It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


Leave a comment

Moving pictures 2017, #68

Not an especially interesting spread of films in this post, although I did enjoy some of them.

Gold Diggers in Paris, Ray Enright & Busby Berkeley (1938, USA). The Gold Digger series had legs, at least during the 1930s. The first two installments in the series are apparently lost, but it managed a number of films before vanishing into obscurity – although I’m not sure if the series was a casualty of declining audiences or the imposition of the Hays Code. But some of the Gold Diggers films are better than others, and the fact this one is in the second of the Busby Berkeley Collections at least gives a clue as to which it might be… Which is sadly not wrong. France is putting on an exposition and decides to invite ballet companies from several countries. So they send a comedy incompetent to the US, who is tricked into inviting a dance troupe from a nightclub instead of an actual ballet troupe. And, er, that’s it. The US academy of ballet learns they were robbed of the invite and set out to fix things. Meanwhile, the manager of the nightclub dance troupe – and the lead singer of its routines – has to keep the French authorities unaware of his his dancers’ true nature. It’s mildly amusing, and not at all probable, and some of the dance routines in the final act are okay. And the Schnickelfritz Band, who perform several numbers, are actually pretty good. I do like these Busby Berkeley musicals, but some of them are so much better than the others. I’d love to see them in colour. But you take what you can get, and what you can get is worth seeing at least once.

Festival Express, Bob Smeaton, (2003, UK). I don’t really know enough about documentaries to put together a rental list of ones I should watch, so I picked a bunch whose subjects sounded like they might be interesting. And one of the subjects I like is music of the 1960s and 1970s. The title of this film refers to a train hired by a concert promoter in 1970 to transport several bands across Canada to appear at gigs in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. The promoter provided a carriage with all the equipment for jam sessions, and the idea was the various bands would play music as they travelled. Which they did. They also drank a lot. A lot. And it was all filmed. But the film was held up for years by rights disputes, and then lost, before resurfacing early this century, and all the parts put in place to release the 1970 footage as part of Festival Express. The documentary consists of interviews from 2003 with those who were on the train and are still alive, as well as film shot at the time of the jam sessions, events on the train and at the gigs at the various cities. If you like the music of the time – Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, Grateful Dead, The Band, and so on – it’s a pretty good documentary. There’s some good concert footage – and more in the special features – and some of the jam sessions are especially good. The “let’s put a groupie’s chest on the cover” art is less good. But don’t let that put you off. Worth seeing.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Luc Besson (2017, France). I’ve been reading Jean-Claude Mézière and Pierre Christin’s Valerian and Laureline series since the 1990s – one or two in French initially, but then in English as Cinebook began publishing translations of each volume. So when I heard Luc Besson was making a film featuring the two characters – it could hardly be described as an “adaptation” of a 21-volume science fiction bande dessinée – I was pretty stoked. Besson may be a bit and miss as a director, and, to be honest, more miss than hit, but his previous attempt at space opera, The Fifth Element, had been lots of fun. But then the reviews of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets began to roll in and… oh dear. It sounded like he’d made a right pig’s ear of it. But I was famliar with the source material, and most reviewers apparently were not, so I decided to reserve judgement until I’d seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets for myself. And… oh dear. Let me say straightaway, it looks gorgeous. It’s a total CGI-fest, and shows a great deal of imagination in the CGI creatures and aliens it presents. But. The Valerian and Laureline series is about, well, Valerian and Laureline. And that’s where Besson’s movie mostly falls flat. In the bande dessinée, Valerian mostly resembles Belmondo (with maybe a soupçon of Lazenby thrown in) and Laureline is basically Bardot with red hair. So the casting of DeHaan and Delevingne is absolutely mystifying. The two characters’ relationship also develops over the course of the series, with Valerian the competent Galaxity agent and Laureline the unsophisticated young woman he rescues from Earth’s past… only for Laureline to turn out to be much more competent of the two, and her use of Valerian as “muscle” becomes a running joke. There are flashes of that relationship in Besson’s movie, but mostly it seems to be Valerian as a hormonal fifteen-year-old boy and Laureline as a seventeen-year-old girl who has already seen it all. And both played by actors that are plainly in their twenties. There are other weird bits. Like the bizarre appearance of an Apollo CSM in the final sequence – but it’s not a real Apollo CSM, as it has a glass cockpit. So what’s that about? And the actual plot, where an area in the centre of Galaxity, sorry Alpha Station, is impervious to sensors, but turns out to hide the Pearls who survived genocide in the opening sequence… Well, it’s all a bit confused and the timelines don’t really add up. But then French films, and especially Besson’s films, are infamous for leaving important elements of the plot on the cutting-room floor. Pace, apparently, is everything in France. The band dessinée series, on the other hand, is very very big on common sense and narrative logic. It is one of its virtues. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has lots of pace. It is indeed headlong. It does not have much continuity or common sense. I can only hope this film persuades the film-making world that Mézière’s and Christin’s series is a good property for adaptation. And that whoever attempts it next does a better job.

