Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Short Take: "What's Your Number?" (2011)

Directed by: Mark Mylod

First things first: the premise of What's Your Number? has a fair amount of sexism at its core. The film, based on the novel "20 Times a Lady" by Karyn Bosnack, proposes that if a woman sleeps with more than 20 men in her lifetime, then she will never be able to find a husband and will be doomed to live in spinsterhood all of her life. As Ally (Anna Faris) frets about already being at #19 and goes through her history to determine if perhaps she's already met "the one," her neighbor/obvious love interest Colin (Chris Evans) has a different woman in his apartment every night but there's never any concern about his marriage prospects. Implied point: women who sleep around are undesirable, but men who do the same suffer no consequences. It's a disgusting, backwards notion.

That being said, What's Your Number? manages to get past that issue almost solely on the backs of its actors. Faris has always been a winning performer who's deserved greater fame and roles, and she manages to not only make Ally hilarious but human. In her more than capable hands, Ally is never the butt of the joke nor the object of the film's scorn. Instead, she's a complex woman who can hold her own. Evans, too, is great fun as charming lout Colin; he too takes what could have been a one-note role and finds both depth and humor in it. Most importantly, they have fantastic chemistry, making their predetermined coupling all the more fulfilling. Toss in some great cameos from Chris Pratt, Martin Freeman, Anthony Mackie, and Blythe Danner, and there's plenty of fun stuff to find in here. Here's proof that great acting can elevate otherwise subpar material. B

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sight & Sound Sunday: 8 1/2 (1963)

*In 2012, Sight & Sound published its decennial list of the greatest films of all time, from critics and directors. "Sight & Sound Sunday" is a biweekly weekly feature that investigates the top 50 films from this list, exploring how they came to be regarded as classics.*

2012 poll rank: #10

As long as there have been films, there have been films about the making of films. Filmmakers have long turned their gaze back on themselves, using the medium of cinema to understand the compulsions of artists that drive them to continue creating art even when the process is stressful and the final product failing to capture an audience. Some of the earliest short films centered on the creation of films, and everything from slapstick comedies like Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. (1928) to avant-garde experiments like Man with a Movie Camera (1928) have held up a mirror to the camera, asking the audience to look at what went into creating this entertainment.

Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini was certainly no stranger to this strain of self-reflexivity. His previous films, especially La Strada (1954) and La Dolce Vita (1960), were very self-aware productions, with Fellini subverting and commenting upon various tropes and entertainment forms through a cinematic lens. 8 1/2, generally considered his best film, takes self-reflexivity even further. The title itself is a reference to the number of films Fellini had directed prior to this (six features, two shorts, and one collaboration with Alberto Lattuada), and the plot is an art-imitating-life narrative which Fellini no doubt drew from his own experiences.

The film concerns celebrated filmmaker Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) as he attempts to mount his next film, an ambitious science-fiction tale that's becoming unwieldy. He's suffering from "director's block," and is distracted by the creative differences with his producers over the casting of Claudia (Claudia Cardinale) as his "ideal woman" and marital problems with his wife, Luisa (Anouk Aimee). He only finds solace in Rossella (Rossella Falk), his wife's closest friend and his longtime confidant. As he attempts to make the film, he finds himself reflecting on his life and fantasizing; these memories and fantasies are interwoven throughout the film.

Lore surrounding the production says that Fellini attached a note to his viewfinder that read, "remember that this is a comic film." However, the film transcends simply being a comedy, being less laugh-out-loud funny than a humane examination of the psyche of an artist in the midst of a crisis. Its mission statement is simple: why do we make art at such a personal cost?

More after the jump.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "The Red Shoes" (1948)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

The Film Experience's "Year of the Month" for June is 1948, and there is perhaps no better film to examine from that year than The Archers' (the name directors Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell selected for their collaborations) most well-known film, The Red Shoes. Though it was hardly the first film to exploit the beautiful rigor of ballet, it is certainly one of the seminal films of a tiny subgenre I like to call "Ballerinas Be Crazy."

The film concerns Victoria "Vicky" Page (Moira Shearer), an aspiring dancer who is given the opportunity to audition for renowned impresario Boris Lermontov's (Anton Walbrook) ballet company. When the prima ballerina of the company leaves, Lermontov allows Vicky to take the spotlight, and commissions young composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) to rewrite the score for a new ballet entitled "The Red Shoes." As the show becomes increasingly successful, a love triangle emerges between the three, with Vicky trying to balance her love for Julian with her need to dance and question Lermontov's advances.

