Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hawks 1955-1964

Well, this doesn't cover all of the films he made between the years in the title, just the three that I watched. The rest of the Hawks films I will watch will be Westerns so they'll get their own post. It's kind of hard to not be too critical of all these films, 'cause they all kinda suck. But the one thing that Hawks did was keep his cool, sophisticated style, and after Land of the Pharaohs (1955), he took a four year sabbatical in Europe to re-evaluate movies and the impact that television was having on them. He came back believing that people were really interested in characters, and that story and plots are basically regurgitations of the same mythic archetypes (which is basically true). That, to me, is really awesome, because that is what makes a great movie. I'm not sure if any of these are great, or even good, but it's hard not be appreciative of a man that thought long and hard about his craft.

Land of the Pharaohs, 1955
Dir: Howard Hawks

There are some people who say that this is Hawks weakest film, and it's hard not to agree. He tried to cash in on the "sword and sandals" epic craze that was going on in the '50s, but he felt he could create an "intelligent spectacle" (do you think James Cameron thinks like this?) The plot, the acting and scenarios are all kinda bad. The worst thing about this film is that it just doesn't feel like a Hawks film. It's too big, and loses the intimacy of most of his great films. He still has a lot of his great technical stuff like long takes and smooth transitions. If you listen to the commentary (which might be better than actually listening to the actors: the French loved this because they got dubs and never had to), Hawks was apparently interested in the building of the pyramids and the engineering that went into it, which is what he put into the film. This can be kind of interesting, except for the fact that it is all speculation. Also on the commentary, there are old interviews of Hawks talking with Peter Bogdanovich, and Hawks trashes on DeMille the whole time because he took epics so seriously. And maybe that's how you have to watch this. It's just a spectacle. You either like that or you don't. I have similar thoughts about Avatar (2009), I guess. I just wish that wasn't Fern Gully (1992) meets Pocahontas (1995) with explosions. That was last decade dude, we haven't forgot about them. James Cameron is the Cecil B. DeMille of our times. Have you seen an interview with that douche? Tell me he doesn't take himself seriously, please...


Hatari!, 1962
Dir: Howard Hawks

Holy fuckin' shit, John Wayne, you are so bad in this I can barely talk about anything else. But anyway, this is about big game hunters in Africa, and if it was just that, I'm sure it would be interesting. But of course there's other stuff (like how John Wayne can still tag women 40 years younger than him). The sweltering safari is some kind of metaphor for the battle of the sexes (gross) and John Wayne treats women like shit when he likes them. Wooooo! Wayne does not act. I think he drunk in a lot of scenes. Which might be awesome if this was about that or something. I don't know. I just found this atrocious most of the time. Hawks does his best to make it interesting, but I really couldn't get into it.


Man's Favorite Sport?, 1964
Dir: Howard Hawks

Again, another Hawks comedy that I just don't find that funny. It's also caught really hard in the 60s (the opening credits are so "swingin'"). I think, in retrospect though, the question mark in the title of this film says a lot more about Rock Hudson than it does about the character Roger Willoughby. Rock Hudson's Favorite Sport? Girls? Not so much...Watch the film (if you want, I don't necessarily recommend it) and you'll see. Works at Abercombie & Fitch, has a lot of men who look up to his "skills", girls don't understand his lack of interest, doesn't want to be outed as a "phony". All of this has to do with fishing in the film, but again, it must have hit pretty close to home for Hudson.


Friday, February 19, 2010

The White Ribbon

Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon), 2009
Dir: Michael Haneke

This awfully manipulative (according to Haneke, the film is about "the origin of every type of terrorism, be it of political or religious nature"[r u seriuz dude?]) film should have as a subtitle “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Nazism.” Like Funny Games (1997), I thought, at the beginning, that this was going to be another Haneke film with the notion that disturbing, violent images make up for crappy stories that are supposedly "metaphors" for other things. And well, it is, so I tried to forget about that once I realized what was really going on and stick my head into the story and visuals, and it's pretty easy to get sucked in, and I mean that in a completely good way. There's a lot of ambiguity and ambivalence in the story, a great deal of care going in to what is being shown and what is hidden (behind closed doors [hey is that a concentration camp reference? shut up and enjoy the movie!] ) and the narrative structure is paced pretty well. And, as evidenced here, you can have all the amazing CGI you want, but you can't beat a powerful close-up of the human face. All of the kids were great in this, to the point where even when the school teacher's only rational explanation is to go after the Children of the Corn, you still have nothing tangible to be like, "yeah, he's right." They do weird things, but all kids do. But who did it doesn't really matter. So, I really liked this...for the most part. When he does it well, he does it well.

