Director: Herbert Ross
The opening credits of Play It Again, Sam find Woody Allen with his jaw hanging open as he takes in the final moments of Casablanca. As Rick and Captain Renault walk off into the night, Allen’s maw gapes only wider—it’s a face of comic absurdity, but one which lovers of cinema can’t help but identify with. Shortly thereafter, the lights in the theater go up, people grunt and groan as they get out of their seats, and Allen looks around him to find he’s just some schmuck in a movie theater. If Play It Again, Sam has its problems, it speaks extraordinarily well to those who live in the dark—if being cinema obsessed is not necessarily a problem, Play It Again, Sam muses about what it is to be a watcher and not a doer. The movies fulfill the graceful romantic in all of us, and yet first dates remain clumsy, awkward affairs. And yet, if real life can never mimic our impression of Tinseltown, that doesn’t excuse us from taking control of our lives and pursuing those passions. It is somewhat ironic that the ending of the film carries the emotional weight of a man finally taking action and yet it only fulfills the ultimate movie-lover’s fantasy, but perhaps Allen’s point is that movies inform us and have the potential to afford us a bravery we would otherwise feel incapable of.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: 2016, dave green, teenage mutant ninja turtles: out of the shadows
Director: Dave Green
Among the most baffling of enduring franchises is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which until now has always sought reinvention more than the continued love of the nostalgia-driven fans (their most infamous instance of “selling out” occurring with an ill-fated touring rock show). If the first installment of this new franchise didn’t leave a remarkable impression on pop culture and, in fact, alienated the fans of the series, Out Of The Shadows plays as a panicked reinvention. Hearkening back to the roots of its cartoon series, this new film incorporates many of the beloved baddies who somehow haven’t made their ways to movie screens until now, and embraces more than ever its goofiness—when Michelangelo accidentally drops a slice of pizza from the rafters at a Knicks game, the scene feels pulled right from the Saturday morning cartoon. This nostalgia is filtered through the gauze of an unmistakable Michael Bay influence (Bay’s Platinum Dunes company is one of many producers), including low-angles, highly-saturated oranges and blues, and the sometimes infuriating mobility of an endlessly roaming camera. It feels like a Gatorade advertisement—it’s all color and flash, and even the turtles glisten with a sheen of sweat. And yet, if this is unmistakably trash, it is admirable in the way it juggles its competing interests. While Suicide Squad was torn at the seams and lost its sense of focus, Out Of The Shadows finds modest success in both creating a sexy, modern blockbuster and pleasing the now twenty or thirtysomething fans who used to bash these likenesses together in a sandbox with the same physics-defying incomprehensibility.
Director: Walter Lang
This over-inflated Rogers and Hammerstein production undeniably has its charms, even if it often suffers from the same sluggishness of the typically overproduced spectacles of its ilk (a subplot involving the forbidden romance between Rita Moreno and Carlos Rivas is permission to take a quick nap). As the mother hen who promotes Western ideals in the kingdom of Siam, Deborah Karr is captivating—her steadfastness is not to be taken for self-seriousness, with her performance allowing glimpses of both levity and sensuality. As oddly captivating as Yul Brynner is, his performance would be dead in the water without Karr as the straight woman, who gives him the required sensitivity and sentimentality. The film’s most enduring quality is its sense of repressed sexuality—in the same way that many flock to Victorian novels for the steamy but understated romances, The King and I involves a romantic relationship that Hollywood was unwilling to put on movie screens too blatantly. As a result, Brynner’s bare chest, Karr’s revealing evening gown, and one well placed hand on a waist carries a remarkable sense of unbridled passion, adding an extra intensity to Karr and Brynner’s scenes together. If the songs aren’t particularly memorable, the performances and the enchanting surrealism of the Jerome Robbins choreographed Uncle Tom’s Cabin setpiece age the film better than one might think.
