Lawrence of Arabia

(David Lean, 1962)

alone, on DVD at 1681 3rd Ave., 1/4/11


Sweeping, seductive, and thrillingly amoral — a film that earns every last minute of its imposing length.  Peter O’Toole brings a wonderfully alien quality to the role of Lawrence, a man deeply mysterious to friends, foes, and himself.  O’Toole never quite seems in the same world as the other actors, and that’s what makes him so riveting to watch.  Has any film ever had a more enigmatic protagonist?  The cinematography is the movie’s most obvious treasure, and “beautiful” doesn’t begin to do it justice; it’s thoughtful, ravishing, and often gently surreal.  But the dialogue is extraordinary too — gem after gem of lovingly compressed meaning.  Many of Lawrence’s best lines are simply the word “Yes,” delivered by O’Toole not merely as an affirmation, but as a hushed confession.  Other lines use a few more words, but are equally charged with significance.  When asked if he plans to cross the Sinai desert, Lawrence replies: “Why not?  Moses did.”  He also gives himself a slogan of sorts, in the form of the stirring — yet cleverly undermined — “Nothing is written.”  And then there are quick little exchanges like this one:

BRIGHTON: “Sir, we can’t just do nothing.”

ALLENBY: “Why not?  It’s usually best.”

Accomplished on every level, yet strange enough to belie its reputation as the Epic to End All Epics, Lawrence richly deserves its exalted place in cinematic history.

Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 9:52 am  Leave a Comment  

127 Hours

(Danny Boyle, 2010)

alone, City Cinemas (86th St.), 2/4/11


Hallucinations are boring.  When they’re not sexy or funny, they’re really boring.  127 Hours would be a better movie if it had stuck to the stark details of its harrowing story; every time it lapses into a dream sequence, we lose the plot, and we lose interest.  Buried did a much better job with even more stringent restrictions, simply by trusting the power of its story.  Also, this movie keeps teasing the audience about that inevitable arm-cutting moment — Is it now?  Is it now?  FOOLED YOU! — which is an odd choice for a movie whose title pretty much gives away at what point the arm goes.  James Franco is very good, carrying the whole movie without a lot of fuss, and 127 Hours isn’t bad, exactly; it’s just gimmicky when it should be assured, cute when it should be profound, and sentimental when it should be letting Aron Ralston’s heroism speak for itself.

Published in: on February 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Purple Rose of Cairo

(Woody Allen, 1985)

with Ellen Mezzera, on DVD at 118 W. 109th, 2/1/11


There’s something distant, and also something static, about Woody Allen’s movies.  In this case, it’s partly the use of music; even when things are really happening, the jaunty, jazzy score encourages us not to pay too much attention.  The plot is sweet and romantic, but there’s a certain coldness in the storytelling, so it’s hard to fully engage.  It’s a familiar dilemma for the narrative artist: all too often, the cost of omniscience is empathy.

Published in: on February 5, 2011 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment