Reverse Hitchcock #5: Marnie, 1964 – ★★★

#5 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

I have mixed feelings about ‘Marnie’. It isn’t a film I particularly like, and I find it exploitative and misogynistic when it comes to its female lead, Tippi Hedren, one of Hitch’s ice blondes.

From the opening scenes, which centre on a woman’s bottom wiggle from behind, through to scenes where the psychological block Marnie has about sex edge into areas where she is too hysterical, and male lead Connery is not convincing enough, and it leaves a bitter taste.

It’s almost as if Hitch is fetishizing Hedren and taking pleasure in humiliating her through the situations in which her character is placed at the same time. As Mark, her boss and then husband (not entirely by choice), Sean Connery shows a certain amount of style and charm, but he is unsympathetic, and some of the lines he is given, referring to physical violence in particular, don’t sit well in what should be a taut psychological thriller.

Diane Baker (who I remember seeing before as one of the three office girls in ‘The Best of Everything’) is good as the ice-cold scheming sister-in-law of Connery who seems to have her own ‘pathological fix’ on him.

Marnie has this fear of being ‘handled’ and has ‘no lovers, no steadies, no gentleman callers’ , but is Mark the right one for her, or can he actually push her over the edge?

What else? There’s a secret in Marnie’s past which makes her flip at the colour red, there are horses which matter to past and present, and the feeling of flight and fright, there are some interesting script lines (the flower made of tiny insects, the well-known friendless orphan child, the degradation and animal sense of marriage).

There’s that last five or so minutes, of course, with the flashback, but it doesn’t stop the unease at what has gone before.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

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The Fabulous Baker Boys, 1989 – ★★★★½

This film marks the only time real-life brothers Beau and Jeff Bridges appeared in a film together (as grown ups, they shared the screen as children with their father in ‘Seahunt’), playing brothers who find their whole outlook challenged when they let a sultry torch singer, Susie Diamond – Michelle Pfeiffer) join their cheesy nightclub act.

Beau Bridges plays Frank, highly strung, vain and thinking only of money for his family. He’s a fish out of water where the other two are concerned, and the butt of their jokes. He can’t see that the Baker Boys have a stale act which needs to move with the times, and can’t understand the different dynamics which drive his brother.

Jeff Bridges plays Jack, dissolute, arrogant, promiscuous, who juggles life with the Baker Boys with his real love, playing in the local sleazy jazz club. He befriends the little girl from upstairs who seems to be a mother figure to him, and develops an intense fixation on Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer’s Susie is a man-magnet, draped over the piano singing ‘Making Whoopee’. She is a sexy breath of fresh air in the brothers’ act, one who isn’t afraid to make comments like ‘”Feelings” is parsley’, and, after Frank’s outburst against her use of the F-word during a performance, ‘I said it, I didn’t do it’.

My favourite line in the film though is from Jack to Frank after discovering that big brother sprays dye on to his bald spot to hide it in performance: ‘It’s paint, Frank’. So funny.

The Bridges boys are a joy to watch together. Such different actors and yet work together perfectly well, complementing each other’s differences. And the total exuberance of the final duet of ‘You’re Sixteen’ is a privilege to watch.

An excellent film.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Jane Eyre in the cinema

I would like to look at five adaptations of the Charlotte Bronte novel which were intended for cinema release.  (For a look at some television versions, go to my page Jane Eyre on television.)

The first is Hollywood’s first, and rather ridiculous, attempt, to dramatise the book, in 1934.  In choosing to amend or ditch much of the story it might present a short piece of melodrama (70 minutes at most) but it is most definitely not the Jane Eyre we know (to start with, Jane comes into her money much more early on; while Rochester’s wife appears quite lucid and there is even talk of a divorce before he is free to mary Jane).  Virginia Bruce is far too pretty in a classic peaches and cream way to convince as the ‘plain’ governess; while Colin Clive does his best in a role to which he is completely unsuited.

