Thursday, March 29, 2012

A film fest in Tampa, as in Florida

During an extended stay in south Florida I discovered the Gasparilla International Film Festival, kicking off tonight in Tampa. It is remarkably like the Windsor International Film Festival. For one thing the festival has been in existence about the same amount of time, Gasparilla a bit younger in it sixth year. But it lasts about the same number of days (Thursday - Sunday), is limited to a few venues, but screens more than double the films at more than 120.....Like the Windsor film fest the main venue is an historic old theatre downtown, in this case the Tampa Theatre, where the opening night film and closing film Sunday afternoon will be shown. But there is a wider selection of categories: features, docs, animation, horror, shorts with films focussed on Cuba and Florida.....The opening night film will be Peace, Love & Misunderstanding (Bruce Beresford), a film I've been wanting to see, starring Catherine Keener and Jane Fonda and an official selection at last year's Toronto fest. Storyline: a clash of conservative versus liberal values among, shall we say, old Hippies (okay, Woodstock 40 years on!).....Closing film is The Hunter (Daniel Nettheim, Australia) starring Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill in a clash between civilization and the wilderness.....A special tribute will honour Chazz Palminteri, the well known actor of films such as The Usual Suspects, Analyze This, and Bullets Over Broadway. His childhood story, A Bronx Tale (1993), written by Palminteri and directed by oft-collaborator Robert De Niro, who also stars, will have a special screening. Palminteri will receive get a career achievement award tonight.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The (almost) perfect film

The Servant, which stars Dirk Bogarde and Sarah Miles, has an almost perfect exactness to it. The 1963 Joseph Losey-directed film features a close-up study of the subtleties of personality, class warfare, the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, and last but not least, sexual politics. In fact, you might say every scene in this movie is perfect until, that is, Tony (James Fox) kicks Bogarde as his manservant Hugo - and Hugo's lover Vera (Miles) - out of his house.....When the movie opens Fox is a moneyed young bachelor moving into a svelte London house. He needs a servant (apparently all well-to-do gentlemen in early-1960s Britain require one). Hugo Barrett answers the call, with impeccable credentials and mannerisms to match. The problem is that Hugo is so calm, cool and collected - and so excellent at his job - that he generates an incrementally dominating force. But the narcissistic Tony hardly notices. He develops a good working relationship with Hugo.....Are there hints of homosexual attraction as many critics claim? Not yet......Enter Susan (Wendy Craig), Tony's girlfriend, who is suspicious of Hugo from the start. She thinks him presumptuous and overbearing and has no qualms about saying so. Hugo (a sociopath?), though, takes it in stride and maintains a professional elan. But behind her back his face has a sardonic smirk. Susan confronts Tony about her reservations. Tony dismisses them. Until, that is, he is manipulated by Hugo and Vera, whom Hugo (with Tony's permission) had invited for a short stay, lying to Tony that Vera was his sister. Hugo and Vera waste no time taking advantage of the household. Still, Tony, remains nonplussed. Why would he not be, after Vera comes down the stairs and offers herself up to him on the kitchen table?.....Every scene in this movie is a study in the psychology of the characters, catching moods or thoughts by the inflections on their faces and in their voices. Not a second of film is wasted. The score, by John Dankworth, is the perfect sprightly counterpoint to the film's menacing darkness. And over and over again we hear Cleo Laine's "All Gone" (lyrics, as is the screenplay, by Harold Pinter), a song that seems to sum up the pointlessness of everything ...... Every scene in the movie seems perfect. Until, that is, the falling out between Tony and Hugo (and Vera) after Tony and Susan come home to find the other two frolicking in Tony's bedroom.....The movie seems like it should be over at this point or soon after. But then we see Tony and Hugo running into each other in a pub drowning their sorrows in suds (each of their lovers has left them). Eventually they renew acquaintances and realize there was a bond between them after all. Hugo moves back in. But now the rules are out the window. Hugo no long dresses as a servant. He's now a roommate and the two have an equal relationship. It seems one of love-hate but the same as brothers love and hate one another. Nevertheless there are some strange goings-on. A brood of whore-like women drop by one night. And when the estranged Susan (who had broken with Tony over his love-making to Vera) makes an appearance she becomes part of the bevy.....The last half hour of the film is taken up with the frat boy antics of Tony and Hugo cursing each other and throwing things. But the film is unclear as to what the women represented and why Tony got rid of them. Is it a rejection of heterosexuality in favour of homosexuality? At this point the film has become too confusing and the viewer is liable to ask, who cares?.....But for about three-quarters of this movie there was a hugely entertaining story where every look, word and silence mattered, a rarity in any film.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coffee, tea and wit

