Sunday, September 30, 2012

Looper

By the year 2074, time travel will not only have been invented, but swiftly banned, available solely on the black market for use by gangster's as the only clean way to commit murder. By sending their victim back in time 30 years to an isolated locale where an assassin (known as loopers) awaits with a shotgun, swiftly dispatching and disposing of his target. Now, a veritable force has begun to stage a coup and starts sending back all of the current loopers for termination. When a looper (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) comes face to face with his future self (Bruce Willis) and botches the job, he finds himself on the run from his dangerous employers and given the opportunity to correct the course of history. "Looper" is an imaginative visual wonder from Rian Johnson whose previous films were interesting curios ("Brick", "Brothers Bloom") but never achieved their intended levels of combined style and ambition, as is attained here. JGL is an actor who I felt has been given a lot of undue credit lately, is very strong here (although his nose prosthetic and Willis mimicry is somewhat distracting). As for Willis, following "Moonrise Kingdom", I think he is due some Oscar recognition, if only for the heartfelt diner scene here. Emily Blunt also turns up quite late in the film, but very welcomed nonetheless. Not all the elements of Johnson's ambitious story are expounded. I would have liked to know more about the looping process, and later on (with the appearance of Blunt) the film changes gears, takes on a much more lofty tone, and doesn't even bother explaining clearly the new developments. These, however, wind up being only minor quibbles, as all is handled in a stylized, frankly gorgeous concoction by Johnson, and brought home by several terrific performances.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Funny Girl

Fanny Brice, star of the Ziegfeld Follies, walks into the theater hosting her latest act and, taking a seat in the audience before the performance, reminisces on her life from her humble beginnings in a Manhattan slum, to her meteoric rise to vaudevillian success, along with her tumultuous relationship with charming gambler Nick Arnstein. Barbara Streisand reprised her stage role in this epic length, technicolor musical which garnered her an Academy Award (which she shared with Kate Hepburn) and launched her to international stardom. For such a long movie (nearly tipping three hours) there is not a whole lot going on in terms of plot but Streisand is completely endearing, making the trip worthwhile. William Wyler's acute direction also enhances the slight  production as does Omar Sharif's presence as Streisand's on again off again beau. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Johnny Belinda

A deaf and mute young woman (Jane Wyman) ekes out a joyless existence on her father's farm in Nova Scotia until a local country doctor (Lew Ayres), also alone, takes pity on her, teaching her to read and write, and falling in love with her in the process. There situation, already seen as untenable by many in the town, is aggravated further when she is raped at a community gathering. "Johnny Belinda" is a superior social drama from director Jean Negulesco, containing not a hint of false sentimentality, and featuring absolutely heartrending performances from Wyman (who won the Oscar) and Ayres. Negulesco adds to his involving, ahead of its time story with breathtaking, countryside visuals. In our time, it would be hard to picture this kind of picture other than in a cheap, made-for-TV fashion. With "Johnny Belinda", Wymen, Ayres, and Negulesco show just how authentic and deep emotions can run in this kind of story.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wallander

Series 3
Season 3 of "Wallander" sees the depressed Ystad detective track a religious arsonist, travel across the Baltic Sea to investigate police corruption in Latvia, and investigate a body washing up in his own backyard whose murder investigation, through his own malfeasance, will lead to the severe injury of an endeared colleague. Kenneth Branagh delivers his finest performance yet in the series and while the mysteries remain standard, connect-the-dot whodunnits, Branagh never ceases to be anything less than captivating as the existential inspector.
***

Series 2
As Wallander continues to undergo difficulties with his infirmed father and dismissive daughter, a line of duty shooting leaves the existential sleuth's conscious more reeling than ever as he deals with three more mysteries of an extremely execrable nature. "Wallander's" sophomore outing is a marked improvement over the first season with a brand new batch of Henning Mankell's mysteries that play out to greater intrigue in each of the self-contained episodes. Also, Kenneth Branagh still continues to shine, even during darker or less inspired moments of the series.
***