The first genuine adaptation appeared in 1943, and benefits from the casting as Mr Rochester of Orson Welles, then the toast of Tinseltown following his acting and directing debut in Citizen Kane.  Here he does not take on directing duties, but this swirling gothic romance is much fairer to Bronte’s novel than the version of a decade earlier.  There are still missteps – St John Rivers is now the doctor at Jane’s school, for example, while Joan Fontaine doesn’t quite have the necessary depth for Jane – but this is at least an entertaining and well-done piece of cinema.  I like the scene in which Welles and Fontaine meet in the hallway during the Ingrams’ party, and his touching enquiry about how Jane is feeling.

In Britain, 1970’s adaptation appeared as part of British Lion’s trio of classic dramatisations for cinema (the others were David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights).  It now exists in very poor condition, which is a shame as its principals are very good indeed.  As Jane, Susannah York was cast to present a feisty and mature match for the American actor George C Scott, who would occasionally appear in literary adapations made in Britain over the next few years (he was Fagin in Oliver Twist, and Scrooge in A Christmas Carol).  Here he has both the frustration and the vulnerability required for the complex role of Mr Rochester, and a particular strength of this version is the scene, post-wedding, where Jane decides to leave Thornfield.

The 1996 American version has some casting against type, with Charlotte Gainsbourg essaying a dark-haired and sullen Jane to William Hurt’s blond and reserved Mr Rochester.  It is almost as if the roles are reversed.  This version focuses closely on Jane’s artistic endeavours, and presents her as something of a free spirit.  It doesn’t quite gel with the source material, but works as a film.

Finally, in 2011 a radical shake-up of the plot showed Jane’s flight from Thornfield before anything else, before returning to her childhood story.   Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, previously known for the lead in Alice in Wonderland, is a very different Jane to those we have seen before.  She is so quiet and delicate the wind could blow her away.  German-Irish actor Michael Fassbinder is a traditional looking Mr Rochester, but his first interview with Jane is disappointingly truncated.

Beginners (2010 film), some thoughts

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, as it is now two years since Christopher Plummer won the Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Hal in the 2010 film ‘Beginners’, written and directed by Mike Mills. The film has two overlapping storylines, that of Hal’s decision to come out as gay at the age of 75, four years before his death from cancer, and the budding romance of Hal’s son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) with French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent)

What appealed to me about this film was not the subject matter, which has been tackled so many times before it is almost a cliche (older man seeks younger lover and ‘find himself’ before it is too late), but the way it is filmed – with flashbacks to the particular years being discussed, historical events, subtitling the dog’s thoughts, and other tricks which take away the viewer’s attention from the fact that, really, this film doesn’t have a great script, believable characters, or much to say.

Disappointed – but do take a look to see a different take on how to make a film, and kudos to Mills for thinking up some of the more quirky aspects of ‘Beginners’.

Hollywood Costume: an exhibition at the V&A

For the first time in the UK, a huge collection of costumes across nearly a hundred years of cinema from Hollywood have been brought together to be displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, across three galleries, curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

The big draw is right at the end: Judy Garland’s gingham dress and ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (although, be quick if you want to see the real slippers, as they are only on loan for a short time before returning to the USA for Thanksgiving). Here also is Marilyn’s famous Seven Year Itch frock, looking as delicate and fragile as its owner.

At the start of the exhibition, a crowded room displays treasures from Scarlett O’Hara’s green gown (supposedly made from curtains, but far too grand), Marlene Dietrich’s Angel costume, and Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce frock, through to a tableau from Ocean’s 11 (the Clooney one) and some more contemporary pieces.

In room two we find another highlight – a Royal collection (Garbo’s Queen Christina’s ivory dress, Bette Davis/Cate Blanchett/Judi Dench Elizabeth I gowns, etc.), along with Indiana Jones, who gets a stand to himself, before the finale including pieces worn by characters ranging from Tracy Lord to Holly Golightly, Superman to Catwoman, Don Juan to The Blues Brothers.