And yes, those are the completely retarded battles I have with myself as I watch a movie [objectivity: why bother? yeah, seriously brah, it's not like films have to be good or anything...].

Monday, February 15, 2010

Fort Apache

Fort Apache, 1948
Dir: John Ford

This is another Ford film that can be easily skewed into a negative experience, and I'm sure a lot of people who have watched this ended up hating it. But there's just something about the earthy simplicity of Ford that is so easy to cling to, even in it's hokey trappings (though by the end of this, it starts getting into pretty heady stuff). One reason why people might never want to watch this is because it pits Henry Fonda and John Wayne in the same film, two personalities that are pretty polarizing. I have to say again though that Ford knew what he was doing with these guys, never letting them fall into their "persona." I mean, as movie stars, they pretty much play themselves, and what little acting they do only helps flesh out character. I say this is a good thing. Believe me, I just watched a John Wayne film (non-Western) from the 60s and it is embarrassingly atrocious.

The story is about Fort Apache, a backwater U.S. fort in the Arizona desert. A bitter colonel (Fonda) is sent out there to take command, though he feels slighted by the assignment. A widower, he brings along his daughter (Shirley Temple) to keep his house. Most of the men there feel like the more personable Captain York (Wayne) should have taken control of the fort, as he is well acquainted with the Indians of the region and is much more malleable with the fuddy-duddy broham shenanigans of the lower ranked soldiers and non-commissioned officers. Problems within the fort begin happening concerning the mingling of class and ethnicity, especially the fondness that Temple is starting to display towards a young lieutenant (John Agar) who is the son of an NCO. Of course, the real trouble starts to happen when the Apaches come into the picture, and where Fonda and Wayne start to see things differently.

Firstly, this film proves Ford's sensitivity for the complex ethnic structure which America is built on: Irish, French, German. Hispanics, Natives and the racism of the dominant white Anglo Americans, here represented by Henry Fond's character, are treated with equal sensitivity, and Fonda's character's military cadence hides particularity well all of the emotions he is brimming with: hate, sadness, and an overprotective compassion for his daughter. This is evidenced well during the NCO dance, which is just as haunting and subtle as the bizarro ho-down in My Darling Clementine (1946). And here again, women sometimes ridicule the whole military hierarchy. The ending seems like a proto-salvo to the bombshell of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962), but Ford was always interested in American myth and it's construction (or deconstruction). Knowing that many of the hero myths of our country were built upon men, extremely fallible men, and showing it, is just more proof that Ford was one of the most sensitive American directors ever.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Two English Girls

Les deux anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls), 1971
Dir: Francois Truffaut

