Monday, October 29, 2012

All About Eve (1950)

"Fasten your seatbelts . . . " Say it with me, everyone, "it's gonna be a bumpy night." This rightly famous, and righteously sassy, line, comes from Bette Davis's aging, put still potent, actress Margo Channing in this classic film about women, show business, and ambition. The movie is loaded with juicy parts for women--the cutthroat manipulator Eve, Margo's good intentioned best friend Karen--even Marilyn Monroe makes an appearance! The film looks at what it takes for women to make it, and survive, as actresses, in a business run by (largely progressive and kind-hearted) men. It cleaned up at the Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for George Sanders as narrator and take-no-prisoners critic Addison Dewitt. But the main attraction is Davis's Margo, whose anger and snark takes up the whole screen.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chat: Gangs of New York AND Brokeback Mountain

Natalie: Wanna chat whatever movie we're supposed to chat next (and remind me what that movie is)?

Tracy: Sure! I'm thinking it's Brokeback/Gangs?

Natalie: Right--that sounds right

Tracy: So want to take Gangs first? I was excited to watch it again, and was taken with the first fifteen minutes, and then any part that Daniel Day Lewis was in.

Natalie: Ha! I did not watch Gangs again because I'd just watched it for the first time pretty recently. I liked it just fine but I'm beginning to suspect that I'm just not a Scorcese sort of girl.

Tracy: It's funny--I'm not a huge fan either, but there was something about this one that I was really taken with (along with Age of Innocence). It seemed a lot more lush and expressive than stuff like Taxi Driver or Raging Bull. Maybe I only like him when he's doing the past of New York?

Natalie: That's interesting. I tried to watch Age once when I was a teenager and just couldn't do it. I should try again (is it on the list?) now that I've read and liked the book. I liked the look and feel of the film for the most part but a lot of it felt really overindulgent to me, on Scorcese's part.

Tracy: (I'll go check.) Yeah, it was definitely flawed. There was too much Diaz, for one thing, and it tried to cover too much time. But it sort of played into some of my favorite literary tropes. You have these two men who are clearly living by an outdated system of honor, trying to settle their blood feud the way their fathers did, and that just doesn't work in the modern world. Also, it reminded me a bit of Faulkner--these huge Shakespearian/ancient Greek themes played out amongst these marginalized people in a relatively small community.

No Age of Innocence, btw.

Natalie: Those parts I liked and I very much liked the idea of it. Maybe if another director had done it . . . or with a crueler editor? Diaz needs to not be in movies. At all.

I'll just have to watch Age on my own I guess.

Tracy: It's also overindulgent, but beautiful, I think. And also has DDL! Plus, no Diaz! Apparently Gangs was a movie MS had wanted to make his whole career, and I could tell how much he loved it, but it still has these big problems. Accents being not a minor one.

Natalie: Oh the accents. Sigh. That MS wanted to make it his whole career makes sense and I can see it in the film. It's hard to tell your baby or have anyone tell you about your baby that it's imperfect or a touch too much.

Tracy: Exactly. So I like the spirit behind it, made me like it more than a much more accomplished film like The Aviator, but still, there's a reason I bought it but then didn't watch it until now. I'm not surprised or angry that it got dumped for Brokeback, and it's funny/interesting that yet again, we get two movies that sort of speak to each other, and about gender!

Natalie: Yeah, and why I didn't watch it again. We do have a lot of gender chatting going on this week! A lot of testosterone swirling around.

Tracy: Hold your nose! :) Brokeback was just as heartbreaking and lovely as I remembered. It had been awhile since I had seen this one as well, but again, we have these two men who are not in the right time, but in this case, they were too early.

Natalie:  HAHA! I remember seeing Brokeback in the theater but I don't remember it impacting me as much as it did with this viewing. Maybe it's because I was getting ready to go to the wedding of two gay men or the prevalence of the issue in the news or whatever else but, goodness, those two not being able to be together killed me. But I'm also always killed by people who love each other but can't be together--Guess Who's Coming to Dinner kills me even more because they're playing at being together.

Tracy: It's excruciating, especially when they turn on each other. And it sucks because Ennis has a point about the danger of their relationship, as proven by the possibility of the "real story" behind Jack's death, so they literally have no options, and their unhappiness radiates outward, particularly in Ennis's family. It's mean and unfair and really hard to accept. I guess just in terms of the movie as movie, do you feel the passage of time was handled well? Especially in terms of actors' makeup and such?

Natalie: No options at all and all of that juxtaposed against the daughter's engagement at the end--that she can have who she chooses. I didn't notice the make-up or anything else in a negative way but perhaps there needed to be a bit more. Those men were cowboys for some or all of their lives and would have been a tad more weather beaten I think.

Tracy: Yeah, and poor Jake always looks twelve, whether you slap a mustache on him or not. Oh! And it also got me with Jack's parents at the end.

