Friday, November 10, 2006

Movie Quiz!

To ressurect my stillborn blog, here's a fun movie quiz to fill out. I love quizzes. I love lists. This is from one of my favourite librarians/movie stars Michelle at

1. Popcorn or candy?
Definitely candy...I like to eat a giant meal before a movie then have my dessert during. I'll go with M&Ms (a satisfying munch) or Juiced Up Power Pig Strawberry Foamies. Just for the name.

2. Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever.
Fatal Attraction. My mom forbade me to see it when I was 10. I still respect her wishes 20 years later. As far as classics go: Ryan's Daughter, The Small Back Room, Thief of Bagdad.

3. You are given the power to recall one Oscar: Who loses theirs and to whom?
1954. Obviously I would recall Grace Kelly's oscar win for The Country Girl (playing a frump, wow big deal). And I would give it Judy Garland for A Star is Born. She tears up the screen and gives one of the best dramatic performances I've ever seen. Eat your heart out Meryl Streep.

4. Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe. Which will it be?
Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley. I'll also take his face and body too.

5. Your favorite film franchise is...
The Thin Man films. Wikipedia.

6. Invite five movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them?
Wow this is fun. However what are we eating? Hamburgers and ice cream it is!
Okay 1) Kate Winslet- we're destined to be friends.
2) William Holden, for the eye candy.
3) Greta Garbo, for international scope.
4) Lili Taylor, 'cause she'd probably help me clean up.
5) Judy Garland.
6) Kyle Greenwood, my adorable boyfriend. He helped make one of this year's greatest films Hell on Heels.

7. What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cell phones in the movie theater?
Forced to sit through 6 consecutive screenings of The Phantom of the Opera.

8. Choose a female bodyguard: Ripley from Aliens. Mystique from X-Men. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2. The Bride from Kill Bill. Mace from Strange Days.
Is Sarah Connor one of the daughters on Roseanne? If so then her!

9. What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie?
Robert Mitchum sitting on chair in the front yard in The Night of the Hunter.

10. Your favorite genre (excluding comedy and drama) is?
Musicals! GAY GAY GAY! Some essentials of this genre to check out: Meet Me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon, Kiss Me Kate and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

11. You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power?
More movies set in the 1940s. More musicals. More movies with Kate Winslet.

12. Bonnie or Clyde?
Clyde. Warren Beatty in the '60s. HELLU!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Screen Goddesses #1: The Divine Garbo

If you would’ve asked me a year ago what I thought about Greta Garbo I would’ve said not much. I had only seen Ninotchka and figured I “got” Garbo from that movie. Turned out I was right. Seeing the majority of her other great films since then I realized she encompassed her entire persona in each film performance. Much like Halley’s Comet, Garbo’s career was brilliant and fleeting; a once in a lifetime event. Overstated perhaps but I just feel privileged to watch her. She made a few dozen movies (only 12 talkies) and after 1941 became a total recluse living out her days in an apartment on 52nd Street (sounds super to me!).
So what's the big deal about Greta Garbo? Perhaps the fact that she was a tyrant about her privacy makes it surprising that she ever became a movie star at all. Maybe it’s the unpredictability she brings to each role (when she kisses Robert Taylor all over his face in Camille- who wouldn’t want to kiss his beautiful face like that???), surprising the audience at every turn? Maybe it’s her eyelashes, or her accent, or her androgynous flair. One thing is for certain: when she’s onscreen, you can’t look at anyone or anything else.

Essential Garbo:
Grand Hotel (1932) She is simply tragic as the lonely ballerina, who just wants to be alone.
Queen Christina (1933) Lesbian overtones and a haunting final shot are all I need for a good time.
Anna Karenina (1935) Tolstoy would’ve been pleased at this casting. Plus, she’s incredibly warm and sweet with her son, played by the precocious Freddie Bartholomew.
Camille (1936) Ahhhh the most tragic of all…and the one to watch for a definitive Garbo performance.
Ninotchka (1939) Fun and fast, this is the one where “Garbo laughs”- a pure joy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

New DVD Release: A Canterbury Tale (1944)

“Pity when you get home and people ask what you've seen in England and you say ‘Well I saw a movie in Salisbury. And I made a pilgrimage to Canterbury and I saw another one.’”

So says an Englishman to an American soldier in the Powell and Pressburger film that was released on DVD this week. To me, it’s the typical outlook conveyed in many P&P films; it cuts to the heart of the sentiments of longing and regret omnipresent in much of the Archers’ work.
I bought this film without ever having seen it (the mark of a true psychotic buff) knowing that I enjoy the P&P films of this period and I certainly don’t regret the purchase. Admittedly, it is going to take me several viewings to catch all the virtues of the movie and perhaps then I can begin to really like it. But it’s abundantly clear that this film is layered with subtlety and worth the investment of multiple viewings.
This brings me to my internal (eternal?) dilemma about my prejudice in favour of old films, particularly if they are from a Derek-friendly actor or director. I have always devoted more energy to old movies. If I viewed a modern movie and was as lukewarm as I was towards A Canterbury Tale not another thought would be given; but since I am beholden to P&P for much of my cinematic delight, this movie gets a second, third and fourth chance.
The story of 3 “pilgrims” echoes Chaucer’s work by converging at Canterbury near the end of the war is somewhat silly (our pilgrims are out to catch the “Glue Man,” a creep who’s been assaulting village girls with --yes, horror or horrors-- glue) but there seems to be a certain English mythology at work. Most enjoyable. One of the special features visits the locations the movie was filmed on, which I naturally eat up, and it’s truly surprising how lyrical the countryside still looks. Looks like a place that one must visit and revisit, much like this film itself.

Derek’s Essential Powell and Pressburger:
I Know Where I’m Going (1945)
A stark and beautiful continuation of A Canterbury Tale, with a simpler, more focused story and very appealing performances.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
A rather magical film that ends on an annoyingly patriotic note. The rest is superb.
Black Narcissus (1947)
My favourite P&P film. Sexually repressed nuns high in the Himalayas- what’s better than that?
The Red Shoes (1948)
Their most famous film takes some time to warm up to but the color, sets and music make it a one-of-a-kind movie experience.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Scenes I Love: '80s Teens

To bring things up to date a little (well I’m still 20 years behind) here are two of my fav bits from two rad ‘80s classics.
In the wake of the Los Angeles Olympics, Molly Ringwald played Sam in Sixteen Candles (1984), a movie that was the era in a nutshell: crude, raunchy, poignant with cool clothes, and inappropriate grandparents feeling you up. In this clip, Samantha’s turmoil about turning 16 sans fanfare is exacerbated by her vehicular troubles. Psych!

The iconic Say Anything…(1989) seems to have slipped under the radar of ‘80s nostalgia and it has more brains than all the rest combined (not saying much). Sure Lloyd Dobler doesn’t have Ferris Bueller’s sauve ways with parade floats or Emilio Estevez’s brutal jock angst, but there is something exceedingly real and earnest about John Cusak as Lloyd. My favourite line in the film comes from this clip, the second line Cusak speaks. Another reason to include this is for the genius that is Lili Taylor; she sings, she acts, she chews up the scenery. Also, every good movie has to have a great party scene (All About Eve, Breakfast at Tiffanys). Take it away Cameron…

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Scenes I Love: Goodfellas "Then He Kissed Me"

One of the devices used in movies that I respond to most is the appropriate use of music, especially when it is used to evoke a period. It is so easy for this to misfire (if I hear My Girl one more time in a movie, I think I'll puke) so when you see the real deal it stands out.
Scorsese brilliantly uses music; he picks songs that encapsulate the time (in his case, usually the '50s and '60s) wihtout it being overly obvious. Case in point is his 1991 stoke of genius Goodfellas. While not my kind of flick on paper, the wall-to-wall music and brilliant script/direction make it a favourite.
The clip below is a justifiably famous tracking shot set the 1963 Crystals' hit "Then He Kissed Me". The camera moves so fluidly and the action executed with such precision it feels as if we've walked into a real restuarant, not a movie set. So, here is one of the most perfect marriages of picture and sound ever committed to film...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sins of Cinema #2: The Musical

My Fair Lady (1964)
Perhaps one of the greatest ironies in movie lore is that Jack Warner got Julie Andrews her Oscar by NOT hiring her to repeat her Broadway triumph in My Fair Lady. If the head of Warner Bros had not deemed Fräulein Maria “unphotogenic” then Walt Disney would never have been able to use her in Mary Poppins. Julie was all too aware of this fact and even thanked Warner when she won her Golden Globe (love that stuff!).
Director George Cukor brought Lerner and Lowe’s 1957 musical adaptation of Pygmalion to the screen in 1964 not with Julie but with Audrey Hepburn. I believe this casting is one of the two reasons why the movie is a colossal blunder. Audrey communicates unfriendliness and does not have the musicality to carry the role. Her singing is clearly dubbed, which is fine if handled correctly, but the larger problem is her comfort in a musical. More at home as a socialite or a nun or a blind lady, she brings stoicism to Eliza Doolittle completely contradictory to the character.
The other major problem with the movie is mise-en-scene, a snotty film term meaning everything we see onscreen: sets, costumes, decorations, actors, etc. The set design has too much of an indoor look and is lit like a stage show. The costumes look uncomfortable and artificial. And don’t get me started on the scene as the Ascot race track (basically looks like the set designer from the Lawrence Welk Show had a weekend off and needed pick up a few extra bucks).
Rex Harrison seems to be going through the motions and his speak-singing soliloquies seem interminable (yet he won an Oscar). Cukor (one of my favourite directors- The Women, A Star is Born, Adam’s Rib) also took home gold on Oscar night but it is a truth universally acknowledged that this was a career-win since little of delicious style is present onscreen.
The splendid score survives virtually intact, something not commonly done in stage-to-screen transitions but is done in by poor pacing and deadly still camera work. Musicals should be alive and moving to conjure excitement in the viewer and this film remains an overrated stinkeroo.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sins of Cinema #1 The Epic

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
This is the first title in a series of films that I just don’t like. Not all “classic” films are good. Admittedly, it’s hard to track down the bad old films since they simply don’t survive over time or get home video releases. But sometimes there are true stinkers masquerading as good flicks.
Lawrence of Arabia is a popular film and a Best Picture Oscar winner- but I still think it reeks. I’ll be the first to admit that Peter O’Toole is a scorcher but blue eyes on a camel can get old after hour 3. And David Lean directed some of my favourite films (Brief Encounter, Doctor Zhivago) but I find this a big, dull dud.
The story of poet and overall “adventurer” T.E. Lawrence’s exploits with the Arabs in the desert attempts to be a testosterone-charged actioneer but is done in by the pretentious acting, maudlin dialogue and soft, sensitive direction. I realize this approach matches the literary style of Lawrence himself, but it is not suited to film. Lean directed Zhivago 3 years later and fared much better since it was a love story, definitely his forte. Oddly, I have only seen this film on the big screen; its supposed optimal viewing condition but I was still left completely cold.
There is not one line spoken by a female and that may be the missing something in this film. Maybe it’s just me but a film without a female voice would have to be handled in a particular rollicking way (like, say, The Great Escape) or else it just seems stilted, which I’m afraid this movie is.
The desert cinematography is admittedly sweeping but the interior shots boast still cameras and 5 minute takes that kill the pace. I’m not one of these video-game era kids who can’t sit through an intellectual, slow moving film but if the story’s not there I’m lost.
Final Reel: Check it out for posterity but if it’s desert romance you want try The English Patient.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Favourite Movies #2 The Clock

When soldier Joe Allen gets off the train and enters into the mammoth great hall at the old Pennsylvania Station, the viewer is at once introduced the most important character in the film: wartime New York City. We instantly get a sense of the oppressive hugeness of the terminal, emblematic of the great city itself. This is not a typical New York of 1940s cinema. Here we see people of all races and creeds smashed up against one another- basically, the city in a nutshell.
Joe is on a 2-day leave in the city before heading to an unknown location overseas. It is obviously his first time there and the skyscrapers and hoards of people daunt him. He soon trips up office worker Alice and he lulls her into being his guide, first on a 5th Avenue bus, then to Central Park, then to the Metropolitan Museum. Alice reluctantly follows the whole time, at first wary that he may be a creep but he slowly casts his wholesome spell on the city-wise woman. Their courtship and eventual attempt at getting married are hindered by New York, be it bureaucratic red tape, drunken restaurant patrons or the crowded subway system. Their goal of a marriage ceremony is eventually attained but is best described by a despondent Alice as “ugly.”
Performance wise, the two leads are at the top of their careers. Robert Walker was born to play the wide-eyed country boy, caught up in the frenzy of WWII New York. He only turned in one better performance 6 years later, playing the psychotic Bruno in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
Garland’s only non-singing role at MGM was a risk the studio took once but was unwilling to do again. She was such profitable musical star it probably seemed ridiculous to keep her in low-budget black and white movies. Our loss: she is completely bewitching as Alice, at once seeming so urbane but her abandon belies her naïve innocence as she falls for Joe. Much like a silent movie star, Garland’s eyes convey more than was in the script. Observe the scene in Battery Park when Joe and Alice first kiss and Alice is held in extreme close-up; Garland’s eyes and eyebrows move so lyrically you’d think she was animated. This is my favourite performance by an actress in any film.
Director Vincente Minnelli does a helluva job creating the city on the MGM back lot. Despite the constant use of back-projection, you never once believe it was not filmed in NYC. He perfectly infuses the film with urban grit and attitude (represented by many characters, including Alice’s roommate Helen and Al Henry, the eccentric milkman) enabling the viewer to insinuate themselves into the action. The time (or lack therof) motif keeps the momentum going until the final ambiguous, yet uplifting, final shot. Truly an underrated, half-forgotten film that is ripe for rediscovery.
Personal note: I first saw The Clock on May 12, 1990 when I was 13 years old. It was on at 3am early on Saturday morning and my mom allowed me to stay up to tape it just in case the VCR didn’t work. I was up till 5am that morning, the latest I had ever stayed up before. There was something magical about experiencing this film that way and in some ways that feeling has never left.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Favourite Movies # 29 The Band Wagon

I realize how increasingly dull it will become if I just blah blah about my favourite movies. I mean, a critical edge is needed and I feel so gushy about so many movies it’s hard to be critical. I am going to also start commenting on old movies I don’t like- should be a novelty. That being said, today I want to talk about The Band Wagon (1953). Pretty much perfect, that’s the way I’d describe this Technicolor pastiche about the exhilaration, electricity and ego involved in mounting a Broadway show. I tried to be critical but I just can’t; here’s a movie that reaffirms why I love movies so much.
It’s fresh still and very sophisticated in its simplicity- this point is all the more valid when compared with other MGM musicals of the time. Placed alongside Brigadoon, a popular but thoroughly pedestrian film with the same director, female lead, producer, etc, The Band Wagon endured more successfully in 2006.
The uncomplicated plot centres on washed up movie dancer Fred Astaire attempting to recapture popularity in a new show, guided by the completely wrong director. Vincente Minnelli was certainly the completely right director for this movie. As with most of his films, his urbane sense of style is in the forefront. The musical numbers, while not integrated into the plot per se, are a throwback to an earlier form of the Hollywood musical when songs were used in a performance setting. Minnelli often utilized song to express emotion (“The Boy Next Door” from Meet Me in St. Louis) or develop plot and characterization (“Our Love is Here to Stay” from An American in Paris) but here the focus performance for performance sake. The result is not as organic as the folk musicals of the era that glorified the American Way, but more of a deliberate spectacle, exalting the art of masquerade and make believe. This film does for musical theatre what All About Eve does for dramatic: makes the viewer want to be a part of that worldCriticism: I hate Oscar Levant. He was an alcoholic pianist/wit who for some reasons appears in quite a few MGM musicals of the 1948-1953 period. He was apparently a horror to work with and adds nothing to film. That’s all the bad I can say about this movie. So get aboard the Band Wagon for sheer enjoyment (cheese dog, but I couldn’t resist).

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Favourite Movies #14: The Talented Mr. Ripley

As Phillip Seymour Hoffman took home the Best Actor Oscar on the weekend, I got to thinking about all the other creeps he has portrayed besides Truman Capote. His finest supporting turn is as Freddie Myles in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley directed by Anthony Minghella. While not old enough to be called a "classic" it was from last century so that's good enough. Plus, slowly all of the cast members are winning're next Jude.
Based on Patty (we're old friends) Highsmith's novel about con-artist/forger/murderer/poser Tom Ripley, the movie manages to be both incredibly stylish and dramatically substantial. 1958 Italy is brilliantly represented in a La Dolce Vita-esque lushness, explaining perfectly why post-collegiate American upper-crusters would have flocked there. Mingella captures the moment through colour, costumes, set design and especially music; the late '50s jazz sound wonderfully permeates the movie.
The film is full of wonderful performances from an attractive young cast. The most impressive is Cate Blanchett as Meredith, who is only in the movie sporadically but whom the viewer thinks about constantly. Her posh east-coast drawl is a marvel to listen to, and her delivery is period-perfect.
It's easy to overlook Matt Damon's performance, especially in light of Jude Law's barvura portrayal of rich playboy Dickie. Damon's Ripley effortlessly embodies a tormented homosexual who kills to supress his (at the time) unwholesome desires. He mixes quiet nebbishness with sociopathic tendencies with remarkable skill. I am no Matt Damon fan but he does calculated work here.
Ripley is quite groundbreaking in its portrayal of a lead gay character in a mainstream film. The whole film subscribes to a gay aesthetic: the objectification of the male form, the camp aspects to Tom's character, the glamourous costumes, the musical score, and certainly the limp-wristed performance by Hoffman. When I saw this film theatrically in 1999 there were audience scoffs and walk-outs when Tom Ripley's sexuality manifested (hello, bathtub chess scene). I would hate to see the same crowd at a screening of Brokeback Mountain. But Jack and Ennis are not presented the way Tom is; with his insipid whimpering and manicial scheming, Tom is gay-gone-bad. He's somewhat of a '50s gay fantasy in that he holds all the power, which is the opposite of what he would have held in the real world. His identity swap allows him to have all the pomp associated with Dickie (Meredith as the Marge replacement), while retaining some of Tom's desires (relationship with Peter Smith-Knightly). We are presented here with an evil genius, and somewhat of an attractive gay anti-hero.