02 March 2010

The *Cough* Films *Cough* That Got Me *Cough* Through My *Cough* Bronchitis *Cough*

Last Friday I finally returned to blogging after an unplanned and unwanted hiatus that had Riku Writes fans all over the globe saying: "his blog isn't so bad when he's not updating it." I wrote about my horrific illness (actually it was just a cold that morphed into bronchitis) and also about the more serious health woes my big brother was surviving. I also mentioned that there were many films that helped get through and that I would write a word to two about them the next day. I didn't. Nor the day after that nor the day after that. But I am today as I'm finally catching up with my life (does that even make sense -- "catching up with my life"?). Here they are:

The Maltese Falcon (1941). Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy is one of the most complex and interesting female characters of her era. She's a liar of the bald faced variety, can't contain herself. She's evil, a temptress, but weak and oh so vulnerable. You don't know whether to make love to her or send her to the gallows. But a man's parter has been killed and he has to do something. Has to do the right thing. Bogie's in all but one short scene of the film (Miles Archer's murder) yet I doubt this would have been a classic without Astor as Brigid. Astor was a delight in all manner of film. From Dodsworth (1936) to The Palm Beach Story (1942) from Red Dust (1932) to Midnight (1939). She made a lot of good films even better. Maltese Falcon is a -- pun intended -- classic example.

Army of Shadows (1969). Director Jean-Pierre Melville was the master of let us say French New Wave Film Noir. But his masterpiece was this story of the French resistance. Well after all the Nazis were criminals and in a sense so too were the Resistance fighters. They were playing their little games of hide and seek and kill and destroy. The stakes were impossibly high for the French. Cyanide tablet anyone? It's an utterly compelling film from start to finish because it all seems so damn real. You hardly need to embellish such stories. So Melville had his heroes as rather plain looking folk acting like middle management employees doing a day's work. Thus an inherently fascinating tale is allowed to stand on its own terms and as such is one of the great movies of all time. It's only been on DVD for a few years and not enough people are aware of it. If you're unfamiliar with Army of Shadows, do yourself a favor. I wrote about in July '08.

The Seal Wolf (1941) and Smart Money (1931). Back-to-back Edward G. Robinson. Smart Money is a relatively forgettable picture except for the fact that is the only film pairing of Robinson and James Cagney. Their scenes together do not disappoint, just the overall movie does, though its still well worth the time for fans of either or both stars. (Put me solidly in the both category.) Films give us a lot of what-ifs such as what if two stars had been paired on screen or more often? I don't know that Cary Grant and Bogie sharing the screen would have worked especially well but Cagney and Robinson were a good fit both being tough guys with smarts who were comfortable with physical movements. They, like Burt Lancaster and and Marlin Brando, are interesting to watch for every step they take, every hand gesture every punch thrown. Oddly, in Sea Wolf Robinson is a lot more self contained, his hands often in his pocket, his gestures small. But its one of the best of his many great performances. I love the film and see it more and more as warning against fascism. Robinson is in sharp contrast to co star John Garfield who I always find so wooden and uninteresting. Ida Lupino is in it too and she'll forever be linked in my mind with the word underrated. What an actress!

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). It might have been 20 years since I last saw this film. I was struck by how realistic it seems. I mean that of all the cinematic efforts to predict what human encounters with celestial beings will be like this one seems damn near scientific. (Maybe this speaks more to my peculiarities than to the film.) I'll have to watch it again soon to figure out why, but the movie comes tantalizingly close to brilliance and falls just short. I guess you could say that's praising it with faint damnation. It's of course elevated by the mere presence of Francois Truffaut who was an inspired choice as the French scientist (he wouldn't do as a Bolivian one). Dreyfuss was amid a run of great performances and the rest of the cast ranges from good to exemplary. As a story CEOTTK has all kind of elements and themes going for it, not the least of which is as a story of obsession. There are a lot of excellent films about obsessed people and sooner rather than later I'll devote a lengthy post to that topic. (Promise.) themselves.

Inglourious Basterds (2009). I've seen it four times now, twice in the theater and twice on DVD and it gets better with each viewing. Director Quentin Tarantino made this film like Michael Jordan scoring 56 points in a playoff game. Everything he tried was right on the money. The casting was inspired. There are so many roles that are and will remain memorable. Scenes resonate. The score was perfect and the whole audacious premise is inspired. Tarantino never needs to top this but if he comes close he'll have created a most impressive legacy. Hell, maybe he already has.

Foul Play (1978). I saw this in the theater shortly after it came out. I should have left it at the one viewing. How on Earth did Chevy Chase get any more film roles after his disastrous performance in this very foul movie? On the other hand the film launched the "Hollywood Star" portion of Dudley Moore's career and Goldie Hawn was as delightful as ever. It's one of those ridiculous crime comedies that somehow finds a large enough audience to make a buck and thus inspires other similar disasters. Real question is: why did I sit through the whole thing a second time? How sick was I?

Manhattan (1979). One of my top ten films of all time and the first I watched on our new DVD player. I never know what to say about it because if I start I may not be able to finish. To me it has the wittiest and most intelligent screenplay of the last 4,000 years. There are lines that I still laugh at loud (that's LOL to you kids) at. I think Diane Keaton is even more impressive here than in Annie Hall. The opening shots of New York with Allen's narration and the strains of Gershwin comprise one of the great starts to a film ever. Period.

Chinatown (1974). I watched it paying particular attention to Faye Dunaway. It's interesting to look at her knowing that the whole sister/mother business. We don't know but she does. It makes her performance all the more impressive. Dunaway had a great run from 1967 through 1976: Bonnie & Clyde (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Little Big Man (1970), Chinatown (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Network (1976). She played opposite Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford and William Holden. Not too shabby. Neither is Chinatown, one of those rare films that is not diminished the least in knowing its secret. In other words you could watch it again and again should you want to. Count me in. 

George Washington Slept Here (1942). The wife and I are were talking the other night about how there are always some movies that people like way more than they know they should. Not guilty pleasures really. It's more like how my discussion on this blog about how seeing a movie is like a date. Sometimes you fall in love, other times not so much. Sometimes the movie or date is great but there's no connection. GWSH is like a date with someone who's got flaws that are plain to see but you feel a connection and go gaga. Part of my attraction to GWSH is my attraction to Ann Sheridan who I'm nuts about (someone build me a time machine). There's also Jack Benny who I really like but in a totally different way -- like I needed to tell you. I'm not going to apologize for loving this film nor defend my love. It's just one of those things. Anyway, it was the perfect film to enjoy when I needed a little comfort from feeling like poop. Besides Sheridan and Benny you get Charles Coburn, Franklin Pangborn, Hattie McDaniel and Percy Kilbride. But mostly there's Ann.....(sigh)


Colt said...

I have standard sort of Under the Weather films. They are usually films that I have seen a hundred times. They are not the best films, just ones I can turn on enjoy and not feel bad if I drift off to sleep while watching them.

The Big Lebowski, Super Bad, The Departed, O' Brother Where Art Though?, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Good The Bad and the Ugly are sample of my "sick day" movies.

Armen Karaoghlanian said...

I saw Chinatown for the first time recently (shocking, I know) and my professor, who is a major film critic (it's a class on film criticism) said she had forgotten just how awful Faye Dunaway's performance was. I didn't think it was that bad, wasn't it?

Richard Hourula said...

To the contrary it was superb. She was nominated for an Oscar a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for her performance.