Series 1
Police detective Kurt Wallander is undergoing a midlife crisis following his separation from his wife and the news that his father is suffering from Alzheimer's, and seems to be empathizing with the victims of the bizarre crimes that have plagued his idyllic small town of Ystad. "Wallander" is a British television adaptation of a highly successful series of Swedish crime yarns by author Henning Mankell, which have also been translated to Swedish TV to equal acclaim. With "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series, "Let the Right One In", and "Headhunters", Scandinavian thrillers are in high demand for screen translation and I think the secret is central characterization. While I found the stories in "Wallander" to be routine crime procedurals, Kenneth Branagh delivers a dynamic lead performance that is unlike anything we'd expect from the hero of a cop drama. Branagh does everything he can to make his character seem like a normal guy, while make adding existential, melancholic, and inept qualities, all welcomed attributes for this kind of hero. Like the recent Scandi thrillers, intriguing and atypical leads are also a tradition in British TV and like Jane Tennyson, and John Luther, Kurt Wallander stands up nicely alongside them.
***

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

A San Francisco sous chef (Jason Segel) and a British post graduate student (Emily Blunt) meet at a New Year's Party, fall instantly in love, and not too long after decide to tie the knot. Over the course of the next five years, their impending nuptials are given a back seat to career considerations and a series of other roadblocks that put a wedge in between the two. Starting this film, expecting another stale and bloated Apatow outing, I actually groaned when I saw the running time, preparing my "it felt like it took 5 years" quips. However, I quickly realized how mistaken I was. "Nicholas Stoller's "The Five-Year Engagement" is a humorous, warm, and impeccably crafted romantic comedy. Again writing with leading man Segel, Stoller brings an incredible visual style to his film in a work that is just as funny, though much more mature than any of his previous outings ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall", "Get Him to the Greek"). Segel is an actor who has grown on me lately, and finds a role that fits him like a glove here. Blunt is such a lovely actress, and the two of them make a sublime couple. The supporting cast only adds to the fun and among my favorites were Chris Pratt as Segel's goof-off best friend, Alison Brie as Blunt's sister, and Rhys Ifans as a smarmy professor. "The Five-Year Engagement" is not just a surprise, it is a revelation for how good movies of this kind can be, and just how absolutely abysmal the majority of the remaining offerings are. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Trouble with the Curve

A grizzled, veteran scout (Clint Eastwood), losing his vision and vehemently stuck in his ways, finds himself being forced out by the Atlanta Braves organization, in favor of the younger, techno-oriented intermediaries. In order to save his job, but really as a swan song to his distinguished career, he takes a road trip with his equally emotionally distant daughter (Amy Adams) to North Carolina to scout a touted prospect. "Trouble with the Curve" comes billed as a counter to "Moneyball", last year's success which favored computer analysis over old-fashioned scouting, which is ironic in a way considering that this film's routine and corny screenplay seems like it was spewed straight from a mainframe. Robert Lorenz, a longtime Eastwood collaborator and first time director, seems to be mimicking his sensei rather than branching out on his own path, and the results are tenuous at best. It's welcomed to see Eastwood on the big screen, who is capable of carrying anything, and I am equally convinced of Adam's versatility also. I only wish that he would have opted to direct, and gone on to find some screenwriting talent that was worth a damn.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird couldn't have been further apart as individuals, Magic an easy going extrovert from a working class family in Lansing, Michigan and Larry a reticent introvert born dirt poor in rural Indiana. When they faced off on the basketball hardwood, for the first time in 1979 NCAA Title Game and then many times throughout their esteemed professional careers, they brought an unbridled intensity to their rivalry, which may have seemed fueled by hatred, but ultimately revealed itself in a lasting friendship. "Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals" is a remarkable documentary, prominently featuring its subjects in addition to a wealth of archive footage and commentary. This in-depth portrait gives you both a sense of Magic and Bird as people, as well as competitors on the court, the balance of which is a rarity in this kind of sports documentary.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Master

In the waning days of WWII, a bored and somewhat brutish midshipman (Joaquin Phoenix) goofs off with his comrades, and returns home to a listless existence, going from job to job and woman to woman. Then one night, following his most recent drunken debacle,  he stows away on a luxury liner commanded by the leader of a group known as The Cause, and finds himself being drawn in by the hypnotic mystic (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his off-brand, mind altering sect. "The Master" is a technically exceptional film from art house champion Paul Thomas Anderson, probably the finest he has ever filmed, which features a fierce performance from Hoffman, and a career defining one from Phoenix. Amy Adams work as Hoffman's resolute wife also bears mentioning, as her fine performance has bafflingly become lost in the headline grabbing performances of her costars. Despite these accolades, Anderson's narrative is slight and unnecessarily protracted, dragging on much longer than it needs to. There is also a tendency by many critics to search for greater significance in this Scientology inspired fable, when all of its substance is clearly evident on screen, with Anderson never cutting further than skin deep. During a sequence in the film when Hoffman reacquaints Phoenix into his group he states, "this is going to be a long and difficult process." That should have been the tagline for this movie.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Philadelphia Story

