For Reel

King Lear (1983)
August 13, 2017, 1:11 pm
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Director: Michael Elliott
3 Stars
King LearLaurence Olivier won an Emmy for his portrayal of King Lear in this production, which should not be praised for its visual precision but rather for Olivier’s unique take on the character. Whereas Lear on the page can often read as threatening, brash, and occasionally frightening, Olivier gives Lear a childlike innocence, which suits his impulsive behavior patterns well. In the opening scene, Olivier teases Anna Calder-Marshall’s Cordelia as if she were a little girl rather than a princess participating in a royal ceremony—one might even argue that his behavior registers as flirtatious, giving the film an incestuous bent in much the same way that Olivier interpreted Hamlet as such. For its production constraints, the film does an adequate job in capturing the intensity of the storm scenes, with David Threlfall’s Edgar playing off of Olivier’s increasingly manic performance quite well. Lear’s figurative rebirth is overdone with a gauzy filter over Olivier’s white gown and shining, perfectly conditioned hair, but something could be said for the film’s unabashed forwardness in dealing with such emotions, whereas Olivier’s Hamlet is often obscured by the Wellesian insistence on artifice.

Pauline at the Beach (1983)
October 15, 2015, 10:19 pm
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Director: Eric Rohmer
4 Stars
Pauline at the BeachThe 15-year-old Pauline (Amanda Langlet) drifts through the background of countless shots in Pauline at the Beach, bearing witness to the romantic schemes played by the adults who occupy a seaside resort in Normandy. She, as it turns out, will not be impervious to these entanglements, later chastising her new boyfriend for his willingness to participate in what she calls, “their [adult] games.” This third entry of Eric Rohmer’s “Comedies and Proverbs” series invents six distinct characters who all play a part in what turns out to be a traditional sex farce. The irony is that they each delude themselves into either fervently playing into or actively betraying the role that they identify themselves with. Despite the way that the film foregrounds the incongruities in a character’s spoken philosophies vs. their actions, Rohmer isn’t so much interested in parading their naïveté as he is in finding the small tragedies and ironies that occur in their various romantic involvements. A comedy that plays like particularly tantalizing gossip, Pauline at the Beach exhibits Rohmer at his most gently amusing.

The Big Chill (1983)
September 20, 2015, 11:47 pm
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Director: Lawrence Kasdan
2 Stars
The Big ChillA token of Boomer nostalgia, The Big Chill is not all that different from today’s exercises in depicting youthful narcissism, indulging a mild admiration that accompanies a thin layer of self-criticism. But whereas films like Frances Ha or even the HBO series Girls go through great effort to examine the resulting messiness of said narcissism, The Big Chill has a grating tendency to end each scene with a punchline and a cut. Any observation the film has about its generation is destroyed by these castrations–this is a rare example of a film where nearly every scene ends too early, and where the (sometimes very good) one-liners prove to be only destructive. Worse yet, the fetishism of the soundtrack is a major distraction. While music is certainly relevant to discussing any period in history and, fittingly, these song choices play as an average afternoon of listening to a radio station devoted to popular hits in the early 1980s, it feels like little more than audience pandering. Furthermore, the script deals with an idolatry of a certain type of masculinity and renders women as either emotionally unstable or cultishly dedicated to their husbands. While modern films like these might be criticized as being too ironic, there’s an earnestness in The Big Chill, a complete romanticization of nearly everything these people do–where problems are solved with one-liners, where husbands have the go-ahead to fuck other women–that is absolutely infuriating.

Exposed (1983)
June 18, 2012, 7:58 am
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Director: James Toback

Although it was poorly received at the time of its release, James Toback’s Exposed has found defenders in the modern critical community, who have embraced Toback’s flamboyant, unapologetic vision as a director. His view of Manhattan, for instance, is a preposterous nightmare, with the street’s few residents providing dependable harassment around every corner. The consistency of the gracelessness amounts to a transcendent surrealism over time – in one inconsequential scene, for instance, Nastassja Kinski falls as she gets out of her cab, gaining a temporary limp that serves no narrative purpose. Playing Kinski’s on-screen lover is Rudolf Nureyev, in what was a failed stunt casting that provides a number of unintentional laughs. A sex symbol at the time (particularly for gay men), Nureyev is strangely void of the eroticism needed to match the sexually frustrated Kinski, who dances alone in her apartment before erotically writhing on the floor. His stalking of her is more frightening than alluring, with his dead eyes projecting more menace than sexuality. Toback himself has an equally preposterous but entertaining turn as the University professor that Kinski is having an affair with – his enthusiasm delivering stock-intellectual lines sets the tone for a film that is very much defined by its extremes. While the supposed critical importance of the film is not entirely convincing (beyond Toback’s rare use of a female protagonist in his filmography), it has an undeniable attraction. It is pure trash, albeit trash guided by the hand of a serious thinker.