Natalie: He does. They can't do much to age him. Ugh. The parents. The mother especially got me with her knowing looks and nods and just wrapping up the shirts to put in the bag like she completely understood. And I think she did--and accepted him anyway and loved Ennis for loving her son. Which was interesting because none of the other characters did that. Anne Hathaway's character may have had a clue at the end or maybe even before but we don't get much from her, much less compassion.
Tracy: That's true. It seems like the mom might have been the only one who would have accepted them, and we can all see how much power she has. Yeah. It's a tough one. But so gorgeously filmed. And featuring not-crazy-yet Randy Quaid!

Natalie: Gorgeously filmed. This is a good example of a film that loves and lingers on the landscape but doesn't over-do it. Ha! Randy Quaid--I skimmed right over the fact that that was him.

Tracy: Probably best! The book is mostly summary--talks about the "gay Western" aspect (and notes that Lonesome Cowboys did it first in 1969, but we won't be watching that). And then calls it "heartbreaking, honest, and refreshingly matter-of-fact" as well as drooling all over Ledger. Pretty typical. Although that 1969 thing reminds me of something fairly related--did you see/hear that story on NPR about a new book or article that says there's a difference between gayness and homosexuality, the former being a culture (Stonewall, ACT-UP, etc.) that is being lost? I just saw it on my newsfeed and meant to go back but haven't yet.

Natalie: That seems on par with everything else the book says. I haven't seen that article yet. That's interesting. I can see how there's a point but I might think that the culture aspect has just evolved because it doesn't have to do the same things it needed to do then--does that make sense?

Tracy: Yeah--1hJ and I were talking about it last night--again, out of both of our asses because I had read a 30-word summary and he hadn't heard of it at all--but right, that sort of up-front political activism might be fading now (though I'd be curious to hear his take on marriage equality). But if he's saying there's a right or wrong way to be gay, then that's troublesome--like current gay people are in straight-face or something? And it also leaves out lesbians and transgenders entirely. But again, I have no idea what he actually says.

Natalie: And the political culture has changed dramatically--because of that foundation there's no need to be the same culture. When the President says you're ok and he thinks you should be able to get married... But, yeah, I'd have to actually read the article.

Tracy: Me too. Just sort of a tangent. But are we for Brokeback bumping Gangs?
Natalie: Related tangent at least. I'm for it. I'd rather bump something else that was actually terrible instead of just indulgent but I do like Brokeback much much better.

Tracy: Agreed. And I guess it's not a one-to-one thing anyway, but I'm cool with Gangs not being in there. I have to do a lot of work to like it.

Natalie: Yeah, ditto and ditto.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gangs of New York (2002) and Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Another head-to-head match-up, this time centering on two respected directors taking on masculinity and history. Gangs of New York was a pet project of Martin Scorsese's for years, and his look at the birth of modernity in New York City didn't light the critics on fire, but it did nab several Academy Award nominations, including one for a scene-stealing Daniel Day Lewis as Bill the Butcher. It also marks the beginning of Scorsese's love affair with Leonardo DiCaprio. Brokeback Mountain is auteur Ang Lee's adaptation of an Annie Proulx short story. Though mainly known as the "gay cowboy" movie, it says much about love, compromise, and two people meeting each other at the right place in the wrong time. It snagged best director for Lee, and many wailed that Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams were robbed for not winning in their respective categories. Should Gangs have gotten bumped? Does Brokeback deserve a spot? What are our feelings on Cameron Diaz? These questions and many more will be answered in our chat!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chat: All the President's Men

Tracy:  So--ready to discuss non-denial denials and Deep Throat?

Natalie:  Absolutely! I've heard a lot about this movie--basically just that it's excellent--and, while I didn't dislike it, I was a tad underwhelmed.

Tracy:  Really? I was interested to hear what you thought coming to it the first time. I don't remember a time when I hadn't seen this movie, so I don't think I'm really objective. Did you think it was boring? Paced weird?

Natalie:  I guess part of it was that it felt more like a documentary in that I knew what was going to happen but it wasn't as revelatory as really good docs can be--with those gasp moments where you think "I didn't know that" or at least "I didn't think of that in that way." Maybe because everything was played at the same tone? I didn't dislike it but I wish I'd come away from it with something more than I knew/felt before--even if just about the actor's performances (I already knew those guys were great).

Tracy:  Yeah, I can see that. I wonder what it was like to watch it when it first came out--if there were those kind of revelations. I think I'm really in love with the idea of it. It seems to me like the perfect movie to watch on the Fourth. Like, these two dudes brought down a corrupt president, in a completely bloodless way, just by being curious and determined. And I LOVE Ben Bradlee/Jason Robards, who I'm convinced is the same person. "We stand by our story." I don't know--there's something about the actual history that is so moving to me that I love the movie just because it reminds me of it, I guess.

Natalie:  Yeah, I think that part you love the idea of is part of why it didn't quite work for me in reality. I, too, love the idea of taking down a powerful guy whose done serious wrong just because he's done wrong, not because of a political affiliation or vendetta. But I guess I didn't quite feel the passion--even if it were just for reporting--or the urgency of the situation that I like in other news-y movies/shows. And I know the passion/urgency was there--otherwise there would be no visiting people repeatedly when they couldn't get the whole story or freaking out about bugs in that great scene with the typewriter. I don't know. I think it's a great story to tell and one that needs to be told but it didn't quite catch me.

Tracy:  It is really subdued--even in palate, soundtrack, etc.. Did you see Zodiac? And if so, did you get the same sort of sense that it was lacking in passion/urgency? For some reason, I think of these two movies as being similar (though one group was successful and the other not), in that they're really dramatic stories told in a subdued way, where the focus is more on the workaday sort of process of doing this exciting thing.

Natalie:  Hmmm. I did see Zodiac. I guess I felt more urgency there because people were dying. I don't know. It's strange--on paper, this is a movie I like a LOT. Maybe if Paul Newman had been in it.

Tracy:  Hah! That helps with most any situation. Even though it wasn't a favorite, do you still think it should be in the book?

Natalie:  I would keep it because it seems important in the newsroom genre and while I know what happened, we're getting so far past the situation that people younger than us are getting a little vague on the facts. And, I do like that this version made it about the reporters, made those guys the focus and the heroes, as opposed to focusing on the villainy of the situation alone. And, it was well-made and acted and etc.

Tracy:  That's true--I love the way the news footage and stuff is marginalized by the constant typing of the dudes churning out the stories. On a non-movie note, I was really glad a) to have finally found out who Deep Throat was (not Hal Holbrook!) and b) that he got to be recognized for what he did before he died.

Natalie:  Ha! He wasn't Hal Holbrook?! I liked that aspect, too. It is a really nuanced film when I think about it. Anyway, the book is vague only giving some summary info and this: "The ultimate in investigative journalism pictures…continually pleases for the entertaining intelligence at work. It is among the most gripping, deft, and utterly compelling of thrillers, and this despite being based on well-known facts whose conclusion is never in doubt."

Tracy:  That is a non-review review!

Natalie:  I know!

Tracy:  What is "entertaining intelligence"?

Natalie:  I don't know. It took me reading that three times to figure out they meant work as a verb not a noun. Strangely written sentence.

Tracy:  Do you think the movie would be as lauded if it were about something not real? Same actors, cinematic choices, everything, but about a fake scandal? Something in me says no.

Natalie:  Hmmm. Yeah, I'd bet no. It seems an artsy choice when it's about something we already know about, and a folk-hero lauding choice when we already knows tons about the bad guy(s). Without the real-life widely-known info . . . it probably gets a little vague.

Tracy:  Yeah--then I think all the stuff you mention about the lack of urgency would become more pronounced. We the audience bring a lot of urgency with us simply because we know (hopefully!) what was at stake. Makes me want to ask my students to summarize Watergate for me tomorrow, just so I can be really depressed.

Natalie:  HA! While you're at it, toss in some 80s and 90s trivia so you can feel really depressed. They're super young.
They were playing NIN at IHop the other day. I guess it's "retro" and safe the play in public now?

Tracy:  Oh, that's just too upsetting. I heard Nirvana on the oldies station the other day.

Natalie::  HAHAHAHA! That's really terrible. But, true. Sigh.

Tracy:  So yeah--I guess we're both on board with keeping AtPM. Wonder if there are any other newsroom flicks it influenced. I mean, this was certainly not at all like His Girl Friday.

Natalie:  Yep, on board. That's an interesting question. It's not at all like His Girl Friday or anything from that period, I'd imagine. And everything that I know of that's contemporaneous or newer seems to operate on a faster pace and the urgency of the immediate story rather than the slow hard work of research without immediate gratification.

Tracy:  It seems almost anomalous as a newsroom movie, and it's not quite a political thriller either. Documentary-esque is probably the best way to describe it.

Natalie:  Yeah. It's strange that no one has copied it that we can think of. You'd think someone would.

 Tracy:  Yeah, especially since it's so acclaimed. So we've got the Brokeback vs. Gangs of NY face-off next, yes?

Natalie::  Not quite. Senso is up first.

Tracy:  Oh, right! My version of Ambien!   Have you watched it yet?

Natalie::  I have not. Maybe I will tonight and I'll get a good night's sleep

Tracy:  Hah! Will be anxious to discuss it with you.

Natalie:  We'll have to see how long it takes me to watch it depending on how many naps I have to take in the middle.

Tracy:  I'm telling you, it took me the better part of a day. But that was a no-coffee day, so maybe that was part of the problem!