Director: James Schamus
Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), the protagonist of the latest attempt to successfully bring Philip Roth to the screen, is a thoughtful young man whose tempered fury begins to boil over when he comes to fully realize his entrapment by a variety of institutions. No better is this exemplified than when, in the film’s key scene, Messner and the dean of the liberal arts college he’s attending (Tracy Letts) get into a verbal sparring match about the former’s atheism and his reluctance to fit into the conventions of college living—to the dean, the boys atheism has much to do with the fact that he was unable to successfully cohabitate in a dorm and is reluctant to try out for the school’s basketball team. That Messner chose this route as an alternative to fighting in Korea makes it clear that, no matter which road he took, he would be at someone else’s mercy. The great thing about Indignation is that it doesn’t entirely applaud his sense of righteousness—he is naïve if anything, as when he shows his horror at accidentally bringing a date to a French restaurant that specializes in escargot. Sarah Gadon is fittingly mystifying as the young woman whose own problems with conservatism have led her to being brandished with a multitude of stigmas, but the character (as is a common criticism of female characters in Roth) is undercooked. Director James Schamus recalls Todd Haynes in his stripped-down visual style, not so much fetishizing the period detail as insisting upon its bareness. His protagonist is just at the age of utterly denying that very setting, and as such the film is rife with an undercurrent of tension and fury, exploding beautifully in the aforementioned conversation with the dean as well as a later scene with his disapproving mother (Linda Emond).
Director: David Mackenzie
As with many of the Depression-era films of yesteryear, Hell or High Water casts its outlaws as folk heroes. If their actions are morally dubious, the film keeps in focus that they are the result of the corrupt civilization around them—they are easy to like as criminals because their scheme isn’t contrived to satisfy a spending spree, rather it involves paying off the bank that foreclosed on their mother’s ranch. When a sympathizing waitress early in the film refuses to provide information regarding their whereabouts, the sense of rage and disenchantment is palpable—there is a widening divide between rural way of life and the rest of the country, shown again by the accusatory harassment a U.S. Marshall (Jeff Bridges) faces when he has the gull to consider his choice of an entrée at a small town T-bone restaurant. Hell or High Water establishes this world well and without condescension, and takes equal care in the way it approaches conversation and affection between men. Bridges’ Marshall relentlessly torments his partner (Gil Birmingham) about his heritage all before musing that one day it’s those vile insults that his partner will miss the most. If it’s a poor excuse for the flippant racism, it becomes clear that the character is confessing his affection for a close friend. Beyond its thrilling employment of genre conventions, Hell or High Water‘s great attribute is this sentimental current just below the surface—the love between men, the nostalgia for a lost era, and the bonds that unite families.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: 1942, roy william neill, sherlock holmes and the secret weapon
Director: Roy William Neill
Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series would transplant the famed detective into a contemporary setting, often involving espionage plots that pit him against the dastardly Axis sympathizers. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon is the second of a series that would last another ten films (all directed by Roy William Neill), and it finely incorporates the studio’s Gothic aesthetic into the spy plot—dimly lit streets and secret passages are the meeting grounds for Holmes and adversary Moriarty (Lionel Atwill). Alongside Nigel Bruce (consistently the best thing about the Holmes films), Atwill saves the material with his reptilian performance. After being introduced halfway through the picture, he and Holmes engage in the expected battle of wits, each trying to outdo the other and being none-too-surprised when their adversary has seen through their plot. The mystery itself is lacking, but for the Holmes-Moriarty feud alone, it plays as a prototypical Holmes outing, reveling in both the character relationships and a Gothic aesthetic that often resembles the noirs of the period.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: 1941, h. bruce humberstone, i wake up screaming
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone
This unusual genre hybrid is the missing link in marking the chronological development of film noir. Many critics cite 1940’s Stranger on the Third Floor as the launching-off point in that it fully embraced the aesthetic of German expressionism, whereas The Maltese Falcon included a hard-boiled detective and wartime disillusionment but didn’t share many of the visual motifs associated with the genre. I Wake Up Screaming, released shortly after the aforementioned Falcon, leads with its chiaroscuro aesthetic—the earliest scenes take place in an interrogation room, distinguished by a blinding spotlight, characters looming in the shadows, and a haze of cigar smoke. If director H. Bruce Humberstone and cinematographer Edward Conjager are not associated with the genre to come, in many ways they helped lay the groundwork. Accompanying the striking visuals is an impressively assembled cast—Betty Grable in a rare dramatic role, the underrated Carole Landis, and especially Laird Cregar, among the most interesting of screen actors of the 1940s. He plays an obsessed detective who is on the tail of the wrongfully accused Victor Mature, but an early scene in which he eerily stares at Landis suggests that his motivations might not be so pure. Cregar was used best as a man both sensitive and imposing, and here his sliminess has much to do with that contradiction—the film plays up the contrast between his looming figure and his soft voice, and the way his character pays off is expected but memorably performed.