Monday, September 15, 2014

Supes Has a Bad Day

Frontier of Dawn (2008) ✭✭✭1/2

It’s fair to say that Philippe Garrel has small, moody films about soured romantic obsession down pat. Throughout his long career he’s made quite a few of them, and while we can’t claim to have exhaustive knowledge of his oeuvre, the ones we’ve seen we generally like. This one begins in typical Garrel fashion, with a shot of a slightly confused looking young man named François (the director’s son Louis – filmmaking is always a family affair for the Garrel clan) wandering down a deserted Paris street, camera gear and tripod in tow. He is clearly searching for an address, and soon enters a fashionable baroque apartment building - a building inhabited by a woman who will change his life forever.

Garrel’s been dispatched to take a portrait of Carole (Laura Smet), a pretty young actress on the verge of stardom. There is palpable heat between photographer and subject, and before long their relationship advances far beyond professional. The elder Garrel takes his sweet time in developing this romance – which is far from low maintenance- and at first it appears the director is squandering narrative resources on a pointless relationship that will obviously end badly. But the veteran filmmaker is patiently establishing crucial backstory elements that must not be rushed. All will be revealed in the later reels.

Carole displays troubling behaviors that keep both François and the viewer off balance, and constantly questioning the wisdom of this romance. Garrel has presented this self destructive female character before, most notably the dreamy drug-addict played by Johanna ter Steege in I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar, but Carole’s issues run much deeper. However, the infatuation of François is so intense he can’t resist her. When he finally and painfully decides to end the relationship, tragedy ensues and François finds that his troubles with Carole are just beginning.

Again, as in Guitar, we flash forward a year and François is attempting to build a new life with the calm, level-headed Eve (Clementine Poidatz). While his bohemian friends congratulate him for finding “bonheur bourgeois”, François is haunted by vivid memories of the sensual Carole. First in his dreams and then, in a starkly supernatural turn, she begins to invade his physical world as well.

This film doesn’t rank with the best of Garrel, but features many of the stylistic ingredients that distinguish his work. The overriding tone of melancholy, the sudden, at times jarring, background music – in this film it’s a sort of Charles Ives meets Eric Satie – and of course those elegantly simple compositions that make Garrel’s films such a pleasure to watch. Garrel always keeps the nuts and bolts of production subtle, and never pounds us with jiggly handheld cameras or overly arty staging. Frontier of Dawn is Garrel’s attempt at a romantic ghost story, and while other directors have done this type of thing with more emotional immediacy, no one has ever done it quite like Louis Garrel. And his fans will know exactly what we mean.

IMDb (contains spoilers)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Impromptu (1991) ✭✭✭✭

Impromptu is a grand and goofy farce that attempts to rewrite history by portraying some of the 19th century’s most celebrated artistic talents as shallow, neurotic grifters. And It largely succeeds thanks to a strong performance by Judy Davis as writer George Sand, the unofficial leader of a clique of artists in constant search of some wealthy patron to fleece. The first half of the film is quite a hoot, as all the principles are invited to the country manor of the Duchess D'Antan (Emma Thompson) for an extended holiday. The flighty Duchess is woman with a lot more money than sense, and Thompson plays the giggly fool to a perfect hilt.

Accompanying Sand on this parasitic vacation are Eugène Delacroix (a bemused Ralph Brown) and Franz Liszt (Julian Sands, before he became a permanent bad guy). Things generally go to hell when Sand’s jilted lover Alfred de Musset (Mandy Patinkin) shows up, having consumed most of the wine cellar and in a tempestuous mood. Patinkin is a joy to watch in this outsized mad scene, whirling like a witty version of the Tasmanian Devil and stopping just short of taking a bite out of the scenery.

