Jean Renoir: Whirlpool of Fate (1925)

WHIRLPOOL OF FATE (1925)

To view Whirlpool of Fate click here.

In a fortuitous sequence of events, right after I acquired Pascal Mérigeau‘s biography of Jean Renoir, FilmStruck started streaming 16 of the director’s features and shorts. I’ve skimmed over the surface of Renoir’s career, having seen the acknowledged masterpieces like The Rules of the Game (1939) and Grand Illusion (1937), but never managed to explore much beyond that. So over the next few weeks I will be discussing an individual Renoir film, providing production info gleaned from Mérigeau‘s exhaustively researched tome. First up is the hypnagogic melodrama Whirlpool of Fate (the original French title is La Fille de l’eau, The Girl in the Water, 1925), starring his Gloria Swanson-worshipping wife Andree Heuschling (using the screen name Catherine Hessling). Though he received a co-directing credit on 1924′s Catherine (aka Backbiters), Fate is the first film where he had complete control, and he used it to experiment with a range of tones and techniques, from poetic realism to flights of expressionist fancy. 

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Let’s Go Bananas (1971)

BANANAS (1971)

To view Bananas click here.

Thanks to its frequent afternoon rotation on cable TV, I’m pretty sure Bananas was the first Woody Allen film I ever saw. I don’t think anyone who grew up later than the 1980s will ever say that again, but this is a great film to watch when you’re young (even if, yes, it has a joke about a magazine called Orgasm) and the perfect gateway to Woody’s “early, funny” period. It’s hard to describe the omnipresence Allen seemed to have in pop culture from the mid-1970s into the Orion Pictures period of the 1980s; every middle class home seemed to have at least two or three of his books sitting prominently ­on a bookshelf, film critics seemed to compare every comedy that opened to Annie Hall (1977), and the man himself made numerous TV appearances including some celebrated turns on The Dick Cavett Show (1968-1974). On top of that, Allen and 1970s muse Diane Keaton were seen as the epitome of the urbane, hip New York couple who were attractive because of their wit and intellect.

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Sometimes a Movie is a Dance: In the Mood for Love (2000)

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)

To view In the Mood for Love click here.

There is a clamor in the apartment house as people come and go, eat dinner, play mahjong and discuss the day. The shots are tight. We see faces, bodies moving past us, jammed hallways. Then, everything stops. The clamor is gone. The soundtrack now plays only music, a music both deliberate and beautiful, and a woman gracefully walks up and down a flight of stairs to get noodles for dinner. Her neighbor, a man with whom she has a passing acquaintance follows close behind and does the same. Then, the clamor returns. As their relationship becomes deeper, and more expressive, the rhythm changes, the beats occurs at different intervals and the bodies move cautiously at times, frantically at others. Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film, In the Mood for Love, may be the cinema’s best evocation yet of the cinema as dance.

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The Bank Job: Perfect Friday (1970)

PERFECT FRIDAY, Ursula Andress (front), 1970

To view Perfect Friday, click here.

There is a blessed simplicity to a heist film, with its basic elements of planning and execution. Last week I looked at an elaborate cat-and-mouse variation of this trope, The Silent Partner (1978), while today I’ll discuss a streamlined version, the lighthearted British heist film Perfect Friday (1970). They are two of the six films FilmStruck is streaming in its “How to Rob a Bank” theme (alongside The League of Gentlemen[1960], Max and the Junkmen [1971], Revanche [2008], and The Robber[2010]). Perfect Friday is shorn of any backstory or subplot, focused entirely on the robbery at hand. Stanley Baker stars as a mild mannered bank clerk looking to retire on one big score. He recruits a money hungry Lord (David Warner) and his wife (Ursula Andress) to pull off the job. But every word they speak is a lie, from promises of an equal split to the husband telling his wife he loves her. The scene is set for multiple betrayals, it is only a matter of who is holding the money-stuffed suitcase last.

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The Complicated Morals of a Revisionist Western

HOMBRE (1967)

In 1961, legendary author and screenwriter Elmore Leonard released his critically-acclaimed modern Western novel Hombre, a story about a white man, John Russell, raised by Apaches and his eventual return to civilization, with its complex politics and rampant prejudice. Russell struggles with deep moral conflict and reluctance to live as a white man after witnessing the horrific treatment of the people who raised him as one of their own. Five years later, director Martin Ritt (The Sound and the Fury [1959], Hud [1963], The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [1965]), with an adapted screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., brought a faithful adaptation of Leonard’s story to the big screen in one of the greatest, underrated revisionist Westerns of all time.

