Daily Projections, 6-6-2019: Pretty Poison (1968)

Didn’t have the easiest time getting through this one and felt consistently distracted throughout most of the first hour. Anthony Perkins is Dennis the apparently reformed juvenile delinquent recently released from a mental institution and on probation after serving a decade or so for (apparently accidentally) burning down a relative’s house not realizing his aunt was still inside. Tuesday Weld is Sue Ann, the beautiful young high school honors student, terribly clever but stifled by her overbearing mother. When Dennis, prone to flights of fancy, tells young Sue Ann that he is a secret agent, an innocent fantasy quickly morphs into a genuine crime spree. But who is the true psychopath. To me, Pretty Poison bears some resemblance to Badlands (though lacking Malick’s sense of visual poetry) and even another Tuesday Weld flick, Lord Love a Duck. Perkins’s character, Dennis, while generally deadpan, still feels like the moral compass of the film. Weld’s Sue Ann, however, always feels a bit hollow and never really rings true. Perhaps that’s the point. Some confusing directorial choices – overly tight closeups, an awkward angle two-shot right in the opening scene – often make Pretty Poison feel cheap, more like an exploitation picture than a film worthy of the likes of its two stars.

Title: Pretty Poison
Director: Noel Black
Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1968
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

Daily Projections, 6-4-2019: Miquette et sa mère (1950)

Title: Miquette et sa mère
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Country of Origin: France
Year: 1950
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: home
First viewing? yes

A film Clouzot apparently had little interest in making and greeted with equal disinterest by critics and audiences alike, though still very funny if you ask me. Two timid lovebirds (Miquette and Urbain) kept apart by a scheming uncle-Marquis who has designs of his own on Miquette as she strives to make it as an actress in order to make jealous the lover she believes has jilted her. The humor is broadly farcical, blend of irony and slapstick, not unlike Preston Sturges, though considerably more French and likely to have scandalized American audiences of the time (e.g. a particular ancestor is well regarded for having had the Sun King). The very best scenes are played between Danièle Delorme (Miquette) and Bourvil (Urbain). The latter a gifted physical comedian who plays the bumbling idiot well and the former with a gift for portraying the coquettish ingenue. Something in the way Delorme glides through the film, even in the comedic moments, the way she dodges an aspiring lover’s advances while never seeming to notice them, is almost balletic. There is an air about her performance which recalls…someone, though I can’t say for sure who. Perhaps Sidney Fox in Once In A Lifetime. Miquette et sa mère gets a bad rap for some reason, though you won’t hear it from me.

Daily Projections, 1-11-2019: Winter Woman (1977)

Title: Winter Woman
Director: KIM Ho-sun
Country of Origin: South Korea
Year: 1977
Screening format: Streaming (YouTube)
Setting: Home
First viewing? Yes

Notes: Winter Woman was, apparently, the best selling Korean film of the 1970s, based on a popular novel with a rather leftist message (at least for 1970s South Korea). I haven’t read the novel and I won’t pretend to be an expert on that period of Korean history. All I can say for sure is that Winter Woman, especially the first hour, tends to err on the side of confusing. I had to pause the film multiple times to consult a synopsis of the novel in order to understand what was happening on the screen only to find out come the end that Winter Woman the film is only kinda like the novel to the point that, if you changed the title and the character names, someone familiar with both could easily write off any similarities as coincidence. Anyway, the film made Chang Mi-hee a star in Korea, but so much of her performance is overshadowed by an overindulgence in non-diegetic sound (far too much reverb on all narrated segments and a soundtrack alternating between Bach and cheesy 1970s synthesizers). I know the point of the film is, ostensibly, the sexual autonomy of Korean women, which is all well and good, but I can’t help but think that I-hwa’s naïveté sets her up for trouble early on. Twice, she tells a man (different men) “I’ll go anywhere with you”. Not a good idea.

Daily Projections, 12-20-2018: Pickpocket (1959)

Title: Pickpocket
Director: Robert Bresson
Country of Origin: France
Year: 1959
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: Home
First viewing? Yes

My first Bresson. Bresson, whose reputation for grace and economy precede him. Maybe Pickpocket is a strange place to start with Bresson. It’s admittedly hard to get a handle on what is going on here at first. Michel is a pickpocket, perhaps a kleptomaniac, stealing for the thrill of it. As he teams with accomplices, his exploits become more daring and yet, while Michel claims to be afraid of getting caught, it seems as if he almost invites his own downfall. After all, a thief who never locks his door when he leaves home even though there are stolen goods all over the place. Is he really that brazen? Or is there a part of him that wants to stop stealing but knows he could never chose a crime free life on his own but would have to be led to it by a power greater than he is? The pickpocketing scenes themselves are downright riveting. Tightly choreographed and elegant, they form a digital (as in fingers, not computers) ballet. Surely it is no accident, then, that the entire score of the film is comprised of works by Jean Baptiste Lully, a composer who revolutionized ballet and French dance music as a whole in the second half of the 17th century.

