Olga’s Chignon (2002, Jérôme Bonnell)

I think this film is the one of the best films Woody Allen never made.

I don’t talk about it much, or ever, since I watched all of Allen’s films long before The Stop Button, but there are some distinct Allen formats and he never seems to mix them. Olga’s Chignon mixes them a little–it’s never as depressing as Allen’s depressing films–and it’s never as playful as his most playful entries get.

Except for the end, which sort of stops, leaving a number of characters unresolved simply because the third act concentrated on two of the four main characters. The conclusion is well-handled enough, however, that I can forgive some of it. It’s just when you introduce your thesis at the last minute, it makes a lot of the previous story setting instead of important.

Bonnell’s young, twenty-eight, and Olga’s Chignon is an impressive debut for someone that age. As much as he concentrates on the writing, his directing is the most important part of the film. He holds scenes a few seconds longer than you except, giving the viewer time to reflect on what he or she has just seen. It’s a literary equivalent to ‘white space’ in short stories, expect ‘white space’ is sometimes used to display change in time, and fade outs are the traditional film device. Except fade outs don’t let you reflect. The only other film I can think of that does this is Horse Thief.

Olga’s Chignon is also my first French family drama and it’s set an incredible standard. Bonnell’s got a new film this year, but Olga never made it to the US (thankfully Nicheflix has it), so I’ll have to track that down somehow. Based on this film, of course, getting slaughtered with a UK exchange rate would likely be worth it.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jérôme Bonnell; director of photography, Pascal Lagriffoul; edited by Benoît Bechet; produced by Arnaud De Battice, Joël Farges, Sylvain Goldberg and Elise Jalladeau; released by Studio Canal.

Starring Hubert Benhamdine (Julien), Nathalie Boutefeu (Alice), Florence Loiret (Emma), Serge Riaboukine (Gilles), Marc Citti (Pascal), Antoine Goldet (Basile), Valérie Stroh (Nicole), Clotilde Hesme (Marion) and Jean-Michel Portal (Grégoire).


Sea of Love (1989, Harold Becker)

So, I was worried about Sea of Love. After all, the last movie Richard Price is credited with writing is Shaft (though I realize it was changed from what he wrote by Singleton, who’s just a screenwriting dynamo). So, I was worried. Sea of Love was a film I loved–absolutely loved–when I first got into film, when I finally decided I needed to sit and watch a film, not read at the same time, not sit in the room while it played. Frighteningly, this evolution was late in life–it was 1994 or so, when I was sixteen, the Robocop Criterion laserdisc. I sat and watched it.

I’ve seen Sea of Love since, of course. Universal was a great laserdisc company in the 1990s and I had the Sea of Love laserdisc (I still might, in storage, since I never got around to selling M-Z). The first DVD release was pan and scan, so I missed that, but Universal did a widescreen edition and I rented it from Blockbuster–Netflix is no good if there are two versions.

Sea of Love is a great film. Richard Price’s writing is beautiful. For the first three quarters of the film, until the mystery takes over for a half hour, the nuance is unbelievable. Characters saying things, the meanings involved, just beautiful. Sea of Love is, I think, the last film written by the novelist Richard Price, everything after was by screenwriter Richard Price, who was still good, but reserved the good stuff for his novels (Clockers, incidentally, came from the research he did for Sea of Love).

It’s one of Pacino’s two or three best performances. I actually don’t know, off the top of my head, what I’d assign to the other two slots, because you have to decide between Pacino the star (as much as he is–Pacino is a star in The Godfather, Part II and Heat) and Pacino the regular guy. Pacino’s a regular guy in Sea of Love, when he’s in a fight, there’s a chance he might not make it. Sea of Love is from the era before the happy ending… Though Price would argue otherwise (sorry, I’ve read his collected screenplays and the studios always changed his downer endings).

It’s Ellen Barkin–I never realized how much I miss Ellen Barkin. I’m aware of how much I miss actors like Madeleine Stowe and (good) Elisabeth Shue, but Ellen Barkin’s from before that era of recognition. Barkin’s someone who should have transitioned to some great TV in the early 1990s, she should have gone to “Homicide” or something (damn you, Barry Levinson, you know her!).

