Saturday, July 7, 2007

July 7th Log

1955, Robert Aldrich, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

I’ll promise you anything you want if you just let me go.” The Big Knife opens with a tone setting opening title sequence created by the great Saul Bass, as we see the titles appear over a high angle shot of a distressed and trapped man in the dark. This man is Charles Castle, a Hollywood star actor whose career and personal life is beginning to collapse. Castle is pressed by his studio boss to sign a long-term contract, who doesn’t want to lose his heart-throb screen appeal. Castle wants to work more independently, making pictures he can be proud of. Ultimately this is the center of The Big Knife, a psychological and moral film of a man who’s life is being controlled by a higher authority. The Big Knife is played out very theatrical in terms of its soap-opera narrative and dialogue, as well as its minimal settings and action. The performances come to the center, and what a reliable cast to depend on. Jack Palance gives a powerful performance as Castle and he is aided by a wonderful supporting cast (including Ida Lupino, Shelly Winters, Wendell Corey, and Everett Sloane). Rod Steiger gives the films most memorable performance as the studio boss Stanley Hoff (he seems to be a caricature of several major studio heads of Hollywood). The Big Knife was directed and produced by Robert Aldrich, who earlier in the year completed his masterful noir Kiss Me Deadly, a truly unique, and equally cynical and personally artistic achievement. I would not put The Big Knife in the class of Kiss Me Deadly of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane as Aldrich’s finest films, but it remains an enduring one.

1937, Norman Z. McLeod, United States
1st Viewing, Turner Classic Movies

Topper is a beloved classic screwball comedy that paved the way for two sequels, a Television remake, a Television series, as well as countless other film inspirations. It is completely light-hearted in nature and perhaps a bit silly, but absolutely delightful fun. Highlighting the fun of course is the sophisticated charm of Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, who unfortunately never made another film together. Here they sparkle as the high-class romantic couple that die and must do a good deed in order to make it to heaven. This was very early on in Cary Grant’s comedy career, and also before he was the top billing star he soon became. His chemistry alongside Bennett is top-notch and if the film looses any of it’s charm it is in the moments they are not are on-screen together. Roland Young received an Academy Award nomination for his role as Topper and he displays some fine psychical comedy skills (particularly in the moments Grant and Bennett “disappear”). There are also some fine special effects for the era. Overall the film is light-hearted fun even when dealing with death. Above all, you have to sit back and enjoy the charm of the actors and the magic of classic Hollywood studio. Perhaps not one of the definitive films of the era, but it is one of most widely beloved comedies of the 1930s.

2006, Frank Marshall, United States
Repeat Viewing, Encore

Eight Below is such a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed this film once again with a repeat viewing. Eight Below fully succeeds in everything it strives for: Compelling drama, exciting adventure, and uplifting inspiration. The film is sort of broken into two parts. The first half follows a dog-sled team and their guide (played by Paul Walker) on a search to help a scientist (Bruce Greenwood) find a meteorite in Antarctica. The second half follows Walker's inner-struggle to get back to the dogs who were left alone. Neither half is ineffective, but the opening is certainly more exciting and entertaining. Disney has had great success working in this genre (animal adventures) and Eight Below is no exception. The actors do a great job (even Paul Walker) without ever hamming-it-up. And of course, the dogs steal the show. The film captures the great human and dog relationship in a way that is both touching and uplifting. Eight Below is a highly entertaining and inspiring film for all ages.

1990, Whit Stillman, United States
Repeat Viewing, Encore

Whit Stillman’s 1990 debut feature film Metropolitan is an essential achievement of American independent cinema. Here is a film that defines a generation of youth, by capturing it within the strange yet fascinating world of the New York bourgeoisie. While making plenty of references to Jane Austen, the film is essentially a modern retelling of Mansfield Park. The film centers around a group of wealthy teenagers and the middle-class young man (Tom) that joins the group (while at the same time questioning their way of life). The relatively unknown cast is excellent and each of there performances and characters are fully developed (Nick, the yuppie cynic; Charlie the philosophical theorist; and of course Audrey the Jane Austen romantic). As Audrey Carolyn Farina is particularly charming. Almost without a plot, the film takes on both a sense of realism and otherworldliness, heightened by moments of unease and wit that feel just right. Metropolitan is a simple, charming, and funny little gem of a film that centers itself on dialogue and performances. To me everything about the film works in a way that makes it a perfect little film. Cha cha cha!!


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