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Posts tagged ‘1950s’

Luminous, Lucent, Transcendant Kate Winslet Could Win Her 2nd Oscar for “Wonder Wheel”

Wonder Wheel 3

Lustrous, luminous, transcendent Kate Winslet is the wonder of Woody Allen’s new “Wonder Wheel.”
Is there any American filmmaker alive today who writes  such great roles for women? No. There simply isn’t. And as photographed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Kate Winslet seems to be a cinematic miracle of color and light, majesty and emotion,

You simply can’t take your eyes off her. Storaro and Allen have combined to give her a cinematic beauty that makes you gasp, in a multi-faceted role that makes you applaud. She is playing Ginny, a Brooklyn waitress, who works in a Coney Island Clam House. I have known SOOOO many Ginnys in my lifetime, and British though she is, Winslet absolutely nails her Ginny to the Coney Island boardwalk. And it’s  stirring performance in the grand tradition. She’s every woman. And every woman I’ve known, from Brooklyn, trying to make a better life for herself and her family. And trying to find love at the same time, having given up her dreams of being an actress earlier in her life.

Winslet’s Ginny seems the simplest of creatures.. But Allen’s writing and her bravura performance proves that every woman is as complex as a whirlwind. Or a rollercoaster. Or a Wonder Wheel at  Coney Island, to use this film’s great metaphor. Winslet has never seemed so bedeviled and so bewitching at the same time. She’s a housewife in waitress’ outfit that she wears like a queen, as she goes about her frantic daily work of cooking and cleaning for the whole of Brooklyn it seems.

Allen and Storaro capture the ordinary woman’s extraordinariness. She is married to a lout (James Belushi) and having a torrid affair with Justin Timberlake, the local lifeguard. Timberlake’s string-bean-ness seems out of place as a life guard, but he, too, has movie star charisma in buckets instead of muscles, that make all the women in the film falling for him make sense.Justin Timberlake Wonder Wheel He and Belushi have both never been better.Kate Winslet 1

She is playing Ginny, a common-as-they-come Brooklyn waitress, who is as uncommon, as she is earth-bound. Winslet’s a fiery red-head this time. And in Storaro’s use of orange and amber light, she seems so on fire, she is burning up the screen. It is no surprise then that her red-headed son is an arsonist, setting  a fire every time he’s left alone. The fires remind him of his mother.

And Juno Temple is Belushi’s neglected daughter, who turns up as a “Marked” woman, being chased by the mob, because she married a gansta, and became a “canary” who sang on her husband, making her a woman on the run for her life. She hides  out in Winslet’s and Belushi’s  humble household underneath the ever-present Wonder Wheel. Young, blonde Temple has the role of her career here, too, and is doomed from the first seconds we see her taking her first tentative steps under the Wonder Wheel.

In a simple car ride in a romantic rain storm with Timberlake, she becomes, as he says “as beautiful as the rain light.”Storaro has lit her in golds and blues to emphasize her beauty as well as her melancholy. She, too, is magnificent in this film.

Storaro  and set designer Santo Loquasto make more magic by making Coney Island in the ’50s look like the Riviera.

Winslet’s performance is so heart-breaking and towering it immediately recalls the great screen performances of screen queens past. Joan Crawford in particular. The shop girl who was not a shop girl.  The waitress who was not a waitress. And reminds you that not since the ’40s have actresses consistently seen parts like this. Winslet’s Ginny is the  working class version of Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine in Allen’s recent Oscar winner “Blue Jasmine.” “Wonder Wheel” is his best film since “Midnight in Paris” and is now one of my favorite Woody Allen movies. It’s right up there with the best. It reminds me why I love Brooklyn. And New York City.

“Wonder Wheel” is a movie movie about romance and melodrama and great actresses playing great roles. And it ends this year’s superlative NYFF with a BANG!

Mesmerzing”Maigret” French TV series now out on MHz DVDs!

Rarely, have I ever stumbled upon a new fictional detective that has totally mesmerized me. Full disclosure, I’m sort of obsessed by Agatha Christie and her great detectives Hercule Poirot and esp. Miss Marple. At last I’ve found some one new, who is quite  obsession-worthy  It is the late great French writer(Belgian born) Georges Simenon and his legendary police commissaire detective Jules Maigret. New to me, but well-known to millions of readers and viewers, esp. in Europe.’

Out now in a marvelously entertaining DVD set released by MHz videos, it features “Maigret” as played by the late great French actor Bruno Cremer, who is well into his 70s when he shot this wonderful series that ran for more than a decade on French TV. And how lucky the French are to have such a high quality TV series running regularly! Most American Network TV is a vulgar joke by comparison.(I’m not counting the excellent work now done on Cable. Like for instance, “Breaking Bad.” But it’s Cable and I don’t get AMC!! )

The Maigret novels have been filmed many, many times  in Europe on TV and in film, but I can’t imagine any of these incarnations beating Cremer’s Commissaire and this flawlessly executed, beautifully filmed TV series.

Subtitled, mais oui, it is always a brain teaser, and very atmospheric, as it takes you back in time to 1950s Paris, where Maigret, a very dogged police inspector, who does everything by the book ( if he can ) plies his trade, pursuing criminals of all social strata and bringing them to justice. As boring as this methodology seems, “Maigret” is never dull pour une instante!

Oui, he’s a for-real policeman, le vrai chose, and Simenon celebrates the French gendarmes at every turn. His Maigret is not a private detective like Poirot or Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or an amateur sleuth like Miss Marple. Maigret is actually a commissaire or commissioner of the Paris “Brigade Criminelle.” There are no flatfoots or bumbling gum shoes here, as there always are in Agatha Christie. Policemen are shown to be intelligent, hard-working, admirable and relentless in the pursuit of crime. Simenon shows them as objects of great respect and not derision.

And Maigret, who simply smokes a pipe throughout almost every episode, is the most intelligent and sterling of them all. Like the also pipe-smoking Sherlock Holmes, like all classical detectives, he’s observant and diligent to a fault. Nothing and no one escapes his seemingly casual glances. So you have to be truly as on your toes when you watch it, as he is, watching and listening carefully to everything. And what a Gallic joy that is!

Seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories about Maigret were published between 1931 and 1972. Georges Simenon wrote over a hundred novels and is considered one of France’s greatest and certainly most prolific writers of the last century, but Inspector Maigret was by far his most famous and widely beloved creation. There is a statue to George Simenon, mais oui, bien sur, in France, and also a statue to Maigret in Belgium! Are there any statues to Hercule Poirot lurking about the English countryside? Not that I know of.

Like Christie, each mystery is its’ own perfect stand-alone box of tantalizing puzzles. And one of the delights of this TV incarnation is its’ setting in ’50’s Paris. In  Parisian environs we don’t usually see in French films, so it all feels wonderfully classic and also refreshingly new at the same time.

Each episode of “Maigret” is like its’ own little movie, and the mysteries are almost always impenetrable to all but Commissaire Maigret.

Bruno Cremer’s height and girth and his low, rumbling, grumbling voice are perfectly suited to Maigret. He lumbers when he walks, has a police office that is notoriously untidy and has a distinct dislike of stairs. All traits I found impossibly endearing. His Maigret like all iconic roles in a great, perfectly cast performer’s hands is mesmerizing and you keep wanting to go back to him and see MORE. And MORE!

And with this new series of DVDs from MHz Networks you can! There is also now an MHz TV station in many cities. Check your local listings.

I’ve watched many of the MHz” Maigret”episodes twice. Indeed, the stories are so complex and the characters so deftly drawn,marvelously performed  and thoroughly French that you can’t wait to go back to them as see them re-watch again.  And warning, they’re addictive. They’ll grow on you.

All the actors were new to me (and I watch a lot of French movies!) very talented, and perfectly cast. One in particular whose intriguing name was Remi Martin, was notably good in “Seven Little Crosses”, as a distraught father of a missing child.

As Maigret and the entire Parisian police force, track the little boy as he runs about Paris breaking the glass on police call boxes, another peculiarly French anachronism, the sound of a person running and breathing heavily, is then slowly followed upon by shots only of the school boy’s feet running, running…Classy, eerie, as is the marvelous sound track by  Laurent Petitgirard.

It is a sweltering August Bank Holiday in pre-air-conditioned Paris. And is Maigret on vacation? Non! And he makes sure his entire staff is out sweating and tracking the murderer of old ladies who live alone. Who seems to be a prototypical serial killer.

Another episode that I enjoyed was “Maigret at L’Etoile du Nord” a hotel near the Gare du Nord train station. This time it’s Christmas and it’s snowing. And Maigret isn’t taking off for une Joyeux Noel. As he says, “Murderers don’t take off for the holidays.”

Another favorite quote, Maigret grumbles “I hate solving murders in hotels. You never know where to start!”

And he’s invariably calling the always unseen Madame Maigret, his wife, and apologizing for missing his train.

But don’t miss this delightful series of classic French thrillers!

And newsflash! “Maigret” and many other international crime-soliving TV series can be found on http://www.mhznetworks.org! Stay tuned, dear readers, dear cineastes, for the latest updates on these marvelous European TV series that I like and you might, too!

“The Master” is a Big Gay Movie! An accurate portrayal of the Closeted 1950s.

So FINALLY seeing “The Master” yesterday, I was astonished to find that my take-away from it was it’s A Big Gay Movie! Although clearly, it’s not being advertised as such. If only it were, I perhaps could’ve really loved it. But I found myself LIKING it more than I thought I would.

It really was to my great surprise a tortured, a VERY tortured gay love story, with two men who are so totally in the closet that they do not know what they’re experiencing as they both feel this inexplicable need and attraction for each other.

