December 2012 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Wilder: Witness for the Proseuction (1957)

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Esteemed criminal lawyer Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) has just returned to practice after suffering a heart attack and is supposed to be on a diet of bland civil suits. But the case of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), a charmer accused of murdering a rich middle-aged widow, proves irresistible --- particularly when Sir Wilfrid meets the accused's wife, the remarkable Christine Vole (Marlene Dietrich). Christine will appear as a witness: not the defense, but for the prosecution.

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Witness for the Prosecution (1957)DannyCommentaryBanner

Witness for the Prosecution is about justice and obsolescence. Have I mentioned that before? It's also a surprisingly good time, mostly spurred on by actor Charles Laughton and his irrepressible grouchiness.

We'd talked about the remake a few months back, and that had left me worried. As much as I love Diana Rigg, as much as I adore Deborah Kerr, it was first and foremost a TV movie and as much as I love TV movies, it was still an average one at that.

Wilder's wheelhouse is a bit darker than that, and his macabre sense of humor works much better. The flashbacks here to Leonard Vole's earlier days as a soldier and as a wacky inventor do help sell him as a bit more innocent, as Tyrone Power wonderfully captures an American sort of 'gee-whiz'ery that expertly hides all his darker leanings.

I really want to touch on the scene in the bar in Berlin where Leonard meets Christine. I couldn't help but be struck by the thought that Marlene Dietrich, again a torch singer, is playing someone very close to her character of Erika Von Schluetow from A Foreign Affair. Sleazier cabaret and a less sleazy woman, I suppose, but this felt like Schluetow broken down and crushed. This makes her innately sympathetic, which helps a great deal as most of the film has her as an unsympathetic robot who seems to be playing her own vicious game.

Her mass assault at the hands of the soldiers is an excellent example of Wilder's cynicism, with the Americans drunk on the power of conquerors and attempting to return to old pastimes. Leonard's the same way, though he covers it up a bit better. He manipulates, cajoles, and smugly plans to ditch the woman who he knows will save his hide. The American ditching the German out of his own greed while the British, who walk around with the utmost pomposity, see their own sense of justice trampled upon. Not the most uplifting of stories.

I also said when we were discussing the TV movie that I didn't feel that the movie stood up, already knowing the twist. I have some thoughts on this now, but how do you feel about it, Ryan?


Django Unchained (2012)

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1Andrew LIKE BannerSometimes it feels like if we were to export the whole of our artistic endeavors to a foreign land with no explanation that it would appear the South won the Civil War.  The story of the Confederate defeat has been mythologized so many times that it appears hundreds of thousands of noble warriors fought for their land and then disappeared into legend.  Never mind that they were attempting to preserve slavery, the one completely unforgivable trade that our country has done it's damnedest to keep piled under the rug.  So many stories were lost in those hundreds of years we engaged in the practice yet, even in Lincoln, still manage to find some time to salute the South instead of remarking on those stories.

Quentin Tarantino's latest, Django Unchained, is - for all its bluster and quick dollying shots - aware of this unforgivable oversight in our history and attempts to give a rip-roaring voice to those that will never get to speak.  As fun as many parts of the film are, each shot is rooted in a deep cynicism about the recorded story of our nation and just how much we've decided to continue focusing on black compatriots for entertainment or labor instead of letting them tell their own stories.  However, this is still a Tarantino film, and just because the subject matter is somber doesn't mean that there is a dearth of fun to be had.

Let's start with that magnificent title.  Much like World War Two with Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino is directly invoking both the spirit of the Westerns of old and the glorious blaxploitation films of the '70s.  Tarantino is engaging with film history but also giving a fictional voice to those that didn't have the ability to tell their story.  This, I admit, is a bit hypocritical given that Tarantino is a prominent white director who has had great success.  But Tarantino approached this topic with surprising maturity and in one deft late-film scene lampoons himself for thinking that he could tell a fictionalized story better than what the truth must be.


