Here’s how I spent the last three months of the year, checking out some celebrated new releases and revisiting some old favorites.
Note: This review was written over a decade ago for Legal Times. But the Blu Ray of this great film was released last month, and so….
Ordinary noises, human sounds dominate The Verdict, the greatest courtroom drama ever filmed. Whether they are the bells of a pinball machine, the hiss and hum of a hospital respirator, or the clink of ice cubes in a whiskey glass, they serve a far more important function here than mere aural landscaping.
Director Sidney Lumet drapes his film in a shroud of stillness of grief, of regret. It’s dark. It’s Boston. It’s winter. There is no soundtrack in the movie to speak of — and extended sequences where no one talks. So that when we hear something as benign as the bumper of a pinball machine as the movie opens, we welcome the comfort it provides.
There’s no getting around it. My summer viewing was piss-poor, almost indefensibly so. Along with that, I’ve let the blog falter longer than ever, and it’s left me unsure why I even still do it, or why I ever did. I’m not that anal about anything else, that’s for certain.
At any rate, I also lost the first version of this piece, so in order to post anything at all, I’m going to have to write extremely brief reviews of the films I watched this summer. Hey, that’s the trend on the web anyway, right? (Buzzfeed!) No one wants to read anything lengthy.
Two things struck me about Humphrey Bogart in this picture: One, he’s in color. Like his contemporary Cary Grant, Bogart seemed to lose a little bit with the Technicolor revolution. The two stars were made for black and white. Bright colors dulled their edge, even in terrific entertainments such as North by Northwest or The African Queen.
The other was the looseness and the warmth with which he played the role of Charlie Allnut, such as in the well-known sequence where he imitates hippos and monkeys. The pensiveness, the mistrust, that is such a hallmark of the Bogart persona is almost entirely gone, replaced by a sort of dimwitted generosity.
Emotions in motion
Magnolia is a movie stuck in overdrive. It’s been years since I’ve screened it, but watching it again was a reminder of how Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t simply show you his story, he hurtles it at you at Strasbergian speed.
To watch it is to witness a filmmaker giving license to all of his ambitions at once—and it’s both a good and bad thing in this case. It’s why writers need editors and directors need producers (and editors). Magnolia has been called a beautiful trainwreck and that’s a good way to think of it. It overheats and then melts down. Continue reading
More has likely been written about Lisbeth Salander in the last few years than any other literary character—at least until a certain Hunger Gamer came along. Even though I hadn’t read any of the Swedish trilogy featuring Salander, I was certainly aware of her, and the three Swedish films featuring her to the point that screening David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo felt a little like coming late to the party.
A side effect was that I was conscious, more than usual, of Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth being a product of a series of choices rather than a more spontaneous entity, choices evidently made by Fincher and Mara together. Mara’s version of Salander is the key to the film of course. Without it working, the film, the trilogy, nothing works, no matter how good Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist is (and he is).
In an effort to jump start this blog, I’m committing to watching 30 films in 30 days, chronicling them as I go. There’s no plan, no agenda. I watch whatever appeals to me at the moment. First up: One of the immortals—and one of the, uh, mortals.
I didn’t intend for Casablanca, of all films, to be the one that launched this project, but the Blu-ray (the 2008, not the new 2012 restoration) arrived in the mail and I thought, why not? It’s only fitting. I was first exposed to this landmark as a teenager at the Drexel Theater on the east side of Columbus. And have likely watched it two dozen times since.
To me, it’s neither the greatest film ever made nor my own personal favorite (although I’m not sure I could easily come up with better candidates on either score). Rather, it’s that Casablanca to me encapsulates every reason to go to the movies. I have a bias toward what I might call high-end popcorn films and nothing has ever delivered sheer entertainment quite as effectively as this wartime thriller. Continue reading