The film arrived during one of the peak periods of British cinema; post-war Britain was struggling to reclaim its identity, and the nation's cinema was crucial toward the recovery of that identity. Films like The Red Shoes helped re-establish Britain on the international scene, in the process transforming Powell and Pressburger into internationally-celebrated figures. The same can be said of Jack Cardiff, the film's cinematographer, whose use of Technicolor in this film has been widely acclaimed as one of the best uses of the technique ever committed to film. Every frame seems meticulously obsessed over, getting the colors just right so that they vibrantly pop from the screen.

Obsession is the film's major theme, particularly how it can destroy lives. And the film approaches this theme in some rather surprising ways.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Short Takes: "Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Into the Woods," and More

If I Stay (dir. R.J. Cutler, 2014)

Recent years have seen so many YA (young adult) novel adaptations involving the supernatural, they've practically become their own subgenre, complete with the necessary formula. Take a girl who's supposedly very plain and ordinary, introduce special powers/abilities/whatever's necessary to make her "exceptional," then add two very different love interests who will battle for her (and the audience's) affection. One book becomes a trilogy; the movie adaptation of the third book becomes two movies so the studio can milk the cash cow for all it's worth, then start over with the next phenomenon.

It's refreshing, then, that If I Stay has a decidedly different focus. Based on the novel of the same name by Gayle Forman, the film concerns talented young cello player Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moritz), who was born into a musical family and is eagerly waiting to hear if she has been accepted into Julliard. One morning, riding with her family during a particularly snowy morning, she is involved in a car accident that kills both of her parents (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos) and leaves her and her younger brother in a coma. Mia has an out-of-body experience, examining both her past fractured relationship with rocker Adam (Jamie Blackley) and her present situation, and faces a crucial choice: let go and leave this world, or find a reason to stay and continue living.

Unlike many YA adaptations, Mia isn't given any special powers. Instead, this film tackles a much weightier subject: finding a reason to live. It's refreshing that director R.J. Cutler weaves in and out of the flashbacks of Mia and Adam's relationship, and that the focus on music gives them something deeper than just finding each other physically attractive. And Moritz and Blackley both give fine performances, especially the former, finally getting the opportunity to play a relatively-normal teenage girl and creating a wonderfully-realized character with her work.

It's just a shame, then, that the film never really gives much weight to everything. A few genuinely devastating shocks aside, Mia's plight never seems all that serious, perhaps because it applies the same gravity to her relationship with Adam as it does to her desire to stay alive. Whether she chooses to live or die shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone. Still, it's a refreshing change-of-pace for the genre it belongs to. B

Grigris (dir. Mahamat-Saleh Hauron, 2013)

In 2010, Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Hauron made a splash on the international scene when his film A Screaming Man won the Jury Prize (essentially third place) at that year's Cannes Film Festival. The result was a new focus on African cinema, especially on films produced within the Saharan nations that had been largely ignored.

His follow-up, Grigris, concerns the titular young man (Souleymane Deme), who is renowned for his dancing skills despite being paralyzed in one leg. When his uncle falls ill, however, Grigris decides that simply being a photographer and winning dance competitions won't be enough to provide the health care his uncle needs. Despite the concerns of his girlfriend Mimi (Anaïs Monory), Grigris chooses to join a group of gasoline smugglers, an illegal endeavor that could cost him his life.

I personally have not seen A Screaming Man, so I cannot speak to how this film compares to Hauron's previous work. Grigris, however, does struggle to overcome the cliches that comprise its plot. The film meanders from one plot point to the next, never giving too much weight to any of the various subplots, and its so oddly paced that even its 101-minute running time feels excessively long. However, there are some potent moments, including a thrilling chase through the nighttime streets. In fact, the film is almost entirely carried by Deme's fantastically charming work, all the more impressive considering the film is his acting debut. It's disappointing, however, that the rest of the film can't rise to his level. C

Moonstruck, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and more after the jump.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sight & Sound Sunday: The Battle of Algiers (1966)

*In 2012, Sight & Sound published its decennial list of the greatest films of all time, from critics and directors. "Sight & Sound Sunday" is a biweekly weekly feature that investigates the top 50 films from this list, exploring how they came to be regarded as classics.*

2012 poll rank: #48 (tied with Historie(s) du Cinema)

When Sight & Sound Magazine conducts its decennial poll of the greatest films of all time, it does so by asking critics and directors (for separate lists) to rank their ten favorites, and the total number of votes per film creates the overall list. Therefore, the more overall mentions in the individual ballots a film gets, the higher on the list the film places. When films end up in ties (which, as has been evident in this series, ties make up a large portion of the list), it's often a random pairing, two or more films that thematically don't have much in common other than they are both considered among the greatest films ever made.

