Just about done getting over my cold, but still trying to recover from Sunday's trip to see a very big movie. here's some thoughts while trying not to refresh USS Mariner every five minutes to see if the Mariners have done anything at the Winter Meetings yet (please can I have Manny Ramirez for Christmas?)
April Story - The first film I've seen from director Shunji Iwai, but it won't be the last. Takako Matsu plays a young girl (Uzuki) from Hokkaido who goes off to college in Tokyo. She moves into an apartment, meets her classmates, joins the fly-fishing club, goes book shopping, watches a movie and falls in love. That's about it for the film's 67 minute running time. Uzuki regularly gets into situations which would, in a lesser film, be played for horror are disturbing "realism" but Iwai always chooses the romantic option instead (much like Miranda July did in Me & You & Everyone We Know). It's beautifully shot in a rather soft focus hand-held style, with what appears to be some kind of filter create a white glow throughout the film (that could just be the focus and lighting, though). Simple (in the best sense) and perfectly charming, but may cause the heads of the cynical to explode with rage. The #5 film of 1998.
Written On The Wind - Classic Douglas Sirk melodrama starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone. Stack (looking weirdly like Sean Penn) plays an alcoholic heir to an oil tycoon, Malone's his sister who's in love with Hudson, his annoyingly perfect best friend. Stack and Hudson meet Bacall and both fall in love with her. She marries Stack, but his drinking and jealousy of his friend soon cause everything to fall apart. There's some fights, some crying, a mysterious pregnancy and amazing audio-only flashback (terrifically acted by Malone) all told in Sirk's sweeping, hyperbolic style. The #4 film of 1956.
7 Women - John Ford's last fiction film is about a small mission in Northern China in 1935. The mission's threatened by a Mongol bandit on the warpath and its quiet conservative life is disrupted by the arrival of Anne Bancroft, a doctor who bears a striking resemblance (in attitude and dress) to Katherine Hepburn. Above all, a visual experience in the manner of the very best Ford films, it's surprisingly short, so the women don't become as well-defined as in, say, Seven Samurai, instead the film is more a relaxed examination of the interactions between types. Relaxed in the way that only an old, great director can make a film. The #5 film of 1966.
Mary Of Scotland - Katherine Hepburn stars as the eponymous Queen of Scots in yet another Ford film, this from 1936. Fredric March displays his customary, uniquely elm-like approach to acting as Mary's boyfriend and ideal of Scottish manliness the Earl of Bothwell. The plot is standard modified for Hollywood historical epic, with Elizabeth I villainized and Mary idealized, concealing a not so subtle anti-feminist rant as Elizabeth symbolizes the ruthless career gal while Mary's a mother and a woman in love. Hepburn's performance is able to overcome that for the most part, but the film's really only interesting as an example of Ford's growth as a filmmaker, as he experiments with expressive shadows, low camera angles (lots of ceilings) and purposeful zooms, visual experiments which would pay off in the late 30s-early 40s with Young Mr. Lincoln, Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home and How Green Was My Valley.
The Fountain - I've decided I can't really discuss it without giving away too many spoilers, so suffice it to say at this point that I liked it alright. It wasn't great, nor particularly profound (or rather, original), but I wouldn't call it pretentious either. I appreciate the sincerity and ambition behind it, and while I don't think the film is totally successful, I admire Aranovsky's effort. Visually it was somewhat interesting, but not especially beautiful, though that opinion could change with further study. In particular Aranovsky does a lot of repetition and variation on certain shots, where the similarities and differences convey thematic meanings, but that'd take more than one viewing for me to sort out. Both Jackman and Weisz were pretty good, which I've never thought of either of them before. It's actually grown on me in the couple weeks since I watched it, but I still don't think it's as great as it wants to be.
Masque Of The Red Death - Reportedly the best of Roger Corman's Vincent Price Poe adaptations, this film plays like a vibrantly colored B-horror version of The Seventh Seal. Sometime in Medieval Italy, a young innocent redhead is kidnapped and held prisoner by the local Count (Price). Turns out the Count and all his court are Satanists, and there's a plague raging in the town outside (part of the eponymous Red Death). The Count tries to corrupt the young girl with lengthy philosophical discussions and demonstrations of the correctness of his evil religion, while her boyfriend tries to rescue her and big parties rage through the castle. Dizzying, expressionistic and always weird. The #9 film of 1964.
Sátántangó - How could I possibly capsulize a film like this? Béla Tarr's 7 1/2 hour epic certainly lived up to the hype, it was even better than I expected. Believe it or not, despite its extreme length, the remarkable length of the takes (there's only 230 or so shots in the whole film, about the same as two minutes of a Tony Scott film), and the subject matter (decollectivizing a small village in post-communist Hungary) the film is never boring. Either the camera or the actors are almost always in motion, and when the shot is static, the effect is so striking that you can't look away. It runs the whole range of human emotion and experience: horror, love, awe, happiness, confusion, friendship, hope, depression, resignation and drunkenness. The film's also shockingly funny, in a mordant, Eastern European sort of way.
More poetic than other novelistic films I've seen (Marcel Carné's Children Of Paradise, Gone With The Wind, Reds, Birth Of A Nation, and so on), often there's very little happening plot wise, but amazing things occurring visually (movements across landscapes, amazing super-winds, a seemingly endless dance-sequence that's as exhausting for the audience as it is for the dancers).
It'll be out on DVD in North America soon, but theatrically is the way to see it if you get the chance. Above all, don't break it up into separate segments. It's meant to be seen all at once and works perfectly that way. Spreading it across a couple of days would only ruin its effect by destroying the considerable momentum the film builds up. Take a day and watch it, you won't regret it. The #3 film of 1994, behind only Chungking Express and Pulp Fiction.