Finite Focus: Do You Know Mr Sheldrake? (The Apartment)

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[spoilers for The Apartment]

C.C. Baxter’s non-descript walk-up in The Apartment is like any other apartment in New York City – one bedroom, a kitchen, a washroom, and a cozy living area, with a table brought out only for meals. But this apartment is the key to C.C. Baxter’s potential success at Consolidated Life, where he hopes to move from pencil-pushing to a corner office faster than the company’s other 32,000 employees. Baxter’s apartment might not be much, but well-stocked with cheese, crackers, and a bit of booze, it’s the perfect rendezvous point for company execs and the girls they’re seeing on the side.

Baxter’s corporate interests rise significantly when Personnel Director Jeff Sheldrake gets wind of the apartment and offers a juicy promotion in exchange for exclusive use of the apartment. Baxter knows better than to ask any questions. Instead, now that he’s a well-heeled exec, he asks out Fran Kubelik, the comely elevator operator who’s been a breath of fresh air in an office otherwise full of men and women looking out for number one. She stands him up; he doesn’t know why (we do – she’s just renewed her relationship with Sheldrake). The next day, Baxter discreetly returns a compact with a broken mirror that Sheldrake’s girl left in his apartment.

This scene is the office Christmas extravaganza. Baxter is giddy with his new private office and ridiculous bowler hat, but Fran has just learned the devastating truth about Sheldrake. This is one of the most heartbreaking scenes Wilder ever filmed, and a perfect example of how his subtle filmmaking style could tell so much through showing, even though he’s best known for his trenchant dialogue. Lemmon and MacLaine are utterly perfect, as they each come face to face with the harsh reality of dashed hopes and yet must put up a front for the other.

Rewatched and Reconsidered: Sabrina (1954)

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Sabrina is one of a few films that continue to benefit from Audrey Hepburn’s ongoing popularity. There are a few “classes” of classic film – ones that everyone knows like The Wizard of Oz, ones that are loved by die-hard classic aficionados, and ones like Sabrina that find an appreciative modern audience of people who are open to classic films but aren’t necessarily big film buffs in general. These people gravitate toward Audrey Hepburn as a style icon, and certain films of hers (especially this one, Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade and My Fair Lady) stay perennially popular because they highlight her effortless style, effervescent screen presence, and ineffable wide-eyed innocence.

Perhaps my own struggles with loving Sabrina stem in part as a personal backlash against its popularity, the assumption of certain classic film watchers that it’s a great and classic film.

Karina Longworth has a great podcast called You Must Remember This, an exploration of stories from classic Hollywood, and she has an episode devoted to Audrey Hepburn and specifically the making of Sabrina – what it meant for Hepburn’s career, how it solidified her style (it was her first time wearing Givenchy, whose Parisian couture became inextricably linked to Hepburn for the rest of her career), and how it really established her career and her persona. I suspect that has a lot to do with its endurance in the popular imagination. Those aren’t the things that bother me in the film, either.

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Blu-Ray Review: Ace in the Hole

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman
Based on a Story by: Victor Desny (uncredited)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal
Producer: Billy Wilder
Country: USA
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1951
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve been ploughing through a lot of films from my ‘hall of shame’ over the last few weeks. By that I mean classic films that I haven’t seen for whatever reason and feel I should have. Finally getting around to watching Seven Samurai (which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) was the pinnacle of this and I’ve been chain watching dozens of films recently as my family are away for a fortnight, giving me full control over the TV (and office cinema set-up). Most of the films watched have been DVD’s gathering dust on my shelves for far too long (I buy more films than I have time to watch), but Ace in the Hole is something all together more exciting for me.

When I was a teenager and first properly getting into films I also had a desire to be a journalist. So, after falling in love with a couple of Billy Wilder’s most popular comedies (Some Like it Hot and The Apartment) and discovering he’d made Ace in the Hole, a film about journalism, I knew I had to see it. Unfortunately, the film has never had a DVD release in the UK that I’m aware of and the popularity of VHS waned as my love of cinema grew. So this film that I was so desperate to see as a teenager became a sort of holy grail. Over the last few years I gave up giving it much thought to be honest, but when Masters of Cinema announced Ace in the Hole would be joining its illustrious collection, I practically jumped for joy.

