Saturday, July 25, 2009

Favourit Actors

Here's my follow up to my favourite actresses post. The point of all this? Just spreading the love (and self-gratitude).

Fred Astaire
Somewhere between Strictly Ballroom and Fred and Ginger films I realised that I like seeing people dance. Somewhere around the same time I also realised that I like seeing Fred Astaire dance. And sing. And act in his amicable way. Could this be the same guy who allegedly received the report from a screen-test: Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly Balding (with some sources adding 'can dance a little')? Luckily that didn't stop Astaire and he's shown to countless supporters he can do just about everything, and with the lightest of touch.
Favourite film: There's many great ones, so maybe this knuckles down to my mood. My mood at the moment says Top Hat, because it's an escapist's dream wonderland.
Favourite performance: Fred Astaire's persona usually finds itself in every film, but it's nice when variations occur. I really like him in Broadway Melody of 1940, he doesn't start as the main guy, but his character quietly creeps up in notice before somewhat stealing the show. Showcases some of his very best dancing, including the tapping showdown Begin the Beguine.

Humphrey Bogart
Hard for me to say this now, but just before watching the film Sabrina, I looked at the dvd cover and thought "ugh, Audrey Hepburn is teamed up with him". Then I watched the film and I was in awe, haven't looked back since. Bogart has such understated charm and a subtle way of really making you care for his characters. And his delivery of lines is really something too and part of the reason why Casablanca's dialogue is so famous, you can't forget the words here's looking at you, kid after hearing Bogart say them a few times over. He was a star and an actor, and not everyone in the business can accomplish both.
Favourite film: Aside from Sabrina, there's--a lot of wonderful titles in his filmography. One that I immensely enjoyed is the film noir The Big Sleep, a very entertaining film and Bogart was arguably never sexier (yep I said it).
Favourite performance: In a Lonely Place shows Bogart like never before and never since. Stripped down and bare, he is shattering and electrifying and terrifying and completely human.

Cary Grant
Every guys want to be him, every girl wants him--or at least he's closer than anybody else to these superlatives. That's pretty much all you can utter about Grant, superlatives. Because he's peerless and just about everybody knew it during the Golden Age. He was more often than other actors offered the best scripts and he worked with a lot of the best directors, two of them thought he was the tops: Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks (and probably others) and a lot of actresses have nothing but fun memories and praise for him. He was equally great at comedy and drama and he was charming to the bone. Who wouldn't want to be in his presence?
Favourite film: Could there be a tougher thing to state? But I do love Holiday, one of the best odes to misfits, outsiders, free-spirits.
Favourite performance: His comedy performances are great, in equal turns fun and funny, but it's always nice to see the more intense, serious Grant and so I love him in Only Angels Have Wings.

James Stewart
He's so adorable and he can melt ya with his everyman charm. He's also very natural on screen, one would misguidingly think that acting is the easiest thing by watching him. It's this natural ability, an ability that every actor strives for, that makes him so memorable. With Stewart, you can feel every step of the way the emotions he's going through. He played so many good guys in his earlier career, that it's fascinating when darker shades are explored in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life and his films with Hitchcock.
Favourite film: Vertigo. One haunting, disturbing experience quite unlike any other.
Favourite performance: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was the first one that made me sit up and pay attention, an inspiring performance, you're with his character every step of his journey.

Spencer Tracy
Ah such a great actor. He's another natural, like Jimmy Stewart (I wonder why the two never made a film together?). He could play quite a range with his screen persona and even though you kind of know it's Tracy up there on screen each time, you also feel the character he is portraying coming through. A real consummate professional, he was straight to the point, 'don't embroider' he once said and so he didn't.
Favourite film: One of my recent favourites is Captains Courageous, a very inspiring film and you grow quite fond of his character, as does the boy who he befriends.
Favourite performance: A harder question. Well, he makes the film Father of the Bride with his pinpoint timing as the stressful title character anticipating his daughter's upcoming wedding.

