Sunday, January 02, 2011

Holiday time = movie time

This Ernst Lubitsch-directed Christmas classic is one of my favorites, and I saw it on TCM, just before Christmas. The 1940 film is set in Budapest and is based on a 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie, written by Miklós László. Over the years it inspired many later versions, including In the Good Old Summertime, You've Got Mail and the British TV show Are you Being Served? This one stars Margaret Sullivan and Jimmy Stewart as two bickering co-workers who are secret pen pals that fall in love via their letters. My favorite moment happens when Stewart is sacked from the job he has held for eons - and performs like a pro - for no apparent reason. That man can act! Watching his face turn from astonishment to deep hurt is utterly priceless and spot-on.... and, sadly, oh-so-familiar.

The Dreyfuses and I watched this 2008 Mike Leigh film on Christmas. Although Leigh is one of my all-time favourite directors (I also love Ken Loach, Ming-liang Tsai, John Cassavettes, Claire Denis and Guru Dutt), I found this one to be a bit lacking. It's about a happy, batty young schoolteacher (Sally Hawkins) whose bike is nicked, so she must take driving lessons with a stiff old stuffed shirt (Eddie Marsan) who repeatedly describes himself as a great driving instructor, and explains that the really great instructors work at the smallest companies that have the most reasonable prices. This last bit made me think of my sorry lot as a long-time yoga instructor, and made me laugh. The scene where he melted down and sucked some of the heroine's wacky joy out of her was rather priceless - as was the one where the spicy flamenco instructor also lost her cool. Overall a good movie - and a sweet one, too. But it seemed to lack the urgency of Leigh's earlier work.

The Dreyfuses and I watched this Cohen Brothers film on Christmas night, and it reminded me yet again of why I am not a fan. I should not have been surprised, since this one was about a so-called psycho killer played by Javier Bardem....only I'd forgotten that part. The Brothers are indeed arch and clever and knowing, but that gets old after awhile; I much prefer soul to style. My biggest gripe is that they have us rooting for the young hero (Josh Brolin) from the start, as he narrowly escapes death again and again. Finally, after we are completely invested in his fate, he is killed - only it doesn't take place onscreen. It makes one feel rather manipulated, to say the least. The film also has an obsession with process and mechanics when it comes to such things as hiding money in heating ducts and blowing up a car. This obsession appears to be directly lifted from the silent 29-minute robbery sequence in the Jules Dassin-directed 1959 French heist masterpiece, Rififi. As my grand-niece would say, "I've seen that before." And much better, too. Nonetheless the film won many Academy Awards and most moviegoers seem to love it. (NOTE: Jonathan Rosenbaum didn't like it, either. Read his review here).


  1. Anonymous7:37 PM

    I [heart] Jimmy Stewart!! Thanks for the tip!

  2. Anonymous8:48 AM

    i loved "no country" a lot. true grit was also a cohen bros film.
    we rented the original "nosferatu" from netflix after watching the AMAZING "shadow of the vampire" with willhem dafoe in the best role of his life. HIGHLY recommended if you don't already know. (what happens when a director hires an actual vampire to make a film?) great concept!

    i checked out reviews for "tees maar khan"-i don't like the male & female leads (akshay kumar & katrina kaif)-waiting for something better to come along.

  3. Yes, I'm not a big fan of either of them, either. And it's all a bit too tongue-in-cheek, I think.

    There is a Malayalam film playing at Big Cinemas, called Best Actor and starring Mammootty. But they don't usually subtitle the local language fillums.

    I saw "Shanghai Express" last night on TCM. It was a great way to procrastinate on a monumental writing project.

  4. Big Cinemas is also showing Khandahar starring Amitabh Bachchan and Manmadhan Ambu (Tamil) starring Kamal Hassan.

    That's quite a trio!

    Too bad they're not all in the same fillum.

  5. Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorites and I will be glad to rent this when I get back to the states.

    As far as the Mike Leigh movie Happy go lucky, I agree it isn't as tense or edgy as his others, nor as brilliant, (again he is also one of my favorite directors).But there is something about the genuine kindness and joy in the heroine.

    Thanks for all the reviews!