Henri-Pierre Roché, who also wrote the novel Jules et Jim, is the source here for another love triangle, Euro-flavor heartbreaker. It's pretty hard to believe that this dude was involved in two love triangles in his life, but I suppose I'll give it to him. Instead of two guys and one girl, it is the other way around. To start off with, I'm going to say that I'm pretty sure I like this more than Jules et Jim (1962), probably because it never falls into the whimsical mood that it creates. It also is isn't as stuck in the New Wave form noodling of that movie either, which I liked. Sure there are some iris wipes (I'm actually pretty sure I love iris wipes) and the occasional Hitchcock moment, but it never seems too intrusive. The voice-over, at least the way Truffaut uses it, I have some problems with. When it sounds like text being lifted directly from the book for exposition, I get turned off a little. More telling, and not showing. When it's letter writing and such, thoughts in characters heads, it's not so bad. The great thing about the film is that our protagonist, Cluade (J-P Leaud), plays a part that you are never quite sure how to feel about. After hurting his leg and meeting the daughter, Anne (Kika Markham), of his mother's English friend, he goes to spend a summer in Wales with that family. Anne tries to get him together with her sister Muriel (Stacey Tendeter), but there is a lot of puppy love hesitation. When Claude finally professes his love for Muriel, but she rebuffs him, though she clearly is fooling herself. Once the romance is known to the mother, some immediate measures are taken to try and temper it. So Claude heads back to Paris to run his father's estate and be an art dealer or something, and his life soon turns into something much different than the one he had while playing games with the two sisters in Wales. Art dealer, girls, his own place: yeah, Muriel is pushed aside. And one of those girls happens to be Anne, who is in Paris studying art. If the sympathies of the first part of the first part of the film are very much with Claude, the second part is about the two women. Anne becomes a liberal Eruo art babe with many lovers, while Muriel becomes a teacher in Wales who decides not to marry. Both of these women still remain very linked to Claude, and the film moves into the sad, passing-of time lapse that sets up the ending. There is an epilogue too, which, to my surprise, I don't think I hated. In fact, it is very ambiguous, and it finds Claude in a place he probably should be, which is somewhere where we really don't know how we're supposed to feel for him, considering all the things he has done. There's no car explosion suicide at the end either.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, 1931
Dir: F.W. Murnau & Robert Flaherty

So after City Girl (1930), Murnau became fed up with the lack a recognition that he was getting in Hollywood. He decided to take a break on the south Pacific island of Bora Bora. He soon fell in love with the island and its people, and the idea for this film came about with collaboration from one of the first great documentary filmmakers, Flaherty, who made Nanook of the North (1922). They started off well, but soon began to differ over much of the content, and the end result is something much more in tune with Murnau's vision than to Flaherty's (he actually left before filming was completed). Murnau would finish the picture by himself, and then die in a car crash on the way to the LA premier.

Considering the obvious limitations that come with film making from the time period, Tabu really couldn’t be any better. It is narrative diffuse and free-wheeling in the best possible way and anticipates the more frantic cinematic style found in filmmakers like Werner Herzog. In addition, Murnau has Robert Flaherty helping out and he is probably responsible for the exquisite visuals. On the other hand, Murnau himself seems to be the one responsible for the more conventional dramatic touches that prevent the film from being completely mind blowing. Lovers Reri and Matahi are separated when Hitu comes looking for a new virgin to sacrifice to God. The couple’s situation is tragic but soon cured as Matahi rescues Reri and the two explore the sea to find a new place to live. They stumble upon an island controlled by, as the inter-titles eloquently put, the white man. Their conditions are no longer ideal, but they are now free and things begin to look up for the two as Matahi discovers a talent for diving, to the delight of many people. The way that Murnau captures the moment of the village festival, that atmosphere, is absolutely awesome. I think it's my favorite part of the film. This bliss is short-lived, however, as Hitu quickly discovers the whereabouts of Reri and attempts to reclaim her. Meanwhile, Matahi’s language barrier is being exploited by the town regulars.

I’d be lying if I said I was completely immersed in it, but it does still maintain a very strong atmosphere, which, as I said, draws upon Flaherty’s experience as a documentary filmmaker. Visually, things are in top form as well. I've mentioned Murnau’s dislike of inter-titles and it’s very apparent here as no spoken dialogue is translated into inter-title form. Instead, the narrative relies on shots of written documents for exposition. For the most part, the story is downplayed in favor of a much more visual-driven style, which, if I haven’t made obvious already, is Tabu’s greatest strength. As great as all that is, there isn’t anything for one to latch on to, emotionally. Certainly the couple’s fate is tragic and Anne Chevalier is extremely captivating. By the end of the day, it all seems inconsequential, even considering just how tragic the story is on paper. I suppose this might be a sign of the film’s age but I can’t really fault it for something explicable especially when it does take a lot of risks. A beautiful and influential film, but not mindblowing on its own terms is what I think I've been trying to say.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953
Dir: Howard Hawks

