Sunday, August 20, 2017

Classics: A Review of Charade By Lauren Ennis

Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant are two names that are synonymous with glamour, sophistication, and the very best in romantic comedy. While it would seem an obvious choice to cast the two, who shared similar improvisational acting styles and status as box-office favorites, together Hepburn and Grant only costarred in one film, 1963‘s cold-war thriller, Charade. While CIA agents, Nazi gold, and murder may be a far cry from the romantic comedies that both actors built their careers upon, the duo exude such elegance, wit, and chemistry throughout the film that cinema buffs can’t help regretting that they didn’t recapture the same magic in another collaboration. A prime example of cold-war suspense and Hepburn and Grant at their finest, Charade is a must-see for classic and modern film fans alike.

Audrey Hepburn: Acrtress, philantrophist...secret agent?!
The story begins as Regina, ‘Reggie’ Lampert meets debonair Peter Joshua during a ski trip. While the pair share obvious chemistry, any chance at romance is held at bay when he learns of her crumbling marriage. Upon returning home to Paris, she is stunned to learn that her husband was killed when an unknown assailant threw him from a train. It is then revealed that her husband was wanted by the US government for his part in the theft of two million dollars in confiscated Nazi gold bullion. Making matters worse, her husband’s accomplices return in pursuit of their share of the gold and will stop at nothing to get it. In the midst of this chaos Reggie enlists the aid of and embarks upon a romance with Peter, who possesses dangerous secrets of his own. The pair are then drawn into a web of theft, deception, and murder as they struggle to get to the gold before the thieves can.

Often referred to as ‘the best film that Hitchcock never made’, Charade has all the suspense of a Hitchcock thriller with an added bonus of romance and humor. The elaborate murders, Macguffin item that holds the key to the stolen gold, and final character reveal create a twisting plot that serves as a perfect nod to Hitchcock. Even the use of the director’s favorite leading man, Cary Grant, follows in the tradition of the ‘master of suspense’. What sets Charade apart, however, is the way in which the story refuses to take itself too seriously. Even in the midst of its most tense moments, the script still finds humor in the absurdity of the characters and the outlandish situations that they find themselves in. The spyjinks work so well in large part due to the light tone with which they are approached as everything from the bodies that continue to pile up to sparks that fly between Hepburn and Grant are viewed through a lens of dry humor. Through this humor, audiences can enjoy the ride without completely suspending their disbelief assured that both they and the characters are in on the joke.

Cold-war comedy
The film also outdoes Hitchcock in the sheer fun of its romance. While Hitchcock’s films are known for melodramatic portrayals of love at first sight, Reggie and Peter’s relationship progresses over the course of the film. The film also doesn’t shy away from love’s inevitable conflicts as its leads bicker and argue throughout their adventures. By showing a more gradual progression of a relationship and including such mundane details as lovers’ spats the film adds a level of authenticity to the romance, which viewers can see shades of their own relationships in. Finally, falling in love has rarely looked so outright fun as it does in Charade. Just like many offscreen couples, Peter and Reggie build their relationship on a foundation of laughter as they tease, banter and joke with one another every step of the way. Through Grant and Hepburn’s sparkling chemistry the relationship maintains a playful sexiness that avoids both the histrionics of many classics and the immaturity of many modern rom-coms. Suspenseful, sexy, and with a tongue firmly in cheek, Charade is a blend of cinema at its most entertaining.

The uniformly excellent cast weave a web of intrigue, suspense, and romance that will keep viewers guessing until the film’s final frame. James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass by turns tingle the spine and tickle the ribs as villains Tex, Scobie, and Gideon who would be far more formidable if only they could stop fighting amongst themselves. Walther Matthau infuses his CIA agent with dry humor, adding a level of humanity to what easily could have been a stock role. Even while surrounded by a talented cast Hepburn and Grant shine like the stars that they are. Grant strikes the ideal balance between sophistication and warmth in his role as Peter, leaving little wonder as to why Reggie falls for him even as she learns his many secrets and lies. Hepburn is nothing short of a delight as the well-meaning but scatter-brained Reggie, and proves that she can tackle drama and comedy with equal skill. The scenes that the pair share are some of the best in romantic comedy as they play with both gender and genre conventions as Hepburn aggressively pursues the much older and more worldly Grant, who in turn switches sides as often as he switches his ‘drip-dry’ suits.

