The cinema has always done hostility better than history. Perhaps that is a characteristic it shares with most of us. So, 33 years ago, the spaceship Nostromo was a beaten-up heap ready to be retired, but the engine of its story and the stealthy uncovering of its ultimate confrontation of raw hostility and Sigourney Weaver in her underwear might have been handled by a trio of Einstein, Heisenberg, and Ben Hecht (the latter a pro screenwriter, the first two theorists on larger matters of story).
Moonrise Kingdom is set on an island, but its director Wes Anderson has always seemed like someone who insisted on a small off-shore existence. This is not uncommon in American movies, or necessarily forbidding: Josef von Sternberg lived on a glowing island where the light and its shadows fell on the face of a woman, ideally Marlene Dietrich, because Sternberg had loved her and been humiliated by her. Howard Hawks preferred to find an enclosed cockpit of intense talk and action—the airfield in Only Angels Have Wings or the court newsroom in His Girl Friday.
Some weeks I gamble with this column. I don’t know what to write about, so I wait in the stupid assurance that something will turn up. This happened on the night of Sunday May 27. I was remoting through the television channels, somewhere in the 500s, when I was stopped by the stricken indigo holes of Helena Bonham Carter’s eyes. The film was only a few minutes old, and I had never seen it before, so I stayed with it. It was called Conversations with Other Women, though on the poster the word is Conversations (s). We are at a wedding in a Manhattan hotel. A man and a woman meet.
Only the other day, Lena Dunham had her twenty-sixth birthday. I mention that not to play on your guilt about forgetting to send a card. But I do want to note that when she made her feature film Tiny Furniture, she can’t have been more than 23. That’s two years younger than Orson Welles when he made Citizen Kane. Now, don’t get me wrong. Citizen Kane is more interesting and more fun.
True story: I’m on the sunny sidewalk outside Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, and out of the theater saunters one of my fellow audience members, dressed in slacks and Islamic headscarf of a sort that is pretty conventional in south Brooklyn, and she doesn’t mind a casual exchange of views. “I have to tell you,” she says, “it was offensive to a lot of people.” She reflects a little more. “It was funny, though.” Her gaze falls on Court Street. “I laughed.” She laughs. “I loved it!”—and she breaks into a gloriously sheepish smile.
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Facts and Fantasies
May 18, 2012
Elena I Wish Naturalism lives. If Zola were a Russian in Russia today, he might have written Elena. Zola being absent, the director Andrei Zvyagintsev has written this screenplay with Oleg Negin, looking at lives with that combination of candor and regret that marks the best naturalist work. This approach in itself is a novelty in Russian films. Another is the milieu. The history of naturalism is closely woven with suffering, with the impulse to inform the disregarding world of social or economic oppression.
David Thomson on Films: How Johnny Depp and Tim Burton Became Shadows of Their Former Selves
May 15, 2012
The only reason to see Dark Shadows is to discover how dire and pointless—how flat-out dreadful—a movie can be even when it has Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Helena Bonham Carter attached to its flimsy pretext. This is one more vampiric concoction, the total budget for which (apparently $105 million) might have sustained 100 worthwhile, independent projects by new directors.
From time to time these days, one meets young people—film students even—who can’t quite place Gary Cooper. Come May 13, he will have been dead for 51 years; and on May 7—the day I’m writing—he was born in 1901, up in Montana.
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: French Accents
May 04, 2012
Goodbye First Love Elles Monsieur Lazhar First love, a term that often has a touch of the patronizing, is a moving truth in a new French film called Goodbye First Love. The writer-director, Mia Hansen-Løve, whose third feature this is, has addressed her subject with complete emotional confidence. She knows how it is often “understood” and disprized; she also wants us to see some aftereffects. Camille is a fifteen-year-old student in Paris when we first see her—nude, as her beloved boyfriend, the nineteen-year-old Sullivan, pulls the covers off her.
There is a passage in Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby in which David Huxley (Cary Grant) and Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) are lost at night in the forest of Connecticut searching for a leopard called Baby and a fox terrier named George. If you don’t know the picture, don’t bother to ask, “Why a leopard?” Your every instinct is correct—there are (and should be) no leopards in Connecticut. Yet there might have been. We know now that the ingenious German plan to have a U-boat unload a cargo of fierce cats on that state’s shore in 1942 was aborted only at the last moment.