it’s not mere hyperbole. Daytime prostitution was something of a fad among middle class Parisian housewives in the 1960s, and the windfall from this activity helped to subsidize many fashionable design studios.

Godard communicates here in symbols that range from impossibly subtle to downright gaudy. When Juliette’s best client – a visiting American, of course (Raoul Levy) – requests she parade around his hotel room with her head covered by a bag emblazoned with corporate logos, the result is an analogy that’s groan-inducing for its obviousness. On the other hand, the film’s narration, read by Godard himself in a conspiratorial whisper, contains so many oblique literary references that most viewers will find its finer points impenetrable.

In general though, the director’s sheer audaciousness works to the film’s advantage. In an amazing scene, Juliette drops Solange – literally – at a modern office suite that happens to function both as a day care center and a brothel. Both concerns are run by an elderly, no-nonsense manager (Joseph Gehrard) who attends to the children while making sure the harlots in the next room keep to their schedules. And in a humorous scene, a young woman dreamily lounging in the bathtub (Helena Bielicic) is suddenly interrupted by a meter reader (Robert Chevasue) who’s much more interested in the apartment’s electrical usage than the protests of the angry, wet and totally naked.

But Godard unleashes his darkest bile on the science of marketing, and uses bright primary colors to signify emptiness and distraction. He also visually alludes to the drapeau tricolore to the point of overstatement. In Godard’s view, the citizenry are held docile by a contemporary version of bread and circuses. Clever advertising has made choosing the right kind of detergent seem infinitely more important than the mischief our elected leaders are up to in foreign lands. While we waste our time searching the supermarket aisles for the right brand of tin foil, backroom deals are made to destroy the beautiful historic buildings of our cities and replace them with bland, anonymous hi-rises.

With new bridges and freeways encircling Paris, and bombs falling on North Vietnam, the Jeansons quietly retire for the evening; another days’s energy spent. Godard elects to end his diatribe with a slow zoom beauty shot of household products in a grassy field. The world faces imminent destruction, but we can take comfort in our endless supply of colorful boxes of soap. The fact that this analogy is as effective today as it was 40 years ago not only validates Godard’s vision, it’s also depressing as hell.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Quickies for December 2014

Getting On (2014) ✭✭✭✭½

Season 2 of Getting On is showing on HBO now, and it's a scream. Imagine Ricky Gervais' The Office transposed to a hospice care unit and you'll get an idea of what's going on here. The acting is terrific with Laurie Metcalf as a narcissistic doctor and the amazing Alex Borstein as a nurse with hypochondria. The design of the show allows for cameo appearances by older talents such as Betty Buckley and June Squibb as patients facing their last days with varying degrees of dignity and coherence. Amid the laughs, Getting On also make a number of salient points about just how screwed up the American healthcare system is. Somehow writers Mark V. Olsen and WIll Scheffer take these depressing elements and create hilarity every week. I don't how they do it.

Paul Williams Still Alive (2011) ✭✭✭½

Count me among those who thought this once ubiquitous singer-songwriter had passed on. And he nearly did, having put a significant fortune up his nose in the 1970s and 80s. But as this doc makes clear, Williams is still kickin’, although these days gigs are sparse. We tagalong as Williams croons in hotel bars, second tier Vegas venues and even a poorly organized tour of Malaysia. In general, Williams seems happy and at peace with all of his life’s twist and turns, and the scenes from his habitual - and often stoned out of his mind - talk show appearances in the 1970s make this profile worth the watch.

La Tendresse (2013) ✭✭✭✭

Excellent movie about a French middle-aged divorced couple driving to a tony Swiss ski resort to retrieve their college student son who has broken his leg. Yep, that’s about all there is to it, yet along the way we learn all about the once happy dynamic of this former family and how it all went wrong. We also see the persistence of deep blood bonds and the long tendrils shared history, despite changes in relationships. Olivier Gourmet is wonderful as usual and shares a great chemistry with Marilyne Canto as his ex.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

TCM for December 2014

TCM goes out with a bang in 2014. There's lots of Bergman, lots of Mel Brooks and lots of Rock'n Roll on New Year's Eve. My picks below. All times Eastern. Full schedule HERE

