Archive for October, 2015

GRAND HOTEL (1932)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2015 by cdascher

GrandHotelFilmPosterBerlin is my favorite city on earth – bar none, period, the end. That’s where this blockbuster film takes place. With an illustrious cast full of stars, including John Barrymore, Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford, the story is based on the 1929 novel Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum. The movie is incredibly engaging, centering on the comings and goings of a group of people in a large, bustling hotel. There is a lot to follow, and the pace is one of the film’s greatest selling points for me. Barrymore plays Baron Felix von Geigern, a man who has lost his fortune and occasionally engages in illegal activity to make ends meet. He befriends many others at the hotel, including Otto Kringelein, a sweet gentle soul in the final days of his life due to illness, who has never lived the kind of lavish lifestyle he adopts at the Grand Hotel, and Flaemmchen, an attractive young woman who makes a living as a stenographer. Geigern and Flaemmchen develop a flirtatious rapport, but that changes when he meets Grusinskaya, Garbo’s character, while attempting to rob her.

Grusinskaya is a depressed ballerina, who can’t bear to endure the stage or her fans in many of the scenes. Garbo convincingly delivers the memorable line “I want to be alone” with appropriate weight and melodrama. The Baron is overcome when he meets her, while in her room for a break-in and attempt at larceny. The two fall madly in love and begin making plans to run away together – plans that seem quite absurd considering the amount of time they have known one another, but which the viewer can buy into because of the actors’ performances.

My sources tell me Grand Hotel was the movie that established the format wherein various strangers are brought together and their various stories interweave to make a whole. With its polyphonic texture, I suppose we could see it as a granddaddy to American Graffiti, Traffic, Wet Hot American Summer, and every other movie lacking a single identifiable main plot. Continue reading

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THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2015 by cdascher

french“We had to destroy the town in order to save it.” That quote, supposedly by a U.S. Army officer (and slightly distorted in popular retelling) encapsulated how many Americans came to feel about the Vietnam War. In 1971, President Nixon declared a war of another sort- a “war on drugs”. Four decades in, even mainstream thinkers have openly questioned whether the War on Drugs has, on balance, done more ill than good; whether we have been “destroying towns in order to save them,” so to speak. Fittingly, that same year this war was declared, the Best Picture winner was a crime drama about heroin smugglers and the police hunting them down.

Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) and his partner “Cloudy” (Scheider), are NYC narcotics detectives. When they observe a fellow at a bar throwing cash around and socializing with known narcotics figures, they suspect a large transaction is imminent and at Popeye’s insistence, they investigate. This backs up their suspicions and despite lukewarm support from their superiors, and Popeye’s sometimes erratic behavior, they continue to pursue this connection between a minor local criminal and several French men staying in town.

This was an engaging film, but I can’t help but notice there weren’t any characters of note who were women. I kept waiting for there to be a little more development of Angie, the young wife of Sal – the fellow throwing cash around at a bar. She wears a wig when they are out galavanting, and we learn that she is only 19. She seems savvy, and I thought there was an opportunity for the filmmakers to tell us a bit more about how she got where she is in the story. However, as Mouse pointed out, we don’t really get much on background with any of the characters. That may be the case, but at least the men have more time on screen. Continue reading