The Lower Depths (1936, Jean Renoir)

So it was a play….

I know Renoir for Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game and I’m aware he had a Hollywood period, then went back to France. The Lower Depths is earlier.

Jean Gabin is fantastic, so is Louis Jouvet. Renoir juxtaposes royalty on its way down and a thief on his way out. The relationship between the two men is fantastic and when the film veers from it–into the long scenes with the flophouse’s other residents, I started checking the clock. Adapting a play well takes more work than just adapting a novel–a play has so much that isn’t going to work on screen.

Not changing the setting from Russia to France works against the film too… though maybe not. I suppose there are plenty of American films of the period set in other languages told in English. However, I always think of Russia as having a distinctiveness that The Lower Depths does not (I’m mostly thinking Ballad of a Soldier). The Lower Depths isn’t rich with the atmosphere, in fact it seems kind of anorexic with it. The film never succeeds in making the audience believe there are more than the people we see throughout–when there’s a huge crowd at one point, it’s totally out of place.

Still, it’s an interesting “in-progress” work from Renoir. From the first shot, you can see he’s doing something special.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jean Renoir; screenplay by Yevgeni Zamyatin, Jacques Companéez, Renoir and Charles Spaak, based on a play by Maxim Gorky; director of photography, Fédote Bourgasoff and Jean Bachelet; edited by Marguerite Renoir; music by Jean Wiener; produced by Alexandre Kamenka; produced by Films Albatros.

Starring Jean Gabin (Wasska Pepel), Junie Astor (Natacha), Suzy Prim (Vassilissa Kostyleva), Louis Jouvet (The Baron), Vladimir Sokoloff (Kostylev), Jany Holt (Nastia), Robert Le Vigan (The Alcoholic Actor), René Génin (Louka), Paul Temps (Satine), Robert Ozanne (Jabot) and Henri Saint-Isle (Kletsch).


RELATED

Tremors (1990, Ron Underwood)

When I first rediscovered Tremors, around 1995, it was on laserdisc. In the 1990s, Universal was one of the finest laserdisc companies, probably the finest. They put out a special edition of Tremors and, remembering that I liked it when I saw it on video (everyone saw Tremors on video), I bought it. Probably from the expensive place next to this movie theater… laserdiscs were hard to find in suburbia. At that time, somewhat due to the mad-love for their laserdiscs, but also because Universal still made generally acceptable films back then, I actually believed Tremors was a willful decision–a film to invoke fond memories of Universal’s 1950s sci-fi films. Tonight, I watched Tremors over It Came From Outer Space, also set in the desert….

Tremors, quite nicely, holds up. Perfectly acted, amazingly well-constructed, it’s a shame the team behind it hasn’t gone on to more. They actually went on to more Tremors, during Universal’s 1990s direct-to-video rush… Sequels that are all right. The first film being made for cheap probably didn’t hurt the following films from being cheap either.

I’ve had Robert McKee on the brain all day, reading him for the first time today, all about the deconstruction of a scene. Tremors doesn’t work like that. It has some scenes, sure, lots of them, but it’s mostly action and it’s almost all in one setting. I’m not going to sit around and pick at it–it’s too good–but, for me, thinking about McKee, it’s interesting. I’m reading McKee for fiction writing and McKee writes for screenwriting. So how come he doesn’t work for Tremors? It is–arguably–one of the more lastingly popular films to emerge in the last fifteen years….

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it in awhile, check it out again. I always watch Tremors after dark, though. Don’t know why, it’s just one of those films that you watch after dark.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Underwood; screenplay by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, based on a story by Wilson, Maddock and Underwood; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Ernest Troost; production designer, Ivo Cristante; produced by Maddock and Wilson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kevin Bacon (Valentine McKee), Fred Ward (Earl Bassett), Finn Carter (Rhonda LeBeck), Michael Gross (Burt Gummer), Reba McEntire (Heather Gummer), Bobby Jacoby (Melvin Plug), Charlotte Stewart (Nancy Sterngood), Tony Genaro (Miguel), Ariana Richards (Mindy Sterngood), Richard Marcus (Nestor), Victor Wong (Walter Chang), Sunshine Parker (Edgar), Michael Dan Wagner (Old Fred), Conrad Bachmann (Dr. Jim) and Bibi Besch (Megan).


RELATED

The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005, Rebecca Miller)

So… what happened?

Sometime in the first four months of this year, I proclaimed Rebecca Miller the best new filmmaker since… shit, I don’t know, Wes Anderson or somebody. Sure, Wes Anderson. Wes Anderson is the last great filmmaker. Or P.T. One of them, just not Paul W.S. Anyway, this conclusion about Miller was based on Personal Velocity.

I talk a lot–if not at The Stop Button, then in personal conversation–about artists shooting their wad. When they’re done, in other words. There are famous non-wad-shooters like Woody Allen, John Carpenter, John Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Stanley Kubrick and on and on and on. It looks a lot like an Owen Wilson-less Wes Anderson does not produce a wad… Anyway, Rebecca Miller appears to have shot her wad with Personal Velocity.

It’s not that all of Jack and Rose is bad. It’s not. Not all of it. Miller’s reliance on Bob Dylan songs, bad. Miller’s shot composition, excellent. Her dialogue and some of the scenes, also excellent. It’s just that it’s too long for her. I should have known after I read Personal Velocity, the book….

Anyway, there were four good stories in Personal Velocity, the book. Miller put three of them in the movie. The long stories in the book were painful and failed.

Kind of like Jack and Rose. I’m not as upset about the film as I thought I’d be, just because now I realize I should have seen it coming. I should have seen the long narrative as her undoing. Miller’s greatest potential appears to be in doing small stories, like a TV show. I can see her doing a really good TV show. But I’m not holding my breath for her next film.

I hope she proves me wrong.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller; director of photography, Ellen Kuras; edited by Sabine Hoffman; production designer, Mark Ricker; produced by Lemore Syvan; released by IFC Films.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Jack Slavin), Camilla Belle (Rose Slavin), Catherine Keener (Kathleen), Paul Dano (Thaddius), Ryan McDonald (Rodney), Jena Malone (Red Berry), Jason Lee (Gray) and Beau Bridges (Marty Rance).


RELATED

The Graduation (2002, Nagasawa Masahiko)

I try not to spoil things here on The Stop Button, but I’m going to make an exception for this film. It’s a fine example of what not to do….

Mayama is a psychology professor at a college. He is socially inept (the closest comparison is Montgomery Clift in Wild River, only more). He does not talk and he’s unable to make decisions. He’s also forty-one. He’s got a girlfriend who wants to marry him, but he hasn’t asked… Then, his long-lost daughter appears, only he doesn’t know she’s his daughter or that he even has one. She’s been stalking him for months, then they finally meet and her influence–while never telling him she’s his daughter–changes his life for the better.

The film’s about the two of them, then pretends to be about him and the girlfriend, invalidating the whole damn point of it. I’m kind of pissed off, not just because I need to get up at 4:30 in the morning and stayed up watching this one, but because it’s a well-made film. The guy who plays Mayama (Tsutsumi Shin’ichi) is amazing. So amazing I looked up his name.

The film just doesn’t know how to end… though I suppose having three screenwriters doesn’t help anything.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Nagasawa Masahiko; written by Masahiko, Hasegawa Yasuo and Misawa Keiko; director of photography, Fujisawa Junichi; edited by Okuhara Yoshityuki; music by Remedios; production designer, Yoshida Etsuko; produced by Kono Satoshi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Natsukawa Yui (Izumi), Tsutsumi Shin’ichi (Mayame) and Uchiyama Rina (Asami).


RELATED

superior film blogging