3 Wednesday

Winter Light, part of a Bergman Festival on the 3rd.
8:00 PM

An actress schemes to win back her married lover from his still virginal wife.
BW-109 mins,
10:00 PM

On his way to an awards ceremony, a distinguished professor thinks back on his loveless life.
BW-92 mins,
11:45 PM

A medieval knight challenges Death to a chess game to save himself and his friends.
BW-97 mins,
1:30 AM

A recently released mental patient becomes obsessed with her younger brother.
BW-89 mins,
3:15 AM

A disillusioned priest copes with his loss of faith.
BW-81 mins,
4:45 AM

Two sisters deal with their tangled relationship while stranded in a war-torn city.
BW-95 mins,

5 Friday

Sleaze drips from Charles Laughton in Advise and Consent.

8:15 AM

A controversial presidential nomination threatens the careers of several prominent politicians.
BW-138 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

6 Saturday

5:30 AM

This short film looks at the importance of traffic rules to avoid serious automobile accidents.
C-10 mins,
5:30 AM

In this instructional short film, bowling is made respectable and appealing to middle-class Americans through modernization and design.

BW-15 mins,

7 Sunday

6:00 AM

Three zanies turn an operatic performance into chaos in their efforts to promote their protege's romance with the leading lady.
BW-91 mins, CC,

Get a slice of Turkish life with Law of the Border (1966).

2:30 AM

A Turkish villager turns to smuggling to give his son a future.
DirLutfi Akad CastYilmaz Guney ,
BW-77 mins,
4:00 AM

Turkish farmers rebel when a wealthy landowner dams the river they need to survive.
BW-92 mins,

14 Sunday

12:30 AM

In this silent film, a photographer takes up newsreel shooting to impress a movie queen.
BW-76 mins,
2:00 AM

A businesswoman and a model work through the man problems that haunt their sleep.
BW-87 mins,
3:30 AM

A photographer discovers a murder in the background of a candid photo.
C-111 mins, CC,

15 Monday

7:30 AM

A retiree copes with the realities of old age.
BW-88 mins,

17 Wednesday

Schedule a trip to Paris Texas on the 17th.

9:00 PM

In this silent film, the Little Tramp tries to help a blind flower seller to see again.
BW-87 mins,
10:45 PM

An amnesiac tries to find the family he lost.
C-147 mins,
1:15 AM

A simple country girl is torn between the honest farmer who loves her and a corrupt nobleman.
C-171 mins, Letterbox Format

18 Thursday

3:45 AM

A widowed actress and her children suffer hardships when she mistakenly marries a conservative church leader.
C-189 mins, Letterbox Format

5:45 PM

An aspiring executive lets his bosses use his apartment for assignations, only to fall for the big chief's mistress.
BW-125 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
8:00 PM

In this musical version of The Philadelphia Story, tabloid reporters invade a society wedding.
C-112 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

20 Saturday

3:45 PM

Three prospectors fight off bandits and each other after striking-it-rich in the Mexican mountains.
BW-126 mins, CC,
6:00 PM

An aging Cavalry officer tries to prevent an Indian war in the last days before his retirement.
C-104 mins, CC,
5:30 AM

A couple tours around New York in this promotional short for corduroy clothing.

C-11 mins,
5:30 AM

Experts demonstrate such innovative kitchen gadgets as the cheese slicer and the melon baller in this short film.
CastArnold Morris ,
BW-13 mins,

22 Monday

1:15 AM

A madcap heiress upsets the staid existence of a straitlaced scientist.
BW-102 mins, CC,
3:15 AM

Tabloid reporters crash a society marriage.
BW-112 mins, CC,

25 Thursday

8:00 PM

A man must come to terms with his own "high anxiety" in this loving parody of the films of Alfred Hitchcock.
C-94 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
10:00 PM

A film director struggles to produce a major silent feature film.
C-87 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
11:45 PM

An actor and his wife struggle to survive (and make a living) when the Nazi's invade Poland in this remake of "To Be or Not to Be" (1942).
C-107 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
1:45 AM

A fallen aristocrat, a priest and a con artist search for a treasure of jewels hidden inside one of twelve dining chairs.
C-93 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
3:30 AM

In this TCM world premiere interview, comedian Mel Brooks discusses his life and career with Dick Cavett.

