Mozart and the Whale (2005, Petter Næss)

I’ve only been looking forward to this damn movie for two years. It missed its theatrical release date, but there’s probably a DVD on the way (which would have been the source of my illicit copy). It’s perfectly understandable why the film missed the date… it lacks any relatable center. My fiancée just said she wants a movie that shows the real difficulties of autism–Mozart doesn’t, because you can’t center a movie around someone operating on such a different level. The result, for Mozart and the Whale, is that Josh Hartnett isn’t really that bad… neither’s Rahda Mitchell. Their problems aren’t autism problems, they’re romantic drama-lite problems….

Mozart and the Whale was going to be the comeback of Ron Bass, who got a lot of work from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, when people finally got sick of him. He probably shouldn’t have staked it all on a Demi Moore vehicle (Passion of the Mind). It’s a shallow film, weighing in at ninety minutes. Many of these minutes are filled with music montages (not score, unfamiliar, but pleasant, songs). I spent the first half of it waiting for something to happen (hoping that Gary Cole was going to be Hartnett’s father and there’d be some more meat to the conflict)… but no. There’s no real conflict in Mozart, which would have been fine, it’s just that there was an attempt at it. A weighty attempt at it. Bass is famous for empty, dramatic endings and Mozart is no different.

It’s too bad, because Næss is an interesting director. Mozart doesn’t look like anything except itself, which is a lovely thing to be able to say about a newish director. He’s from Norway, so maybe that played a part… Oddly, for a film without a US theatrical release and a ninety minute running time, Mozart actually shot in the US. You can tell it throughout (I didn’t know where the location was–it’s Spokane) and the film has a nice feel.

The acting in the film is difficult to discuss–my fiancée gleefully pointed out I’d no longer be able to say Hartnett’s his generation’s finest actor, but he gives a great supporting performance in Mozart. If Mozart and the Whale had been about Billy Crudup banging his autistic brother’s girlfriend or something, Hartnett’s performance would have been extraordinary. It’s a character part in the lead… Mitchell (who I was really looking forward to seeing after Melinda and Melinda) ranges. The film misses her character’s best opportunity.

I wonder if there is a longer, better version of the film out there–there are a few moments, jumps in visual continuity, that certainly suggest it. But I’m not sure it would make much of a difference.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Petter Næss; written by Ronald Bass; director of photography, Svein Krøvel; edited by Lisa Zeno Churgin and Miklos Wright; music by Deborah Lurie; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by James Acheson, Bass, Boaz Davidson, Frank DeMartini and Robert Lawrence; released by Millennium Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Donald Morton), Radha Mitchell (Isabelle Sorenson), Gary Cole (Wallace), Sheila Kelley (Janice), Erica Leerhsen (Bronwin), John Carroll Lynch (Gregory), Nate Mooney (Roger), Rusty Schwimmer (Gracie), Robert Wisdom (Blume), Allen Evangelista (Skeets), Kelly B. Eviston (Dr. Trask) and Jhon Goodwin (Rodney).


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Of Human Bondage (1946, Edmund Goulding)

Slow-moving (which probably goes hand-in-hand with the source material, a novel that took me two months to read, just for lack of interest), but still rather good. Goulding is an interesting director, he really holds his shots, and he creates the material out of the basic frameworks of the novel. Paul Henreid’s Philip Carey becomes redeemable a lot sooner than Maugham’s does, which makes the second half of the film much more pleasant than the first. The second half also has a great Edmund Gwenn performance.

TCM tends to show Of Human Bondage on their Henreid or Alexis Smith days, but Smith’s hardly in the film. The female lead is Eleanor Parker, who’s great… but… Parker doesn’t get to exit the film. Her character does, from the back of the head, but it’s all Henreid’s scene. This choice is interesting (and appropriate) since Parker has a lot more to do in the film. I tend not to like actor-absence in the final scenes, but it lets Henreid become the center again. So much of the film is about Parker’s presence and absence, something jarring is needed to focus on Henreid. Henreid doesn’t even try to make his character likable, because the audience gets to see his faults over and over.

The feeling of the film–the long, torturous “bondage” Carey feels in regard to his relationship with Parker’s character–is absent in the book. The novel is big and long (I just recently referred to Lanark as an enjoyable version of Of Human Bondage–and I love Maugham, by the way) and it never leaves you feeling good. In the second half of the film, Gwenn gives every scene a pleasant end, so it’s appropriate the film manages to confirm some positivity in the human condition….