This is 40 (2012)

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1Ryan // LIKE BannerIn my job, I have a client that caters to college kids and one day when I was trying to reach this age group, I realized that I could not relate to them anymore.  I am now in my early 30’s, think 10PM is late, have 2 kids and the scariest part; am closer to 40 than 21.  This thought really woke me up to the ugly truth that time keeps on marching and I am not as young as I used to be. For these reasons there was a lot that I could relate to in This is 40 even though I have a few years before I reach that milestone myself.

I have been a fan of Judd Apatow movies since his directorial debut with The 40 Year Old Virgin because his films are both hilarious and very real.  He might try to bury this in foul language and gross out gags but all main characters in his films are close to where I am.  We can sympathize with a man who never found the right woman and just stopped trying, a couple who have to grow up very quickly because of a baby, or a couple going through the ebbs and flows of married life.


Akira Kurosawa: Kagemusha (1980)

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1AndrewCommentaryBannerI'm not sure I actually watched Kagemusha the first time I had it on.  Sure, it was playing, the images moved, I'm sure I heard sound every so often, but putting the film in again convinced me that I had a moment of ignorance and wasn't paying enough attention.  After the film was over I felt ashamed.  For someone who has spent almost three years cataloging my film opinions for consumption, here was a film I watched with all the same attentiveness I give to my hand when I'm passing a debit card over after a purchase.

Kagemusha was almost revelatory for me this time around.  I know some of it has to do with context.  After a long and brutal primary where seemingly different people fought each other for the right to wage an even more brutal campaign against our President I was a lot more receptive to the idea that no man means more than the ideal.  But as one after another lost the fallen participants fall in-line, praising their new would-be leader, and continue on.  The face is irrelevant so long as the mass has their prop to hold up and ascribe some kind of meaning to.

No, our Presidential election this year does not have as pat paralells to the Sengoku period of Kagemusha, but I've gotten a bit complacent in terms of how the context of each viewing morphs my perception of it.  I was gripped from the opening scene, a hallucinatory and standard-setting moment where two nearly identical brothers talk about how a pathetic thief could serve as a double at a moment's notice.  Akira Kurosawa had different actors playing the lord (Tatsuya Nakadai) and his brother (Tsutomu Yamazaki), but the same actor as the lord is also the thief.


Wilder: Love in the Afternoon (1957)

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In Paris, detective Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chevaleir) is hired to follow a wife suspected of infidelity with the notorious American libertine Frank Flannagan (Gary Cooper). When the husband learns that his suspicions are accurate, he tells Claude of his plan to kill Flannagan. Claude's daughter Ariane (Audrey Hepburn) overhears the threat and warns Frank of the coming trouble. She then plays the part of a worldly socialite with a list of conquests as long as Flannagan's. The bemused ladies' man returns to America the next day and Ariane, completely in love, follows his romantic escapades in the news. She sees him again in Paris the following year, and resumes her worldly guise, telling tales of former lovers when they meet at his hotel in the afternoon. Frank, amazed by the mystery girl and surprised to find himself jealous of her past, hires Claude to uncover more information about her. When the detective realizes what has happened, he asks Frank not to break his daughter's heart.

LoveInTheAfternoon3Ryan COMMENTARY w/ Rating
Love in the Afternoon was an OK movie that could have been better had it been casted differently. While they were going for a charismatic, attractive playboy type to play Frank Flannagan but they cast Gary Cooper who was none of those things. Instead of a playfulness that could have been between Flannagan and Ariane, it just comes off creepy. Cooper is about 20 years too old for her, doesn't have any type of personality and when he kisses her it doesn't come off as passionate and it always seems like he is going to hurt her instead of embrace her.

Beyond that big problem, this was definitely a Wilder film and there were many of his trademarks in this film. Once again an anklet is a big deal in the film and is filmed as lovingly as it was in Double Indemnity. There is a specific hook up song that is played throughout the film like in Sabrina. Finally, mirrors play a big part in one scene that is shot wonderfully between Flannagan and Ariane when you don't see Flannagan in the shot but his reflection. To put it simply even if I didn't know this was a Wilder film before watching it I have no doubt I would have known after.

This is another movie that combines two of your favorite things Danny so what are your thoughts? Am I being too hard on Cooper or does he come off as a dirty old man to you too?