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The Beauty of Film: Seven Samurai

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Seven Samurai — Asaichi Nakai (photography) & Akira Kurosawa (director):

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Takashi Shimura takes aim as Kambei in 1954’s Seven Samurai.

 

St. Vincent

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So this Irish guy knocks on this lady’s door and says, you know, “Have you got any, uh… Any, uh… work for me?” And she says, “Um, well, you now, as a matter of fact, you could paint the porch.” But two hours later, he comes back and says, “I’m finished, ma’am, but just for your information, it’s not a Porsche, it’s a BMW.”

Find that amusing? If so, then you will probably enjoy the film. If not, then you will need to hang in for about an hour and forty minutes until the film becomes sufficiently emotional to get you to like it on that level instead. With a name like “Saint Vincent”, judgment is immediately going to be in your mind, so Vincent, telling his joke in a smoky bar in Brooklyn, kind of sets you on the path of thinking the term “saint” is used ironically.

Vincent and Oliver (Murray and Lieberher) in the Weinstein Cos.' St. Vincent, © 2014.

Vincent and Oliver (Murray and Lieberher) in the Weinstein Cos.’ St. Vincent, © 2014.

After a rocky start, Bill Murray demonstrates that there is more to playing Vincent than typical grumpy-late-career-Bill-Murray. Perhaps it comes from Theodore Melfi’s screenplay. Or perhaps it comes from Theodore Melfi’s directing. Either way Theodore Melfi elicits Murray’s best performance since Lost in Translation. Moving next door to him is Maggie—Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids—a medical technician whose custody over her son Oliver–Jaeden Lieberher–comes into question as Maggie’s ex-husband fights for partial custody. Thus the unlikeliest of role models, drunken gambler Vincent, gets roped into watching over Oliver. Complicating things is Vincent’s “lady of the night”, Daka. Naomi Watts plays Daka, but in spite of Watts’ skill as an actress—she shone in this same year’s Birdman—Daka comes across as a character from a cheesy comedy. Her Russian accent is terrible. Her manner is humorously brusque. Ah well, one bad bite a bad meal does not make. ***½

The Beauty of Film: Ong-bak

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Ong-bak — Nattawut Kittikhun (cinematographer) & Prachya Pinkaew (director):

Tony Jaa being amazing in Ong-bak.

Tony Jaa being amazing in Ong-bak.

This is as good a time as any to say that I will be making a list of the best foreign films. Please leave you recommendations in the comments below.

The Beauty of Film: L.A. Confidential

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New name. Good bye “Daily film beauty” and hello the more honest title of The Beauty of Film. I prefer that to semi-weekly film beauty, or occasional film beauty.

L.A. Confidential — Dante Spinotti (cinematographer) & Curtis Hanson (director).

This reminds me of Sin City, both the comic books and the films. Spinotti received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, but lost to Russell Carpenter for Titanic.

At the Victory Motel. Guy Pearce and James Cromwell, L.A. Confidential.

At the Victory Motel. Guy Pearce and James Cromwell, L.A. Confidential.

Sunset Blvd.

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****½

I was way ahead of the finance company. I knew they’d be becoming around and I wasn’t taking any chances. So I kept it across the street in a parking lot behind Rudy’s shoeshine parlor. Rudy never asked any questions about your finances… he’d just look at your heels and know the score.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) in the pool, © 1950 Paramount Pics.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) in the pool, © 1950 Paramount Pics.

 

Hard to imagine that a classic like this would have voice-over, considering what I have said about voice-over in the past. Yet, Shawshank Redemption has it and is rated number one over all on imdb.com. Still, that one has Morgan Freeman, who has an amazing voice. This lowly film is only ranked #48 on imdb’s top 250, and voice is only that of Academy Award Best Actor winner William Holden. And Holden’s failing screenwriter, Joe Gillis, gets some great lines, but not as good as some of Norma Desmond’s.

Joe Gillis: The whole place seemed to have been stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis – out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion.

Joe Gillis: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
Norma Desmond: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

Norma Desmond: You are, are you? writing words, words, more words! Well, you’ll make a rope of words and strangle this business! With a microphone there to catch the last gurgles, and Technicolor to photograph the red, swollen tongues!

Norma Desmond: There once was a time in this business when I had the eyes of the whole world! But that wasn’t good enough for them, oh no! They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk. Talk! Talk!

Norma Desmond: The stars are ageless, aren’t they?

Joe Gillis: There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.

Joe Gillis: They got a couple of pruning hooks from the garden and fished me out… ever so gently. Funny, how gentle people get with you once you’re dead.

This is a meta movie, but it comes from a vastly different era than the current one. For instance, Birdman had voice-over too, but only in Michael Keaton’s head. So this is the tale of a silent film star twenty years after the advent of talkies, instead of twenty years after a costumed crimefighter’s last hit. In the role of that fallen star, Norma Desmond, Gloria Swanson snugly fits the bill as a former silent film star herself. I have never seen her films, but Queen Kelly, and Indiscreet sound familiar. She has a mad look. A look that is so superficial that it seems true to someone like Ms. Desmond. Her story and Gillis’s story are tragic ones. They tackle youth versus age, star crossed love, and evoke something of Citizen Kane’s hubris.

Now before I leave you with the most famous ending line in film history, here is a personal note—I love organ music. I have a Pandora station for the Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto. Pipe organs make a great sound and create an amazing mood. This has a great scene with Norma Desmond’s manservant, Max–Erich von Stroheim–playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. On the whole, what a wonderfully executed film with respect to moods. Every scene grasps you, or caresses you as it see fit.

Norma Desmond: All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.

 

 

 

Daily Film Beauty: A Fistful of Dollars

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A Fistful of Dollars, or Per un pugno di dollari — Massimo Dallamano (Jack Dalmas) & Federico G. Larraya (cinematographers) & Sergio Leone (director).

Did you know that this is an unofficial adaptation of Yojimbo?

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Gian Maria Volonté as Ramón Rojo, in A Fistful of Dollars.

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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***

You sit here, in these vast halls, with a crown upon your head and yet you are lesser now than you have ever been.

I liked it. I found myself touched more than I was annoyed, but certain choices bothered me. I saw this movie—for the first time—four months ago, but could not even start my review for about a month. Since then I have struggled and now have given up. Eventually I will provide an epic review, as I did with An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. Until that day, this shall be its placeholder. Oh, and the set designs and battles were pretty amazing. Thorin’s golden dream was not. Nor was the dialogue about love much above Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones level bad. But there was that battle between the White Council and the Nazghul… I am pulled in so many directions!

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