That being said, the pairing of Jean-Luc Godard's video-history of cinema Historie(s) du Cinema (1988-98) with Gillo Pontecorvo's rebellious The Battle of Algiers could not have been more sublime. Both films engage in cinema as a political tool, either as a way of looking back (Godard's film) or a challenge to the status quo (Pontecorvo's). The two together provide a fascinating glimpse into political cinema, and how film has grown into a powerful medium for expressing such concerns. However, where Godard's film is an application of the Marxist critical lens to film history, Pontecorvo's film is both a depiction of a conflict and a declaration of intent, laying the groundwork for polemic political films for decades to come.

The film covers a period between 1954 and 1957, during the Algerian struggle for independence from France. During this time, separate rebel cells coalesced into an organization known as the Casbah, and utilized guerrilla tactics in order to fight the French forces. The film begins from the perspective of petty thief Ali La Pointe (Brahim Haggiag), who is recruited into the Casbah by National Liberation Front (FLN) commander El-hadi Jafar (Saadi Yacef, himself a former member of the organization). The film also weaves in the perspectives of other characters, including street urchin-turned-FLN messenger Petit Omar (Mohamed Ben Kassen) and French paratrooper commander Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin, the only actor with previous experience).

Naturally, the film proved to be controversial upon its initial release: though it was released in Italy in September 1966 (and made its way to the United States the following year), it was banned in France until 1971 for its "anti-French" sentiments. Though the film's politics are somewhat murkier than that, it does take on a distinctly revolutionary voice, and in the process created a cinematic language for the struggle against colonial oppression.

More after the jump.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

If nothing else, you can't say Aussie director George Miller doesn't have vision. Whether its his post-apocalyptic Ozploitation Mad Max films or his talking-animals flicks like Happy Feet, Miller's films bear his unmistakable mark of high-energy hijinks that don't play like any other film. The Mad Max films in particular feel like they're a world apart from other action films: the violence is no less brutal but feels much more real, the world-gone-feral foreign but just familiar enough to feel plausible. And unlike John McClane or James Bond, Max - portrayed in the first three films by Mel Gibson - carried scars of his exploits. If he broke his arm in one movie (as he does in Mad Max), he still struggles to move it in the next (The Road Warrior).

Mad Max: Fury Road - the fourth Mad Max film and first in 30 years - finds Max (now played by Tom Hardy) still on the run from bandits, quickly getting caught by a band of "war boys" at the service of Immorten Joe (Hugh Keys-Byrne, who also played the villain in the original). Max becomes a human blood bag for Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a war boy out to prove his worth. Nux is given the chance when driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) goes rogue in an attempt to liberate Joe's "wives" from slavery, bringing Max along for the chase. However, Max escapes, becoming a hesitant accomplice to Furiosa in her mission to reach "the green land" - a place where water is plentiful.

The film wastes no time with this narrative. After a brief table-setting prologue delivered in voiceover, it's literally off to the races, and the subsequent two hours are essentially one prolonged chase sequence. For most filmmakers, that alone would distinguish their film. Miller, however, isn't content with simply creating crackerjack action, transforming the story into a fascinating battle between the feminine and hyper-masculinity.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Magic Mike" (2012)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

The sticky North Carolina summer has finally arrived here, with temperatures reaching well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, this week's selection "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" naturally turns up the heat even more. Magic Mike, upon its release in 2012, happened at the intersection of three different extra-textual threads. Director Steven Soderbergh had announced his retirement from filmmaking several months prior, yet was amazingly on his fifth film in three years and his third in an eight-month stretch (he is still working today, thanks to his Cinemax series The Knick; it seems he's not great at retiring). Channing Tatum, who at the beginning of 2012 was best known for being the hunk from the Step Up movies, experienced a breakout year, scoring hits with romantic drama The Vow, raunchy comedy 21 Jump Street, and finally this film. He not only proved himself as a box office draw, but also as a talented thespian; without these films, he wouldn't have landed later films, including his best performance to date in last year's Foxcatcher.

Magic Mike is not just designed to be a vehicle for Tatum's talents, it was also based on his past as a stripper. Mike (Tatum) is a jack-of-all-trades living in Tampa; in addition to stripping, he also works as a construction worker, owns a detailing company, and designs his own custom furniture. One day he comes across Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old kid who's directionless and living on his sister Brooke's (Cody Horn) couch. Mike sees the potential in Adam, and invites him to come to the Xquisite Male Revue. Adam proves himself to have a natural ease, and soon enough he's become one of the Cock-Rockin' Kings of Tampa as well.

There's a lot of terrific things at work in this film (it's easily among Soderbergh's best). It works well as an allegory for hard economic times, with Mike multiple business ventures still not enough to truly make a living and the Tampa setting being the perfect depressing, sun-dappled almost-paradise for this tale of a man past the age of his party-all-the-time lifestyle. It's also a terrifically entertaining comedy, with the humor coming more from Tatum and Pettyfer's natural bro-tastic chemistry than from actual jokes. And, of course, it's a tanning-oil-stained collage of glistening male flesh, all the fun of a strip club without having to actually go to one.

But it's the third thread that makes the film truly shine. It was here that the McConaissance peaked: after a steady stream of great performances in a variety of films, Matthew McConaughey steals the show here as Dallas, the slick owner of the club and charismatic ringleader of this motley crew. It's no wonder that he's the focus of the film's opening frame: he's laying down the law, announcing himself as the star of this film.

More after the jump.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sight & Sound Sunday: The Godfather Part II (1974)

*In 2012, Sight & Sound published its decennial list of the greatest films of all time, from critics and directors. "Sight & Sound Sunday" is a biweekly weekly feature that investigates the top 50 films from this list, exploring how they came to be regarded as classics.*

2012 poll rank: #31 (tied with Taxi Driver)

When director Francis Ford Coppola made The Godfather in 1972, it was largely seen as one of the formative films in a new American independent cinema. Even though it was made within the Hollywood studio system - and featured Marlon Brando, an acting giant renowned for his commitment to "Method acting" - it was infused with the verve and violence that had become a trademark of American independent films like Bonnie & Clyde (1967). It also featured a wide range of actors who abandoned the studied mannerisms of Hollywood acting in favor of naturalistic performances, and many of whom were unconventional movie stars: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, John Cazale, and Robert Duvall were hardly anyone's idea of A-list celebrities at the time. In the process, the film became an enormous critical and commercial success, briefly holding the title of the highest-grossing film of all time (domestically) and winning three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Coppola almost instantly became one of the top directors not only in Hollywood, but on the world stage.

So when he began work on The Godfather Part II, everything was bigger, thanks to Paramount Studios giving him almost-complete creative control. The film functions as both a prequel and a sequel to the previous film, unfolding in parallel narratives taking place in different time periods. In the "present" (1950s), Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is growing into his role as the new head of the Corleone crime syndicate, resulting in an assassination attempt at his house late one night. The conflict stems from caporegime Frank Pentangli (Michael V. Gazzo), who wants Michael to defend him against a rival New York syndicate supported by Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). However, Michael is working with Roth to secure a gambling license in Nevada, and after a trip to Havana, learns that his brother Fredo (John Cazale) was working with Roth and may have known about the assassination attempt. As Michael's life becomes more entangled, his relationships grow more estranged, to the point where his marriage to Kay (Diane Keaton) crumbles.

The film's other narrative chronicles Vito Corleone's (Robert De Niro) rise from newly-arrived Sicilian immigrant to mafioso don. Vito arrives at Ellis Island after his family is murdered by a Sicilian mobster, and years later, finds himself in a conflict with local Black Hand boss Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin). Vito begins engaging in burglary after he is fired from his grocery job by Fanucci, and eventually exacts his revenge on both Fanucci and the mobster who murdered his family. Vito grows to became a distinguished member of New York's Italian community, allowing him to exert further influence and cultivate the fear and power that the Corleone name provokes.

Though The Godfather Part II was hardly the first sequel Hollywood produced, it was the first to utilize the "Part II" moniker instead of adopting a brand new title. By doing so, Coppola signaled that while he was returning to the same material, he was going to be going bigger and deeper, crafting a saga that explored family bonds and the lasting consequences of violence and power.

More after the jump.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Winners of the 2015 Tony Awards

I am so far behind on this: the Tony Awards were this past Sunday night, and here I am on a Friday night finally posting the winners. Forgive me for my lateness, and that I will have to keep this brief.

