The Compleat Ingmar #2: Crisis (1946)

Smiles of a Summer Night was going to be a tough one to follow. It’s an utterly delightful film: fun, sweet, poignant, well paced. Criterion was right to suggest it as the first film to watch on their Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema. Crisis (1946), by comparison, is clearly lesser Bergman: its story about an 18-year-old finding herself having to decide between her kindly foster mother and simple country life on the one hand and her more well-off biological mother and the big city is more predictable, its themes handled less interestingly, and its tones balanced less deftly. Crisis was Bergman’s first film as a director (he’d previously worked on scripts, first and foremost); it was based on a radio play by writer Leck Fischer, though Bergman wrote the adaptation for the screen.

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The Rear-View Mirror: TRON (1982)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Like Wargames a year later, TRON tried to get behind that new and slightly unsettling thing called computer. And the more fearful among us somehow thought that that machine would treat us the same way that the first picture cameras would treat us: they would steal bits of our souls. Not that we told anyone that we were afraid of them, but hey, if you get sucked into them (by ways not quite clear), then the frisbee of death would kill you. Or you would get erased. A whole new world of danger. Continue reading

Faint heart, strong ambition

Vice is not a comedy. It’s not a drama either. It has platypus-like qualities, so it’s probably best to describe it as a mash-up of a Michael Moore style documentary and a bumpy farce with a very talented cast. It’s bumpy because it not only jumps around in time, attributes real footage of carpet bombing to Cheney’s daydreams, and suddenly lets fake credits roll at half-time, but also because it’s almost as eclectic as Adam McKay’s earlier opus The Big Short. Consider the scene in which Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) recite from Macbeth in their bed. That’s funny, with an undercurrent of dread. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Amadeus (1984)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

It is a riveting scene, and one that at a glance would seem entirely uncinematic: the younger man, sick, pale and sweaty, lies in bed and dictates music to the older man, who scribbles musical notes onto paper as if it was a race against time – which it is. The brilliant composer will not live much longer. It is a scene that doesn’t seem to need the big screen: it could just as well be performed on stage, and this is in fact where it originated. None of this seems immediately cinematic – yet it is one of the great moments of 1980s cinema: Mozart and and his bitter, envious rival Salieri racing against death to get his final masterpiece, the Requiem in D minor, K. 626, out of the dying man’s head and onto paper so it would be preserved for posterity.

Amadeus

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The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. Unless it’s in Technicolor.

In the movies, the past has a certain specific look. Depending on which era is depicted, the film stock is different, the grain is more pronounced, colours are graded according to decade. The ’60s have the yellow-tinted look of an old photo, the ‘80s look neon, and anything before the First World War looks like a painting, its colours burnished. If the past doesn’t look like the past, well, it ain’t authentic, is it?

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Dog Years

The movie’s title is in English because that is the name of the shop: Dogman. Marcello is a dog-groomer, and he is so good with dogs that he is able to eventually talk down a ferocious pit-bull into a massage. He also looks after dogs when their owners are on holiday and walks them through a run-down seaside town near Naples. The area looks a lot like it’s the same spot where director Matteo Garrone also set Roberto Saviano’s Gomorra (2008). Everyone is poor, it’s a touristy waterfront utterly devoid of any tourists; many buildings are run down or boarded up. It’s no wonder that organised crime is thriving in areas like this. Dogman, however, does not have a lot to do with the Camorra, but is about the people populating the area. There is Marcello the dogman, the gold merchant next door, the owner of the videogame parlor, and the owner of the restaurant where they all meet and talk. Life is hard, but they take it as it comes. Continue reading

Tainted love

Three women: a queen, fragile of body and mind. Her confidante, advisor and lover, ready to do what it takes to protect her monarch and her country – however much pain it will cause. And then there’s the social climber who, willing to do anything so she’s no longer a victim, tears them apart.

Add nonsensical social rules, wanton psychological cruelty, hilariously strange dancing and lobster references, and yup: we’re in Lanthimos Country.

The Favourite

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The Compleat Ingmar #1: Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

Last year – while I was in Sweden during the week when Ingmar Bergman would have had his 100th birthday, fittingly – Criterion revealed its plans to release Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema, a collection of 39 of the director’s films, later that year. (It is telling that when you ask Google how many films Bergman actually made, the answer is “At least 36”. If Google doesn’t know a more exact answer than that, how should we?) As a self-confessed Criterion addict, I knew that there’d be no better way to get close to completing my Bergman collection than that, even though I already had some of the films on DVD and others on Blu-Ray. Still, getting all the remaining ones individually would be more expensive than getting the collection, not to mention more cumbersome. So, to cut things short: Reader, I ordered it.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

thin blue line

If you have seen other Erroll Morris films (TabloidThe Fog of WarGates of Heaven), you will know that he likes for people to tell their own stories. At the time of its inception Morris was doing in investigation on Dr. James Grigson, nicknamed Dr. Death, a psychiatrist who invariably advised a death sentence, because defendants would “kill again”. During this research he stumbled onto Adams’ story. The Thin Blue Line is about the murder of a police officer, and in it Morris has access to seemingly all the players in the drama, and the subsequent court case. Through their own versions of what transpires, or what they think transpires, Morris makes an uncharacteristically solid case for the defense. It is not much of a spoiler that an innocent person was convicted. After all, Adams was not only acquitted (partly) due to the film, but subsequently sued Morris for the rights to his story. As is so often the case with Morris’ films, the fascination in The Thin Blue Line is for the viewer to be allowed to form their own opinion as to why and how an innocent man was convicted, a guilty man went free (at least for a while), and several witnesses testified to facts they could not possibly have seen or heard.

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Mad Howling in the Red Dark

If you are ready for an agonisingly slow descent into hell, then Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is the film for you. There are many reasons to instinctively refrain from watching it in the first place: yet another Nicholas Cage over-the-top performance; outrageous violence and buckets of blood; killer demons on motorcycles. What’s more, the film might change from one viewing to the next, but for me, it worked because I was in the right kind of mood, and that might prove crucial with movies like this. And I never watched a chainsaw duel I didn’t like. Continue reading