City of Pirates (1983)
February 26, 2012, 9:46 pm
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Director: Raúl Ruiz

Nearly impenetrable, the Chilean-born Raúl Ruiz’s City of Pirates is an often frustrating, but nonetheless rapturous experiment in surrealism. Inside a trunk resides vegetables and a man’s face; a ball hovers around a pair of mourning parents; an apparently schizophrenic apparition uses body language to describe various family members. The dialogue is of little help – as quoted in Janet Maslin’s review from the New York Times, one passage states, “Heinous honey of comets rise from the rose of their tacit conversations.” That the film still fools one into assuming clarity is an astounding achievement. Dave Kehr refers to Ruiz’s narrative structure as a “directed flow”, using the ocean as a metaphor for the way that the characters and plot are in constant evolution and yet are still possessing of definite boundaries. Ruiz’s visual associations are part of what brings the viewer into a transcendent lull, and just as important is the consistency of the protagonist, Isidore, as well as the almost grating, repetitive score. It is revealed that, some time before the picture is set, a family was massacred and a child somehow escaped. Is Isidore one-in-the-same with the child, or was she the culprit? How does the murderous boy that she meets relate to her own history? Does the film address two massacres or one? These questions will prompt varying responses depending on the viewer, but ultimately they are quite beside the point. This is fantasy at its purest. Maddening, sure, but in some, inexplicable way, grounded with a sense of dreamlike coherency.

L’Argent (1983)
February 23, 2012, 2:01 am
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Director: Robert Bresson

Loosely adapted from the first part of the Leo Tolstoy novella The Forged Coupon, L’Argent was the final film of Robert Bresson and clearly his most nihilistic. It is not coincidental that the second part of Tolstoy’s source material had been left out, in which the wrong-doers are redeemed and goodness proves just as infectious as evil. This is Bresson’s most stubborn, inflexible work, angry and possessing implications far more horrifying than the reasoned resistance of The Devil, Probably. In the film, a young gas man acquires forged franc notes and is arrested when, oblivious that they are inauthentic, he attempts to use them at a restaurant. As the picture continues, Yvon works as the get-away driver for a robbery, is sentenced to prison, and goes on a murderous rampage. Author Tony Pipolo argues that, while Yvon might be the closest character that L’Argent has to a protagonist, he is far removed from the typical Bresson character because he, “does not engage in a struggle of conscience.” He is, for this reason, perhaps the most distancing of Bresson’s leads – the picture is not so much a character study as it is a film about transference, as Yvon’s descent to needless, greed-fueled violence would suggest. The world is a harsh, unjust one, and rather than serving as the martyr that Balthazar had, Yvon is ensnared within his own predatory course. As far as it would seem that Bresson had come in his career, it is fascinating to see that his final film ends nearly identical to his first, in which Yvon, as Thérèse had in Les Anges du Péché, surrenders himself to authorities.

Scarface (1983)
April 3, 2011, 3:23 pm
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Director: Brian De Palma

Despite its shortcomings, one must admit that Scarface is one of the rare conceptually successful remakes. Updating the Depression-era Chicago setting to 1980s Miami in the aftermath of the Mariel Harbor boat lift, Brian De Palma and screenwriter Oliver Stone successfully give the movie new relevance while retaining the original’s anxieties regarding immigration. What they fail to do, however, is provide much of a counterpoint for this anxiety. While title cards enforce the fact that most of these Cuban immigrants were not criminals, the only Cubans we see in the film are despicable. Nonetheless, as a satire of capitalism run amuck, Scarface has its pleasures. When Tony complains about his increasing taxation whilst lounging in his mansion, one can only think of Stone’s later presentation of Wall Street criminals. The reason that Camonte appeals to me so much more than Montana, however, is the lack of narrative interest given to Pacino’s co-stars. So little is seen of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio that her final actions seem implausible (despite it being one of the more fascinating elements of Hawks’ 1932 vision), and as Montana’s trophy wife, Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t have a lot to do besides cocaine. Additionally, as intelligent a director as De Palma is, he doesn’t appear to think much of his audiences given his exaggerated punctuation of every plot development through camera zooms and music cues. While a moderately entertaining gangster saga, Scarface is unworthy of its reputation.