Archive for the ‘Another movie Claude made me watch’ Category


Bigger Than Life by Nicholas Ray and James Mason

March 26, 2010

Ever since I met Claude, I’ve been hearing about Bigger than Life, directed by Nicholas Ray, the same man who directed Rebel Without a Cause.   Strangely enough, Claude, and his friend Steve, always describe this movie as very comedic, when it was intended clearly to be a serious film about a serious matter.  Well, finally, after nearly four years, the good folks at Criterion Collection decided to put Bigger than Life out on DVD with tons of extras.  Claude nearly eja…fainted when he heard the news, and to come off what he terms “double secret probation”, I ordered it and had it delivered on the same day as it was released.  Again, Claude nearly eja…fainted.  So we watched it.  Like the Zapruder film.  And ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that this is an incredible film.  It has its black comedy in spades, no doubt, but this is clearly a horror movie as well.  Having been around people that turned into Mr. Hyde and I could not reach them, this movie gave me the dual effect of laughter and shivers and sick feelings in my stomach at the same time.  Nicholas Ray is brilliant in his shot selection – we stopped the DVD several times to look, zoom in, and it’s visually gorgeous in its use of lighting and high shots over the staircase.  James Mason, always brilliant, has never been better.  And Mason’s wife in the film, played by Barbara Rush, who was not well-known to me, gave a compelling performance as well.  And get this – (don’t tell Claude I told you) – it has a happy ending.  Which is rare for movies that we watch.

Briefly, the story is of a schoolteacher (Mason) who develops a serious cardiovascular problem and is put on cortisone.  He soon descends from kind schoolteacher, husband and father into strict, maniacal nutjob.  Our favorite scene involves him reading from the Bible to his wife, specifically the story of Abraham and Issac.  This occurs after he is angered by his son for some extremely minor infraction.  Mason also carries some sort of dagger – I wasn’t sure if it was a knife or a letter opener – as he reads.  He stops the story when Abraham puts Issac on the altar and raises the knife.  His wife pleads with him, knowing that he’s contemplating harming his son, that God intervened and Issac was spared.  Mason roars to her, “GOD WAS WRONG!”  Claude is on the floor laughing.  (atheist, you know)  It is a masterful scene and Mason’s face and Rush’s horror are so compelling that you can’t possibly look away.  We had to rewind it (as you can imagine) several hundred times.

It lives up to all the hype that Claude and Steve gave it.  I’d watch it again and again.  Hopefully it will be on Netflix or some rentable source soon, because if you have seen Rebel and liked it, this is a must-see by the same director, and easily one of the great James Mason’s finest performances as both actor and producer.  Most highly recommended, six out of five stars.  Actually, this one goes to eleven.

Oh, yeah, and I love you, Claude.


Little Known Little Murders

February 23, 2009

little-murders-posterAnother film Claude and I watched this weekend is one he’s had on DVR for a while now, and I’m so glad because it’s currently unavailable commercially – only from collectors.  A movie version of Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders, directed by Alan Arkin and starring Elliot Gould in his salad days – when he was married to Barbra Streisand and put out such great films as this one and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, one of my all-time favorites that I actually got to intro to Claude. (That doesn’t happen very often).

From the description, I thought this was one of those interesting, but sort of bleak NY drama, like that Dustin Hoffman.Mia Farrow flick, 1969’s John and Mary.  Not so.  Little Murders, from start to finish, is very, very funny, very dark, and very unexpected.  And it holds up remarkably well.  The humor is so relevant that Little Murders was finally released on DVD during the past presidential administration only to immediately go off the market.

Elliot Gould plays a successful, but completely apathetic to life photographer.  Marcia Rodd, who has a career in television spanning nearly four decades, so she will be a familiar face, is Gould’s “rescuer” from being beaten up to immediate love interest and bride with changing Gould in mind.  The best scene in the movie, and one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen by the great Donald Sutherland, comes when Gould and Rodd’s characters finally marry.  Sutherland gives a lengthy and hilarious wedding ceremony that shows his true acting chops – it looks to me as if the scene was taken in one take – pan shots, but no cuts that I can remember, giving Sutherland a good 10 minutes to give a hilarious (yet in his own deadpan way) speech.  I was laughing so hard my sides hurt.  I laughed every bit as  hard as I do at The Soup, my favorite TV show.  Kisses, Joel!!

