Thursday, April 30, 2009

So I Finally Handed My Dissertation in...

A weight has been lifted.

I still have work to do in the next month but I should now be free to actually have a social life. Expect more posts. The main thing that is happening in my life right now though doesn't really have much to do with films or Uni, and could end up making me totally anti-social....

*bubbles uncontrollably*

Hottest Track: Florence and the Machine - Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Hard Way (1943)

Directed by Vincent Sherman
Starring: Ida Lupino, Joan Leslie, Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson
Grade: B+

Rosalind Russell's pushy mother in Gypsy is perhaps the most abundant example of a parent wanting too much for her child. The Hard Way's Helen Chernen isn't a mother (at least not biologically-speaking) but treats the future of her teenage sister with a similarly half-maternal/ half-tyrannical fervour, making it top of her list of priorities and gamely shoving youngster Katie into the big bad world of showbusiness. Ida Lupino is this driven woman, and suitably conveys the exasperation of a thirty-something home-maker who can't really afford to give her sister the life that she wants. A high school photograph puts things into perspective: clad in grey drab and amidst a sea of girls in gleaming white dresses, Katie is a scruff, an ugly duckling, someone destined to end up enslaved in the same kind of monotonous marriage her sister is currently enduring. One of the few problems with the film is that it doesn't do enough in its early stages to back this idea up, and introduces a half-heartedly needless flashback framework that would return to detract from Joan Crawford's Possessed four years later.

Still, The Hard Way can't really be criticised for being this flimsy with the rest of its structure, since its 110-minute running time goes by in a breeze. It doesn't have the musical stop-gap's of Gypsy, nor the overbearing overtness of its themes on show, and while it's in danger of being bland on occasion The Hard Way does emerge as a more sly and knowing counterpart to LeRoy's film. Part of this is achieved through Lupino, who grabbed the New York Film Critics' Best Actress prize for this, giving an enigmatic performance; shrewd, unwaivering, solid, manipulative without any Joan Collins in Dynasty-style showcasing. Lupino leads her film while often in the background as the mousy manager to the charming Katie (Joan Leslie), and like a limpet at her side becomes frustrating in her coy assurance that her actions are all for the kid's well-being.

This stuff isn't ground-breaking, and you get the impression that The Hard Way has not aged well. It has a lot of style and tight characterisation but the waves of melodrama are anchored by plot devices that have been done to death since, and probably before, Vincent Sherman's film was released in 1943. Love triangles, forlorn husbands, and career betrayal all give The Hard Way that 'seen it, done it, got the t-shirt' feel, but if a thing's done well, how can you knock it? The film achieves more than most in that it convincingly travels years, dredging up characters more than once and alluding to just enough social environment without compromising the true compact melodrama of the piece.

Friday, April 24, 2009

She'll Fuck You Up


I haven't posted for weeks because I'm currently very occupied with my Uni dissertation, which is about Screwball comedies if you're interested. All my focus is going into that at the moment. Still, I was procrastinating a little bit earlier, and stumbled upon something rather exciting.

I don't know how many of you remember the 2001 song 'Paradise' by a beautiful American teen girl called Kaci. Well I loved it at the time and revisited the other week. Such a good pop song! But anyway, you'd be forgiven for thinking this girl had faded into obscurity. No! She has a song coming out in America and apparently it's all over the radio there. It's called Crazy Obsessive and is crazy catchy, so I'm gonna share it with you.

A bit of a change of image, huh? From pure to pissed off. You may as well call this a hottest track.... although I could fill the next couple of month's tracks with the upcoming Passion Pit album. Serious pwnage.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Top Ten Film Characters

I was tagged for this meme by Dave of Victim of the Time (thankyouuuuu!).

When I thought about what my ten favourite film characters ever might be, I was bieseged by many of Bette Davis' creations, and a couple of Maggie Smith's. It was hard to narrow the whole thing down, and it turns out that Bette and Maggie don't actually feature here. I still don't think this really represents a concrete, researched list, but I love these ten characters immeasurably. Here they are:-

Kat Stratford in Ten Things I Hate About You

I'm not sure that Julia Stiles' Kat Stratford is exactly the kind of shrew that William Shakespeare originally envisioned, but I'd like to think that, if alive today (wouldn't that be cause for concern?) he'd marvel at the representation of his wild female in the modern-day adaptation, 10 Things I Hate About You. I have passionate feelings for this film (see its
entry in my personal canon for further proof), and it's largely because of the uber-bitch activity of Ms. Stratford, who exercises quips you really wish you'd written yourself. Someone that strives to be different and distinctly anti-social, Kat's idea of a compliment is "You're not as vile as I thought you were", and despite engaging in romance for much of the film, never loses her edge or bite.

Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins

The world's greatest nanny fulfils her promise to leave town when the wind changes, and we'd expect nothing less of a woman that is so assured, affronted, and "practically perfect in every way". This never waivers and yet her feelings for the children are always present and strong, which is probably down to Julie Andrew's fantastic performance. Poppins achieves stability through madness, the secret pleasure she exudes from lucid imagination and trifle outings remaining the most far-away, untouchable element of the woman, and perhaps the most valuable.

Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada

"This... 'stuff'? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff."

And the words on the page do not even do this speech justice.

