February 8th-Birds of Prey from 2020 (Director: Cathy Yan, Writers: Christina Hodson and based on the DC Comics, Stars: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, and Ewan McGregor, Cinematography: Matthew Libatique, Runtime: 109 mins)
So this is the story of Harley Quinn, post break up with Joker. The immunity she had rescinded and people want her dead. While this is all going on the Crossbow Killer (aka Huntress aka Helena Bertinelli as played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is targeting a number of gangsters in Gotham. Renee Montoya (played by Rosie Perez) is on multiple cases including Harley, the crossbow killer, and her main case-the Roman Sionis case. Roman is a crazed disinherited rich boy turned criminal kingpin and played by Ewen McGregor. He employs several people including songbird and new bodyguard/driver Dinah Lance (the Black Canary as played by Jurnee Smollet-Ball). Montoya wants Lance’s help on the Roman case, she’s not interested, oh! And her neighbor is Cassandra Cain, a pickpocket who steals the diamond Roman wants. Got it?
So yeah, this is a type of neo-noir funneled through a comic book kaleidoscope. The pickpocket getting the wrong prize is a noir trope-famously in Pickup on South Street. We got the gangsters running the city, a cop on the big case, and a number femme fatales. One out for revenge. Then Harley bringing the dramatic narration and playing the character who winds up over their head. Its a break from traditional comic book film storytelling even if their is still the big third act action scene. Luckily This film gives the amusement park fight scene we have never got in a big Batman flick. Well, not since Batman Returns and we only got it under the carnival and it was a carnival rather then a theme park. But yeah, that action set piece is one of the finest I have seen in comic books. Totally worth it. Plus what a great wrap up ending. Before that though, its not quite linear storytelling could be a hard sell for some comic fans not into crime films. Also Harley’s constant reminder of her break up might grate on the nerves. Still, thumbs up for being as different as they could make the film.
Margot Robbie continues to be the right person for a live action Harley Quinn. All the ladies are good too. This version of Dinah is totally unlike the gung ho hero type so common but Jurnee’s performance is very good and she brings a certain straight woman approach to the film. Rosie Perez does too, but in that 80s cop way that the film makes fun of. They both get some good fights and great scenes. Huntress role feels smaller but her line deliveries in her attempt to be total badass are perfection. She’s funny without it seeming funny. Then Ella Jay Baco bringing it altogetehr as Cassandra Cain. Sadly, not the comic book badass version but her pickpocket is quite a gem. Then McGregor and Chris Messina having fun as the bad guys Roman Sionis (aka Black Mask) and Mr. Zasz. Going back to the noir elements, the queer coding on Roman and Mr. Zsaz is there but the film does not dig into it. Letting your mind wander and appreciate what they’re doing. Also props for acknowledgement of Harley’s bisexuality and Renee Montoya’s lesbianism. Harley’s is shown in the silly animated opening, and Montoya’s ex-girlfriend is played by comedian Ali Wong.
This film is closer to a 3.5 with me but something about made me think, at least a four because I am going to rewatch this one. I will find more reasons to enjoy it more and more. Its one of those films I know has replay value. I really enjoyed it. One of the funner superhero films out there.
February 9th-Tokyo Story from 1953 (Director: Yasujirō Ozu, Writers: Kogo Noda and Yasujirō Ozu, Stars: Chishū Ryū, Chieko Higashiyama and Setsuko Hara, Cinematography: Yūharu Atsuta, Runtime: 136 mins)
Tokyo Story appears on 2012 Sight & Sound poll best movie of all time as voted by directors. The film has placed high in many best of lists. So what is Tokyo Story and why does it continue to resonate? Prepare for a summary with some spoilers for a 67 year old film. The story of Hirayama’s, an elderly couple who live with their youngest Kyoko. They are going to Tokyo to visit their two oldest children as well as their widowed daughter-in-law. Their eldest son, Koichi, is a busy neighborhood doctor who works from home and his kids are annoying. The eldest daughter, Shige, runs a salon in her home and her husband is a bill collector. Then there is Noriko, who was married to their second oldest son Shoji. With their two eldest busy Noriko shows them around Tokyo and they visit her tiny apartment where she does her best to entertain. The father and mother try staying at a spa end but leave early due to crowd and noise. Shūkichi goes out drinking with old friends and ends up back at Shige’s drunk, annoying her. Tomi soends a night with her daughter in law, telling her she should get remarried. Tomi falls ill on the travel back home, briefly staying with the youngest son before getting back home, but Tomi is critically ill. The siblings and Noriko are all there. Keizo, youngest son, arriving too late but in time for the mourning ceremony. Kyoko, the youngest, now alone with her father is upset with some of her siblings but thankful to Noriko. Shūkichi gives Noriko, before she leaves, Tomi’s prized watch and tells her how she is a good woman and to forget about their son, who died 8 years prior, to find someone and be married. To be happy.
