Saturday, April 4, 2009

Crime and Punishment (1935)

Mr Pinky was introduced to the world of master director Josef Von Sternberg via his series of lavish, baroque and beautifully lit movies starring the incomparable Marlene Dietrich. After reading Sternberg’s autobiography Fun in a Chinese Laundry it has been a slow process tracking down viewings of his other films.

Crime and Punishment was made in 1935 and at this stage is only available via a Spanish import dvd. I can heartily recommend tracking down a copy just to witness this master cinematic stylist working with what must have been a limited budget yet still managing to create a work of high art.

This was to be Sternberg’s first film without Dietrich to lavish his attentions on and instead Peter Lorre as the murderous student Raskolnikov became the perfect subject for Sternberg’s masterful eye. I believe this was Lorre’s first American film and certainly his performance in Fritz Lang’s M and this film make for interesting comparisons.

I am sure there have been major liberties taken with the original novel but hey, this was Hollywood in the thirties and what we as classic celluloid fans are left with is a gloriously photographed and marvellously acted film. Mr Pinky suggests to just wallow in its beauty!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

Mr Pinky has yet to lay eyes on this film due for release later this year. The original picture book made a huge impression on a young piglet but it is extremely rare for a film to successfully capture the essence of a book, let alone a children's picture book. Anyone care to remember The Cat in the Hat? But viewing this trailer for Where the Wild Things Are has truly whetted my appetite. It looks as tho the filmmakers have managed to capture Sendak's mixture of thrills, scares and wonder. Here's hoping!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pinocchio (1940)

Walt Disney's follow-up to the smash hit Snow White was not at the time regarded as a huge success. Decades after it's debut in 1940, Pinocchio has proven to be not only a cash-cow for the lucrative home video market but visual proof that the benchmark of animation's golden age had certainly been created.

So much has already been written about this jaw droppingly beautiful film. The humour, the design, the superlative animation that reinforces Disney's "illusion of life" technique. All can be found in this wonderful film.

Previously available on dvd, Pinocchio has been reissued this year but this time in a fully restored version. The differences between the two are astonishing. Viewing the new release is like watching Pinocchio for the very first time. Pinocchio's background design had always been a major part of its appeal and this restored version allows the viewer to see the gorgeous attention to detail applied by Walt Disney's team of artists. Every frame is a work of art begging to be explored via the freeze frame button on the dvd remote.

I doubt that films as breathtakingly beautiful as Pinocchio will ever be made again. Hand drawn creations have since been replaced by CGI rendering. Pinocchio certainly belongs to that grand and glorious period of Hollywood's Golden age of animation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)

Oh what fools these mortals be,
That miss out on this DVD!

So says Mr Pinky.

Mr Shakespeare’s play is a weird and wonderful romp through the forest, pretty much a one off in the Shakespearian canon. He never wrote a play like it afterwards. The action is so fanciful and delightful, indeed, almost camp, that it has prompted some wags to query whether it would be possible for a straight man to write such a fairy dominated play.

Who knows? Who cares?

What I can say is that this 1935 visual extravaganza well and truly lives up to its original source and inspiration. Every frame of this picture is gorgeously made. It’s one of those films that is so mesmerising to watch that you often simply forget about the plot.

The film also has some terrific performances from some unlikely Hollywood actors. James Cagney is most affecting as Bottom, and Mickey Rooney is amazing as Puck.

What is it about these dream-like 1930s films, that seem so hermetically sealed from reality? You can’t help but think that it would be an impossibility to make such a free, uninhibited and imaginative film nowadays. Film is perhaps too self-conscious today. There are too many references for filmmakers to fall back on; back in the 1930s they were creating the very language of film themselves.

A classic!

Mr Pinky invites you to enjoy some of the film stills presented below.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Maids (1974)

Mr Pinky recently made a wish out loud to see the film version of Jean Genet’s 1947 play The Maids. To his surprise, wishes do come true! Mr Pinky’s web editor recently found a DVD copy at a very reasonable price.

It’s nice to know that in the current economic climate, you can still pick up a good quality movie at a bargain price.

For those not in the know, Jean Genet was a sometimes jail bird, sometime novelist and playwright. The Maids is loosely based on an infamous 1930s murder, where two French maids (the Papin sisters, Lea and Christine) killed their Mistress. The Jean Genet version concentrates on the masochism of the maids, and their inability to finally do away with ‘Madame’.

From memory, the play has instructions that the set is to be highly ornate and artificial. Somewhat surprisingly, although perhaps not since Genet was gay, the three female characters were to be played by men.

In this 1974 film version, directed by Christopher Miles, and starring Glenda Jackson, Susannah York and Vivien Merchant, the set follows Genet’s stage directions. The art direction is lusciously ornate and artificial. The major divergence from the script is to have women play the leads, but this works well.

