Photo of the Week: Muse by Moonlight
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Driving all over town on a holiday weekend and mostly getting burned by movies is cranky making. Of the three movies I sought out, the best was only adequate even with modest expectations.

Besides The Debt (***) which I’ve already reviewed here, I checked out Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (***) which started out smashingly and had a great performance by Eric Elmosnino as French musical giant Serge Gainsbourg, but never quite came together into a compelling whole even if it gets bonus points for mostly avoiding the tired musical biography rise and fall routine. It needed a lot more music for starters.

After that was Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee: The Mystery of the Phantom Flame (* 1/2). With a title like that, I was prepared to give a lot of leeway to silliness and I was even ok with the general cheapness of the thing, but the fact that it was massively dull is unforgivable. I was hoping for a little goofy late summer fun, something that’s mostly been in short supply this blockbuster season, and I wound up with a ridiculous, crushing bore. What the hell happened to Tsui Hark?

So that’s that moviewise. This week’s Photo of the Week is of George Stanley’s streamline-moderne Muse Fountain outside of The Hollywood Bowl built between 1938 and 1940. The figure at the top is the muse of music seen from behind. The fountain also includes renderings of the muse of drama and the muse of dance. I also took a frontal shot of the muse of music here. Oscar fans may recognize Stanley’s name as the guy who designed the Oscar statuette. Like much of the rest of Hollywood, the fountain fell into disrepair by the 1970s and remained neglected until 2006 when it was finally restored.

That’s all from me this week. Now it’s your turn. Regale us with your recent movie adventures.

37 Responses to “Labor Pains”

  1. I watched the Criterion dvd of Polanski’s “Cul-de-sac”. Great transfer for a unique film.

    ….and a few days ago I went to “Powaqqatsi” at the Hollywood Bowl with Philip Glass and a live orchestra.

  2. That’s a great shot, Craig. You really have a great eye for composition and mood. I didn’t know about George Stanley. Stuff like this makes Hollywood Hollywood. It should never go into disrepair.

    The only current release I saw was The Help (comments on the review thread). Suffice it to say I enjoyed it but was not enthralled, though Viola Davis sure has the power.

    Also while eating dinner I became enthralled by Robert Mitchum’s acting in Two for the Seesaw on TCM. To my way of thinking he was better than Clift and Dean as well as more reliable than Brando.

  3. This has been the lightest week in maybe a calendar year in the way of movies, but it’s honestly been a relief. Preparations for the coming school year, which officially starts tomorrow, and the musical countdown writing and responsibilities have successfully intruded on the watching, which this week was a mere two movies, one the aforementioned Fuller work, and the other an arthouse offering, Gainsbourg. Both were seen at the Film Forum.

    Gainsbourg **** (Saturday night) Film Forum

    The House of Bamboo *** 1/2 (Thursday night) Film Forum

    GAINSBOURG examines the life of the real life Jewish painter and jazz musician from his early years in Nazi-occupied Paris to the later part of career when he was a noted popular songwriter. Suffused with some surrealist touches and a deluge of tobacco smoke, the story of this narcissist, self-loathing artist provides for a sensory and fascinating film.

    THE HOUSE OF BAMBOO, directed by Samuel Fuller is a striking 1955 film noir, that is maligned by some inept dialogue, but is saved by excellent performances by Robert Ryan, Robert Stack and Shirley Yamaguchi and one of the most astounding uses of widescreen cinemascope of all-time (by Joseph MacDonald) and a stunning final sequence in an amusement park.

  4. Ari, tell me more about Powaqqatsi? I have issues with Glass when it comes to film scores (The Hours makes me want to punch bunnies in the face) but Powaqqatsi and Koyaanisqatsi are both mesmerizing and a perfect fit for his style.

    Thanks for the photographic commentary Pierre. I’m getting to a point where I think I know a good photo when I see it, but I’m still not to where I can identify one before I actually take it. One thing at a time!

    Word amongst some Oscar bloggers is that it’s going to be Viola Davis for the win. What do you think about that? Even as a non-fan of the film, I’m wholly at peace with that prospect.

