The Earrings of Madame de… is the English-language title for Madame de…, as it was released in France, which heralds the heart-shaped diamond jewelry — not its owner — as the star of the film. The earrings do indeed play a major role, significantly altering the lives of those who possess them, seemingly propelled by their own willpower from one owner to another and back again. With a pinch more malice this would be The Lord of the (Ear)rings, a fantasy tale about tempting jewelry that instills a deadly pride in those who dare purport to wield such power. But the passionately humanist Max Ophüls ensures that this is always really the story of Madame de…, not simply of her diamonds, and the themes of pride and ownership don’t necessarily involve the earrings at all.
That sleight-of-hand is one of the many reasons Madame de… stands as the most highly-praised work by Ophüls, whose career as a filmmaker was constantly capsized by the onset of World War II. A German-born Jew, Ophüls fled and became a French citizen in 1938, only to have to flee further to the U.S. There he failed to break into Hollywood until an admirer of his work recommended him to Howard Hughes; it helped that the admirer was none other than Preston Sturges. Ophüls directed five Hollywood productions before returning to Europe in 1950, where a new stage of his filmmaking career blossomed. Each of his final films — La ronde (1950), Le plaisir (1952), Madame de… and Lola Montes (1955) — is a masterful achievement in its own right, championed thereafter by the likes of Samuel Fuller, Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Continue reading The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) →
You could call Roma the most colorful black-and-white film ever made. After the Centerpiece screening at the 56th New York Film Festival, writer/director Alfonso Cuarón noted how important the visual presentation was to the overall effect of the movie. Crucial among his points was that this black-and-white is “not a nostalgic black-and-white” but instead “modern” and “pristine,” disabusing the viewer of the notion that this tale is unfolding in a long-forgotten place or time. Despite being assured throughout the film that the place is Mexico City and the year is 1971, Roma simultaneously manages to assure you that what’s happening is happening here and now.
You could also single out the production design, the incredible detail in every frame of the film, as a primary contributor to this experience of color in a movie that supposedly doesn’t have any. A sweeping shot of the countryside seems to give off a yellow hue because the lighting is so sunny and natural; muddy brown makes its way into an otherwise cold shot of a discarded action figure and a flattened soccer ball in the garage outside. A rock thrown through a window in one scene leaves a hole that we look through weeks later, and somehow this lasting detail even evokes color in clear glass.
Continue reading Roma (2018) →
Hitler is back. This is the premise, plot, and entirety of Look Who’s Back. There is essentially nothing else — certainly no explanation of why or how the actual Adolf came to awaken in a playground in modern-day Berlin, certainly no plot wherein he has to find his way back to the ’40s or continues time traveling and attempting to conquer Future Berlin after Future Berlin. He’s just back.
This, of course, is elementally terrifying. The man is known worldwide as the incarnation of Evil, as a man intent on power and privilege, as not a man at all. The Return of Hitler is actually not an uncommon film narrative, admittedly not usually depicting the literal return of the human being but his figurative return in one form or another. American History X and any other neo-Nazi-led drama inexorably deals with the resurgence of Hitler’s ideals; it’s not just drama for the sake of drama, either, as documentaries like Skokie: Invaded But Not Conquered prove. The subject of that film is a guy named Frank Collin, but he’s really a thinly-veiled pipsqueak version of Hitler himself. These unfortunate reincarnations are very real, and they are very dangerous, and they are very scary.
Continue reading Look Who’s Back (2015) →
It’s fitting that The Revenant pushes the limits of film, ceasing mercifully only just before breaking, because that’s exactly what happens to Hugh Glass. If you’re one of the people behind the film, crafting it, then you have to push the limit: you’re Alejandro Iñárritu or Emmanuel Lubezki, coming off the exquisite Birdman and arguably at the height of your career, seemingly happy to be shouldered with the weight of expectation or otherwise just left with no choice. If you’re one of the people in front of the film, watching it, you want it to push the limit: if you’re watching The Revenant in the first place, you’re likely quite certain that you’re in for a challenging watch and not a brain-switched-off actioner.
But if you’re one of the people inside the film, acting in it, living it, then being pushed to the limit means actually being pushed to the limit. Throughout 2015 stories of the extremely arduous on-location filming of Revenant trickled down from that remote region of Alberta, from the torrential rains of British Columbia, from the freezing southernmost tip of Argentina. Ten people quit or were fired during production. In July Hollywood Reporter ran an article about the brutal conditions on set, prompting more and more questions about the safety precautions and the direction of the film. Blurbs from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and the rest of the cast make The Revenant shoot sound more life-threatening than that of Apocalypse Now or Fitzcarraldo; Iñárritu himself has since taken to referring to the cast and crew as “survivors”.
Continue reading The Revenant (2015) →
What do you want out of a superhero show? There’s no shortage, of course — you’re getting superheroes whether they’re what you want or not. They’re everywhere. Shakespearian actors are nudging each other out of the way for the chance to play a purple-faced mind-controller. At least kids across America are thankful that there’s something to be for Halloween besides Harry Potter. Heck, even the Academy Awards are doling out statuettes for superheroism (although there’s something special about Birdman winning Best Picture, as if the Academy were trying to fight back). There’s no way around it: the increasingly staggering numbers of superflicks hitting theaters over the next half-decade can now be measured in metric shit-tons. The only thing more tiresome than the parade of superheroes is the commentary about how the parade of superheroes is so tiresome.