Packed with enough twists and turns to keep even the most seasoned viewer guessing, Charade is a vintage thrill ride that can still hold its own in the modern era of gritty filmmaking. Harkening back to an era in which suspenseful did not necessarily mean bleak, the film strikes a perfect balance between edge-of-your-seat drama and frothy romantic comedy. With all the thrills and romance of the greatest suspense films and plenty of laughs along the way Charade is a film that many a director wishes they had made.

Finally, a rom-com that's actually romantic and funny!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Classics: A Review of Moulin Rouge By Lauren Ennis

An art form that predates even the earliest cinema, the musical has grown into one of the most beloved genres of the stage and screen. Evolving from turn of the century vaudeville to today’s elaborate productions the musical has adapted to the trends of film and theater, with each generation creating its own unique variation. After the genre’s cinematic heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s, however, the musical fell out of fashion with movie goers and the few musical films that were released received mixed reviews at best. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the genre experienced a renaissance as studios began releasing musicals with a modern flair. One of the most successful and still one of the most unique examples of this trend is the 2001 hit movie musical Moulin Rouge. Part music video and part Bollywood extravaganza, Moulin Rouge is more than just a movie musical; it is a fusion of song, dance, and emotion the likes of which moviegoers have not seen before or since.
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?

The story begins in 1890’s Paris, as impoverished writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) reflects upon his tragic affair with his muse, Satine (Nicole Kidman). The film then flashes back to his youth when he joined the city’s bohemian community and pitched his first play to the producers of the famed Moulin Rouge cabaret and club. While at the Moulin Rouge he meets and is instantly entranced by sultry singer and courtesan Satine, who mistakes him for one of the club’s wealthy patrons. In spite of his poverty and her profession, the two are immediately drawn to one another and embark upon a passionate romance. Their happiness is soon threatened, however, when her latest patron (Richard Roxburgh) becomes dangerously possessive.

While many more musical films have been released since Moulin Rouge’s debut, the film continues to stand out for its unique fusion of the modern and classic. The historical setting and plot, which borrows heavily from such stage staples as La Boheme and Camille, allows the film to pay tribute to past productions even in the midst of its extravaganza of modern music samples and cutting edge cinematography. These elements allow viewers to ease into the film’s surreal world and provides much needed grounding for the otherwise fantastic proceedings. The film uses the familiar technique of telling its story through song, with characters singing in both the central plot and the show-within-a-show that the characters perform. The film puts its own twist on this genre trope, however, by utilizing an eclectic collection of tunes that range from such artists as Nat King Cole, to the Beatles, to Nirvana and everything in between. The inclusion of beloved hits allows viewers to further invest in the story though songs that they already know and love, and lends a new twist on many of these classic songs by placing them within a new context. The visuals are also nothing short of stunning, with costumes and sets that virtually leap off of the screen. The film’s approach, while innovative, does have its drawbacks, however, as the constant shift from one musical genre to another can prove a jarring experience for viewers. Similarly, while the familiar plot does soften viewers’ journey through the changing songs and constant film cuts, it leaves little room for surprises. While Moulin Rouge may not be a film for every viewer, it is a cinematic experience that will linger long after the cast has sung their final note.
So exciting it will run for 50 years!

This unique vision would not have become the groundbreaking hit that it is without its stellar cast. Jim Broadbent is a comic delight as the club’s blustery manager, Harold. John Lequizamo lends plenty of impish fun to his portrayal of real-life painter Toulouse Lautrec. Richard Roxburgh captures the perfect balance between malicious and pathetic in his role as the villainous Duke. Ewan McGregor is swoon-worthy in his role as the idealistic Christian and brings a romantic innocence to his role that makes him an ideal foil to Kidman’s worldly courtesan. Nicole Kidman infuses Satine with a world-weariness and vulnerability that provides vital insight into the real woman behind her vampish persona. Together Kidman and McGregor share a chemistry that makes this tale of star-crossed love soar.

At once a millennial musical and an homage to the classics, Moulin Rouge is a thrill ride for the eyes and ears and a celebration of the heart. While its unusual approach remains polarizing, the film reinvigorated the musical with an energy and originality that other movie musicals have imitated but have never replicated. Few films can paint the town red quite like Moulin Rouge.

And we thought the past was buttoned up