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Showing posts from March, 2017

Someone turn me back into a clock, please!

Beauty and the Beast (2017)
(SPOILERS) Eh, uh. Okay. I was never that taken with the ‘90s Disney animation renaissance. There were a few exceptions (Hercules, The Emperor’s New Groove – the atypical ones, basically), but mostly, they seemed overly concerned with distilling the classic era pictures in a staid and respectful, rather than inspired, manner. Formulaic, basically, and a formula they stuck to for half a dozen pictures that yielded tidy financial dividends. I can quite understand their appeal, but for me it was the Wolfgang Reitherman era, increasingly short-changed as it was, that was where it was at. This live-action remake does exactly what it was destined to do: satisfies those nostalgic for the quarter-of-a-century-old “original” while introducing it to a new generation (mostly, the old one’s kids). Beauty and the Beast is an immaculately-fashioned facsimile, and it’s engaging enough in fulfilling that limited purpose, but it’s also difficult to feel much of anything for …

My true wife is my movie, not you.

De Palma (2015)
If nothing else, De Palma, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s documentary on the visionary director (“visionary” is an over worn adjective to daub on auteur-related movie posters, but if there’s one director who’s all about vision, it’s Brian De Palma) is a reminder of how few cinematic craftsman today possess a truly distinctive style. More than that, who embrace a distinctive filmic language; De Palma openly acknowledges his debt to Hitchcock, but quite rightly has a different take to those who accuse him of being little more than a copycat; the real surprise should be that he’s the only one who really followed and developed the form Hitch created.

For a piece on a master of the set-piece flourish, the meticulously, intricately-crafted tension teaser, Baumbach and Paltrow have settled on the most straightforward, linear approach possible, but it scarcely matters. Sit De Palma down and have him go through his career in sequence, anecdotalising the productions, the state of…

Will you provide me with a perfect murder?

Dial M for Murder (1954)
(SPOILERS) Not generally regarded as in the upper echelon of Hitchcocks, and certainly one the director, in his self-deprecating way, regarded as a stop-gap, taking on the Broadway hit “because it was coasting, playing it safe”. What’s remarkable about Dial M for Murder, however, is the manner in which its director makes the limits of the original medium irrelevant, not by “ventilating the play”, as Truffaut put it, but through averring that “the basic quality of the play is precisely its confinement within the proscenium”.

In other words, it’s all still pretty much set in one room, and as Peter Bogdanovitch observed “It is a triumph of shooting a talky play in a small circumstance”. Hitch’s advice to “Just shoot the play” may sound simple, but it fails to explain why so many “just shot” plays make such arid, inert films. It takes an auteur to know intuitively how to bring out the material, even though, for the most part, there’s little in Dial M for Murder tha…

You can’t just punch someone in a patisserie, you animal!

Criminal (2016)
(SPOILERS) I can’t say I was ever a massive Kevin Costner fan, but I appreciated his ability to fit into a certain sort of role like it was custom made for him; he had that movie star of old quality that suited a bygone era. So I took no particular relish into his descent into the realm of Bodyguards and Waterworlds and Postmen, no matter how respectably several of those performed, although Madge probably thought his box office demise was “neat”. A contemporary of Bruce Willis, both their careers began to splutter about the same time, and Costner’s in particular seemed to be over and done with by the time he reached 40.

Perhaps part of that is both having a face for older roles. Costner doesn’t look a whole lot older now than he did then, particular since he is fully on board with the benefits of a decent wig maker. Like many an actor, his time out of the spotlight – most of this millennium barring the odd pleasant surprise like Open Range and Mr. Brooks – gave way to a s…

Will you watch with me?

By the Sea (2015)
(SPOILERS) Angelina Jolie’s movie horribilis, the tale of a troubled marriage that preceded the actual break-up of a troubled marriage and was met with general critical disdain and public indifference. Is By the Sea the bust that has been widely reported? No, but it’s definitely on the soporific side, and illustrates that, while Jolie has some skill calling the shots, scribbling is not her forte.

Which isn’t to say the rocky relationship between Roland and Vanessa in ‘70s France (well, Malta’s island of Gozo but who’s being picky – perhaps she should have just gone to Manchester) lacks a resounding emotional substratum. Rather, it feels desperately thin and conflated, and there isn’t enough conviction to its central conceit to sustain it. Namely, that the pair conspire to distract from their own issues by peeping on the young, vibrant couple (Melanie Laurent’s Lea, Melvil Poupaud’s Francois) next door for their jollies (Jolies?), so firing up their dwindling passion.

Th…