David Thomson on Films: ‘The Arbor’
May 20, 2011
What do “documentary” and “newsreel” hope to mean in this benighted age of the Internet, when information threatens to overwhelm intelligence? Though the genre is still hard to fund and difficult to make, there is no doubt but that, in the last 20 years, more documentaries have been getting limited theatrical release. So an orthodox complacency reigns that this is “a good thing.” But is the age of Michael Moore, Ken Burns, Werner Herzog, Frederick Wiseman, and movies like Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job really useful and critical of how we are being run?
David Thomson on Films: ‘The Beaver’
May 10, 2011
There are things wrong with The Beaver, starting with the gamble of giving that title to a Mel Gibson picture in the moment of his lowest public esteem. The considerable courage in making his character a profound depressive is not adequately explained—in life, depressives are often suffering because they don’t understand their problem, but, in drama, it’s hard to offer just a numb stare to such questions. We expect explanation, where depression sees only chaos. In addition, as this story trails away it tries to slip a facile feel-good disguise over its persuasive claim that life is shit.
She drowned in her own swimming pool in the south of France, aged 66. Marie-France Pisier had an immense, composed beauty, with a marble air of absolute assurance. In her brow and her gaze, serenity seemed on the point of becoming a mask. But she was made for drama, and even melodrama. Though she had the look of a Parisian socialite, so much about her was unexpected: She was born in Dalat, in Indo-China, the daughter of a French colonial governor. In fact, she only came to live in France at the age of twelve.
David Thomson on Films: ‘Jane Eyre’
May 06, 2011
Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre opened over a month ago, but it’s staying in theaters and word-of-mouth is building. As well it might. There have been too many film adaptations of the Charlotte Bronte novel (published in 1847), and some of us have wearied of keeping up with them all. So I neglected the picture when it opened, but was stirred into action by my wife, Lucy Gray, who told me it was wonderful. She was right—she usually is.
David Thomson on Films: ‘The Conspirator’
April 19, 2011
Once upon a time—in the era of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), say—Robert Redford’s The Conspirator could have been the kind of movie that liberal high-school teachers expected their students to see. It’s good for you.
David Thomson on Films: Remembering Farley Granger
April 08, 2011
They are the two of the oddest men in an American movie of the early 1950s, and, somehow, their oddity is excused by the fact that they meet. Neither one on his own could have sustained a picture. I’m talking about Guy Haines and Bruno Anthony in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951). The title suggests an accidental meeting, but, once the bump has happened, we don’t credit chance. Bruno is in charge from the start. You can’t look back on the movie and think he wasn’t tracking Guy.
David Thomson on Films: ‘Sweet Smell of Success’
April 01, 2011
Nobody had seen or heard anything like the first half of Sweet Smell of Success in 1957. It wasn’t just the way the picture went out onto the streets and into the bars of Manhattan, letting cameraman James Wong Howe get his best stuff at dawn and twilight. Film noir had made hay with darkness for ten years, but still, you didn’t get a lot of real night in American pictures.
David Thomson on Films: ‘Mildred Pierce’
March 25, 2011
You can see why HBO thought to re-make Mildred Pierce, especially if it had Kate Winslet committed to playing the title part. The James M. Cain novel (published in 1941) is attuned to our grim economy: It’s the story of a single mother in Glendale in 1931 who has to take a job as a waitress and who then builds it into a flourishing, modest restaurant trade, based on the pies she bakes at home. As with so much of Cain, this is a story about money and business—I think he was more interested in those things than in the sex that dogged his reputation.
David Thomson on Films: Can You Watch?
March 19, 2011
We are looking down on a plain building, without distinction or appeal. Its one point of interest seems to be that rapid, rushing water surrounds it to the height of ten feet or so. Then, the story begins. On the current of this water, a sequence of empty automobiles reverse tidily round the corner of the building—it’s very prettily done and somehow confirms the suspicion that drivers may be the problem in cars. A line of them, six or seven, complete the turn, without collision or dispute, and then reverse out of frame.
David Thomson on Films: ‘From Here to Eternity’
March 05, 2011
It was a Friday night, and Turner Classic Movies were doing “Thirty-One Days of Oscar,” so the network played From Here to Eternity (1953). It’s a film I’m fond of (being twelve when I first saw it), and, when you’re that familiar with a picture, you’re not quite watching any more. But then, something happened.