blu-ray series #7: the earrings of madame de ... (max ophüls, 1953)
by request: the road warrior (george miller,1981)

what i watched last week

P!nk: The Truth About Love Tour: Live From Melbourne (Larn Poland, 2014). Not exactly a movie, “just” a filmed account of one of her Australia shows on her recent tour. But since I got it, I thought to say a word or two. I saw two shows on this tour, and the DVD/Blu-ray does them justice for the most part. The camerawork is needlessly showy on occasion, but not enough to ruin things (although it comes close in “Sober”). The highlights are the same ones I saw live, and there are no low-lights. It doesn’t feel quite as liberating as the disc from the Funhouse Tour, but that’s nitpicking. And I now understand and agree with Pink’s stance on the f-word. In concert, I was disappointed that she avoided the word “fuck”, particularly in the great “Fuckin’ Perfect”, and thought her reason (her kid has Pink thinking differently about these things) was odd. But on this disc, when she says she sees a lot of very young faces in the crowd and she wants to respect that, I’m a believer, because we can see those faces, too. In fact, that’s one of the best things about the disc, that we see the faces of so many women in the audience, singing, happy, and together … mother and daughter, lovers, friends, just a lovely community. 8/10. The companion piece is obvious: Pink: Funhouse Tour - Live in Australia.

Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012). Good to finally see the movie that got Jennifer Lawrence her first Oscar. She is very good here, although Winter’s Bone remains both her best performance and her best movie of the ones I’ve seen. I had managed over the past couple of years to remain mostly spoiler-free about this one, and before I began watching, I thought it was going to be a rom-com. And eventually it is, but it takes its time getting there, and that’s a good thing. There is an added heft to the film because it takes the time to let us get to know Bradley Cooper’s bipolar sufferer, Pat. In fact, it takes Lawrence almost half an hour before she even shows up, which points to another fact about Silver Linings Playbook: despite the romance angle, it is a movie about Pat, and no amount of Oscar-bait acting by the wonderful Lawrence will change her Tiffany into much more than a plot device designed to help Pat get “well”. While I watched the movie, I was taken in by the pleasing blend of genres, by the performances, and even by the inevitable happy ending. Looking back, I’m not as convinced. On the one hand, Russell goes to great lengths to demonstrate how bipolar sufferers can be hard to live with, and hard to live with themselves. But it is vague about the “cure”. We’re supposed to think the love of a good woman is what fixes Pat, and his initial rejection of medication places him in a long line of romanticized “crazy people” who just need to throw off society’s shackles and impositions. Russell wants it both ways … after a particularly violent manic episode, I think we are led to believe Pat finally goes back on his meds (“think” being the operative word, since the film is very much unclear on this point). If Pat really is helped by his meds, that would detract from the rom-com narrative, so Russell buries it, and allows the second half of the movie to devolve structurally into a fairly standard romantic comedy. Everything is so well done, you can’t help but root for Cooper and Lawrence. I’m just not convinced Silver Linings Playbook holds up to scrutiny. #236 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 movies of the 21st century. 7/10. For a companion piece, I recommend Animal Kingdom, a fine movie with an Oscar-nominated performance by Jacki Weaver (her first … Silver Linings Playbook was her second). Animal Kingdom is nothing like Silver Linings Playbook, so call it a Jacki Weaver Film Festival.

The Garment Jungle (Vincent Sherman and Robert Aldrich, 1957). This was Aldrich’s movie until late in the game, when he was fired … his name doesn’t appear on the credits. The Garment Jungle is an expose of corruption in the garment industry in New York in the mid-50s. It moves along at a reasonable pace, and it’s only 88 minutes. It has Lee J. Cobb and Richard Boone for scenery chewing, which makes most of the remainder of the cast seem a bit boring. The cast is full of “hey, it’s that guys”: Kerwin “7th Voyage of Sinbad” Mathews, Gia “Guns of Navarone” Scala, Robert Loggia (his first credited role), Joseph “Dr. No” Wiseman, Harold J. Stone, and Wesley Addy. There is nothing special about the movie, but at least it doesn’t stink. 6/10. I have no recommendations for other pictures to see … why not just watch Guns of Navarone?

Prisoners (Denis Villenueve, 2013). In The Anatomy of Liverpool, Jonathan Wilson quotes Spanish soccer coach Juanma Lillo stating, “Human beings tend to venerate what finished well, not what was done well. We attack what ended up badly, not what was done badly.” The plot of Prisoners falls apart in the last half hour or so … it works on an emotional level, but it requires that we accept a lot of silly behavior. But there is enough good going on in most of the movie that I’m inclined to be generous. Even then, I think the movie works better as a thriller than it does as a film with multiple subtexts. Some of the parallels to the American government’s attitude towards torture are obvious and, I suppose, well-taken, but for the most part, what makes Prisoners interesting for its too-long 153-minute running time is the tension it builds up. Still, one of the nominal heroes, played by Hugh Jackman, is compromised enough to force us to question his concept of heroism. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography, because they are required to have five nominees even though the four that aren’t named Gravity have no chance of winning. 7/10. I’d also recommend Villenueve’s Incendies, which I preferred. And the film has been compared to Mystic River, which I also preferred.

The Square (Jehane Noujaim, 2013). A documentary about recent events in Egypt, shot and edited with such immediacy that it forces us right into the battles. In this, it is a bit like The Battle of Chile, as Noujaim and her team put us in the middle of the action as it happens. (In fact, after the film debuted at Sundance in early 2013, Noujaim returned to Egypt and extended the documentary because of new protests, meaning the movie we see now is not the same one that won an award at Sundance.) While Noujaim’s sympathies are clearly with the revolutionaries, she gives us insightful looks at various individuals who may share a common desire for change, but who don’t necessarily agree on what changes should be made. So a young street-wise revolutionary and an older member of the Muslim Brotherhood work together at first, and as their relationship begins to crumble as first the Brotherhood takes control of the government, and then falls out of power, there is great drama in the interactions between the two. Ahmed Hassan, the young revolutionary, has great screen charisma, and he becomes our de facto guide. We experience the highs and lows with Hassan, and this personalized look at the revolution is touching. The Square is a vital piece of work. Nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar. 10/10. The Battle of Chile would be a good companion piece, as would Noujaim’s earlier documentary, Control Room.

The Earrings of Madame de … (Max Ophüls, 1953). 10/10.

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