An insufferable movie snob wanders off the beaten track, comes back and talks about what he has seen.
My Week of Movie Watching
February 8, 2015
Harvey – First time seeing this James Stewart landmark. I know that this one is a beloved classic, but my first reaction was one of frustration. The film is so dishonest about its subject matter (An insane guy has an invisible rabbit as a best friend) that I got off the rails right away. Take the early scene where Elwood’s sister goers to have him committed, and ends up committed herself. This is the classic “idiot plot”, where the person does and says everything wrong, and I grew angry at the movie for doing this to me. Stewarts’ Elwood is supposed to be sweet and simple, but I wanted to kill him. I felt empathy for the frustration of his family – I would have had him locked up waaay earlier. However, after 24 hours or so, I softened in my opinions a bit. I started to think of Harvey as a surrogate for God, and the movie is actually kind of sly if viewed that way. Still not a recommendation, but I will probably re-watch it in the future.
A Letter Never Sent and The Cranes are Flying – These 2 films from the Russian duo of director Mikhail Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky are a must-see for those who love the technical aspects of movie making, and are junkies for beautiful images. Cranes is about a young couple who are tragically broken apart by the outbreak of WW2. Letter follows a group of 4 geologists who discover diamonds in a remote Siberian wasteland, then find themselves stranded. Both films are highlighted by Urusevsky’s brilliant B&W photography, which pulls out all the stops – Hand-held shots, wide lenses, and brilliant use of tracking shots. Both films are primarily propaganda - They both are about the idea of service to country and putting aside personal issues for the greater good. Politics aside, they are magnificent examples of cinema, and I recommend both heartily. As a bonus, also check out I Am Cuba, by the same filmmakers.
8 ½ - This was, I think, my third viewing of Fellini’s masterpiece, and this time, I felt like I really finally “got” it. Marcello Mastroiani plays Guido, a famous film director who is working on a big sci-fi film and is hopelessly bogged down. This time, I was more able to appreciate how much Guido is dealing with. He brings his mistress (Sandra Milo) to town, but barely has time for her. He invites his wife (Anouk Aimee) as well, primarily to end a phone conversation with her. He has no time for her, either, even though she says she is leaving him. He is obsessed with a beautiful vision (Claudia Cardinale), and he is being hassled at every turn by movie people who think that he should be, you know, working on a movie. It’s a great illustration of a man who is bearing down on a nervous breakdown, and as done by Fellini it’s great fun, even as it deals with some pretty somber issues. Recommended.
Scarface – The Howard Hawks original has been on my want-to list for some time. Paul Muni plays the title character, who works his way from leg-breaking thug up to running the whole city. Muni’s Tony has absolutely no fear as he rises to the top, killing anyone who gets in his way. This film must have been scandalous in 1932, filled as it is with gunplay and murder. The start of the film points out that it is an indictment of organized crime, and even makes the point in the story that the media has made these people heroes. George Raft is in here as a coin-flipping lieutenant, and Boris Karloff stars as a rival gangster. Anne Dvorak is quite good as Muni’s wild and sexy younger sister. Recommended.