Sunday, May 3, 2009

Quick Takes

Okay, since I haven't written many in-depth posts for a while, here's a brief sampling of things I've seen/listened to, and found interesting:

"Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)-Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway bring 60's style and anti-establishment feeling to the 1930's Depression-era criminals Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. What makes "Bonnie and Clyde" successful isn't how faithful it is to the period, but how it brings a touch of the present to the past, and it makes the story feel contemporary. Of course, that "contemporary" feeling is now 40-plus years old, but it still feels fresh, it's a beautifully photographed film, and it looks fantastic in Blu-Ray. (Warren and Faye look fantastic in Blu-Ray, too.) Clyde is a B.S. artist, and Beatty knows exactly how to play him. Clyde is able to make anyone believe anything he says, a trait that he seems to share with the man portraying him. (I had to smirk at the irony of ladies' man Beatty playing the impotent Clyde, though. Hearing Beatty protest to Dunaway, "I ain't much of a lover boy!" is pretty funny.) Casting the unknown Dunaway as Bonnie was a gamble that paid off. Beatty first envisioned his ex-girlfriend Natalie Wood as Bonnie, but she turned him down. It worked to have a fresh face as Bonnie, someone who didn't have a star image. Dunaway was also very different looking, with her high cheekbones and angular face. She wore the period clothes very well, and she also brought a sensuality to the role, check out the scene at the beginning where she and Clyde drink Cokes and she strokes Clyde's pistol. (There may be some symbolism going on there.) "Bonnie and Clyde" also introduced more realistic violence to the movies, even though it looks pretty tame today. (Except for the final scene, which still retains its power.)

"Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992)-What a cast! There's Al Pacino's great, smarmy performance as Ricky Roma, Jack Lemmon's hapless Shelley "The Machine" Levene, Ed Harris's angry, bitter, profane Dave Moss, plus Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, and of course, Alec Baldwin. ("Coffee's for closers only!") This is a collection of great performances by truly gifted actors at the height of their powers. Jack Lemmon in particular is brilliant, as he gets to show a huge range of emotion. If you like great actors saying "fuck" a lot, this one's for you. There's something great about hearing Jack Lemmon drop the f-bomb.

"Elmer Gantry" (1960)-Sinclair Lewis's novel satirizing evangelism was considered too shocking for Hollywood to film for more than 30 years. It's a good thing they waited, because otherwise someone other than Burt Lancaster might have played Elmer Gantry, and that would have been unthinkable. Lancaster brought every talent he had to the role, and it's a bravura performance. (The only thing Lancaster doesn't get to highlight is his acrobatic skills.) It's one of the most extroverted performances on film. Lancaster won the Oscar for his work, and rightly so. The lovely and underrated Jean Simmons is outstanding as Sister Sharon Falconer, as is Shirley Jones as Lulu Bains, the woman Gantry has ruined. Dean Jagger and Arthur Kennedy are also superb in supporting roles.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, "Raising Sand," (2007)-Terrific album combining two unlikely talents. There aren't that many real duets on this record, but the songs all fuse together to create a mood that is low-key and soulful. The songs are gorgeous, and seem very thoughtfully chosen. I know I'm a little late to the party here, but go pick this one up.

The Beatles, White Album Demos, (1968)-Okay, so this isn't in stores, but I'm sure you can find it somewhere. It's amazing to hear John, Paul, and George demo songs for the White Album. Without a time machine, this is as close as you can get to hearing how these songs must have sounded when the Beatles wrote them in India. (And proof that they were soaking up some of Donovan's acoustic, finger-picking guitar style, as he claims in his autobiography.)

Robyn Hitchcock, "Ole Tarantula," (2006)-I've been listening to this CD a lot lately, and I have forgotten how great it is. "Underground Sun" is one of the most gorgeous songs Robyn has ever written. All 10 songs are great, some of my other favorites are the title tune, ("I feel like a three-legged chinchilla, standing on a table so wide") and "(A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs." "Museum of Sex" has one of my new favorite lines ever: "Music is the antidote to the world of pain and sorrow."

No comments: