Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Suspicion (1941)

Retro Active Critique #20

The story of 'Monkey Face' and ol' Johnny. Believe it or not, 'Suspicion' happens to be the most romantic Hitchcock film for me.

I have a suspicion this will be one of the last times I'll feature a Hitchcock film on this blog. I've only recently written an appeal for The Man Who Knew Too Much and before that I'd posted about my loving costume/character attempt at Rear Window last Halloween. I love Hitch, but it isn't my intention to retro-actively appreciate films, music, personalities, etc. that still manage to garner attention on their own in our extreme mass output culture. Rather, I've intended for my focus to be on appreciating and giving a little push to those we have waiting for some notice in our collective archives.

On that note, 'Suspicion'
 rounds out (or squares out, as the case happens to be) my favorite four films of Alfred Hitchcock: the ever-perfect (flawless) cinematic experience of 'North By Northwest'; 'Rear Window', perhaps the finest of his thrillers, if only for its all-encompassing simplicity; the often overlooked but deeply pleasing 'The Man Who Knew Too Much'; and the breezy, far-ahead-of-its-time charm of 'Suspicion'. 

The direction of this film is superb and cutting edge for 1941. The script and dialogue is as sharp as you'd expect if you've watch films of this era –– and a revelation if you haven't –– with its intoxicating wit, energy and charm. The supporting cast is also great. Nigel Bruce as the bumbling Beaky is particularly fun, with his 'old boy', 'old girl' & 'old chap' capped utterances. 

Joan Fontaine is lovely to put it simply. There is no other way to describe her as she plays the mousy but alluring Lina. I am not sure why, exactly, but hers stands as one of my favorite performances –– ever –– in this. She won a deserved Oscar for playing Lina. 

Cary Grant is as perfect as ever as the 'no good, but how can you not love him' Johnny. He is so funny, warm and charming it's understandable why an intelligent woman like Lina would fall for him, despite his (seemingly) obvious shortcomings.

Their playful moments together are touching and amusing.
You'll find yourself rooting for them at all costs. For 'Monkey Face' to have a life with Johnny there are indeed costs. But they seem to be worth it. 

And it's definitely worth checking out this seventy year old film! If you'd like to refresh your film queue with something 'new' don't be misled by this film's age. 'Suspicion' is still incredibly fresh and it's not to be missed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Turning Point (1977)

Retro Active Critique #19

Ballet, as a theme in films, tends to veer towards a dark tone. This is likely because ballet is a deeply disciplined and often painful form of art and expression (both physically and emotionally.) It is also because ballet is something that requires great commitment and sacrifice to even resemble anything close to what it is meant to be. Ballet is a terrific example of a lifestyle decision that is both incredibly freeing and confining to the individual who chooses it. This dichotomy along with conflicts inside the ballet world are what provide infinitely dramatic and interesting premises. Ballerinas, metaphorically, resemble caged birds who are only able to fly intermittently, both in life and in art.

Great films about ballet come around every once in a while and in light of a potentially entertaining one being released soon (Aronofsky's "Black Swan") it is time to unleash the greatness that is "The Turning Point". For any ballet aficionado, this is the film to watch. But "The Turning Point" is also a film in which someone with very little interest in ballet can also become immersed. It is a real story about realistic people. And for anyone with a decidedly male point of view who must unwillingly partake in a viewing, Tom Skerrit can be your comfortable reference point. He plays a masculine rarity of an ex-ballet dancer, one who marries his ballet partner, played by Shirley MacLaine. As two of their children reach the age when they have developed a desire to pursue a career in ballet - one of which, their eldest daughter, shows incredible potential to succeed - emotions are stirred within the couple that had been lost since the time when they left the world of dance to create a family. Anne Bancroft plays the aging ballerina (and there always is one, in any ballet story) who also takes a second look at her life choices when she is confronted with the life she never pursued, one that includes a family.

The final fallout between the characters played by Bancroft and MacLaine is a memorable cat-fight... people often reference it when this movie is remembered. But what is most captivating and continues to resonate are the genuine and complex emotions these people have about life and the choices they've made.

The dance scenes are also impeccable and beautifully filmed - and feature Mikhail Baryshnikov in his first film role. "The Turning Point" is a good one to watch if you feel like being swept into a drama that isn't terribly demanding, but still leaves an impression.