Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Miss Pettigrew lives for a day: Review

Screwball, a genre of comedy whose heyday is long past, has the following dictionary definition: “A movie featuring the amusing antics of appealing characters in a glamorous world”. Miss Pettigrew lives for a day is definitely screwball. The question is if it’s a comedy.

This film, set in 1940’s London, is directed by Bharat Nalluri, who is, as the DVD cover screams, a debutant Indian-origin director (which other country would write something like that?). Miss Pettigrew, played by Frances McDormand (Oscar winner for Fargo) is down on her luck, having been dismissed from a series of babysitting jobs, when she runs into ditzy socialite Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams). Delysia, who is juggling the affections of multiple suitors, hires Pettigrew as her “social secretary”. There’s a pro-forma Pretty Woman moment with the “transformation” of Pettigrew, after which the film devotes itself to picking an appropriate suitor for both the women.

Nalluri gets the frantic pace of screwball spot on, but the writing, courtesy Simon Beaufoy and David Magee, isn’t a patch on Ben Hecht or Preston Strurges, to name just two of the many writers who churned out comic gems in the ’30s and ’40s. The absence of genuinely witty writing means that the actors are exposed. Amy Adams boldly goes over the top, and misses. McDormand is grim for the most part, though she lets a shy smile radiate in her scenes with Ciarán Hinds, who is excellent as a designer who falls in love with her. In the end, though all the rushing around isn’t unentertaining, this movie is best when it pauses for breath.

A version of this review appeared in Time Out Delhi

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Last Tycoon: DVD Review

When The Last Tycoon released in 1976, people must have expected the world from it. For one, it starred Robert DeNiro, who was then coming off a golden run that included Taxi Driver, Godfather II and 1900. The director was the legendary Elia Kazan, by then on the verge of retirement, coaxed back by producer Sam Spiegel, with whom he had made On the Waterfront. Add to that half a dozen star cameos, music by Maurice Jarre and a screenplay by Harold Pinter, and what do you get? A box-office disaster and a puzzling artifact for future generations of cinephiles.

Based on an unfinished novel by F Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon is a thinly veiled portrait of Irving Thalberg, one of Hollywood’s legendary studio heads. Dubbed the “boy wonder” for his ability to match the right director with script and cast, he was also the object of considerable jealousy. DeNiro reins himself in as Monroe Stahr, a studio head whose ability to rake in the profits is at odds with his desire to make “quality pictures”. Kazan recreates the big-studio era in sure, swift strokes, and the early scenes are as incisive as anything in The Player or Wag the Dog. Things slow down however, and stay that way, with the introduction of Stahr’s love interest, played uneasily by fledgling actress Ingrid Boulting. Her screen time with DeNiro generates few sparks, and we’re left wondering what Anjelica Huston, seen here in a brief cameo, might have done with the role.

Alternating between turgid love scenes and biting satire, Kazan manages to keep the audience interested without really satisfying them. In such a situation, one’s attention is likely to be diverted by the sight of three different Hollywood generations interacting on screen. Tony Curtis and Jeanne Moreau turn in excellent cameos as aging, insecure stars; Ray Milland, Dana Andrews and Robert Mitchum also appear. Jack Nicholson sneers his way through a memorable bit role as a suspected red, a subject very close to Kazan’s heart (he infamously “named names” during the McCarthy investigations). In the end though, we’re left with the feeling that this movie might have benefitted if its subject had cast a cool, appraising eye over it and said “If you cut twenty minutes out, you’d have a great movie here.”

A version of this review appeared in Time Out Delhi

Monday, May 10, 2010


Link to a documentary featuring Richard Linklater's gem of a movie, Dazed and Confused. Interesting to see just how inexperienced the now-famous cast was at the time. Also interesting (and hilarious) are recollections by Ben Affleck and Linklater about how the producer tried to get them to tone down the language to avoid an R-rating. It must take something special to be a director who is adamant on following his or her own vision.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

For no particular reason... favourite Kurt Cobain pic. He looks less self-destructive when he's clean-shaven, doesn't he?