I really need to see Night and the City now. I actually probably ought to see both of them, but I was thinking the DeNiro/Lange version.

Anyway, if you haven’t or if you haven’t for awhile, see Sea of Love. It’s New York City when that actually meant something, when it was actually a place that changed people, when the city was still alive. I went to New York City, the first time, in 1987 and it was scary. I didn’t leave Manhattan, so it wasn’t quite Fort Apache, the Bronx, but it was ominous. The second-to-last time I went there, maybe third to last, actually, was in 1999, to see a Broadway Show (“The Wild Party”). It wasn’t scary anymore, it was Disneyland. It doesn’t change people anymore….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; written by Richard Price; director of photography, Ronnie Taylor; edited by David Bretherton; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, John Jay Moore; produced by Martin Bregman and Louis A. Stroller; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Det. Frank Keller), Ellen Barkin (Helen Cruger), John Goodman (Det. Sherman), Michael Rooker (Terry), William Hickey (Frank Keller Sr.), Richard Jenkins (Gruber), Paul Calderon (Serafino), Gene Canfield (Struk), Larry Joshua (Dargan) and John Spencer (Lieutenant).


Safety Last! (1923, Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor)

Film used to be a visual medium. It’s an audio/visual now and getting more and more audio–Dolby Digital and DTS has convinced folks they need five speakers plus the discreet (while Woody Allen still shoots mono). Film has become stage-less theater (without the pretension of theater), but it wasn’t always that way….

I’ve never seen a Harold Lloyd film before and my silent comedies are limited mostly to Buster. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a silent Chaplin, just a couple talkies he didn’t talk in. Keaton cannot be surpassed in his quality or his influence, but Safety Last! is just a lot of fun. Silent films use different storytelling techniques than sound pictures do (regardless of the awkward-“intended to be silent” talkies of the late 1920s, the change was immediate–their awkwardness was something else entirely). Without telling the audience the character sold the phonograph, without intimating it with dialogue, the film is left to suggest to us that the phonograph has been sold. Sure, there’s the full explanation with a pawn stub, but that’s either for the stragglers or, more likely, to introduce the concept of money into the scene. Money’s one of those concepts that needs to be enumerated.

Silent comedy and silent drama are also completely different (silent comedy quickly establishes its characters while drama can just go on and on, making a comedy a safer bet for someone just seeing a silent film–not everything that survived is necessarily good). Safety Last! is able to introduce a major character in the last act. It’s just a drunk, but he’s in it the act more than the romantic interest. We rarely see that–I’ve got Sea of Love on the brain since I just rented it and really want to watch it and I remember reading Price’s screenplay collection and he said he wanted to introduce the murderer in the last act and the love interest in the middle of the film and the studio gave him a really funny look. But, even in comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, not even mentioning dramas, big characters did not appear in late in the film. Characters whose presence is felt throughout the film (ranging from The Senator Was Indiscreet to Seven) is a different situation, of course.

As for Lloyd, he’s impossible to dislike, a perfect Everyman. His physical comedy is not as athletic as Keaton’s, of course (is that possible?), but it’s superb. The film ends with his attempt to scale a 12-story building and it’s the first time I got worried about someone surviving since I saw Superman as a kid.

Lloyd is well-known to film buffs–customers at the video store I worked at, back when there were smart people seeing movies (the late 1990s), used to ask about his films. Someone had seen it on TV or something, when he or she was a kid, and now he or she has kids… Lloyd’s the most accessible silent comedian and it’s great that “someday soon” his films will be available on DVD. Until then, check your TCM listings, as they frequently have mini-Lloyd marathons.

….oh, that’s a little scary. Movielens had my star rating dead-on….

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor; written by Hal Roach, Taylor and Tim Whelan, titles by H.M. Walker; director of photography, Walter Lundin; edited by Thomas J. Crizer; produced by Roach; released by Pathé Exchange.

Starring Harold Lloyd (The Boy), Mildred Davis (The Girl), Bill Strother (The Pal), Noah Young (The Law) and Westcott Clarke (The Floorwalker).


The Three Musketeers (1993, Stephen Herek)

There’s a cruelty of home video. I can watch The Three Musketeers, which I liked as a fifteen year-old, and loathe myself for that previous affection.

