For Reel

The Trial (1962)
July 7, 2017, 12:41 pm
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Director: Orson Welles
5 Stars
The TrialEarly in The Trial, Joseph K. (Anthony Perkins) tries to protest as the police rifle through is belongings, often flubbing his own word choice while criticizing the policemen for the same issue (“Ovular isn’t even a word!”). These problems with language both cast further guilt on Joseph K while laying the groundwork for Orson Welles’ nightmare to come, which similarly deals in incoherence and miscommunications. In this world, it’s best not to question why a trunk needs to be hauled to and fro, but rather to accept it. As the put upon bureaucrat, Perkins brilliant rests between fragility and anger. His affable nervousness casts him as an everyman, but these very ticks establish the maddening tone. The film’s radical angles and senseless set design further this theme of discomfort. When called to the judge’s stand, there’s barely any room for Joseph K to perch there, and later he lays with Romy Schneider in a pile of discarded files and books that seems to swallow them whole. When Welles speaks of the trickery of moviemaking in F for Fake, one can imagine he felt The Trial was his most grandiose display of it (he has in interview said that The Trial is his best film, and one might interpret his definition of “best” as playing into that idea of trickery)—the relationships between spaces are obscured in a way only permitted by movies and dreams.

Carnival of Souls (1962)
November 6, 2016, 9:58 pm
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Director: Herk Harvey
5 Stars
carnival-of-soulsIn Carnival of Souls, a woman (Candace Hilligoss) survives a car crash and spends the immediate aftermath seeming to flicker in and out of the world—one minute, she interacts with those around her just as she ordinarily would, and in the next, she cannot be seen nor heard. Just as her own physical existence seems mutable, so too do the rules of the world around her. Haunted by a ghostly specter (Herk Harvey), she often finds those around her being physically substituted by the pale man who ceaselessly pursuits her. Carnival of Souls‘ dealings with the transience of reality and unreality are only aided by its low-budget aesthetic—if the raw, verite-like images set in a boarding house or a garage feel lived-in in a way that movie sets cannot, Harvey utilizes the haunting shell of dance hall palace as an image that seemingly marks a portal between dimensions, a vessel of decay that comes alive with the ghostly apparitions that torment Hilligoss. Gene Moore’s organ score is as memorable as the horror genre has heard, and along with Hervey’s startling images wherein “the man” appears in everyday life, it maintains the unsettling, genuinely frighting atmosphere.

Dr. No (1962)
June 12, 2016, 9:59 pm
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Director: Terence Young
3.5 Stars
Dr. NoAs of 2015’s Spectre there have now been a total of two dozen films to star the now iconic James Bond, who in 1962 was first introduced to the movie-going public in Dr. No. Although all of Bond’s mannerisms are now cultural staples, one needs to divorce themselves from that fact to appreciate what a firm foundation Dr. No laid out for the series. It is a fairly grounded, low-key affair—its action sequences mainly limited to small, efficient fistfights, with the focus more on the intelligence gathering spy aspect than on the spectacle of outrageously choreographed set pieces. The early-goings do well to establish a world in which no one is to be trusted, and yet as viewers we can take solace in the fact that Bond tends to be one step ahead of both his adversaries and the film audience. Director Terence Young, a regular of the early films, does well to incorporate surrealism once Bond reaches the private island—the image of the feared “dragon” is memorable in its sheer audacity, and one that predicts that the emperor has no clothes (Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), despite being built up as a menace throughout the picture, ultimately isn’t remarkably impressive). The third act is borderline incomprehensible, playing as a hodgepodge of loosely baked action movie tropes while failing to get across the sense of stakes, but everything leading to that point is irresistible fun.

