“Free tissues, sir?”
I glance across the huddled throng of pedestrians to take in the smiling face. I accept the proffered brightly coloured package and nod distractedly.
Sitting amidst the blank office walls I studied the pack of free tissues. It was a slow day. 11am Friday. Nothing much to do.
The neon green packaging was lettered in a disturbingly bold font detailing the following message:
Sick of the sneezing?
Tired of the dripping?
I gave it no more thought and clicked back to the frenzy rating feed.
Work went by and things happened on screen. They gradually changed. Things happened. And then other things happened.
I went to get a coffee. I noticed that the whole office was empty apart from Gordo from Accounts. He was dancing and humming to himself near the photocopier. He was crying. I mumbled “Gordo… are you … ok ?”
He whispered something inaudible so I went back to my desk to get the tissues. I hurriedly opened up the pack and offered him one. He took it and dabbed at his eyes and whispered again. And then the change happened.
Gordo was instantly transformed into a monster. A three headed dragon type thing previously only witnessed in dreams, nightmares, Japanese anime or a sterling combination of all three. Blue flames erupted out of Gordo’s three mouths and that was enough for me. I ran like hell fire.
Out on the street it was mayhem. Upturned cars, burning buses and specific symptoms of death. Thousands of free tissue wrappers lined the road. I could feel a sneeze forming in my snout.
LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/
Wiener Dog review below and at Flickering Myth.
A Weiner-dog (or sausage dog in the UK) is another name for a dachshund, and the variously monikered creature is the common feature in this anthology film of four overarching chapters. Brought to the screen by indie-stalwart Todd Solondz, known for acerbic dark comic dramas Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, Wiener-Dog is an oddly unfulfilling affair. Given the themes of depression and disillusionment, this is not entirely surprising, but the project also has the sense of being slightly under-cooked. Without giving too much away, for many the ending will leave a bitter taste, which again, is not too much of a surprise given Solondz’s previous work. It also leaves questions about how much is shock factor and how much is there for its own sake. In response to this, Solondz could simply show the film’s opening credit sequence which displays a Wiener-Dog alone and dejected in a dog pound cage. It’s not as if things started out too well for the character, is it, he may well ask…
In the first chapter, the lonely dog is momentarily freed from her physical imprisonment by a wealthy suburban family looking to offer their terminally ill son Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) a new playmate to aid his well-being. Stressed out mom (Julie Delpy) is terrified of the dog messing up their home, which leads dad (Tracie Letts) to soon insist that the dog is kept caged in the basement. Remi is just as imprisoned by his illness as Wiener-Dog is, and the two form a bond of companionship that is bitter-sweet to witness. On a rare release from their cages – Wiener-Dog’s physical and Remi’s emotional – they dance around the smartly decorated home with abandon. Unfortunately, a wrongly proffered granola bar leads to Wiener-Dog getting extremely ill and eventually put down.
In the second act, a nurse, Dawn Wiener, (the protagonist of Solondz’s 1995 film Welcome to the Dollhouse, played this time by Greta Gerwig), brings Wiener-Dog back to health and takes her home. She meets up with an ex-schoolmate/bully Brandon (Kieran Culkin)who convinces her to go on a country road trip with him to visit his brother and brother’s partner. This is the most successful part of the film to my mind, with great performances from Gerwig and Culkin bringing a believable and genuine disjointedness to interpersonal relationships. Dawn decides to leave Wiener-Dog at the sweet couple’s Ohio ranch and moves on with Brandon down the interstate and the rest of their lives.
The third act follows Danny DeVito’s bored and unfulfilled screen-writing professor as he tries to get his own creative work together. DeVito is great as the pained Dave Schmerz, someone who for whatever reason never got what he was looking for. Instead of artistic success, he gets the sack from his workplace after getting poor performance ratings from his students. In response to life’s unfair treatment he looks to make an artistic statement in the wildest of ways; by blowing himself and his dog up to smithereens.
Finally, the fourth act features another case of unfulfilled ambition provided by Ellen Burstyn’s crotchety old Nana. Always in the company of her own Wiener-Dog, lovingly named ‘Cancer’, she is visited by her granddaughter (Zosai Mamet) and her boyfriend – a visual artist named Fantasy (Michael Shaw). It soon becomes clear that her welfare is not top of the youngster’s priorities and Nana is eventually left alone again (with Cancer) assessing her own missed opportunities and life choices.