It’s too bad that something happened to getting Little Murders available on DVD.  Elliot Gould, Marcia Rodd, Vincent Gardenia in what should have been an Oscar-nominated performance, and Doris Roberts of “Everybody Loves Raymond” playing an older hippie wanna-be, Gould’s mother.

This is truly a movie that if you have the great fortune to catch (we caught it on Fox Movie Channel), you should DVR or see it.  I’m so glad Claude DVR’d it because until it’s available again a decent price on DVD, we’re not erasing it.  4 stars plus.  If you like your comedy as dark as we do, this is a perfect film, worth buying, in fact.


Alfie and Shotgun Stories: Atmosphere and shot selection

February 23, 2009

Alfie and Shotgun Stores:  Atmosphere and Shot Selection

We had a film snob lovers’ weekend this weekend, Claude and I.  The great upside of being married to a film snob is the vast variety of films one will be exposed to, no pun intended, over the course of the relationship.  Some really good, some really bad, but none uninteresting, and never without stimulating a good conversation with Claude.

This weekend, we watched two movies that struck me in their use of atmospheric shots.  I digress for a moment:  I remember dating a man, briefly, before Claude, who was an art teacher.  We went to the local art gallery a couple of times, and he kept asking me how different pieces of artwork made me feel.  I have to admit, I haven’t had the experience of feeling emotions too terribly often when looking at static artwork, but film affects me much differently, sometimes even the most banal of scenes.

Alfie is a well-known film from (1966) starring a dashing and young Michael Caine.  What seems to start out as a light-hearted romp quickly turns dark, and Caine is brilliant in his performance.  But what stuck with me most about this film are the shot selection and the scenery.  In one scene, Alfie and a woman are on their way home from visiting the woman’s husband in a sanatorium.  Along the way they stop and take a leisurely canoe ride.  The shot selection from the woman’s point of view of the sky and the trees as they go past above her and the sun streaming through the branches is really breathtaking, and elicited strong feelings from me.  Feelings of what temporary peace and bliss feel like – you know it’s fleeting, so you want to drink it all in, and its sheer beauty is both bitter in its temporariness and sweet in its ability to sear itself eternally in your brain.  Of course, scenes of London in the 1960’s are also quite interesting, and Sonny Rollins’ post-bop musical score really added to this movie for me.  As I said, having never seen it and only knowing a little about it, I was surprised that it took the dark plot turn that it did, but for that reason, and for the shot selection, I was quite satisfied and would recommend this movie highly.  Our good friend from Turner Classic Movies Robert Osbourne was less than complimentary about the remake with Jude Law, so I would probably stay away from that one.

The other film we saw this weekend was one from 2007 entitled “Shotgun Stories” staring Michael Shannon as a dead-ringer for a young David Letterman.  This film was dark from start-to-almost-finish.  Filmed in the small town of England, Arkansas, the long, lingering shots of rural landscapes where you hear nothing but birds or crickets really brought back what living in the country was like.  A couple of shots in particular were exceptionally stunning – one simple shot of sycamore tree leaves on the ground – I know it sounds boring, but the composition and the color of that one shot is one that will remain with me for a long time.  Those particular shots – the rural, quiet ones, elicit the same bittersweet feeling that I described having when watching the canoe scene from Alfie.  The feeling is almost like being homesick – longing for something you know you can never have, or once had and can never have again, or dreaming of some unattainable future event or place or mood.   Michael Shannon is a remarkable actor, and this movie was very thought-provoking, until its end when it just tied up too neatly for Claude and me.  Claude has conditioned me not to like happy endings anymore, and really, when I look back on the films I liked before I met Claude, the ones I found to be more satisfying are the ones that don’t have a neatly-tied ending.  Even the musicals that I hold most dear are the ones with downer endings – Fiddler on the Roof and Funny Girl and All That Jazz come to mind.  I would definitely recommend Shotgun Stories especially if you have memories of rural life in America in the past 45 years.  It is a dark tale, and has some pretty strong implied violence.  It’s clearly an interesting film both visually and thematically.  I’d give it 3 stars on a 1-4 rating.  I think I’d give Alfie the same rating.

