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

xmas-the-apartment

[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.

Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Point Blank

2011 France. Director: Fred Cavayé. Starring: Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Gérard Lanvin, Elena Anaya.

The immediate comparison when talking about Point Blank is to Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One. Both are high-paced French language thrillers about the search for truth and motivated by love for a wife. That comparison is certainly apt. And while Point Blank is a decidedly less memorable and weighty piece than Tell No One (I still think that’s one of the best mystery thrillers of the last few years, foreign language or otherwise), I still very much enjoyed Point Blank mainly for its taut pace that barely stops for breath throughout its pleasingly brisk 80 minute runtime.
-ROSS

Cold Souls

2009 USA, France. Director: Sophie Barthes. Starring: Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Dina Korzun, Lauren Ambrose.

This was a big disappointment for me. It has a great, unique premise in which people extract and store their own souls, with Paul Giamatti playing a version of himself, an actor struggling to play a part because he feels his soul is weighing him down. It is going for the same sort of quirky but realistic feel of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich (all written by Charlie Kaufman) but doesn’t come together in an entirely satisfying way as those movies do. I wanted a lot more from it instead of just hints and snippets of brilliance here and there. I still enjoyed it for its existential ideas and great cast (Giamatti is particularly good) but I felt it didn’t fulfill its potential.
-ROSS

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Cinecast Episode 225 – We Saw the Future

Thanks so much to Jandy Stone for dropping by to help talk movies this week. It would not have been much of a conversation without her. Hope you kicked arse for the lord with your trivia contest! At any rate, there’s surprisingly lots to dig into this week despite it being that odd time of year when not much is going on in the multi-plexes and people are spending their time tooling up for school and enjoying the beautiful weather. That of course, does not deter us from sitting indoors, ignoring the children and watching film. In limited release, we talk about Miranda July’s sophmore feature, The Future. Also on the platter is some British, sci-fi, humor action in Attack the Block and lastly Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle in The Guard. Grab some Pepsi for our discussion on the ins and outs and what have you’s of Kubrick’s Spartacus, Disney showing signs of life and film noir is still alive and kicking in the Netflix Instant realm. We remain relatively spoiler free throughout, so enjoy!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_11/episode_225.mp3

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Movie Speeches: Always Be Closing

A new feature I’ve decided to start. Mostly because I love starting features here and then never following up. At any rate, I started thinking of great movie speeches/soliloquies and came up with several. Several good ones actually. So a great idea for a regular post.

Here’s one I know we’re pretty big fans of around here. Alec Baldwin kicks a lot of ass in The Departed, but not as much face melting, ass-kickery as he performs in Glengarry Glen Ross. No more commentary, no more thoughts. Behold, for the first installment of “Row Three’s Movie Speech Series,” the greatness that is Alec “Fuck you!” Baldwin:


Hidden Treasures – Week of June 8th

Welcome to the latest installment of Hidden Treasures. By the way, there’s still room for one more movie in this month’s guest Hidden Treasures. For more information on how to submit your favorite film, click here

Gunga Din (1939)
When director George Stevens first read the script for Gunga Din, he was shocked to learn that the majority of the movie, which centered on a famous 19th century battle in British India, was slated to be shot indoors. Relying on his instincts, Stevens went before the bosses at RKO and said “I need a half million dollars to take this story outside”. The studio agreed, and Stevens brought in some additional writers to make the necessary script adjustments. It proved to be a stroke of genius. With action and excitement at every turn, there wasn’t a soundstage in Hollywood that could have possibly contained Gunga Din. Sgts. Cutter (Cary Grant), MacChesney (Victor McLaglen) and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are loyal British soldiers stationed in India. All three are willing to do whatever it takes to defend Queen and Country…as long as they can have some fun while doing so. When Ballantine announces that he’s leaving the service to marry Ms. Emaline Stebens (Joan Fontaine), his two comrades convince him to sign up for one last adventure before packing it in. So, it’s off to Tantrupar, where a Hindu cult known as the Thuggees are planning an uprising against the colonial British army. Gunga Din’s action scenes, as staged by director Stevens, are spectacular. In one early battle, the three sergeants, heavily outnumbered, take on the opposing forces single-handedly. They start out with some hand-to-hand combat before moving to the rooftops, where they exchange gunfire with the enemy army below. While on this roof, the three discover a cache of dynamite, and before long, they’re tossing it into the enemy ranks, taking out large pockets of the opposing army while blowing up half the town in the process. Once they’ve done all they can do, Cutter, McChesney and Ballantine make their escape by jumping off a huge cliff, landing in the river below. Effective as an action film, a buddy movie, and a humorous look at army life, Gunga Din is still, almost 70 years later, an extremely entertaining film.