Natalie:  AH. I'll make sure to load up on caffeine and sugar then.

Tracy:  Yes. It's a must.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

All the President's Men (1974)

This is one of those movies that has somehow squirreled its way into my DNA. I never remember a time when I hadn't seen it, and I've rewatched it countless time. It was even the inspiration behind an ill-fated journalism class I took one summer in high school. Less a frenetic newspaper movie and more a detective story, it slowly--very slowly--and methodically traces the painstaking reporting and investigative work Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Woodstein!) accomplish to bring down a president.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Chat: Senso (The Wanton Countess)

Natalie: Are you busy or chattable?

Tracy: I'm doing some grading, but it's definitely not capturing all my attention! How's your morning? Want to talk Senso?

Natalie: Morning is fine. I'm getting frustrated with my shirt not cooperating under my cardigan but that's the worst of it. But, yeah, I can chat Senso

Tracy: Hah! That is frustrating. So my thoughts on Senso were pretty much contained to "pretty dresses" and "yet another movie where people don't know how to have an affair."

Natalie: I can add in "I like how her pretty dresses match the sets at certain points" like when she's running through the street early on in a greyish beigeish dress the same color as the stone. But, otherwise, it was terribly drawn out and melodramatic. I couldn't finish it. I got to the point where he talks her into paying the doctor--and it was painful to get that far--and I'd pretty much figured out what was going to happen (confirmed on wikipedia).

Tracy: I know. Another note I wrote was "She's getting played!" You've seen/read a lot more Williams than I have. Did you see any of him in this?

Natalie: Oooh, um. Well, Williams examines these sorts of relationships but I feel like he does with a lot more economy and truth. And not so much melodrama. His stuff is more raw than soap-y. Did someone say Williams was connected?

Tracy: He and Paul Bowles contributed to the script. I thought it was just the "English" version, but their names were in the credits, so I guess they were involved in polishing this one as well? And that's true--more raw than soap-y, even though the plot might be similar.

Natalie: Huh. I didn't know that. I see more Bowles if only in the sprawling aspect. I would think with Williams involved it would have been more explosive. I know Williams spent a lot of time in Italy...

Tracy: Yeah, and maybe the political stuff, which I was also underwhelmed by. It's like the entire war just existed to make this affair more of a transgression for the countess, but they forgot to really contextualize why her political allegiance mattered for her country or family or whatever.

Natalie: I'm seeing that Williams and Bowles did dialogue for a 94 minute English version--but if they were credited in the Italian one. Strange. Anyway, yeah, the war was just a backdrop. Kind of like Gallipoli. Every now and then they go, "Oh! We're at war!" and it's an excuse for dude to wear an improbably white ginormous cape while flinging himself on street grates and grass and whatnot.

Tracy: Hah! That cape was a character in and of itself. So yeah. I don't know whether we should feel like his execution was ultimately a good thing--that he deserved it for being a dick or for being Austrian--or if we were supposed to judge the Countess for being stupid and then acting out in revenge. The political plot and the love plot just didn't go together.

Natalie: No, it didn't go together at all. I guess I can be on board with his execution because he did violate his terms of military service what with the bribery but it did not fit with the love story at all.

Tracy: Even the book doesn't seem to really have a reason for liking it. It was apparently a departure for the director, both in style (color) and content (aristocracy rather than working class). They call it a "distinctly high-class melodrama" and give props to Farley Granger for "letting it rip with his self-loathing." Ah. The director usually directs operas. That makes sense.

Natalie: oooooooh. Yeah, it is operatic I suppose and there is the opera at the beginning. Although all I could think during that part is "who takes a bayonet to the opera." Yet another example of how the war wasn't contextualized.
Tracy: Hah! I guess you never know when you might have to skewer someone. As an aside, Farley Granger is a pretty fun name. But yeah, you couldn't finish, I kept falling asleep--do we think it belongs in le book?

Natalie: Ha! Farley Granger is an excellent name. Sounds good for a muppet-furred dog. I wouldn't keep it in le book. You?

Tracy: I don't think so. Let me see if any other films from this director are in there.

Natalie: Good question.

Tracy: Oh, there's a ton: Ossessione, Rocco and his Brothers, and The Leopard!!!! I would definitely boot Senso. We have enough from this dude, and The Leopard, though I also thought it was way too slow, was better.

Natalie: Oh wow! I was thinking maybe if this dude normally does working class that's why this one felt so odd but the Leopard is totally aristocracy and it didn't seem odd. Too long but not melodramatic and thin.

Tracy: Maybe this was the transitional movie? Rocco looks working class from the picture. I guess we'll see if the previous two are better, but I feel safe saying no to Senso.

Natalie: Yeah. Hopefully we don't see for a while. So, boot Senso!

Tracy: Arrividerci.