Now for the film snob part – as we’re watching the end credits of Shotgun Stories, Claude says, “A-ha!  I thought I’d see that name pop up.”  Claude has a photographic memory for film details (and book details and pretty much any details except taking food out of the freezer to thaw for tonight’s dinner), and he remarked that one of the executive producers of Shotgun Stories, David Gordon Green, is a filmmaker who directed “Pineapple Express.”  There’s where I just simply will never be able to keep up with the “big boys”, Claude and his friends.  I don’t have a memory for details such as that, and can’t put all the pieces together or get all the references.  I guess that’s why I’m lucky to be the wife of a film snob.


Mouchette – You In The Damn River, Girl!

February 21, 2009

Mouchette by Robert Bresson…or You In the Damn River, Girl!

My husband, Claude, can be quite the dichotomous film snob.  On the one hand, he adores foreign, nearly impossible to understand films.  On the other hand, he adores people who imitate rednecks or backwoods people.  Like John Bean, who created the character Leroy Mercer and made a bunch of prank phone calls.  And some other character named Jessico White, whose wife says of him, “Now, Jessico, he got a bit of the dai-vel in him”.  I’ve heard an audio clip of some something with Jessico where he and some other guy get their car stuck in a river.  The other passenger, who was confused, says something like “Where are we?” to which Jessico replies, “You in the damn river, boy, where you THANK you ayut?”  To which Claude just prostrates himself in hilarious laughter, complete with hacking cough and slobber.

I digress.

Mouchette by Robert Bresson, with the possible exception of “Last House on the Left” or “200 Motels“, is truly the worst movie I’ve ever seen.  I agreed to watch this “masterpiece” with Claude, who gazed intently at the 42” television to catch every flicker of every frame, as if to turn away would make the film turn into a “Mr. Ed” rerun.  Actually, for me, that would have been a vast improvement.  All during the movie, I can see and hear his reaction – sighs of rapture, squinting of his kino-eye, him gesturing as if to say, “did you see THAT??”; the clickety-clack of his brain thinking “wow, this is some kinda movie, I sure am glad I’m a-watchin it.”

This film, if one can call it that, is about the horrible life of a little girl and all the terrible things she must put up with – an alcoholic father, a bed-ridden mother, poachers, rapists, people trying to pick her up on bumper cars, and, gosh, I don’t want to give away the climactic ending, but let’s just say, you in the damn river, girl.  Mouchette, get out of that river!

When I was interrogated (practically using the Gitmo method) by Claude after having wasted two hours of my life watching this waste of celluloid as to my impressions of the “film”, we nearly came to fisticuffs over my saying, “I hated that.”  I had to hear all kinds of rebuttals:  “You just don’t UNDERSTAND Bresson!”  “How can you say such a thing about one of the greatest films of ALL TIME?”  “Didn’t you see all the REFERENCES in it?”  My father would have said, “I wouldn’t hit a hog in the ass with the Criterion Collector’s Edition of this film.”  Claude also got one of his film snob buddies to tell me that Bresson is an “acquired taste”.  So is being a dog food taster.  I’d go with the latter, myself, if the choice were presented between watching Mouchette and being a dog food taster.

