I find Marlene Dietrich to be a fascinating personality. Her American films usually find her cast as a sexual creature verging on vamp, playing men to get what she can off them. Dietrich’s roles in later films have her as more of a sympathetic villianness, where the audience sees her in greater shades of grey. I though it might be interesting to go back and watch the film that really introduced her to US audiences, “The Blue Angel.”
“The Blue Angel” (1930) exists in two versions: the original German language release and an English language version featuring the same cast. The English version was thought to be lost for many years until a print was found mislabeled in a German archive. I’m reviewing the German version because of its availability and i find the performances to be a little better.
Josef von Sternberg‘s film has Dietrich as a restaurant cabaret singer who’s tough personality and sleepy eyes softens the heart of prudish professor Emil Jannings, leading to his self destruction. Sternberg frames shots to include objects, actions, or shadows that offer their own story or character foreshadowing. You can tell where he learned his craft, as hints of silent German Expressionism add to the drama. Jannings was one of the biggest stars of German silent cinema, known around the world for his dramatic leading characters. In “The Blue Angel” you can literally see his character’s hard icy manner melt as he falls in love with Dietrich.
There is so much history surrounding this film that it fills entire books. I’ll just say that the relations between characters and social commentary that can be drawn from it make and endlessly interesting and entertaining movie.
I do enjoy James Bond. Ian Flemming’s books or the continuous line of films, I’m always interested in the historic time capsule of society and politics. When it comes to spoofs, knock-offs, and inspirations it’s mainly a case of hit or miss.
“OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” (2006) is a throwback to the Sean Connery style James Bond, French style. Based on a novel, writer/director Michel Hazanavicius brings to life the story of a self-absorbed and socially unaware French secret agent Hubert in the person of Jean Dujardin. Hubert is dashing and capable, held in high esteem by his superiors and women, but the audience is witness to his large ego and bemusement at the world around him.
The film feels period authentic to the early 1960s with excellent costumes and sets, right down to contemporary stock footage and automobile back plates. Political events also bring a strong link to the past bringing the thought that these events may have possibly happened.
“Cairo, Nest of Spies” is a French comedy and I feel that some of the jokes are culture specific. Not to mention that some of Hubert lack of cultural awareness and political uncorrectness made me a little uncomfortable. But overall its a well made film with good performances. I wouldn’t be too upset if I didn’t see it again, but I’ll still turn it on to lust after Dujardin.
Its hard for a foreign film to do well in the United States market. First they have to get a distribution agreement from a domestic organization, then rely on that distributor to market their film in such a way that it attracts cinemas and audiences. Writer-director-actor Stephen Chow managed to get a US release trifecta with “Shaolin Soccer” (2002), “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004), and “CJ7” (2008). Of these, “Kung Fu Hustle” was perhaps the biggest success, playing in nearly 3,000 screens across the united states.
“Kung Fu Hustle” is a comedy, action movie, self reflection, and love story set in 1940s China. Chow delivers his message clearly and entertainingly, ensuring through his triple duties that focus is never lost. The cast is ever entertaining and believable, even in cartoon-like moments that pepper the film. The action is high-wire flying mixed with Bruce Lee inspired choreography. Of interest to American audiences are the references to a number of films including “Top Hat” (1935) and “The Shining” (1980) which add a deeper understanding to the feeling of a scene.
Whether you watch the dubbed or subtitled version, this film really demands your attention or you may lose your place. But stop and pay attention, you may just find yourself laughing and smiling at the realization that you’re not so different from Stephen Chow.