The film sees Kirk Douglas play Chuck Tatum, a newspaper reporter who has been sacked from every respectable big city periodical so ends up in the back end of nowhere in Albuquerque, New Mexico, writing for a local rag about such joys as the annual rattlesnake hunt. After a year there he’s desperate for a big story to break him back into the big leagues. This comes in the form of Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), a man trapped in a mine thought to be haunted by Native American spirits. In itself the story is of mild interest to the local populace, but under Tatum’s watch it becomes a behemoth which reaches across the nation. A good story needs to be sustained for just the right amount of time and hit all the right notes though, so Tatum manipulates everyone from Leo’s wife, to the local sheriff, to the men in charge of getting him out of the mine. This last manipulation uncovers the truly dark side to Tatum’s intrusion as he talks the workers into drilling Leo out from above, a much slower process than the quicker and cheaper method of going in through the main shaft, propping up the walls along the way. This gets Tatum the circulation he’s after, but comes at a great cost.

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Blindspotting: Lost Weekend and Deliverance

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When I chose Lost Weekend and Deliverance as a Blindspot pair, I did it with a vague idea of a common theme of men overcoming major obstacles. As it turns out, the biggest obstacle each central character faces and needs to overcome is staring right back at him in the mirror. That’s not to say there aren’t a few other hindrances in their way throughout each story (addiction and hallucinations in the first, raging water and crazy backwoods hunters in the other), but each man has to come to the realization that he has worth, courage and the ability to “dig deep”. For some, it takes desperate and dire circumstances to finally get the message across.

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In Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend, Ray Milland plays Don Birnam – a miserable alcoholic who (even though he has managed 10 days sobriety) continues to be his own worst enemy. We actually meet one of his bottles of rye (hanging out the window in one of the few hiding spots his family haven’t found yet) before we meet him. As the camera moves into the apartment, we learn that Don is preparing to go to the country with his brother for a weekend away from all temptation. However, Don has every intention of bringing along some of his favourite refreshment if he can just divert his brother’s attention for a few minutes. If he plans to get some writing done, he needs to be creative and he believes that alcohol allows his mind to “toss the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar”. But that’s the thing about someone in Don’s condition – they can rationalize just about anything and lie as easy as most of us breathe. And not just to his brother or girlfriend (Jane Wyman with the loveliest set of cheekbones you ever did see), but mostly to himself. He may become far more loquacious when liquored up (or “tight” as they used to say in the old days), but he hasn’t made a lick of progress on his novel. “Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m confident, supremely confident” he says as he riffs on other supremely artistic people and he may very well feel that way, but Don is far too scared of failure to truly commit to his writing. Hence the booze and the roadblock that is himself.

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Blu-Ray Review: Double Indemnity

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler
Based on a novel by: James M. Cain
Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Heather
Producer: Joseph Sistrom
Country: USA
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 1944
BBFC Certificate: PG


Following on from my review of The Lost Weekend earlier this week I’m casting my eye on the other Billy Wilder classic recently released on Blu-Ray through Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, Double Indemnity. Differently to The Lost Weekend this was not a first time watch. I saw the film when I was youngster and kind of liked it, but didn’t see what the fuss was about. I watched it again maybe a year or two ago and enjoyed it much more, but it wasn’t until this third viewing that I realised quite how much of a masterpiece it is. Why it took so long for me to recognise this I don’t know as it’s got all the ingredients I love – as mentioned in my previous review I hold a couple of Billy Wilder’s films in the highest regard, I’m a big fan of the film noir genre and I adore the literary work of hard-boiled fiction authors such as Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, both of whom were involved in the writing of Double Indemnity (Cain provided the novel and Chandler co-wrote the screenplay).

If you’re not aware of the film (shame on you), Double Indemnity is thought to be the benchmark for classic film noir. Some call it the first true film noir, but there were many films before that which could take the title. I guess more accurately, this was the first film to notably and successfully fill all of the stereotypical noir ‘criteria’ and set the style for hundreds to subsequently follow. These ‘criteria’ include a killer femme fatale, moody low-key lighting and a seedy plot full of murder, sex and plenty of twists and turns.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Lost Weekend

Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder
Based on a novel by: Charles R. Jackson
Starring: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling, Frank Faylen
Producer: Charles Brackett
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1945
BBFC Certificate: PG


From the four Billy Wilder films I’d seen previously to The Lost Weekend (I know I need to see more), two of them (The Apartment and Some Like it Hot) are up in my top 20 or so films of all time and the other two aren’t far behind. So my expectations for any Wilder films are of course ludicrously high. This should probably be something to bear in mind when reading my slightly disappointed opinion of The Lost Weekend, which is widely considered to be among the upper echelon of the writer/director’s work.