What can I say about this film? A lot, actually. One, I had no idea Disney let so many people get killed quite so graphically. Two, Charlie Sheen is good. Who ever thought they’d type a sentence like that? Oliver Platt is appealing and Michael Wincott is a good villain.

The rest is crap. Terrible writing (by the half-wit who wrote Star Trek V) and direction, Kiefer Sutherland tries but at most times he’s trying to be Han Solo or something, Tim Curry is playing one hiss-able villain too many and Chris O’Donnell is a crime against art. Of course, O’Donnell is always a crime against art, so I was expecting that. But he’s bad in this one, even for him.

Since I watched Man in the Iron Mask yesterday, it’s impossible not to make a few comparisons. I’ll spare you those. But something occurred to me about heroism as portrayed in film. Why was it effective in Iron Mask but not in Three Musketeers? Because there’s a beauty to fatalistic heroism. Jumping around in a rip of Empire Strikes Back (though, in hindsight of the prequel trilogy, maybe Three Musketeers had a better conclusion to the son avenging his father scene) is not fatalistic heroism. These guys aren’t straining to do the impossible. This reasoning goes way, way back, to when I first (actually, the only time) saw Con Air and Nicolas Cage announces he’s going “to save the day.” Well, he could have done it the whole time, and the audience knew he could do it and succeed, so why give a shit? That’s what Three Musketeers is like….

Oh, and Rebecca De Mornay sucks too. A lot. But not as much as Chris O’Donnell.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Herek; written by David Loughery, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, Dean Semler; edited by John F. Link; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Joe Roth and Roger Birnbaum; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Charlie Sheen (Aramis), Kiefer Sutherland (Athos), Chris O’Donnell (D’Artagnan), Oliver Platt (Porthos), Tim Curry (Cardinal Richelieu), Rebecca De Mornay (Lady Sabine DeWinter), Gabrielle Anwar (Queen Anne), Michael Wincott (Rochefort), Paul McGann (Girard), Julie Delpy (Constance) and Hugh O’Conor (King Louis).


The Man in the Iron Mask (1998, Randall Wallace)

Now here’s an interesting Stop Button pick. (It was the fiancée’s choice, actually). Most of what I know about Wallace’s 1998 adaptation. It knocked Titanic out of the top spot in the weekend box office… That’s it. And the preview was bad, playing up DiCaprio as… a bad guy?

The bad king and the good twin present a difficulty to turning the novel into a film (I have no idea what Dumas did, but I’ve only read The Three Musketeers and I was fifteen). The ideal, of course, would to do something similar to what Boyle did in World’s End. Wallace doesn’t do that, however. This film is also interesting because it’s from the writer of Braveheart, before he became the writer of Pearl Harbor. Oddly, for all the (undeserved) shit Pearl gets, no one ever points the finger at Wallace.

Watching Man in the Iron Mask, it’s obvious MGM didn’t do anything to it in light of DiCaprio’s Titanic success. He’s barely in the damn thing and he ranges from inoffensively bad to decent, or maybe I just got used to him as the film moved along. I cared about the character (the good twin, of course), which means he accomplished something.

But, really, besides the first and third acts, it’s all the Musketeers’ show. Played by Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, and Gérard Depardieu, one almost thinks Wallace intended it that way (given that DiCaprio’s most commercial venture to this point was probably The Quick and the Dead). All three are excellent and Gabriel Byrne has a few nice moments as D’Artagnan (but he’s not one of the original Musketeers, which I do remember from Dumas’ novel, which was the perception of the three through his eyes).

The Man in the Iron Mask offers no depth in the end. There are some nice moments about growing old, I suppose, but no more than something like Space Cowboys. Instead of a message, instead of any solidity, Wallace offers us the Three (Four) Musketeers kicking ass. Wallace got a really naive composer for the film, so the music sounds like the Salkind productions from the 1970s… hmm, maybe that was the point.

It’s fun to watch. Irons and Malkovich hover on hamming, but never take it up fully, and it was nice to see them resisting it in this one. Mostly, however, the film reassured me that the Salkind films might be all right, as I was planning on watching them soon.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Randall Wallace; screenplay by Wallace, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by William Hoy; music by Nick Glennie-Smith; production designer, Anthony Pratt; produced by Wallace and Russell Smith; released by United Artists.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (King Louis XIV/ Philippe), Jeremy Irons (Aramis), John Malkovich (Athos), Gerard Depardieu (Porthos), Gabriel Byrne (D’Artagnan), Anne Parillaud (Queen Anne), Judith Godrèche (Christine) and Peter Sarsgaard (Raoul).


28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)

Why is Hollywood making Cillian Murphy the bad guy? He’s got to be the best everyman Hollywood’s seen since–who, Roy Scheider or something, except a better actor? No offense to Roy, I love Roy, but Roy’s a little bit of a movie star. Cillian Murphy’s not a movie star….

It’s impossible to really talk about 28 Days Later without talking about the ending. I could give a shit about the three alternate endings, by the way. I figure, a DVD release, Boyle could have thrown one in and labeled it director’s preferred and been done with it. So we’re talking about the one that’s on the DVD. It’s the only ending the film could have had for me to give it the four too. That last shot, that last breath. It’s a beautiful moment in an unexpected place.

A friend compared 28 Days to Winterbottom’s Wonderland while talking about digital video. 28 Days doesn’t even look like video. It looks like film with really neat rain effects (which are probably only possible with video). Incidentally, Wonderland doesn’t look like video, it looks like a hi-res 16 millimeter.

I can’t explain how happy I am following this film, how elated. It’s under two hours, takes place over a handful of days, and it manages to have six distinct parts to it. Six distinct “stories.” Well, no, five distinct stories. The last two are rather linked… though wouldn’t necessarily need to be.

Unfortunately, the same thing that happened after the last time I watched Trainspotting is happening again. I’m falling in love with Danny Boyle’s filmmaking. It won’t last, of course, all I need for a cure is Shallow Grave or, ugh, A Life Less Ordinary, but I still haven’t seen The Beach, though I have been warned… Maybe Millions. Boyle’s not a young Turk, either. I think he was at least in his forties when he made Trainspotting, so he’s probably in his fifties now. (Miramax always seemed to present Trainspotting as a young Turk film). Trainspotting is better, I suppose, though Boyle’s a better filmmaker now than he was then. He’s less reliant on dialogue to move things, much more comfortable with the effect of his visuals.

Making a shot empty of people matter is difficult. It puts a lot of weight on the fellow going through the whole experience. Vanilla Sky doesn’t really count as an example and The Pianist failed miserably (I was terrified when I started 28 Days Later, fearful it would be a zombie movie like The Pianist, the lead going around, running, exploring ruins, all without any real emotional impact, hiding behind a calamity). So, now’s when I could rain praise on Murphy, who’ll maybe someday find a good role in Hollywood, but until then I need to track down that friggin’ one of his Nicheflix carries. I don’t know the female lead’s name, but she’s really good. So’s the girl. So’s Christopher Eccleston, which surprised me, especially since he was so bad in Shallow Grave.

28 Days Later, while definitely delivering a good “horror” film, a good “zombie” film, one ups even Romero’s best. While his Dawn of the Dead was about people and their struggles in a situation created by zombies, Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (do I have to see Halo now?) tell a story about some guy. (Romero tends to let his commentary overwhelm the story, no matter how effective the story–or commentary–might be, Martin for example). So now The Stop Button is all about 28 Days Later and Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy and shit….

At least until I see The Beach.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Alex Garland; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Chris Gill; music by John Murphy; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Andrew MacDonald; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena), Christopher Eccleston (Maj. Henry West), Megan Burns (Hannah) and Brendan Gleeson (Frank).


Blade: Trinity (2004, David S. Goyer)

I imagine you’re thinking, why would he watch that? And I agree, Blade: Trinity is hardly Stop Button material. Except… I have been insulting David S. Goyer a lot lately (because he sucks) and I wanted my insults to be more informed and, also, because I enjoyed Blade II. I’ve never seen more than fifteen minutes of Blade and I’ll never see more than an hour of Blade: Trinity, but Blade II is fine. It’s Guillermo Del Toro, who’s never worthless. Also, we’re house/dog-sitting and they had Blade: Trinity. I’m reading its source material, Tomb of Dracula, and I had time to kill… And, honestly, I never thought I’d get through it.

