Tag: based on play

Movie Review: Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) (1929)

Seen: On dvd (Criterion) on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express.

Well, Louise Brooks looks like a cool lady, and I’m always seeing her around Pussy Goes Grrr so Pandora’s Box was an easy choice for a Sunday break from writing papers. Brooks stars as Lulu, an aspiring dancer who marries a well-known newspaper publisher despite his misgivings about her seedy background. Their wedding night is laced with drama and everything goes downhill from there. People dying, gambling, poverty, prostitution, etc. Not sure how spoilery I should be?


With her iconic bob haircut and general flapper effusiveness, Louise Brooks doesn’t steal the show, she is the show. She radiates equal parts unguarded sexuality and bubbly sweetness, prancing about in awesome outfits and seemingly passionate about everything. Those around her fall easily under spell, and it is unclear how aware she is of the effect she has. At times she is conniving and manipulative, at others she is fragile and well-meaning. This dual nature makes for a fascinating and confusing character, propelling the film forward despite a somewhat weepy, meandering script. Lulu’s relationships are interesting but the story is too episodic to be fully compelling as a whole.


One of the most interesting components of Pandora’s Box was the Countess Geschwitz (Alice Roberts), one of the only “reputable” people in Lulu’s circle. She totally has a thing for Lulu, and it is not subtle, and I think she was the most sympathetic of any character. She sees how Lulu flirts with various men and knows she wouldn’t have a chance, but lights up whenever they’re together. She helps her out of scrapes, clinging to some hope that Lulu might return her feelings. It’s pretty tragic, actually, since no one is really to blame. Their dancing scene is pretty hot, though, right? Also according to imdb she is considered to be the first lesbian character portrayed on screen, is that true?


Just a note: I started watching this with the classical orchestral-style score, but it didn’t feel suited to the mood of the film so I switched to the modern classical one, which I liked better. Not sure how strongly the four soundtrack choices affect the overall tone, but I’m sure it made some difference.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Hmm, not sure. I know Pabst’s other main film with Louise Brooks is Diary of a Lost Girl but I haven’t seen it so I don’t know if it’s good.

Catching Up With 2011 Double Feature: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Dangerous Method

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

These were two of the films I felt I should see before I made my Favorites of 2011 list, though neither made it. It was more of a just in case thing. Both come from directors whom I admire (though I’ve only seen one of Alfredson’s other films so far) and both feature impressive, super-white casts of people with primarily British accents. So: A good pairing! Unfortunately we went on a weekend, which meant we were reminded that no one in the world knows how to behave like a human being. Like, maybe no one has ever gone to a movie before? Nobody ever taught these people how to handle it? It’s too bad, really, when everyone sucks but me.

Based on the famed John le Carré novel that I haven’t read (as usual), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy centers on George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a high-ranking member of the British secret service who is forced into retirement. He is convinced by a government official to privately investigate a potential mole, researching the close-lipped inner circle of the service and their agents’ actions in the Soviet Union. Of course, the closer he gets, the more intricate and threatening the conspiracy becomes.

Taking a very quiet, gradual approach in its storytelling and preferring to ambiguously imply rather than tell, Tinker Tailor is certainly different than the high-octane thrillers I tend to associate with the spy genre. It takes its time (it really takes its time) to establish characters and their relationships, and rarely wears its emotions on its sleeve, much like Smiley himself. The story itself is too sparse, I think, with not enough time spent on the potential moles for me to care which one it was. Plus Cold War movies set in the 70s or 80s are always sort of hard to take completely seriously, since I know the USSR is secretly unraveling.

The strong cast and thoughtful cinematography make up for my reservations with the script, though. Oldman is able to communicate so much through a look or terse comment, while supporters Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Svetlana Khodchenkova, and Mark Strong offer intriguing performances themselves. Of course I was most excited to see the adorable Benedict Cumberbatch out of his Sherlock role, with an indie band blonde haircut and very sharp blue tie he was looking good. He was also probably the most emotional of the characters, and there is one moment in particular that had me tearing up a bit.

4/5

I feel like the past year has been a time of finally realizing that David Cronenberg is one the coolest directors, as I caught up with a lot of his 80s offerings. I know he flipped some switch and turned away from his crazy body horror-type stuff for more realistic, Viggo Mortensen-based films in the past decade, and that’s ok too, just a little less exciting. Based on a play that was based on a book, A Dangerous Method seeks to highlight the relationship between psychoanalyst pioneers Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Mortensen) through their connections with a brilliant but troubled young woman, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). As Jung helps her to better understand her sexual masochism, he finds his own beliefs (based on Freud’s work) shifting, causing a rift in their intellectual partnership.

