The Song of Styrene (1959, Alain Resnais)

The Song of Styrene is gorgeous. The way director Resnais showcases the plastic press-styrene becomes plastic through chemical processes (Song of is an industrial promotional film)—it’s a solitary object, removed from the factory setting and just amazing and new looking. Even when something’s weathered, like the industrial plants, it all looks new. Very futuristic, very clean. When there’s the eventual shots of coal, it’s stunning how much it contrasts with the very clean, very futuristic look of everything else. Coal is elemental, even as the narrator talks about its mysterious origins (Song is from 1959).

You’d think someone might notice how the story of a created plastic whatever going backwards to being coal gas is visibly clean to dirty; there’s not a “look how this dirty rock turns into something beautiful” sentiment either. Song has narration. A lot of narration and narrator Pierre Dux goes from being excited about plastic being pressed to excited by the power of fossil fuels. Song is a very obvious promotion, albeit a visually impressive one.

It’s not an intellectually impressive one. Not even for 1959. Maybe it’s Dux’s narration or Pierre Barbaud’s music. Until the fossil fuel blathering starts, the Barbaud’s music is Song’s biggest problem. It doesn’t not match Resnais, cinematographer Sacha Vierny, and editor Claudine Merlin’s visual charting of an industrial plant, it just doesn’t add anything to the visuals. Resnais, Vierny, and Merlin have it covered. The music and narration are just noise, disingenuous noise.

During that visual survey of plants, tracking the pipes and so on, Song hits its peak, which is something given how cool the opening with the plastics gets. But Song tells the story backwards, which Resnais doesn’t—it’s not like visual sequences play in reverse—and it hurts the potential. For a 1959 energy company promotional video about the wonders of fossil fuel and how it makes everything clean and modern… Song’s pretty good. The visuals engage enough the narration and intent don’t really matter. But it doesn’t transcend that intent. The attention Resnais places on the solitary plastic press doesn’t carry over to the industrial plants; such a feat would be outside the technological capabilities of a 1959 promotional short. But it’s also what Song would need to be anything more. Resnais, Vierny, and Merlin letting loose instead of dancing in place, the script, narration, and music moving the film along instead of the actual filmmaking.

And opening with a Victor Hugo quote about the human condition is, in the end, a little much.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Alain Resnais; written by Raymond Queneau; director of photography, Sacha Vierny; edited by Claudine Merlin and Resnais; music by Pierre Barbaud; produced by Pierre Braunberger; released by Les Films de la Pléiade.

Narrated by Pierre Dux.


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Triangle (2009, Christopher Smith)

Triangle suffers. It suffers from a bad script, it suffers from wanting performances, it suffers… bad hair continuity. There’s just something off about lead Melissa George’s bangs. Not just she doesn’t seem to acknowledge when they’re in the way, but when she turns around (in an obvious cut because there’s so much post-production on the lighting you can tell) and the position doesn’t quite match. Or the length.

There’s just something… off about them.

Kind of like George’s performance.

The film relies on a lot of twists and turns to get through. I was going to say to justify itself but the twists and turns aren’t really for narrative justification, they’re to kill time. Triangle builds towards reveals, it doesn’t build characters. Even when character development is intricately tied to the reveals, well, writer and director Smith still isn’t going to build character. Though it wouldn’t exactly be easy with his cast. Because something feels a little off about them too.

One might guess it’s because they’re a bunch of Aussies pretending to do an American movie. They’ve all got “American” accents, which don’t ever drop out but they also exaggerate the narrative distance from the characters. Not a good thing in a horror movie where you’re ostensibly supposed to care once they start dropping like flies.

The film starts with George going on a yacht day with local rich guy (presumably) Michael Dorman. She’s a waitress he knows, so he invites her for this annual yachting trip. He always takes friends Henry Nixon and Rachael Carpani, who always bring a girl to fix him up with (this time it’s Emma Lung). Except, of course, Dorman wants George along. Carpani doesn’t like it because single mom George must be a gold digger. Carpani’s character is odious, which makes it all the less fun to have her around once she’s in danger, because Smith doesn’t care if you empathize with any of the cast. And most of them aren’t sympathetic.

Also along for the trip is young stud Liam Hemsworth, who was homeless but now lives on Dorman’s yacht with him and knows how to tie knots and do all the other important yachting stuff. There’s some confusion about why Dorman needs a hunk around but at least Hemsworth is likable. There’s something creepy about Dorman and his Robin Hood beard and something’s clearly going on with George and the movie is obviously manipulating the audience about it.

So is it worth it?

Heck no.

