Category: Main Slate

November 17, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Man Who Came To Dinner – 1942 – dir. William Keighley

We call a film ‘classic’, while sometimes forgetting why and how it came to be labeled that way.  “Oh”, we say, “The Man Who Came To Dinner. A classic movie!!” But why?

In the case of this Epstein Brothers-produced gem, the answer is easy. A super boffo comedy romp, it follows all the rules of how to make a movie that lasts, past time, past fashion: keen direction, faultless dialogue and performances, perfect pacing, plus a theme whose lessons remain timeless.

November 12, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson
Pickpocket – 1959 – dir. Robert Bresson

He sidles up to her.  A quick glance, suspicious, complicit.  Does she know?  Does she notice? Ostensibly they are betting on the horses. His long fingers spread, ever so slowly, over the purse. The pressure is subtle, slight, relentless.  His fingertips tease the edge of the clasp.   Gently, gently, yes! he pops it open.  His eyes flicker.  Her face is still calm, a nimbus of white against his dark intensity.  The fingers slip inside the folds: one, two, three . . . we suddenly hear the horses thundering along the track.  Louder, more insistent, until—he emerges with the money!  The horses are unstoppable!  The finish line is breached!  And, it is over.  The crowd disperses, he blends into the Brownian motion.  He has gotten away with it!  Drained by the effort, he walks/stumbles away.

And is immediately caught.  End Scene One.

November 3, 2009 / / Main Slate

Mr. Skeffington (1944) – dir. Vincent Sherman

The great Bette Davis had many cinematic tricks up her sleeve. Three of these held her in good stead over a nearly-seventy year career: her eyes, her voice, her cigarette.

Never enough can be said about the famous “Bette Davis eyes”; they had their own three-ring circus going; they cartwheeled, they jumped, they batted, they flew, they flirted, they lied, they fluttered, they drooped.  They were wet with tears when she wanted to deceive some man. They raised their joys to heaven and poured their poisons into the cups of those who worshiped at their altar.  Davis knew what to do with them, and even when she over-used or over-relied on them, there seemed to be a reason for it.  Entities unto themselves,  they worked overtime for her and made her the finest screen actress of her time.

October 26, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Paula Delaney

Mystic River – 2003 – dir. Clint Eastwood

Director Clint Eastwood weaves a tangled web in this movie that provides excellent cinematography, particularly with shots of Boston. The movie contains a number of parallels, beginning with the scene of three young boys in South Boston playing in the street, when one of them gets abducted by two men.  A parallel scene occurs toward the end of the movie, when the abducted boy, Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins) is now a man and again falls prey to another type of abduction.  This time he innocently joins the Savage Brothers (gang type characters) who take him to a bar where his once childhood friend, Jimmy (Sean Penn), accuses him of killing his daughter.  There is a shot of an older but just as fragile Dave looking out the rear window of the car as it speeds away, similar to the earlier shot when he was abducted as a child.

October 26, 2009 / / Main Slate

Bombshell – 1932 – dir. Victor Fleming

I first saw the 1932 screwball comedy Bombshell, which stars Jean Harlow in one of her best roles, as part of retrospective at the Brattle titled “Blondes Have More Fun!” The program had grouped Harlow with other blonde Hollywood icons of the classic era: Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Carole Lombard, Kim Novak, and Veronica Lake. (Funnily enough, Bombshell was at one point known as Blonde Bombshell to flag it as a Jean Harlow comedy rather than a war picture.) Placing Harlow in the context of a fascinating tradition of fair-haired starlets is illuminating – she somehow bridges the worldly toughness of West and the fragility and innocence of Monroe. In the film that made her a star, Howard Hughes’ 1930 epic Hell’s Angels, Harlow famously announced that she was ready to slip into something more comfortable, sending a smoldering look over her shoulder. Starlets have been copying her moves ever since, but it’s rare for actors of either gender to nail Harlow’s distinctive blend of glamour, wit, and grit. (James Cagney, Harlow’s co-star in The Public Enemy, has a similar appeal, blending fast-talking edginess with disarming vulnerability.)

September 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Masque of the Red Death – 1964 – dir. Roger Corman

Before he was crowned the all-time campy Master of horror schlock, the incomparable Vincent Price had already carved out for himself a distinguished career in Hollywood that would have been the envy of any actor of his time.  Such film classics as Laura, The House of the Seven Gables, The Keys of the Kingdom, The Ten Commandments, Leave Her to Heaven and many more were graced with his formidable skill and presence.

Director Roger Corman, christened “the King of the Bs” due to the slew of low-budget, some might even say ‘corny’ movies he cranked out beginning in the 1950s, mans The Masque of the Red Death with as sure a hand as he brought to all his projects, creating springboards for such stellar artists-to-be as Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese, and turning out what has become a body of films many of which are today considered true masterpieces of the genre.

September 21, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

Moon – 2009 – dir. Duncan Jones

In Moon (dir. Duncan Jones, 2009), Sam Rockwell plays the scruffy hipster-next-door on the moon, who turns out to be both more and less than what he seems.  With impressive set design, constructed with tiny models instead of CGI, Moon inhabits not the 1960s techno-future of visible progress, but the 1970s paranoid present of hidden ulterior motives.  In a way, Moon recalls not so much the actual space race, but the aftermath of plastic modules on the kitchen table, with an excess of glue and tiny pieces that don’t seem to fit anymore.

September 17, 2009 / / Main Slate

Star Trek – 2009 – dir. JJ Abrams

Before I went to see J. J. Abrams’ version of the classic franchise, I was treated to dark whispers and quiet warnings such as, “If you’re a big-time Trekkie, you’re not going to like it.”

Being a moderate-time Trekkie, as opposed to a big-time one, I hotly anticipated the release through two years of promotional posters, mysterious trailers, and vague, origin-story allusions.  I have to confess that along with Pixar’s Up, Star Trek is likely one of the best movies of the year.  It’s not just a good sci-fi movie.  It’s a good movie.

August 25, 2009 / / Main Slate

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – 2000 – dir. Ang Lee

“When in comes to the affairs of the heart, even the greatest warriors can be consummate idiots.”

Ang Lee’s homage to Du Lu Wang’s kung-fu novel, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, I must confess, did not make an instant impression upon me the first time that I saw it.  The film soars with Lee’s breathtaking direction and cinematography by Academy award-winner Peter Pau, but I found the story meandering and simple.

Of course, I missed the point, discovered only after a re-watch.  The story is indeed simple.  It is the characters who are complex.  This is an ironic movie about opposites: finding through loss.  Gaining through sacrifice.  Joy through despair.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a simple story about masculinity, femininity, and life.

August 21, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Christine and Robert Bamberger

The Thin Man – 1934 – dir. W.S. Van Dyke

Most people get a terrific kick out of the interplay between William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies, especially in the original, made just before the Production Code in Hollywood went into full force. But the film’s convoluted plot and numerous characters make it necessary to keep notes just to follow along. In getting a handle on the many personalities in the movie, it becomes increasingly apparent that this large cast of characters, spread all over the periphery of the plot, is not peripheral at all. Indeed, this bunch serves to draw our attention even more to Nick and Nora Charles.