Buster Keaton
The great stone face, one of three top comedians of the silent era (the other two being Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, still need to see his films). Keaton was very funny, his comedy was very visual (well, of course, it's a silent film) and physical. As a result, you see a minimal number of title cards in his films and in their place there are great positioning of props, great stunts by Keaton himself and surreal moments that you can't believe could be achieved in the 1920s.
Favourite film: My first film of his was The Cameraman, and though it's not his crowning achievement, it's still funny enough and simply moving and romantic (plus there's a cute monkey who becomes Keaton's companion)
Favourite performance: Though most of his memorable roles were as the blue collar, working class lad, he is perhaps at his funniest when he plays pompous, rich boys, like in The Navigator, who find themselves in extraordinary situations which reveal their lack of skills--and inventiveness--(and comedy ensues).

--I like many actors, but these are probably the most consistently talented in my opinion. That, or I'm just out of writing energy.

A Review: My Brilliant Career (1979)

Sybylla Melvyn, what a wonderful character of celluloid.

This is in my opinion one of the finest films ever made in Australia by Australians (speaking as an Australian). And yesterday was my second time in seeing it. I really enjoyed it the first time and likewise with the second time (which doesn't always happen, does it? sometimes the magic can wear off and it feels as if you're not watching the same, once beloved film). It was great to see again why I like this film - the music, the capturing of the open Australian landscape, the great costumes that take you back in time, all the characters that shine, the messages of the film (which spoke out to me more on the second viewing).

A little on the plot. The film is based on a book by Miles Franklin. It's set in late 1880s colonial Australia and centres around Sybylla Melvyn (a young Judy Davis, who sinks right into her role), a young woman raised in a poor family who strives for an independent livelihood in a context where women shouldn't strive for anything higher than marriage and children. Sybylla is adamant about what she wants, but that is until the arrival of rich and handsome Harry Beacham (Sam Neill, appropriately dashing) - suddenly she is very conflicted. Sounds conventional, seen it all before, right? Well no. It's on the strength of the performances, the script and the direction that this film doesn't fall into the scrap heap of routine costume dramas. The film has depth and can spread messages to you if you want it to. It's true to life because it shows that you can't have everything, you're forced to make decisions and compromises and let go, as hard as that can be. And you've got to learn to live with your decisions and be satisfied, as Sybylla is in the final scene of the film (boy, don't I sound preachy?).

It's always nice to see a female director at the helm of a film, and in this case that director is Gillian Armstrong (maybe most famous for her 1994 adaptation of Little Women, which itself bears similarities with this film). Apparently the budget was tight in this film, but I never noticed. All I noticed was how craftly this was made and with much more effort and creativity than is usually seen in Australian cinema today.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Review: What's Up, Doc? (1972)

Yesterday at the library, I finally came across this film (a film that I had been wanting to see for a while-the only place I saw it was at a dvd shop, and well, I didn't want to buy it in case I didn't like it). I loved it.

The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, one of the most devoted cinephiles of the world (I just read last night that in his youth he would see up to 400 films in one year-wow). He also happened to be an avid fan of classic cinema, and this film is an ode to one of the classic genre's: the screwball comedy. Here's a definition of the genre (according to wiktionary): A genre of motion picture made in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s where opposites were juxtaposed; characterized by snappy dialog, and a blend of sophistication and slapstick.

The leading actors in this film are two of the definitive stars of the 70s, Barbra Stresiand (famous singer, but also great actor of Funny Girl and The Way We Were) and Ryan O'Neal (famous for Love Story--which is parodied in this film--and Paper Moon). They are supported by a great, madcapped cast.

I find that even though the film was a homage to screwball comedy, it still had its own unique feel. That might partly be because it's set in modern day (that is, the 70s for them) San Francisco, rather than instilled in the Golden Age past. But also partly because of Peter Bogdanovich and his team, who have been undoubtedly influenced by veins of comedy beyond the screwball genre (if that makes sense). Anyway, I like it all the better for what it is. You get both an entertaining, unique comedy, but also enough homage to potentially make people want to explore the screwball genre.