A couple of stray thoughts:

  • I didn't even watch this year's broadcast, unfortunately, so I don't have much to say on the matter. I will have to do better next year.
  • The main narrative of the night was in the musical categories: movie-turned-musical An American in Paris taking on memoir-adaptation Fun Home in a battle for the soul of Broadway.  It was seen as a referendum of what the future of Broadway musicals should be - movie adaptations or original works - and the answer appears to be "a little bit of both." Fun Home walked away with five awards, including Best Musical, but An American in Paris took home four Tonys (all technicals). So it seems we'll continue having this conversation for a while.
  • Helen Mirren became the latest acting "triple crown" winner, earning a Tony (Best Lead Actress in a Play) to go with her Oscar and Emmy. Interestingly, she won all three awards for playing a Queen Elizabeth: the Emmy for Elizabeth I, the Oscar and Tony for Elizabeth II. The last actor to complete the "triple crown" was Christopher Plummer in 2012, when he picked up his Oscar for Beginners.
  • Best Leading Actor in a Play winner Alex Sharp (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is the youngest-ever winner in that category. It was his first Broadway role, and he had just graduated from Julliard last year.
  • Perennial Tony bridesmaid Kelli O'Hara finally won her first Tony this year, winning Best Leading Actress in a Musical for The King and I. It was her sixth nomination.
  • Fun Home author and composer Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, respectively, are the first female duo to win Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score Written for the Theatre in the Tonys' nearly-70-year-old history.

See below for a full list of winners.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Fun Home


The King and I

The rest of the night's winners after the jump.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Amadeus" (1984)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

Let's get this much out of the way first: you'd be hard-pressed to convince any studio today that the world needs a three-hour biopic about a classical composer, even one as universally famous as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Even in the 1980s, it probably wouldn't have happened if Peter Shaffer's play (he also wrote the screenplay for the film) hadn't been a Broadway sensation in 1981, winning the Tony Award for Best Play and enjoying a healthy three-year residence at the Broadhurst Theater. Director Milos Forman was coming off the Oscar-winning success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and a pair of Broadway-musical adaptations, Hair (1979) and Ragtime (1981), which put him in a position to craft such a large film. It's a good thing, too, because Amadeus stands as one of the biopic genre's best entries, even if it doesn't strictly stick to true events.

The film begins in an early-19th-century insane asylum, where composer Antonio Salieri (Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, taking over the role originated on the Broadway stage by Ian McKellen) resides after attempting suicide. Father Volger (Richard Frank) has come to hear Salieri's confession, in which he relates the tale of how he came to become rivals with brilliant young composer Mozart (Tom Hulce, taking over for Tim Curry) and how he ultimately feels responsible for the young man's death. Their rivalry played out in secret, with even Mozart himself being only vaguely aware of Salieri's backroom machinations against him during his time serving the Emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones). The only people aware of Salieri's deeds are Joseph II's court of advisors and Mozart's wife, Constanze (Elizabeth Berridge).

The relationship between the two men is the film's driving force: despite the name in the title, this story belongs to Salieri just as much as it does Mozart. And their tumultuous rivalry is fraught with Salieri's feelings of mediocrity, Mozart's high-pitched giggle, and, yes, plenty of coded homosexuality.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Big Hero 6 (2014)

Much more than their live-action counterparts, animated movies are intrinsically tied to their studios, at least in the zeitgeist. We recognize animated films not by the names of the directors but by their studio and the latter's house style (Hayao Miyazaki may be the only exception, and even then his influence is evident all over every Studio Ghibli production). A Disney movie is going to be adorable and operate on a universal emotional level. A Dreamworks movie is going to have wisecracking characters with some adult humor, usually in the form of pop-culture references. A Laika movie is going to be (or at least appear to be) stop-motion animated, with a compelling story and likely some horror elements. And Aardman movies are recognizable by their Claymation aesthetics and gently dry English humor.

Why is this? Most likely, it's because it's hard to assign authorship to a single individual when it comes to animation. Certainly, every film - no matter how big or small - involves an entire crew of people and has no singular author. But with live-action films, it is easier to narrow down the idea of authorship into the director; this is the very foundation of auteur theory. With animation, on the other hand, the vast majority - almost always entirety - of the film consists of a made-up world that is "drawn." Animation is conspicuously the work of a large, collaborative group of animators, which in turn makes it harder to narrow down the authorship to a single person (further complicating matters, many animated films have multiple directors).