Little Caesar*, Mervyn LeRoy (1930, USA). This was apparently Edward G Robinson’s first appearance on film as a gangster, a role he would occupy for much of his career. Which is, I guess, mildly interesting, but not a good reason for the film to be on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list. Because as far as I could tell, that seemed to be the only thing about Little Caesar that was notable. Especially when you compare it to contemporary gangster films like Scarface. Robinson is keen to claimb the gangster ladder, which is what he does. He works his way up to top dog, but then things start to go wrong and he goeson the run and ends up a drubk living in a doss house. Until the DA starts making public statements calling him a coward, and because these sorts of characters are so one-dimensional all it takes is threatening their manhood to force them out of hiding, so Robinson makes an attempt on the DA’s life and is defeated. Yawn. There are some seminal gangster movies from the 1930s, but I fail to understand why this is considered one.

Le château de mère, Yves Robert (1990, France). This is the sequel to Robert’s La gloire de mon père and, like that film, is also based on an autobiographical novel by Marcel Pagnol, and is in fact the adaptation of Pagnol’s sequel to La gloire de mon père. So, the same characters, the same general situation, roughly the same period, certainly the same place… and a slightly different plot. The boy, who’s the narrator of the films, is put forward as the school’s representative in some sort of academic competition, and so needs to study hard. Meanwhile, the family decide to return to their holiday home, but this entails a 3-hour walk from the railway station. Until, one day, they’re surprised by a canal guard, who has access to all the gardens through which the canal runs and so provides a shortcut which makes it a 30-minute walk. So the family start using the shortcut. They’re accosted by one of the property owners, but he’s happy for them to trespass. A guard on another property is less forgiving and reports them. La chaâteau de ma mère is more of the same, pretty much. A rose-tinted version of Provence during the 1920s, a soupçon of social commentary, lots of nostalgia, and lots of shots of Provençal landscape. It was every bit as dull as La gloire de mon père, although some of the humorous scenes were better. Not being French, I don’t understand the appeal of these films – but then I don’t understand the appeal of Heartbeat or Last of the Summer Wine and I live in Yorkshire…

You’ll Never Be Alone, Álex Anwandter (2016, Chile). I’ve no idea where I came across mention of this film. I suspect I added it my list because it was a recent drama from Chile and available for rental. Given that my previous experience of Chilean cinema is Patricio Guzmán’s documentaries (and if you’ve not seen them, you must), I had no real idea what to expect. What I got was… surprisingly brutal. A man is the manager of a factory that makes shop window dummies. He has worked there for 25 years and feels he should be a partner in the business, and so has been persuaded by the owner to invest some of his own money in order to buy partnership. His son is openly gay. One night, his son is attacked by some local youths who know him – including one who has been fucking him – and put into a coma. The man has to spend the money he planned to invest in the company on his son’s medical bills. And then, the factory owner sells the mannequin factory to a rival company. His son is racking up expensive medical bills – millions of pesos – and his twenty-five years of loyalty are apparently worth shit. So he does something about it. This is a grim film, and the gaybashing which is its most dramatic moment is horrible and brutal. And, of cource, because that’s how these things go, the perpetrators are not even charged as there are no other witnesses than the victim, even though everyone knows who did it. When the father confronts one later in the film, the youth seems more scaredof being caught than ashamed of what he has done, even though he took advantage of the gay son by having sex with him. You’ll Never Be Alone is worth seeing, but for god’s sake, watch something cheerful after seeing it.

