Category: Main Slate

December 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peg Aloi

The Fisher King -1991 – dir. Terry Gilliam

Filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s version of the Fisher King legend posits a Manhattan where knights joust in Central Park, a thousand strangers waltz in Grand Central Station, and courtly love lives alongside dementia, decay and death. The ancient tale has been analyzed by scholars like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Jessie Weston and Robert Graves, and is a central aspect of the Arthurian legend. The wounded king is Jack (Jeff Bridges), a popular radio talk-show host whose brash, arrogant misanthropy leads indirectly to a mass shooting that claims a number of victims; his ensuing guilt and shattered reputation leave him unemployed and depressed, riddled with guilt and self-loathing. In a scene slyly reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life, Jack meets a sort of guardian angel in Perry (Robin Williams, in one of his most enjoyable and eminently watchable screen portrayals). Perry is a former professor of medieval studies, who was personally affected by the shooting and who ends up homeless and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When the two men cross paths several times, it seems inevitable they will both bring about the other’s rejuvenation, and the roles of wounded king and questing knight are often reversed and overlapped: which of these men is more wounded, and which one is most capable of selfless compassion?

December 16, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Andrew Palmacci

Strange Brew – 1983 – dir. Rick Moranis

When you talk about the wide-ranging genre of movie comedies, there are few sub-genres more extreme in their risibility factor than the screwball comedy. Made most famous by Blake Edwards’ series of Pink Panther films, and with a lineage traceable to Frenchman Jacques Tati’s wacky Mr. Hulot suite of pictures (if not to the silent films of Chaplin and Keaton), the screwball is an oft-overlooked and under-recognized part of the overall comedic film output in current times, though there are definitely examples thereof in today’s cinematic world. Released only a year after the last Pink Panther movie, Trail of the Pink Panther, Strange Brew (1983) could be seen as the filmic missing link between the post-war screwballs of the 50s and 60s, namely Panther, and movies of the ‘90s that were spawned from Saturday Night Live sketches (Chris Farley flics, say) or those of the Farrelly brothers. Itself a product of the Canadian sketch show “SCTV,” Strange Brew benefited from the cross-over appeal of its stars—Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (the latter’s feature debut)—and its concept: two beer-drinking buffoons who make their way around their Toronto, Ontario, Canada-area locale, punctuating their sentences with numerous eh!’s, following hockey, and feeding their dog, Hosehead, at their parents’ house. And to under-, or over-, score the grandiosity of Thomas’ and Moranis’ vein of humor, the super-title to the movie is The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie.  Oh, and there’s a major Hamlet tie-in as well. Let’s take a closer look.

December 8, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

It’s A Wonderful Life – 1946 – dir. Frank Capra

Recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, It’s a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra, 1946) has been variously described as a heartwarming celebration of family values, an historical appreciation of vanished small-town life, “sentimental hogwash,” an indictment of centralized banking, and a communist manifesto.  It is all of these things.  And yet, it is also something more.

December 8, 2009 / / Main Slate

novdec-julie2By Peg Aloi

Julie & Julia – 2009 – dir. Nora Ephron

Julie & Julia, the popular and well-loved film about a young New Yorker’s attempt to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, would be far less entrancing if writer-director Nora Ephron had not decided to include a witty and rollicking chronicle of Child’s adventures in Paris and her slow journey towards becoming one of the world’s most recognizable chefs.

November 23, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

Casablanca – 1942 – dir. Michael Curtiz

So.  Here you are, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), a young woman in your twenties, newly hatched and out and about in the world, meeting the usual suspects.  Among them is Victor Laszlo (Paul Heinreid); he’s handsome, passionate, committed to a good cause, the only cause: liberté, égalité, fraternité.  In fact, he’s actually the leader of the resistance!  And single.  And he singles you out.  You cannot believe your luck.  There are many late nights in the café, and then later nights at his apartment.  Your relationship is secret, this is for your protection he says, but that just adds to the aura.  There’s a lot of travel, too; it isn’t safe to stay too long in one place, especially for him.  There seems to be one “it” city every half-century, Paris is currently “it,” and you’ve arrived.

Then the Nazis pick him up.  Then you fall in love.  But not with him.

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.)