However, Sand is looking for more than free room and board out of this sojourn, for she is harboring a burning hot love for a friend of Liszt’s; a dreamy piano player from Poland named Frédéric Chopin (Hugh Grant) who’s expected to arrive at any moment. The second half of the film deals mainly with Sand’s pursuit of the shy, paranoid composer, a pursuit that leads the pair back to the stylish streets of Paris. The film’s pacing and joke count suffer significantly in the later reels as the film’s breezy camp is replaced by a desperate air. Grant’s Polish accent weaves and wanders like a hungry coyote, at times sounding more Wisconsin than Warsaw, yet it’s hard to imagine any actor crafting a wimpy hypochondriac with more aplomb.

Impromptu belongs to that special sub-genre of Irreverent Costume Dramas, aspiring to the greatness of Amadeus or  Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers, to name a few. It doesn’t quite reach those lofty levels, but the film offers a fine selection of winning moments and a young cast at the peak of their charms. Soon, they would all hit the big time but - just like the historical figures they portray - for some it would be all downhill from here.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Quickies for September 2014

Mysteries of Lisbon (2010) ✭✭✭✭

A beguiling four and a half hour odyssey - and there is no other word for it - into the life and times of young João (João Arrais), a fifteen year old orphan. Set in the early 1800s, the film has a distinctly Dickensian feel with its multi-generational storyline and sprawling slate of characters, all of whom eventually bear some relation to João’s unknown origins. Directed by the prolific and always interesting Raul Ruiz, Mysteries of Lisbon is a period piece produced to the hilt, with lavish sets and sumptuous costumes that make the film a feast for the eyes. Elements of class struggle and Portugal’s unique place in European history add depth to the story, which unfurls at a stately and contemplative pace. At the completion of the long voyage is an ending that at first seems like a bit of cheat, but in fairness Ruiz does telegraph his intentions throughout the proceedings. I’m loathe to recommend a film of this length with such a potentially unsatisfying conclusion, but I can only say I was transfixed throughout, and frankly wish the film had been longer.

Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (2013) ✭✭✭

Arnaud Desplechin's film is set in the late 1940s and concerns a Native American WWII veteran (Benicio Del Toro) struggling with what we would now call PTSD.  Del Toro is sent to a VA hospital in Kansas, where he is treated by an innovative French psychologist (Mathieu Amalric) who attempts a talking cure. There are some amusing and poignant scenes as  these two very different men develop a deep bond, but the film never really decides on a gear or a narrative focus. It's watchable but a bit long and draggy with  subplots that go nowhere.

Young Goethe in Love (2010) ✭✭✭✭

This highly idealized account of the romance that spurred the poet to fame is fun and entertaining. It's not really intended to be a serious bio-pic for the story meanders through many liberties. At times it feels like Amadeus meets Animal House, but if you're open to speculative fiction, there are pleasures here to be gleaned. 

Lulu femme nue (2013) ✭✭✭

The French love them some light-hearted dramas about runaway middle-age housewives and this is a fair to middlin' example of the genre. This time it's Karin Viard's turn to abandon hearth, home, whiny grownup children and the requisite bully of a husband. It's pleasant enough viewing, with Viard carrying the movie like a pack mule. Come to think of it, she's done that to a lot of mediocre scripts in her long career, making them all a lot better in the process.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Antonioni's Identification of a Woman (1982) ✭✭✭

Winner of a special 35th Anniversary Prize at Cannes, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman from 1982 represented a homecoming of sorts. After 15 years of globetrotting international productions, the esteemed director returned to his Roman roots to film this relatively simple tale of desire and discontent in the professional class. Spartan and straightforward, Identification of a Woman contains none of the political symbolism or glacially paced metaphors of the early 1960s films that made Antonioni an art house darling. His script seeks to paint a clear portrait of disaffection without losing his viewers in oblique angles or thickly applied textures. Despite offering no compelling resolutions or lofty observations on the plight of its characters, the presentation feels complete and satisfying. Antonioni captures a few intriguing moments in the lives of people searching for love, and since that’s really all he set out to do, the film must be considered a success.

