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Category Archives: what we watched this week

Panic on the Streets

Not a must see. But an enjoyable volume in the tome of Richard Widmark. For the ultimate in Widmark, watch Pickup on South Street, it really is the best.

Historically, its hard to watch a film by Elia Kazan without thinking about his HUAC Testimony. Fair or not, there it is. (In fact, it’s not fair with this film, as the HUAC Testimony was still ahead of Kazan.) A lot of times, when his characters are speechifying, it feels like him justifying his actions. (If an argument for autuership needed to be made, this commonality could be the starting place.)

But there is something very recommendable about this film. For the most part, the film doesn’t seem too interest in the actual plot. It goes through the motions, but its heart doesn’t seem there. The heart does seem to be in the little pedestrian scenes between Widmark’s character and his wife. These scenes are fantastic, and a nice prelude to the greatness in Kazan later films.

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Justified (Season 1, Episodes 3-5) –

Busy work. It carries such a negative connotation in most circumstances, but not in acting. You ever watch an actor performing and think to yourself, ‘Man he’s good, but there’s something wrong.’

I bet you its because they’re just standing there, not interacting with the world.

‘Fixer’, the 3rd episode of the season, is an excellent example of good busy work. Three scenes in particular:

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What we’re watching this week:

Justified (Season 1, Episodes 1&2)

As previously written, I love Timothy Olyphant. Absolutely love him. And this show has done nothing to change my view on him. I think I like him here more than in Deadwood, not the show mind you, but him. (He has more to do here than in Deadwood.)

Justified just hasn’t seemed to hit its stride yet. It’s still drawing its characters, which is fine by me. It reminds me a lot of Sons of Anarchy, it seems to be using the first season to find its way. Or its just waiting for Walton Goggins’ character to get healthy enough to start some shit. Can’t tell which.

Party Down (Season 1, Episodes 1-3)

I think that when I have children, and if they decide to become actors, I will think of this show and pray this isn’t what they do for a day job. The disillusionment that these characters suffer from, while either chasing impossible dreams or giving up on said dreams, is unfathomable.

In Party Down, though, that disillusionment is why these characters are funny. They seem resigned, as if they all know they’re going nowhere (except Ken Marino, wich makes him infinitely more depressing), but that isn’t stopping them from trying. They’re misguided attempts at success are fantastic. They’re infighting is great. The burning American flag is also very fitting. (It makes sense if you see it.)

Thank god this is a comedy, cause this show would be unwatchable otherwise.

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Doctor Who (created by Russell T. Davies) –

It’s good to have the Doctor.

And while, as of yet, I’ve never seen an episode of the first incarnation of the good Doctor (1963-1989), I must say that I truly enjoy Christopher Eccleston‘s portrayal of the Doctor. There’s a certain mania that he gives the role, where the feeling of loss and time are weight against the perseverance. It’s also refreshing to see Eccleston in this role, as he has had his share of playing the baddies, and heavies. (28 Days Later, Shallow Grave)

What is somewhat fascinating, is that this show that could be weight down by moralizing (it has its share) and romanticizing (covered there as well), is not. It’s fun.

(Any show that deals with time travel, and changing the coarse of history, could easily devolve into a pulpit show. Something I fear an American remake of this show would latch onto.)

And that’s, in greater part, due to Eccleston. It’s a mad show, he’s mad in it. But it’s not hands in the air, flailing around sort of mad. It’s an intense, intelligent, don’t-look-back-’cause-something-might-be-behind-you sort of mad.

(I will miss him, now that he’s gone.)

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That Hamilton Woman (dir. Alexander Korda) was shot during the second World War, and is obviously a propaganda film. The most successful thing it propagates is the importance of remembering Vivian Leigh (Lady Hamilton) and her talents.

It can be said about the film that it hasn’t aged well, that is outside of Vivian Leigh. There are actors that seem always fresh, always contemporary, Gene Hackman comes to mind.  Leigh, whose body of work is mostly unseen by me, here has a presence that would be as modern here in 2009 as it was in 1941. She is permanently present.

As for the film itself, the majority of it is an equal mix common melodrama and Ra-Ra patriotism. The patriotism is to be expected, as it was made to help morale in the British citizens in their fight against Germany. Speeches made by Lord Nelson have as much to do with the threat of Napoleon (who he was fighting) as Hitler. They carry the same sentiment, but not the power, of Paul Heinrid’s Victor Laszlo in Casablanca.

That might have to do with Laurence Olivier’s performance as Lord Nelson. Olivier’s Nelson comes across arrogant and self-important. A man consumed by his work, yet strangely aloof from his situation. There is a way for that to be engaging, dashing even, but not here.

Lord Nelson, in this performance, is not, in any way, accessible. It’s hard to see why someone would fall in love with him.

Which brings us to an interesting conundrum of the film: Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton love affair. The film is a romance. And one drawn from the classic archetype, the one where the lovers find themselves in loveless relationships, therefore its justified that they enter into an affair. It’s for their hearts-sake that they endeavor into this forbidden love. The film banks on us wanting them to be together. But should adultery be rooted for?

The film chooses an interesting, but unsuccessful, method of articulating its opinions of the lovers.

Though the majority of the film is crammed with sense of love and admiration of the what Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton were able to accomplish together, there is an unnecessary device employed by the film. The body of the film is bookended by Lady Hamilton in poverty. As if poverty, is what she deserves. There is no reason for Director Alexander Korda to include these scenes in the film, unless he wants the audience to feel that Lady Hamilton’s being punished. Wouldn’t it be enough to show her broken hearted by the news that her betrothed is dead?

‘No, that is not enough’, the film defiantly says. ‘She should be punished for being a woman of a frivolous nature. True, she was a woman who helped the British navy defeat Napoleon, but she sullied a Legendary soldier’s legacy.’

This is why the film is confusing, and ultimately unsuccessful. It plays both sides of the fence. Lord Nelson dies a hero, Lady Hamilton dies a pauper.*

Without the opening and closing sequences, Lady Hamilton is human: full of faults and issues, but also one that is trying to be happy, rising from abject poverty to that of station of importance. (A very American ideal, by the way.)

The film counters this by presenting her as destitute. The film would have been better served if they had just printed the legend. Heroes have no need for facts.

*This is factually correct. He did die at sea, and she did die in the gutter. But also she had at least three children with different men, was a prostitute and was rather fat by the time she met Lord Nelson. So, the question is: Why choose to include only one of these facts, unless you wanted to make a point about her?

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