Once a year, Hollywood relaxes the lollypop diet on which it sustains a large but jaded public, and serves up one dish of acidulous sophistication. Or to be more precise, about once a year Joseph Mankiewicz at Twentieth Century-Fox does this under the indulgent eye of Darryl F. Zanuck. The last chef’s special was Letter to Three Wives; the new one is All About Eve, the bitchiest fabrication since Mrs. Luce’s The Women. It is not true, as you may have heard, that All About Eve is a great picture and proof that Hollywood has grown up overnight.
A Dangerous Method is crammed with alarm and peril at the outset. A young, dark-featured woman in white is barely contained in a moving carriage in 1904—she is screaming, heaving, sighing—and she is being taken to a clinic just outside Zurich where she will become the patient of Dr Carl Jung. Outside the smart establishment, on what seems a fine day, she is carried inside still writhing like an eel on a cutting board. She turns out to be Sabina Spielrein, and she is played by Keira Knightley, not an actress who has carried me away in the past.
“Homeland” ended its first series on December 18 in a ninety-minute episode, as if it had so many loose ends to tie up, and so much to deliver before “the event of the TV season” closed. A couple of months ago, I welcomed the suspense, the plotting, and the human interest of “Homeland,” but I wondered even then if the series would go crazy with its own narrative.
Last week I voiced a hope for morebright nonsense on the screen, and this week Miracle on 34th Street was previewed for early release. It is a charming film, in part about a budding romance between Macy’s and Gimbel’s, but mostly about Santa Claus. The old gentleman (named Kris Kringle) is completely real, though the state of New York tries in a fine, big, foolish trial to prove he doesn’t exist. The point, developed quite deftly, is that if a few maladjusted people were able to prove Kringle daffy enough to be committed, they would have to prove most of the world crazy along with him.
There are advertisements and reviews out there that tell you to expect comedy in Young Adult. You deserve a sterner warning. Yes, the picture is written by Diablo Cody* (of Juno and TV's “United States of Tara”) and it is directed by Jason Reitman (of Juno and Up in the Air). But, if you recall, Up in the Air had George Clooney as a cool, amiable flake whose job it is to tell people they are fired, and who is set back (to zero?) when Vera Farmiga’s colder character tells him that their love affair of convenience and intricate travel schedules is going nowhere.
How many major black-and-white movies can you think of that have been made in the last five years? I can think of five: The Wild Child (1970), The Last Picture Show (1971), Paper Moon (1973), Lenny (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). In all five, the decision to use monochrome was both calculated and special. There was a time in the not-so-distant when using color was the choice that was calculated and special. What happened and why? For one thing, television.
What do you expect from a film called Shame with an NC-17 rating? Right at the start we see Brandon awake in the pale blue sheets of his bed. He gets up, goes to the bathroom, and turns around. He has a penis, and I suppose it is Michael Fassbender’s. So many of the things an actor brings to a picture are his parts, and it is up to us and the whole project to decide whether they also belong to a credible and interesting fictional character. Brandon exists alone in a Manhattan apartment with those bed sheets and his situation.
Last week a note on what a pair of good actors can do for a weak romantic script. This week a look at what a crackerjack cast—first-class all the way—can do for a middling contemporary drama. Kramer vs. Kramer, based on a novel by Avery Corman, was written by Robert Benton who also directed. I don’t know the book: the script tells, in lithe dialogue, the story of a New York couple who split. The struggle is not about the divorce, which as such is never glimpsed, it’s about the custody of their small son.
Some time towards the end of this delightful entertainment, the realization dawns of how much courage Michelle Williams needed in accepting the offer to play Marilyn Monroe. Yet an hour earlier, I had been asking, “Oh, why do it? Why take on this child monster yet again, in the year before we will be inundated with memories and garbage at the fiftieth anniversary of her death?” The more familiar the icon or celebrity in a movie biopic, the more hazardous it is to attempt impersonation, a process that can look stilted or unnecessary on screen.