As a fiercely independent socialite (Katharine Hepburn) welcomes guests for her second marriage at her family estate, a tabloid rag sends an undercover reporter (James Stewart) and her rascally first husband (Cary Grant), who still carries a flame for his ex, to cover the affair. "The Philadelphia Story" is a delightful comedy of manners, adapted from Philip Barry's stage play by Donald Ogden Stewart, directed by legendary master George Culkor, and featuring sharp performances from three of Hollywood's best, with Jimmy Stewart winning the sole Oscar of his career, which was something of a make-up award for being passed over for his prior, remarkable year ("Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "Destry Rides Again"). The film is light, witty, and constantly entertaining, although it is not quite the monumental classic which its reputation has afforded it over the years. Still, it is great fun to see Hepburn, Grant, and Stewart, again three inimitable legends, interact on the screen.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

La Ronde

In Vienna at the turn of the 20th Century , a transcendent guide (Anton Walbrook) leads us on a journey of love as a prostitute meets a soldier who happens upon a young maid who romances a young man, and on and on until the tale comes full circle. Max Ophuls' "La Ronde" is an ornate, gorgeously staged and sexually frank adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's play. Walbrook, along with much of the cast, is charming and Ophuls adds some nice touches along the way, never making the film anything less than dazzling. However the threadbare, connect-the-dots plotting makes this film seem as inconsequential as many of the hyperlink movies do today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Favorite Year

An over-the-hill, swashbuckling star of the silver screen of decades yore is slated to appear on the popular King Kaiser Show (great title), and shows up for rehearsals late, drunk, and chasing every woman in sight. When show execs panic and decide to go with option B, a young staff member promises to look after the old rascal and deliver him, sober and promptly, to the taping. Richard Benjamin's "My Favorite Year" is based on Mel Brooks' reminiscence of an infamous Errol  Flynn  appearance on the Sid Caesar show which, despite a great set-up and a riotous ending, come off like someone doing a cheap Brooks riff. Unsurprisingly, the only redeemable element of the story is Peter O'Toole, who delivers a hearty and intensely likable performance as the bawdy actor. The rest of the cast is absolutely stagnant, engaging in extremely broad comedy that mostly comes off as unfunny.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

A withered and tried intelligence officer returns home to London after losing one of his undercover agents while trying to cross the East Berlin border. Following a brief respite, on orders of headquarters, he descends into an alcohol fused spiral and romances a communist sympathizer, in an attempt to stage a defection to the Soviet Union and capture the officer responsible for his agent's murder. "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" is an icy and utterly realistic (especially in the face of the then surging Bond series) adaptation of John le CarrĂ©'s espionage thriller, handled exquisitely, in stark black and white, by directing great Martin Ritt. Le CarrĂ©'s labyrinthian plot is presented clearly, and features a masterful performance from Richard Burton, playing the detached and disillusioned operative. Claire Bloom is also excellent as the naive innocent who becomes the government pawn. In addition to the great spy material, the technical details, and Burton's commanding performance, what elevates "TSWCIFTC" is its investiture in the tragic, human elements of its story.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Darling

A gorgeous, shallow woman goes from bored housewife to Italian princess, literally screwing her way through London high society to the top, and burning all her bridges along the way. Julie Christie is phenomenal in her Academy Award winning performance, delivering a spot-on portrayal of a complex, frustrating character. John Schlesinger's British New Wave film, which he also helped develop the story for, is unexpectedly inflammatory for its time and uniquely directed, giving life to a cold and ugly story. On top of Christie's whirlwind performance, she is given great support from Dick Bogarde and Laurence Harvey, playing two of her stepping stone lovers. "Darling" is an excellent example of a directorial vision in addition to a tour-de-force performance.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Of Mice and Men

In the heart of the Great Depression, kindly, but worn out George and his feeble minded charge Lenny escape their latest fiasco and head to the Salinas River Valley to work on the farm of a wealthy rancher. Along with the rancher's vile, temperamental son and his bored and fetching wife, George and Lenny play out their doomed tragedy of shattered dreams in this early adaptation of John Steinbeck's vintage novella. Lewis Milestone's black and white treatment is outstanding and his film contains much of the power of the book, while stars Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney, Jr. are both outstanding in their roles. Like Gary Sinise's equally excellent 1992 treatment, this predecessor is a moving, gut wrenching tragedy worked from Steinbeck's can't miss story.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Synecdoche, New York