The earliest piece here is the spider gown worn by Louise Glaum in the 1920 film ‘Sex’, the most beautiful the delicate gown worn by Carole Lombard in ‘My Man Godfrey’. The exhibition also gives a chance to see two Cleopatras side by side (costumes worn by Claudette Colbert and Elizabeth Taylor, thirty years apart), Ben Hur’s toga, and Hedy Lamarr’s flimsy gown and fur from Samson and Delilah. There is history here, and for followers of old or new cinema alike, there is much to enjoy.

It is also a celebration of designers from Adrian and Edith Head through to the most recent costumiers (Jacqueline Durran, for Anna Karenina, this year; Michael Kaplan, for Fight Club). They are often neglected, but contribute as much to a film’s success, and an audience’s enjoyment, as the cinematographer, the art director, and the performers themselves.

‘Hollywood Costume’ is on at the V&A until the 27th January 2013, and details can be found at http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-hollywood-costume/.

The 50 films that didn’t quite make the cut!

My last post here was about my ‘greatest fifty films’ list. But since then I have been thinking about other films which would have sneaked in had I the luxury of choosing one hundred titles.

So, here are the fifty which ‘got away’. No less revered and loved, but not quite making the main cut. Again, sorted by decade.

1920s

51 The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925). Hard to see these days due to no official DVD release, but still one of the best films about the Great War.
52 The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock, 1926). Hitch’s ‘first film’ by his definition, and despite an ending which didn’t convince, it has enough innovation going on to keep it fresh.
53 Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). In any and all versions, the ultimate science fiction film.
54 Safety Last (Fred C Neumeyer, Sam Taylor, 1923). Harold Lloyd at his best. Other films might have tighter plots but this is the iconic image we have of him.

1930s

55 The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtiz, William Keighley, 1938). The blueprint for all adventuring swashbuckers to follow, and what glorious Technicolor.
56 Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932). A stunning and creepy achievement.
57 Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931). The character and premise should be ridiculous, but it isn’t.
58 I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932). The strongest of the social drama pre-Code films.
59 The Merry Widow (Ernst Lubitsch, 1934). Chevalier, Macdonald. This musical sparkles with energy.
60 Peach-O-Reno (William A Seiter, 1931). A Wheeler and Woolsey comedy, naughty, spicy and fun.
61 Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian, 1933). Garbo in perhaps her best remembered (and parodied) role.

1940s

62 The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946). This film shows the return home of war veterans without sinking to cliche or sentiment. Known for its use of deep focus shots.
63 Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945). Noel Coward’s timeless romance.
64 Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941). The best debut film of any director or actor.
65 Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, 1948). A truly cinematic Shakespeare.
66 The Thief of Bagdad (Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan et al, 1940). A film which doesn’t quite gel, but remains curiously entertaining.
67 Without Love (Harold S Bucquet, 1945). A Tracy-Hepburn comedy romance with added pep from Lucille Ball.

1950s

68 Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959). When we talk about epics, the genre cannot be better represented than with this superbly shot and directed classic. Bloated it may be, but still very watchable.
69 The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955). Monroe at her vulnerable best.
70 A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954). The film which should have gained Judy Garland an Oscar, but instead proved to be the last hurrah for her musical career.

1960s

71 If … (Lindsay Anderson, 1968). An evocative fable of school and authority.
72 Judgement at Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer, 1961). For many great cameo performances, especially Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster. This film uses, but doesn’t abuse, star power.
73 The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968). Historical soap with great locations and a good example of taking theatre into the cinema, effectively.
74 The System (Michael Winner, 1964). Oliver Reed in his first leading role, a Brighton mod/rocker piece which remains challenging and provoking today.
75 Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (Ken Annakin, 1965). For pure enjoyment and a great theme tune.

1970s

76 Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979). Preferable in the original version rather than the Redux. A beautiful nightmare of ‘Nam, helped by The Doors and Brando.
77 Death in Venice (Luchino Visconti, 1971). Dirk Bogarde’s best performance in a hymn to Mahler and the beauty of the young.
78 Jesus Christ Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973). Difficult to get a rock opera right on the screen, but opening out the locations and making the story relevant to modern times nailed it.
79 Mary, Queen of Scots (Charles Jarrott, 1971). Historically inaccurate, but by far the best Tudor film made, with lovely performances, and colourful locations.
80 The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975). A guilty pleasure if only for Tim Curry’s Sweet Transvestite.
81 Scum (Alan Clarke, 1979). Powerful, bleak, disturbing drama.
82 The Tempest (Derek Jarman, 1979). Shakespeare for the 70s. It looks great and doesn’t betray the play.
83 Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971). A tale of the Australian Outback and the weakness of humanity. A truly beautiful film in every shot.
84 Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970). The best of all the music films, especially in the director’s cut. Contains all the drama and power of this greatest of rock festivals.