Identification of a Woman revolves around Niccolò (Tomas Milian), a recently divorced 35ish film director who happens to be between projects – always trouble - and his hunt for a new leading lady/muse/lover.  Niccolò has decided that his next film will be a romance, although his producer (Marcel Bozzuffi) feels love stories are old-fashioned and “cannot exist in this corruption” of modern life. Niccolò, determined to prove Mario wrong, eventually becomes involved with Mavi (Daniela Silverio) after a chance encounter at his sister’s medical office. But Mavi is as deeply damaged as she is alluring – one could say more deeply damaged than she is alluring – and her sketchy, disturbing past soon creates problems for Niccolò, as he finds himself followed by muscle-bound goons.

The film has the resonant stylistics of its era; filled with bad 1980s hair, bad 1980s music and, as the couple’s nude squirming attests, bad 1980s sex. Their lovemaking sessions, filmed with relative frankness, are notable only for their complete lack of eroticism. The tortured relationship reaches nadir when Niccolò suggests they run away to the country – the characters in this film are always running away somewhere – and in route they encounter an impenetrable fog along a mountain road. This famous sequence is an expansion of the allegorical atmospherics of Red Desert, and creates an effective sense of claustrophobic gloom. Niccolò and Mavi take turns running away from each other into this pea-soup netherworld, which allows for haunting imagery and a bit of stark narrative foreshadowing.

Undeterred, Niccolò soon embarks on a new relationship with Ida (Christine Boisson), a struggling stage actress with a unique, androgynous beauty. This mini-romance is given short shrift, much to the film’s detriment, as this new love only seems to make Niccolò miss Mavi even more. But his relationship with the kind hearted Ida is much more interesting, and actually has the romantic potential Niccolò supposedly seeks. And therein lies Identification of a Woman’s central moral nugget: its characters refuse to take yes for an answer. As soon as they get what they want, it’s immediately rejected for some nebulous thing that’s possibly bigger and brighter.

Perhaps it’s just the heady residue from Boisson’s sensual presence, but Identification of a Woman ultimately seems more French than Italian. Its undercurrent of narcissistic existentialism creates a feel of Rohmer (without the excessive yakking) or Garrel (minus the suicidal melancholy), just to cite some contemporary examples. But the story’s conclusion smacks of Antonioni at his best, as he carries the film’s theme of unobtainable greener grass to its logical, and absurdly overblown, conclusion. The scope of Niccolò’s search for the perfect romance will expand beyond the boundaries of Earth in a tacit acceptance of Mario’s earlier warning. It is not known if Niccolò will find his Monica Vitti beyond the stars, but one thing’s for sure: if he finds her, he’ll immediately want someone else.


Although he would live another 25 years, Identification of a Woman stands as Antonioni’s last full length dramatic feature. Suffering a stroke shortly after the film’s release, debilitating health issues would plague the director the rest of his life, and severely curtain his productivity. While it may lack the grandiose visual and narrative artistry of his earlier pictures, Identification of a Woman is nonetheless an interesting and entertaining look into the lives of a comfortable, liberated - and somewhat lost – creative class. The film ranks as a minor work in the Antonioni filmography, but its directness and simplicity is refreshing, and reflective of a generation that has turned its sights inward. Identification of a Woman clearly presents the strange new world of 1982, warts and all, with the deft control of master storyteller.




Monday, September 1, 2014

TCM for September 2014

TCM tales us back to film school with oddities. tried and true classics and foreign goodies in the curriculum. My picks below. All time Eastern. Full schedule HERE.