One of the elements in the film that is very screwball comedy (for lack of synonyms to interchange this term with) is that the lead male Howard (Ryan O'Neal) is a stiff-necked businessman who is more concerned with his paelontological career (a direct homage to Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby) than living a romantic, adventurous, unpredictable life. His female lead Judy (Barbra Streisand) is the opposite--she plays the madcap heroine who brings Howard to the edge (but then Howard comes to realise he loves the edge).

On a side-note: I found it interesting that she constantly called him 'Steve' rather than his actual name (this simultaneously reminded me of two non-screwball films, but with decidedly screwball elements--which is arguably what What's Up Doc? is-- : To Have and Have Not, where Lauren Bacall calls Humphrey Bogart's Harry Morgan "Steve"; and Pierrot le fou, where Anna Karina calls Jean-Paul Belmondo's Ferdinand "Pierrot").

There are so many inspired moments of comedy, it's one of those films where the cast looks like they're having a whole lot of fun--in fact there's a behind-the-scenes featurette on the special features that suggests just that. There was a particularly candid, blooper moment when Ryan O'Neal's character asks Barbra "Where's my rocks?" and she just broke out in laughter. He then asked lightly to someone behind the camera-probably Peter Bogdanovich, "Why does she always laugh when I say that? I thought my reading of the line was pretty good."

I have much gratitude for comedies as wonderful as this. <3

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Review: Changeling (2008)

At heart, I like watching films that were made before the last four decades, but once in a while I get amazed by a recent film. Which is what happened yesterday evening when I saw this. If you ask me, this film kind of slipped under the cover last year. It didn't receive that much hype (or is it me who has been under a rock?) and the only real interest for me in seeing it was Angelina Jolie's Oscar nominated performance (Jolie is kind of over-exposed in the media if you ask me, and I wanted to see if she had acting chops--I think this is probably the first film of hers I've seen). Other than that I wanted to see another Clint Eastwood film (Million Dollar Baby being so wonderful and all). Oh and this film is set in the 20s and that is always a bonus.

Fascinating subject matter this film has, it perfectly explores the anxieties and anger of a mother with a missing son, who is brought back a boy who isn't him. You can feel the corruption of the LAPD, the isolation and alienation of this mother and the injustice of the matter. The film works on multiple layers, and Eastwood unfolds each without the film feeling like one jumbled mess. The film is moody and depressive for the most part, but as justice comes to the forefront in the form of several characters who have goodness and integrity, you can also feel hope.

I love the cinematography, the details that allow one to be transported to the late 20s. As far as I'm concerned the costumes are accurate and so are the set-pieces. The colour of the film uses a lot of dark green and brown shades that add to the sombre mood. The music completes the mood of the film-it has a tinge of jazz, but mostly uses piano sounds that are haunting.

This is my kind of film--thought provoking, haunting, a beautiful score and cinematography that places you in a particular time and space.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Favourite Actresses (other than Audrey)

I have way too much fun saying what are my favourite things. But hey, why spoil fun when you're on a roll? Here we go.

Katharine Hepburn
She's the woman who a critic once flamed as 'running the gamut of emotion from a to b' and who, along with other notable names, made a list of Box Office Poison in 1938. And yet two years later she came out with the successful The Philadelphia Story and didn't look back. It is for this resilience and unwillingness to back away when the going gets tough that I admire her. Also, often actresses hit their peak in their 20s and early 30s and then fade to obscurity. But no such thing for Hepburn, who was acting for six or so consecutive decades (she won her last Oscar in her seventies). She's, to me, one of the best rebuttals to the argument that it's a 'man's world'.
Favourite film: Holiday (1938), an ode to free-thinkers and the quirkier people of the world
Favourite performance: Woman of the Year (1942), Hepburn perfectly plays a woman who just can't compromise her career ambitions for marriage.

