A Provocative Flop: The ’95 Film, “Amateur”

Amateur (film)

Amateur (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hal Hartley’s Amateur (1995) stars Isabelle Huppert, who wanted to work with Hartley after seeing his good film Trust, as a former nun who helps and is attracted to a man with amnesia and a very ugly criminal past which he naturally can’t remember.  This ex-nun, a ridiculous character, now writes pornography (!) but at least this establishes her resemblance to another woman who, instead of writing the stuff, acts in it, in porno movies.  She does this unhappily; she wants a changed life.  It transpires that she is married to the man with amnesia (!), who has treated her abominably and is the cause of her becoming a porno star in the first place.  Why this parallel between the actress and Huppert?

First let me comment that I do believe Hartley’s film, despite its childish and inept comedy, has something to say—namely, that outside any kind of religious milieu, redemption is very difficult, slippery, something to grope for.  We’re just amateurs at it.  Huppert believes she is a nymphomaniac who nevertheless sensed it was God’s will that she enter a convent.  Now she thinks God’s will is that she fulfill some sort of mission apart from the convent, which mission just may be her saving the porn actress, Sofia by name, from her amnesic but formerly brutal husband.  But this is amateur thinking.  It is true that Sofia and her spouse do not get back together, but Huppert has nothing to do with this.  Neither does she herself get together with the amnesiac even though she has fallen for him:  the film, you see, ends in tragedy.  God’s will is often known only imperfectly and often not at all, which is something else the movie says.  Sofia, too, does some amateur thinking with respect to redemption, and she ends up getting a man tortured and herself shot!  No will of God in this, is there?

Then again, perhaps we should ask whether cosmic retribution figures here.  A number of characters besides Sofia get shot or fall out of high windows; could it be they all deserve it?  Does Sofia get plugged (though not killed) because she is not only a porn star but also a blackmailer?  True, the amnesiac, who also gets shot, is not now brutal and he tells the ex-nun, “I don’t know what I’m sorry for, but I am sorry.  That’s got to mean something, right?”  But it may mean nothing at all if the fellow’s memory returns and, seeing what he’s missing, he returns to a life of crime, which is surely what would happen.  Hartley teases us with possibilities—doing so, I’m afraid, in a flimsy film.  Trust and Surviving Desire are the successful Hartley pictures (of those I’ve seen).

Paris By Way Of South Korea: The Movie, “Night and Day”

Night and Day (2008 film)

Night and Day (2008 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Hong Sang-soo film, Night and Day (2008), Seong-nam is a soiled Korean fellow who is in Paris after fleeing the police (the crime was smoking pot) in Seoul.  A painter, he meets several young Korean women affiliated with the Paris art scene and, though married to a wife in Seoul, eventually commits adultery with one of them.  The movie, both directed and scripted by Hong, is about Life, period.  Related to this, of course, are Hong’s themes: sexual desire in an alien country, the fluctuations in human connections, the concept of sin (Seong-nam is a Bible reader), and when even a middle-aged person lacks a real occupation—and a direction in life.  What’s more, Night and Day slowly becomes an absorbing love story, including between Seong-nam and his wife.

Hong is a talented man who savvily depends on medium and medium-long shots, and is an imaginative writer.  Plus he works well enough with his performers that the acting ranges from good to very good.  Kim Yeong-ho is very good as the main character.

No Magnificence: Welles’s “The Magnificent Ambersons”

The Magnificent Ambersons (film)

The Magnificent Ambersons (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George, the young man played by Tim Holt in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), is not only a cad but a fool as well.  Maybe, just maybe, he’ll learn not to be callous to the father of the girl he desires to marry.

This Orson Welles picture is quite unlikely—and quite thin too.  Unlike other Old Hollywood films, however, it has a strong tragic dimension (similar to that in Citizen Kane) and its visual artistry still pleases.  The best thing about it is that uncommon air of mystery mentioned in 1963 by William Pechter.  It’s a classic, but needed to be far better.

Is It “On the Avenue” Or In Tin Pan Alley?

Re the 1937 film musical, On the Avenue:

imageOn the avenue, there is savory Irving Berlin music and some pleasurable singing and dancing.

Alice Faye is somewhat miscast as a jealous meanie, but as a performer she is a heartening jewel.  Musically Dick Powell holds his own, and the unfunny Ritz Brothers do some pretty good hoofing.  The hookiest song is probably “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm,” but “You’re Laughing at Me” and “This Year’s Kisses” also boast eminently likable and not too predictable melodies.

As romantic as it is mirthful, this vivacious flick was well directed by Roy Del Ruth.


One Of The Few Good Movies From The ’80s: “Say Anything”

Cover of "Say Anything"

Cover of Say Anything

A love story, Say Anything (1989) has the distinction of focusing on a teenaged boyfriend (John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler) who is a Great Guy, however unambitious.  The main proof that he’s a Great Guy is his romantic—or chivalrous—prowess—not aimed at just anyone but at the very pretty class valedictorian, Diane Court (Ione Skye).  “I’m good at it,” Lloyd says of his companionship with Diane, but the girl’s father (John Mahoney) deems Lloyd a nice mediocrity and dislikes the relationship.  Ironically, this is despite the detractor’s being in prison for accruing ill-gotten gain off a nursing home.  (How naughty some of these middle-agers are!)

The girls in the film are close to being paragons of virtue, but . . . there’s also Lloyd.  Over and above, SA is a good-hearted picture with inventive story elements and a fun, discerning cast.  A middlebrow worthy.

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe.

The No-Nonsense “John Wick”

John WickRussian criminals in America beat the excrement out of John Wick, a former hit man, kill his beagle puppy, and steal his car.  But Wick is formidable; he arms himself (after all these years) and goes out to settle the score.

To me, an action movie nowadays needs to be fluid, non-arty and halfway-sensible or it will be no blasted good—and this is the kind John Wick (2014) is.  Tidy, not at all sloppy are the direction of Chad Staheslki and the film editing of Elisabet Ronaldsdottier. . . As John Wick, though, Keanu Reeves moves well but is flat, while surprisingly Ian McShane seems out of kilter.  But it matters little since this commercial flick, as John Nolte says on the Big Hollywood site, “knows exactly what it is and what it promises.”

(The photo is of actors in John Wick.)