1 Monday

6:00 AM
A mystery man visits scenes from Russia's past in search of his own identity.
C-99 mins, Letterbox Format

7:45 AM
A short film utilizing quick cuts and multiple angles of a one-man-band musical performance.
C-10 mins,

8:00 AM
A monk deserts his calling to marry a beautiful woman he meets in the Sahara.
C-79 mins,

9:30 AM
In this silent film, a young innocent enlists for World War I service but soon learns the horrors of war.
BW-151 mins,

 Myths and monsters in Spirit of the Beehive

12:15 PM
After seeing the classic Frankenstein, two naive young girls go searching for the mad doctor's monster.
C-99 mins, Letterbox Format

2:00 PM
A rape victim runs away from her family and takes shelter with a romantic auto mechanic.
BW-113 mins, CC,

4:00 PM
A big game hunter decides to stalk human prey.
BW-63 mins, CC,

7:15 PM
In the aftermath of WWIII, a man is sent back and forth through time to find a solution to the world's fate in this experimental short film.
BW-28 mins, Letterbox Format

7:46 PM
A promotional short following the world tour of the "HMS Bounty", built specially by MGM for their 1962 remake "Mutiny on the Bounty."
BW-8 mins,

8:00 PM
Two directors paint a portrait of Paris during May of 1962.
BW-146 mins,

10:30 PM
An artist discovers his gift when he falls for a beautiful ghost.
C-86 mins, CC,

12:04 AM
This promotional short offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Cannery Row" (1982).
C-9 mins,

12:15 AM
A man with cerebral palsy learns to paint with his foot.
C-103 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:15 AM
A British soldier kidnapped by IRA terrorists befriends one of his captors.
C-112 mins, Letterbox Format

2 Tuesday

11:45 PM
A Russian immigrant brings over his wife only to realize they are now strangers.
BW-89 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

America takes a wrong turn in Avalon
1:30 AM
A Polish-Jewish family try to make a better future for themselves in the United States.
C-128 mins, Letterbox Format

3 Wednesday

8:00 PM
Political pundits mistake an illiterate gardener for a media genius and turn him into a national hero.
C-130 mins, Letterbox Format

4 Thursday

8:00 PM
A veteran returns home to deal with family secrets and small-town scandals.
C-136 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:45 AM
A widowed actress and her children suffer hardships when she mistakenly marries a conservative church leader.
C-189 mins, Letterbox Format

4:00 AM
During World War II, a refugee child creates a cemetery for animals.
BW-86 mins,

6 Saturday

8:00 AM
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

10:15 AM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Jack Lemmon from 1/3/79.
C-10 mins, CC,

7 Sunday

The original Planet of the Apes
8:00 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

10:00 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

12:00 AM
In this silent film, a black schoolteacher finds the battle against racism is everywhere when she goes North to raise money for better schools.
BW-78 mins,

2:00 AM
Algiers revolts against the French Foreign Legion.
BW-121 mins, Letterbox Format

4:15 AM
A corrupt developer is exposed when one of his building collapses.
BW-101 mins, Letterbox Format

9 Tuesday

8:00 PM
A small-town schoolteacher suspects her new husband may be an escaped Nazi war criminal.
BW-95 mins, CC,

10:00 PM
A Jewish refugee fights to overcome the psychological effects of his World War II experiences.
BW-86 mins, CC,

11:45 PM
A Harlem pawnbroker tries to cope with his changing neighborhood while haunted by memories of the concentration camps.
BW-115 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

10 Wednesday

8:00 PM
A coldhearted Soviet agent is warmed up by a trip to Paris and a night of love.
BW-110 mins, CC,

13 Saturday

3:15 PM
A failure in the U.S. defense system threatens to start World War III.
BW-112 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
A frigid young housewife decides to spend her midweek afternoons as a prostitute.
C-100 mins, Letterbox Format

Walk on the Wild Side is delightful trash
10:00 PM
A penniless farmer tracks the woman he loves to a New Orleans brothel.
C-114 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

5:30 AM
Short safety film about dangers associated with earthmoving equipment operation, showing many simulated accidents on construction sites.
C-23 mins,

14 Sunday

2:00 AM
A shy law student meets a bon vivant who takes him for a drive through the Roman and Tuscan countryside.
BW-105 mins, Letterbox Format

4:00 AM
A small boy in love with Rome grows up to film the city in all its charismatic chaos.
C-118 mins, Letterbox Format