C-58 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
4:30 AM

The Marx Bros. team up to keep a circus from going bankrupt.
BW-87 mins, CC,

26 Friday

11:00 AM

A tempestuous Southern belle's willfulness threatens to destroy all who care for her.
BW-104 mins, CC,
12:45 PM

The future president considers a political career while practicing law.
BW-100 mins, CC,
2:30 PM

A college professor fights censorship and an amorous football player who's after his wife.
BW-101 mins, CC,
4:15 PM

A musician is mistaken for a vicious thief, with devastating results.
BW-105 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
6:00 PM

A failure in the U.S. defense system threatens to start World War III.
BW-112 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

27 Saturday

2:00 PM

A bogus preacher marries an outlaw's widow in search of the man's hidden loot.
BW-93 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
4:00 PM

A British military officer enlists the Arabs for desert warfare in World War I.
C-227 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:00 AM

BW-0 mins,
3:45 AM

LSD almost ruins the life of a former actress and her stepdaughter.
C-98 mins, Letterbox Format
5:30 AM

The dangers of marijuana are outlined in this educational short film.
C-21 mins,

28 Sunday

9:45 AM

After learning to play the guitar in prison, a young man becomes a rock 'n roll sensation.
BW-97 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
11:30 AM

A writer recalls his turbulent marriage to an expatriate heiress.
C-116 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
1:30 PM

A 19th-century lawyer risks his place in society when he falls in love with his fiancee's married cousin.
C-138 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
4:00 PM

A group of exiled Russians claim to have found the living daughter of the Tsar, presumed executed in 1918.
C-105 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
6:00 PM

Husband-and-wife lawyers argue opposite sides in a sensational women's rights case.
BW-101 mins, CC,
8:00 PM

A man falsely accused of his wife's murder escapes to search for the real killer.
BW-106 mins, CC,
10:00 PM

Philip Marlowe searches for a missing woman in this mystery shot entirely from the detective's viewpoint.
BW-103 mins, CC,
12:00 AM

In this silent film, Cecil B. DeMille directs an epic retelling of the life of Christ.
C-157 mins,

30 Tuesday

2:15 PM

A film crew discovers the "eighth wonder of the world," a giant prehistoric ape, and brings him back to New York, where he wreaks havoc.
BW-104 mins, CC,
4:00 PM

An astronaut crew crash lands on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species.
C-112 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
6:00 PM

The sole survivor of an interplanetary rescue mission discovers a planet ruled by apes and an underground city run by telekinetic humans.
C-95 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
8:00 PM

An international band of thieves plots to steal a priceless treasure from a heavily guarded museum.
C-119 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
10:15 PM

Two mothers, one white, one black, face problems with their rebellious daughters.
C-125 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
12:30 AM

A man on the run with his sister finds love in a small Florida town.
BW-93 mins,
2:15 AM

A child abuse survivor reveals a surprising genius for mathematics.
C-127 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
4:30 AM

A nun begins to suspect the priest in charge of her school has molested one of the students.
C-104 mins,

31 Wednesday

6:30 AM

A college professor uses the crises in three lives to illustrate his theories about human behavior.
C-127 mins, Letterbox Format
8:45 AM

A law student discovers that his girlfriend is the daughter of his toughest professor.
C-111 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM

Extensive concert footage highlights this documentary about the King's touring in the early '70s.
DirRobert Abel CastElvis Presley ,
C-93 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
9:45 PM

A typical day in the life of the Beatles.
BW-87 mins, CC,
11:30 PM

A harrowing documentary of the Stones' 1969 tour, with much of the focus on the tragic concert at Altamont.
C-91 mins,
1:15 AM

A seemingly handicapped boy becomes a Pinball Wizard.

C-111 mins, CC, Letterbox Format
3:15 AM

BW-98 mins,
5:00 AM

BW-56 mins,