Black Narcissus (1947, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

If you’ve never seen a film by the Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), you’ve never seen a film like one of theirs’. If you have seen a film by the Archers, and you sit down to watch another of their films, you’ve still never seen a film like the one you’re about to watch. I’m not much of an Archers scholar–Black Narcissus is probably their most famous film and this viewing is my first–but I have seen a couple, not counting their last film–the awful Australian tourist film, They’re a Weird Mob (to be fair, Powell directed and Pressburger wrote, usually they shared duties).

The film’s story–nuns in the Himalayas–is probably impossible to describe. So much of the film depends feeling, on little things. Describing the film, also, would cheapen it. I’ve had Black Narcissus to watch for quite a while and kept putting it off. I don’t know why, probably because the Archers made such great films, my expectations were incredibly high. The film met those expectations and even surpassed them, since it had me off-guard throughout, even when what I assumed was going to happen did. Black Narcissus doesn’t “give” the audience a lot, it expects them to take a lot from it. I can’t imagine what my response to this film would have been ten years ago, when I was first getting into Criterion laserdiscs and might have come across it for the Martin Scorsese commentary. (I could get Goodfellas at seventeen, but Goodfellas isn’t all that quiet).

There’s so much to look at in Black Narcissus, so many things one could talk about, I’ve mostly run out of ideas. The acting is great–the supporting cast has a lot to do and they’re all wonderful. You know these characters, even though there are quite a few, right away. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography is famous on this film and it is amazing–even more, I suppose, since it was all shot with miniatures and matte paintings–but the editing is fantastic too. The editing makes a lot of the film.

I can’t recommend this film highly enough… certainly don’t wait around to see it like I did.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; screenplay by Powell and Pressburger, from the novel by Rumer Godden; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Reginald Mills; music by Brian Easdale; production designer, Alfred Junge; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring Deborah Kerr (Sister Clodagh), Sabu (Young Prince), David Farrar (Mr. Dean), Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth), Esmond Knight (Old General), Flora Robson (Sister Philippa) and Jean Simmons (Kanchi).


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Speak (2004, Jessica Sharzer)

I love reviewing the unexpected film, I love finding new filmmakers to watch. Still, I find Speak odd choice. I only bookmarked the film because D.B. Sweeney and Elizabeth Perkins play a married couple (I have a soft-spot for both)….

I first read about the film because of its broadcasting–it’s not a TV movie, but IMDb lists it as such. Showtime and Lifetime picked it up off the festival circuit and showed it simultaneously. I’m having a hard time constructing a review of the film (and hey, it was one I was going to simul-post on Blogcritics too), just because I don’t know how to talk about it without giving “it” away and the film does try to keep the viewer in a reasonable dark. Except it’s an adaptation of a young adult novel, but I’m not sure how many of my readers keep up with that medium.

I can say, nice and easy, that the lead, Kristen Stewart, is great. The only thing else I’ve seen her in was Panic Room and I don’t know if she was in the fifteen minutes I stayed in the theater for that one. Steve Zahn is not great. He’s trying way too hard and I had to look it up to remember that Out of Sight made him. Director and co-writer Jessica Sharzer has a great feel for directing. There are nice echoes throughout the film–which could, I suppose, be from the book, but I doubt it, because they seem so reflexive. Some people just know how long to hold a shot, how long to keep the music going, Sharzer seems to be one of those folks. Sometimes, however, the running time–ninety minutes–starts bumping into what the film wants to do and it hurts. But Sharzer tells a whole school year in ninety minutes and I buy it. There’s a lot in the film I don’t (and it’s not just because I’m a stickler about long present action), and that’s when the acting and Sharzer’s feel for directing come in.

Speak‘s a rewarding experience to be sure–there are just too many beautiful, quiet moments in it for the film not to be, particularly the relationship between the Stewart and her parents (Sweeney and Perkins). It reminds me of something I read about Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity, an online critic calling it a “Lifetime movie,” which made me think I need to see more Lifetime movies then. Speak isn’t exactly a Lifetime movie and it’s no Personal Velocity, but it’s good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jessica Sharzer; screenplay by Sharzer and Annie Young Frisbie, based on the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson; director of photography, Andrij Parekh; edited by Peter C. Frank; music by Christopher Libertino; production designer, Laura Ballinger; produced by Fred Berner, Matthew Myers and Matt Myers; released by Showtime Networks.

Starring Kristen Stewart (Melinda Sordino), Michael Angarano (Dave Petrakis), Robert John Burke (Mr. Neck), Hallee Hirsh (Rachel Bruin), Eric Lively (Andy Evans), Leslie Lyles (Hairwoman), Elizabeth Perkins (Joyce Sordino), Allison Siko (Heather), D.B. Sweeney (Jack Sordino) and Steve Zahn (Mr. Freeman).


