For Reel


Some Like It Hot (1959)
June 19, 2016, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Billy Wilder
5 Stars
Some Like It HotRevisiting Some Like It Hot, one becomes very aware of how precariously balanced the film is—by any standards, the picture should have been an unmitigated disaster. It coasts between genres, does not distinguish between high and low comedy, and nearly every scene plays for a minute or two longer than one would typically expect (in the case of the famous seduction aboard the yacht, the scene feels a good five minutes too long). And yet so few films get the immediate so right. Watching Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe do their thing for two hours feels like a vacation not only because of the Hotel del Coronado, but because they are set free in a film that is structured so brilliantly that it has the feel of moving completely on a whim. A mob hit in a shady garage can seamlessly transition to a shockingly raunchy sex farce on an overnight train. Neither the actors nor the filmmakers take either scene as more valid or emotionally real than the other, and so they each play with their own complicated sense of stakes both within the moment and within the larger picture. Whereas many films feel burdened by their length, Some Like It Hot is so delightfully free and its characters drawn so well that one can’t wait for what comes next—look no further than the sheer exuberance in the cutaways to Lemmon and Joe E. Brown (in what becomes increasingly clear on repeated viewings is a brilliant supporting performance) dancing as Curtis and Monroe exchange their kisses. Together, they assemble a strange montage about the interplay between sex and capitalism.  Regardless of the differences in tone, the game of seduction is the same, and each edit only amplifies the emotional content of the complimentary scene.

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Ace in the Hole (1951)
June 20, 2015, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Billy Wilder
5 Stars
Ace in the HoleEarly in Ace in the Hole, journalist Chuck Tatum finds himself stranded in Albuquerque and makes his way to the local paper. He brags about having been fired from eleven papers, scoffs at the small-town journalist’s blunt motto of “tell the truth”, and quips that if there’s no story to be found, he’ll “bite a dog.” His villainy represents something problematic about his trade, that reporters with little sense of moral responsibility are seemingly at an advantage. But Billy Wilder isn’t focused on skewering just the media, but rather the consumers of said media. Late in the picture, the media circus is made literal by an impromptu carnival that just happens to be on the eventual gravesite of the man who has been made spectacle. If Ace in the Hole is easily Wilder’s most cynical picture, it is complicated by the issue that Tatum is a storyteller–a spin artist who knows just the right angle to hook an audience. Certainly Wilder would not have been oblivious to his complicity in telling stories for masses who are hungry for them? Cinematographer Charles Lang was one of the classical era’s greats, and here his most remarkable achievement is in the filming of the cave, which serves as the physical manifestation of Tatum’s deteriorating mental state. The cave is the home of his darkest secret, his personal hell. Even if his change of heart is delayed–in true Wilder fashion, it happens just before he is killed–the constant banging of the drill within the cave’s walls plays like a riff on “The Tell-Tale Heart”, suggesting that even the misanthropic bastard has his limits.



The Major and the Minor (1942)
June 25, 2011, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Billy Wilder

The Major and the Minor, the often overlooked debut comedy from Billy Wilder, is successful in large part due to Ginger Rogers, who, in the early 40s, was at her height as a leading actress. Though the conceit of the film is absurd – that Rogers, then 30-years-old, could be mistaken for a 12-year-old – that very implausibility is the root of much of the comedy and, more significantly, Rogers successfully plays childlike without ever losing the upper hand in her romantic quarrels. She may be feigning naivete, but she’s never submissive. Before Rogers dons her disguise, she has a brief scene with Robert Benchley in which she fends off his sexual harassment – a scene which turns out to be no different than her objectification at the hands of the young male cadets later in the picture. Though Wilder has been criticized for his incomplete women’s roles, in this film, his perspective on men is bluntly demonstrated by a shot in which a cadet attempts to seduce Rogers while framed in front of a large, phallic cannon. Only Ray Milland seems to have the capacity to abstain from full-on sexual assault. Rogers’ frequent battles with these men demonstrates her to be, unlike many of the inferior women’s roles of the time, an active, independent woman, successfully evading the fate of obedient housewife.