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Robbing Them Blind: The Silent Partner (1978)

SILENT PARTNER, THE (1978)

To view The Silent Partner click here.

In The Silent Partner, the devil is in the details. Elliott Gould’s mild-mannered bank teller Miles is transformed into a criminal strategist because he notices a scrawl of handwriting on a deposit slip. This causes his analytical mind to pivot its attentions from customer accounts to an elaborately unfolding heist. The script by Curtis Hanson is relentlessly logical as it pits the chess-playing, game theory wielding Gould against the brute force of a sociopathic thief named Harry, played with dark charisma by Christopher Plummer. Their pas de deux takes place all over Toronto (this was one of the early Canadian Tax Shelter films – 100% of costs were tax deductible), and what began as a teasing game becomes something elemental.  The Silent Partner won six Canadian Film Awards, including Best Picture, but had trouble finding screens in the United States – but now The Silent Partner is  streaming on FilmStruck as part of its six-film “How to Rob a Bank” collection.

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Smackdown: Wuthering Heights vs. Jane Eyre

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939)

To view Wuthering Heights click here and to view Jane Eyre click here.

Currently available on FilmStruck for your streaming pleasure is “The Brontë Sisters,” a modest selection of titles related to the works of England’s beloved novelists of the Romantic era. Included in the series are the classic-film versions of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1939) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1944). While both feature Golden Age stars that mesmerize with magnetism and captivate with charisma, does one film have the edge in capturing the ill-fated relationships and melancholy atmosphere of Gothic Romance?

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The Original Castaway: Robinson Crusoe (1954)

ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, THE (1954)

To view Robinson Crusoe click here.

Luis Buñuel, the controversial and much banned filmmaking genius, has become so associated with the surreal cinema that the idea of him directing a straightforward adventure seems, well, surreal. But in 1952, gaining funding for a joint Spanish and English language production of Robinson Crusoe (it wouldn’t be released until 1954), based on the 18th century novel by Daniel Defoe, Buñuel did just that, although Buñuel the iconoclast was never far out of sight. Starring Dan O’Herlihy in the title role, the movie invents just about every deserted island trope you’ve probably ever heard of (from the novel of course), but along the way, touches on some very controversial subject matter, both reflecting the time the novel was written, the time the movie was made and bigoted notions of the white man’s dominion over the earth.

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Manage Your Great Expectations (1946)

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946)

To view Great Expectations click here.

The phrase “read the book, see the movie” was something you heard a lot in the second half of the 20th century, and using a work of popular literature as the basis of a film was once considered a badge of honor. There are a few classic authors who can still hold that kind of cache today – Jane Austen, anyone? – but one of the biggies in Hollywood’s golden age was Charles Dickens, who inspired numerous films based on his works both short (A Christmas Carol) and epically long (Bleak House). And for my money, no one could adapt Dickens better than David Lean.

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Mad Men: Putney Swope (1969)

PUTNEY SWOPE (1969)

To view Putney Swopeclick here.

In 1969 Robert Downey Sr. waited outside a screening of Putney Swope  (1969) at the Cinema II in NYC to see if the film was still working as intended. As reported by Stephen Mahoney in Life magazine: “Two couples emerge. A woman is tearing at a handkerchief. ‘Tasteless. An exhibition…Filth’, she stammers. Under the cowboy hat Downey’s face lights up with joy.” Mahoney’s article was entitled “Robert Downey Makes Vile Movies,” a takeoff on a particularly outraged review by the New York Daily News (“Vicious and vile, the most offensive picture I’ve ever seen.”). Putney Swope is a clattering joke-stuffed satire both hilarious and exhausting. It begins as a spoof of ad agency racism, and keeps widening its targets until it takes itself down, a circular firing squad of comedy. Downey wanted his audiences to leap out of their seats, preferably with shock and disgust, and so it includes a horny and despotic little person president, an office flasher and the takeover of an ad agency by black militants who get co-opted by the business they wanted to overthrow. No one gets away unscathed. Putney Swope is streaming on FilmStruck, along with four other Downey films.

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