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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.

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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!

Daily Film Beauty: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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Thinking of changing the name to Semi-Weekly Film Beauty. Thoughts?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Michael Seresin (cinematographer) & Alfonso Cuarón (director).

Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) first casting his patronus charm, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) first casting his patronus charm, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Murder By Decree

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**½

I prefer bad manners in the theater to active violence in the streets.

I had high hopes for a story involving Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. Particularly upon hearing that Christopher Plummer—General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country—plays Sherlock Holmes.¹ However, how good can this movie be if I had not heard of it until recently? Plummer’s Holmes may not be the best, but he has the right joie de vivre. Unfortunately 221B Baker Street seems like an expensive satire of his domicile. James Mason looks the part of an older Watson, but he is given the role of an imbecile. Watson should be human, not a fool. To Holmes, maybe most humans are fools, but we, the audience are not Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes, Watson and Warren, © 1979 Studio Canal (2003).

Holmes, Watson and Warren, © 1979 Studio Canal (2003).

Were it not for From Hell I would be less familiar, or perhaps wholly unfamiliar, with the cast of characters involved in the history of Jack the Ripper.² Robert Lees, for instance, is a medium who claims to know about the Ripper. Donald Sutherland—President Snow from the Hunger Games—plays the role enigmatically. The head of Scotland Yard, Sir Charles Warren gets Anthony Quayle to play him, but I much preferred the aggressive apathy of Ian Richardson–Brazil–in From Hell.

The music was a bit dull, with only a few themes. In particular the glassy tinkling of the Ripper’s approach did not work well. Also, the ending felt like twenty minutes of dialogue and exposition in one room. But not in the exciting way that David Suchet’s Poirot can control a room. Even he might not be able to last that long. Plummer does his best, but righteous indignation works best in small doses.

¹ I suppose that Christopher Plummer may be better known as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.  Personally, I have watched  Star Trek VI more times and General Chang does an excellent job quoting Shakespeare.
² I refer both to the graphic novel as well as the movie. While the Hughes Brothers’ movie is excellent, Alan Moore’s comic might be his greatest work, and if so, that would probably make it the greatest comic book ever. From Hell offers many of the same theories seen in this film. Perhaps it even influenced Alan Moore. He would disagree heartily, as his wonderful graphic novel came from numerous sources, cited in detail by its wonderful appendices. Still the graphic novel hewed closer to this film’s plot than to its own adaptation did. Although From Hell (movie) merged Robert Lees into Inspector Aberline. And if that last sentence means something to you, kudos.

Daily Film Beauty & Mini-Review: Hidden Fortress

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Hidden Fortress — Kazuo Yamasaki (cinematographer) & Akira Kurosawa (director).

hiddenfortress2People are either familiar with this movie and have made the connections to Star Wars, or are wholly unfamiliar with it and have not. Both Star Wars and Akira Kurosawa have major followings. Pretty much every director whose movies you like loves Akira Kurosawa.¹ On the other hand George Lucas is an extremely polarizing director and producer. He did not even direct his own best movie—The Empire Strikes Back. In pre-Star Wars prequels film history, Hidden Fortress was considered a lesser classic of Kurosawas, but it did star his most famous star, Toshiro Mifune. I love Mifune almost as much as I love Kurosawa. His second most famous star, Takashi Shimura, is also in this again, re-teaming them four years after Seven Samurai. Now I have not seen this movie since before Episode II – Attack of the Clones, so I apologize for any small errors in my memory…

But as I remember it, Hidden Fortress starts with two Japanese peasant soldiers, we will call them C-3PO and R2-D2, arguing in a desert after a battle on which way they should head, before angrily splitting up. Describing the movie thus wrongly implicates Kurosawa as the copier, but I am merely acknowledging that Tahei and Matashichi are 100% less familiar to my audience, including myself, than those two droids. The story in both cases, proceeds from their point of view, not from that of the great warriors or leaders. Then there are slave traders. There is a Princess (Leia) and an old general (Shimura/Kenobi), plus a Han Solo type (Mifune). There is a deal made in a cantina. The evil general has a duel with his old sensei, Kenobi, and Kenobi lets Darth Vader kill him just so that the Princess and company can escape. The final scene of the movie has the Princess publicly rewarding the droids and Han Solo! To be fair, I do not recall a Chewbacca parallel in Hidden Fortress.

Cut to 1999. George Lucas acknowledged the strong influence Hidden Fortress had on Star Wars, although its plot and character influence did not continue in Empire or Return of the Jedi. Lucas had claimed for years to have had the first three episodes written, which most people did not believe. But it is possible that he had part of it written, particularly Episode I – The Phantom Menace, because, holy crap, did he just go back to remaking Hidden Fortress. That helps clarify things, because as I have tried to disguise, I really disliked Hidden Fortress. Somehow the story drags, the acting is over the top, and the relationships do not feel real. This was like a crappy Shakespearean play.

This time around the Princess is Queen Amidala and Kenobi is the younger Han Solo type, with Qui-Gon Jinn as Kenobi. The plot hews much closer Hidden Fortress, instead of merely taking characters and scenes. To go into further detail would require my thinking more about both Phantom Menace and Hidden Fortress, which I refuse to do. Honestly, if I had seen Hidden Fortress at any other time besides 2001, I might not have hated it, since it would not have reminded me of Phantom Menace, over and over again. But that is not how my life went.

¹ I have not done a Best Directors article on Kurosawa yet, but rest assured that he is on my unofficial list.

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