Monday, December 12, 2022

Film Rolls, Round 5: Luca and Stage Fright

The top row is a weird place, because there's a point where you jump from very early western movies to fairly recent ones, and then soon after you jump from very recent ones to reasonably early. Like so:
That ten gets Mookie right at the end of the first row, which was (at the time) basically "stuff that didn't make it into theaters during the pandemic". And, yes, I bought a copy of Luca even though I've got Disney+ and don't really figure on dropping it any time soon, although it's kind of messing with my thought process on this.
Meanwhile, Bruce was already on the second row (remember Dragonwyck?) and has rolled a seven, so he's just dipping his toe into the 1950 and a Hitchcock I hadn't seen yet, Stage Fright.

So let's see how that went!


* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-ray)

That Pixar would, to some degree, become simply one of several quite impressive animation studios was probably inevitable, and arguably a good thing overall: We want a lot of people out there doing good work, even if the top dog is not so restrictive in tone and style as one might fear. So it's okay for Luca to be a pretty good movie rather than one which pushes the technology forward or has a brilliantly abstract premise.

And Luca is, in fact, pretty good; the designs for the undersea society are more complete and creative than a DreamWorks "like New York but _____" while the town above the waterline is the sort of period construction that seems beautiful and nostalgic but never quite crosses the line of too good to be true. There's nice chemistry between the three main kids, who are all smart and focused in their own ways but also volatile in the way that tweens can be. There are entertaining adventure bits, the inevitable Terrific Pixar Chase, and an earnest and upbeat feeling even through the sadder material.

Does it have the sort of surprising gut punch that Pixar is often known for, or the ability to sort of get more out of its metaphor through its fantasy elements? Not quite, I don't think: There's nothing like how "When She Loved Me" has a million different ways to gut-punch you in Toy Story 2 and the absence of Alberto's family never quite reveals itself as the sort of hole director Enrico Casarosa seemingly intends it to. The film is ultimately a little glossier than its makers perhaps intend it to be.

Which is fine - Pixar's allowed to make films that are pretty good, if not necessarily special the way their greatest successes have been. I can imagine kids enjoying this and their parents being fairly charmed as they watch alongside, and that's not exactly easy!

Stage Fright

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

I was mildly surprised to realize that I hadn't seen this particular Hitchcock when it showed up for pre-order on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive label; Hitch is a staple of the local repertory houses, after all, and I try to camp out there whenever one has a Hitchcock series. This one, though, falls between the silence and early English talkies that get programmed as his early days and the point when he was so well-established that he got big budgets and star-studded casts, everything he did being regarded as a potential classic at the time, both temporally and in feel.

Indeed, it's possible that seventy years later, being directed by Hitchcock works against it; with some journeyman director, a viewer might more easily appreciate how it's got elements of both film noir and a sort of classic British mystery. You can probably draw a pretty straight line between Robert Siodmak's Phantom Lady and this, and if Jane Wyman's amateur sleuth isn't quite the delight that Ella Raines is in that movie, Marlene Dietrich is enough femme fatale to make up for it and Alastair Sim is the sort of cozy character actor whose very presence smooths out some of the film's more convenient contrivances. Not a bad little minor genre film, but the Master of Suspense never really did much in the way of the cozy mysteries this often recalls; indeed, his tendency was almost always to play them as comedy, at least until it was time to put the screws to someone.

Which is why the final sequence is so surprisingly good; no longer worried about having the audience get ahead of Wyman's Eve, he spends the final scenes putting her in genuine danger from a killer freed to be monstrous, setting the whole thing in the bowels of a theater among all the costumes, props, and other materials actors use to create characters for our entertainment and which the killer used to hide in plain sight even as Eve used them to go undercover. After an hour or so of playing nice, we're suddenly in the middle of a psychological thriller where Hitch is playing with people presenting false faces for the purposes of good and evil while playing a vicious game of cat and mouse.

Maybe it's better that he holds back and sort of springs it on us in the last act, plunging the audience into a darkness that lurks behind their safe, comedic murder mysteries, but the fact that the film feels relatively ordinary for so long likely keeps people from really associating it with the classics that appear around it in his filmography (it's a couple years after Rope and one before Strangers on a Train).

So that's a pleasant couple days in April, although they're evenly-matched enough to not affect the standings at all:

Mookie: 20 ¼ stars

Bruce: 22 ¾ stars

Bruce still leads, both in accumulated stars and on the path:

The next round, though, has a pretty major effect…

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