Go pick up that date and sit down and watch this with her. She will (I'm guessing) like this a whole lot more than you, but there is something to be said about what is going on in this film. It is, of course, a musical, and that might be too much for some people. It is most of the time for me. And yes, there are parts of this where that whole "just break into song and dance" routine for no reason might make you roll your eyes. They would all be throwaways for me if they weren't so fucking bizarre. Just watch them. The one where Jane Russell is the lead where she is ogling all these beefcake athletes working out is not female empowerment. It's just plain homo-eroticism. None of then show any interest in her. They all seem enamored with either themselves or each other. Seriously, there is a Roman soldier painted on the wall! The story itself involves two lounge singers (Russell and Marilyn Monroe) on a cruise to Paris (uhhh what?). Monroe's character is an amplified version of her blond bimbo that she unleashed in Monkey Business (1952), and here she likes to play dumb rich guys for fools by acting dumb herself. She just wants to be happy. And money, obviously, makes you happy. Russell is sort of a counterpoint to Monroe, also on the prowl, but for love. She is a pretty good looking woman but almost seems downright masculine next to Monroe. Even if the film is all about these Women being empowered by their "bold" actions, it is still a Howard Hawks film. Clutter in the frame, natural dialogue, "three great scenes, no bad ones." Plus there more of that "eye-popping" Technicolor to contend with. I suppose you can look at this from a feminist angle (based on that that was the whole point of the original book), but Hawks never cared for that garbage. And neither should you.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Drums Along the Mohawk

Drums Along the Mohawk, 1939
Dir: John Ford

Not a Western. Maybe a proto-Western or something, but it just wasn't what I was expecting. Not that this is bad, in fact it is kind of interesting in that the main star of the film, Henry Fonda, isn't really the star. Fonda doesn't really have any of the key Western male lead attributes here, yet his character can be strange and vague despite his all-American hokey-ness (I think I've been trying to put that into words over the last couple of Ford reviews. I would understand why someone would be turned off by a lot of the performances in any Ford film, but they would be wrong to misinterpret that as something bad and not something deeper, and inherently American). Fonda has sort of a low-key charm about him anyway. After a wedding in Albany in 1776, Gil (Fonda) take his prim wife Lana (Claudette Colbert) make their way to a cabin that he built out in Mohawk Valley. Together, they must face their fears of the Frontier, Indians, and British Loyalists, embodied in one of the shadiest and subtle characters in the movie, Caldwell (John Carradine). There's a lot of stuff in this about community, American values, men and women co-habitating; stuff like that that either bores you or adds to the dynamic of the film. It's really tough to say for sure what Ford's thoughts were on Indians at this point. By The Searchers (1956) he had had plenty of time to meditate on his portrayal of them for film and how he really wanted them to be shown. So, maybe it is a little interesting that here they are either vicious, drunks, or converts. Blue Back (Chief John Big Tree) is an ally and friend of Gil, and is Praying Indian who is used for comedy (his penchant for yelling out "Hallelujah!") and as a reference point to white settlers (Fonda does not beat his wife with a stick to calm her hysterics, as Blue Back suggests). Whether there are subtler undertones is hard to figure out, but I guess that's what makes them subtle. Or maybe I'm reaching. Who knows? All I know is that there is enough here to make you think, and that is what I like. Besides, how many good Revolutionary War movies can you name? The Patriot (2000) (I know the awesomeness of Mel G. has been brought up recently, but the Patriot was Braveheart pt 2 and completely uninteresting apart from action/history stuff)? Naw dude. This is worth it if you are into Ford or Revolutionary War stuff.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Double French Dip

The Wild Child, 1970
Dir: Francois Truffaut

This is like nothing Truffaut had done before. Well, not really. There are elements in this about alienation in youth, but here it is for completely different reasons. The Wild Child is about a boy (Jean-Pierre Cargol) found in the French wilderness in 1798 who is taken in by a doctor (Truffaut himself) in an attempt to civilize him. Truffaut, I think, thrust himself into the film because he saw so may autobiographical elements in it. The boy is thought by the doctors at the beginning to be a bastard left in the forest for dead by unwanting parents (like Truffaut himself, well, the illegitimate part anyway). It's presented at a very leisurely pace, almost pseudo-documentary style, with a focus on Victor's (the boy responds well to "o" sounds) lessons and his troubles. But what really got me about the film was the quiet, cinematic moments that popped up: Victor staring at a candle late at night, demanding to pushed around in a wheelbarrow after feeling the exhilaration of it the first time, hiding way up a tree. The great black and white visuals by Nestor Almendros (Days of Heaven (1978), so a prettty fuckin awesome DP) only enhance a great little film.


