Category Archives: Special Screenings

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

This year’s New York Film Festival played host to a 15th Anniversary screening of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coens’ Dirty Thirties road movie, though it hardly seems like that much time has passed. I might have described O Brother differently — say, the Coens’ Dust Bowl love letter or the Coens’ Homer homage or the period highbrow escapee buddy whatever — except that the directing duo melted all of that babble away in the post-screening “discussion” of their writing process. “We just started with ‘three guys on the road'” said Joel; Ethan added, “then we tarted it up with Homer.” That was that. Next question. The Coens are experts at both of those things: interpretive film direction and film interpretation deflection.

But they were no less the storytellers on stage, despite their succinctness, and they were joined by O Brother stars George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as well as legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. The latter was a pleasant surprise, and though the Coens have recently worked with the likes of Emmanuel Lubezki and Bruno Delbonnel it’s endlessly exciting that Deakins will return to the fold (as will Clooney) for the next Coen film Hail, Caesar!; if it’s at all the blend of O Brother and Barton Fink that it appears to be, then it can’t come soon enough.

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It Happened One Night (1934)

Boston’s Brattle Theatre screened a new restoration of the Frank Capra classic It Happened One Night this past weekend, fittingly coming on the eve of the 87th Academy Awards — Night was the first film to win Oscar’s Big Five, taking Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay in the face of strong competition from the likes of The Thin Man. The restoration improved the quality of the original not by colorizing it or replacing the deleted scene where Clark Gable’s Peter discovers a magical portal to the planet Zaferonz (you didn’t hear about that?), but simply by touching up the considerable damage to the original print.

Scripts from this era of American film are always fascinating, mostly because they’re so different from today’s scripts. It Happened One Night falls only a handful of years after talkies came about, but the ensuing decade would typify a dedication to screenwriting that’s much rarer these days. It’s why I adore films like The Big Sleep, and it’s largely why It Happened One Night remains such an endearing version of a very familiar story.

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The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

A career retrospective on Alec Guinness runs at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston this week, starting with the Ealing Comedy The Lavender Hill Mob. There are a lot of actors and actresses today who get credit for switching between drama and comedy, and it seems there are more and more dark-and-gritty roles being taken by comedians these days (see: Jonah Hill, Chris Pratt, Jesse Eisenberg, Adam Sandler). It’s worked the other way, too, which is why Tom Cruise shows up in Tropic Thunder and ends up being the best part.

Guinness was something else. This isn’t a dramatic actor trying comedy any more than his role in Bridge on the River Kwai is a comedic actor attempting drama — it’s just Alec Guinness, for lack of a more detailed explanation, completely at home in both arenas. Granted The Lavender Hill Mob isn’t a laughfest of super-zany proportions (Guinness nailed those too, though, with Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers), but it’s a far cry from Kwai.

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Starred Up (2014)

Starred Up played this week at the tail end of the Fall Focus presented by Independent Film Festival Boston. Though technically a 2013 release, the British prison drama has yet to really come out stateside and remains very much a movie of interest. Part of this is due to the recent emergence of Jack O’Connell on the international stage – he carried the little-seen ’71 and will carry the likely-to-be-widely-seen Unbroken, and he’s even in the Oscar conversation for the latter. O’Connell’s been in a bunch of stuff prior to the last few years, and his young role in the comparatively weak Michael Fassbender film Eden Lake probably foreshadows what’s to come most effectively. But if you want top-notch O’Connell in a nearly-top-notch film, Starred Up is the one to check out.

The prison genre is a storied one in film. Starred Up is a very different movie than Bronson – one of the most brilliant entries in the genre in recent memory – but it still recalls the 2008 Tom Hardy flick a little too heavily at times. This might be an inescapable element of the genre – it’s a prison movie, what did you expect? – but it might also be because O’Connell’s Eric Love simply seems to want the incredible amount of violence swirling around his little stone cell. Bronson and Love seem to share that from the outset – there is a scene in both films in which guards pile up outside the cell door in full riot gear as the gleeful prisoner, be it the hulking Bronson or the roguish Love, douses himself in oil and and prepares for the fight. The fight seems ritualistic, and for Bronson it certainly is. It’s sport. But this is where Starred Up and Eric Love diverge, and while it’s not necessarily a better film it’s certainly a more grounded, realistic genre entry.

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Casey Affleck presented a screening of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford at the Brattle Theatre in Boston last night, on hand for a Q&A following the film. Though Assassination is still sadly much more of an “obscure” offering – at least in terms of films starring Brad Pitt – it nonetheless remains a fascinating character study of both a young man and his mythical idol.

Robert Ford joins the James Gang alongside his brother Charlie at a time when Jesse James has already achieved infamy through his brazen robberies and brutal murders. Bob is only nineteen years old at this point (although he “feels older”), and his fascination with the gang is a mixture of childish wonder, starstruck glee, and perhaps a hint of inflated self-importance. He believes he’s destined for “great things”, by which he really means he believes himself to be a worthy follower of Jesse or even one who could take his place. As his place in the gang is solidified over the course of the film and his presence at Jesse’s side becomes more and more common, Bob’s perception of his onetime hero begins to deteriorate.

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