A difficult melange of the serious and sarcastic, Wiener-Dog ultimately comes across as an interesting idea that outstays its welcome, like a dinner guest trying to impress with self-consciously ‘weird’ jokes and depressing scenarios. Worth watching for the second act, which strikes the right balance of profundity and touching humour, but otherwise the film plays out like much of the characters’ lives; somewhat disappointing.
Review of His Girl Friday below and over at Flickering Myth.
His Girl Friday marks something of a turning point in the movies. Howard Hawks’s adaptation of a play (Hold the Front Page) exploring the dynamic world of newspaper journalism took the genius idea of changing the gender of the originally male ace-reporter character and transforming him into Rosalind Russell’s vivacious Hildy Johnson. Her portrayal of a smart and determined journalist trading razor-sharp quips and put-downs with her charismatic ex-boss and ex-husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is a truly wonderful creation, bringing a whole new dimension to fast-talking character driven screwball comedy.
Hoping to draw Johnson back into the non-stop life of the newsroom, Burns offers her the chance of a dramatic scoop of a much-talked about execution. At the same time, he also attempts to create doubts in her mind about her upcoming marriage to the reliable but dour insurance man Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Johnson, displaying an insider’s knowledge of exactly how Burns’s mind works, gives as good as she gets, with a blistering display of rapid-fire argument and counter-argument. The mixture of the dramatic tension and drive of the newsroom is brilliantly balanced with honest , wry and often scathing give and take verbal exchanges, providing an absolute dramatic comedy standout in classic Hollywood.
The new Blu-ray release from Criterion lovingly restores the movie to its full glory, with a massive selection of extras to further highlight the timelessness and overriding appeal of His Girl Friday.
- New high-definition digital restoration of His Girl Friday, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New 4K digital restoration of The Front Page, made from a recently discovered print of director Lewis Milestone’s preferred version, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- New interview with film scholar David Bordwell about His Girl Friday
- Archival interviews with His Girl Friday director Howard Hawks
- Featurettes from 1999 and 2006 about Hawks, actor Rosalind Russell, and the making of His Girl Friday
- Radio adaptation of His Girl Friday from 1940
- New piece about the restoration of The Front Page
- New piece about playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht
- Radio adaptations of the play The Front Page from 1937 and 1946
- His Girl Friday trailers
- Plus: An insert featuring essays on His Girl Friday and The Front Page by film critics Farran Smith Nehme and Michael Sragow
Review of Black Orpheus over at Flickering Myth and below…
Featuring an energetic burst of colour, vibrancy, music and dancing, Marcel Camus’ exhilarating take on the Ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is a pure joy to experience. Winner of the 1959 Academy Award for best foreign language feature as well as the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Black Orpheus (Orfeo Negro) was a huge success and created a surge in popularity for the Brazilian music style the Bossa nova. The film is filled with beautifully choreographed dance pieces and the whole picture is one of festivity and party. This enchanting energy translates wonderfully well to Blu-ray, with Criterion issuing a restored and enhanced release completely worthy of this dream of a film.
Focusing on the favelas of Rio and the upcoming famous carnaval, the film tells the story of Orfeo (Bruno Mello), a local bus driver and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) who arrives in Rio on the run from a man who is pursuing her. Orfeo, also an accomplished singer/poet and something of a ladies man, falls for Eurydice immediately and vows to protect her. In the process, he risks the anger of his quick tempered fiancee Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), a woman easily provoked and thankfully for Orfeo, also easily distracted. An even greater risk to the potential happiness of the two new lovebirds is the individual stalking Eurydice, portrayed in the film literally as Death himself. Any one who knows the original myth – and countless tragic love stories the world over – can be pretty sure this isn’t going to end too well.
But even with this figure of Death hanging around though, there is nothing remotely bleak about the picture. It is firmly optimistic, as even with the inevitability of death, life, and the dance always continues. Life affirming is a phrase seemingly created for such a film as this. Eminently beautiful and profound.
Criterion have put together a whole host of features for this release including:
New restored high definition digital transfer.
Optional English dubbed soundtrack
Archival interviews with Marcel Camus and Marpessa Dawn
New interviews with Brazilian cinema scholar Robert Stam, Jazz historian Gary Giddins and Brazilian author Ruy Castro
Looking for Black Orpheus documentary about the film’s cultural roots in Brazil and its continued relevance today.
The birds are not singing for you
The birds are not singing for World Peace, an end to oppression or a return to the Godhead
The birds are not singing for workers rights, libertarian values, social mobility or true sexual equality
The birds are not singing for a slap-up lunch, a boozy weekend away or a 2 for 1 deal at the supper club
The birds are not singing for hacked elections, the virus in your hard-drive or the End of all of these Days