Thursday, September 28, 2006

Lunch-break serendipity

Sorry for all these scrappy posts. Just switched on the TV and caught the last act of Jonathan Mostow's Breakdown by accident. It's some while since I last saw it, but I maintain that, scene for scene, it's the best Hitchcockian thriller of the last ten years. Anyone with me on that? Anyone not seen it? I wish Mostow had stayed down and dirty rather than graduating to the big league with U-571 and T3. Hear he's remaking Frankenheimer's Seconds next, which might be interesting...

Forest fire

Whoah. Haven't seen it yet, but from the quotes here it looks like next year's Best Actor Oscar might be a virtual shoo-in for one of my favourite actors. I'm psyched!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On These Three and Dodsworth

Just watched These Three, William Wyler's first version of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, in preparation for this Sunday's Supporting Actress Smackdown. I won't comment on the nominee in question — Bonita Granville, who plays the diabolical Mary Tilford — as it's nice to leave some surprises. But I will say that I like this version marginally less than the remake, and not just for its (actually rather judicious and cunning) bowdlerisation of Hellman's themes. Merle Oberon was a serious problem for me, for starters. The first performance of hers I've seen, it's a stiff piece of semaphore, full of repetitive touches like that little moue of knowing amusement she puts on whenever Mary's throwing a fit. Worse is that it exposes a significant weakness of the play, which is that Karen is too often a mere spectator in the scandal brewing up around her, and her suspicions about the veracity of Mary's story aren't signposted nearly early enough. Audrey Hepburn, invariably on another planet, lets us look past this in the 1961 movie; Oberon just seems to be acting out a much more stilted, slow-witted drama than anyone else. I liked Joel McCrea goofing off on the sidelines, and Miriam Hopkins is subtly strong in the more generous role of Martha; Alma Kruger is an imposing presence, too, as Mary's grandmother, if never quite managing the shading and self-reproach that netted Fay Bainter a nomination for the remake. But I don't think Wyler quite gets to the heart of the play here; the scandal lacks truly public weight and so do the recriminations.

Few such qualms with Dodsworth, Wyler's other 1936 release and now my third favourite film of his, after The Little Foxes (another Hellman, magnificently realised) and The Best Years of Our Lives. Initially I was a bit off-put by Ruth Chatterton, but blame the character: if the movie has a flaw, it's that Fran Dodsworth is unhelpfully slathered in face cream when she's getting to make a case for herself, and required to put her most self-serving, ill-considered airs on at the exact point when contrition might save her. Still, Walter Huston's Sam (and the film) give her plenty of chances. Maria Ouspenskaya is up for discussion on Sunday for her one-scene appearance as an obstructive baroness, but, leaving her aside, you can expect me to be heartily lamenting the absence of Mary Astor from the same race. As Dodsworth's widowed ladyfriend Edith Cortwright, she comes in at all the right moments and achieves the perfect balance of hope, sadness and fragile dignity to channel this splendid picture where you want it to go. She's quite wonderful.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Durex-free future

Here's mainlymovies' first long(ish) review in a while. Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Children of Men is equal parts brave and frustrating, I think. It feels like the first part of a series we'll never get — the backdrop's remarkably detailed, the production design Oscar-worthy, but we barely feel we've got to know any of the main characters before it's over. I heard yesterday that the Universal exec who greenlit it has been given the boot. It's unfashionably grim stuff, for sure, but flashily so — and there's the rub.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

How is the weather?

You know this lyric in The Turtles' 'Happy Together'?

"No matter how they toss the dice, it had to be /
The only one for me is you, and you for me /
So happy together..."

Now read it again. Parse it. Or, better still, listen to it. I don't know how I'd managed to miss this before, since I pretty often call this my favourite song of all time, but it's a hidden admission of unrequited love, right? "The only one for me is you, and you for me". Ouch. What about her? Does she get a say? I don't think so. The whole song's fantasising about the unattainable, surely. But what I love most is how — with the easy rhyme there, which lulls you time and again into missing the actual meaning — it seems to convince itself every time you hear it, and how that relentless march-beat escorts song and listener up, up, and over the moon.