    Sam, I wish I liked Gainsbourg as much as you did. I’m a fan of the guy and really wanted this to be spectacular. While I had a grin on my face through most of the first half – loved the conceit of having his insecurities about his appearance and his jewishness literally manifesting themselves in the form of a living, breathing, talking caricature (well played by the great Doug Jones) – but ultimately the thing ran out of gas for me. It never really illuminated a fascinating, conflicted character and too often fell into the biography trap of sort of skimming across career highlights without providing a lot of depth. Also, as I said above I wanted much more music. Having said that Eric Elmosnino gave a fantastic performance. So good that i wish the movie around him had been better.

  5. I should’ve added in my explanation of the photo above that going to the Hollywood Bowl on a summer night is one of my all time favorite LA things to do.

    Going there for the first time with a girl, a blanket and a bottle of wine to listen to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bald mountain under the stars was a pivotal moment for me – for my relationship with LA that is, not with the girl. She’s long forgotten.

  6. Love the photo Craig. There is a certain melancholic tone to it – always a winner with me.

    No movies but now up-to-date with the current seasons of Breaking Bad and True Blood. The former is again showcasing the acting of Aaron Paul as the internally tortured and highly defended Jessie. The latter is a guilty pleasure. I try not to dwell on all the unnecessary plot threads and characters they overload the story with and on other ready complaints. I’m satisfied with the two to three hearty laughs episodes give me and the odd moment of heart.

  7. Breaking Bad almost makes me wish I wrote a TV blog. It’s hands down one of the most engaging things going on any sized screen.

    This season has had me on the edge narratively more than once and I’m surprised by the moral depths that Walt continues to scrape bottom of. Aaron Paul has had a number of showcase moments and he’d better get another Emmy next year.

  8. Craig, I’m good with that astute capsule analysis of GAINSBOURG. It did lose gas near the end, there wasn’t enough music, and some of the still-fascinating ideas were rather cryptic. I thought the lead performance was outstanding (My site colleague the “All-Knowing” Mr. Fish…LOL) thinks it was the best lead performance of it’s release year, a position that sems fair enough. Perhaps my four-star rating was a half star more than I should have given it, I’m not sure, but I do agree it had potential to be really great,

  9. It’s head and shoulders above the boilerplate musical bio, but man that opening really had me convinced it was going to be something special.

    In a rare agreement with Mr. Fish, I’d put the lead perf up against anything I’ve seen this year too.

  10. TCM had Sunset Boulevard on the other night and I had to watch it. I love everything about that movie so much. And can we talk about how awesome Billy Wilder was?

  11. Gorgeous photos, Craig. Love the placement of the moon (or is it a star?) in that one. I’ve never seen that statue. I don’t really have much of a sense of what the Hollywood Bowl looks like, actually. I’m a big fan of what I’ve seen so far.

    Yes, Alison, we can talk about how awesome Billy Wilder was any time you want.

    Let’s see. First I caught up with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It was pretty uneven I thought. It had some sublimely moving and cinematic moments and scenes, and Serkis was everything he’s cracked up to be, but some of the narrative shortcuts they took in the exposition were among the sloppiest writing I’ve seen in a while. Almost all my complaints were with the writing. Franco was good enough but I’d have cast his character a couple of decades older at least. The husband LOVED the film and was ready to see it again at the next showing, but not me. My other problem with it was that I just couldn’t get over my own empathy. I spent the first part of the film feeling bad for the chimps, then spent the second part of the film feeling bad for the humans. So I felt bad for someone the entire film. Couldn’t get into the kick-the-humans’-ass vibe the rest of the audience seemed to be riding.

    Next we watched a DVD of Max Ophuls’ Le Plaisir. I think he’s one of my very favorite directors. I could watch his camerawork all day long. Delightful, and full of many I don’t know how they did that moments.

    Next up was 1927’s Best Pic winner Wings, recorded off TCM a while back. What a film! It still holds up quite well, with some amazing footage. I got chills thinking that it was likely some people’s first glimpse of what it looks like above the clouds. There were some really funny moments in it, too–including unexpected “floating champagne bubble” special FX at one point. Gary Cooper’s in the film for all of about a minute, but they say it made him an overnight star. I can believe it. Sex BOMB.

    Last night since the Internets had gone down at the house, we went to see Crazy Stupid Love. I really enjoyed that, too. Gosling and Carrell were both great and Gosling completely sold the sizzling sex appeal. Julianne Moore didn’t have as much to do, but Emma Stone was winsome and the whole cast comported themselves well. The writing was smart and mature. It’s not a film for the Hangover/Bridesmaids demographic, but it was a great couple of hours for me.

