DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

All That Jazz

The influence of Fellini’s 8 ½ is clear in Bob Fosse’s own memoir-like fictional film. The story of a theatre director under immense pressure to make his next show a hit, while under the usual pressures of the business, told with a mixture of fantasy and realism is cut from the same mould as Fellini’s great picture. The creative evolution of Fosse’s work from 'Sweet Charity', 'Cabaret' and 'Lenny' seems to culminate in this overly ambitious yet invigorating explosion of cinema.

All That Jazz (1979) dir. Bob Fosse
Starring: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking

By Alan Bacchus

As co-written by Robert Alan Aurthur and Fosse, All That Jazz seems to translate the period after shooting Lenny and the staging of his famed Broadway production of Chicago into this delirious and existential examination of his own life. Bob Gideon (Scheider) is the Fosse hero, a director/choreographer introduced in one of the film’s renowned set pieces, the cattle call casting of his dancers. Fosse stages a brilliant sequence which starts off as 400 or so dancers on stage performing the choreographed routines while Fosse and his producer toil over the selections. The sequence lasts a number of minutes and immediately anchors us in the piss and vinegar backstage dealings of real life Broadway.

Clearly we’re not in a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland picture, Fosse’s Broadway is an all-consuming ego-driven fountain of creativity. As Fosse finds his way through the prep, his estranged relationship with the nine-year old daughter, his ex-wife, his philandered girlfriend and his Dexedrine habit already burden the talented creator. But Gideon miraculously manages to succeed. Unfortunately his heart cannot keep up and suffers a heart attack requiring bypass surgery and ultimately death.

All this is portrayed through the eyes of one of Broadway and cinema’s masters of dance choreography. A number of stunning set pieces, in addition to the opening cattle call number, titillate us with the best of Fosse’s trademark style. As with the convention used in Cabaret dance numbers are written into the reality of the narrative, as opposed to moving outside reality to express characters’ emotions.

The employment of Fellini’s frequent lenser Giuseppe Rotunno also signifies Fosse’s desire to make his own version of 8 ½. And the visual aspect of this picture is more in the forefront than any of his previous films. And it’s perhaps best example of the marriage of dance choreography and editing ever put to film. While the traditional convention of shooting dance is holding on full shots of the actors head to toe in long takes, Fosse compliments his unique punchy groove stylings with carefully chosen close-ups of hands, feet and heads enhancing the rhythm of the choreography.

There’s no doubt Fosse falls into muddled trap of self-indulgence and excess in the final act, specifically the garish final number featuring Ben Vereen which dates itself as a product of the disco/glam rock era, but as pure eye candy the sequence is a marvel and doesn’t tarnish the thrill of this career-defining picture.

***½

All That Jazz is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection

Friday, 22 August 2014

Insomnia

While Erik Skjoldbjærg built upon the established cinematic traditions of procedural crime thrillers, in the light of the recent trend of atmospheric crime procedurals such as True Detective, The Killing, Prisoners, 1997’s Insomnia, in hindsight looks to be a direct aesthetic antecedent  for these other more successful pictures/series.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Pickpocket

The Bresson brand of neo-realism is perhaps exemplified best with this unconventional character study of a Parisian thief desperately in need to self-fulfillment. Remarkably Bresson's seemingly simple approach uncluttered by the elements of traditional cinematic narrative allows the master filmmaker to create as much uncompromising tension as anything in Alfred Hitchcocks's filmography.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Noah

After rebooting his career with two small scale earth-bound pictures, The Wrestler and Black Swan, to my surprise Aronofsky launched back into big idea cinema with the previously unfilmed biblical story of Noah and the Great Flood. It’s a strange mix of epic swagger and Hollywood heroism and the intellectual cinematic gymnastics which Aronofsky has been known for. Ultimately it’s mildly rewarding and nothing of the intense feelings of emotion he made his name for in his more successful pictures.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Amistad