Oddly, Blade: Trinity starts out fine. Well, almost. It starts with Parker Posey waking up Dracula, except he’s not called Dracula because that’s not cool enough. So he’s called Drake. David S. Goyer has a lot of machismo issues to work out, further evidenced in Drake’s open shirt and gold chains apparel. Posey, who was recently so good in Personal Velocity, seems to have taken some rather naughty pictures that Goyer has gotten his hands on.

But, really, the scenes after that–at least the ones starring Blade and Kris Kristofferson, are all right. The style keeps Del Toro’s cinematography from the last film, but in a 1970s cheap police movie. It’s fine. In fact, I sat thinking, “Maybe I was wrong about this one.” But, no, thank goodness, soon enough, Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds arrived.

As bad, as unbelievably terrible, as Reynolds is in this film, Jessica Biel is two or three times worse. You have to have more presence to work a drive-through. She’s really the pits.

Reynolds, the object of Goyer’s man-crush, is bad. And the man-crush is pretty clear–Reynolds, idiotically, narrates the prologue. The character is written as Brodie, from Mallrats. Amusingly, Mallrats bombs, but Brodie becomes the archetype for all future twenty-something male characters. Reynolds even plays the character like Jason Lee would–except without being funny or being a good actor.

I can understand why Wesley Snipes sued Goyer. Blade: Trinity is not about Blade, it’s about Goyer’s little teenyboppers. What’s incredibly sad is that Blade: Trinity has the best Snipes acting in years. Snipes is an amazing actor–One Night Stand. All this action movie crap, action comedy crap, does a real disservice to the quality of film. More apparently, Blade was about a kick-ass black guy. It was a movie black guys could go to–black men are the great lost comic book reader. I just listened to former “New York Times” film critic Elvis Mitchell go on and on about his love for the Thing in the 1970s Marvel comics. Comic books have lost black males (probably because they eschewed the newsstand for the direct market). Blade: Trinity is a movie for fanboys. Fanboys tend to be white. I imagine Wesley Snipes was a little distraught over appearing in American Pie 4….

It’d be nice if I could avoid Goyer, just ignore him, but he’s the guy non-Marvel comic books go to. Besides (following Batman Begins) being DC’s golden movie boy, a couple really good comic book writers have film projects going through him. I find that particularly amusing since, in Blade: Trinity, the characters frequently deride the source material, Tomb of Dracula, at one point tosses an issue aside as trash.

This twit writes “song and dance” in his dialogue. He makes James Remar a cop and has him say “song and dance.” That’s Dante’s fifth ring of Hell right there. Check your copy of Inferno, right there. “The fifth ring was filled with suck-ass filmmakers who made James Remar a cop that says ‘song and dance.'” Obviously, it sounds a lot nicer in the Italian. “Il quinto anello è stato riempito di criminali che hanno reso a James Remar un poliziotto che dice la canzone ed il ballo.

I certainly hope Remar used his paycheck to take a Tuscan vacation….

Anyway, Goyer isn’t some harmless twit. He’s going to ruin some good writers’ works. I keep thinking about the 1990s, pre-Independence Day and post. In and of himself, Emmerich isn’t even that bad (no, I haven’t seen The Day After Tomorrow), but the film revolution he birthed with ID4–the feckless blockbuster–has ruined American cinema. So, although no one really takes Goyer seriously (only internet sites interviewed him as co-writer of Batman Begins), he’s here to stay… and he’s going to make film worse and, eventually, I’m going to feel it.

Just wait….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David S. Goyer; written by Goyer, based on the Blade character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Howard E. Smith and Conrad Smart; music by Ramin Djawadi and the RZA; production designer, Chris Gorak; produced by Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, Goyer and Lynn Harris; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), Jessica Biel (Abigail Whistler), Ryan Reynolds (Hannibal King), Parker Posey (Danica Talos), Dominic Purcell (Drake), John Michael Higgins (Dr. Edgar Vance), Natasha Lyonne (Sommerfield) and James Remar (Cumberland).


