Saturday, February 15, 2014


I've been watching a fair amount of movies lately. No real theme, just stuff that I've wanted to catch up on. Here are my thought on the first few from the beginning of February. 

FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO (1943) Directed: Billy Wilder. Writers: Wilder and Charles Brackett. Cast: Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Tamiroff, Erich von Stroheim

I had never seen Billy Wilder’s unjustly ignored second feature as director but this is definitely worth tracking down. The fantastic silent opening where Franchot Tone, last survivor of a British WWII tank crew in North Africa emerges from the desert to find a small hotel run by Akim Tamiroff is worth the price of admission. But this smart, suspenseful movie has so much more to offer: assumed identities, apparent betrayals and respect for all the characters, even the bad guys. You rarely get that in what would otherwise be considered a B war/adventure story. Tone’s performance is the only weak spot here. It’s often a little rudderless but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the movie in the long run. There are only a couple Wilder movies I had never seen and I sure am glad I made the effort.

POST TENEBRAS LUX (2012) Writer/Director: Carlos Reygadas Cast: Nathalia Acevedo, Jimenez Castro, Rut Reygadas

Beautifully photographed (but not without affectation), I think this experience film is less than the sum of its parts. There are definitely striking moments here -- one at the end makes the film worth the watch -- but the only real substance is a fairly shallow comment on class.

I watched the BluRay but I believe this is currently streaming on Netflix.

Actually, the poster may be my favorite thing about this film.

A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948) Directed: Billy Wilder. Writers: Wilder and Charles Brackett. Cast: Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund, Millard Mitchell

This is a tough picture. It may be the harshest romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. Set in post- WWII Berlin, you can feel the anger and sadness about what happened to this place and it’s people. It’s shocking to see what was left of the city. Everyone in this movie is morally compromised. How could you not be after everything that had happened in the years before? This may actually be a harder-edged story than Wilder’s most cynical film ACE IN THE HOLE. The fact that it’s dressed up as a comedy must throw some people off the scent. This is another Wilder film that everybody should be talking about as one of his best.

It’s available in a two disc DVD set with FIVE GRAVES from TCM.

The poster is not my favorite thing about this film.

DAVID HOCKNEY: A BIGGER PICTURE (2009) Director: Bruno Wollheim

I recently saw the show DAVID HOCKNEY: A BIGGER EXHIBITION at the de Young museum in San Francisco and was really impressed by this latest phase in Hockney’s painting career. He’s been rigorously working at painting outside from direct observation, doing iPad drawings and producing an immense and inspiring body of work in recent years. This doc charts the beginning of this phase, following his move from Los Angeles back to his native Yorkshire and includes plenty of footage of Hockney painting in en plein air. The film is slight but Hockney has interesting things to say and watching him work is wonderful.

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