Mr. Grey in Secretary

I'll leave my sexual habits out of this but, needless to say, James Spader completely got me going here. I also love that you never know Mr. Grey's first name, since it shouldn't be, and isn't important. Grey meets his match in Gyllenhaal's ultimate submissive, and promptly begins to up his game. He grows more and more clinical and downright horny as their relationship escalates, and it's hella fun to watch him call the shots.

Sally Bowles in Cabaret

There aren't many characters that feel as genuine as Sally Bowles. Life is a cabaret for her, after all, and so the willingness to be free overcomes the moments in life which could surely get her down. I'm nowhere near as brave as Sally, but I can totally relate to her attitude towards life. Retrospectively, my viewing of Cabaret kind of represented a kick in the head, a remonstration of "What are you doing? Why aren't you going out and getting sloshed? Why aren't you having sex?" etc. etc. etc. There are no drunks or whores where Sally's concerned, and why should there be? It's all human nature.

Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind

I could talk about Scarlett O'Hara all of the day, and all of the night (cue Billie Piper) as her permanent facade is maybe the most enchanting characterisation that's ever graced the silver screen. She's jealous, elitist, devious, calculating, breathtakingly charming, admirable for seizing opportunities at the drop of a hat, and yet kind of pathetic in her narrowness and unable or unwilling to grasp how her actions might affect those around her. There's a stunning audacity to Scarlett that's both her outlet for success and the reason for her inevitable downfall. "I'll think about that tomorrow"... A-MA-ZING.

Scrat in the Ice Age Series

Oh come on! Don't tell me you haven't laughed at those snippets in the Ice Age pics (one of the few reasons to see these films), and marvelled at how predictably relentless and devoted this little creature is. Nobody's ever loved an acorn that much.

Susan Vance in Bringing Up Baby

Q: Would a man really fall in love with a girl who ransacked his wedding, lumbered him with a leopard, and single-handedly dismantled his relationship?

A: He would if it was Katharine Hepburn. Susan Vance is one of the wildest women you're ever likely to observe, and goes from catastrophe to catastrophe so matter-of-factly, with barely a pang of real consideration, and with such a wonderful spirit of adventure, that you'd go through anything with this woman.

Tracy Flick in Election

"Pick Flick" is the slogan of choice for Election's resident smartster; a ploy that demonstrates her insane ambition and hints that she's used to getting exactly what she wants. Flick is driven by this ambition, consumed by it, blinded by it, and the parodical nature of her success-hungry teen achieves a nifty social observation. Something ruthless bubbles beneath the desire to succeed.

Wadsworth in

As the orchestrator of events, Tim Curry's Wadsworth is required to dash around explaining things for long periods of this brilliant comedy. Wadsworth repeats himself often but makes each instance a little different and equally hilarious. Murder mysteries don't have someone to lay things on the line, otherwise they wouldn't really be mysterious, would they? So it's great that Clue's kinda anti-convention works both as a mystery and a satire, and that the frantic nature of Wadsworth's drive and motivation in the film acts as suspense-building, tireless excitement.

Time to tag: RJ, Keith, Shep, Alex, and Yaseen, do your worst.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Actress Profiles: Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Despite receiving five Golden Globe Nominations (MP) and three BAFTA notices, Mia Farrow has never been nominated at the Oscars. Puzzlingly, none of those nominated performances include her brilliant turn in Death on the Nile, where she plays the drunken, jealous ex of a British tourist. Her presence in Rosemary's Baby, however, is probably the closest she came to a date with the Golden Guy crew, given that the film managed a Screenplay nomination, and a Supporting win for Ruth Gordon, as well as the fact she's in nearly every scene.

Farrow's role is, quite obviously, not a stock one, as the initially enthusiastic and eager-to-settle Rosemary eventually becomes a wailing beacon of paranoia. As with most horror films, the establishment of equilibrium wants us to see Rosemary as a familiar, fawn-like heroine, walking blindly into a hunter's trap. It works: Farrow, as ever a warm and easy presence on-screen, gives us the foothold of honesty that we need, but she also lets us see the pretense in her attempts at home-making, the inherent motivation of the woman to dismiss or distract from the insecurities of her relationship with Guy (Cassavetes). As a character, Farrow makes Rosemary, timid in demeanor but clear in focus, feel above and beyond her malleable surroundings; immersed, impelled, thoroughly self-alienating, and an awfully easy target.

In many ways, Rosemary's fate is an inevitable one. Lord knows, there's defiance and fight in this woman, but the apparent victory of her conception blinds her from realising (at least for a while) that she does not have everything her own way. She even endures pain for months on end, believing that it's down to purely natural behaviour. But as the penny starts to drop, and Rosemary is forced to exercise her suppressed challenge and independence, is where Farrow unquestionably excels.

The success of Polanski's film most lies in its nonchalance; the denial, the unspoken. Its mellow tone simmers and starts, but rarely goes into overload, and keeps the overt drama to a bare minimum. The idea of satanism and witchcraft is something Rosemary would surely have balked at at one time or another, but believably forms the underlying basis of her newfound drive and purpose, as much of a way to free herself of the restrictions of pregnancy than to find hidden truths. Farrow masters the confluence of comedy, perplexion, investigation, and fear, whacking up the intensity but sticking with the character's narrow perceptions, and embedding her descent into fully-fledged realisation with the scorn of an exploited woman. One gets the impression that she feels as bloodthirsty as she does wronged, and the final scene handily leaves you exactly that to ponder.