Susannah York is terrific when dressing up as Madame. The overwrought make-up, glamour and theatrical postures recall the great film clips of Annie Lennox. (Indeed, if Mr Pinky were to meet Ms Lennox, the first thing he would ask is how much this film influenced her own film work.)

Glenda Jackson also does a good job as Solange.

But look out for Vivienne Merchant! What a rare and queer thing she is as Madame. Absolutely perfect! The DVD is worth the price just for her performance. Her timing and the phrasing of her lines is just magic.

The only bummer about the film is the fact that Christopher Miles adds some annoying flashbacks and ‘action film’ type scenes that detract from the artificial atmosphere of the play.

We know that Madame has a lover who has been denounced to the police. The director has these hurried, frenetically cut scenes at the beginning showing him being dragged off to the police. Then there are short scenes of Madame’s lover that we cut away to when the maids are discussing him. They jar and are at odds with the aesthetics of the film as a whole.

A total artistic mistake says Mr Pinky!

That quibble aside, you must lay your hands on The Maids. It’s a rich, strange, beguiling and very queer sort of film.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Secret Garden (1991)

This 1993 adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, The Secret Garden, by director Agnieszka Holland is a sheer delight. You always hold your breath when you see someone has attempted to bring a classic novel to the screen. The film maker either tries to be too reverential, and ends up making a lifeless movie. Or, heaven forbid, they go off on their own wild tangent, giving some interpretation that follows current academic fashions of what the novel is ‘really’ all about.

Polish director Agnieszka Holland thankfully avoids this. Instead she creates something that is faithful to the novel, yet also an original work of art in itself.

Screenwriter Caroline Thompson also does a good job of distilling the novel’s essence down into an absorbing 100 minute film entertainment, while cinematographers Roger Deakins and Jerzy Zielinski help Holland to realise a visually rich palette, with its often breathtaking detail.

This was one of Mr Pinky’s favourite aspects of the film: it is full of visual surprises and delights. As the novel’s theme is about the restorative powers of nature and imagination, it seems only fitting that the film should have a magical visual aesthetic.

As someone who has read and loved Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, I fail to see how this film cold disappoint its many legions of devotees.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Transamerica, by Duncan Tucker (2005)

Mr Pinky caught this flick on a late night public broadcast TV station. I’d always been intrigued by the bits I’d seen of Transamerica when the film was being promoted, especially the snippets I saw of Felicity Huffman’s celebrated performance as a transsexual (I think that’s the right term?).

The theme of the film is really an old one: a misfit trying desperately to fit in. In this case, it’s about a person inbetween genders, technically a man, taking hormones to produce breasts, and awaiting an operation to make the transformation complete. Society’s ignorant would call such a person a freak; those of an ultra conservative bent would say this type of person was trying to undermine society by such behaviour.

Writer-Director’s Duncan Tucker’s wonderful script plays this up by making its main character, Sabrina ‘Bree’ Osbourne, ironically someone who is always keeping up appearances, trying so hard to maintain the status quo. She wants to be normal, to blend in, have a loving husband, a nice house, to be a pillar of the community. But her not feeling right in her own body prevents this happening.

There’s a great line at the beginning, which points to Bree’s intelligence, where she says to a psychiatrist with regards to her pending sex change operation, ‘Isn’t it ironic that an operation can cure a mental illness?’

Amazingly, this picture was made for only a million dollars. It’s made some 15 million in return. You’d never know it was such a ‘cheap’ picture. It looks smart and is nicely edited.

Don’t be put off by the weird subject matter. Afterall, this is a film about a person trying to get to a vaginoplasty operation. Transamerica is an intelligently made film about the extreme complexities of sex and society.

One last note: Felicity Huffman is totally amazing and 100% convincing in this role and deserves all the accolades she’s received.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kylie: X2008 Tour DVD

Mr Pinky spent new year's eve watching this latest DVD presentation by Miss Kylie Minogue. The DVD covers Minogue's tenth concert tour, called X2008. Kylie's had her ups and downs when it comes to creating a distinct live show. Some times her shows have not shown enough originality or depth of imagination. They looked a bit derivative, a bit of a mish-mash of fun ideas and influences.

This DVD / concert is the best I've seen (I didn't think it would be this good to be honest). The imagery and dancing are smart, fresh and innovative, something Kylie can truly call her own. Even better (and more importantly) the musical direction is absolutely brilliant. Most of the material performed is recent, yet the way it's mixed and arranged it all sounds like classic Kylie material. Even better, Kylie's voice sounds the best it ever has: rich, full bodied and confidant. She's astonishes as she reaches for and holds those notes.