According to the Gurus o’ Gold, Daniel Day-Lewis in the still unseen “Lincoln” is right up there on the top of the list of Best Actors, separated by only one vote from Joaquim Phoenix’s tortured portrayal as Freddie Quell in “The Master.” And in Supporting, though again, he’s a LEAD, and shouldn’t be there, and he’s the title role for goodness sakes! Is Phillip Seymour Hoffman ‘s masterful portrayal of “The Master.” And he’s LEAGUES out in front of everyone else in that category. Maybe he’ll win his second Oscar for his role as Lancaster Dodd, the brutish, dapper, magnetic leader/creator/philosopher of “The Cause” a Scientology-ish cult.

The film is the story however of how Dodd, the Master, can NOT keep himself away from, or let go of the violent, abusive, lost drunken ex-sailor Freddie Quell. He becomes obsessed with him. He takes him with him everywhere, and his wife Amy Adams, does not like it. Unfortunately, her role is really nothing but pregnant wall-paper. She MIGHT get nominated if the film catches on with Academy voters, but there’s not much for her to do except, display her constant pregnancy and glare and glower at Freddie.

The fact that his wife is perpetually pregnant, and there is one scene in their bathroom, where she graphically masturbates her husband(Hoffman has his back to us, thankfully.) is meant to show that yes, the Master IS heterosexual, but NOTHING else explains this film and its’ existence except the explanation that The Master is in the closet and is in love with poor Freddie, who is also in the closet. In fact, the whole FILM is in the closet!

The Master”  starts out with a wrestling scene on a beach where a bunch of sailors in tight, brief  40’s navy-issue swim suits, their muscles glistening in the sun, are going mano a mano all around Quell. There is also a large breasted sand dune sculpture of a naked woman that Freddie masturbates, and gets himself a hand full of, of course, mud. Then HE jerks off, facing the ocean. Frustrated libido is everywhere. The film at the end returns to this shot of Freddie on the beach gazing at the gigantic sand woman’s breasts and nipples as he lies next to her on the beach.

Freddie has a girl friend named Doris who he deserts at the beginning of the movie. He’s a constantly in trouble ne’er-do-well, to put it mildly, and an alcoholic who is driven to drinking medicines from everyone’s bathrooms’ medicine cabinets to get high. His potions are so lethal, he accidentally poisons a man at one point a Mexican field hand, who drinks one of his concoctions of paint thinner and whatever else Freddie has devised to put into.And Freddie is then on the run from the law.

One night in a drunken stupor he wanders onto a boat where Lancaster Dodd is having a party that is about to set sail, celebrating his daughter’s wedding. They are to sail “through the Canal to New York” and Freddie stays on board and sails with them.

The Master likes Freddie so much at the outset because Freddie has put together the right combination of paint thinner and peach juice that DOESN’T kill The Master.

And this film is much more about Scientology than I thought it would be. WWII and the post-war 1950s are its’ backdrop and The Master’s control of all his followers in this cult that is called “The Cause” is really rather frightening and chilling. But as the film goes on and on and on(yes, it’s WAAAAY to long) it seemed to me that Hoffman’s portrayal of Dodd got more and more effeminate. And the big gay pay-off scene is of the Master and Quell rolling over and over each other, smiling and laughing, giggling even, as they embrace on the grounds of The Cause’s current posh residence. Over and over and over they roll on top of each other. And they both seem to be having the time of their lives doing so.

It’s the only scene in the film where you see the two men(or any of the characters in this bleak, chilly film) actually expressing human warmth towards each other and having FUN.

There, yes, is a scene, where Freddie, who is prone to alcoholic hallucinations, sees all of Dodd’s female followers dancing around the Master nude. But tellingly,none of the men are.

Clearly, Freddie can’t find happiness with a woman and his only positive, ongoing relationship is with Dodd. Freddie is such a lost soul, you can see why he’s drawn to the charismatic Dodd, but why is Dodd so drawn to Freddie? He loves him. He wants to save him. He wants him with him for the rest of his life. It homo-erotic to say the least.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Master expresses every nuance that is required of him.

And that includes Dodd’s sick, controlling side, too. Which is frightening when it explodes. He HAS to be in the power position over all these people, and to me, he was sublimating his homosexual impulses into this scary, and sometimes violent, controlling persona.

But when Dodd calls Freddie transatlantic from London and says “I need you!” it was a quintessential  gay moment, closeted, of course, to be sure. Freddie is watching a Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon in an empty balcony of a movie theater when this moment happens. But it is telling nonetheless. It was the ’50s! THIS is how closeted gay men expressed themselves, the only outlet they had. Everything was coded, or sublimated. At that time, it was a love that couldn’t even be mention to those that felt these emotions.

So Freddie expresses it in violence and drunkenness and the Master expresses through his obsessive need of  control over others. It’s a disturbing film, but it may bring Phillip Seymour Hoffman his second Oscar.

Joaquim Phoenix’s Freddie Quell has to duke it out with Daniel Day Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln.” Only a vote separates them on the Gurus o’ Gold chart. When we can see “Lincoln” in its’ entirety, we will know who really is on top for Best Actor.

“The Master” is a divisive film, because it doesn’t wear its’ homosexuality on its’ sleeve, so you don’t know what is REALLY going on between these two men, but it is there, though unstated, nonetheless. And that was the pre-Stonewall America to a T.

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