Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Watched October 9-15, 2006

Paris nous appartient / Paris Belongs To Us (Jacques Rivette, 1960)

Rivette started making his first feature film not long after the science fiction stories of Philip K. Dick made their first appearance in Paris. While this film does not track any specific story, it not only creates the paranoid ambience characteristic of Dick's fictional universe, it also has a whacked-out emigre American author as a main character (whose initials are P. K -- for Philip Kaufman). Many features of Rivette's later work show up here -- including preoccupation with staging classical drama and the existence of sinister conspiracies looming somewhere in the background (and sometimes foreground).

The new UK DVD of this film makes it look markedly better than any previous incarnation -- and it contains the full version of the film (as opposed to the American one, which was missing 20 or so minutes).

Joi gin a long / Where a Good Man Goes (Johnnie To, 1999)

A romance starring Sean LAU Ching Wan and Ruby WONG Cheuk Ling. He is a mobster just out of jail. She is a single mother with a young son, who runs a small (none too prosperous) inn in Macau. They meet when he is involved in an altercation with a taxi cab driver (and his buddies) outside the inn. He decides to stay at the inn for a while -- and proves to be a rather obstreperous and demanding guest at first. Gradually, however, he grows fond of the inn -- and its proprietor (and her son). He begins to contemplate living life honestly -- but runs into various complications, not least of which is a police inspector out to get him (LAM Suet). An entertaining and sweet film -- that keeps you guessing until the very end as to whether this will have a happy or sad ending.

Su-ki-da / I-Love-You (Hiroshi Ishikawa, 2005)

This film starts with the story of two 17 year-old provincial high school students -- Yu (Aoi Miyazaki) and Yosuke (Eita). He is learning to play guitar. She likes him (and likes to listen to him rehearsing-- under a bridge -- each day), he considers her a friend, but has somewhat of a crush on her older sister, who is still uncovering an unhappy romance. We follow their story until circumstances wrench them apart -- and then move forward another 17 years, when the paths of Yu and Yosuke (now played by Hiromi Nagasaku and Hidetoshi Nishijima) cross again, quite accidentally, in the big city (both are tangentially involved in the music business). Will they re-unite -- or not?

Interestingly, the two stars here are the young Yu (Miyazaki) and older Yosuke (Nishijima) -- but they meet only in the DVD's extras (which includes a joint interview-- in which they talk about the key kiss in each segment). The script seems to have some lapses, but this is well-shot and well acted. Young Aoi Miyazaki seems to be the most camera savvy (and most adept at acting) here -- takes that prominently feature her are far longer than those that don't. The director trusts her to slowly build reactions in real-time, where her older counter-part's comparable scenes are assembled out of rather short shots.

The Maltese Falcon (Roy Del Ruth, 1931)
Satan Met a Lady (William Dieterle, 1936)
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)

Huston's version of "Falcon" has been one of my favorite American films for decades -- and I've never seen it look better than in its new DVD incarnation.

The new set provides a couple of interesting appendices -- the two earlier film versions. The first mostly falls flat -- a wonderful trio of actresses (Bebe Daniels, Una Merkel and Thelma Todd) are insufficient to make up for the miscasting of Spade (Ricardo Cortez) and the generally lackluster cinematography and direction.

"Satan" is a parody of the original film (more or less) that sometimes verges on just plain silly, but more often proves a lot of goofy fun. As with the first version, I prefer the female side of the cast -- especially the delightfully ditzy Marie Wilson -- who literally steals the show as Spade's secretary. Of course, Spade is not Spade here -- but Shane (played by Warren William), a combination of con man and detective, with a distinctly upper class tone. Alison Skipworth is also a hoot -- as a female version of Gutman. Bette Davis appears as the "villainess" -- and seems to mostly have a good time larking about.

The original, which I watched after its predecessors, is almost perfect. Almost. Casting, pacing, cinematography, all wonderful. But then there is that grand finale -- which I have never ever been able to believe. I've never been convinced (despite all the heavy-duty emoting) that Spade cares the tiniest bit for Brigid O'Shaughnessy nor she for him -- and after the revisionist ending of "Satan" (the best of the lot, in terms of sheer fun -- and common sense), I am even less satisfied. But this is mainly Hammett's fault, I think. Despite the unsatsifying ending, no less a favorite than ever.

No comments: