Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review Snapshots: March 18-24

Here’s what I watched in my spare time over the past week:

Julius Caesar (1953)- Was incredibly skeptical about this one, so much that I haven’t watched it before even though it was given to me as a Christmas present two years ago. I love Marlon Brando but the guy isn’t exactly known for his diction, and I’ve been mixed on Mankiewicz as a director (love Sleuth, mostly like Guys and Dolls, have been beaten up for my coldness on All About Eve). Still, I watched the other early-50s Oscar-nominated Brando roles, so I figured I might as well give this a shot. Put this in the middle for Mankiewicz. It doesn’t show much imagination as a Shakespeare adaptation but it’s intelligently and handsomely mounted, and the cast is uniformly strong. But good as James Mason and John Gielgud are as Brutus and Cassius, they can’t compare to Brando’s scene-stealing role as Marc Antony. It’s easily one of the most passionate Shakespeare performances I’ve seen on film, with Brando bringing his raw, intuitive intensity to an otherwise cerebral film. Side note: add this next to The Godfather for the “Brando performances nominated for Best Actor even though it’s clearly a supporting role” list. Grade: 75/B+

La Ronde (1950)- Wouldn’t rank as high as Letter from an Unknown Woman for me- it’s not nearly as emotional, and the characters are thin (even if it’s by design). But even so it’s immaculately constructed by Ophuls, with a playful and elegant framing device that Anton Walbrook so perfectly plays as a guide in. It’s mostly a series of moments in love between different classes, and some play better than others, but as a whole it works beautifully. Highlights: Simone Signoret’s sad prostitute in the opening; Simone Simon’s episodes with two men who clearly care for her less than she cares for them; Danielle Darrieux’s two episodes, particularly the warm but distant relationship with her husband; “censored”. Grade: 87/A-

The Rules of the Game (1939)- Much like Grand Illusion, I saw this as a teenager and didn’t have the patience for it, only to revisit it and find it wonderful. Renoir’s humanism works like a charm on me nowadays, and the elegance of his tracking shots and early mastery of depth of field enchants me. Everyone quotes the “everyone has his reasons” line to the point where it’s almost become a cliché, but it’s only because it’s as true as any line in film history. Renoir’s understanding of that, combined with his playfulness, helps balance the lacerations towards the bourgeois French class so that it never veers towards heartlessness. Near perfect. Grade: 99/A

Titicut Follies (1967)- Difficult. On one hand, I admire Wiseman’s unflinching look at the horrors of the mental hospital for the criminally insane, particularly when it’s showing the guards badgering people who are clearly unwell. It’s an important movie in this regard. But Wiseman too often lingers on shots of insane people acting insane, gibbering away, to the point where I got a queasy feeling of being thrown into a freak show. We already know these people are unwell, and there’s already issue with the way Wiseman didn’t get family permission for this. The lingering moments on crazy people acting crazy felt too much like exploitation to me. Grade: 62/B-

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