Daily Projections, 12-18-2018: My Dear Enemy (2008)

Title: My Dear Enemy
Director: LEE Yoon-ki
Country of Origin: South Korea
Year: 2008
Screening Format: Blu-ray
Setting: Home
First viewing? Yes

IMDB classifies My Dear Enemy as a “road movie”, and it is. Sort of. My Dear Enemy is to road movies as a day spent running errands is to road trips. You spend a lot of time in the car without ever really going anywhere. The journey here is an emotional one. Hee-su (played by Korea’s Queen of Cannes JEON Do-yeon) tracks down her ex Byung-woon to collect on a debt he can’t pay. They spend the remainder of the day together, gathering a little money here and there to pay his debt. Byung-woon believes the best about people, while Hee-su has built a wall of cynicism around herself. This is masterfully translated into the look of the film. In social situations, Byung-woon gets stuck right in while Hee-su stands apart, rarely speaking. Visually, too, she is shot frequently in reflection, through glass, or partially obscured by a barrier. Throughout the day, those barriers are gradually worn down until she interacts with others of her own accord. Beautifully shot making often masterful use of the 2.35 aspect ratio while at other times intentionally refusing to use the entire frame (mirroring the editing: elegant long takes interspersed with series of quick, superfluous cuts), LEE Yoon-ki’s My Dear Enemy is a sensitive and subtle film worth a deeper look in the future.

Daily Projections, 12-08-2018; Listen (2017)

Title: Listen
Director: Philippe Aractingi
Country of Origin: Lebanon
Year: 2017
Screening format: Streaming
Setting: Home
First viewing: Yes

Notes: Joud is a young recording engineer whose ears are his life until girlfriend Rana falls into a coma as a result of a hit and run accident, then his ears become hers. Inspired by the knowledge that coma patients can still hear sound, Joud is intent on coaxing Rana back to the waking world (which provides ample opportunity for the film’s sound editor, Rana Eid, to really strut her stuff). On its surface, perhaps, Listen is a film about love and commitment, but there’s more to it. Maybe it’s really about obsession or lost causes. Every major character is somehow lost within themselves: Rana within her own unconsciousness, Joud in his single-minded quest for a cure,and Rana’s sister Marwa with her pending marriage and desire for independence. The topic of fidelity (of men, of family, of Beirut itself) is broached many times while the questions of clinging to the past, living in the present, and planning for the future continually pull at each other. Is the fool the man who clings to the past or the one who forges full steam into the future? Or is it anyone who fails to embrace the two? There are issues at play here that I, having never actually lived in Lebanon, have only partial access to through the filter of my own relatives. Perhaps the woman in the coma is Lebanon itself, yet to truly awaken from its war-induced slumber. I don’t know. But that’s another question for another time. One I may never be fully equipped to answer.

Daily Projections, 12-06-2018: Footlight Parade (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Title: Footlight Parade
Director: Busby Berkeley, Lloyd Bacon
Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1933
Screening format: TV (TCM)
Setting: Home
First viewing? Goodness, no

Notes: I must have seen Footlight Parade at least a dozen times by now, but I still find it completely irresistible. A lot of that has to do with James Cagney and Joan Blondell, one of the greatest pairings of the 1930s. Watching this today in particular has led me perhaps to an even greater appreciation of the genius of Busby Berkeley. As entertaining as it was, a film like Tanned Legs,which I watched earlier today, so static and stagey as dictated by 1929 movie making technology feels like little mere than a curiosity compared to the elaborate stagings, intricate choreography, and fluid camera work on display in this (and all) Busby Berkeley musicals. I do have to say, I always feel a distant sense of melancholy any time I watch Footlight Parade. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it always leaves me wondering what might have been. James Cagney, who always wanted to be a song and dance man, is such a smooth, relaxed, effortless dancer. One can’t help but wonder what kind of wonderful films he might have made if he’d been allowed to pursue his true love rather than being stuck in the gangster roles he made so famous.

Title: Gold Diggers of 1933
Director: Mervyn LeRoy, Busby Berkeley
Country of Origin: USA
Year: 1933
Screening format: TV (TCM)
Setting: Home
First viewing? No

Notes: Busby Berkeley cranked out a lot of pictures in 1933. But with all of their elaborate sets and glitzy costumes, none of them sparkles quite as brightly as Gold Diggers of 1933 and that’s down to more than just the silver dollar dresses spin round the “We’re In The Money” number. The speed of the dialog throughout Gold Diggers is downright blistering with some of the most glistening barbs emanating from Aline McMahon’s Trixie Lorraine while Joan Blondell gets a fair few shots in herself. Ruby Keeler is, of course, as sweet and innocent as ever. Playing somewhat against type (though that type had yet to be too firmly established) Ginger Rogers is a sharp-tongued rival of the main trio. Watching Gold Diggers, one gets the impression that good old Dick Powell is relishing the opportunity to play the merry prankster as he pulls one over on his snooty family. Gold Diggers features several memorable numbers (as all Berkeley pictures do) including the aforementioned “We’re in the money” (complete with pig Latin verse, the exceptionally racy “Pettin’ in the Park” and the unforgettable homage to the Depression era suffering of WWI vets,“Remember My Forgotten Man”.