Doris Day
To me she was once some chirpy actress who played in routine comedies (prior to actually seeing a film of hers). That, or she was the woman who sang "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" in Strictly Ballroom. Then after some time: I watched three or so of her films, was mildly impressed, then saw Calamity Jane and didn't look back. Day is the one actress who I believe I could watch any film of--I tend to disregard ratings of her films because I know that I've found entertainment in just about every one I've seen of hers. I guess some people tend to see her as having this virginal, girl next door, superficial fluff image, but if an actress is so capable of lifting up the screen when she comes on, what's superficial about that? To boot she has a wonderful singing voice.
Favourite film: Calamity Jane (1953), packed with high, exhilarating energy, this is no doubt one answer to the word *fun*
Favourite performance: Love Me or Leave Me (1955) gave Doris the chance to show how comfortable she could be in drama

Jean Arthur
You know that question, who would you like to portray you in a movie of your life? Well, my answer is Jean Arthur. The first film I saw her in was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (after an unsuccessful attempt with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) and I just felt such an identification with her character, moreso than I've ever felt. Jean was quite a talented actress--she could do comedy with such timing and was equally strong in drama. When you see her so natural and comfortable on screen, you really can't believe that in real-life she was very insecure and shyed away from the public (hence perhaps why, outside of classic film lovers, she's virtually unknown).
Favourite film: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, a film that is in equal turns funny and moving
Favourite performance: The More the Merrier, the part was written for her and shows off all her strengths.

Jane Fonda
She didn't quite come into her own as an actress until the late 60s, but when she did, she became a powerhouse. In her best parts, she's so intriguing because she has this outward toughness and independence, but inwardly she's brimming with insecurity and self-destruction. I haven't seen as many films of hers as I'd like to, but so far I think she's great.
Favourite film: Barefoot in the Park, wonderfully light comedy, that conjures up the bohemian 60s
Favourite performance: has to be a tie, sorry but I can't tear these performances apart, They Shoot Horses Don't They? and Klute. This is what it means for an actress to let themselves go.

Marilyn Monroe
Many people adore her, she's universally appealing. Mysterious, profound, self-destructive and a legend. She was also a great actress, but that wasn't something I had immediately realised. Sometimes she played the dumb-blonde role, but though that's what's she most famous for, she didn't play that kind of role as much as I thought. In fact, even when she's playing that role, her comedic abilities and actor's instincts give her away as someone who is very intelligent. Though she's a sex symbol, it's that inward vulnerability and insecurities that brings her down to earth and allows us to understand her. She is every bit worth the title 'legend'.
Favourite film: Some Like it Hot is probably the best film she's appeared in
Favourite performance: The Prince and the Showgirl, she's so sassy in this, and all-knowing, not to mention the way she's photographed so etherally.

Judy Garland
Does anybody sing like Judy? Does anybody pour their souls into a song or role like she does? Probably not. Judy was one of a kind and when you see her up there on screen, you can neither take your eyes off or forget her. She keys into your emotions with her moving voice and performances.
Favourite film: Easter Parade, it's delightful
Favourite performance: The Clock, it's WW2 and Judy falls in love with and marries a young GI in the matter of hours, one of the only films where Judy doesn't sing, allowing you to focus more on her natural acting.

Deborah Kerr
One very talented actress. She was sort of typecasted as a prim and proper upper Englishwoman, yet she showed she had diversity--she could play a promiscuous wife, a nun questioning her faith (I think she played this kind of role twice), and a mentally ill and meek woman. She was often captured as an ideal woman in her films and rather than envy or dislike her, I felt myself admiring her very much.
Favourite film: The King and I, I'm a sucker for musicals
Favourite performance: Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, she plays a nun who finds her values coming into question by a roguish kind of man--she never outwardly gives in, but you can tell her conflict through slips of dialogue and her expressions.

