An insufferable movie snob wanders off the beaten track, comes back and talks about what he has seen.
My Week of Movie Watching
April 20, 2015
Masculin Feminin – Jean-Luc Godard is a mixed bag for me. I admire a lot of his stuff, especially when he somewhat uses the framework of a narrative as a starting point for his wild innovations, like in films like Pierrot Le Fou, Week-End, and My Life to Live. At times, however, I feel that he is messing with the viewer. Sometimes I feel like he’s almost saying “I can put any kind of crap up on the screen, and these rubes will think it is manna”. That’s how I felt about Le Chinois and Une Femme est une Femme. This one is somewhere in the middle of that range. Jean-Pierre Leaud plays a young man obsessed with style, love, and sex, who tries to woo a young singer (Chantal Goya) who, although she likes him, only treats him as a lark. I think the Leaud character Paul is meant as a send-up of Belmondo in Breathless, and it is fun to watch him in that regard. Paul’s attempts at seduction pretty much wind up becoming interviews, as he tries to understand the other sex. (While being super-cool doing it, of course). A lukewarm recommendation.
Spellbound – Another Hitchcock checked off the list. Ingrid Bergman stars as a physiatrist who falls in love with a new doctor (Gregory Peck) who turns out to be an imposter who may have murdered the real doctor. This one didn’t really connect for me, because I wasn’t buying into the love story between the two leads. After Bergman finds out that Peck isn’t who she thought, I didn’t believe she would still be in love with him, and this pulled me out of the movie. Hitchcock was dissatisfied with Pecks' performance in this, and in truth, he comes across as fairly flat. The climax also felt pulled out of left field to me and thus, I can’t quite recommend this one.
On The Beach – Stanley Kramers’ 1959 film adaptation of the Neville Shute novel about the end of the world. Gregory Peck stars as a submarine captain assigned to investigate a nuclear cloud that has wiped out most of mankind. Ava Gardner stars as his love interest, and Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins star as members of the investigating team. Considering the subject matter, this is strangely uninvolving. The film has a soap-opera manner about it, as it explores personal stories for each of the four leads. Gardner struggles to kindle a relationship with Peck, who has lost his family to the apocalypse. Perkins is obsessed with suicide, and sparing his wife and baby from the horror of nuclear death. Astaire is a former lover of Gardner, and calmly dedicates himself to the things he wants to experience before the end. My main quibble with OTB is that it doesn’t really commit to its topic. If you dropped in partway through the film, you would never get the sense for the characters of what the situation is. Its only in its final minutes that it really involved me, so I can only call it a lukewarm recommendation.
Shoot First, Die Later – I have become a fan of the crime drams of Italian Fernando Di Leo. This is the third one for me, and they all follow a similar thread. There’s a crime syndicate, there’s a guy, and they come together with lots of car crashes, fistfights, shootings, and sundry other nasty violence. In this one, Luc Merenda is a highly decorated, but crooked cop. He is ordered to destroy a crucial police report that happens to be held by his father, an honest police sergeant. Things go badly, and Merenda goes on a rampage against the mob. I pretty much told you what to expect to happen a couple of sentences ago, and in truth, it’s not hard to figure out where this film is going. I will recommend it however, due to some good action, including a pair of first rate car chases. Richard Conte stars as the mob boss.
Arsenal – Silent from 1929 by Russian Alexander Dovzhenko follows a Ukrainian soldier (Semyon Svashenko) who decommissions from fighting in WWI, only to find himself in the middle of the Communist Revolution back home. I’m of two minds on this; the images are marvelous, especially the battle scenes that start the film, but I found it hard to engage with story as the film wore on. Too much of the film is just shots of faces shouting calls to action of their comrades. The later action in the film is too static, and you don’t gain any sense of exhilaration of the events. There are some good things here, but overall, I don’t recommend except as a footnote on Russian film history.