Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Tagline: The strangest damned gang you ever heard of. They're young. They're in love. They rob banks.

That about says it all. I remember seeing this movie on TV about ten years after it was made, which would have put me at about four years old. Revisiting it this way, I realize why I was as obsessed as a four year old can get with a movie. Then again, I was a strange kid. No Muppets or Sesame Street for me. I was a Butch and Sundance and Bonnie and Clyde girl all the way. My mother tells a story of me making her be Clyde so I could be Bonnie and we'd sit in the living room behind the recliner and shoot at the cops, reenacting the scene where Buck Barrow dies in the clearing. Of course there was good reason when you watch the Warren Beatty movie.

"They did right by me. I'm gonna bring me a mess o' flowers to their funeral."

Directed by Arthur Penn who directed the Ann Bancroft Helen Keller story The Miracle Worker,
Bonnie and Clyde tells the story of young bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The movie full of familiar faces. Gene Wilder plays a bit part as a man whose car is stolen by the Barrow Gang. Estelle Parsons, who is probably best known for playing Roseanne's mother on the TV show, plays Clyde's sister-in-law, Blanche, to an annoying degree. Odd mixture of other players, too, including Denver Pyle who played Briscoe Darling on Andy Griffith Show and Uncle Jesse on Duke's of Hazzard is the cop who brings the gang down. Dub Taylor of nearly any gunfighter and outlaw movie you can name from the 1940s on up plays C.W. Moss' father. And of course Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

Like most of the bank robber era of movies, this one takes you inside the private lives of the bad guys and when you're done, you forget about the lives they put in danger and the money they stole in a time when there were banks closing every day and many families homeless. Accredited at the time with a lot more jobs than they actually pulled, Bonnie and Clyde drew a following because they were young and good looking and loved to take pictures of themselves. The movie recreates a lot of the pictures of Bonnie and Clyde, almost using the real photographs in order to tell its story. The cars are really the best thing about the film. They are just beautiful. It's almost painful to watch them get shot up and crashed.

It's a very dated movie, taking the Barrow Gang and making them look and seem 1960s, rather than set in their own time, or even timeless. That's my biggest beef with the movie. One thing in its credit, the movie uses a lot of "locals" as extras and it gives it a very odd, unique feel. The woman who played Bonnie's mother is creepily Deliverance-like. It's really those extras that give the movie the right feel and take it out of the 60s and back into the 20s. Especially the creepy man who goes over to the car to touch Clyde's hand when C.W. stops at a camp of homeless people to get water.

This is not great cinema but very fun. Warren Beatty, whom I normally don't care for, was very good in this role. He seems just like what you'd think Clyde was like if you ever read much about them: a little boy playing cops and robbers all dressed up in a grown-up's suit. Faye Dunaway was pretty, but didn't really fit as Bonnie. She was too old for one thing. But she did a passable job. It's not a movie you should watch expecting anything more than a shoot 'em up with really cool cars and, sadly, not enough use of Thompsons.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mesmer (1994)

Director: Roger Spottiswoode (Terror Train, And the Band Played On)
Starring: Alan Rickman (
Harry Potter franchise, Perfume), Simon McBurney (The Duchess, The Golden compass), Gillian Barge (Charlotte Gray)

Realizing that the movie was written by the same person who wrote Gorky Park and Track 29, I had no qualms about storyline at all. Of course, now I realize that I enjoyed both of those movies in the '80s and haven't seen them since they came out, so I might need to rethink that due to this new evidence.

Overall, the acting wasn't horrible, but it was not in any way good. I'm not sure what Alan Rickman was going for here and can only think that the direction was what was missing. Consider how he researches parts, I can see where he was coming from. Anton Mesmer was a very dramatic man, and Alan played the part in that way. His acting fit perfectly with the real-life character of Anton Mesmer, but coupled with the horrific writing and directing it came off as melodramatic.

Liberties were taken with the story, of course, but not in any logical direction one would assume a writer of a Mesmer screenplay would go. Anton Mesmer was noted for his very seductive style and is assumed to have even inappropriately groped his female patients. Of course. This completely fits with Alan Rickman's style and he would have done it swimmingly. Only the movie chose not to take this route. It also chose not to show much of his fame, and more of his ridicule. It chose not to focus on the many inventions that Mesmer came up with to treat patients suffering from psychosomatic illness, sexual repression, and nervous hysteria.

What the movie did was lack focus and direction. It wasted Alan's talent which could have brought life to the character given his seductive manner and hypnotic voice. It paired him with a Swedish TV actress who was not appealing on screen and had one of the most awkward movie kisses I've ever seen.

Judging from this movie, someone might think that Mesmer was a fool, rather than a man ahead of his time. It's a real shame that it turned out this way. I am a huge Alan Rickman fan and have found nothing of his that I hated, even the rather dragging Bottle Shock. This movie likely won't be watched again.

Gillian Barge did a wonderful job as his bitter wife, and Simon McBurney as his slightly odd and creepy stepson. There are a few facts in the movie, but the real story is more inspiring and less pathetic than this movie made it seem.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Orlando (1992)

"You are possessed of a strange melancholy..."

He is a man, born in the 1500's and favored "adopted" son of Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Upon the eve of her death, the Queen (Quentin Crisp; The Bride, To Wong Fu...) beseeched Orlando to never fade away, to never grow old. She died. And then his father. And, betrayed by love, Orlando slept. Nothing in the world could wake him until he desired to awaken. And he was unchanged.

Tilda Swinton (Benjamin Button, Chronicles of Narnia) plays the androgynous Lord, beautiful as a man of his time. And after his 2nd sleep, a woman. Betrayed by her country, by society, and by her sex, Orlando sleeps again, and into the fog of another hundred years, and another, and another.

"And all the time she was writing, the world continued..."

The trials of centuries show upon the face of one unchanging person, insignificant, unnoticed, or pretended to be so, for, as it says, it was England, people pretended not to notice. Orlando is a story of the chains of society, convention, and duty. Never is Orlando free, or anyone, but Orlando, watching the world with the eyes of 400 years, is the only one who notices.

Based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, and directed and adapted by Sally Potter, the movie is stylish, and by that I mean that it does an exquisite job of showing the period in which Orlando lives in almost brief fashion, but so complete. Nothing is lacking, unless you read the novel first. Tilda Swinton must be the image that Virginia had in her head while writing for there is no one else in existence that could have played Orlando, male or female.

"Heaven has mercifully decreed that the secrets of all hearts are hidden so that we are lured on for ever to suspect something, perhaps, that does not exist."

This is the first movie in which I recall seeing either Tilda Swinton or Billy Zane (who plays Orlando's brief lover). It was also my first experience with Virginia Woolf. Shameful, since I saw it when I was 19. Jimmy Somerville has two cameo appearances in which he sings, beautifully. John Wood (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Rasputin {HBO})cameos as well, as the Archduke Harry.

The unconventional style melds well with the historical settings and costuming, creating a feel that is unique even after more than a decade.