Monday, July 4, 2011

Capsule Reviews: All About Eve, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mary and Max

All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

Probably the most glaring omission in my movie viewing. And boy was I missing out: this camp satire on showbiz is a vicious cycle of ageism, bloodthirsty ingénues and critics who use and are used by the stars they praise and damn. It may be all about Eve, the not-so-innocent farm girl looking to hit the big time, but the real star is the icon she seeks to usurp, played by Bette Davis. Though there are stereotypical portrayals of predatory homosexuals in the film, Davis is by far the campiest figure on the screen, chewing every line with relish, but then who wouldn’t savor this incredible dialogue? The final shot, an unexpectedly arty flourish involving endless reflections in mirrors, cheekily visualizes the unending cycle of new talent ever ready to kill their idols. Grade: A+

P.S. Check out a cameo by a then-unknown Marilyn Monroe, who steals her entire scene as a ditzy wannabe. Corrected for yelling “Waiter!” at a butler, she responds with hysterical sincerity and worry, “Well I can’t go yelling “Oh butler!” can I? Maybe somebody’s name is Butler!” The dour critic Addison can barely fight back his loathing when he deadpans, "You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point."

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975)

The first 10 minutes or so were so dull that I couldn't even get into the camp of the movie, but the second Tim Curry showed up I couldn't take my eyes off him, which potentially raises a few questions I might have to dwell upon. Curry's performance is rightly iconic, a completely un-self-conscious belly flop into pansexual lust communicated in every side glance, body thrust and blink. But, as my pal Sasha James rightly told me, "the first half is ten times better than the second." After a certain point Curry's rowdy, epically incomprehensible numbers about transvestism and making a Frankenstein monster out of Hitler's wet dream give way to more middling tunes that sap a great deal of momentum from the proceedings. I must admit, though, that I found the climactic image, structured around a parody of King Kong enacted on a prop of the old RKO logo, screamingly funny, if utterly bewildering. Still, when it comes to '70s rock opera films, I'm gonna have to side with the more coherent (if somehow even stranger) Phantom of the Paradise. Grade: C+

P.S. The second best character in the movie after Curry's Frank-N-Furter, Riff Raff, is played with Igor-esque comic menace by the actual writer of the musical, Richard O'Brien. Though not as consistently great as Curry (Riff Raff is one of the characters who gets completely altered by the end), O'Brien is nearly as entertaining.

Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)

Feeling bizarrely like a mumblecore film as filtered through Great Depression aesthetics, the claymation Mary and Max flits between monochrome and sepia-toned visions of poverty, loneliness and neurosis of insecure pen pals separated by generations and oceans. Even at 92 minutes, there's not enough here to justify the running length, and the padded repetition of Mary's dark home life and Max's Asperger isolation robs the film of some of its emotional power. That it is still so routinely affecting, however, is a testament to the sincerity of the characters, animated with simple resonance, written with minute, wry detail and voiced to perfection (check out Philip Seymour Hoffman's almost unrecognizable performance as the Yiddish Max, only guessable in moments using Hoffman's trademark deflation). Bonus points for the soundtrack, a nice blend of the unironically bouncy and the affectingly dramatic. Grade: B+


  1. I won't hear your criticism of ROCKY HORROR, and I won't respond to it.

    MARY AND MAX made me cry so hard, I really liked it but yes it is too long. Adam Elliott's thing is short film, and it's sort of apparent with this full-length. I don't think his style really works with longer films.

  2. I was really hit hard by MARY AND MAX. I'm gonna look up his shorts now. I feel like M&M was a 45-minute masterpiece that got insecure and doubled its length, but even with its bloat I found it incredibly moving. I watched it on Instant, so I couldn't watch Harvey Krumpet, which is supposed to be on the DVD. But I'm definitely going to check out his other work. His bone-dry, emotional wit reminds me of Don Hertzfeldt's writing.