1980s

85 Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985). Flawed, but interesting.
86 The Last Metro (François Truffaut, 1980). Thoughtful, subversive, melodramatic, and wonderful.
87 Nijinsky (Herbert Ross, 1980). Ballet does not always transfer well to cinema, but this biographical piece remains strong in the mind even after one viewing, although it is difficult to find these days.
88 Le retour de Martin Guerre (Daniel Vigne, 1982). The original of what became ‘Sommersby’ and the ‘Martin Guerre’ musical. Touching, yearning, and very accessible.

1990s

89 Brassed Off (Mark Herman, 1996). A nostalgic love letter to the industrial north and their brass bands.
90 The Field (Jim Sheridan, 1990). King Lear in Ireland, and a career best performance from Richard Harris.
91 The First Wives’ Club (Hugh Wilson, 1996). Pure fun, guaranteed to lift the spirits.
92 Guinevere (Audrey Wells, 1999). An age gap romance which is celebratory, not creepy.
93 Michael Collins (Neil Jordan, 1996). Disturbing history lesson about the partition of Ireland.
94 Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1995). King Lear in Japan, perhaps the greatest Shakespeare film ever made.
95 Life is Sweet (Mike Leigh, 1990). Leigh’s funniest and most charming film.
96 Trojan Eddie (Gillies MacKinnon, 1996). A film of contrasts, shocks, and blarney.
97 Wilde (Brian Gilbert, 1997). Up there with the best of all biopics, with a great central performance.
98 Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (Randa Haines, 1993). A quirky celebration of ageing.

2000s

99 The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008). An action feature with some intelligence and stunning CGI.
100 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001). Purely because it brought together actors, models, CGI and a great script to create something very special.

Films matter to me if they make me laugh, cry, feel scared, feel revolted, make me think, stay in my mind. All the above meet at least one of these criteria, and so they deserve their place.

Film review: Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

This is the fourth film in the Mission Impossible reboot, starring and produced by Tom Cruise and loosely based on the classic 1960s espionage series (and its 1980s version).  I haven’t seen all of the other films beyond a few set pieces glimpsed on the television, but am familar with both TV series and came to Ghost Protocol expecting an action thriller with lots of noise, CGI and not much in the way of talk, plot or script.

So I wasn’t disappointed.  The opening sequence set in a Russian prison where Simon Pegg as the dumbest of all secret agents in the IMF causes prisoners to riot and eventually, for Tom Cruise to escape triumphantly while Dean Martin’s ‘Ain’t That A Kick In The Head’ belts out over the sound system.  Meeting with the token female agent in a convenient tunnel, they all get away and then a bit of business in a phone booth and a hidden computer screen gives Cruise his mission (in the old days, it was cassette tapes and CDs, but this is a simple digital message, which still self-destructs).

The mission, of course, is accepted, cueing some comical business in the Kremlin before it all gets serious, there is an explosion, some gun play, the death of an important character, and a trip to Dubai to stop nuclear meltdown.  Cruise scales the tallest building in the city, an impressively high glass structure (you know how this was done, but it still looks impressive).  There’s a rubber mask gag nodding back to the original series.  There’s a bit of hi-tech blather and someone along for the ride might not be who they say they are.  Oh, and Cruise fights a sandstorm.  As you do.

Despite all the obstacles, the ending sets up a possible fifth entry in the series following a rather silly stunt with a car and a 100 foot drop.  It’s a daft, cartoonish film, but even given a slow middle and a rather unsatisfying plot, it delivers if this kind of action flick is your thing.