Steven Spielberg’s slavery drama exemplifies the late-career inconsistencies of the hitmaker. Startling moments of dramatic intensity and eye-popping depiction of the horrors of slavery are marred by heavy-handed preachiness. Thus, like many films of the post 80’s era we can admire the film but never feel fully satisfied by it in the end.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Crocodile Dundee

The story of the rustic Aussie cowboy Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee character brought to the vacuous Manhattan lifestyle in the height of Reagan-era 80’s decadence milks every ounce of comedy and charm from this scenario. It was an unlikely megahit in 1986, but even today the film remains highly watchable thanks to the easy-going naturalism and uber chemistry from its two newbie stars Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Breaking the Waves

Von Trier’s extravagantly conceived neo-realist fable seems now like a monumentally significant film in the cinema of the new millennium. Laying out Von Trier’s grandiosly tragic and melodramatic journey of her golden heart heroine under the handheld griminess of Von Trier’s shaky documentary style creates a strange but inspired cinematic experience unlike anything that came before it. Not only did it jump start the Dogme movement but legitimized the lo-fi aesthetic for all filmmakers to come.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Riot in Cell Block 11

Cinematic tough guy Don Siegel first exemplified himself as a director with vision with this razor sharp prison thriller, at once as a first-rate claustrophobic thriller but also as a critique of the inhumane conditions in US prison system at the time.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Considering the massive overkilled marketing push behind this film, the inspired mix of absurdest humour and sharp satire make Anchorman 2 a genuinely pleasant surprise. The almost 10 years between the first film and this one is worth the wait. While the character of lovable buffoon Ron Burgundy and his outlandish gags and set pieces are finely tuned, it’s the film’s sharp critique of the commodization of modern news which sets the film apart from other money-making franchise ventures, such as 'The Hangover'.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Agony and the Ecstasy

With Easter coming around, this also means the season of a historical epics – both in theatres and home video. Agony and the Ecstasy was one of the bigger films of its day, a 70mm showcase, telling the story of the Michelangelo and his tempestuous relationship with Pope Julius I who commissioned the surly artist to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As usual with this kind of the film, the superb production value carries the weight over a dull story and hammy characterizations of historical figures.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

What a pleasure to see at age 70 Martin Scorsese, into the latter stage of his career, deliver one more sprawling crime picture, in this case a film which acts like a capper to a trilogy including Goodfellas and Casino, three pictures connected by the director's blistering cinematic pace, it's fascinating viewpoint into three segments of high stakes crime and corruption and it's sympathetic portrait of three contemptible characters. Once again Scorsese succeeds.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

George Washington

David Gordon Green’s dreamy feature debut renowned for its swath of Terrence Malick affectations feels even more warm and inviting fourteen years later. The consciously lazy narrative of a group of rural Texan kids, black and white, co-habitating happily, and growing up impervious to the pretty bleak squalor around them, is the functional foundation for Green’s lush tonal aesthetic. Essentially the film is made up of small moments of infectious and hypnotising beauty, moments and scenes which don’t always coalesce together fluidly, but collectively whet our palette through its nostalgic filter of childlike naivete.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s already celebrated picture consciously manages to find a medium ground between the intimate and avant-garde roots of his earlier pics and the broad historical canvas of American slavery. As devastating it is to see slavery depicted on screen he never seems to match the level of visceral impact as his debut Hunger. Thus, however powerful and moving there’s a feeling he’s tamed himself for the sake of American and Hollywood acceptability.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A Brief History of Time

The story and science of renowned astro-physicist Stephen Hawking was given the Errol Morris cinematic treatment in A Brief History of Time in 1991. Morris’ ability to probe deep into unique idiosyncratic characters is put to the ultimate test in Hawking, the wheelchair bound genius with no way of communicating other than his hand controlled clicker and computer-translated voice. And yet through his inert facade emerges perhaps the most enlightening character study he’s ever made.