I haven’t seen enough Barbra Streisand movies, and it’s becoming a problem. I feel like I’ve skipped over this big cultural touchstone. Mostly I just really want to revisit Yentl. But last week I settled for What’s Up, Doc? because it looked supremely silly. And you know what? IT WAS. Ryan O’Neal stars as absent-minded musicologist Howard Bannister, who is traveling to a conference with his bossy, no-nonsense fiancee Eunice (Madeline Kahn). He is half-wooed, half-stalked by the mysterious and apparently penniless Judy Maxwell (Streisand), who manages to turn his entire life upside down within just a few days.
As focused on visuals as I typically am, it’s no surprise that I am a complete mess for experimental animation. If a film toys with stop-motion, or time-lapse, or imaginative cel animation, or cut-outs and silhouettes, I tend to be automatically entranced and very forgiving of narrative/thematic faults. Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty uses several animation techniques, to gorgeous effect, blended with live action sequences. The project started as a short film inspired by Nance’s real-life relationship with Namik Minter, who plays a version of herself. They are close friends whose dynamic borders on romance, but she remains committed to her relationship with another man, who is never named.
Consider this: In three weeks, an asteroid will strike earth, ending all life on the planet. Everyone in the world has three weeks to live. What to do? I’d probably try to travel if I could, see Japan and Egypt and Vienna. Of course, time with loved ones would also be a priority, and watching every movie and reading every book I could. Lorene Scafaria’s characters in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World react to this news in a variety of ways: suicide, drugs, orgies, riots, relentless optimism, and the like. After his wife literally runs away from him, hypochondriac insurance agent Dodge (Steve Carrell) comes to the realization that his entire life has been meaningless.
When two best friends, Marie (Cécile De France) and Alexia (Maïwenn), visit Alexia’s family farm while preparing for their university exams, they’re expecting a quiet stay in the countryside. The only signs of possible discontent seem to stem from Marie’s secret crush on her friend, and jealousy of Alexia’s many affairs with men. The very night they arrive, a mysterious stranger breaks into the house and silently slaughters Alexia’s father, mother, and little brother. Marie hides any signs that she’s even staying there and surveys the carnage while in hiding. The killer kidnaps Alexia and Marie manages to sneak onto his truck, and the rest of the night unravels into a deadly game of hide-and-seek as she tries to rescue her friend while avoiding the monster’s gaze.
Weirdly, I haven’t caught up with the Marx Brothers. I saw Duck Soup years ago, that one episode of I Love Lucy when I was a kid, and that’s about it. An unexpectedly free night and some Marx Brothers screenings at the Brattle lined up perfectly to make my first film of 2014: A Night at the Opera. A wacky musical farce, the film stars Groucho Marx as Otis B Driftwood, a fast-talking business manager who worms his way into the opera scene, making some enemies along the way. He teams up with theater agent Fiorello (Chico Marx) and stage assistant Tomasso (Harpo Marx) on a cruise from Italy to New York, all in a wild gamble to make down-on-his-luck singer Ricardo (Allan Jones) an opera star and reunite him with his love Rosa (Kitty Carlisle).