I can’t say I have ever loved the work of Jon Favreau. I watched and moderately enjoyed his early career. I am one of those people who was confounded by the adverse reaction to Made. I think it was one of the few times I laughed at Vince Vaughn. His cringy dumb guy who thinks he is smart schtick made me laugh. I never found his studio pictures like Elf, Zathura, or Iron Man very remarkable. It could undoubtedly be an age thing when it comes to those pictures. So when Chef originally came out, it zoomed past my radar with zero interest in watching it. The world would keep spinning. However, my brother and patron Matt chose this for his April pick, so I sat down and watched the thing.
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) Written by Alan Trustman Directed by Norman Jewison
In the late 1960s, filmmaking was undergoing a transformation. It was happening both in the counter-culture, becoming prominent in the content but also in technological changes. At Expo 67, the World’s Fair held in Montreal, a pair of films showed off the revolutionary split-screen technique pioneered by Christopher Chapman. Chapman was a Canadian-born cinematographer that created the multi-dynamic image technique or “the Brady Bunch effect.” This allowed him to composite multiple film images into grids of varying sizes. This allowed a single scene to be shown from various angles and character perspectives. After Norman Jewison saw the films in exhibition at Expo 67, he wanted to use it in his new movie The Thomas Crown Affair, seeing it as useful when showing the heist scenes.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965) Written by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern Directed by Norman Jewison
Norman Jewison was not the first director to work on this production. Edward G. Robinson wasn’t the first choice for the main antagonist either. But through a series of circumstances & disagreements during filming, the film changed and became something else. Sam Peckinpah was the first director in charge of The Cincinnati Kid. Apparently, the producers believe Peckinpah “vulgarized” the film and fired him after a few days of shooting. Spencer Tracey had pulled out due to poor health, and Robinson stepped in. Peckinpah had planned to shoot the picture in black & white due to its Depression setting. That was changed to color when Jewison was brought on board. Would the Peckinpah version have been better? We’ll never really know but what we did end up with was a very enjoyable movie about poker.
Her Smell (2018) Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
I don’t think I have felt this sort of whiplash on my feelings about a filmmaker in a long while. When Alex Ross Perry is writing about literary people (Listen Up Philip), he’s nailing it. After watching Her Smell, I am curious about how much research he did when writing this picture. It felt like a cliched musician biopic and was absolutely grating by the end. It does have high points, but overall, I was pleased when the movie was over because it was so unenjoyable to watch. This is one where my wife had a lot to say and articulated some of the things I disliked so intensely about the movie—more on that in a bit.
Listen Up Philip (2014) Written & Directed by Alex Perry Ross
Filmmaker Alex Ross Perry continued his interesting development with this marked improvement from The Color Wheel. Noam Baumbach and Wes Anderson’s influences are even more apparent here; however, Perry does manage to keep his picture from feeling derivative. Thematically, he’s approaching John Cassavettes territory without the earnestness and more overtly toxic male figure. Ross walks a tightrope where he can’t make his main character so unlikeable we lose all sympathy for him, and he does this by letting the narrative shift to different character’s perspectives throughout the story. The result is a picture I enjoyed quite a bit, helped by having seasoned actors in the roles.
Early Summer (1951) Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
As the second part of Ozu’s Noriko trilogy, Early Summer is a more complex examination of post-War Japanese lives across three generations of a family. Setsuko Hara returns to play another character named Noriko, like in Late Spring. Chishū Ryū, who played the father in Late Spring, plays the eldest brother in Early Summer. Once again, a young woman living with her parents and being pressured into marriage is at the forefront of the plot. This time the story has more layers and humor, always remaining tender and empathetic with all its characters.
Late Spring (1949) Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Japan was in the middle of a significant cultural transition when Late Spring was in production. American forces occupied the country in the wake of World War II and aggressively fought back against the Japanese’s traditional feudalistic customs. One of these was arranged marriages, and it was rigidly enforced in Japanese popular culture by Americans. I don’t think Americans today fully comprehend how much we interfered in Japan’s development after the atrocity of dropping two nuclear bombs on them. Yasujirō Ozu’s body of work was all about examining Japanese traditions in the context of his own time, so blanket censorship like this proved to be a major obstacle in his way.
Early Spring (1956) Written by Kōgo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Since I became deeply interested in film & filmmakers, Yasujirō Ozu’s name has been one that has come across my radar time & time again. Anytime a piece of criticism would talk about Japanese cinema’s great directors, it was Akira Kurosawa & Ozu. For whatever reason, I’d never sat down to watch an Ozu film, my list of movies piling up while ignoring those listed as essential. Not much about Ozu’s early life stands out, the son of a fertilizer salesman, living a relatively Japanese middle-class life in the 1910s. Things get interesting as he became a young adult starting with his expulsion from his boarding school dormitory after being caught writing a love letter to another boy. While Ozu’s sexuality was never confirmed before his death in 1963, he seemed to at least be questioning who he was attracted to.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975) Written by John Huston & Gladys Hill Directed by John Huston
In a 180 from the bleakness of Fat City comes this large-scale adventure film with a message. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s novella, The Man Who Would Be King was a story that Huston had wanted to make for twenty years. I assume Humphrey Bogart was initially in mind for one of these characters as the themes and plot feel very similar to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This is a picture about treasure hunters going off into a land foreign to them only to learn that their quest for a fortune is doomed from the start. I don’t think there is another director who could have made this picture as perfectly as Huston.
Fat City (1972) Written by Leonard Gardner Directed by John Huston
After directing The Misfits, John Huston continued his work with Montgomery Clift in Freud: the Secret Passion. Huston was an avid supporter of psychotherapy, and the film is narrated by the director. It’s a somewhat Messianic portrayal of Freud as enlightening humanity. Huston would adapt the Tennessee Williams’ play Night of the Iguana in 1964, followed by The Bible: In the Beginning in 1966. That latter film produced by the legendary Dino de Laurentis was one of the last big overblown Biblical epics of the era. Huston appeared in the picture as Noah. These movies were not well received by critics & audiences, which was disappointing. Fat City would turn the tide as the director surveyed the changes happening in American cinema and adapted his style.