Gene Tierney
In my opinion, she's the most beautiful woman in film history, yet she strove to be recognised for much more, namely her acting. And she did deliver on that front, kind of proving that yes it is possible to be both genetically blessed and talented. I admire actresses who try to prove themselves beyond people's opinions of them and so I admire Gene.
Favourite film: Laura, a film noir with elegance
Favourite performance: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, this is for me her most sympathetic performance

Myrna Loy
She's cute as a button, has a sense of comedy that is all her own (and perfectly understood by her onscreen equal, William Powell) and is just all around fascinating. She kind of began her career as a vixen-type, until it became clear that she was much more suited to playing sassy, independent society women. She was intelligent and sharp but without being overbearing.
Favourite film: The Best Years of Our Lives, great film about the aftermath of war
Favourite performance: The Thin Man, holding her own in the male-dominant detective world of her husband

That was long.

An Actress is an Actress: Audrey Hepburn

Ok, I'll admit it. I tend to watch films (well older ones mostly) depending on the actresses (and actors--but this is an actress post) in it. I know there are many others involved in the film, you have your director, producer, cinematographer, writers, set designers etc, but up on that screen, it's the actress/actor that you're watching. They're kind of your window to the film.

I like a whole range of actresses (a lot of them from cinema's Golden Age). I admire them for their acting, their ability to be believable/fascinating/etc in a performance, but also I admire them for who they are or how they come across in their persona, what they kind of bring to the table as a human being.

And so I will now go on to a produce a list of my favourites with some explanations on the side.

Audrey Hepburn: She's probably my favourite. I've admired her for a long time (I guess most people hear about Audrey at some point in their lives). Without really knowing why, her name epitomised for me the words 'elegance', 'poise' and 'class'. I also knew of her iconic role in Breakfast at Tiffany's for quite a while before finally watching it--having only seen that picture of her in Tiffany's with a breakfast sprawled out in front of her and a cigar in her hand (I hadn't taken notice of that cigar until much later, yup I am not good at paying attention to detail), I thought that she was a young innocent teenager (opposed to the callgirl she actually plays-but it's due to Audrey's charm that even today people probably still can't believe the subtext of her character).

Audrey's not only a style icon and the personification of good breeding, but she's also a talented actress. I know that often she played similar characters (with Parisian backdrops and much older men opposite her), but sprinkled around her filmography are some standout characters. There's, of course, her Oscar-winning performance in Roman Holiday, showing audiences for the first time how charming, fun, quirky and moving she could be. There is also her performance as a nun in The Nun's Story, which Audrey tackled with hardwork and showed her character's anguishes and difficulties with repressing her spirit and adopting the role of a nun. Of course, there's Audrey's iconic Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's, which apparently was the performance that Audrey was proud of because the character, being an extrovert, was so different to her own introversion. Other two performances I'd like to point out are: Audrey playing a blind woman in Wait Until Dark, a role she thoroughly researched for and played to conviction (apparently she was advised to wear sunglasses to make it obvious that her character was blind, but she refused, wanting her character's blindness to show from within); and in Two for the Road she played a woman whose marriage is chronicled through various stages: when they first meet, when they're in love and when their marriage is crumbling. In her role, Audrey was uninhibited, natural, full of fun and misery as her marriage fizzles out. Just about every film role Audrey she did, she seemed to tackle with much effort and professionalism. And even when the film is not terrific, you can still depend on her to be (one example for me is War and Peace--for the most part I thought it was boring and was dissatisfied, but I felt Audrey was full of spirit and joy and lifted the film up in the parts she was in).

Then there was the humanitarian aspect of Audrey. In her later years she worked for UNICEF in third world countries and you can see from footage of her just how much goodness she had. As I vaguely remember, her son (in his memoir of her) said that she believed in simplicity, and I think that can be seen in the way she seemed to live. She once said "I decided, very early on, just to accept life unconditionally; I never expected it to do anything special for me, yet I seemed to accomplish far more than I had ever hoped. Most of the time it just happened to me without my ever seeking it." She's an inspiration indeed.

Ok, so this turned out much longer than I thought it would, and I haven't even touched on other actresses yet. I might do that in another post then.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Review: The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

I saw this film for the first time today. I've wanted to see it for a while now, particularly for Henry Fonda's performance (which has been oftentimes considered one that should have won an Oscar--well, now I can say, Oscars aside, it was a great performance).