With a trio of fantastic performances and truly interesting subject matter, A Dangerous Method should have been more easy to like. I enjoyed the stimulating conversations and sexy encounters, but the haphazard pacing (so many years would pass without much warning) and lack of driving force, it’s not as engrossing as it could be. I think it should have been either wholly about Jung’s relationship with Sabina or with Freud, not both. Still, it’s worth a watch for Fassbender’s sad eyes and Knightley’s truly impressive characterization. Normally I hate her performances but here I think she was quite strong. Also Mortensen’s attempt at an Austrian accent is kind of funny, it’s mostly just British. At least Fassbender knew he couldn’t do it and stayed English.

Beautiful costumes, lovely settings, sado-masochism, and high-falutin’ psychological discussions: A Dangerous Method has many things to like, but it doesn’t all fit together seamlessly. And it kind of felt like anyone could have directed it- I wanted that Cronenberg grittiness. I really want to learn more about Sabina Spielrein though. Sadly it seems like there aren’t many good biographies in print? I’m checking out my new school’s library when I get a chance.

3.5/5

Movie Review: The Sound of Music (1965)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection.

It’s no secret I love movies about nannies (au pairs, governesses, whatever) since I grew up with one (the greatest lady in the world, she is). Between The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews was one of my favorite people as a kid. She’s just so magical and musical and caregiving! In this sugary classic she stars as Maria, an effervescent almost-nun who is essentially kicked out of her Austrian convent for singing and hiking too much. She is assigned to be a governess for the nearby Von Trapp family, headed by a stern widower Captain (Christopher Plummer) who orders his seven children about like soldiers. Maria uses all her magic singing powers to teach everyone about love and dancing and such. Meanwhile World War II is about to happen.

In many ways The Sound of Music is the anti-feelbad WWII movie, since most of it focuses on the love story and family fun times leading up to the Nazi invasion of Austria. Even once the Nazis get there, Captain Von Trapp is all “I love Austria. FUCK NAZIS” and then he and his family get away by Climbing Every Mountain and in real life they have a fruitful music career in the States. (This is based on a true story, you know.) The last half hour or so feels unconnected to the preceding 2.5 hours, with its action-packed getaway and depressing reality, but there are plenty of hints early on as villainous possible Nazi-sympathizers move in and out of the family’s fancy estate.

I love this movie. It’s the perfect family film, with fun songs and goofy moments for kids and a compelling romance and historical setting for adults. Everything is slightly simplified but not overtly so, and there are certain things I appreciated more as a child and others I understand better now as an adult. Julie Andrews is almost sickly sweet but I love her so much it doesn’t matter, especially because she uses her goodness in some underhanded and clever ways at times. Plus I like her cute bob haircut. Plummer allegedly hated working on this movie and he is a bit of a sourpuss the whole time, but I love his rendition of “Edelweiss”, a song that makes me sad for absolutely no reason and isn’t even an Austrian folk song so its effect is completely manufactured. I like all the kids, surprisingly, possibly because they look like they’re having so much fun in curtain clothes.

The Sound of Music is certainly dated in some ways- from its schmaltzy script to its somewhat sugarcoated/reductionist view of Germany’s annexation of Austria- but keeping the focus on Maria and her relationship with this troubled family gives it a heartfelt, genuine feeling that is only increased with the excellent tunes from Rogers and Hammerstein. It’s long as hell but never boring, carefully developing its central characters while throwing in historical references, stunning vistas, and musical numbers to keep the pace lively. Watching it now I wonder what all these British people are doing in Salzburg in the 1930’s, but that never fazed me before so I guess it’s not a problem now.

The main negative thing that really stuck out to me this time around was how ridiculously romantic comedy-esque the character of the Baroness is. She’s all manipulative and amoral, planning to send the kids off to boarding school after she cons her way into marrying the captain for his money. She like the lady in The Parent Trap and also a billion other movies. It’s just an unnecessary subplot that detracts from the otherwise positive characterization, and by now it comes off as cliche.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well like I said earlier I usually identify this with Andrews’ other 60’s nanny musical, Mary Poppins. Or if you want to set it against a non-cheery vision of WWII in Austria, I thought The Counterfeiters was quite good.

Movie Review: The Bad Seed (1956)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

A few weeks ago I read John Waters’ most recent book Role Models, a collection of essays describing his heroes and inspirations, and included was a brief aside discussing Patty McCormack, the actress who played sociopathic 8-year-old Rhoda in both the stage and film versions of The Bad Seed. I had to see this movie. SO I DID. Rhoda is a suspiciously perfect child, and after her father is called away by his military job, her mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) begins to notice more and more of her peculiarities. When a boy in Rhoda’s class drowns on a school outing, Christine pieces together that her own daughter is a remorseless murderer.