The Shadow (1994, Russell Mulcahy)

The Shadow is not a perfect film, but there’s so much good about it. Besides that its great cast–Jonathan Winters is the only weak link–besides that its beautifully constructed screenplay–the best constructed one I can think of… I haven’t seen this film since the theater, so I was sixteen. I don’t remember liking it. I didn’t like Alec Baldwin back then. Actually, my opinion of him has only changed with his recent work, but he’s good. I do have to dislike The Shadow a little, since its commercial and critical failure ended Penelope Ann Miller’s career….

Russell Mulcahy always gets a measure of respect from film people. Even film snobs. Well, the film snobs I used to work with, anyway. Highlander is a terrible film with bad writing and Christopher Lambert. However, Mulcahy did a great job directing (and Clancy Brown was great). If anyone deserves a $150 million movie, it’s Mulcahy, or at least the Mulcahy of the 1990s. The Shadow is a textbook example of good, engaging filmmaking. Mulcahy has a number of long-shots of Baldwin and Miller on darkened sidewalks. Sure, Steven Spielberg used to be a better director and maybe–maybe–he still is, but I can’t remember the last time Spielberg’s composition engaged my brain. Oh, wait. Yeah, no, I do. Close Encounters.

About halfway through The Shadow, I realized my post was going to be a lot more positive than I originally thought. The film starts with silly scene of Baldwin going native in 1920s China as a warlord and I spent a while wishing that scene away. A half hour later, I wasn’t thinking of that scene or its failings at all. The Shadow moves. There are a lot of characters and a lot of scenes–but the most memorable scenes are still quiet ones, except the finale, when Baldwin looks more like Howard Chaykin’s ultra-violent Shadow from the 1980s DC Comics revival. The memorable scenes are the ones between Miller and Baldwin–the romantic ones–and Baldwin and John Lone, who is the bad guy. The screenplay is exciting to experience. It’s why I went into Panic Room thinking it would be good. Because I loved David Koepp in the 1990s. I’m going to rewatch Carlito’s Way again, I loved this screenplay so much.

As frightening as it sounds (even to me)–The Shadow has reinvigorated my interest in film, I’m adding DVD after DVD to both Netflix and Blockbuster queues. It’s amazing storytelling….

I can’t explain it. You’ll just have to sit down and watch this film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by David Koepp, based on the character created by Walter B. Gibson; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Peter Honess and Beth Jochem Besterveld; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by Martin Bregman, Willi Baer and Michael S. Bregman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Lamont Cranston / The Shadow), Penelope Ann Miller (Margo Lane), John Lone (Shiwan Khan), Peter Boyle (Moe), Tim Curry (Farley Claymore), Ian McKellen (Dr. Reinhardt Lane) and Jonathan Winters (Wainwright Barth).


Cold Comfort Farm (1995, John Schlesinger)

Do the Brits have any major film movement? In the 1920s, the Germans had the expressionist movement. In the (what?) 1960s, there was the French New Wave. In addition to contributing more Greenhouse Effect-causing pollutants to the atmosphere, the United States has perfected the over-produced blockbuster. The British, however, have never really had a movement. There are some great (and good) British filmmakers, but the Archers never caused a revolution…

Cold Comfort Farm has no distinct style. It’s inoffensively directed, with a poor narrative structure, and some decent performances. It might be–obviously silly ones aside–Kate Beckinsale’s worst performance, because her character is as flat as an LCD screen. Rufus Sewell (whatever happened to him?) turns up with a similarly depth-less character. On the other hand, Ian McKellen has a lot of fun with his character. I always find it amusing when Ian McKellen’s good, since he’s since become such a ham (thanks, in no small part, to Bryan Singer).

So, while British cinema seems to lack any spectacular definition, Britain itself certainly contains quite a bit. There’s something charming about the British countryside, it’s a very definite setting and very obvious. Batman Begins used a British manor for an American mansion, something quite impossible. See, I’m even using words like “quite” and “definite.” That’s a bit of the problem with Cold Comfort Farm, it tries really damn hard to be charming. Even the theme. I listen to the theme and think, how charming. But that’s because of the theme, not because it’s the Cold Comfort Farm music.

Beckinsale improves (somewhat) throughout the picture, but she’s miscast. There’s no mischievousness, not even the hint of it, and the character needs some. Without it, she’s boring (and wholly unaffected by the momentous changes–though for good–she’s causing in people’s lives).

