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The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989) Review

23 05 2012

Copyright 1989 Allarts Cook

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Probably the most universally known of director Peter Greenaway’s films, I happily sat through my second viewing of this picture last night.  Furthermore, I had the pleasure of introducing my girlfriend to a second helping of Greenaway’s bizarre film aesthetic following her original dose with A Zed and Two Noughts several months ago.

An ensemble cast of Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Alan Howard complete the title characters in order, respectively.  Richard Borst (Bohringer) is the head cook of a restaurant that is co-owned with villainous thief, Albert (Gambon).  About 95% of the story takes place in and around this restaurant over the course (no pun intended) of one week.  Albert, along with his clan of baddies and misfits (including a young Tim Roth), dines and disturbs the restaurant on an almost nightly basis.  His wife, Georgina (Mirren), is brought along reluctantly and bears the brunt of his cruel jokes and boisterous rants.  Michael (Howard) is a regular patron and a book aficionado who has a refined palette and sits at a table just several away from Albert’s raucous party.  He and Georgiana eventually spark a sexual relationship that is fostered and kept secret by Richard and the wait staff.  As their relationship blossoms outside the sexual realm, the dangers of Albert finding out grow until climatic results occur.

Greenaway’s usual motifs are in full force here: nakedness, metaphoric use of color, rotting animals, stylistic camera movements, heavy reliance on and pictorial representation of famous painters; in short, you can’t mistake for a minute that you are watching a Greenaway film.  I say this, however, not as a sign of distaste for his work but as a applause to his artistic style.  Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that the man understands and brings the most out of each and every shot.  The final scene of this film, which I won’t spoil for those of you who have not yet seen it, is what I consider pure cinema.  It is perfect, the acting, the direction, the cinematography by Vierny, the sublime score by the wonderful Michael Nyman, production design, everything.  Give me an auteur who can bring the elements of that scene to an entire motion picture and you have a brilliant masterpiece.

Though I have not seen every Greenaway film, this still stands as my favorite thus far.  It is, in my opinion, probably the most accessible to the general public in regards to content and script, but it still has that special element that make it a Greenaway picture.

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A Clockwork Orange (1971) Review

23 12 2011

Copyright 1971 Warner Brothers Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I recently watched this film for the third time.  The first screening I had was when I was about 15, then I had to watch it for a class in college and, this time, I was fulfilling my duty as a cinephile in getting my girlfriend, Maddie, to watch the film in its entirety.  Unlike my experience with Goldeneye recently, this film has aged like a fine wine to me over the various screenings at different times in my life.  I think upon my first viewing, I was too young to fully understand and enjoy the subtleties of the film; my second viewing, being for a class, was somewhat diminished, but this viewing was just right.

Though I’m sure most of you have seen this film before, here’s a quick synopsis to refresh your memories.  Young Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is in a sort of near future gang with three other youths known as Droogs; they spend many an evening terrorizing innocents, raping young women and performing other lewd and obscene acts towards society.  One night, while on one of their joy outings soliciting a bit of the old ultra violence, they come to the country home of an author and his wife.  They proceed to rape the wife and brutally beat up the author and make him watch as they ravage his spouse while hauntingly reciting “Singin’ in the Rain”.  Shortly thereafter, one of his Droogs gets the idea of challenging his authority; for that, he pays a hefty price.  However, little does Alex know, that this authoritative beating of his colleague will eventually get them to turn their backs on him and leave him to the police one night when his haunting of an older woman ends up killing her.  He is sentenced to prison, where he is sought after by the other inmates for his youthful looks and delegated to the hardships of prison life.  He strikes a bond with the prison chaplain, and eventually is chosen to be part of a new experiment.  This experiment will get him out of prison early and is supposed to “cure” his evil ways.  Known as the Ludivico Technique, Alex is subjected to various chemicals that create a general unwell feeling in his body as he watches hours upon hours of movie footage that shows women getting raped, people beaten and other atrocities.  They even include his beloved music in the technique by coincidence, killing his ability to enjoy Ludwig van Beethoven and get a nice, warm vibraty feeling all through his gutiiwuts.  Upon release, Alex is found to no longer have a home, is beaten by his former friends who are now with the police and he even makes a wrong turn into the author’s house from years prior for which he pays dearly.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film still elicits a strong response even in our present day and age.  Many scenes are still shocking in their violence and depiction of moral abuse.  However, what hit me the most with this screening was the theme of the film; I think before, it had eluded me to some degree.  Upon my first viewing, I enjoyed the film, but don’t think that I truly understood the theme in its entirety, my second viewing was of course filled with the nagging over analysis of the film, but this time I felt I truly got the message Kubrick wanted to deliver.  Is the overriding of the freedom of personal choice something we are willing to let be decided by the powers that be in society?  Is the need for order, even by overriding a person’s natural behaviors, a moral or immoral gesture?  What are the consequences of such a decision and how will they play out in that person’s subsequent life?