  12. What do you think about [Viola Davis Oscar win]?

    At the moment it seems inevitable to me.

    Jennybee, you enjoyed Crazy Stupid Love more than I did. Although it was okay viewing, to me the film does not equal the a sum of its [sometimes good] parts. Although I concur about Gosling, I thought Moore and Carrell were miscast as husband/wife. Although the writing showed promise, there were many moments of unbelievability — the scene at the 8th grade graduation did not work for me at all. The piece suffers from too much thinking, and the fact that there were 2 directors shows up in the finished product: it didn’t meld.

  13. Alison, my fav Billy Wilder remains Double Indemnity, but Sunset Boulevard is a close second.

    JB, even if you’ve never seen the Bowl itself, I’m sure you’ve seen stylized representations of it in cartoons and whatnot. It’s kind of iconic though it has changed over the years as they’ve improved the accoustics. Check out an old timey photo here and one from 2005 here.

    Pictures are swell and all, but you really have to go for maximum impact. I know there are outdoor amphitheaters all over, but there’s just something about this one that screams LA. In a good way. The LA Philharmonic plays there in the summer (in winter they occupy the also awesome indoors Disney Concert Hall downtown), but there is also jazz and assorted popular stuff.

    Funny thing is, Pierre’s comment notwithstanding, I’ve heard some surprisingly good things about Crazy Stupid Love. Didn’t it get clobbered by crickets?

    Also, once again I made plans to see Apes and once again it just didn’t happen. I think the movie gods are telling me not to see it.

  14. Nope, never seen it, Craig. I live in a vacuum. Cool, though.

    Crazy Stupid Love is at 75% at Rotten Tomatoes and 68% on Metacritic, for what it’s worth. Not too shabby for a Pierre, I thought some of the pacing was off, but the film still worked for me. I didn’t know it had had two directors, but I can see that I think.

  15. My first exposure to Hollywood Bowl was Bugs Bunny’s The Long Haired Hare: http://blip.tv/toonjet-cartoon-channel/bugs-bunny-long-haired-hare-838529

  16. “my fav Billy Wilder remains Double Indemnity”

    Craig, you are Walter Neff :-)

    Wilder’s sensibility and craft completely worked for me. I love so many of his films I’m loathed to rank them. But Double, Sunset, The Apartment, Some Like it Hot, and One Two Three are particular favorites.

  17. DOUBLE INDEMNITY
    SUNSET BOULEVARD
    ACE IN THE HOLE

    I guess any one of those three Wilders could legimately be posed as best. It’s a real tough one for me to call. I usyally say SUNSET, but again it can be any of those three.

    And then some bring in THE APARTMENT

  18. I suppose at the end of the day I’d never want to be put in a position to pick just one… but if I had to, yeah, I’d go with DI.

    Sartre, rather than the sap who falls for the dame, I prefer to think of myself as the Edward G. Robinson type who trusts no one.

  19. I LOVE Double Indemnity, and I think if I had to pick one or the other that comes out first for me, too.

    And shout-outs to The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, Ninotchka (he didn’t direct, but another fabulous screenplay of his), etc.

  20. For all the crap she gets for being supposedly difficult to work with on the set of Some Like it Hot, Marilyn Monroe really is terrific in it. She doesn’t get a lot of credit as an actress, but she had a real sense for light comedy with a dark side. She also held her own in drama with Clark Gable, Monty Clift and Eli Wallach in The Misfits.

  21. I agree. Marilyn Monroe is underrated in a lot of ways. A lot of people only took into consideration the way she looked and just didn’t even bother to pay attention to anything else.

    She’s great in The Misfits and she really did have a flare for comedy too.

  22. I’ve heard some surprisingly good things about Crazy Stupid Love. Didn’t it get clobbered by crickets?

    There are some surprisingly good things about it, and it’s definitely better than Horrible Bosses. Unfortunately, Moore’s character is underwritten, and it’s too bad the Tomei character was a bit of a waste.

    As for Billy Wilder, I tend to favor Sunset Blvd because the Norma Desmond character is such an iconic figure and because the whole mess drips with irony and pathos — and it really bites the hand of Hollywood. And Wilder had the sense to let Holden keep his chest hair unshaved (unlike Picnic).

