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Monday, January 30, 2023

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This Week We’ve Been Watching…

    Mike’s Been Watching…

GILDA [Main Picture]
DIR: Charles Vidor
To my shame I had never seen Gilda before this weekend. Its weighty reputation suggested I’d find one of the very best films of the 1940’s, and a staple of the Film Noir genre. Well, I found the former, but not the latter. Its story is of crime, yes, and Rita Hayworth makes for a stunning femme fatale, but the film is a drama more than anything, playing from and not into the shadows that dominate Noir, which itself derives from German Expressionism. There isn’t a stock gumshoe detective to be seen, and the pitter-patter dialogue is played straight; this is a film about character, and while I somewhat understand the Noir tag – traits are certainly present – I think it does the film a disservice, and brings expectations to a first viewing that can’t hope to be matched.

Hayworth is truly enrapturing in her role. Both seductive and dangerous, her character has one of the all-time great introductions, and it’s a rare soul who doesn’t lose a piece of their heart to the “Put The Blame On Mame” sequence. Yet the film is really worth watching for the incredible Glenn Ford, an actor incapable of fakery whose every move seems natural – he’d been out of the frame for three years before Gilda, but he remains magnetically watchable, and completely holds the film together.

Critics at the time said that the film was “static” in its direction, but I found lots of the camerawork to be fluid and engaging, and certainly tracking shots are used effectively (if sparingly). In fact, Vidor had some experience in musicals (Cover Girl, 1944), and that shows a little in his direction here, especially in the way he shoots glamour. So, Gilda may not have been what I was lead to believe, but it’s still excellent, and highly recommendable.

DIR: William Richert

Winter Kills is one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, and its production history is fascinating. Based on the blackly comic 1974 novel by Richard Condon, the controversial story takes place in an alternate post-Kennedy America where a President has been assassinated. Nineteen years later the President’s half-brother Nick (Jeff Bridges) picks up a conspiracy trail after meeting the supposed shooter, who confesses to the crime on his deathbed. No major studio would green-light the project so director Richert sought funding from Sterling Gold, a company run by Robert Sterling and Leonard Goldman, who had previously produced the softcore Emmanuelle films, and had ties to the mob; they were known mass producers and dealers of marijuana. The film slowly assembled a big-name cast, including John Huston, Sterling Hayden and Anthony Perkins (who excels here), while ToshirĂ´ Mifune (playing Nick’s butler) and Eli Wallach (playing a gay cop) round out the supporting cast. The film also had heavyweights behind the camera; Vilmos Zsigmond was DP and Robert Boyle the Production Designer, as he had been on some of Hitchcock’s latter-day films, including North By Northwest (1959). The production was eventually shut down due to a lack of funding and as soon as it got back on its feet Goldberg was assassinated. Richert had to make another picture in Germany to fund the end of this one but it proved to be a financial flop, and now exists as an exciting, satirically serpentine 70’s curio; flawed to the hilt, but indelibly essential. The UK DVD seems to have been dramatically cut yet the film still remains entirely compelling. There’s honestly nothing else quite like it, and despite the abundant problems I wholly recommend it. This one will only rise in stature and importance. Mark my words.

    Sam’s Been Watching…

DIR: Seth Gordon

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘Oh God, here he goes again, banging on about the state of modern comedy and how he laments the fact that they can’t live up to the likes of Ghostbusters, Trading Places, The Naked Gun or even Hot Shots: Part Deux’. Okay, so you’re not entirely wrong, and Horrible Bosses doesn’t redress the balance, or even get near being an especially good comedy. But it’s not awful, which, sadly, is something.

Really the problem is that it doesn’t seem to recognise its greatest asset; the bosses themselves (played by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell), who are all caricatures – best explained by the posters labelling them ‘Psycho’, ‘Maneater’ and ‘Tool’ respectively – but are also far and away the funniest thing in the film (as a Friends hater I never thought I’d laugh at Jennifer Aniston). Farrell is the real comedy gem here though, giving a fantastically game performance, and unleashing what he called ‘my inner douche’. Unfortunately he’s in the film for about seven minutes.

For the most part we’re left with Jason’s Bateman and Sudeikis and Charlie Day, playing the College buddies (which lacks credibility because Day looks much younger than the others) who are conspiring to kill each other’s bosses (a Strangers on a Train riff, one of many movie references shoehorned in here) with the occasional overpriced help of ‘murder consultant’ Jamie Foxx. The problem is that these three aren’t all that interesting, nor are they very funny. In fact they’re really a comedy team made up of three straight men – at least until Day gets a personality transplant for the second act, for no very good reason.

So, I laughed a few times, but the central characters here are dull. Refocused this might have been a much funnier film than it is, but hey, at least it’s not Bad Teacher.

DIR: Mike Mills

Thumbsucker director Mike Mills’ latest dramedy has plenty going for it, notably a clutch of strong performances from leads Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer (as McGregor’s Father, who comes out aged 75) and Melanie Laurent (as an actress McGregor romances soon after his Father passes away) and script that is sensitively written and sometimes drolly funny.

Unfortunately it just doesn’t connect. There’s a sense that Mills hasn’t decided which movie to make; the meet cute rom-com or the bittersweet drama about a Father and Son who connect only shortly before the older man’s death, and the two bleed into one another in ways that feel messy, and make each part harder to warm to. That’s especially true of the rom-com because, despite McGregor and Laurent’s chemistry, the pall of sadness that hangs over the film means that you are kept at arms length from engaging with it. I wish there had been a bit more of the character of McGregor’s amusingly abrasive mother (played in flashbacks by Mary Page Keller) and little less of the rather pretentious recurring sequences of narrated slideshows.

With a firmer hand and a more consistent tone this could have been great, but McGregor, Plummer and the ever adorable Laurent are well worth your time and Beginners is a film that is admirable, even if it’s not easily enjoyable.

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