//Quick Takes – 02.13.11

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.

Alex started Film Misery in early 2009 after living the site’s title for many years. His film obsession began in high school when he and his friends would see all of the Oscar Best Picture nominees and try to make predictions...Full Bio.