Quick Takes – 02.13.11

Brief Encounter (1945)

Grade: A- | 1st Viewing

I finally watched David Lean’s epic masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia and before writing my review I wanted to watch one of his earlier films to gain some context. In Brief Encounter it was like watching an excellent director make the transition from theatre to film. The Noel Coward influences the permeate through Lean’s entire career are definitely present, especially in the characters’ excellent wit, but there is also some cinematic creativity with lighting, voice-overs, and camera work.

Since its based on a play by Noel Coward, there are a lot of the playwright’s common themes present. The love affair between the refined, upper class protagonists goes no further than a momentary passionate kiss while the lower class train platform engineer is able to publicly slap his café worker belle on the behind. Lean even takes this dichotomy between the two classes further by using the camera to get close every time the two leads brush hands or meet eyes.

Coward was never quite the witty innuendo-ist of his contemporary Oscar Wilde and Lean borrows from both men in his often very funny screenplay. One of my favorite moments in the film comes when Laura and Alec are at the movies and they take a moment to psychoanalyze Donald Duck:

“The stars could change in their courses, the universe go up in flames, and the world crash around us, but there will always be Donald Duck.”
“I do love him so, his dreadful energy and his blind frustrated rages.”

The exchange is one of the more intimate that any two characters in the movie share, and it offers Lean a chance to comment on the often dispassionate romance among the British upper class, a theme that will remain present throughout most of his later films.

The King’s Speech (2010)

Grade: A- | 2nd Viewing

Upon second viewing of this Oscar Best Picture favorite and one of my top ten films of 2010, one thing has been made definitely clear: old people LOVE this movie. While I greatly enjoyed the story and Tom Hooper’s smart and well-paced way of delivering it, nothing can compare to the utter reverence that the blue-haired members of the audience seemed to have at the film’s conclusion. This generally unexcitable age group was heard muttering things like “one of the best film’s I’ve ever seen,” “simply astonishing,” and “Mildred was right, that Churchill impersonation was spot on.”

While not as appreciative as my elders, I did really enjoy the film on a second go-through. I think that a lot of hat has been directed towards Tom Hooper as he starts to steal awards from David Fincher, but I don’t think he’s being given enough credit. What Hooper does well is take moments that could have been cliché and turns them into interesting and even inspiring scenes. For instance, how many times have we seen a radio broadcast that is being listened to by characters from all over the country or world? Somehow it manages to feel fresh and essential to the narrative.

One thing that helps it feel fresh is Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score, and I would not be upset if it took home the Oscar even though it would be another case of rewarding the right person for the wrong film (he should have won for Fantastic Mr. Fox or Coco Before Chanel.

Howl (2010)

Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing

I have never read any works by Allen Ginsberg and I am only casually familiar with the Dadaist movement, from which he drew much inspiration. However, I am very familiar with the recitation of poems (as a speech coach I see high school students attempt it a lot). I always find that the best poetry readers are mostly still and allow for the power of the words to wash over their audience. Bad poetry readers distract the viewers with excessive gestures or pantomiming. With the animations used in the film Howl, I often felt like the audience was being distracted from the words that Ginsberg wrote and the way Franco reads them with such excellent rhythm and attitude. They also often seemed too literal despite the subtlety of the language.

Also, even though the censorship trial was packed with some of my favorite actors (David Strathairn, Bob Balaban, Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm) it was one of the less interesting courtroom dramas I’ve seen. I often found myself eager to get back to the poem during the courtroom scenes. The movie is redeemed, however, by Franco’s endearing performance and for introducing me to the fantastic poem at its center.

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  • I saw:

    “Borat” (B): Very funny individual scenes, but the movie as a whole doesn’t really work.

    “The Bicycle Thief” (A): Depressing, but utterly riveting. Great cinematography, great acting. Simply superb.

  • Anessa

    Feb 13 is actually my Birthday, so a friend and I drove to a bigger city to watch…

    The Illusionist: A- I’ve never seen The Triplets of Belleville, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was an extremely poignant film beautifully animated, film, that reminded me how I miss 2D animation at times.

    The Company men: C+ You know, great acting, I really couldn’t feel that much for Ben Affleck’s character, who lost his job but was living way beyond his means he doesn’t have anything to fall back on. But I guess that’s the point that he “learned his lesson” at the end…

    The Way Back: B+ Better than I expected considering I didn’t know what it was about. I don’t know the real history behind the story but I think that’s for the better. The movie was about determination, which showed. Also I wish Colin Farrell character was present throughout the whole movie

    Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind: A+ This is when I came back home and received the movie as a gift on Blu-ray. It probably my 22nd time watching it, still loved it. Plus I got to see new features I hadn’t seen before.

  • Amelie: B+ It’s starts off good but then it gets lost from focusing too much on the style. It definitely isn’t “The Most Well-Shot Movie of the Decade”. City of God (which is also my favorite movie of the decade) deserves that title.

  • Jose

    Happy belated Annesa, and you should definitely watch “Triplets of Belleville”when you get the chance.

    I saw:

    Curse of the Golden Flower
    1st Viewing
    I’m a fan of Zhang Yimou and I wanted to see this film. I mean it had the makings of a great juicy soap opera like epic and it had dazzling sets and costumes, and yet it didn’t click. A lot of the stuff felt over the top to the nth degree to the point that it seemed that it was supposed to be a guilty pleasure film but it wasn’t

    5th Viewing
    Like I mentioned on Quinn’s website, there are only two reasons why I can still take M Night Shyamalan seriously: Unbreakable and Signs. Unbreakable is my favorite superhero film ever.

  • So far this week I’ve seen:

    Annie Hall
    Second Viewing

    Truly wonderful, I love every minute of it. Diane Keaton is extraordinary.

    Modern Times
    First Viewing

    OK, I found this one slightly overrated. I just don’t think Charlie Chaplin is very funny, and I find his movies (that I’ve seen) work far better as romances than comedies.

  • Quinn, have you seen “The Great Dicatator”? It’s probably his funniest movie. I agree about “Modern Times” being slightly overrated, but it’s still a classic in my book.

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