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Tag Archives: Tom Ford

Weekly Mishmash: July 4-10

Belle Epoque (1992). An enjoyable if very slight comedy from Spain: on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, an AWOL soldier (Jorge Sanz) takes refuge in the home of a man with four beautiful daughters. As the film progresses, each daughter experiences a brief infatuation with the nonplussed man. This is a breezy, wistful film with an attractive cast and some gorgeous scenery. Although there are some deep scenes involving religion and war, mostly it serves as a nostalgic travelogue. The characters exist in a turbulent time and place, but one never fears for their safety or well being. Not bad, but I can’t believe it won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet was also nominated that year, and it’s a superior film in every way. Penelope Cruz plays the family’s youngest daughter here, winsome if not yet a fully developed actor at this point.
Brainstorm (1983). As an avid watcher of Entertainment Tonight during its early years, I remember being glued to the TV set whenever Mary Hart or whoever reported on Brainstorm‘s troubled production after the death of its star, Natalie Wood. Since then I always wanted to catch that movie (out of curiosity more than anything else), and so it got recorded during Turner Classic Movies’ Wood tribute last month. This is quite an interesting movie, but I can see why it flopped after finally getting released two years after cameras stopped rolling. Douglas Trumbull’s film has an intriguing sci-fi-cum-domestic drama angle, but in the end it’s too dreary and heavy handed. Wood plays the estranged wife of scientist Christopher Walken, who is developing a machine that can record and play back human thoughts and experiences. The helmet-like computer is hastily rushed into production, causing myriad problems. The government intervenes when they see its value as a torture device — which is strange since when I saw the gaudy gold tape they used, I saw its value as Christmas gift wrapping. I loved the outdated technology on display here, which must have looked out of place even in 1983 (really — things changed so much, one can tell the film was made circa 1980-81). Another neat angle lies in the photography trick Trumbull uses: the film takes on squarish and TV-like proportions most of the time, going into dazzling widescreen whenever the rapturous device is being used. As for the acting, Walken and Louise Fletcher as a fellow scientist are both very good; Wood is somewhat wasted in a nothing role (although she does play a product designer; how often does one see product designers on film?).
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008). Period comedy of Britain in the ’30s, fizzy and nicely designed but in the end not very absorbing. Based on a novel of the era, the film follows a plain, recently unemployed woman (Frances McDormand) who takes an uncharacteristic leap of faith when she wrangles herself into the household of a dizzy American actress (Amy Adams) — and in a single day, her life is transformed. This had the makings of a cute, inoffensive comedy, but mostly I didn’t understand why this film came to be. The source material seems too slight to resonate with a modern audience (adding the spectre of WWII approaching doesn’t help), and I never once cared for Adams’ plight with three different men vying for her attention. And what is Adams’ ditsy and moderately talented character doing living in a huge, fabulously furnished apartment, anyhow? I loved Adams here, but McDormand seems largely miscast (I could never buy her as a reserved British lady). The project tries so awfully hard to entertain, only to ultimately get buried by its own forcefulness.
A Single Man (2009). Tom Ford’s lusciously photographed meditation on love and loss was a critical hit last year; I can understand the heaps of praise. Although Ford’s almost fetishistic love of early ’60s design seems to get in the way of the story, he does manage to get some terrific performances from Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. It’s actually quite an accomplishment for a first time filmmaker (not to mention first time screenwriter, as well). Firth is flawless as a British academic transplanted to a circa 1961 Los Angeles, dealing with the shattering loss of his lover while attempting to move on with his life as a literary professor. My favorite scenes are the ones with Firth and Julianne Moore as an old friend, a fellow Brit who is having abandonment issues of her own. They’re great together, easily making up for the somewhat affected, TV commercial-like techniques Ford uses throughout the film. Presenting Firth in his orderly Midcentury Modern home with oh-so-perfect minimalistic decor, it’s as if Ford wants the character so hemmed in that suicide is the only solution to his plight. The film also takes on an interesting element with the color changing saturation whenever Firth feels happy, nostalgic or lustful, especially noticeable whenever a curious student played by Nicholas Hoult enters the scene. Good film, and as a designer I can appreciate Ford’s object lust — even a common pencil sharpener becomes an item of beauty here. (p.s. with his squinty eyes and haughty demeanor, I can only surmise that Ford’s next project will somehow involve Renee Zelwegger).