Russian Ark (2002)
Every so often, a film comes along that, by way of its startling boldness and courageous technique, demands recognition. Russian Ark is just such a film. There is not a single cut, fade or dissolve in this entire movie, not a single editor’s splice to be found anywhere. Shot on location at the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, it is, at 90 minutes, one of the longest uninterrupted shots in cinematic history. We follow the film’s narrator (represented by the camera in a continuous point-of-view perspective) as he navigates the halls of the Hermitage, mystically traveling through time as he does so. Functioning as our guide to this wonderful retelling of Russian history, which covers the events of yesteryear ranging from the reign of 18th century ruler, Peter the Great (Maxim Sergeyev) right up to World War II, the narrator eventually crosses paths with a French aristocrat from the 19th Century (Sergei Dontsov), known only as the Marquis de Custine, who also seems to be traveling through time. A scathing critic of Russian art and history, the Marquis joins the narrator on this journey of discovery, stopping every so often to admire the beautiful artwork that adorns the walls of the Hermitage. Russian Ark contains scenes of both sweeping grandeur (such as the ballroom dance, which features no less than three performing orchestras) and quiet simplicity (in one marvelous sequence, we follow Anastasia, the daughter of Nicholas II, as she playfully runs through the hallway with several ethereal friends). I was left completely overwhelmed by the experience of watching Russian Ark. I bathed in its artistic beauty, was enraptured by its grand scope, and basked in the glow of a bright and courageous filmmaker, one who pulled off an amazing feat of creation. The cinematic accomplishments of Russian Ark are enough in and of themselves to assure the movie a place in the annals of film history. The fact that it is a work of art as well makes its existence an absolute miracle.

Short Cuts (1993)
If you gave Robert Altman a huge cast, he could perform miracles. He did so many times throughout his career, with films such as Nashville, The Player, and even Gosford Park. Well, after watching his 1993 film, Short Cuts, I can safely say that the great director had done it again. No synopsis of Short Cuts could possibly be complete, seeing as the film details the lives of 22 Los Angeles residents, all of whose paths cross, one way or another, over the course of a few days. The main thrust of the story begins with a traffic accident, in which Doreen (Lily Tomin), a waitress, accidentally hits young Casey Finnegan (Lane Cassidy) with her car. Shortly afterwards, the boy falls into a coma, and his parents, Ann and Howard (Andie MacDowell and Bruce Davison), who had been busy planning Casey’s birthday party, find themselves wondering if their son will even live to see his eighth birthday. Events are further complicated when Howard’s estranged father, Paul (Jack Lemmon), shows up unexpectedly at the hospital, hoping to explain to his son why he and Howard’s mother divorced many years earlier. But this is only scratching the surface. There’s so much more to this film: more drama, more emotion, and many, many more stars. There’s Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine), the physician who treats young Casey shortly after his accident, and whose wife, Marian (Julianne Moore), is an artist. At a neighborhood playhouse, the doctor and his wife meet Stuart Kane (Fred Ward), an unemployed salesman, and his wife, Claire (Anne Archer), who works as a clown for children’s parties. There’s Jerry Kaiser (Chris Penn), who cleans pools for a living, and his wife Lois (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who works as a phone sex operator, getting guys off as she changes the baby’s diaper or sets the dinner table. Arrogant policeman Gene (Tim Robbins) is cheating on his wife Sherri (Madeleine Stowe) with Betty (Frances McDormand) whose ex-husband Stormy (Peter Gallagher) is trying to win her back. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? Not to worry. This is Robert Altman, the best in the business when it comes to juggling jam-packed stories. In his typical fashion, the director leaves no stone unturned, and no matter how many twists Short Cuts ultimately took, Altman ensured that no character was left behind.

Hidden Treasures – Week of May 25th

Here are this week’s Hidden Treasures. Enjoy!

Jules et Jim (1962)
Jules et Jim is the chronicle of a failed experiment, undertaken by three people who love each other very much, yet are ultimately doomed by their inability to recognize that friendship and romance do not always mix well. Jules (Oskar Werner), a shy German living abroad, has found a good friend in Jim (Henri Serre), an outgoing Frenchman. It’s a friendship that blossoms over time, forged in the streets of Paris, where both men enjoy their share of the single life in the days leading up to World War One. Then, one day, Jules and Jim are introduced to Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a woman whose rare beauty captures both of their hearts. A free spirit, Catherine, in turn, loves both Jules and Jim, and through the years each man will have a turn at possessing her. Yet Catherine, whose nature is unpredictable, is ultimately a treasure neither can truly own. The mission of Truffaut’s Jules et Jim was to get below the surface, to expose the truth lying just under the artifice. At first, Catherine appears to be the embodiment of both men’s perfect woman, yet as time wears on (and thanks to a wonderful performance from Moreau), she becomes a much more complex character, whose deep love for both Jules and Jim threatens any chance she might have at forming a lasting relationship with either one. This situation also takes its toll on Jules’ and Jim’s friendship. Ultimately, both consent to share Catherine, convinced that such an unusual combination of romance and friendship may, in fact, be the perfect condition under which love will blossom. However, this arrangement only results in each man feeling unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and driven by the desire to possess her exclusively. As it turns out, neither Jules nor Jim were truly prepared for this so-called ‘perfect’ union, and one might argue that Catherine, despite her outer worldliness, was also well out of her league.