This girl has paid her dues and seriously earnt the respect her career and person has attracted. Who would have thought the pop puppet of the late 80s would turn into such a substantial musical icon. After watching this DVD, there can be no doubt about Kylie's extraordinary brilliance. Only a jerk could actively dislike her.

And especially after all she's been through, with regards to her cancer. She didn't let it knock her for a six. Rather Kylie continues to surprise.

Brava, Kylie! Brava!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bambi, by Walt Disney

Mr Pinky saw in the new year watching this Walt Disney classic. I forgot how wonderful this movie is, and so feel compelled to write a few words.

Released in 1942, this was the fifth Disney animated feature, based on the book by Austrian author Felix Saltern.

Everyone is of course familiar with the image of the cute little fawn Bambi. That's one aspect of the movie, the great animated Disney characters. But what is utterly breathtaking is the movie's art work. The imagery of the forest that plays throughout the movie is extraordinarily beautiful. This is perfectly coupled with its wonderful soundtrack. The marriage of these elements - music, painterly imagery, character and story - make Bambi a sublime original.

Bambi remains a classic in the very top eschelon - a true original and a true work of genius.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good Morning and...Goodbye! by Russ Meyer

Mr Pinky has long been a fan of Russ Meyer's work. Happily, I recently received a DVD double feature of Good Morning and...Goodbye!, coupled with Motor Psycho.Good Morning was released in 1967, with the script co-written by Mr Meyer and Jack Moran. Meyer fans will recall that Jack Moran also wrote the script to Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The film features actor Suart Lancaster, who also featured in Pussycat.

The film you could perhaps call a meditation on sex and relationships, with a philosophical style voice over that gives commentary to Meyer's frequently eye popping imagery. (Alaina Capri, who stars in the film, tells a young kid that he can 'screw his eyeballs back in' after seeing her in a bikini.)

Ahhh, Alaina Capri. She really steals this show, and seems to get the humour in the script. Indeed, she delivers the jokes and gets the laughs. I guess she's what you'd call one of Meyer's classic stars: sexy, ballsy and funny. The screen lights up whenever she arrives on the scene, and you hate to see her go.

If Russ Meyer had a gift, it was for finding these incredible women. Where on earth did he get them?

What's the take away from this movie? I wouldn't have a clue. It's just another one of Meyer's mad riffs on sex and violence. Everything is thrown in the pot: nymphomaniacs, perverts, dominant, ball breaking women, dumbo muscle men, and curiously, there always seem to be plenty of impotent men.

There's one thing you can't dispute about Meyer's films though, he's a complete original, and so are his women. You'll never see female leads like this anywhere else.

Bravo, Mr Meyer.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

WALL-E (2008)

Mr Pinky was recently fortunate enough to be invited to an exclusive viewing of the new Pixar movie, WALL-E.

WALL-E (pronounced Wally) is a cute little robot that works for a corporate clean up company. He roams a desolate earth, despoiled by our industrialised, throwaway society.

The earth that is left behind by us greedy humans looks like a huge landfill. Honest toiler WALL-E (which in fact means Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) packs this trash up into little cubes and stacks them.

Enter EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a pristine white robot that is sent to earth in search of plant life. The meeting of the two leads to a space adventure that eventually brings human life back to earth.

The most amazing thing about WALL-E, for this viewer anyway, is the amazing leaps and bounds that Pixar is making both technically and aesthetically with their films. Pixar really is involved in a renaissance in film making as an art form. You watch absorbed in the amazing Pixar landscapes and it's like you're walking through a computer generated Sistine Chapel. Awe inspiring.

Another thing I loved about the film was that half of it is almost a silent film. For the first half hour or forty-five minutes there is no dialogue. I was almost disappointed that people did eventually speak, as it broke the poetic mood of the film.

If you want to experience something entirely new and revolutionary you must see WALL-E

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Step Brothers (2008)

Will Ferrell films are always a guilty pleasure for Mr Pinky. Sure they’re juvenile and full of fart jokes. A lot of the humour comes across as a race to the bottom. How gross can you make the jokes?

Ferrell’s theme seems to be the emotionally stunted male. Nonetheless, I laugh and laugh, but dare not analyse my responses beyond that. I'm too scared at what I may find!

If for nothing else, you must watch this film for the ‘tea-bagging’ scene involving a drum kit. It’s so outrageous, you’ll most likely never see its like again.

This film is fine and silly fun that’s meant to be enjoyed for the insane trip that it is. Although I’m starting to think Will Ferrell’s films might have deeper meanings below the surface, a plunge into the messy subconcious of the permanently adolescent male.

(The film cost $65 million to make and has returned in profits $125 million. You wonder where the $65 million went when shooting it.)