Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst, 1929). There aren’t many films as notorious and highly regarded as Pandora’s Box. Pabst is regarded as one of the great directors. And, of course, Louise Brooks is a legend, and Pandora’s Box is the movie that, more than any, feeds that legend to this day. I’ve heard it said that Pandora’s Box seems like a modern movie, that it hasn’t aged ... I guess the idea is that Brooks’ Lulu is the kind of character you could still see today. Or maybe it’s the open lesbian content. Ultimately, Lulu anticipates the femme fatales of film noir, but that was “modern” 70 years ago. It sounds like I’m complaining, and I think I did find the movie disappointing because I expected a full-out classic. That’s not fair, and Pandora’s Box deserves a second look down the road, when I won’t be distracted by its reputation. In the meantime, Lulu’s single-minded selfishness is almost fun until the tragic end ... the fun comes from Brooks, who really does seem like she could seduce everyone who crosses her path. #246 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.
Fellini’s Casanova (Federico Fellini, 1976). One could say that Fellini was just being honest when he started attaching his name to the titles of his movies. In fairness, some of the time, his name was added to foreign releases of his films. But this one is indeed his Casanova ... the original title is Il Casanova di Federico Fellini. Since Casanova doesn’t come across as a very good person, and since he also seems to be a stand-in for the director, you can’t help but wonder why the director hates himself. Some of Casanova’s problems arise because he doesn’t get the respect he thinks he deserves. But in the film, it’s never clear he actually does deserve respect. The film has the colorful pageantry you associated with Fellini, all meticulously shot in a studio. But as the movie goes on (for more than 2 1/2 hours), it loses its energy the way the older Casanova does when he can no longer service the women who have helped make his reputation. Fellini was only in his mid-50s when he made Casanova, and you wouldn’t think he was burned out. In fact, it is said he thought Casanova was one of his best movies, although the critics didn’t agree. (It does make #883 on the TSPDT list.) 6/10. For a companion piece, I’d recommend “Toby Dammit”, Fellini’s contribution to the Poe anthology film, Spirits of the Dead.
Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014). It’s all Angelina Jolie. Oh, there is a lot of CGI work ... first-time director Stromberg has spent his career in visual effects, and has two Oscars for Art Direction. And there’s the story, a reworking of Sleeping Beauty that carries some contemporary attitudes alongside the classic tale. But it’s a Disney film, which means there are things that I suppose are for the little kids in the audience (the Three Pixies are the worst offenders) but which won’t likely do much for the parents who bring the little kids. Still, the combination of “for the kids” and “give the grownups something, too” works well enough, although the darker turns in the plot might give one pause when thinking of those kids. Elle Fanning plays the Beauty as a constantly-smiling, beloved-by-all Princess-to-be. It’s not Fanning’s fault that the role is fairly narrow in scope. But where the Beauty’s role constricts Fanning within its goodness, the title character Maleficient gives Jolie plenty of room to offer several shades of both good and bad, and Jolie takes full command of the role. She is what you’ll remember from Maleficent ten years from now. 7/10. Most obvious pairing would be with Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty.
Chef (Jon Favreau, 2014). 7/10.