A local playwright and theater director in upstate New York receives an illustrious grant, moves to the city, and, inside the confines of a massive dome, begins to stage his interminable, ever expanding, and autobiographical masterpiece. "Synechdoche, New York" is the extremely ambitious, largely incomprehensible, and endlessly fascinating directorial debut of eccentric screenwriter Charlie Kaufman who creates another analytical, intellectually stimulating masterpiece. As the equally neurotic and physically decaying playwright, Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent in an arduous and incredibly demanding role, where he is given great support from his impeccable female cast which includes Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton (delightful), Michelle Williams, Hope Davis (hilarious), Emily Watson, and Dianne Wiest. When I first saw this film upon its release, I thought Kaufman had made an incomprehensible film solely for himself. Upon a second viewing, however, much becomes evident while, like Hoffman's constantly aggrandizing opus, more questions continue to arise.

Deja Vu

On the first Mardi Gras following Hurricane Katrina, as the city of New Orleans struggles to rebuild, a terrorist detonates a massive car bomb on a ferry, killing hundreds of reveling passengers. An ATF agent (Denzel Washington) participating in the investigation identifies a connection between the bombing and a beautiful woman (Paula Patton) found murdered the same day.  Soon he is working with a federal agent (Val Kilmer) and his team who have at their disposal a high tech satellite system which allows them to reconstruct, at any singular point, the events four and a half days in the past. It becomes clear though, that this is a much more powerful tool and that it may just be possible to alter the past, save the girl, and prevent the massacre on the ferry. Tony Scott's "Deja Vu" doesn't bear close scrutiny. In fact, it actually bears no scrutiny, and is frankly downright preposterous. However, it is a fun movie, and when disbelief is allowed to be suspended, it even has a few clever tricks up its sleeve. For longtime Scott collaborator, Washington delivers one of his finest performances and it is to both his credit, as well as Patton's, that they are able to invest such weight in their charcters' tenuous and surprisingly heartfelt relationship. When Tony Scott sadly and shockingly took his own life last month, I felt a lot of the obituaries were over the top in their praising of his work. Watching "Deja Vu", and thinking of some of his other films I've liked ("Unstoppable", "Crimson Tide", "Man on Fire"), I realized how much he excelled at his craft, and considering who remains in the arena, how deeply his loss will be felt.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Compliance

On a morning which has already seen a food spoilage totaling $15,000 dollars in damage, the manager of an Ohio fast food chain receives a phone call from a caller claiming to an officer of the law, and asserting that one of the restaurant's employees has stolen money from a customer's purse. On the orders of the officer, who is clearly a prank caller, the manager escorts the accused to the stockroom where she is then subjected to a series of increasingly invasive humiliations, beginning with a basic person search and culminating in a sexual assault. Based on a shocking score of incidents, Craig Zobel's "Compliance" is a frightening precautionary tale of blind obedience, not only to law enforcement, but authority in general. Zobel does an excellent job staging and directing his picture, and his cast is also in fine form, particularly Ann Dowd as the pathetic manager, and Pat Healy as the morally vacuous caller. I did have some issues with the film's construction. While much of the picture's early scenes bear an eerie believability, many of the latter ones are beyond ludicrous, while Zobel hides behind the guise of "Inspired by True Events." I really wasn't sure what to think when walking out of "Compliance." I am not the kind of person who requires happy endings and resists morbidity in the movies but, while this film is well-made, nicely acted, and had me thinking about it long afterwards, it left me feeling empty and with no real reason to recommend seeing it. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Going to the Movies Sucks

