Tuesday 31 May 2016

Rounding up some short comments - Boat People, The Reluctant Doctor, Dazed and Confused & The Night Manager

A few short remarks firsts posted on Facebook.....

Ann Hui's Boat People
Thanks to supercinephile Barrie Pattison for noticing that NITV is screening Ann Hui's remarkable Boat People (Hong Kong, 1982) tonight at 11.30 pm tonight Friday 13 May. For details Google the film title or the director's name. A Major director who should have had a retrospective long ago. Oops. No Cinematheque in Sydney to do that sort of thing.....

Jean-Baptiste Coquelin aka Moliere and his The Reluctant Doctor (France, 1666) starring the estimable Bill Conn*
Nostalgia. From 1963 I think. The star went on to become such a star he sang a couple of songs at both my 21st and 70th birthdays...Double click on the image to enlarge.

Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused
OK, catching up. Richard Linklater's early Dazed and Confused (1992). Spotted the young Ben Affleck instantly but who was the blonde guy with the overslicked hair and the deep southern drawl. Had us all deeply into who is that guy until the credits came up and we said of course Matthew McConaughey!!!!

John Le Carre's The Night Manager 
Fine Brit TV much appreciated and superbly analysed in a little memoir by Le Carre who, however, seems to have forgotten or is prepared to overlook that the first TV adaptation attributed to his work is the 1966 piece by Ted Kotcheff "Dare I weep, Dare I Mourn" made for Armchair Theatre. Only 45 minutes and starring James Mason and Jill Bennett it's a fine little Tv drama.

They made the agent a woman, changed the location and the ending. The bestselling thriller writer on the pain and pleasure of adaptations from The Spy Who Came in…

Bill Conn

Monday 30 May 2016

A Young Cinephile's Diary - Shaun Heenan discovers Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants, Les Amants & My Dinner with Andre

Louis Malle
Earlier this year I wrote on this site about having loved Atlantic City (Louis Malle, Canada/France, 1980), and mentioned that I’d like to see some more films by the director. Fandor gave me a great chance to do that this week, as their weekly Criterion selection featured no fewer than ten of Malle’s features. This included two I’d already seen (1960’s Zazie dans le Métro and 1971’s Murmur of the Heart) and one I own on DVD but have not watched (1957’s Elevator to the Gallows). I found time this week to watch three of the remaining films, and mostly enjoyed myself doing so.

To begin, I jumped straight to the most famous film on the list, Au revoir les enfants (Louis Malle, France/West Germany, 1987), which tells the wartime story of children at a boarding school in occupied France. It is not especially surprising to discover Malle’s film is largely autobiographical, since he shows such an understanding, not just of the mechanics of the school itself, but of the cliques and relationships of the boys who live there. The characters discuss allegiances and collaboration on a theoretical level, but the danger of the invasion only becomes clear to the main character Julien (Garspard Manesse) when he realises his friend Jean (Raphaël Fejtö) is a Jew in hiding.
The subculture presented here is fully realised and wholly believable. The boys feel like real people with hopes and fears, and when some of those fears come to pass, it feels crushing, since we’ve gotten to know the children so well. As the title suggests, this is Malle’s ode to the innocent childhood stolen from him, and from a whole generation, during World War II. It is deeply moving. This is a marvelous film, worthy of its great reputation.

The is also a great deal of sadness and beauty in Malle’s earlier film The Lovers (Louis Malle, France, 1958). The film follows a woman named Jeanne (Jeanne Moreau) who has grown bored of her life, and particularly of her husband. She makes frequent trips from their countryside house to Paris, where she is having a long-term affair with a polo player. Her husband knows, or at least suspects, and invites the man, along with another of Jeanne’s friends, to dinner. On the way to this dinner Jeanne meets another man, and also begins to fall for him.

I never got the impression Jeanne cared for either of the new men specifically. Rather, she’s falling in love with the idea of escaping and finding something, anything, new. I’m not even sure she convinces herself. The night she spends in and around her house with one of these men is a great feat of cinematography, and the best scene in the movie. The ambiguity of her emotions throughout adds a great deal of depth to what could have been a simple story. It’s a great performance, and another strong work from Malle, who was just 25 when he made it.

It shocks me to learn that The Lovers was the subject of an obscenity trial in the United States, where it was eventually cleared of the charge that the film (which contains a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it amount of nudity) counted as ‘hardcore pornography’. One Justice famously wrote about the definition of this term, “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

I understand that my opinion on the third and final film is simplistic, and will surely make me look like a Philistine. That said, My Dinner with Andre (Louis Malle, USA, 1981) is one of the dullest films I have ever seen. I’ve heard tales of its greatness for at least a decade, from people I trust very much. I understand academically why the film’s format is interesting, but it did absolutely nothing for me. The film takes the form of a single two-hour dinner conversation between the actors Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, playing fictionalised versions of themselves. They speak briefly about theatre and art before diving headfirst into (at least) a full hour of rambling about Andre Gregory’s experiences as a tourist dabbling in tribal mysticism around the world. He speaks at incredible length with great sincerity about the way it helped him discover secret truths about life. All I could do was roll my eyes and try not to fall asleep. Wallace Shawn eventually calls him out on his nonsense, but by that time the audience has already had to sit there and listen to it for the full length of a film.