15 Monday

9:00 PM
A skipper-for-hire's romance with a beautiful drifter is complicated by his growing involvement with the French resistance.
BW-100 mins, CC,

11:00 PM
Private eye Philip Marlowe investigates a society girl's involvement in the murder of a pornographer.
BW-114 mins, CC,

1:00 AM
Three models pool their resources to rent a posh penthouse in hopes of snaring rich husbands.
C-96 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

2:45 AM
Lauren Bacall discusses her life and career with host Robert Osborne.
C-50 mins, CC,

Lauren Bacall Festival
3:45 AM
A broken-down private eye sets out to find a rich woman's missing husband.
C-121 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

20 Saturday

5:15 PM
Classic sci-fi epic about a mysterious monolith that seems to play a key role in human evolution.
C-149 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
An unscrupulous editor plots to keep his star reporter-and ex-wife-from re-marrying.
BW-92 mins, CC,

9:45 PM
Television programmers turn a deranged news anchor into 'the mad prophet of the airwaves.'
BW-121 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:00 AM
An unscrupulous newspaper editor searches for headlines at any cost.
BW-89 mins, CC,

2:00 AM
A short film utilizing quick cuts and multiple angles of a one-man-band musical performance.
C-10 mins,

2:10 AM
A filmmaker chronicles his 100 year odyssey in a variety of different professions.
C-31 mins,

The interestingly weird Sid Saga

2:10 AM
A filmmaker chronicles his 100 year odyssey in a variety of different professions.
C-31 mins,

2:10 AM
A filmmaker chronicles his 100 year odyssey in a variety of different professions.
C-27 mins,

3:45 AM
A deeply moving tribute to the Texas songster, Mance Lipscomb, considered by many to be the greatest guitarist of all time.
Dir: Les Blank Cast:  Mance Lipscomb ,
C-44 mins,

4:30 AM
A documentary about the self-crowned "King" of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier.
Dir: Les Blank Cast:  Clifton Chenier ,
C-54 mins,

5:30 AM
Filmmakers trace the history of opium and its role in today's drug trade in this short film.
C-22 mins,

20 Sunday

2:00 AM
An aristocrat is too proud to curb his extravagant lifestyle even though his riches are turning into debts.
BW-95 mins,

3:45 AM
A mother struggles to raise her family in an impoverished village in India.
BW-126 mins,

22 Monday

8:00 PM
A young woman loves one brother but marries the other.
C-91 mins, Letterbox Format

Lots of Brigitte on the 22nd

9:45 PM
The daughter of a big French politico marries his secretary, but when her husband starts fooling around, she takes off to the Riviera.
C-85 mins, Letterbox Format

11:30 PM
A Paris schoolgirl unwittingly ignites hellfire in the minds of men from Seine to Sorbonne.
Cast:  Brigitte Bardot ,
BW-98 mins,

1:30 AM
A convent girl vacationing in Spain finds herself in a romance with a murderer.
C-95 mins,

3:15 AM
A film production of The Odyssey causes friction in a marriage
C-103 mins, Letterbox Format

25 Thursday

8:00 PM
The legendary general's rebellious behavior almost costs him his command during World War II.
C-170 mins, Letterbox Format

11:00 PM
Sabotage causes the airship Hindenburg to crash on arrival at New York in this disaster film.
BW-125 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

1:15 AM
A mad United States General orders an air strike against Russia.
BW-95 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3:00 AM
A married doctor falls for the young wife of an abusive rich man.
C-105 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

5:00 AM
In this special, Ken Murray hosts his own behind-the-scenes home movies of some of Hollywood's greatest stars.
BW-53 mins, CC,

28 Sunday

Claire's Knee.  Never has paint dried so exquisitely.

2:30 AM
On holiday, a conflicted man lusts after beautiful stepsisters despite his betrothal to a diplomat's daughter.
C-105 mins,

4:30 AM
The friendship of two men is complicated when one begins to pursue a charming girl named Suzanne.
BW-54 mins,