The atmospheric lighting by John Alcott, precise (as always) directing by Kubrick and general mood of the film creates a reality that is scary to imagine.  The mood is further exemplified by the amazing electronic rendition of Henry Purcell’s “Requiem: Funeral for Queen Mary II” by Wendy Carlos, not to mention the wonderful performance by McDowell in the lead.  Few films are stylized as meticulously as this one, and though difficult to watch on a basic level, the thoughts and questions it provokes are rewarding in the end.





Chaplin in Review – PART III – The Gold Rush

22 06 2011

Copyright 1925 Chaplin Studios and United Artists

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Following the disappointment of his excursion into drama, Chaplin returned to comedy in 1925 with one of his most famous films, The Gold Rush.

The film’s story is fairly straight-forward.  Chaplin plays the Lone Prospector who has come to the Klondike to be part of the Gold Rush.  Due to horrendous weather, the prospector (Chaplin’s Little Tramp), finds himself stranded in a small cabin belonging to fugitive Black Larson (Tom Murray).  Just when he thinks he is going to die by the fugitive’s hands, Big Jim McKay (Mark Swain) comes and saves the lone prospector.  The Black Larson is sent to look for food as starvation nearly takes their lives.  Some of the mishaps of hunger and cold are portrayed at this point in some brilliantly funny scenes including Chaplin seeing one of his fellow occupants as a large chicken, the famous dinner roll scene, in which Chaplin performs the roll dance, and his cooking and eating of his own leather shoe.  However, finally, their hunger is spared when a bear makes way to the cabin and is killed for food.  It is also to be known that Big Jim McKay has a hidden mine that will make him rich, that he insists he will go to when they are able to leave the cabin.  When the storm ends, the men leave the cabin and McKay departs for his hidden mine, only to find that the Black Larson has hold of his property.  The Black Larson and Big Jim fight it out yet again, the Larson this time hitting McKay in the head with a shovel causing temporary amnesia.  Following the battle, the Larson falls to his death in an avalanche.  The Lonely Prospector make his way to the nearest town, down on his luck as always.  He comes to a saloon where he sees Georgia (Georgia Hale), Queen of the Dancehall girls.  He becomes immediately infatuated with her and begins vying for her love.  During his pining for Georgia, Big Jim McKay makes his way in with just enough memory returned to recognize the Lonely Prospector.  Can Chaplin’s character help Big Jim find his hidden mine and fortune?  With the Lone Prospector get the girl of his dream, the beautiful Georgia?  Without spoiling the film, you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out.

Originally, planned to be shot in northern California on location, the film was ultimately shot at Chaplin Studios.  The remaining opening sequence from the brutal shoot in Truckee, Calif. is all that remained in the final film of the time the company spent shooting in the real Yukon.  Originally, Chaplin had cast the young angel actress from The Kid in the lead role, 16-year-old Lita Grey.  During filming, Chaplin and Grey fell in love and married in November 1924; Chaplin was 35 at this time, Grey, again, only 16.  Following their marriage and her subsequent pregnancy, Chaplin was forced to replace Grey with actress Georgia Hale for the role of the dancehall girl.  Unfortunately, the marriage between Grey and Chaplin was a difficult one and one that would, in the end, cost Chaplin dearly.  At the time they finally divorced in 1927, she received the largest matrimonial settlement in history to that date, which amounted to $825,000 (on top of nearly a million in court costs).  This, topped with a federal tax dispute around the same time, supposedly is what caused Chaplin’s hair to turn white at the young age of 38.

The replacement of Grey with Hale lead to a relationship between Chaplin and Hale that continued through the duration of filming and during Grey and Chaplin’s marriage.  Upon release, The Gold Rush was a major success and made a lot of money at the box office.  Many of Chaplin’s scenes mentioned earlier, like the roll dance, are some of his most famous moments.  Furthermore, this was long said to be Chaplin’s own personal favorite film that he made during his nearly 60 year career in motion pictures.