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) is based on John Steinbeck's novel of the same name which was published in 1939. The film chronicles the Joad family, who lose the rights to their Oklahoma farm and embark on a gruelling journey to California to find work. The film is set at the time of the Great Depression, during which starvation and suffering were widespread.

Coming into the film I didn't realise it was going to be as sad and moving as it was. Hardships strike the family through the film and because you're there every step of the way, you really find yourself indentifying with them. Even so, there's never any "cheap" attempts/devices at the audience's sympathy, the film shows things as they were (and still are in poverty-stricken places). The inspiring thing of the film is that it shows how strong the human spirit is. It also speaks out against injustice--people who are poor shouldn't be exploited and treated as secondary human beings, they have as much dignity as the next human being, and it's beautiful to see as Tom Joad (Henry Fonda's character) begins to realise he needs to fight for his rights.

The other thing that strikes me about the film is the cinematography. The landscape is captured so well, various shots are captured from interesting compositions and I also liked the lighting/use of shadows in different shots--all this adds to the film and to the feelings which one comes away with. Much of this should be credited to the director John Ford, who I haven't seen a great deal of films of, but he's someone who I'm becoming more curious about.

In a word, this film is fascinating. Its impact is still very much with me some seven or so hours after I've seen it.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Just yesterday I somehow landed on Paul McCartney's imdb page (it was because on youtube I had seen a clip of him explaining the sorrow he felt after his wife Linda's death--which I had clicked on because Jerry Lewis also spoke in the clip, which featured a series of celebrities talking about sad times--ah, interesting isn't it how one thing leads to another?) and anyway, I then went to the pages of John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr and voila, I ended up with a craving to hear Beatles songs. Some I'd already heard and loved (Yesterday, Girl, Yellow Submarine, Hey Jude, I Am the Walrus), but there was one that I had never heard before and that I now love a lot, which is Strawberry Fields Forever. It has this sort of dreamy feel, when I listen to it I feel like I'm floating and then gently sinking and floating again, or something like that. It has a nice melody and I like the singing (I think for the most part it has Paul McCartney's vocals?).

I don't quite have a favourite Beatle yet, but I feel like I have a soft spot for Ringo Starr, to me he seems a little like the oddball of the group (and he was the last to join too) and to boot, he plays the drums (I'm kind of fond of drum players). But they're all pretty cool huh? I really want to see their first film, A Hard Day's Night, which is apparently pretty good. I don't know where to find it though. Maybe it'll land on my lap one day...

Probably my favourite Beatles song--alas I haven't heard them all--is Yesterday. I think it's very beautiful, kind of ballad-y and kind of heartbreaking too. I also really love Across the Universe, another beautiful song with a kind of soothing, lullaby sound. Great band!

Who am I?

So this is my first entry (--and it took me a while too, considering i've had this blog for about a month) and I thought I'd make into an introductory entry.

I'm a 19 year old uni student, but one who perhaps identifies more with the title 'film lover'. I also like music, particularly jazz and that form of rock/pop which bands like Coldplay subscribe to (how do you describe their sound?). Occasionally I read books, not quite as many as I used to, but a good book can still grab my attention once in a while (right now I'm trying to read Tess of the D'Ubervilles). Otherwise, I like hanging out with my friends, the Oddbottles--they make me happy and they're a quirky, unique bunch. And I love my family (woops, sorry to put them second).

I think I have an old soul, nothing in today's culture quite grabs me as much as the culture of the 30s,40s,50s and 60s. I love the fashion, sophistication, music etc of those times--I know the world wasn't all peachy keen jelly bean back then (for one there was the Great Depression of the 30s), so I guess I have a subjective love of the past. In a curious way though, I'm somewhat glad I didn't live in those times because I somehow think I wouldn't have understood what was special about it. I don't know, it's somehow more intriguing imagining the past than actually living it...

I feel like writing a lot right now, so you might actually see three or four or five more posts straight after this one. See you again in the next minute!