1001 Movies You Must See You Die count: 894

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Moving pictures, #13

Had a fun weekend not so long ago. The Royal Mail managed to lose my address, they somehow managed to not find the place they’d been delivering my mail to for the past ten years. The mail in this case being my rental DVDs from Amazon. On receiving the returned DVDs, Amazon marked my account so no new films would be dispatched until I’d confirmed my address. Which I did. But this managed to break things, so my account got stuck in “do not dispatch”. I contacted Amazon’s help desk, and they apologised and immediately put 3 DVDs from my list in the post. And they added a fourth to make up for the hassle. The help desk person also raised a note to Amazon’s engineering department about the fact my account was stuck. And they fixed it. Which meant their system immediately despatched the next 3 DVDs from my rental list. With the two discs a week I get from Cinema Paradiso… I ended up with nine DVDs to watch that weekend.

busbyGold Diggers of 1933, Mervyn LeRoy (1933, USA). There is, it has to be said, something of a formula to the films in this Busby Berkeley Collection. A producer wants put on a show, but for some reason can’t. Then everyone rallies round… and it happens. Here, it’s a lack of money but once that hurdle is overcome, the show goes on. The story focuses on four actresses – the “gold diggers” of the title – played by Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers (all three of whom appear in several of the other films) and Aline McMahon. Of course, it’s the Berkeley routines for which these movies are remembered – and with good reason. (Although, to be honest, I also think Ginger Rogers is great.) In this one, Rogers sings ‘We’re in the Money’, which probably everyone knows – although they probably don’t know it’s from this movie, I certainly didn’t – including a verse in pig Latin. Another routine features dwarf Billy Barty as a baby in a pram, who later gives Dick Powell a can opener so he can get through the metal lingerie (yes, actual metal) worn by dancers. Er, right. I’ll admit I bought the Busby Berkeley Collection so I could watch a couple of the films on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list that were not available on rental (or indeed in UK editions). But I’ve really enjoyed the movies and, unlike some other DVDs I’ve bought just because they’re on the list, I’ll be keeping this box set. Well worth the money (sung to the tune of ‘We’re in the Money’, of course).

christ_eboliChrist Stopped at Eboli*, Francesco Rosi (1979, Italy). This is another one of those Italian Neorealist films that was new to me and which I found myself impressed by. Admittedly, one of the reasons I started watching the films on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list was to expand the range of films I was watching. It’s not that my viewing was limited to Hollywood films – I’ve been a fan of a number of non-Anglophone directors for many years, such as Tarkovsky, Bergman, Kieślowski, Suleiman, Haneke, Antonioni… among others. But the list seemed like an excellent source of titles I’d not seen and would probably like… and it subsequently introduced me to Italian neorealism as a film movement I’d not previously been aware of or explored. All of which is probably irrelevant as Christ Stopped at Eboli is not classifed as Italian neorealism – but it is Italian and it is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and it’s also a film I likely would never have seen otherwise. Which would have been a shame, as it’s very good. In 1935, painter and writer Carlo Levi is exiled to a village in southern Italy for his anti-fascist activities. Since he studied to be a doctor, he ends up practicing medicine for the peasants (the local doctors aren’t interested in treating the peasantry). His politicial sensibilities also result in a rocky relationship with his putative “warden”, the local mayor; and he also forms a relationship with the local priest, also an exile, whom the mayor hates. Christ Stopped at Eboli is an odd film – it was filmed in 1979 but set 44 years earler… and from the looks of it horribly little set dressing was required. The pace is languid, content to let the relationships between the characters slowly be revealed and the scenery to speak for itself. The end  result is a movie which is slow to start but slowly drags you in. So much so, in fact, that by halfway through the film I was very much impressed. Worth seeing.

calvaryCalvary, John Michael McDonagh (2014, Ireland). Several people recommended this film to me, and I’d heard good things of it, so I bunged it on the rental list and lo it dropped through onto the doormat one day… It’s set in present-day Ireland, a man gives his confession to his local priest and tells him he will kill the priest because the man giving confession was abused as a boy. The priest knows who it is, but there’s nothing he can do about it. However, the priest has a week to get his affairs in order – and so he does. Sort of. He goes to the bishop, but the bishop tells him he should go to the Garda (the bishop comes across more like a politician or middle manager than a man of God). At one point, someone sets fire to the church. Calvary is sort of a gentle black comedy, if such a thing exists, and very much based on its characters – none of which, it must be said, are especially sympathetic, with the exception of the priest, played by Brendan Gleeson, who has been threatened with murder. His assistant (verger?) is an idiot; one of the locals is a doctor and a nasty snide piece of work; another is innocent to the point of stupidity… At times, some of the characters teeter on the edge of caricature, and I suspect it’s only the presence of Gleeson anchoring the film which keeps them from doing so. A film worth seeing, but not I think a great film.