My Night At Muad's, 1969
Dir: Eric Rohmer

The recent death of Eric Rohmer has been well documented, and I thought, in my own way, I might try to pay my respects to someone that many people think is a great director, and check out a film that I have never seen before. I can't lose right? Okay, I tried but this features basically nothing I look for in cinema. Rohmer is so self-conscious of his audience that it's nauseating. The fact that he's making his film as dry, unemotional, and pretentious as possible must mean he knows that he's appealing to a group of upper-class snobs who try to be intellectual. When he decides to have someone blabber on about stupid religious issues, it's no different than Tarantino deciding to have a guy with sunglasses shoot a bunch of people. I'll admit, the movie starts out pretty cool. Little to no dialogue (the dialogue between Trintignant and his colleagues is actually somewhat realistic!) and I'd say there were some pretty impressive shots but that's all the film has going for it. That, and Françoise Fabian as Maud is a stone fox. Basically every line in the movie is pondering about (completely uninteresting) philosophical garbage. Rohmer's characters don't even come close to resembling humans, they're pawns just executing his own ideas. Good for him, but I don't give a shit (sry yr ded tho).

P.S. Another reason why this fucking blows: it's a unanimous choice for a great "wine party" film on many "great wine party" lists. Hey Alex, can you make that best of decade list? Plz?!


This book is so good, let's talk about it forever...hey back there, how good is your book? I bet it's not even close to as good as this masterpiece. Sorry, I'm trying to connect on some level. I'm just a really deep thinker...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hawks 1949-1952

So I did it. I plowed through these movies like no ones business. Was it worth it? Not really...

I Was a Male War Bride, 1949
Dir: Howard Hawks

I was never even remotely interested. Cary Grant dresses like a woman at the end? Holy Fukin Shizit.


The Thing From Another World, 1951
Dir: Christian Nyby (Howard Hawks)

Hawks fans claim that there is evidence enough to prove that he actually directed this, though I'm not sure why anyone would want to take credit for this turd. Maybe Cristian Nyby is like Hawks' retarded friend who he let direct as favor or something. You can only possibly like this if you are into those campy, alien invasion 50s movies, but even that I cannot fathom. So there's like this alien that lands in the arctic, and army guys go up there, and like, he's a fucking vegetable and that makes him immortal or something. Plus he looks like Frankenstein's monster, to add to all the what the fuck insaneness. The whole thing is like if children acted out some dumb alien play and did random things and said lazy nonsensical zingers, which can only loosely be correlated back to Hawks in the visual presentation. Shit city. "So bad it's funny"? I fucking wish, man.


Monkey Business, 1952
Dir: Howard Hawks

OK. So this really isn't that funny. Cary Grant is a scientist again, but instead of being a fuddy-duddy dork like in Bringing Up Baby (1938), he's just the aloof brainiac, which can be semi-interesting. The plot revolves around Grant's scientist team trying to make youthful energy potions. They test them on monkeys. One of the monkeys escapes and does whaaaat: inadvertently makes the elixir of life and drops it in the water bubbler. So craaaaaaaazy shit start to happen. So screwy it fuckin' hurts. But I really want to talk about Marilyn Monroe. So I'm not sure if I've ever really seen a movie with her in it, but after watching this, all I can says is this: I fucking get it. I know why millions of men fell in love with her. When she pops her head over a sign and sees Cary Grant buying a fancy car (so youthful) and she cracks a huge smile and says "Hiya!", you will get a twinge in your balls. NO joke. Her "day date" with Grant is like the one really interesting thing in the movie, and when she pouts at the end of it she is super hot.

3/5, just for MM