It’s one of those salutary coincidences of movie history that the final narrative film completed by Orson Welles would turn out to be this rumination on an old man’s obsession with storytelling. It’s not that Welles was exactly elderly at the time (he was 51 when he made it), but there’s a matter-of-fact finality to the work that becomes just a touch spooky in retrospect. Commissioned by the French national television agency as a Jeanne Moreau vehicle to commemorate the transition to colour television, The Immortal Story required that Welles work in colour for the first time, catalyzing a fairly dramatic evolution of his style. But it gave him the opportunity to adapt a short story by Karen Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen), one of his favourite writers, and to work again with Moreau, one of his favourite actors. Less than an hour long, it has remained an obscure film for a variety of reasons, but it’s intermittently remarkable despite its modesty. Continue reading
Ben Affleck does it again, with this tense, exceptionally well-made alternate-history time capsule. It’s lacking in flavor, yes. (The harmless in-jokes about the movie business are the film’s most personal element, since the Affleck character’s rote estranged-dad role is utterly generic.) It embellishes history, yes. (On reflection and some research, the film’s elevation of the derring-do of feisty CIA agent Tony Mendez way beyond the apparent facts of the historical matter seem a bit gauche.) But, boy, is it a cracking story while it’s up there on the screen. It does just exactly what it has to do for two straight hours, and its period trappings have the strength of sense memory. Hell, I was ready to stand up and applaud the old-school WB logo. It’s not remotely the best film of the year. But it is a ton of fun.
Shot mostly silent, in black and white, and with the squarish, Academy-ratio framing that predated widescreen cinematography, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is a Frenchman’s tribute to old-school Hollywood filmmaking. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, one of those silent-film actors who scoffed at the popularity of talking pictures until their careers hit the skids. Bérénice Bejo, who co-starred with Dujardin in Hazavanicius’s secret-agent comedy OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, is fangirl-turned-starlet Peppy Miller, who looks to George as a mentor. But George, a generation her senior, refuses to embrace the talkies and his career fades to black as Peppy becomes a marquee name in her own right. As you might imagine, this situation leads to professional jealousy, personal resentment and, eventually, redemption through the love of a good woman.
Blow Out begins with a broadly visual joke, nearly four minutes long, about filmmaking. It ends with a second joke on the same subject, this one more complex, pointed, and black as tar. Over the course of the narrative, the material has turned rancid, so discoloured and malodorous that it’s hardly funny. That’s because, between the two grand gestures that bookend the film, writer-director Brian De Palma has traced a hero’s journey from idealism and optimism to disillusionment and despair. If cynicism were a superhero franchise, Blow Out would be its origin story.
Roman Coppola borrowed the keys to daddy’s film company to make this inconsequential but high-spirited paean to late 1960s European genre filmmaking, particularly Roger Vadim’s Barbarella and Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik, which it apes lovingly. (Supporting player John Phillip Law was in both of ’em.) Jeremy Davies plays Paul Ballard, an American filmmaker living in Paris. He’s working by day as film editor on a lushly dopey SF flick called Codename: Dragonfly; at night, he’s shooting candid footage of himself, his dingy flat, and his French girlfriend (Élodie Bouchez) for his “personal film.”
Ballard is more a character type than a character; he acts stupid and alienates his girl partly because he’s fully invested in his own pretentious exercises rather than in their relationship, but also because he’s fascinated by the incredibly sexy Valentine (Angela Lindvall), Dragonfly’s frequently naked starlet. Meanwhile, directors get hired and fired and Ballard winds up shouldering responsibility for making the movie work. Given Coppola’s fetishistic recreation of the tropes of old European films, it seems obvious that he’s arguing for the enduring values of the hucksterish but dreamlike Dragonfly over those of Ballard’s ersatz-Godard art flick — which just makes this protagonist even more empty and uninvolving. Who cares if this guy ever finishes his “personal” film, or breaks up with this French chick who’s too good for him anyway?
The good news is that there’s something to admire on screen for the duration—the cinematography by Robert Yeoman is preternaturally crisp, and folks like Gerard Depardieu, Giancarlo Giannini and Jason Schwartzman are the bit players, for Christ’s sake. Also good fun is Coppola’s inside-Hollywood take on filmmaking, with pissed-off auteurs, slick Italian moneymen, and an enfant terrible (Schwartzman) who treads in Austin Powers territory butting heads. A scene showing Ballard falling quietly for Valentine when she shows up to loop some sweet nothings is pretty terrific. But beside the evident love of movies, there are no emotional hooks here. I like Bava as much as the next Web-based movie reviewer, but when you boil it down, CQ is essentially a lesser Euro-trash variation on Ed Wood.