Monday, 30 August 2010

The Front Page

At various film classes and in documentaries about classical Hollywood, I have watched the same scene from His Girl Friday (1940) over and over again. Rosalind Russell walks into Cary Grant's office and they exchange an extraordinary repartee, where it's difficult to judge who's winning. To me this was the coolest relationship ever - a man with brilliant wit and intelligence and a woman with class and balls of steel!

I finally managed to watch the film in totality and was once again astonished at how modern early Hollywood was. Films like Citizen Kane (1941), The Third Man (1949), and His Girl Friday (amongst many, many others) are to me the prime examples of how American cinema in the 1940s was the culmination of Hollywood's so-called Golden Age. The razor-sharp dialogue, the natural acting, the suave main characters, the fabulous unravelling of the storyline - these films were a class apart. Compared to that era, with its limited technical development, everything we see today is a bit of a damp squib. 

No wonder then that one of the 'cool'est films we have seen in the past decade, Ocean's Eleven (2001), is not only based on a 1960 film of the same name, but also borrows heavily the style from that time. Yet it may be too much to ask Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock to pack the same kind of swagger in all their films that Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor once had.

Ah, the good old days...

Austen's best

While arguing with every Jane Austen fan about the silliness of her stories and the idiocy of her characters, I have always made an exception for Northanger Abbey. Very recently it was pointed out to me that I like that one novel by Austen because I have a taste for Gothic Romance - and though Northanger Abbey almost parodies this sub-genre, it sits well within the bounds of the kind of stories I enjoy.

My argument remains that I like stories where the protagonists have some sort of backbone, a will of their own and are not for ever swayed by what other people say. Therefore, I can not sympathise with Marianne (Sense and Sensibility), Emma (Emma), or indeed, most of the Bennett family (Pride and Prejudice). Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey) always appeared to me to be more stable, a woman who knew what she wanted, and was usually not afraid to say so.

Today, I watched the 2007 ITV drama, based on the only Austen novel I actually enjoyed, and I loved it. All 92 odd minutes of the film were great. Well-cast, well-acted, well-directed, well-paced - the movie is a delight. It does not let you down anywhere. Felicity Jones (as Catherine) and JJ Feild (as Henry Tilney) are instantly likeable and you want them to get together, despite all odds. Carey Mulligan is quickly becoming one of my favourite young actresses; she shines as Isabella Thorpe here. All in all, I think this was an excellent bank holiday treat - and I'm almost tempted to read the book again!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Good Knight!

It's a shame when you want to tell a fairly good-looking set of people to cover up and go home. Knight and Day's (2010) Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz look too haggard and worn-out to be playing the cutesy, quirky characters they are supposed to be in the film.  

Of course I had no expectations of any intelligent dialogue or meaningful twists and turns from this venture. I would have been satisfied if it had managed to be a splash of Mission Impossible diluted with heavy doses of Charlie's Angels. What's worrying is that this one didn't manage to get even close to that already twisted concoction I was hoping for. 

The witty exchanges are less than enjoyable, the special effects are straight from the 80s, the chemistry is unbelievably forced and there is absolutely nothing in the film that makes you want to see more. The film is a bit like cold pizza in the morning...strangely comforting, but only because there's nothing else to consume.

Changez Khan...

Mongol (2007) is a film of massive proportions, about the life of the grand-scale Genghis Khan. The cast, crew, visuals and sets are all huge. And with the mix of Russians, Chinese, Mongols, and Japanese working together on the production, it's a shocker how well-made it is.

As with all biopics, it's educational - but unlike all biopics, it's actually quite interesting, and manages to be entertaining. Jaw-dropping battle scenes, authentic sets, and good acting all the way through, this is the film that Asoka (2001) wanted to be. The sequels, if they ever get made, have big shoes to fill.

Art is art...

There are some films that leave an indelible mark...films that are so surprisingly good that you (if you are me) sit and think about them with glee...a strange pleasure in the knowledge that such films exist.

A Single Man (2009) is one recent example. It's just so beautiful - both in its concept and in its execution. It's a simple love story, a simple life story, a simple hopeful story. It's not trying to grab attention by saying 'look at me, I'm a story about a gay man - give me an award for being so modern and non-conformist'. In fact, it's saying 'have a look at me when you get time - I'm actually breathtakingly simple - and I happen to be about a gay man'. The story-telling is so effortless, it's almost painful. And the visuals (including the clever use of colour saturation) are so unusually perfect. The film is written and directed by Tom Ford, better known as a fashion designer - and this is his first film.

It's especially fascinating when a new director or writer, who is firmly established as an artiste in another world, creates a near-perfect movie. Case in point is The Proposition (2005), possibly my favourite Western, penned by rocker Nick Cave. The film is a brutal classic - a masterpiece for its visuals, dialogues and once again, its story-telling and characterisation. It has all the formulaic ingredients required of a genre film, and yet it rises above, way above, the limitations set by the rules of the game.

Both films are recommendations - even though they really have nothing in common, except artistic excellence.

He's definitely got something...

He's got looks, he's got charm, he's got charisma. He dances like a dream, sings like a pro and fights like a master. He is five times the actor his father can ever hope to be - and that too before he's even said a word.

All this and he's only 12 years old. Jaden Smith is a star.

I just watched Karate Kid (2010). It's got a disjointed storyline, a stilted script and a bit of requisite cheese. But between Jackie Chan's star power and Jaden Smith's unbelievable screen presence, it's a half-decent film. And for anyone who grew up in the 80s and loved the original, it's definitely worth a watch. So what if the title itself is referring to a completely different martial art - the film holds the same essence and is vastly entertaining.

Worth the time and effort.