Saturday, July 24, 2010

"..and then go contemplate the moon..."

It is extremely difficult for me to review Chinatown in a brief manner. I wrote a 20-page critical analysis of this film in college. It's one of those movies that is like a mysterious lover: every time you see it you learn something new about it. It never ceases to amaze and entertain me. But I spare you deep analysis in favor of concise description.

Chinatown is a film noir. The story of a private investigator and the woman who hires him. But it is also so much more. In the grand tradition of film noirs, the mystery it unravels exceeds your expectations and shocks your sensibilities. Polanski delivers a vintage noir that reflects the loss of innocence that permeated America in the 1970s after the free love of the 1960s.
Jack Nicholson is a revelation as Jake Gittes, the slick private investigator who thinks he's seen it all and knows it all. Faye Dunaway is hauntingly vulnerable as the mysterious Evelyn Mulwray, whose husband's rendezvous with a younger woman sets the plot in action. John Huston is powerful and chilling as Noah Cross, Evelyn's father and the former owner of Water & Power. Jake and Evelyn are classic examples of tragic characters, every aspect of their being forcing their fateful path. All characters and even the plot are downright Shakespearian in quality.
The cinematography wraps you in the story like a warm blanket. Polanski uses all of the old film noir visual motifs and peppers the film with foreshadowing of what is to come. The common themes of conspiracy and sex are brought to a whole new level. And remember: in every film noir, sex=power.
The costumes are perfection and even act as character development.
The dialogue is some of the best you'll ever hear. Pay close attention to every word. Every syllable spoken helps to develop and advance the plot, and if you miss even the slightest detail, the eventual twist will be lost on you.
This movie is incredibly successful because it is so very subtle. The details are teased out slowly, but the pacing is perfect. To go into anymore detail is to spoil everything.
Rife with symbolism, metaphor and clever hints, Chinatown is a rich viewing experience. You must see this movie before you die. Twice. You must watch it again to pick up all the little hints and foreshadowing, and appreciate the flawless structure of this film.
Flawless, perfect, classic and sublime. "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

Bitter Moon is a sexy psychological thriller told in flashback. Hugh Grant and the lady from The English Patient are an average married British couple, Nigel and Fiona, sailing to India. They meet a wheelchair bound writer, Oscar (Peter Coyote) and his beautiful young wife, Mimi (Emmanuelle Singer, Polanski's Wife). The tight quarters and lack of activity gives Oscar the opportunity to tell the every dirty detail in the sordid tale of his relationship with Mimi to poor unsuspecting Nigel.
This one is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. While we are spared the reenactment of the most disturbing of Mimi and Nigel's kinky games, the visceral language used to describe it will provide a crystal clear mental image that will have you reaching for the brain bleach. Not a family film to say the least.
The acting is great. Coyote's no-holds-barred narration doesn't take away from the action and Singer is the perfect mix of . Hugh Grant is actually very good because he is required to be who he is- a painfully proper British man who doesn't know what to do with himself in awkward situations.
Taking turns as romantic, playful, sexy, disturbing, sinister, horrifying and thrilling, Bitter Moon defies expectations and explanation. It's a tight little film, full of anticipation and it will keep you guessing right up until the end. It explores the highest high and the lowest lows of the humanity all occurring in one complex and dysfunctional relationship.


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