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Joint Security Area (2000, Park Chan-wook)

If you try one Korean film, please don’t let it be Joint Security Agency. It’s like hearing alcoholic liquids are good and drinking rubbing alcohol instead of wine.

Maybe that’s a little harsh, but Joint Security Area is a really big piece of shit. It’s not without some merits, some of the acting is good–but a lot of it is atrocious too, and in an offensive way. Park’s got a bunch of English speaking Swedes hanging around–who wear t-shirts that say “ARMY” and they run in formation too–and the boss has a pipe he smokes. I could go on about how awful the lead investigator is, but I won’t.

Joint Security Area is a decent idea for a film, soldiers on both sides of the Korean border becoming friends and the tragic outcome, but Park is so incredibly full of shit, the movie is a painful experience. Park’s direction is terrible. I just had a conversation about whether or not sentimental can be good. Sentimental can, of course, be good (it can be wonderful). I think I’d describe every great director as, to some degree, sentimental. John Carpenter might be the only exception. Now, Park proves that sentimental direction can be unbearably terrible too. His composition and this film’s editing are eyesores.

Still, I’ll point out, I have never turned off a Korean film. In the case of Joint Security Area, it has to do with some of the acting, not with the filmmaker… who really, really wants to come to Hollywood, or at least did when he made this film. Maybe he’s gotten over it, but I can’t imagine anything can improve his filmmaking proficiency.

Oh, I watched some terrible region 1 release of the film from Tai Seng, who are terrible. At least the subtitle spelling was correct this time though….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Park Chan-wook; screenplay by Park, Jeong Seong-san, Kim Hyeon-seok and Lee Mu-yeong, based on a novel by Park Sang-yeon; director of photography, Kim Sung-bok; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Bang Jun-seok and Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Lee Eun Soo; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Lee Yeong-ae (Maj. Sophie E. Jean), Lee Byung-hun (Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok), Song Kang-ho (Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil), Kim Tae-woo (Nam Sung-shik) and Shin Ha-kyun (Jeong Woo-jin).


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Sneakers (1992, Phil Alden Robinson)

Describing Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh said he wanted to “make a movie that has no desire except to give you pleasure from beginning to end.”

He seems to have ripped off that idea from Sneakers.

Robert Redford is a lot more serious than I tend to think. So’s Paul Newman for that matter. We know the affable Redford from Butch Cassidy and The Sting, but really… those films aren’t about having fun. Sneakers is about having fun. Even Redford’s post-1990s career, post-Horse Whisperer, is missing the fun of this film. (Spy Game, of course, could have been fun, but wasn’t). Sneakers is about having fun.

To quote someone else–Quentin Tarantino this time–some films, once you get the story, you watch just to “hang out with [the characters].” This quote is another good description of Sneakers. I remember seeing the film when it came out, and in 1992, it was different to see Sidney Poitier in a fun movie, different to see Dan Aykroyd in something… good, different to see David Straithairn in a big Hollywood movie. Actually, that last one is bull–when I was fourteen, I had no idea who David Straithairn was… I mean, when Sneakers came out, Mary McDonnell was just the woman from Dances With Wolves. It was an event picture. It was back when an event picture didn’t have flying saucers. It was the new film from the director of Field of Dreams… it’s from a magical era that’s long gone (and only thirteen years ago).

The only time’s the film lags–and I do love Redford’s performance in this film, because it’s the same kind of performance Paul Newman gave in Slap Shot–is when Redford’s running the thing himself. It’s not about Redford, it’s about the chemistry between the cast. There’s a party scene in the film with six principals and two supporting characters and you feel every person’s presence at the party. It’s a great scene. It entertains and it’s beautifully constructed. I sat and marveled at how Robinson worked that whole scene out, giving each person the right thing to do for just the right amount of time.

Also indicative of the film’s era is the James Horner score. It’s from before he became Titanic composer James Horner and before anyone cared if he lifted his old material. It’s a playful score. Just great.

I can’t believe I was worried about this film’s quality.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Alden Robinson; written by Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes and Robinson; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Tom Rolf; music by James Horner; production designer, Patrizia von Brandenstein; produced by Parkes and Lasker; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Bishop), Sidney Poitier (Donald Crease), David Strathairn (Whistler), Dan Aykroyd (Mother), River Phoenix (Carl Arbegast), Mary McDonnell (Liz), Ben Kingsley (Cosmo), Timothy Busfield (Dick Gordon), Eddie Jones (Buddy Wallace), Stephen Tobolowsky (Dr. Werner Brandes), Donal Logue (Dr. Gunter Janek) and James Earl Jones (Bernard Abbott).


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