Thought to be one of the earliest full-on cinematic depictions of addiction, the film examines four days in the life of alcoholic Don Birnam (Ray Milland) as he plunges into a spiral of drink-induced self-destruction. He’s a wannabe writer that can’t sit down at his typewriter long enough without getting a drink or selling the machine to buy cheap hooch. His brother Wick (Phillip Terry) and long-suffering girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman) try their best to keep him on the wagon, but get nowhere fast.

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Rank ‘Em: Billy Wilder

Back when I was a mere baby film buff, Billy Wilder was probably one of the very first directors I learned to know by name and seek out his films (along with Alfred Hitchcock). I can’t really explain that, other than I just happened to introduce myself to Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sabrina, and more within a relatively short period of time when I was also becoming aware of “director” as a concept. In any case, I loved Wilder’s stuff because he could do massively entertaining and witty films in almost any genre – film noir, society comedy, romantic drama, social drama, biopic, absurd comedy, etc. Perhaps the only director of the time as versatile when it comes to genre was Howard Hawks. Meanwhile, Wilder and Preston Sturges were two of the pioneers of the writer-director paradigm, which was pretty rare in studio-era Hollywood. I just watched Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair for the first time last night, and that pretty much leaves Stalag 17 as the only major Wilder film I haven’t seen. I should probably wait to do this Rank ‘Em until I’ve seen that one, but whatever. I’m a rebel.

All of these are written and directed by Wilder, except ones that have denote screenplay only. It would be wrong not to mention Wilder’s two long-term writing partners, Charles Brackett, with whom he worked on nearly every film from 1938 to 1950, and I.A.L. Diamond, who cowrote Wilder’s screenplays from 1957 through most of the rest of his career. Brackett’s departure from the team led to a bit more caustic cynicism in Wilder’s writing (see Ace in the Hole), though it had always been present. I will admit that I saw several of these a long LONG time ago and I’m going on my gut memories of them rather than specifics, so feel free to write angry comments about how wrong I am. There are at least a few perhaps surprisingly low placements.

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March Madness: Director’s Cut [THE FINAL FOUR!]

Welcome to The Final Four (ROUND FIVE) of the RowThree March Madness pool! The four divisions of contenders have finally come together looking to advance to the championship game. It’s up to you to decide who advances. Look through each bracket within all five divisions and make your choice. After a few days the polls will close and we’ll see who advances to the next round. There can be only one victor. (Note: there is a fifth set of brackets we’re calling the Consolation Division – a group of 16 directors we really wanted to see compete but weren’t quite “worthy” of the big dance. This round is now over – see the results below).

We’re down to The Final Four(!) and the divisions finally meet up to clash it out. As expected it’s all of our number one seeds competing for the title of champion. What wasn’t expected (at least by me) was the fact that voting has actually gotten easier as subsequent rounds ensue. That said, who do you pick now? Kurosawa or Tarantino? Are you going with the master pioneer or the talented “rip-off” artist? Do you vote for the master of suspense and thrills or Billy Wilder and his status as Hollywood’s “Golden” boy? No pick is right and no pick is wrong; you just gotta go with your gut.

And it’s all over in the consolation division and the Queen’s royal touch seems to have paid off for Sir Ridley Scott as he beat out all of the competition, including the likes of Mike Leigh, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and Joel Schumacher among others, to take home the NIT trophy. So congratulations Mr. Scott – now go make a good movie!

