Saturday, March 16, 2013

sensually sinister

In their enthusiastic reviews of Park Chan-wook's "Stoker," more than one critic has alluded to the film's Hitchcockian connection.

But without being specific.

The Hitchcock film quoted here is "Shadow of a Doubt."

In his variation, Park, a visual master beyond compare, takes the skeletal narrative of Hitchcock's 1943 film (Hitch's personal favorite) - a young woman's uneasy relationship with her uncle - and fuses it with his trademark painterly touches.

Not unexpectedly, "Stoker" is lush and lurid.

Joseph Cotten's Uncle Charlie becomes Matthew Goode's Uncle Charles. (Goode is effortlessly, playfully sinister here.) Mia Wasikowska takes on the Teresa Wright role of the niece who comes to realize that there's more to the odd behavior exhibited by her mysterious uncle. Nicole Kidman plays her frosty, peculiar mother (and Uncle Charles' sister-in-law) and there are choice cameo bits by Jacki Weaver, Dermot Mulroney, Harmony Korine, Alden Ehrenreich and Phyllis Somerville.

And C. Michael Andrews' clever titles design does Saul Bass proud.

"Stoker" is not necessarily "Shadow of a Doubt's" exact twin - it is more sensual and way broader in its chills - but, one day, the two will make an interesting double-bill to compare and contrast.

Monday, March 11, 2013



Sam Raimi's "Oz The Great and Powerful" is too odd and, by extension, too fascinating to be as hastily written off as it has been by the critics. Whether it's good or bad is beside the point. It's a genuine curiosity.

Here's a film in which the most affecting performance is given by a tiny stop-motion porcelain figure named China Girl - and in which the live-action actors seem like, well, porcelain figures.

The humans in "Oz" all behave as if they've been lacquered.

China Girl, by the way, is voiced by Joey King, the young star of "Ramona and Beezus" and "Crazy Stupid Love," but her visage and spunky behavior both smack of Ellen Page. In my mind, she was the inspiration.

The film itself is like a lot of modern movies that go through the motions of paying homage to a revered classic. It wants to both exploit and one-up the movie that inspired it, outdoing the original via modern technology while missing the essential ingredient of soul. One is aware that when Judy Garland danced down the yellow brick road in Victor Fleming's 1939 original, she was working on an actual set. Here, one senses the poor actors spent all their time in front of a blue screen.

It's called progress.

But Raimi's one true triumph in "Oz" (aside from China Girl) was the shrewd casting of James Franco as a con man trying to pass himself off as The Wizard. Franco, who I like, has always struck me as something of a charming charlatan off-screen. I'm not sure that I completely buy into the Renaissance Man persona that he's been so eagerly pitching to the media.

Consequently, in "Oz," the real-life James Franco melds seamlessly with the incorrigible Oscar Diggs, the character he's playing on-screen.

Single-handedly, the appealing Franco adds the aforementioned fascination to Raimi's splashy, sprawling but utimately soulless film.

He and China Girl.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

hal ashby's wedding party


 The good people at Turner Classic Movies - specifically, its programmers - must really admire Hal Ashby's exquisite first feature, "The Landord."
The 1970, R-rated film has been screened several times by Turner in prime time - @ 8 and 10 p.m. - while other films from the same era (Paul Mazursky's "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," Francis Ford Coppola's "The Rain People" and Ashby's "The Last Detail," among them) are usually consigned to the shadowy hour of either 2 or 3 a.m.

Turner airs "The Landlord" again tonight @ 10 p.m. Whether you're familiar with the film or not, this time, pay attention to the first few seconds of the film. It's a quick shot of Ashby's real-life wedding to actress Joan Marshall who, under the name of Jean Arless, played Emily/Warren in William Castles' seminal 1961 cult film, "Homicidal."

The "love-in"-style wedding (Ashby was an old hippie) was attended by the film's producer, Norman Jewison, and its cast. That's title star Beau Bridges in the yellow tee on the extreme left. Glimpsed directly behind the bearded Ashby is Diana Sands and behind her is the film's ingenue, Marki Bey. And that's Jewison getting kissed by Marshall during the ceremony.

Ashby died in 1988 and, in 1989, Joan married business executive Mel Bartfield. It was her personal experiences that she related to Robert Towne that became the basis of perhaps Ashby's biggest commercial hit, "Shampoo" (1975).