Monday, June 16, 2003

A Line to Remember
"If this story were made into a movie, Roger Ebert would deliberately expose himself to mutating radiation so he could grow additional thumbs and point them up." - Dave Barry

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The Shy Master by Terry Teachout
Gabriel Faure is probably the only French composer I really enjoy listening to, although Berlioz has his moments. Everyone has heard his Requiem at some point, but his other composition really deserve to be a bit more popular. In this article, Teachout provides a short biography and a survey of good recordings in the standard Teachout manner.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Speaking of Zero Mostel
(Commenting on Jim Henson's Muppets): "He has the best possible actors. If you have a disagreement with them, you can always use them to wash your car." - Zero

Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) dir. Richard Lester
I loved it! This Sondheim musical comedy spins an ever-thickening plot in ancient Rome. Zero Mostel as Pseudolus, an almost-free slave, is ridiculously funny and the rest of the large cast (which includes Buster Keaton), though overshadowed, is very good, too. The opening song is the most memorable while the others are never less than entertaining.

Barry Lyndon (1975) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Although Kubrick slavishly attended to every detail as always, his intrusiveness is almost invisible here. This tragedy, based on Thomas Hardy's novel, unfolds at a measured, human pace and is thus convincing in its dramatization of the complex and tortuous nature of life. Cf with Tom Jones and Portrait of a Lady for a neat trilogy.

Tom Jones (1963) dir. Tony Richardson
Based on Fielding's novel, this film goes enjoyably postmodern with knowing comments from the omnipresent narrator and the characters. Jones is a philanderer envied by the usual English prigs who, in the end, are unable to steal his wealth or keep him from marrying his one true love. Overall, a delightful and original movie.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Portrait of a Lady (1996) dir. Jane Campion
Jane Campion's well stylized and only slightly unconventional take on the "perfect English novel" by Henry James is highly recommended. Nicole Kidman, who plays Isabel Archer, convinces us of her transformation from independent woman to kept woman. John Malkovich is good but he would have been better if he smiled a bit more and acted less crazy. Isabel's other suitors are exceptionally portrayed. Mary-Louise Parker and Shelley Winters are rather unsuited for this film, however.

Calamity Jane (1953) dir. David Butler
This upbeat, Doris Day musical has some really entertaining songs in the first half, strung along a necessary but boring plot. Day, especially in her joyous songs, has a deep glow in her voice that is all too rare in singers of any stripe. She also pulls off her hick mispronunciations with hilarious flair. Howard Keel beams as Wild Bill. Overall, it's a jolly lollipop if you don't mind the anti-feminism.

Touch of Evil (1958) dir. Orson Welles
Welles uses edgy camera shots to emphasize the evil in this noirish tale of an honest Mexican cop (Charlton Heston) in an uphill moral battle against a corrupt American detective (Orson Welles). What's un-noirish here is that the central woman, the Mexican's wife, is not a femme fatale. Overall, this film has an uneasy Lynchian quality that makes it far more disturbing than others of its ilk.

Spider (2002) dir. David Cronenberg
Spider is a depiction of the interior life of a schizophrenic in a halfway house. The director and actors show technical prowess in spades, but the plot is too cold to make the film have any significant effect.

The Winslow Boy (1999) dir. David Mamet
This period piece is exquisitely stylish in its English prose as well as its Edwardian costumes. It is an adapted theater work about how a problematic (albeit not dysfunctional) family deals with their scandalous reputation and financial strain when they try to prove their adolescent son's innocence. Although accused of a trivial crime, he is clearly innocent so his father is obliged to defend his son's honor to the last.

Rio Bravo (1959) dir. Howard Hawks
Singing cowboys, even in the best of circumstances, seem a little tacky. Remove the singing from this film, however, and you have an archetypal Western well narrated with the directorial eye of Hawks. The depiction of the heroes' personal struggles makes them more three-dimensional than the typical Western hero. Walter Brennan is outstanding as a tough but eccentric geezer.