The Odd Couple (1968)
The teaming of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau to star in The Odd Couple seemed a natural pairing, what with their success two years earlier in Billy Wilder’s uproarious comedy, The Fortune Cookie. Armed here with some hilarious Neil Simon dialogue, the two veteran actors display a natural chemistry, and their teamwork helped transform The Odd Couple into one of the funniest movies of the 1960’s. Neat-freak Felix Unger (Lemmon) falls into a deep depression after his wife throws him out of the house. With nowhere to turn, he pays a visit to his divorced friend, the slovenly Oscar Madison (Matthau), who invites Felix to move into his apartment. Even though Felix and Oscar have very little in common, they somehow find a way to make this arrangement work. Things begin to fall apart, however, when Felix is less than enthusiastic about a dinner date with the new neighbors, a pair of British sisters named Cecily (Monica Evans) and Gwendolyn (Carole Shelley). When the date ends abruptly, Oscar blames Felix, and, before long, the two old friends are at each other’s throats. Both actors do enjoy a few funny moments on their own (at the beginning of the film, Lemmon’s Felix, whose despair over his failed marriage has driven him to attempt suicide, plans to do so by jumping from a hotel window. Unfortunately, he throws his back out trying to get the window open). However, it’s the scenes where Lemmon and Matthau are together that truly stand out. I could point to countless examples of their perfectly timed give-and-take, but my favorite is most definitely the ‘meatloaf incident’. In this sequence, Felix is busy in the kitchen preparing a meatloaf for their dinner date with the sisters from upstairs. Oscar arrives home late, and is chastised by Felix for not getting there sooner to help with the meal. As time passes, Oscar discovers that Felix is actually upset because he had timed his meal to be done at 7:30, and now, at eight o’clock, his meatloaf is drying out. “Can’t you pour some gravy over it?” asks Oscar. When Felix points out that they have no gravy, Oscar, obviously a novice in the kitchen, says that he assumed gravy just automatically ‘came’ with the meat. Before long, Felix is threatening Oscar with a ladle. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Odd Couple is how little the movie has aged. After 40 years, it still manages to generate some hearty laughs. Of course, the credit for this must go to Lemmon and Matthau, whose timing is so precise that it’s almost scientific. Of all the films in which they appeared together, including The Front Page, Buddy Buddy and Grumpy Old Men, I don’t believe they ever again matched the comedic precision on display here. The Odd Couple proved to be the perfect teaming of two immensely talented comedians, with each one, in turn, playing their perfect role.

Run Lola Run (1998)
Run Lola Run has an incredible energy to it. In the very first scene, director Tom Tykwer gets our adrenaline pumping. From the moment the security guard (Armin Rohde) looks into the camera and says, “here we go”, Run Lola Run barely stops to take a breath. After completing a transaction for the mob, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) was on his way to deliver 100,000 DM to local crime boss, Ronnie (Heino Ferch), when he accidentally left the bag containing the money in a subway car, remembering it only as the train was speeding away. With exactly twenty minutes to go before he’s expected with the money, Manni calls his girlfriend, Lola (Franka Potente), and asks her for help. Lola spends the next twenty minutes running through the streets as quickly as she can to reach Manni, who’s on the other side of town, all the while trying to figure out how she can get her hands on such a large sum of money. It seems that Lola has a limited number of options available to her, and before Run Lola Run is complete, we will have seen three of them. This is what makes Run Lola Run such a fascinating film. Crammed within its 80 minute running time are three different versions of the exact same story. We watch Lola’s run through the streets play out three separate times, each one slightly modified so that the results are completely different. By approaching the entire film from an almost philosophical standpoint, and addressing the notion that the slightest alteration to any event, whether it be turning left instead of right, or looking up instead of down, could drastically change the outcome of said event, director Tykwer does more in Run Lola Run than merely excite our senses; he also dares us to think. With such an ingenious approach, and combined with rhythmic techno music to keeps things hopping, Run Lola Run will positively blow you away.