I'm just going to skip over the part where I proclaim my love for film and get straight to the point: going to the movies today sucks. There could be a million discussion points for this topic - high admission/concession prices, poor projection/sound quality, uncomfortable seating, texting, crying babies, etc. - but there is one consistent annoyance that causes at least myself, someone who averages over 1 movie a week at the theaters, to reconsider my movie going habits: obnoxious patrons. It has become habitual now that in most every film I've attended, at least one (and usually more) GROWN patron will provide his/her running commentary during a film, while pretending that they are completely invisible and in the confines of their own living rooms. It became so bad a few weeks back during a picture, I actually asked a patient to keep it down, and he continued talking while I was addressing him! Having to do this is so uncomfortable, so much so that while in a theater today, as several parties chirped away continuously, I was too chickenshit to say anything to them, let alone management. I thought about voicing a complaint, but what really can be done to curb this selfish behavior? The attention deficit problem in this country extends way beyond people being attached to their mobile devices, so much so that when they are forced to be without them, they still can't shut the fuck up. In my experience, and maybe its just the films I attend, it is NOT unruly, text happy teens spoiling the movie going experience. It is grown ass men and women, of all colors and creeds, who think that their opinions are so important they cannot wait for the end of the film. Grow up, you are not important, respect those around you, and again, shut the fuck up.

Arbitrage

A Wall Street bigwig (Richard Gere) outwardly seems to have it made - billions of dollars, a doting wife (Susan Sarandon), a beautiful and ambitious daughter (Brit Marling) - but his life is quickly unraveling: a mega merger is needed to plug a major cash gap, but glitches keep preventing the deal from culminating and, more urgently, a tragic accident involving his mistress place him, and his friend's son (Nate Parker), in the sight line of the law. Nicholas Jarecki's "Arbitrage" meshes a lackluster family story with an extraordinary multifaceted crime story. Gere delivers a solid, though sometimes very odd, but never less than compelling performance as a man trying always to maintain his sleek veneer while scheming with types all throughout the criminal spectrum. The film is only unsuccessful, though not detrimentally, when it comes to personal drama with Sarandon being criminally underused and Marling a really poor and uninspiring conscious for the film. I must say that I was slightly disappointed, and a little shocked, in Tim Roth's ineffectual performance as an NYC detective. When it comes to the criminal aspects of this film, Jarecki tells a completely fascinating story, which is carred by, and through the less worthy parts, by Gere.

The Glass Key

A shady politician (Brian Donleavy) errantly backs a candidate (Moroni Olsen), solely to land in the arms of his knockout daughter (Veronica Lake). When a rival politico (Joseph Calleia) murders the candidate's son and pins it on the boss, it is up to his top adherent (Alan Ladd) to set matters right, while falling in love with the platinum blonde. "The Glass Key" is a terse and effective noir adapted from Dashiell Hammett's crime novel. Alan Ladd, probably the most unheralded tough guy from Hollywood's Golden Age, delivers a completely compelling performance as the icy cool enforcer (a climatic scene where he descends a staircase to confront some baddies is absolutely riveting). William Bendix, who also played another memorable psychotic in Ladd's "The Blue Dahlia", is terrifying here as an off-kilter goon. "The Glass Key" is an effective, to the point crime story that, thanks largely to Ladd and Bendix, packs a considerable punch.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Stunt Man

A Vietnam veteran (Steve Railsback), on the run from law enforcement, encounters an old Packard on a bridge during the pursuit, and inadvertently causes the death of its stunt man driver. Now, the renegade director (Peter O'Toole) of the picture being shot offers the fugitive a deal: replace the deceased stunt man in return for an ample salary and protection from the law. Now the transient finds himself in the arms of a beautiful leading lady (Barbara Hershey), and at the mercy of the increasingly erratic filmmaker. From Paul Brodeur's book, Richard Rush's The Stunt Man is a confused and poorly constructed story with a dynamic performance from O'Toole at its center. Railsback and Hershey are off in their respective roles and Rush, through the guise of O'Toole's director, seems to think he is making a greater movie than he has (both in the final product and the movie within a movie). The relationships are poorly explored (Railsback and O'Toole, O'Toole and Hershey, Hershey and O'Toole) and Rush offers glossy, slick and often nonsensical direction. Again though, O'Toole is a force of nature and his Lead Actor Academy Award nomination, for what is essentially a supporting role, is a testament to his considerable abilities.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts

Philip Glass is the reserved, minimalist composer who is famous for his resounding, hypnotic, and intentionally redundant pieces. Over the course of a year, director Scott Hicks, whose Oscar winning Shine  depicted a socially misfitted musician not entirely unlike Glass, follows the melodist around as he tends to family, works on his latest symphony or film score, and composes his next opera entitled Waiting for the Barbarians. I have always found Glass' work spellbinding, and watching him work with Woody Allen here and also hearing Errol Morris discuss their collaborations is fantastic stuff. However, due to the composer's closed off nature, he doesn't make the most compelling subject, and much of his personal life, discussed at length here, just doesn't seem particularly cinematic. This is also a really long film, especially for a biographical profile of this sort. Also having recently watched "James Levine: America's Maestro", another American Masters entry on a great musical master, the difference was evident on how to make a captivating film on the subject.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Young Mr. Lincoln

