For Reel

Horror Express (1972)
October 29, 2016, 12:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Eugenio Martin
3 Stars
horror-expressThis international production brought the team of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing together with director Eugenio Martin, known mainly for his giallo pictures. Shot in Madrid, Horror Express flirts with the science fiction and creature feature genres in telling the story of a prehistoric frozen corpse that thaws aboard the Transsiberian Express and begins killing the passengers. A turn halfway through the picture turns it more into material familiar of Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World, similarly characterized by a cramped setting and an increasing paranoia among the small cast. If Lee and Cushing give the film the feel of a typical Hammer production, the film’s greatest pleasures involve its dalliances with a tone more akin to a spaghetti western or giallo—the epic score, the scenery-chewing Terry Savalas, and a sometimes light-hearted, playful tone (in a few scenes, the monster is treated more with awe than horror, particularly one in which it is revealed that its eyeball fluid holds images of a brontosaurus). Lee and Cushing made great screen adversaries, but here play as an effective investigative pairing in the Holmes/Watson variety.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972)

Director: Woody Allen
3.5 Stars
everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-sex-but-were-afraid-to-askBananas, Woody Allen’s sophomore feature, laid the groundwork for many of his themes to come while maintaining an anarchic joy in the surreal. Regardless, its breathless pacing and manic shifts gave it the feel of a sketch writer throwing all of his ideas on the screen. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex… redeems that film’s shortcomings by embracing an episodic aesthetic, allowing Allen to not only embrace his wildest ideas, but giving them room to flourish in a comparatively self-contained context (this structure allows him to hit the reset button every ten minutes or so). Not all of the chapters work, but the ones that do are remarkable—the sustained humor of the “What’s My Perversion?” sequence shows a comic discipline in building to a priceless climactic image, and the “What is Sodomy?” chapter allows for a sustained scene in which Gene Wilder convincingly shows his growing sexual fascination with a sheep. The unifying thread to all of these stories is that the ways we degrade ourselves in the name of sex is inherently funny. Allen makes a convincing case for it. In the film’s final, most elaborate sketch, Allen displays every variation of his comic mastery, from his neurotic performance, to the surreal imagery, to the impeccable timing of the lines delivered by Burt Reynolds and Tony Randall.

Play It Again, Sam (1972)
September 11, 2016, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Herbert Ross
3.5 Stars
Play It Again, SamThe 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.

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
May 8, 2016, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Elaine May
4 Stars
The Heartbreak KidFew romantic comedies are as deeply pained as The Heartbreak Kid, which demonstrates the cruelties that result from egotism and the persistent strive for upward mobility. Charles Grodin plays a man who, just days after his wedding night, realizes he is repulsed by his new wife (Jeannie Berlin). Shortly thereafter, a Midwestern knockout (Cybill Shepherd) arrives at the resort where he is beginning his honeymoon and he finds himself instantly smitten. As with director Elaine May’s previous masterpiece A New Leaf, she shows a limitless boundary in showing human behavior at its most repulsive and self-absorbed. Just as May made herself the small-minded clutz of the preceding film, she casts her daughter as a severely sunburned bride with little sense of manners, table or otherwise. And yet, while both of the films revel in the comedic performances of the women, it is the men’s callous treatment of them that is the object of concern. When Grodin leaves Berlin in the hotel room for an entire day and concocts a lie that he has been in a car accident, she questions the authenticity and it results in a childish outburst—even if he knows he’s telling a lie, he is appalled by the fact that his word is being challenged. The Carpenters’ “Close To You” is the oft-repeated theme of the film, and each time it occurs in the soundtrack its message seems to get darker. What originally is sung by two lovers excited about their forthcoming honeymoon eventually dissolves into a demonstration of extraordinary desire and insatiable lust, the rest of the world be damned. Just as Albert Brooks was the most biting filmic satirist of the 1980s, May’s films similarly discuss egotism in an uncommonly raw, immediate way. That the films are hard to watch is not a knock on the entertainment value of the comedy or the actors performing it, but that the ugly themes are uncomfortably relatable.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
September 16, 2015, 9:20 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
4.5 Stars
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von KantIn one of the first scenes of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, the tragic woman of the title (Margit Carstensen) begins writing a letter to a man by the name of Joseph Mankiewicz, a clear demonstration of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s affection for the Hollywood melodrama and, more specifically, films about women. As with All About Eve, the film concerns a relationship between a pair of women that gradually reveals itself to be a rivalry of sorts, with the initially empowered von Kant regressing into utter codependency and powerlessness by the end. Fassbinder’s obsession with victimhood and the power struggles of a relationship is wrought with a certain timelessness, the implication being that there is cyclical nature to romantic failures. In the final of the film’s four sections (which are divided by fade outs), a bed is mysteriously absent from a room in the apartment. Without the bed–a setting with represents both conception and death (and all the romantic trysts in between)–von Kant is cast away into a sort of loveless purgatory. Furthermore, the sudden change of set design echoes the fluid relationship that the camera has with the space. Filmed by Michael Ballhaus in a single loft, there is no attempt to orient the audience within the location–it becomes increasingly confusing to understand how one room connects to the other as the striking angles seem to only distort the world further as they accumulate. It’s an expressionistic touch that counteracts the inherent claustrophobia of the closed setting. Although the apartment is undoubtedly a hermetic environment, it also feels cavernous, swallowing the characters whole.

Cabaret (1972)
August 27, 2012, 6:28 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Bob Fosse

Simplistic and messy, Cabaret is nonetheless one of the great pleasures of 1970s American cinema, featuring two impossibly charismatic performances and a haunting sequence in which, at a beer garden, a boy sings a song that only gradually reveals itself to be about the National Socialist Party. Michael York stars as a reserved Englishman who moves into the boarding house of an American artist in 1931 Berlin. She is played by Liza Minnelli in the role of a prototypical manic pixie dream girl – rife with appealing quirks, but clearly mentally unstable and nauseatingly self-involved. The rise of Nazism concurs with a frivolous ménage à trois, as if to intentionally undermine the contained, interpersonal relationship that clearly matters little in the dawn of the second World War. While Minnelli and York pay little mind to the state of the country, Joel Grey’s flamboyant emcee is politically-conscious, casually mocking the Nazis in an early number. At the end of the film, when the Nazis have finally taken seats in his cabaret – a location which serves as the last joyous monument of hope and freedom in the city – his energy reeks more of desperation, as if in performing he means to construct a wall between he and those who pose a threat to the continued happiness of he and his audience.

The Godfather (1972)
March 18, 2011, 4:26 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

It would be delusional for me to suggest that there is a whole lot that I could add to the discussion of what surely is one of the most studied films of the past forty years. But, for the sake of my own compulsive devotion to thoroughness, bare with me. Revisiting the film, what most impressed me was the performance by Robert Duvall. It can hardly be considered “underrated” given how applauded both he and the film are, however I think his performance is worthy of discussion alongside Pacino and Brando. The scene in which he is abducted by Sollozzo is as revealing as anything else in the film – a brief glimpse of the repressed humanism locked away inside of the hardened exterior. After being repeatedly told that Vito is dead, Hagen turns his head away from Sollozzo and the camera and, when he looks back, a single tear has formed on his face seemingly without moving a muscle. The scene shows a beautiful restraint that exemplifies so much about what the film says about masculinity.