A nostalgic look back at boyhood from Fellini? Impossible! OK, maybe not so impossible. In fact, a significant part of his catalog features his memories of provincial youth and this one is perhaps his finest early example of it, centered around a group of friends making that painful transition from their fly-by-night runaround ways into adulthood - most abruptly in the case of Fausto, who is made to marry a young woman he's gotten pregnant instead of following through on his plan of skipping out of town. While they're on honeymoon, the rest of his group scams, schemes, slacks, and dreams big without doing anything about changing their situation. But the specter of their forcibly adult-ed friend hangs over things and they start to worry about really facing up to life. That's basically the thrust of it, though of course in Fellini's hands, he really invests the people with a life that my description lacks. He understands the young, small town dreamers who would like to think they're one big break from turning their lives around and he's in sympathy with their plight, even if he's not uncritical. Before he started making his films into intricate puzzles and three-ring circuses, he made these types of character studies. This is one of the best - possibly the best - of his early works.
Ashes of Time Redux (dir. Wong Kar-Wei, 2008)
Ichi the Killer (dir. Takashi Miike, 2001)
Tokyo Twilight (dir. Yasujiro Ozu, 1957)
This is as overtly (melo)dramatic as any Ozu I've ever seen. That's not to say that it's not good, just that there are dramatic outbursts onscreen that are uncharacteristic of his work and come off as pretty startling and unexpected. Two sisters - one troubled and pregnant, the other separated from her husband - live with their father while they attempt to sort out their lives and deal with the knowledge that the mother they have long believed is dead may well be alive. I've read complaints about the plot, about the drama, but it doesn't really bother me, the film is still shot beautifully and anything with both Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara in it is gonna be worth my time, if perhaps not yours. It's not great, for sure, but it's certainly worth a look, and for those who find his films a little dry, it may even be a good way in to understanding his world better.
Judgment at Nuremberg (dir. Stanley Kramer, 1961)
An exceptional pair of performances anchor this film to prevent it from becoming too preachy - Burt Lancaster and the great Spencer Tracy both set about giving some of the best work of their careers as (respectively) one of the Nazi judges on trial and the American judge brought in to act as part of the tribunal trying them. (Please note that this is not a slap at the rest of the supporting cast, nearly all of whom do superb work here, just that these two roles call for more from the actors, both of whom rise to the occasion.) Where it could easily have wandered into a mere recreation of Nazi horrors and condemnation of them, it's aiming higher, more broadly about the act of making sure that we do not let these things go once they're supposedly over and done with, ready to be buried. Nearly everyone in the film encourages Tracy's character to let bygones be bygones, drop things and acquit the judges but he persists, he wants to understand especially how a judge like Lancaster's moralist - and by extension anybody - could slide to condemning people to concentration camps from which they'd never emerge. The viewer gets to understand it too, understand that each compromise, each lie told to the self to accomodate things moves everyone closer to the atrocities that are only late in the film explicitly shown. I'm not fan of courtroom dramas, but this one really got me.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (dir. Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, 1943)Another great one from my chronological examination of Powell and Pressburger. Though it is perhaps not quite as exciting as 49th Parallel - and that's fine - it's yet another nuanced character study, which is what makes their films so great, or at least so interesting to me. Maybe it's a little long at 2 1/2 hours, taking time getting to where it's going in fleshing out the people involved, but there's never a scene where it feels like I don't want to be spending time with Blimp, with any of Deborah Kerr's three characters, or with Anton Walbrook's Kretschmar-Schuldorff - they're all so brilliantly drawn and acted that I don't mind that extra time. Anyway, it's a wonderful character study, putting aside even the extraordinary circumstances of the filming. Not as dazzling as I had expected for a wartime epic, but perhaps all the more affecting for the smart portrayals that it puts across that can cut across time like this.
I've always found Chaplin just a hair too sentimental for my tastes, even while being fully engaged by his works - love the gags a lot of the time, but am not always on the side of The Tramp, as I think I'm supposed to be. That doesn't apply here. I found this brilliant throughout, totally engrossed and drawn in to the story beginning to end. The boxing scene in particular is great - I'd seen it before out of context and loved it then - but really, the bittersweet romance, the ups and downs with his friend the drunken millionaire, the ambiguous ending, they all add up to the most consistently entertaining and emotionally engaging of his films that I've seen yet. Helps too that I saw it with the Colorado Symphony performing the score live along with the film. Somehow Gold Rush and Modern Times both seem to have eclipsed this in the Chaplin canon and I don't know why, I think it's the best of the three, and though I haven't seen his entire catalog of full lengths I can't imagine them getting better than this. But unlike the reactions I had to the other two films just mentioned this one has made me really want to make it a priority to see them.