Since I watch far more movies than I actually write about, it is occasionally difficult to decide which to feature since I have neither the time nor the inclination to do justice to all of the interesting ones. So occasionally, like today, I shall touch on several recently viewed films without necessarily saying all that might or should be said about them:
The Great Gatsby (1949): Watching this film for perhaps the third time, it occurred to me what can be lost when classic movies are remade. With the appearance of the well-known Redford/Farrow version back in the 70s, the studio did its best to suppress this earlier (and I think better) movie which is no longer shown on the box nor available on DVD. Granted it is not in glorious technicolor nor as lavishly appointed, but it is a wonderful and now nearly forgotten film which gave Alan Ladd one of his very best roles. He is so very believable as the boy who came from nowhere to great riches, something that one has trouble believing of the rather suave Redford, and there are numerous flashbacks tracing his earlier history. Shelly Winters in her thinner days makes a fine tramp from the filling station and the rest of the supporting cast is top-notch. I will however concede that Betty Field in the role of Daisy is just that little bit too old and insufficiently good-looking for the part.
Burn After Reading (2008): I seldom go to the cinema to see recent releases, but as a big Coen Brothers fan, I was keen to see their most recent effort. Working once more to their own script, the film has much in common with their earlier movies, without necessarily being quite as good as some. As respected film-makers they are blessed with a super A-list cast of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and Richard Jenkins, to say nothing of many recognizable supporting players, but this cast is sacrificed somewhat in the name of silliness. The contrived plot is on many levels irrelevant, since the main focus is on the unpleasantness, paranoia, and idiocy (Pitt in particular in an amusing dum-dum turn) of the various players. It did have a fair sprinkling of amusing lines and situations, although perhaps it is somewhat telling that the funniest of these involved a sex machine which Clooney builds.
The Saddest Music in the World (2003): The Canadian writer-director Guy Maddin is very much an acquired taste, but it is always worthwhile viewing his films, if only to comment yet again at how very weird they are. This one is set in a brewery-cum-bar in 1933, ruled over by Isabella Rossellini, whose legs were amputated -- at least one of them erroneously -- some years before. She comes up with the idea of holding a contest open to musicians from around the world to find the saddest music of all which brings together, among others, her former lover, his father who drunkenly carried out the surgery, and his estranged brother who has moved to Serbia where he mourns his dead son and missing wife -- played by Maria de Medeiros. In an attempt to atone for his earlier deed, the father creates a pair of false glass legs -- filled with beer! -- for Rossellini. The film is shot on scratchy black and white stock reminiscent of very early silents and even the colour sections screech primitive techniques. Despite all of this the movie is so unusual and on many levels funny, with a clever use of musical standards, that the viewer is left applauding this very strange effort and wondering how on earth Maddin manages to eke out a living with his determinedly unpopular approach.