Before there was the TV series Pan Am, before the 2002 movie with Leonardi DiCaprio Catch Me if You Can (Steven Spielberg) there was 1963's Come Fly With Me (Henry Levin), the original romantic comedy that was a product of the glamour of the early days of jet travel. The airline in this movie looks for all the world like Pan American. But the name has been changed to Polar Atlantic. The three "hostesses" in this charming flick are on the New York - Paris "milk run" flying out of the pre-JFK airport known simply as New York International. Karl Malden stars in this as a ho-hum Midwestern passenger on his first flight to Europe and the romantic interest of one of our fly girls (Lois Nettleton as "Bergie" Bergstrom). Yes, this is the original coffee-tea-or-me picture. But there's a twist, contrary to how modern audiences may perceive the sexist 1960s. For these stewardesses ("flight attendant" hadn't entered the vocabulary then) are nobodies' fools. In fact they reminded me of the women in Sex and The City, with their freewheeling witticisms zinged at themselves and foolish male passengers and crew. "You don't have to hit me over the head with a mallet," says rookie Carol Brewster ( Pamela Tiffin). "No, but it's a thought." Or, "I used to date a guy who held up gas stations," Bergie says on how men can be improved. "Now he's a used car salesman."

Watching Turner Classic Movies (TCM's) March Monday series of British New Wave films - most made in the very early 1960s - one is struck by the shabbiness of how England looks. Cities are invariably down at the heels, grubby and most of alls soot-covered, whether it be the walls of bridges or the facade of a church. I guess this was before someone came up with the idea of showing off England's beautiful historic architecture by, well, steam-cleaning it.

The current darling of foreign films is Iran' A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) which won for best foreign film at last month's Oscars. This is a well-acted drama about a husband and wife breaking up due to factors other than their own relationship -mainly about Nader (Peyman Moadi) refusing to leave Iran because he wants to take care of his father with Alzheimer's. But the movie is no better or worse than any number of foriegn films that have come out of Iran in recent years. But somehow this one has generated huge media attention and audiences, having no choice, have latched on. It reminds me of the buzz around 2006's The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), a film about the spying apparatus of the former East German police state. It was also a good movie. But there have been many other films about East Germany that were as good or better. Perhaps it's just the nature of the distribution system. A few films, for whatever reason, get out to North American audiences; the majority don't. And audiences, not being aware of what else is out there outside of film festivals, immediately respond with enthusiasm. "Wow, a film about East Germany spying." "Wow, a film coming out of parish state Iran."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Similarities, similarities

The first is watching Howard Hawks's 1944 To Have and Have Not starring Humphey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The film is uncannily similar to Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) in several ways. Instead of Bogart in the role of a nightclub owner he's a commercial fisherman. But in both cases he plays the reluctant hero to the French Resistance during the Vichy Regime of Nazi-occupied France. The romance with "Slim" (Bacall's character) parallels Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa . The Martinique police captain Renard (Dan Seymour) is analogous to Moroccan capt. Louis Renault (Claude Rains). And there's even a piano player. Hoagy Carmichael performs as Cricket compared to Dooley Wilson as Sam in the earlier film.

Meanwhile, I couldn't stop thinking I was watching Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in the 1968 film by Noel Black, Pretty Poison. When McGuinty was first elected premier people kept calling him Norman Bates, a reference to Anthony Perkins's iconic character in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). But the resemblance is almost unsettling (and that's no comment on the mentality of the current Liberal government!). In Pretty Poison Perkins plays Dennis Pitt, a mentally disturbed - given Perkins's typecasting, what else? - young man trying to re-establish his life. Until, that is, he meets a sociopath by the name of Sue Anne Stepenek (Tuesday Weld) who leads the poor guy astray. But for the life of me I kept thinking I was watching the Ontario premier, and not Perkins. That's because Perkins and McGuinty have the same slim height and dark hair, the furrowed eyebrows, the beady eyes, and the studied, halting manners of speech. OMG, generations apart but somehow separated at birth?!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A feast of the Brit New Wave

I have temporary access to the wonderful  TV network Turner Classic Movies (TCM). And I've lucked out this month because every Monday in March TCM features the films of the so-called British New Wave. These films kind of mirror the French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) of the time and established many famous Brit directors' careers such as Tony Richardson and John Schlesinger. These "kitchen sink dramas" often feature characters in working class situations - often involving romance and questions of identity among their hardscrabble lives. These movies have been some of my favourite cinema and now I can luxuriate in watching most of them through the duration of March.....The other night I caught Room at the Top, Jack Clayton's 1959 take on the John Braine novel starring Laurence Harvey as Joe Lampton, an upwardly mobile office worker caught between his love for local theatre actress Alice Aisgill (Simone Signoret) and the daughter of the richest man in town Susan Brown (Heather Sears).....The film is full of class conflict, which is also a defining trait of the Brit New Wave, but there is less of the ruthless social climber in the Lampton character than I expected, until the very end that is. His is more nuanced. If there's one defining trait about him it's that he's psychologically conflicted in terms of his own class status and striving.....Next week I might have to stay up all night because there's four classics in a row: A Kind of Loving (Richardson 1962), The L-Shaped Room (Bryan Forbes 1962), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Richardson 1962) and A Taste of Honey (Richardson 1962) starring the exquisite Rita Tushingham.....