Saturday, November 11, 2017
Saturday, November 4, 2017
One night, Herzog watched a TV documentary on Berlin’s homeless, and was struck by Bruno’s unique presence. The director cast him in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), and the rest was history. Schleinstein would act in several more films and become something of an avant-garde sensation. He was also a self taught painter, and a show of his work was held in New York City in 2004. When Bruno died in 2010 at the age of 78, Herzog declared “in all my films, and with all the great actors with whom I have worked, he was the best. There is no one who comes close to him. I mean in his humanity, and the depth of his performance, there is no one like him."
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
How a director that grew up in Taiwan could possess such profound insights into this uniquely American web of malaise is quite a mystery, but it’s all in a day’s work for the talented Ang Lee. While possessing the command of an auteur, Lee remains a cinematic chameleon, allowing the material to shine through while transcending his own personal style. Lee’s eclectic portfolio consists of a mind-bending potpourri of subject matter; everything from Asian art films to Jane Austen romances to CGI extravaganzas. While not every outing has been successful, Lee remains a testament to the value of versatility in the art of storytelling. The Ice Storm ranks among his most perfectly realized works, and in the last 20 years it has only gotten better.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Most Marx Brothers aficionados agree that 1937’s A Day at the Races was the last truly great film featuring the zany siblings. Produced by MGM wunderkind Irving Thalberg, who had recently signed the brothers to a lucrative multi-picture deal, A Day at the Races continued the box office winning streak begun in 1935 with the mega-hit A Night at the Opera. While A Day at the Races has never attained the lofty critical stature of its predecessor, the film offers its own unforgettable wit and side-splitting set pieces. With the Depression lingering on and war clouds building on the horizon, folks desperately needed a good laugh and this full immersion into the madness of Marx delivered in spades.
In this outing, Groucho plays a dodgy veterinarian who gets a cushy job as a psychiatrist at a Florida health spa due to a case of mistaken identity. The bulk of the film is devoted to a variety of outlandish machinations employed by Groucho to keep his secret safe, with predictably hilarious results. Also, there are subplots in which a washed-up race horse redeems himself and an on-again, off-again romance between Groucho and the great - if oblivious - Margaret Dumont.
But as with all Marx Brothers films, any notion of plot is purely a platform for the brothers’ dazzling comedic talents. In what may be one of the funniest sequences ever filmed, Chico cons Groucho into buying a series of books at the racetrack. The timing and slow build of the scene are sheer perfection, and shows the brothers capable of much more than manic madcap. But there’s plenty of hysterical mayhem as well, especially when Groucho, Chico and Harpo attempt to examine Dumont under the watchful eye of a snooty Austrian doctor (Sig Ruman), basically destroying a laboratory in the process. There’s a lot of Groucho’s patented scathing wit as well, including this iconic Marxism as he takes a patient’s pulse: “Either he’s dead or my watch has stopped.”
In my personal Marx pantheon, Duck Soup (1933) is ranked number one followed closely by A Day at the Races. For my money, it’s a better movie than A Night at the Opera, with funnier lines and smoother pacing. Unfortunately, the film has a few racist-tinged musical numbers with African-American performers, but sadly that’s where we were as a society 80 years ago. However you rate the films, A Day at the Races was the end of a line. During its production, Thalberg died suddenly at the age of 37 and no other producer at MGM had a clue how to capitalize on the unique Marx magic. The brothers made several more films for MGM, but they were uneven affairs and none approached the brilliance of their collaborations with Thalberg. Groucho and company left us a rich comedic legacy, but it could have been even greater.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Deborah Lawrenson’s 300 Days of Sun: A Novel is a marvelous and mysterious sojourn at a crossroads in history. It tells the story of a young Englishwoman named Jo who has made her way to the wind swept cobblestones of Faro, Portugal. Seeking solace and refuge, she soon finds herself involved in a baffling web of intrigue; its enigmatic shadows deepened by the blinding Portuguese sun. Accompanied by a charming young man in search of his past, Jo is thrown into a vortex of fate, as crimes from decades ago finally face a long delayed justice.
Jo’s story is interspersed with the book’s novel-within-a-novel set during the depths of WWII. It features a harrowing account of the evacuation of Paris, and the lonely despair of refugees seeking passage to America. This clever device offers a vivid foundation for Jo’s current struggles, and adds context and occasional clues to its resolution. Lawrenson nurtures her plot from the fertile soil of classic detective fiction, with each new character and narrow escape adding to a seductive strata of suspense.
But 300 Days of Sun is more than a rattling good yarn. Its lush evocation of time and place stimulates the senses as well as the mind, and readers will find themselves transported to the ocean breezes of Portugal. At times, Lawrenson seems to craft her sentences from the delicate petals of richly scented flowers, creating a hypnotic atmosphere. In her world “clouds cluster like purple grapes” while police stations reverberate with “unsettling acoustics.” In another scene “The air was heavy with orange dust from the Sahara that fell like a sprinkling of paprika powder over the town’s white sills and ledges.”
Part romance, part thriller, part history lesson, 300 Days of Sun: A Novel will leave the reader entranced and wishing for more. It’s a sensualist adventure with an ever-present malevolent edge and by the time it’s over, you’ll be a little bit smarter and a lot more aware of life’s lovely but dangerous possibilities You’ll also be mightily impressed with Deborah Lawrenson, and her graceful ability to make the English language flow and shimmer.
300 Days of Sun at Amazon
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