Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942). An unassailable classic with fairly uninspiring roots. The thing to keep in mind is that there is a Best of everything. Warners cranked out one of these a week back in the 40s. Adventure and romance, with a couple of stars and a nice blend of company players in support, some quotable dialogue (and some clunkers) … Casablanca is not the only film of its kind. Somehow, everything works here just a little better than in other, similar movies, and the result is the Best of them all. First, nothing goes wrong … all of the cast is good, with some of the minor characters offering a chance for bit players to shine (although it’s hardly accurate to call Marcel Dalio a “bit player” when only a few years earlier, he had played major roles in Renoir’s two masterpieces, Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game). The plot doesn’t always make sense … they’re making it up as they go along, and at times it’s as if they’ve filled the entire movie with a full pack of Hitchcock MacGuffins. It doesn’t matter. The alienated hero gets to reconnect to his honorable past, the good guys come as close to winning as was possible in 1942, and Ingrid Bergman is exquisite. Some of her performance is about the lighting and the camerawork, but not all of it. She threatens to overwhelm the movie with her brand of emotional beauty. The role of Ilsa seems more retrograde than you might remember. Victor Laszlo is the great resistance fighter, Rick is the cynic who does the right thing, while Ilsa, left to decide which of the two men she will sleep with the rest of her life, can’t make the decision and leaves it all up to Rick. But all it takes is a single close-up of Bergman, and you’re willing to believe anything. #38 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time (and just missing the last cut on my own Facebook Fave Fifty list). 10/10.
Sin City (Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, 2005). It’s cartoonish, ultra-violent, filled with naked bodies and precious little sex … as if that was a bad thing. Sin City is not a think-piece kind of movie. It makes use of style to create a particular world on the screen, and does it effectively. That it barely resembles the real world is irrelevant. The style makes the movie, and that’s not usually my kind of film, although it makes sense here, and I don’t get the feeling Rodriguez and Miller were showing off just to look cool. The cartoonish aspects are to be expected, since this is a faithful recreation of a graphic novel. The ultra-violence is extreme, but like everything else in the movie, it’s stylized to the point you can brush it off. In a recent interview, Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter said of the violence in The Walking Dead, “because it’s supernatural it almost crosses into the cartoonish. It gives you a certain amount of distance from it.” Sin City isn’t supernatural … better to say it’s unnatural … but the style allows for that certain distance. Despite the copious nudity, it’s not a very sexy movie. The cast is large, with plenty of A-list stars (everyone from Jessica Alba and Elijah Wood to Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke), and everyone gives fine performances under difficult circumstances (Rourke in particular is unrecognizable under his makeup). And people who know me understand that I can’t go without mentioning Carla Gugino, one of our hottest actresses in perhaps her hottest role. The film is a “guy movie” in that regard … Gugino isn’t the only woman running around naked, and most of the male heroes and villains have archaic notions about women. Still, there’s a band of ass-kicking prostitutes who work together to fight police corruption and pimp violence, which is fun. In the end, as with most style-over-substance movies, there’s not much here below the surface, but Miller and Rodriguez accomplish what they set out to do, and the film is fascinating enough for at least one viewing. 7/10.
Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973). 9/10.