Bresson, in all his “wisdom”, didn’t even use actors for the movie – he just got ordinary people off the street …(”and what PEFORMANCES he got out of them!” proclaims Claude).  To say this movie is a downer is the understatement of the past several centuries.  It makes the Spanish Inquisition look like It’s A Small World after being Disneyfied.  Now, I’m not against films that are downers, per se.  But here you have a story of a little girl whose life is just pure hell, and then, well, she’s in the damn river, and….the end. Or, as Bresson would say, “Fin.”   I just can’t see where cinematic history was made, but apparently it was.  Yeah.  Luckily for me, a favorite director/actor of mine, Orson Welles hated Bresson too, but Claude holds that against Welles to this day.  Decades after Welles’ death.  He reminds me of that fact to make me “feel better” that I’m in “good company” with fellow Bresson-haters.  I really tried to like this.  I kept telling myself, “It’s arty.  Claude likes it.  There must be SOME redeeming quality to it.”  There is none.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.   I even agreed to re-watch it to see if I could discover any redeeming qualities.  After Claude sent me the film synopsis today so I could write this review, I have reconsidered this agreement.

Being the wife of a film snob gives you all kinds of opportunties to impress your friends and neighbors by saying, “Oh, have you seen blah-blah-blah?” and being able to tell them how wonderful it is and how they should discover it, and their lives will be all the richer for it.  Mouchette is not one of those films.  This is one of those arty films that I would tell viewers to run far, far away from…as far as planes, trains or automobiles can carry you.  Your life will not be enriched by Mouchette.  You won’t be smarter or artier or anything that you can boast or brag about to your friends.  You’ll just be depressed.  And then, you might be in the damn river, boy.  Don’t take that chance.

I’m replacing the word “sucks” with the word “mouchettes” in my vocab.  So, Mouchette mouchettes.  I heard a great mouchetting sound.  Less than one star.  If I could give negative stars, I would.


The Phantom of Liberty

February 19, 2009

Chickens, Monks, Ostriches, Oh My!  A Review of The Phantom of Libertyby Luis Bunuel

My husband, the consummate film snob and a writer, is writing something on Luis Bunuel, the famous (?) director who, according to my husband (let’s call him “Claude”) has a film career spanning six decades.

How did this man ever get a movie made?  And what could Claude possibly write that would make any sense (to normal people who speak normal English)?  I know if I were writing it, I’d probably say, “Well, this director made a movie with little stories about a number of people, some connected, some are not, and there’s chickens in a dream, monks playing poker and betting their sacred medals, and an ostrich at the end.”  Just about sums up “The Phantom of Liberty.”

Oh, there’s the gratuitous T&A, except the A belongs to a him instead of a her.  And that’s one of the scenes with the monks! I’m sure Claude’s mother would NOT approve.  If you know Claude and you know his mother, you know what I mean.  And you know who you are.  Nothing in this movie makes  bit of sense.  A man goes to a doctor.  The doctor tells him he is fine, nothing to worry about, and then tells him that he must operate tomorrow for he has advanced liver cancer.  A little girl is reported to be lost from her school, so her parents rush to the school and she’s right there.  But apparently no one takes notice and they even take the child to the police station so she can be identified so the police can go find her.  Wha-wha-what???   Another scene involves a sniper who shoots and kills numerous people, is tried in court, sentenced to death, and then set free only to be begged for his autograph.
The police commissioner goes to a bar for a regular game of dominos and sees a woman who looks like his dead sister.  He reminisces with the woman about the last time he was with his sister, where she is playing the piano in the nude.  He receives a phone call at the bar from the dead sister telling him to come to her crypt that night.   He’s arrested and brought in to find another police commissioner in charge, and then after he’s been jailed for a bit, he and the other police commissioner share a drink.  Then they run outside to the zoo, some shots are fired and you see an ostrich up close.  Wow.  I had chills.  Where was the Academy when this came out?  Of course, Claude is laughing and saying “Did you see that? Oh wow, what a great movie, it references so much!”  I’m thinking, what the hell does it reference?  Chickens?  (that was in one of the character’s dreams.)  Ostriches?  Napoleon?  Port? Incest with your aunt? Fruit and milk? Foxes being hunted by tanks?   I’m so sick of symmetry.

“The Phantom of Liberty” should have been called “The Phantom of Anything That Makes Any Sense” because there’s not a ghost of a chance that you’ll get any of it.  I didn’t.  But I loved it. It was very funny.  And the shot of the ostrich was pretty amazing.  4 stars.