In the end, Cold Comfort left a defining plot thread undefined, something that gets it brownie points, but not enough to really change my opinion of it. Damn nice music though and British countryside. Shame about their cinematic output.

I realized, during the film, Britain’s best efforts seem to be in television, not film. Makes you wonder what PBS could do if nitwits weren’t trying to kneecap it.

Still, Cold Comfort is one of the last undefined films… Made in 1995, I don’t watch and think about that production date, something hard to do with current film output. Hmm. Maybe not “one of the last,” but certainly a fine example of an undated film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Schlesinger; written by Malcolm Bradbury, based on the novel by Stella Gibbons; director of photography, Chris Seager; edited by Mark Day; music by Robert Lockhart; production designer, Malcolm Thornton; produced by Richard Broke and Antony Root; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Flora Poste), Joanna Lumley (Mrs. Smiling), Rufus Sewell (Seth), Ian McKellen (Amos Starkadder), Stephen Fry (Mybug), Eileen Atkins (Judith Starkadder), Sheila Burrell (Ada Doom), Freddie Jones (Adam Lambsbreath) and Maria Miles (Elfine).


Over the Rainbow (2002, Ahn Jin-woo)

Lee Jung-Jae starred in the first Korean film I watched, Il Mare, and I’ve seen another one with him in it. Some bad one that was half-gritty cop movie and half English Patient. I probably did I write up, I remember typing that slight before.

Over the Rainbow is, therefore, his first good film. You can’t followed many actors anymore–even Meryl Streep throws you a curve these days–but it also gave me a nice introduction to Korean cinema. I go on and on about Korean films right after I watched one, then I say nothing about them for months, watch another and then go on and on for a while again. This film has a lot of problems. A lot of third act problems. It’s a cutesy mystery with a lot of flashbacks.

And some of the film doesn’t make sense. The flashbacks are to college, but it’s never specified how much time has elapsed since then to the story’s present period. It’s also predictable, but reminds me a great deal of the back of my old Sabrina (the remake) laserdisc. The conclusion is inevitable–you know what’s going to happen going in the door–but watching the film, seeing the people and their relationships develop–is what makes the experience rewarding.

Another review, somewhere I saw online because IMDb didn’t list writing credits, pointed out that, though Lee is good, the female lead, Jang Jin-Young, sort of walks off with the film. She’s excellent but the film coddles her for the first half or so, before you realize what’s going on. There’s nothing like watching a film and having no idea what you’re going to get in terms of a story. The last time I felt like that with an American film was Liberty Heights. And even though I had a rough idea what Over the Rainbow was about, I still got to experience it fresh. The only other way–besides foreign films–to get this feeling tends to be the “forgotten classic.” Wild River being my perfect example of that experience.

Warren Ellis, a decent comic book writer, said that he wasn’t all that impressed with Korean films because they were like Hollywood films, only not made by committee. Or something to that effect. I agree to a point, but Korean films seem to still love cinematic storytelling. They’re still excited about it. When Judy Garland sings “Over the Rainbow” and you lay it over some action, there’s power to it. Same with “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” which the film does in another scene. Both these songs, if they appeared in an American film, would likely be redone by Madonna or Jennifer Lopez or something. They’d be jokes. Ha ha, look at these sentimental fools. The sentimental has an important place in cinema. The most sentimental moment in American cinema in last–what, ten years?–came in Magnolia of all films. Certainly not regularly recognized for its sentimentality.

Over the Rainbow is a good example of exuberant, rewarding filmmaking. With one exception (the shitty cop/English Patient movie), all the Korean films I’ve seen are exuberantly made, in love with medium. So, I can’t say if you see one Korean film, see Over the Rainbow. But if you see three….

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ahn Jin-woo; director of photography, Kim Yeong-cheol; edited by Park Gok-ji; music by Clarence Hui; released by Kang Je-Kyu Film Co. Ltd.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Lee Jin-su), Jang Jin-young (Kang Yeong-hie), Kong Hyeong-jin (Kim Young-min), Jung Chan (Choi Sang-in) and Uhm Ji-won (Kim Eun-song).


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