Archive for the 'drama' Category

15
Oct
14

Ministry of Fear

Poster

Stephen Neale (Ray Milland) gets released from a mental institution where he’s lived since he was charged with euthanasia of his sickly wife. His train makes a stop in a country town and at the urging of a kind conductor he steps out and goes over to the nearby country fair. He sees a fortune teller and wins a cake. This leads him to getting in trouble with Nazi’s who chase him and frame him with murder. He can’t trust anyone as everyone he meets — even a pretty, warm-hearted woman who runs a charity for widows and orphans with her brother — seems ready to turn him in.

Set during WWII Franz Lang’s Ministry of Fear (1944) is brimming with tension and suspense. The plot moves quickly and takes Neal to one creepy, yet sophisticated experience after another. Nothing is what it seems. While I read that Lang wanted to make an overtly anti-Nazi movie, the script writer didn’t provide him with the sort of horrible Nazi he could rail against. Based on a Graham Green novel, I found the film compelling. Green wouldn’t agree, I’ve learned. He thought it was awful, but then Green’s a perfectionist and master.

12
Oct
14

Words & Pictures

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Starring Clive Owens and Juliet Binoche, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2380331/?ref_=nv_sr_1 focuses on two talented and cranky high school teachers. Owens teaches English while Binoche teaches art at an élite private school. Both demand a lot from their students and are disappointed with their own ability to produce the excellence they once did. Owens’ alcoholism is the main cause of his writers’ block, while Binoche’s rheumatoid arthritis hinders her painting.

They’re neither warm nor fuzzy ever rather they’ve embraced the “genius must be prickly loners” philosophy.  They are rather interesting and the film moves along quickly. Owens likes to compete and when his students tell him that the new art teacher believes “words are lies,” he dreams up a Words vs. Pictures competition, which all characters do acknowledge is a false dichotomy.

The leads and Amy Brenneman, who plays the head of the school board, are compelling. I thought the students’ acting didn’t ring true. I’ve seen better chemistry and half way through most romantic films, I’m rooting for the opposites to work things out. Here I thought well, I wish these people well, but if they part company perhaps that is better.

All in all, it’s an okay movie, but it could have been better. It did make me think I wish Amy Brenneman had another TV series. I miss her down-to-earth appeal.

23
Sep
14

Brief Encounter

brief encounter
Written by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean, Brief Encounter tells the story of a man and woman whose paths cross in a train station tea room and then again in town. Both married, contentedly, they are drawn to each other. Laura Jesson (played by Celia Johnson) comes to the town of Milford every Thursday for a day away from housekeeping. On one excursion Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) helps her remove some grit from her eye. Every time he bumps into her he pours on the charm.

The movie is narrated by Johnson who’s thinking about this four week relationship while sitting in front of her husband who’s working on his crossword puzzle. The plot is compelling and Laura especially because there’s so much danger of bumping into people they know and the main characters carefully weigh the cost of the lying and secrecy demanded by their affair. I’ve never seen such thoughtful characters on the precipice of starting an affair.

Another Criterion Collection DVD, it’s enriched by a documentary on David Lean and mini-documentary on the film. Both were worthwhile.

10
Sep
14

Belle et Sébastien

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Because six year old Sébastien is himself abandoned, he’s the only person in the village to give Belle, a mangy dog a chance. Sebastian lives with an old, often drunk man and his family in the mountains of France. He doesn’t go to school, but learns about life and nature from the man. Belle is a dirty gray dog everyone fears. Only Sebastian gives the dog a chance and a good bath. After the bath, the dog is snow white and comes to the aid of Sebastian.

Later when Sebastian’s unofficial adoptive family helps Jews escape the Nazi’s everyone sees that Belle is a wonderful dog. The film is suspenseful and the characters real. Their plight rings true and the story compels. It’s fitting for older kids, who can understand the history and read the subtitles, and adults.

02
Sep
14

all about eve

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Starring Bette Davis, All About Eve is a classic, yet I’d never seen it — till now. It’s a captivating film about Margo Channin, a veteran actress and her circle of theater friends. They’re a jaunty bunch, witty and rather insular. I doubt they know anyone who isn’t in the theater. It’s a happy group though till Eve, a young fan of Margo Channing, the big star, is spotted near the stage door. Margo’s friend is struck by Eve’s persistence and apparent innocence. Before you know it, the group takes Eve into their circle as an adoring fan cum servant.

The problem is Eve’s rather obsessive and driven, she plots to take Margo’s place in the stars, to supplant her favorite actress both professionally and romantically by stealing Margo’s boyfriend. Eve’s psychopathic and manipulative managing for a time to fool everyone but Margo. Eve was wooden and scary. It’s troubling that she got the success she got. The dialog’s snappy and the acting good. Thus even though there weren’t any characters I’d like to know, the film kept my attention from start to finish.

01
Sep
14

Gosford Park: No Downton Abbey

Gosford-Park

I began watching Julien Fellows’ Gosford Park with high hopes. After all, I love Downton Abbey and Fellows won the Oscar for this screenplay.

I was disappointed. Sorely. Despite an all star cast, Gosford Park lacked a single character I found charming or likable. There was one Scottish maid who seemed mousy but nice. She wasn’t enough to carry a film of this length. The characters all came off as cold, greedy and indolent. The upperclass people spent money like water and had nothing but disdain for each other and got no joy from their money.

The downstairs servants weren’t much better. Though not as spoiled they were all out for themselves in a different way. No warmth at all. They just wanted to get their work done with as little fuss as possible. Anyone who upset their system was glared and scoffed at.

One theme that rose was how the servants felt overshadowed by their employers. I can see that, but the grass isn’t always greener. If they worked in offices, their lives would also be precarious and as one of my new colleagues asserts if you work for one company for a long time, that company forms your identity to a great extent. So if they traded their apron for a factory uniform it’s not sure that they’d be happier or more secure.

Sexual harassment was rampant as the lord of the manor couldn’t keep his hands to himself, but in a store, office or factory women run into that too.

For the first 75 minutes we see rich people bicker, whinge and finagle for money. Now and then someone says something they think is droll and smokes a cigarette. Then the plot picks up when the lord who’s a churl gets murdered. Yet the investigation is so incompetently carried out that I just couldn’t buy it. In the end we do learn who did it, but by then I barely cared.

Fellows sure deepened his understanding about character and plot by the time he started Downton Abbey.

16
Aug
14

The Big Sleep

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In honor of Lauren Bacall, I watched The Big Sleep, a classic from 1946. Based on the Raymond Chandler novel, The Big Sleep involves detective Philip Marlow trying to keep a rich man’s degenerate daughters out of trouble and to find out who killed Sean Ryan, who worked for the rich father. The plot gets quite confusing and even the director and cast had trouble figuring out who killed whom. The snappy dialog and chemistry between Bogart and Bacall make us forgive the film for confusing us and for not following the maxim of providing a hero who undergoes a transformation.

Some favorite quotations:

(Female) Taxi Driver: If you can use me again sometime, call this number.
Philip Marlowe: Day and night?
Taxi Driver: Uh, night’s better. I work during the day.

Vivian: I don’t like your manners.
Marlowe: And I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. I don’t mind your ritzing me drinking your lunch out of a bottle. But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.

IMDB offers some interesting trivia on the film.




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