Chaplin in Review – PART II – A Woman in Paris

21 06 2011

Copyright 1923 Charlie Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Continuing our review series through the feature films of Charlie Chaplin we come to what, I would say at least, is probably his least well-known feature, 1923’s A Woman in Paris.  Outside of not being as well known, this film holds another distinction: it was a serious drama.  Not only that, but Chaplin only took the writer/director/producer positions and only appeared, very briefly, as a porter with no lines.

Chaplin was famous for helping boost the careers of his various love interests through the years, as evidence will show in the films to come.  However, of all his romances, he probably gave Edna Purviance the best role, because this film had her as the leading actress without being a supporting character to Chaplin.  Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, the film didn’t propel Purviance to the level of stardom originally hoped, though it did end up helping Adolphe Menjou’s career to a degree.

The film is a melodrama that focuses on Purviance’s character of Marie St. Clair.  Her and her young boyfriend, aspiring artist Jean (Carl Miller), are planning to elope.  The night before their plans to move to Paris for marriage, Marie climbs down from her window to meet Jean in the courtyard.  When Marie’s father sees this through the window, he disowns her and kicks her from the house insisting that, “Maybe he will give you a room for the night!”  Marie follows Jean to his house, but finds that his parents aren’t happy about the arrangement either.  With nowhere to go, she decides to head for Paris early, Jean promising to follow her the next day.  However, when he gets back inside his home, he finds his father has died.  Because of this, he doesn’t make it to Paris as scheduled.  Time goes by and Marie becomes a mistress to the wealthy Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou).  One night, by chance occurrence after a party, Marie wanders into the wrong room and finds Jean, who now lives in Paris with his mother.  Marie asks Jean to paint her portrait in his studio.  During their meetings for the portrait, Marie finds out about Jean’s father’s death and they begin to rekindle their romance.  Without spoiling the ending, I will leave it at, just as things look good for the young couple, more effects of fate set in.

Compared to Chaplin’s comedies, this film was not nearly as well-received as most of his other work from the same era.  Like many comedy directors, it is sometimes hard for an audience to accept them with drama.  However, if you look at the melodramas being produced by other directors of the same time, this film actually works quite well and is better than many of its competitors.  Woody Allen is a similar artist who seems to fall into this paradox.  For years he has tried to make dramatic films interspersed with his comedies and, almost always, his dramas don’t fair as well as his comedies; except, perhaps, with Match Point.

Chaplin never made another film that was solely a drama.  In the 1970s, when he was in the process of recording scores for many of his silent films, he wrote and recorded a score to accompany this piece.  This would also mark the last time that Chaplin worked with Purviance as a leading lady.  However, his care for her continued for many years; supposedly, long after using her in any pictures, Chaplin kept her on the studio payroll to keep up her livelihood.





Warner Home Video to Release Citizen Kane Blu-Ray

16 06 2011

Copyright Warner Home Video

Warner Home Video will be releasing a special 70th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray of Citizen Kane on September 13, 2011.

Long considered one of film’s classic treasures and twice voted by the American Film Institute as the Best Film of All-Time, Citizen Kane was the brain child of 25-year-old Orson Welles, who produced, directed, co-wrote and took the leading role in the film.  After the passing of newspaper magnet Charles Foster Kane (closely modeled after William Randolph Hearst), a newspaperman is sent to find out the meaning of his infamous final words, “Rosebud.”  In doing so, he finds a much more complicated and complex man behind the myth than he could have ever imagined.

The Blu-Ray packaging will include a host of extras including: a 48-page collector’s book, lobby cards, audio commentary by Welles’s friend and accomplished film director Peter Bogdonavich and film critic Roger Ebert, deleted scenes, full-length documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, HBO docudrama RKO 281 with Liev Schreiber and James Cromwell, a DVD copy of Welles’s follow-up film The Magnificent Ambersons (which, narratively, The Royal Tenenbaums borrowed heavily from) and much more.

This marks the first time that the classic film has appeared on Blu-Ray and the first time that The Magnificent Ambersons has appeared on any digital medium.  Pre-orders are available now through Amazon.com for $49.99, or minus The Magnificent Ambersons for $44.99.








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