Smith knocks off a couple famous movies for Triangle; visually, The Shining, narratively… well, if I told you it’d be too much of a spoiler. Suffice it to say, Smith’s not just not reinventing the wheel with his tricky story, he’s not even worried about keeping the tire inflated. He’s really lazy with the logic. Really lazy. He goes for visual shock value and often gets it; his special effects team, lighting mismatches aside, is phenomenal. More than half the movie takes place on this old, abandoned cruise ship with Shining hallways and Triangle makes it look real big, even when it’s kind of clear it’s not and they’re just adjusting the lighting to lens flare for emphasis.

So technically it’s fine. It’s just got a dumb script and an either not trying hard enough or just not able to do it lead with George. After a while you wish George’s bangs would do the acting heavy lifting because George obviously isn’t up for it. She does fear well like twice, then never again. And her messy arc, even with Smith’s questionable scripting, does have a lot of potential for the right performance.

George’s isn’t it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Christopher Smith; director of photography, Robert Humphreys; edited by Stuart Gazzard; music by Christian Henson; production designer, Melinda Doring; produced by Julie Baines, Chris Brown, and Jason Newmark; released by Icon Film Distribution.

Starring Melissa George (Jess), Michael Dorman (Greg), Liam Hemsworth (Victor), Rachael Carpani (Sally), Henry Nixon (Downey), Emma Lung (Heather), and Joshua McIvor (Tommy).


The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970, Alan Cooke)

The Mind of Mr. Soames is preternaturally gentle (which, getting ahead of myself, is kind of the point) but it’s always a surprise how much more gentle it can get. The film doesn’t forebode or foreshadow, even though doing either wouldn’t just be predictable, it might even be appropriate given the subject matter.

The film opens at a private British medical institute, where everyone is very excited because they’re going to operate on star patient Mr. Soames (played by Terence Stamp). Stamp was born comatose due to a super-rare condition in his brain stem and this institute has kept him alive for thirty years. They’ve been waiting for medical science to get to a place where it can help Stamp. And it has. American surgeon Robert Vaughan (sporting a very cool beard) crosses the pond to do it. He’s not interested in Stamp’s recovery process, just the surgery.

At least, not until he realizes Davenport wants to train Stamp like a pet, not raise him like a child. Because even though Stamp’s got an adult brain, he’s pristine tabula rasa.

Also in the mix is scuzzy TV journalist Christian Roberts. He’s got Davenport’s permission to turn Stamp’s “childhood” into a documentary series. Part of the film’s gentle is how much the filmmakers trust the audience. The script trusts them to keep up, director Cooke trusts them to keep up—a big thing in the first act is American doctor Vaughan realizing British doctor Davenport is less concerned with Stamp recovering than with him making the Institute famous. But it never comes up. The whole arc of the film turns out to involve Donal Donnelly as Davenport’s underling, who gradually learns how to be a good doctor. Vaughan’s a big influence on him, but so’s Stamp.

Even though it’s almost a spoiler how much agency Stamp gets in the film given he starts it inanimate, kept alive by a roomful of machines. When Mind starts, it’s a split between Vaughan, Davenport, and Roberts, with Donnelly bouncing between Vaughan and Davenport. But once Stamp wakes up, the film starts its gradual transition into being his story.

It’s a great film, but it’s very hard to imagine it being able to do any more than it already does. Stamp eventually encounters all sorts of other people—most importantly kindly (potentially too kindly) miserable housewife Judy Parfitt—and Mind treats them as caricatures. Only Stamp, with this necessarily reduced agency and potential of it, gets to be a full-fledged character. These people he encounters are caricatures from his perspective, but from the film’s, which I guess is where the only real problems (outside the wrong closing music) occur. Everyone relies on Stamp to handle his perspective, which is understandable, he’s phenomenal. But if the film adjusted the narrative distance to track Stamp more closely, it’d necessarily lose the doctors.

Mind of Mr. Soames can’t be a character study, but it also can’t be a medical thriller because it can’t maintain the medical procedural. It also can’t do straight drama because it’s got a speculative air to it. Director Cooke does that gentle thing instead of trying to hit various intensities. It’s never calm, it’s never placid, it’s just gentle. Mind is based on a novel and there’s definitely the potential for some sort of comparison to Frankenstein, maybe with the book but definitely with the film; whether or not Stamp is going to go Frankenstein is one of the film’s many questions, but never one of Stamp’s and it’s Stamp’s film.

The film doesn’t exactly have charm—it’s too intense, stakes-wise—and it’s never overly stylish, but the deliberate but still surprising way the narrative unfolds is rather agreeable. Mind of Mr. Soames does a lot, provides its cast a lot of great scenes, and it’s not an easy story to do. So when it works out so well… not charming, but nice.

It’s a story very well told.

Outside the occasionally too obviously shot in the studio night time exteriors, Billy Williams’s photography is always good. The actual exterior shooting—when Stamp and the film get outside his “playroom”—is excellent. Really strong direction from Cooke, both with the actors and the composition. The film seems to get a certain patience from Cooke, while it gets a different one from John Hale and Edward Simpson’s script; the story’s about agitated people but the story’s never agitated.