    And yes — of course — Marilyn had a lot of talent but, typically, her sexual image overshadowed the rest. A friend of mine used to know her a bit when they both lived in the marina district of SFO (when Marilyn was with DeMaggio). The contrast between her onscreen and offscreen look and manner was extreme — a phenomenon that was explored a bit in the TV biopic of her starring Catherine Hicks.

  23. One should never waste Tomei. That’s just wrong.

    Marina District with Marilyn and Joe! I want to have stories like that.

  24. Sunset Boulevard
    The Apartment
    Some Like It Hot
    Stalag 17–my first Wilder
    Ace in the Hole

    I wasn’t crazy about Double Indemnity. Outside looking in on that one.

    Marissa Tomei played (or was directed to play) her character much too broadly for my taste. I thought Julianne Moore did a great. Job with her scenes, particularly the one by the window, but yeah, the focus was definitely on the men here.

    Just realized I left Wilder off my list of Desert Island movies I was compiling the other day. Must rework.

  25. Double Indemnity: You’re just not hard-edged enough JB :)

  26. Saw three films this weekend which were all fairly good, but didn’t really light my fire: Buried, Limitless and Our Idiot Brother.

    Loved the claustrophobic atmosphere and the interesting lighting in Buried, and I thought Ryan Reynolds was pretty good considering the limitations placed on his performance. The script, though, felt way too heavy handed. Every plot point (the preoccupied FBI officials, the self-interested human relations guy, the waiting on hold) was another task on the writer/director’s checklist. Too manipulative, not enough organic suspense.

    Limitless had the opposite problem: too many subplots with too many threads left to dangle by that happy ending. All of the problems that seemed to be trapping the protagonist were far too easily set aside. Such a great build-up lost in a rushed, illogical ending.

    I went into Our Idiot Brother with very low expectations and it paid off rather well. Good performances by all, realistic characters and just an overall amiable little movie. Not exactly my kind of movie, and the stakes for the characters never seemed very high, but for what it is I liked it.

    My Billy Wilder goes to Double Indemnity. You can’t mess with a classic and it’s really the archetypal noir. Wilder always did that — brought all the best elements of a genre to the fore in one movie — and, luckily, Double Indemnity was my introduction to that particular genre, my gateway drug.

    If I had to pick a runner up, it would be Ace in the Hole, a wonderfully cynical take on the media circus I find myself becoming a part of with greater and greater frequency.

  27. I was really surprised at how much I liked My Idiot Brother. I wanted it to be good because I think Paul Rudd should have bigger parts in more movies, but it didn’t sound great. Turns out I kind of loved it. It’s not a film classic or anything, but it was sweet and funny and pretty much just what I was in the mood for.

  28. I thought Julianne Moore did a great. Job with her scenes,

    Me too. She’s a pro and injected everything she could into what little she had to work with both script- and direction-wise.

    I agree, Craig (and W.J.), that Paul Rudd merits a higher profile. I’m looking forward to My Idiot Brother being entertaining.

  29. If you like Rudd, it’ll go a long way toward you liking Idiot Brother I think. If generally good hearted and amusing is enough to get a thumbs up from you, I predict it’ll work for you.

  30. “Sartre, rather than the sap who falls for the dame, I prefer to think of myself as the Edward G. Robinson type who trusts no one.”

    I’m not buying it. That heater you pack gets the best of you when faced with cheap perfume and an anklet.

  31. I’ve never understood the appeal of Rudd. I find him such a bland low-watt presence in the films of his I’ve seen – admittedly they’ve not been stellar vehicles.

  32. I haven’t seen that many films with Rudd but I liked him in Clueless. Then again I enjoyed that whole movie so it was the whole package, not just him.

  33. Not sure what films you found him “bland and low-wattage” in Sartre, so I can’t help you.

    I’ve always found him to be a likable, low-key comic presence.

  34. I have no problem with others liking him. I’ve just been surprised by it.

  35. I’m sorry, there are no dissenting opinions allowed at LiC. You have to like everything I like. :)

  36. I haven’t signed up for my Paul Rudd Fan Club scratch-n-sniff stickers yet, but he’s been a welcome presence in most of the movies I’ve seen him in going back to Clueless.

    I’m not sure he has the charisma to be a leading man or the ringleader, a la Will Ferrell, but he’s been one of the best parts of a lot of so-so films.

  37. I’m not sure he does either. I’ve been kind of hoping he does, but that James L. Brooks flick last winter I think illustrates the problem, and even in Idiot, he’s supported by a great cast.

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