weekendWeekend*, Jean-Luc Godard (1967, France). I was convinced my Godard theory held water – colour films good, black-and-white films not good. True, it was based solely on the fact that the two Godard films I really like – Le mépris and 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her – are both colour films. It wasn’t much of a theory, it has to be said – for a start, I’ve only seen nine of Godard’s films, the most recent of which is, er, Weekend, and which is also a colour film. On the one hand, I didn’t like Weekend as much the other two films, but I did like more than the black-and-white films I’ve seen. It’s a less pretentious movie than Godard’s others, but it’s also more… chaotic. A bourgeois couple drive out to the country to visit the wife’s dying father. Each has decided to murder the other, so their relationship is somewhat fraught. As they drive through the country they become involved in various violent events. An odd film, and plainly deliberately so. That sort of appeals to me – although it did, in places, do that Godard thing I’m less fond of, where characters talk at each other. And the scenes set in the wood were dubious at best. I guess, on reflection, my Godard theory still holds, although I think Weekend probably requires another watch.

excitedI’m So Excited!, Pedro Almodóvar (2013, Spain). I spotted this one in a charity shop, and I’ve always enjoyed Almodóvar’s films… albeit not as much as I once did… but I thought it worth a quid and… Oh dear. Talk about light and frothy – I’m So Excited! (original title Los amantes pasajeros translates as “the fleeting lovers or “the passenger lovers”, according to Wikipedia; and seems better suited) is set aboard a flight to Mexico, and it’s probably only the frothiness of the script that keeps the aircraft in the air. A cock-up on the ground, perpertrated by Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz in cameos, results in one of the aeroplane’s undercarriage not folding away properly, which means the aircraft will not be able to land when it reaches Mexico City. So they go into a holding pattern above the airport they departed from while things are figured out. The economy class passengers and cabin crew are put to sleep with tranquilisers, leaving only the dozen or so first class passengers, four cabin crew and the two pilots awake. All of whom, it transpires, have some sort of known or unknown relationship with each other. It’s not that I’m So Excited! isn’t a fun film – because it is. It just feels like a somewhat OTT comedy-drama sketch stretched to feature-film length. The brightly-coloured production design, and the fact much of the movies takes place in the aircraft’s first class section, only heightens this resemblance. One for fans, probably.

busbyDames, Ray Enright (1934, USA). This is the one with the Berkeley routine with giant Ruby Keeler heads which freaked me out. Not because they were Ruby Keeler, just the sight of loads of giant heads dancing about it. (Not real heads, of course; they were actually giant cut-outs.) In pretty much all other respects, Dames follows the pattern as followed in the other films in the Busby Berkeley Collection. Well, almost. In this one, an eccentric millionaire promises to leave his fortune to a relative, providing said relative can prove he leads a moral life. Unfortunately, the relative’s daughter is a dancer in a musical show, and the millionaire thinks muscial shows are the height of immorality. Dames is more of an outright comedy than the other films in the box set, but the Berkeley routines – in all their shark-jumping glory – are all present and correct. Not just the previously-mentioned one with the giant heads, but also one in which Joan Blondell sings to washing hanging on a line and the various garments start dancing. (Sadly, no Ginger Rogers in this one.) Again, a good box set to get. I’ve really enjoyed the movies in it.

some_came_runningSome Came Running*, Vincente Minnelli (1958, USA). There are quite a few movie adaptations of Great American Novels on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and this is the second by author James Jones (his other is From Here to Eternity). An Army veteran, Sinatra, wakes on a bus on his way to his home town, having been put on it while drunk. He doesn’t really want to go, but he’s there now. The vetervan was a published writer and is estranged from his brother, who put him in an orphanage when their parents died, even though the brother had just married. This brother tries to patch things up, but Sinatra is not interested – although he is friendly to his niece, and falls in love with a friend of his brother, an English teacher. Then there’s Shirley Maclaine, who had been as drunk as Sinatra and joined him on the bus – but sober, he’s not interested in her, although she has fallen in love with him. Meanwhile, the teacher persuades Sinatra to start writing again. And he’s also fallen in with a group of gamblers, headed by Dean Martin. Some Came Running is very much a Great American Novel film – it’s all there: the romantic triangle, the class commentary, academia, the military, writing, small town America… If there were a checklist, Some Came Running could probably manage a good 75%. Sinatra is good in the lead, Maclaine was nominated for an Oscar (but lost to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live!), and Martin plays Martin… I suppose your appreciation of this movie depends on how you feel about Great American Novels. I enjoyed it, but I’m not entirely sure why it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

1001 Movies You Must see Before You Die count: 737