All of this is to say that Big Hero 6, the latest film from Disney Animation, is the product of even more collaboration than its studio predecessors. The film is the first fully-animated Marvel film since Disney acquired the comics giant's filmmaking branch, adapted from an obscure title that even hardcore fans of the brand had trouble recognizing. Of course, Disney has long been notorious for its corporate synergy, finding a way to turn movies into theme park attractions (and vice versa), fairy tales into merchandising opportunities, and above all, family-friendly entertainment into a license to print money. Yet more often than not, especially in the last few years, these films have had real heart to them, exploring fraught emotional ground through a universally-accessible story.

Big Hero 6 follows Hiro (voice of Ryan Potter), a brilliant young boy in the fictional futuristic metropolis of San Fransokyo who puts his mind toward building fighting robots. His older brother, Tadashi (voice of Daniel Henney), is a scientist at a local university, and he brings Hiro to his lab to show him the possibilities that await him if he goes to school. Hiro is immediately sold, and works hard to win his way into the school. When a tragedy befalls Tadashi, though, he abandons those plans, only to be moved by a new threat to the city that may have something to do with Tadashi and the discovery of his brother's inflatable healthcare robot, Baymax (voice of Scott Adsit).

More (and spoilers) after the jump.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sight & Sound Sunday: Contempt (1963)

*In 2012, Sight & Sound published its decennial list of the greatest films of all time, from critics and directors. "Sight & Sound Sunday" is a biweekly weekly feature that investigates the top 50 films from this list, exploring how they came to be regarded as classics.*

2012 poll rank: #21 (tied with L'Avventura and The Godfather)

As noted in the previous Jean-Luc Godard-centered essay in this column, Godard's career has been built on his subversion of Hollywood artifice to create "anti-commercial" films. Typically, this subversion has come courtesy of self-referential twists to standard genres; in Breathless, Jean-Paul Belmondo's character ironically poses and postures himself after Humphrey Bogart, creating a performance of performance that's even more artificial than the Hollywood product he's mimicking. Thus, Godard's films don't necessarily create something closer to "reality" (al a Vittorio Di Sica and the Italian neorealists) so much as create more conspicuous level of reflexivity, a cinema that is self-consciously cinematic.

Contempt, then, was an attempt at continuing this theme through a different means. Loosely based on the novel A Ghost at Noon by Italian author Alberto Moravia, the film finds playwright Paul (Michel Piccoli) being brought to Rome's Cinecitta by producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite the script for a big-budget adaptation of Homer's Odyssey for German director Fritz Lang (playing himself). However, Paul struggles with Jeremy's demands for making the film more commercial, as well as with Lang's erratic on-set behavior. In his personal life, his wife Camille (Brigette Bardot) has grown distant, putting a further strain on him and their relationship.

Rather than creating another film where the characters are consciously performing as Hollywood icons, Godard made a film that mocks the studio system itself, particularly the way that capitalist interests crush artistic expression. Even more remarkable is that he made this film within the studio system - the film was made for Cinecitta - and that the film is among his most personal, with the relationship between Paul and Camille bearing very close, self-conscious similarities to Godard's marriage to actress Anna Karina.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Dick Tracy" (1990)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

How fitting it is that "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," after a monthlong hiatus, follows up a film by an actor-turned-auteur (Orson Welles) with another film by an actor-turned-auteur (Warren Beatty). Of course, comparing one of the greatest films of all time to a colorful comic-book lark is hardly fair. But the coincidence is interesting, and with news that Beatty's long-gestating Howard Hughes biopic may finally see the light of day soon (it will be his cinematic starring role since 2001's Town & Country, and first directorial effort since 1998's Bulworth), it seems like the right time to look back at one of his flashier efforts. 

Dick Tracy is based on the comic strip of the same name from the 1940s, centered around the titular detective extraordinaire (Beatty) in his efforts to clean up the crime in his city. When nightclub owner Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino) goes missing, Tracy begins interrogating elements of the underworld to discover that mobster Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) was behind the act and is planning to take over all of the city's small businesses. As Caprice's criminal empire gains ground, Tracy also finds himself struggling to take care of a street urchin named Kid (Charlie Korsmo) - who witnessed a brutal massacre at an illicit card game - with the help of his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly), as well as evade the advances of Caprice's lounge-singer girlfriend, Breathless Mahoney (Madonna). 

Another parallel that can be drawn with Dick Tracy is to Batman: the film received a greenlight from Disney at least partially thanks to the success of Tim Burton's film the previous year. And much like that film's 1997 sequel that was previously covered in this series, it's a film that fully embraces its comics roots, putting together a colorful, cartoonish world that's pure style. It's substance, however, that the film struggles with.

More after the jump.