This film is a punch in the throat. I don’t cry with my black heart but this film had me almost at tears. This is a beautiful film. The performances are so fucking good. The couple we follow played by Chishū Ryū and Chieko Higashiyama give so much with almost so little. Chishū Ryū seemingly only has a few facial expressions throughout but every line of dialogue he delivers is poetic. The scene where him and his friend talk about their children, its an amazing work. Just as the scene with Chieko Higashiyama and Setsuko Hara in her home, just the sadness in their love. Love for Shoji, the desire for Noriko to move on and Noriko wanting her mother-in-law to enjoy herself. Of course the elderly Hirayama’s work with one another is so fantastic. The others who are playing the sibling are also so good. The sort of tough coolness of So Yamamura (as Koichi) or the easily annoyed Haruko Sugimura (as Shige).Shige is a frustrating character, you know she loves her parents but their is something mean about her. Her annoyance with her parents in scenes, her wanting of keepsakes from her moth immediately after her death. Then the other two children who have less time but come through great. Shirō Ōsaka as Keizo shows up at the start of the third act, joking a bit with his colleague about the sudden appearance of his parents and having to help cause his mom got sick on the train. His colleague tells him to be a good son and says something to him that strikes him harder after his mothers death, repeating it to Noriko as he walked away form the mourning service broken up. I don’t remember the exact line but was about how you can’t serve your parents after their dead. Its a small role and Shiro is great. Then their is Kyoko as played by Kyōko Kagawa who we see really in the wrap around. Helping her parents before their trip and essentially being the one left behind by her siblings as they return to their normalcy. She helped take care of her parents and she is so broken up by her mothers death and upset with Shige. Those final scenes with Setsuko are fantastic.
Wow. We haven’t even got to the look of the film. This movie so simple but like beautiful pictures. The framing on certain film scenes are a masterclass. Putting the camera in a room to give the feel of a homes architecture and space, letting the actors play out. Scenes shot straight ahead so it felt like the actors were talking directly to the viewer. Then all the beautiful shots around both Tokyo but also the Hirayama’s home in Onomichi. There are this moments when the camera just lingers in a moment, almost letting your feelings take a breather before jumping to the next sequence. It is not flashy but so filled with style that it stays with you. I love the brief bus sequence for the Tokyo tour. The moments inside Noriko’s home. The look of Shiges place. There is one scene with the Hirayama on this sort of lifted barrier, overlooking the channel. The camera gets moved a distance away as we watch the elderly couple walk atop it. Damn it, what a movie.
Seriously, what an amazing film.
GENE TIERNEY DOUBLE FEATURE: February 10th-Dragonwyck from 1946 (Director/Writer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz and based on the novel by Anya Seton, Stars: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, and Vincent Price, Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller, Runtime: 103 mins)
Whirlpool from 1949 (Director: Otto Perminger, Writers: Ben Hecht, Andrew Solt amd Based on Methinks the Lady by Guy Endore, Stars: Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, José Ferrer and Charles Bickford, Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller, Runtime: 97 mins)
Pair of Gene Tierney films for the day. I skipped out doing a planned Joan Crawford set and had thought to skip this but I have sooooooo many films still needing to be watched. First up a period piece drama about a Miranda Wells who goes from her home in farmland with domineering and god fearing father to live with her cousin (not by blood) who is a rich patroon. He owns lands farmers use and they have to pay him tribute. She marries this cousin, played by Vincent Price, sometime after his wifes death. Whirlpool is an Otto Preminger noir about a kleptomaniac named Ann Sutton who is married to a psychoanalyst who gets caught shoplifting but is helped a man named David Korvo. Korvo then manipulates her though hypnosis and sets her up as the fall woman to a murder.
Dragonwyck is a gothic period drama with grand performances and some nice costumes and set design. Its not for me though. The dramatic story of the small town girl falling for obviously a jerk did nothing really but allow me to watch Vincent Price do his thing. While not over the top, still the. Iggest performance of any of the films he did with Tierney. Gene Tierney is also very good, though not her best performance she does a lot and in times subtlety. Like the baptism scene in which she crushes it. Its a fine film for people into these sort of films.
Whirlpool is fine. Gene Tierney is very good and bad guy José Ferrer is good, though his character gets stupid towards the end. The set up and execution were all sound. Yet, something removes me from this film. I had no issues with it other than some annoyance over certain characters actions, I just wasn’t feeling what this film was laying down. Still, its a fine enough film noir and if you like Gene Tierney you should check it out.
Pat and Mike from 1952 (Director: George Cukor, Writers: Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Stars: Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Cinematography: William H. Daniels, Runtime: 95 mins)
It was good.
February 11th-Stay Tuned from 1992 (Director/Cinematography: Peter Hyams, Writers: Jim Jennewain and Tom S. Parker, Stars: John Ritter, Pam Dawber, Jeffrey Jones, and Eugene Levy, Runtime: 88 mins)
Nostalgia 3 stars.