An aimless Abraham Lincoln leaves his log cabin in Kentucky and moves to Springfield, Illinois where he picks up the practice of law, and wins over the townspeople with his hayseed sensibilities, but still doesn't see his purpose himself. Not until he takes on the case of two men wrongly accused of murder is he able to see he life's ambition. "Young Mr. Lincoln" was the first of many sensational teamings between screen icons John Ford and Henry Fonda. With Lamar Trotti's fanciful, Oscar nominated screenplay, Ford adds depth and grace with his directorial vision, most notably in the rousing trial sequence. Fonda not only bears an unexpectedly uncanny resemblance to the great leader, but also delivers one of his finest, most nuanced performances of his career. "Young Mr. Lincoln" is a humorous, well-realized and favors slice-of-life storytelling over the politicization or revelatory elements you might expect from this kind of picture.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Frankenstein

In his 2011 production of Frankenstein for the Royal National Theater, Danny Boyle and playwright Nick Dear proposed two remarkable takes for the often told Mary Shelley tale: first was to cast actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller (both currently in a feud of sorts over the latter's Sherlock ripoff series) as the monster and the creator, and having them alternate roles for each successive performance (I saw the version with Cumberbatch as the monster, filmed for the screen). The second was to give the monster his voice back, something which was robbed of him in most film renditions. Boyle's vision is unique, bold, intelligent, humorous, and extremely dark, with his lead actors (the monster is the meatier role), abetted by a game supporting cast, delivering sublime performances in what are backbreaking, highly demanding roles.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mrs. Miniver

When war breaks out in England, the middle class Minivers do everything they can to aid the struggle: Patriarch Clem (Walter Pidgeon) joins a local naval squad assisting in the Dunkirk evacuation, his son Vin (Richard Ney) enlists in the RAF, all the while the indomitable Mrs. (Greer Garson) maintains matters at home, putting on a strong face while worrying about her loved ones, participating in flower shows, and even outsmarting the occasional Nazi who has invaded her home. William Wyler's "Mrs. Miniver" is rousing propaganda for the highest form, so great that it lead to Oscar wins for Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress (Theresa Wright, delightful), Screenplay, and Cinematography as well as Winston Churchill's famous praise that it had done more for the Allied cause that a "flotilla of battleships." Wyler's film is wonderfully directed in crisp, clear black and white, and whose sentiment never seems phony or forced. Garson is luminous and credible in the leading role and Pidgeon brings great earnestness to his role. Though how accurate the film really was about its middle class subjects, it helped bring out the best of the British people for a conflict that was arduous, interminable and fought with courage and grace, both on the battlefields and on the home front.
note: "Downton Abbey", a series which I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with, creator Julian Fellowes directly lifted the crucial rose contest sequence from this film.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect 7: The Last Act (2006)
On the cusp of retirement, Jane draws the case of a missing teenager which she refuses to let go until the killer is brought justice. Simultaneously fraught with personal strife, including her father's illness and her own alcoholism, Jane becomes drawn to a young girl central to the case, a smart and fiercely independent sort that reminds her of herself. With "The Last Act", Prime Suspect and star Helen Mirren go out on a high note, one that could have been a masterful one had it not been for some tacky plot choices, the kind of which have marred other episodes in this series. It goes without saying that Dame Mirren is excellent once more here, and its superfluous that I'm even stating so.  Director Philip Martin does an excellent job directing, which sort of continues the new style employed by Tom Hooper in the previous outing. There is also a really nice touch in the return of series veteran Tom Bell (who died before release and to whom this installment is dedicated) and his prickly, chauvinistic chief inspector. In closing, Prime Suspect was a series that both revolutionized the modern crime series while also inspiring the cliched, unworthy elements that plague it today. In also never featured anything less than perfection from its inimitable star.
*** 1/2

Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness (2003)
Jane once again finds herself bucking her superiors, who now try to force her into retirement, as she investigates the murder of Bosnian refugee, leading her on a journey to the Balkans and a ruthless war criminal. The sixth entry is the Prime Suspect series doesn't break any new ground as far as material is concerned, and follows the same blueprints as its predecessors, but is notable for the exceptional direction of Tom Hooper, who brings his distinct visual style to the series. Of course, Helen Mirren is excellent once again, following a long gap since the previous installment.
***

Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgement (1996)
Jane has been reassigned to a high crime district, but is being underused in her commission as a community liaison officer. When an aboveboard drug execution presents itself, she sees it as an opportunity to impress her commander. Things, of course, are not as straightforward as they seem, and the lead suspect proves extra wily and it soon becomes apparent there is a mole in the police department. "Prime Suspect 5" is more of the same with Helen Mirren carrying the rest of the overwrought and routine affair. An engaging supporting performance from Steven Mackintosh as the mad dog suspect help keep things in order as well.
** 1/2


Prime Suspect 4 (1995)
Part I - The Lost Child
Part II - Inner Circles
Part III - Scent of Darkness
The fourth series of "Prime Suspect" is divided into three sub-parts, with Jane working three independent cases. The first part is entitled "The Lost Child" and deals with the search for a missing child and a rush to judgement based on a prior sexual history. "Inner Circles" details the investigation into the murder of a bereft country club manager which leads to a scandal involving a housing complex. The final segment, "Scent of Darkness" follows Jane as a copycat murderer causes her to reopen the file for the case depicted on "Prime Suspect 1". Although Helen Mirren is quite good once again here, the redundant formulas have become glaring where a suspect is identified while Jane is harrassed who goes on to identify the correct perpetrator, usually the most ludicrous person imaginable. And still, "PS4" is nonetheless entertaining with Mirren standing triumphant at the center.
***


Prime Suspect 3 (1993)
Jane has transferred to head a vice squadron where the murder of a young male prostitute leads to a child sex ring implicating a devious sex solicitor, a transvestite, a seemingly noble head of a youth center, and possibly a disgraced recently retired police captain. The third installment in the "Prime Suspect" series is steeped in histrionics and replete with irritating gay stereotypes as well as outdated gay themes, yet it still remains an intricate and powerful series, with Helen Mirren continuing to lead the way with her dazzling knockout performance. I also appreciated the plotting here, and how you can't exactly pin down the plot or foresee where its going. Additions to the cast are strong as well which include David Thewlis, Ciaran Hinds, and Mark Strong, as well as the return of Tom Bell who appeared in the first installment and deftly again plays that oily character. Though maybe not quite on par on the first two entries, "Prime Suspect 3" continues to set the bar for quality television criminal procedurals.
*** 1/2

Prime Suspect 2 (1992)
As racial tensions gather over accusations of police brutality, Chief Inspector Tennison has earned the respect of her peers when a decomposed corpse is found in the backyard of a black neighborhood. To make matters more complicated, a black detective whom Tennison has had a fling with is brought over to work the case for PC reasons. "Prime Suspect 2" is a fine followup to the groundbreaking British series. Helen Mirren is as towering, excellent, and believable as ever and the incendiary plot plays out extremely well (although I though they didn't play fair with the identity of the perpetrator). "Prime Suspect 2" is a gritty and engaging film continuing the trend from its predecessor.
*** 1/2

Prime Suspect (1991)
Police procedurals have always been a standard on television, but especially today crime shows, particularly grisly forensic oriented crime programs, are dominating the airwaves. With the Prime Suspect, an excellent British series revolving around a criminal investigation, we see the bar being set for modern shows of the same nature, few of which succeed in meeting it. In a dynamic performance from Helen Mirren, we follow her character Jane Tennyson, a London investigator who has been passed over for promotion two many times due to her sex. When the beloved lead detective on a brutal homicide has a heart attack and dies, it is finally her chance to head an investigation. As things begin to point in a different direction than the original detective was heading, and the case begins to widen, she faces hostility from her colleagues both out of loyalty to the deceased and shear sexism. "Prime Suspect" functions excellently on several levels: as an investigatory program, as a character study, as an examination of sexism in the workplace, and finally as study of how bureaucracy places barricades in the way of a successful police investigation. Mirren here demonstrates her unmatched abilities as an actress and again the fact that they don't make women like her anymore as she demonstrates grit, determination, and elegance. Also making early acting appearances in the movie are Tom Wilkinson as her husband and Ralph Fiennes in a small part. "Prime Suspect" is a fine example of an intelligent cop movie that many modern ones could learn from.
*** 1/2