If this was a real dinner I had been tricked into attending, I would have stood up and left. I hated this movie.

Sunday 29 May 2016

From the New Yorker - "What this place needs is a film festival"

Vale Burt Kwouk - A reminder that we need a Blake Edwards retrospective somewhere soon

Sellers and the late Burt Kwouk in Trail of the Pink Panther
The most accomplished directors of comedy. That's just a handful really. Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd from the silents and beyond, Lubitsch and Hawks, Capra, Billy Wilder - and then the mysterious and smooth Blake Edwards. Just about all that would fit in my Pantheon and nothing and nobody for half a century. Not that there haven't been triers - Jacques Tati, Richard Lester... This is all off the top of the head as I learn of the death five days ago of Burt Kwouk, legendary Kato, one of two great foils to Peter Sellers in that string of Pink Panther movies that Blake Edwards (mostly) made over a thirty year stretch from 1963 to 1993.

The anticipation was always electric. Sellers' Clouseau would return to his Paris flat where Kato would be lying in wait. Sometimes Clouseau anticipated the attack, sometimes he screamed that he wanted to call it off. Sometimes he would be surprised. Edwards had one of those uncanny knacks for being able to do endless variations on robust physical comedy. Those films were hilarious and part of the reason for the hilarity was Burt Kwouk's work.

I'm sure he was in other stuff but his memory will be long served by his Kato going up against Clouseau on maybe fifty occasions. A compilation of the encounters would not be out of place to honour the memory of some great comedy directed by a largely unsung master. It could form a nice intro to a long overdue retrospective of a fine body of work that ranged across the genres but kept returning, possibly for the economics of it all, to those Pink Panthers  and that rich menage-a-trois between Sellers, Kwouk and Herbert Lom that will live long in the memory. 

Thursday 26 May 2016

On DVD - Appaloosa - Ed Harris's personal project is a very smart western

Appaloosa takes most of the same title as Sidney J Furie's The Appaloosa (USA, 1966) starring Marlon Brando as a cowboy who has his horse stolen. Directed by Ed Harris, who also plays the lead,  the film was made in 2008. My memory tells me nothing as to whether it even had a theatre release here.

The actor/director previously had an impact with his debut effort as director, the biopic Pollock (USA, 2000). My initial inclination to see this as a vanity project for Ed Harris wasn't fair. There's too much love for the classical western and too much effort in the assembly of the team for that to be the case. Eight years on Harris got together a rather fine team of actors and technicians for Appaloosa, here the name of a town where mercenary Virgil Cole (Harris) and his sidekick shotgun toting Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) arrive in response to a call by the town's business people, including one played by Brit Timothy Spall, to come in a and establish a lot of law and order. Its got echoes of a lot of movies, most notably those that tell the story of Wyatt Earp and his brothers who specialised in this form of employment.

So, the main task for Virgil and Everett is to take on cattle baron Bragg played with a funny drawl by Jeremy Irons. This must have been a fun shoot with all these great actors hanging round somewhere in the American South West, a place of seemingly untouched beauty and wonderful rolling yellow desert abruptly turning into slippery mountains that hide Indians who have jumped the reservation as an extra complicating factor. Photographed by Dean Semler in the manner employing widescreen scope which won him an Oscar for Dances with Wolves it is fabulous to look at and has the twists and turns (the floating poker games) that resemble Boetticher.

Viggo Mortensen (Everett), Renee Zellweger (Allie) & Ed Harris (Virgil)
But back to the actors for I've yet to mention Renee Zellweger, a talent who can always make her puffy cheeks look attractive. Her sly smile is something to savour. The moment when she's spotted by Virgil cavorting buck naked in a river with her kidnappers is also something to savour. Oh wow, because suddenly you realise that she can be a bit fickle with her attentions and it makes you accept quite easily she could take up with rancher Bragg when he opens a hotel and casino and installs her as the resident piano player.

There are also a lot of echoes of Ford  and Hawks as well, something that you think might have been helped by the source material, a 2005 novel by crime writer Robert B Parker who wrote all those Spenser stories but also wrote, or delegated the writing of, some eight novels featuring Everett and Virgil. Both would seem to be channelling Randolph Scott with a touch of Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine  plus there is a leavening of both Mitchum and Wayne from those final two Hawks pictures, honest toilers philosophically facing the slowing down of their physical prowess  but still fearing no man.

The DVD watched was bought in Canada from a big Rogers rental shop getting rid of excess stock- $5.99 though then as always you get slugged all those Canadian state and federal GST taxes that add about 21% to any purchase. There are is an audio commentary track with Harris and screenwriter/producer Robert Knott plus four separate 'featurettes' including one on DOP Dean Semler on his 'return' to the western. From that little snippet of an extra you get to know that the film was shot on a ranch near Santa Fe on widescreen Panavision, on 35mm film among a few other bits and pieces.

Ed Harris & Jeff Beal
Finally a note about the remarkable score by Jeff Beal - a small scale effort on a limited number of instruments but brilliantly effective in setting the mood and emphasising eccentricity. For those who follow these things Beal, also did Harris's earlier Pollock and is also the composer for House of Cards where his work is equally sizzling in assisting us to form our views of the machinations of the Underwoods.