February 12th-A Star is Born from 1954 (Director: George Cukor, Writers: Moss Hart and based on the 1937 film by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, Stars: Judy Garland and James Mason, Cinematography: Sam Leavitt, Runtime: 176 mins)
The first remake of the classic film is, depending on who you talk to, the best of the four. It’s the one that continues to come up when people discuss Academy Awards getting it wrong, as Judy garland lost to Grace Kelly that year. So how does the remake differ from the original? The films Esther soon to be Vickie Lester is already in the entertainment industry. A singer and dancer playing with a band. When performing at a big Hollywood shindig famous actor and drunk Norman Maine is being a drunk jerk backstage and wanders on set where Esther tries to work him into the performance. He becomes fascinated by her, tracks her down and convinces her Hollywood is where she needs to be. She agrees, quits the band, takes various jobs before Norman can get her a studio contract. He helps get her a big job and she breaks out. As her star grows and grows, his dwindles and this is where the film really starts to lay out in the same was as the original. Complete with depressing ending though the film does spend more time in the aftermath with slight changes.
First off, the TCM hist explained that WB butchered the original cut and that the I was going to watch the restoration. The restoration is strange, and I think because its strange how they put it together I have to cut it slack. I believe the full unseen cut probably is better. Of course, this film is better than the original. Its length allows more time for the story to breath. I like switching Esther from a wannabe actress to being a song and dance performer. It also allows us to see her work which I don’t remember ever being shown in the original. You’re just told she’s really good. In this Garland does musical numbers and they’re all pretty good (one of them is way dated) but that first on screen performance is amazing. The set design on it a thing of beauty. Garland and James Mason are very good, mason being a better fit for this role then Fredric March. This is really a great Garland performance and Mason also deserves props. I think their meeting here is way better than the original film and the shift to music here, which is pushed farther in the next films, was smart.
Now, the restoration involves using original audio over pan and scans of stills. It is really weird and takes me out of the film. While the two leads are so much better, I do think the removal of the Andy Devine character (or they totally changed him so I didn’t register) sucked. I think the changes to the publicist guy is both good and bad. The one in the original was more of ass, here he’s less of an ass. I think this film, I struggle with. I went 4 stars when I think I should’ve went lower but the main two performances, the song and dance numbers, and set design is spectacular. I really wish I could have seen the full intended version of this film.
February 13th-The Country Girl from 1954 (Director/Writer: George Seaton based on the play by Clifford Odets, Stars: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and William Holden, Cinematography: John F. Warren, Runtime: 104 mins)
The Country Girl centers on a play director named Bernie Dodd who believes washed up performer Frank Elgin is perfect for his play. Against the wishes of his producer. He wants to convince him to take the role but believes he is getting push back from Franks wife Georgie. She wants her husband to succeed and attempts to help him but Franks insecurities and lies makes Dodd believe Georgie is holding him back. She is not, and Bernie is an idiot. Why is Frank messed up? An alcoholic who blames himself for the death of his and Georgies son.
So, yeah, Judy Garland probably should have won the Oscar. Not that Grace Kelly isn’t good, she’s actually quite good. Might even be her best performance, but its not her best film. That is Rear Window. Seriously, Bing and Grace are great. Not as into William Holden here, because his character is a idiot. I guess he’s good but, hmm… I don’t even know if I really like William Holden. He’s good in everything but he’s never my favorite person in any of those films. Still, as a trio of performances its a strong picture. Visually, its a nice looking film especially in certain scenes. I think the weakest part is the switch in the story where Holden’s character Dodds kisses Kelly’s Georgie. That annoyed me and the switch in him toward her after being such an ass. She actually likes him or is she just starved for attention of someone who isn’t falling apart? I don’t know, I don’t care. That kind of took me out of it.
Regardless The Country Girl is a good melodrama.
February 14th-In the Mood For Love from 2000 (Director/Writer: Wong Kar-wai, Stars: Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, Cinematography: Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bin, Runtime: 98 mins)-multi genre USB
Hey, it’s Valentines Day and I picked a classic Hong Kong Romantic film. Su Li-zhen/Mrs. Chan and Chow Mo-wan are two new neighbors. Them and their spouses rent out rooms in homes next to each other, moving in on the same day. Mrs. Chan’s a secretary whose husband is abroad a lot for work. Chow’s wife works different hours so he rarely sees her. The two cross paths constantly, both are lonely. Things get harder when it seems their respective spouses seem to be having an affair with one another. Mrs. Chan and Chow began a deep platonic friendship. Him becoming a writer of kung fu serials, a genre she likes and she reads and gives him tips. They never get together, sorry for the spoiler. I am fucking depressed.
This plot is pretty thin but has a lot going on in it. The way the film is edited and shot in the first act has a lot of quick scenes and you get the passage of time. As well as what both leads are going through, with their work and us never seeing their spouses but hearing their voices. An interesting, and super effective choice. Watching everything unfold is quite a treat, especially with Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. Both giving incredibly beautiful performances. Maggie Cheung is a fucking delight. She is so beautiful and so sad. Leung is also so damn good. The last ten or so minutes skips around in time to see where they are and it hurts my soul. Visually, this is a pretty film. The set design, the wardrobe, and use of light and shadows is amazing. This is a gorgeous film.
I don’t know what else to add. 4 out of 5.