Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post an individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.
So, here is what I watched this past week:
Dario Argento has been called the Master of Horror for years and if Suspiria is the standard of his achievements, then I have no problem giving him that title. The story of a naive American girl attending a prestigious European ballet school finds the surface is a mere veneer on the frightening goings-on behind closed doors. The film builds on Roman Polanski’s seminal horror work Rosemary’s Baby and drives the audience to a frenzy with creepy music, oblique angles and screen compositions that display an effortless understanding of the cinematic medium. At first, I couldn’t think of the film’s star Jessica Harper as anything other than Baritone Janet from the ill-fated Rocky Horror Picture Show sequel Shock Treatment, but she’s surprisingly effective as the skeptical ingenue attempting to unravel the strange occurrences that begin the moment she arrives on the school’s blood-red facade doorstep. It’s a dazzling film even if it’s frequently on the edge of absurdity.
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My comments are being reserved for the Film Club discussion which will be posting this week.
It may be the most gorgeous disaster film ever made. Kirsten Dunst indeed gives a fine performance in this Cannes Film Festival feature that caused more of a stir over its director’s (Lars von Trier) pro-Hitler commentary than for the content of the film. As the planet Melancholia moves towards Earth, the lives of a loosely knit family begin unraveling. The film opens with a series of slow-moving images surrounding the imminent destruction of Earth. The film then proceeds into a pair of segments to the same story about two sisters and the events that take place as Melancholia moves towards earth. The first focuses on Justine (Dunst), an advertising copywriter whose delayed wedding reception takes place the night before Melancholia arrives. Her new marriage to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) is slowly unraveling as the night proceeds as Justine enters a bout of depression, hoping to find focus but struggling every step of the way. The second focuses on Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her tenuous relationship with her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) stretched by the knowledge of the oncoming planet, which John assures her will only pass by, not collide. Von Trier’s style is abundant and there are some staggering images on display in Melancholia, a title that could represent either the planet or the state of mind for both sisters. There’s something otherwise hollow about the film, meandering through two hours of honest interactions. Some scenes could have been clipped a little tighter, giving a more energetic flow, but the opening scenes that include falling birds, a dying horse, feet sinking into solid ground, sets the pace for the rest of the picture. The film is one part Stanley Kubrick and one part Ingmar Bergman, which is probably the film’s major asset.
This visionary backstage musical has been recognized countless times as the progenitor of the musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Focusing on the struggles of an ailing theater director attempting to mount an extravagant production at the height of the Great Depression, the film features a number of musical standards including “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and “Forty-Second Street” among others. Among the numbers on display, “Buffalo” and “Forty-Second Street” are the best mounted pieces in the film, with the latter providing the opportunity for legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley to display the tightly constructed numbers best viewed from directly overhead. Ruby Keeler delivers a star-making turn as a timid chorus girl hoping for a big break, but expecting to work her way from the bottom. Warner Baxter as the aggressive director and Dick Powell as the charming young lad who helps her along also give solid performances while the rest of the cast stands firmly behind them. It’s hard to call some of the shots and editing structures cliche when this film wrote the book on them, though it may be the perfect example of why I’ve never been a huge fan of this style of production. The developing drama leading up to the big night is hardly exceptional, but drives the story well, but it’s when the film finally moves into the full force of the musical numbers, it becomes almost infectious, delivering some exciting and creative routines.