 

SCHEDULE (begins – ends):
Round 1: 3/9 – 3/13  
Round 2: 3/14 – 3/18
Round 3: 3/19 – 3/23
Round 4: 3/24 – 3/27
Round 5: 3/28 – 3/30
Round 6: 3/31 – 4/1

See the FULL BRACKET
See the CONSOLATION BRACKET

The same rules from round one still apply:
show content

 

 
 

Cinecast Episode 125 – Cultural Collateral

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Episode 124:
Somehow both Kurt and Andrew managed to miss out on Will Farrel running from dinosaurs as well as the Vegas tomfoolery in The Hangover. Instead we watched a bunch of subversive, exploitative and downright nasty cinema on DVD – that includes Twilight. New is overrated. Oh, and three cheers to Don Bluth.
Thanks for listening!

Click the Audio Icon below to listen in:

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_09/episode_125.mp3

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Film on TV: June 8-14

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Singin’ in the Rain, playing Tuesday, June 9th at 12:30am on TCM

 

This week, TCM continues their celebration of great directors with Stanley Donen, Fred Zinnemann, Preston Sturges, Akira Kurosawa, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, and Howard Hawks. They also seem to be doing director mini-marathons for John Huston, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, and Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur, though they aren’t officially in the Great Director series. Whether they should be or not is definitely arguable. And IFC and Sundance have a few gems to throw in, as well.

Monday, June 8

12:45pm – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki has been a leader in the world of kid-friendly anime films for several years now, and while many would point to Spirited Away as his best film, I actually enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle the most of all his films. Japanese animation takes some getting used to, but Miyazaki’s films are well worth it, and serve as a wonderful antidote to the current stagnation going on in American animation (always excepting Pixar).

6:15pm – TCM – The Big Heat
Director Fritz Lang came out of the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s, so it’s not surprising that he ended up making some of the better noir films, given film noir’s borrowing of Expressionist style. Glenn Ford is a cop working against his corrupt department, but the parts you’ll remember from the film all belong to Gloria Grahame in a supporting role as a beaten-up gangster’s moll. Her performance and Lang’s attention to detail raise the otherwise average story to a new level.

Great Directors on TCM: Stanley Donen
Stanley Donen shone at directing flashy musicals and mod comedies throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The films he co-directed with Gene Kelly (On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain, see below) stand among the best musicals ever made, and his later films like Charade and Arabesque merged Hitchcockian thrills with 1960s comic panache in a way that no-one else really matched.

9:00pm – TCM – On the Town
Sailors on leave Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin hit New York City, spending the day sightseeing and searching for Kelly’s dream girl Vera-Ellen, meanwhile picking up Betty Garrett and Ann Miller for the other boys. Not much plot here, but enough to precipitate some of the best song and dance numbers on film. Also one of the first musicals shot on location. Must See

9:45pm – IFC – Far From Heaven
Director Todd Haynes homages 1950s melodrama king Douglas Sirk with this film, loosely based on Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. I don’t think he succeeded as well as he might’ve (Sirk’s sort of in a class by himself), but he and lead Julianne Moore make a darn good attempt. Moore plays a 1950s housewife, trapped in her marriage to a man struggling with his own sexual identity (Dennis Quaid), and slowly falling into an affair with her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert).
(repeats at 3:30am)

10:45pm – TCM – Royal Wedding
This isn’t one of the all-time great Fred Astaire musicals, but it’s quite charming in its small way, and has the distinction of including the Fred’s “dancing on the ceiling” extravaganza, as well as a few surprisingly competent dance numbers from Fred and not-dancer Jane Powell. Oh, and Fred’s love interest is Sarah Churchill, Winston Churchill’s daughter, which is interesting (Powell plays his sister).

12:30am (9th) – TCM – Singin’ in the Rain
After On the Town, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly teamed up for what is now usually considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. Inspired by songs written by MGM producer Arthur Freed at the beginning the sound era, Singin’ in the Rain takes that seismic shift in film history for its setting, focusing on heartthrob screen couple Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (the hilarious Jean Hagen) as the transition into sound – problem being that Lamont’s voice, like many actual silent screen stars, doesn’t fit her onscreen persona. Hollywood’s often best when it turns on its own foibles, and this is no exception. Must See

2:30am (9th) – TCM – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
What do you do when you’re seven brothers in the backwoods and need wives? Why, go kidnap them of course! Patriarchal values aside, Seven Brides is one of the most entertaining movie musicals ever made, and I defy anyone to outdo the barn dance/raising scene.

See the rest after the break.

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