Pretty good music from Michael Dress (except the closing track, which is fine but not good enough for what the film has just accomplished).

Great performance from Stamp (you can’t imagine anyone else in the role after he does it). Excellent support from Vaughan, Davenport, and Donnelly. They’re ahead the other caricatures because, well, they get enough time not to be caricatures.

Stamp, Cooke, and everyone else make something special with The Mind of Mr. Soames.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Cooke; screenplay by John Hale and Edward Simpson, based on the novel by Charles Eric Maine; lighting cameraman, Billy Williams; edited by Bill Blunden; music by Michael Dress; production designer, Bill Constable; produced by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Terence Stamp (John Soames), Robert Vaughn (Dr. Bergen), Nigel Davenport (Dr. Maitland), Christian Roberts (Thomas Fleming), Donal Donnelly (Joe Allan), Norman Jones (Davis), Dan Jackson (Nicholls), and Judy Parfitt (Jenny Bannerman).



Run Silent Run Deep (1958, Robert Wise)

Run Silent Run Deep runs a little short. Just when the film has the most potential does it sort of shrug and finish up real quick. There’s a third act reveal and it’s a good one, but it’s not good enough the movie can end on it. Especially not after it’s just had such a strong second act.

Burt Lancaster has just had a big character development moment, there’s just been an awesome special effects sequence, it’s right when Run Silent Run Deep has its most potential. The film’s never bad, though it occasionally feels a little claustrophobic, narratively speaking, but it’s been on this “can’t believe no one calls him Ahab” arc with Clark Gable for about an hour. The second act shake-up comes at just the right moment and sets up a great third arc. And the third arc is not great. It’s perfunctory, inventively so, but perfunctory. The finale lacks any impact. The big action finale doesn’t have much action, certainly not of the level in the second act set piece; Lancaster’s arc ends up going nowhere. He really had just been support for Gable the whole time.

So, Run Deep takes place during World War II. It opens with sub commander Gable’s sub getting sunk; he survives, along with some other guys but not everyone. A year later, he’s pushing pencils and playing “Battleship” with new sidekick Jack Warden. All of a sudden Warden lets it slip three other ships have gone down just where Gable’s did. A man possessed he storms over to the brass, demands a ship, gets one, which pauses executive officer Lancaster’s promotion to captain. His captain… died on their previous mission? It doesn’t come up.

Once onboard it soon becomes clear Gable’s going to hunt down Japanese ship sinking all the U.S. submarines. Run Deep teaches the sound moral, “you’ve got to be willing to die to kill.” For a brief few minutes, the film’s about the inherent righteousness of Ahab-ing. Gable’s got Lancaster convinced—though Lancaster doesn’t want to admit it. The crew doesn’t get that perk of command, however, so they’re ready to mutiny.

Lancaster and Gable are great together because they don’t like one another but Gable’s exploiting Lancaster’s ability. It’s kind of awesome, even when it’s just to kill time with montage sequences. Run Deep impresses with its special effects. The other stuff? It doesn’t worry too much. The submarine set is fine; not great. The editing—supervised by George Boemler—is awesome. The editing makes Run Deep until that end of the second act uptick.

Gable’s good. Warden’s good. Lancaster’s almost great. He’s great for a while, then his character arc falls out from under him. Worse, the third act is set to be where Gable finally gets some great material and never does. It’s a bummer. It needs to go longer. And there are places where it could’ve, but it really could have used a better action set piece in the third act than the second. If the dramatics were stronger, it’d be fine. But the dramatics aren’t stronger.

Nice supporting cast, particularly Brad Dexter, Don Rickles (in a totally straight part), and Joe Maross.

Decent Franz Waxman score. Solid Russell Harlan photography. The composite shots don’t really impress but Harlan does fine with the submarine suspense stuff and it’s more important.

Wise’s direction is fine. He does really well with the action. He does better with the supporting cast than his stars, which is a problem. But there’s already that too short script. So fine.

But Run Silent Run Deep ought to be better than fine. It wastes Lancaster and Gable separately and it wastes them together.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by John Gay, based on the novel by Edward L. Beach; director of photography, Russell Harlan; editorial supervisor, George Boemler; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Harold Hecht; released by United Artists.

Starring Clark Gable (Cmdr. Richardson), Burt Lancaster (Lt. Bledsoe), Jack Warden (Yeoman 1st Class Mueller), Brad Dexter (Ens. Cartwright), Don Rickles (Quartermaster 1st Class Ruby), Nick Cravat (Russo), Mary LaRoche (Laura Richardson), and Joe Maross (Chief Kohler).



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