A couple odd points. 1) I always thought Alexis Smith played two characters. She doesn’t. Janis Paige plays the other one. 2) I can not understand why there’s a reference to Of Human Bondage in Seven. Not this film nor the book. Must have been an attempt at a smarty-pants move.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Catherine Turney, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, J. Peverell Marley; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Paul Henreid (Philip Carey), Eleanor Parker (Mildred Rogers), Alexis Smith (Nora Nesbitt), Edmund Gwenn (Athelny), Patric Knowles (Griffiths), Janis Paige (Sally Athelny), Henry Stephenson (Dr. Tyrell), Marten Lamont (Dunsford), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. Athelny), Una O’Connor (Mrs. Foreman), Eva Moore (Mrs. Gray) and Richard Nugent (Emil Miller).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.

The Tales of Hoffmann (1951, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

In honor of Dennis Arundell’s translation of The Tales of Hoffman‘s lyrics (into English), how visually flawless, how totally heartless.

Hoffmann is not an adaptation of the opera, rather a filmic performance. Depending on your opinion, this approach is either the benefit or failure of the film. The performances–hopefully–were meant to be judged on their singing and dancing, because there’s no real acting going on. No characters being created, no conflict being charted. I spent the entire film looking at the clock.

The film is beautiful. The Archers do color German expressionist–but manage it well, with a few moments Fellini lifted. Except Fellini added human conflict to the moments, making them more than pretty. There’s a few really amusing moments when they concentrate on one of the supporting characters, not because she’s necessary, but because they can’t totally ignore the dramatic need….

Powell and Pressburger are so good–so beyond good–everyone ought to be a completist, making The Tales of Hoffmann a necessary viewing. If you like opera, you might even enjoy it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; screenplay by Powell, Pressburger and Dennis Arundell, based on the libretto by Jules Barbier and the stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann; director of photography, Christopher Challis; edited by Reginald Mills; music by Jacques Offenbach; production designer, Hein Heckroth; released by British Lion Film Corporation.

Starring Robert Rounseville (Hoffmann), Moira Shearer (Stella and Olympia), Ludmilla Tchérina (Giulietta), Anne Ayars (Antonia), Pamela Brown (Nicklaus), Léonide Massine (Spalanzani, Schlemil and Franz), Robert Helpmann (Lindorf, Coppelius, Dapertutto and Dr. Miracle), Frederick Ashton (Kleinsach and Cochenille), Mogens Wieth (Crespel), Lionel Harris (Pitichinaccio), Philip Leaver (Andreas) and Meinhart Maur (Luther).


Match Point (2005, Woody Allen)

Woody gave an interview in “Entertainment Weekly” of all places and talked about how he’s gone through so many critical ups and downs, he’s not phased by Match Point‘s good press. It’s certainly his most commercial film in recent memory… probably since Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex … But Were Afraid to Ask. Really–it’s incredibly commercial. Thrillers are always commercial, even when they’re impeccably cast, written, directed, and scored. Match Point is really good, sure, but it’s not some amazing “return” for Allen.

I realized that–that Match Point and its praise, from people considered with box office potential–really early into the film, actually. Something about the pacing of the first act, maybe that it was set in London. It’s beautiful to see Allen do films in London, since he got to use some great actors–Ewen Bremner and Colin Salmon showed up for Alien vs. Predator reunion, for example. For all the great press Scarlett Johansson is getting, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is better. But I read once, I think in a review of Curse of the Jade Scorpion, that Woody makes the most profound observations about the human condition when it wouldn’t seem like he was trying… when he was most comfortable. Obviously, there are some flaws in this theory (yes, Broadway Danny Rose is profound, but so are September and Interiors), but Match Point isn’t a comfortable Woody Allen. The narrator isn’t Woody or even a facet of him.

As good as Match Point turns out–it owes a lot to Ealing comedies, I won’t spoil anymore–it’s not a better made film than Melinda and Melinda, which had story problems, but was the best filmmaking Allen’s done since… well, not that long. Sweet and Lowdown was a beautifully made film.

Match Point‘s only a revelation to people who think Woody’s gone somewhere. He hasn’t… so it’s just another good Woody Allen movie.

There are twenty-five other good ones too.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Letty Aronson, Gareth Wiley and Lucy Darwin; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Chris Wilton), Scarlett Johansson (Nola Rice), Emily Mortimer (Chloe Wilton), Matthew Goode (Tom Hewett), Brian Cox (Alec Hewett), Rupert Penry-Jones (Henry), Colin Salmon (Ian), Ewen Bremner (Inspector Dowd) and Penelope Wilton (Eleanor Hewett).


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