Jules and Jim (1962)
January 31, 2016, 4:33 pm
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Director: François Truffaut
5 Stars
Jules and JimIn conversation and in histories of the French New Wave, Jules and Jim is often championed for its playful whimsy, exemplified most iconically by the shot of the three main characters stampeding across a bridge. Imagine a new viewer’s surprise, then, to discover what an anti-romance the film turned out to be, and how pained and despairing the narrative actually is. Design for Living this is not. The early-goings are true to the film’s legacy–Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) are best friends but polar opposites, two sides of the same coin. The introduction of Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) into their routine seems natural in that she accessorizes their sense of carefree Bohemian living, bringing a mysterious, beautiful face to their content but vacuous lifestyle. When the film moves to the post-war years, however, François Truffaut’s interest turns to not only the narcissism of these characters, but how Catherine’s failure to live up to expectations of the men in her life leads to romantic chaos. Similarly, the filmmaking transitions from rapidly-edited, breathless interludes to something more staid and typical, as if the film itself has grown up with the characters and the more jaded sociopolitical landscape. Truffaut’s famous quote was that the film explores how, “Monogamy is impossible, but the alternative is worse.” Indeed, the romance of the film plays out as an apocalyptic vision of monogamy, just as the traditional values of the pre-war period had become obsolete but not yet substituted by a functional alternative. It is a film about the violence of transition, where shifting expectations inevitably lead to dissatisfaction.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
December 14, 2015, 10:53 pm
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Director: John Frankenheimer
4 Stars
The Manchurian CandidateThe Manchurian Candidate maintains its standing as a vital American satire, as formally inventive and witty as anything released in a decade remembered for cinematic exploration. As with Seconds, director John Frankenheimer shows an uncanny ability to seamlessly develop a relationship between realism and the dreamlike and obscure. The demonstration sequence (in which American soldiers are brainwashed into believing they are attending a garden club attended by old women) is a shocking play of surrealism, its power drawn from the ironic incongruities. As the eponymous weapon, Laurence Harvey gives a performance that even those who admire the film have criticized. But it has actually aged as a brilliant piece of casting, where his very blandness and unlikability is established as a character trait. As the film progresses into Oedipal territory, Harvey is up to the task of delivering a more stylized, highly emotive performance–the contrast of his cold, stubborn persona and the tragic violation of his body establishes him as a multifaceted victim rife with contradictions. Angela Lansbury, on the other hand, is entertaining but pure camp, whereas Harvey is tasked with bringing to life the script’s trickiest and most compelling characterization.

Il Sorpasso (1962)
September 6, 2015, 12:30 pm
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Director: Dino Risi
3.5 Stars
Il SorpassoBecause Il Sorpasso concerns the dynamic between an impulsive braggart and a wallflower, it goes without saying that each party will inevitably learn a valuable lesson from the other. While Bruno (Vittorio Gassman) seems to have everything figured out in his carefree approach to life, he mentions his loneliness in a series of small asides before the extent of his pain is unearthed. Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant) might be motivated and reasonable, but he has much to learn about how to pick up women and enjoy himself. While the way the film plays out adheres to a very accessible Commedia all’Italiana mold, Il Sorpasso is a film very much about crisis, having a certain skeptical wariness regarding change. The final moments cast everything that has come before in a new light. As much as Bruno’s lightheartedness is challenged, director Dino Risi still revels in it throughout the picture–the film is very much dictated by the rhythms of Gassman’s performance. In the end, however, letting one’s guard down in favor of hedonism is the catalyst for a great tragedy. Although Italy’s economy was in an upswing at the time of its release, Risi clearly hadn’t forgotten his predecessors: the neorealists.

Sundays and Cybèle (1962)
August 10, 2015, 7:17 pm
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Director: Serge Bourguignon
4.5 Stars
Sundays and CybeleDirector Serge Bourguignon was not warmly received by his fellow young French directors in the early 1960s. According to Bourguignon, the critics turned directors of Cahiers du cinéma shunned Sundays and Cybéle for becoming the French submission for the Academy Award over New Wave masterpieces like Jules and Jim and Vivre sa vie. And yet, although it is a film that concerns itself with narrative continuity in a way that a director like Jean-Luc Godard would not, Sundays and Cybéle is radical in its own way by achieving an uncompromising humanistic approach to an unusual love affair. Hardy Krüger plays a PTSD suffering ex-pilot who has the mind of a child, and as the 12-year-old orphan he inspires the love of, Patricia Gozzi seems much more emotionally advanced than a girl of her age, often speaking of their future together and even showing mature displays of romantic jealousy. The authenticity of their innocent companionship is argued for by their relationship with the Earth–they often speak of the beauty of trees, and in many scenes cinematographer Henri Decaë shoots them as reflections, making a mystical connection between the purity of their union and the purity of the natural world. On the contrary, in a crucial scene Krüger is engaged in a lunch outing with his wife (Nina Courcel) and two other bourgeois couples. He begins to observe the scene through his champagne glass–an action that is childlike in its sense of wonderment, and one that also conveys a certain falseness. Unlike his reflections in the water with Cybéle, here his world is reflected to him in a way that is fragmented, one that seems almost alien.