And, yeah, the shared universe gripes/laudations are just as stale, but here we are. Marvel in particular has reached the point where they seem to want it both ways: they want their superheroes to be intricately connected to every other superhero and yet be distinctly standalone. And, yeah: Jessica Jones. The latest entry in Marvel’s grand scheme has more inherent push/pull to the interconnectedness thing than any other installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that includes the Netflix predecessor Daredevil. On one hand Jessica is about as far away as you’re gonna get from Captain America, and maybe that marks trouble for an inevitable crossing-of-paths — either the dark tone of Jones would be compromised to accommodate Cap or the other way around.
Continue reading Jessica Jones – Season 1 →
- The Prometheus sequel is moving forward as Ridley Scott’s next film under the official title Alien: Paradise Lost. Hard to pass judgement on title alone, but for the moment we’re cautiously pessimistic.
- Speaking of Alien, Sigourney Weaver has confirmed a cameo in the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, which you probably know as “the all-female Ghostbusters reboot” to such a degree that the title could be The All-Female Ghostbusters Reboot.
- Spectre‘s theme song “Writing’s on the Wall” has been released, featuring the crooning vocals of Sam Smith, and can be heard in full over on Spotify. I haven’t actually listened to it, and won’t until I’m firmly in my seat in the theater for Spectre, but apparently it’s divisive so far without any of the visual/story context. On another note, isn’t it weird that so few photos of Christoph Waltz’s villain have leaked?
- Some beautiful new stills from The Revenant hit the interwebs yesterday, teasing the exclusive use of natural light throughout Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman follow-up. For those of you who have been pining for a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio standing before a mountain of buffalo skulls, today is your lucky day.
Continue reading Film & TV News: September 29 →
One of the most egregious snubs in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences concerns last year’s Best Actor trophy, and no, it has nothing to do with Leonardo DiCaprio. Eddie Redmayne walked away with the Oscar for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and indeed his performance was groundbreaking and heartfelt. But it pales in comparison to the tour de force delivered by Body, the Hungarian star of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, in his role as the tortured, tragic, life-loving, revenge-seeking, slobber-mouthed Hagen. Due respect to Redmayne, but Body’s performance is simply one of the most emotional and drool-covered performances in years.
As a young actor Body was met with obstacle after obstacle as he tried to make ends meet while pursuing his craft. He auditioned for some of the most iconic roles of our time and even received a callback for The Beast from The Sandlot, but the dude who played Mr. Mertle claimed Body was “impossible to work with” and cited the Hungarian-English language barrier as a primary qualm. He was an extra in Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch but soon disowned the film and distanced himself from the creative vision of the entire Air Bud series. Body struggled to be taken seriously as an actor, forced to take work in Iams commercials and as a busboy of sorts in the alley behind an L.A. hotspot.
Continue reading White God (2014) →
One writer I enjoy reading and rereading is Don DeLillo, author of Underworld and White Noise — arguably his most famous works — and my personal favorite Libra. I rambled about him in relation to Birdman in this article. His relation to True Detective? Negligible, mostly, except for the fact that the sheer volume of characters in play during the second season of the HBO series has frequently recalled the densely-populated neighborhoods of DeLillo’s books. This dude packs characters into his stories, and if it gets out of control at times it’s still a very intentional and graspable phenomenon wherein the primary characters both stand out from the pack and blend into it. They get sort of out of control, these chessboards of intermingled personalities, and in the case of the 800+ page Underworld things get downright daunting; but it’s all controllable and palatable at the same time, somehow, in the way that all of the disparate colors in a kaleidoscope can still be explained as part of a single device made of cheap plastic.
True Detective is, I hope, more akin to that kind of a story than we’re able to grasp with the final episode (which will be an extended 90-minute finale) still to go. At the moment, one would be forgiven for wondering what in the heck it is we’re even rooting for here. Caspere’s killer? Maybe. That’s the event that kicked the season off, and it’s definitely still “unsolved”. But there are more loose threads in this season than there are loose threads on David Morse’s drug rug, so let’s get down to detecting some truth. Spoilers follow for the seventh episode “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”.
Continue reading True Detective 2.7 – “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” →
- Sam Mendes has officially stated that he won’t return for a third Bond outing after Spectre… but by now, of course, we pretty much know to take these sorts of “confirmations” with a grain of salt. Mendes also teased that we might expect the artist of the theme song to be made public sooner rather than later.
- Another Accidental Franchise Sam (this one’s Raimi) has given his blessing to Marvel’s high-school approach to the new Spider-Man. So, yeah. Rest easy.
- We noted how weird the career of David Gordon Green is in our review of Manglehorn, wherein we also lauded the fact that he’s leaned toward smaller indie-feel projects like Manglehorn and Joe. Now Green will allegedly be directing Stronger, one of the many adaptations concerning the Boston Marathon Bombing, thus remaining one of the most unpredictable directors in Hollywood.
- It Follows is now available on Amazon Instant Video and several other platforms, so your excuses for not watching it are really starting to thin out (you know who you are).
Continue reading Film & TV News: July 21 →
Edward Norton wowed audiences this past year with his supporting role in Birdman, one that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and, at times in the movie, stole the show, even from lead actor nominee Michael Keaton. It was an impressive, but not necessarily unexpected, performance from Norton. He has established himself over the past two decades as a great actor. But how did he get to this point? Where did he start? Two words: Primal Fear.
Truth be told, Norton’s start and end points in his journey have had identical impacts on audiences. On both ends of his career—in his first movie and his most recent one—he has absolutely captivated audiences with his performance. It is his first performance that seems more impressive, though, for the sheer fact that no one saw it coming. Continue reading Primal Fear (1996) →