Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Passion of Anna

I'm not sure if knowing that Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed this piece while he was breaking up with the lead actress, Liv Ullmann, helped or hurt my opinion of this film. Set on an island in Sweden, The Passion of Anna takes us through a surprisingly love affair that occurs between two neighbors, Anna and Andreas.

The color and photography are gorgeous, and the acting is brilliant, but I really did not take to Bergman's deconstructionist devices, such as intercutting with the real-life actors talking about their characters, nor did I appreciate or care about the subplot of someone committing acts of animal cruelty on the island.

What most fascinated me throughout this story was the intensity of the two lead characters. While they were not particularly intensely in love with each other, they both brought their own past intensities with them to this new relationship. I love great character studies, and this movie did not disappoint here.

While Andreas pines for the wife that left him, Anna's over-zealous faith in humanity and her madness makes it hard to take your eyes off of her. My favorite part of this film was the scene in which Andreas and Anna confess to each other that they are no longer in love, and that there is a wall now that has built up between them. As Andreas was spilling out some of the most gorgeous dialog I've yet seen in a movie, I couldn't help but think of Bergman own voice, as he is attempting to explain to Liv Ullmann that he cares for her, but can no longer be a part of her.

This movie rotates between beautiful, harsh, violent, and painful. I found it at times interesting and poetic, and other times boring and distasteful. Max von Sydow is immensely talented, and delivered difficult dialog as easily and beautifully as if he'd written it himself.

Definitely not my favorite film of Bergman's, though we can all relate to the pain, struggle, defiance and eventual acceptance of a relationship coming to it's end.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Raging Bull

Combining some of my least favorite elements in film...boxing, abuse, and rapid-fire vulgarity and insults, I was less than excited to watch Raging Bull. While often called one of the greatest films of the 80's, and in some cases, one of the greatest films of all time, I still entered into film very hesitantly. Alas, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Rocky with my brother when I was younger, so maybe this movie, about boxing legend Jake LaMotta, would be as entertaining.

For certain, this movie is nothing like Rocky. While both movies focus on a boxer, their similarities end there. While Rocky is inspirational and uplifting, Raging Bull is depressing and painful. Where this movie succeeds is focusing on the emotions and character behind the boxer. I enjoyed watching the relationship between Jake and his brother Joey. Sibling relationships are always unique, and with Jake's temper and paranoia's, this one is certainly filled with tension and electricity.

The acting in this film is spot on, but my favorite part of this movie was the score, which was achingly beautiful. The slow motion scenes with the powerful accompaniment of the score were breathtaking.

Uhhhh....Scorsese. I have a love/hate relationship with his work. While he certainly found a niche early on telling modern stories of crime and violence, I have yet to relate to, feel for, or have a genuine desire to follow the stories of his violent characters, such as Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver,  Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, or Charlie or Johnny Boy in Mean Streets. The Catholic undertones of guilt and redemption weigh too heavily on me like a thick coat of syrup, the violence goes beyond what we need to see as an audience to put the pieces together, and most of his films leave me feeling like and I need to take a long shower. Only when he ventures into different territory and genres, such as with The Age of Innocence or even The Aviator, do I feel like I can breathe while watching.

I am a big fan of Cathy Moriarty's, and I loved seeing her in this film. She played her role as an abused wife to painful perfection. I would have preferred even more depth to her storyline. I would have probably preferred to see this movie more from her perspective than from the "Raging Bull's."

I'm sure that many will chastise me for feeling and saying this, but I am not a big DeNiro fan. Granted,  he is sublimely talented at what he does, but typically, no matter which character he is playing, while he is completely true to that character and plays it as realistically as possible, DeNiro bothers me while onscreen. He gives me this unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I'm not comfortable again until he is offscreen. To that, however, I must also give him immense praise. The reason I that I adore films and filmmaking is the power that it has to transport ones emotions. To be able to change the way a person is feeling and thinking from the time the opening credits roll until the end credits is amazing to me. That power alone is awe-inspiring. Happy, sad, angry, unsettled...if you are transformed to a new mood, one that is different than the mood you arrived with, this is a sign of a job extremely well done by the writer, director, cast and crew.

I don't think that I will sit through Raging Bull again, but if you are interested in true to life, intense character studies, this movie is worth at least one viewing.

Dial M For Murder.... a movie everyone's heard of, but perhaps hasn't seen. I know that this was the case for me. I finally got to watch this Hitchcock classic, and enjoyed it immensely. I would easily say that this movie has crept it's way into the upper eschelons of my Favorite Movies list.  I'm also a fan of A Perfect Murder, the modernized version of this tale, though that movie pales in comparison to this gem.

I love a good suspense movie, and this one did not disappoint. The dialogue was excellently written, and not a beat was missed on the actors. I loved the performances by all leads in this film. Even though Grace Kelly's character, Margot, had committed adultry, I empathized with her far more than her sinewy husband. I have to credit Ray Milland for his excellent portrayal as Tony, a husband ready to have his wife killed, as he really became a loathesome individual to me, a creep to his core.

The movie takes place almost entirely in one single room. Again, I must credit Hitchcock for relying on the captivating dialogue, the talent of the actors, and his genius way of using the camera and shot angles to build suspense, to carry this film. This movie was highly dynamic, and never became boring or tiresome.

I think that the other great suspense movie of that year, Rear Window, has gotten more love and appreciation, but I think that this quiet, beautiful film deserves it's share of accolades. The final scene is a bit too clean and tidy, but otherwise, this movie is a solid, entertaining jewel throughout.