L’Eclisse (1962)
August 7, 2015, 12:15 pm
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Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
4 Stars
L'EclisseThe culmination of Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy of modern alienation, L’Eclisse is a film of uncertainty and vagueness, a reveling in contradictions. While the scenes set on stock-exchange floors might play as simplistic denigrations of capitalism in other hands (even the apocalyptic hands of Antonioni himself in Zabriskie Point), one can’t deny the sense of vitality and life, a contrast to the expected ennui. Similarly, as with Red Desert, L’Eclisse’s Rome has the look of a science fiction utopia, with the early appearance of a modern EUR water reservoir resembling a mushroom cloud. Yet it is still a world that is enchanting in its mysteriousness, and the fragmentation of buildings transforms them into abstract works of modern beauty. Occasionally, these contradictions seem unnecessary–why does Alain Delon, initially mimicking the enthusiasm of the stockbrokers, eventually become an puppet of blank expression? Certainly themes related to alienation and failures of communication could be present even without reverting to such a listless, object-performance? Regardless, the final abstract sequence of L’Eclisse is a beautiful summation of Antonioni in this period, showing an affinity for the mystery and permanence of setting and a surprising nonchalance towards his characters.

Ride the High Country (1962)
March 29, 2015, 9:26 pm
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Director: Sam Peckinpah
5 Stars
Ride the High CountryDirector Sam Peckinpah’s second feature (and the one that established him as one of the foremost directors of his era), Ride the High Country is an elegy to the old West and a suitable transition into the new frontier that directors like Peckinpah would establish in the coming decades. Who better to star in a tribute to the history of the genre than the pair of Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea–the former in his final film role? McCrea plays the last cowboy, a man with an unshakable sense of morale conviction in a world that is increasingly disinterested with notions of honor and traditional masculine heroics. Together with Scott (and accompanied by a young sidekick ably played by Ron Starr), the two embark on one final journey, which begins as a mission to usher a gold shipment into a mining town and becomes more about protecting an innocent farmer’s daughter (Marietta Hartley) from violent, sex-crazed rednecks. The final shot, which sees a dying McCrea fall out of frame and becoming one with the landscape, is as memorable as any in the genre–it’s elegiac without being overbearing, its sentimentality is completely earned.

The Notorious Landlady (1962)
May 23, 2014, 10:48 pm
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Director: Richard Quine
3 Stars
The Notorious LandladyFour years after starring in Vertigo, Kim Novak would play yet another mysterious blonde who becomes the object of a man’s obsession in The Notorious Landlady. This time the romantic is Jack Lemmon, who becomes so deeply entranced by his detached lover that he has time to question whether or not he can cope with the idea that she is a potential murderer. Although it begins to drag somewhere around the midpoint, the film is not without its charms in the early-goings. Arthur E. Arling’s ever-moving camera keeps the visuals lively, and Lemmon can play an over-eager sap as well as anyone else. Director Richard Quine seems very amused by the screenplay’s potential to transition from one genre to the next, with the story first unfolding as a romantic comedy before developing into a psychological thriller and even a courtroom drama. Finally, with the daring climax, Quine lampoons everything that has come before–he pays homage to the silent comedy greats by allowing an increasingly slapstick chase sequence unfold to music from The Pirates of Penzance. As the silliness escalates and Lemmon’s character struggles to summarize everything that happened in the last twenty minutes, the picture becomes fairly radical in the way that it both skewers and meets the audience’s expectations of a final act. The whole sequence seems tonally irreconcilable with everything that preceded it, and yet the theatrical melodramatics are somehow fitting.