With a fiendish star at its center and a slow-burn escalation to craziness, The Bad Seed is a pretty awesome movie and I totally understand Waters’ fascination with it- especially his specific love for Patty McCormack. As Rhoda she is creepy and smart as hell, with a matter-of-fact line delivery as she alternatively tears apart those she dislikes and sweetly serenades those she wants to manipulate. She is without pity and completely self-serving, but maintains the fear and innocence of a child who at times must admit she doesn’t have it all figured out. Pigtails never looked so menacing. Well maybe they have. But probably not.

Most of the film is actually focused on the mother Christine and how she gradually pieces together the truth about her own daughter. She is simultaneously sickened and protective, recognizing that while Rhoda may be inherently evil, she also can’t help the way she is (there is much discussion of environmental vs genetic factors in the development of sociopathy, and since it’s the 50’s most of it is probably incorrect). I loved Nancy Kelly’s breathy voice and oscillation between crippling fear and decisive action. She’s a pretty badass mom, really, plus she’s from a family of crazies. Henry Jones also has a great supporting part as Leroy, the menacing handyman who sees through Rhoda’s facade because he himself is so dastardly. Most of the cast is from the stage production, which is pretty cool.

My only issue with The Bad Seed is how stupid and out of place the ending is. The climax is awesome (that pounding piano! Oh jeez!) and most of the ending is kind of mind-blowingly great. BUT THEN there’s the dumbest final scene that doesn’t make any sense and looks awful and is unintentionally laughable. It’s a tacked-on ending to appease the studio, so I can forgive it, but it’s really too bad because it does take away somewhat from the film as a whole. I can just choose to stop the film after the main big shock happens and pretend that’s the ending, though.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I am reminded of The Good Son, which explores similar themes of evil children and unsuspecting adults. I loved that movie as a kid but have no idea if it’s actually good? It’s got Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood, so that’s a start.

Movie Review: Harvey (1950)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection.

I’ll always remember the day in high school when I stayed up for over 24 hours watching a Jimmy Stewart marathon on TCM. I think it was sometime around the 2am mark when Harvey came on, and I’ve been smitten ever since. Based on the play by Mary Chase, the film stars Stewart as the ever-so-pleasant Elwood P Dowd, whose sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and niece Myrtle May (Victoria Horne) are fed up with his titular best friend, an invisible, 6-foot-three-and-a-half-inch-tall talking rabbit. They conspire to place Elwood in a mental institution so that their lives can proceed normally (Veta is intent on marrying her daughter off) but a series of misunderstandings leads them to rethink their decision.

This movie is the very definition of the warm fuzzies. Centered around the unquestionably delightful performance of Jimmy Stewart, Harvey delivers a lighthearted, fanciful story that at the same time delves into deeper questions of family, loyalty, and sanity. Veta feels she is going mad the longer she lives with a brother who makes room in his life for an invisible rabbit- Elwood is so obliging to and so engaged with this unseen force it’s almost impossible to not believe Harvey exists. Even though towards the end we learn that this “pooka” does indeed exist, the audience is likely to be convinced long before that through some clever hints and various nods from Stewart.

I love the script so much. It is one of the most quotable films I’ve ever seen, with so many lines that either crack me up or give me pause. Stewart gets most of the best lines, maintaining a sweet and disaffected air as he inquires politely about those around him and ruminates about his times with Harvey. He embodies the role of Elwood so completely, comfortably slipping into the shoes of this mild-mannered and disarmingly innocent man. His past self is partially restructured through other characters’ comments, but it is only this version of Elwood that we see, a man who chose to change his priorities after his mother’s death. Of course Josephine Hull (who won an Oscar for her performance) gives Stewart a run for his money as Veta. Her facial expressions are absolutely priceless, and her histrionics after she is mistaken for a mental patient are hilarious.

A big thing about Harvey is how it reminds that everything about mental health science and hospitals in the 50’s was just WRONG. Elwood’s would-be psychiatrist Dr Sanderson is a super jerk and way sexist, but luckily a good amount of the dialogue around him is a put-down of his character and assumptions. Dr Chumley is an asshole too. Seriously, just crazy superdickery.

Everything about this movie makes me smile, except the end, which makes me cry for about the same reasons as what makes me smile. Elwood is so sweet and gentle, so hopeful and honest. It’s heartbreaking. There’s something naive about him, despite flashes of his obvious intelligence and world experience. The fact that he chooses to be this way, and doesn’t give in to any of the societal and familial pressures around him is the most important point. He gives everyone his business card. He invites everyone over for dinner. He holds doors for people, he asks after his friends’ families, he compliments openly. His loves spending time with his best friend Harvey. He must be crazy.

5/5

Pair This Movie With: I was excited when I read the Generation X arc about a pooka named Elwood, but that’s definitely a me thing. Otherwise this usually puts me in the mood for more Stewart. Can’t go wrong with The Philadelphia Story, You Can’t Take It With You, or The Shop Around the Corner. Alternatively, Arsenic and Old Lace offers some more Josephine Hull action.