Friday, October 2, 2020

Dishonour to Us All: Mulan

Liu Yifei in Mulan (2020).

It may look like a film and quack like a film, but something’s just not right with the new Mulan, based on the classic Chinese tale of a young woman who gets conscripted incognito in her disabled father’s place to fend off northern invaders, and gets exposed – yet saves the emperor anyway.

Niki Caro directs this live-action remake of the 1998 Disney animated film with a notable lack of vision. The placement of Mandy Walker’s camera is off and limiting, and we frequently wish for another angle, or a wider one. This is worsened by David Coulson’s slightly sluggish editing. Grant Major’s production design feels stagey: supposedly outdoor locations (excluding the battle scene) are obvious soundstages, and the phoenix that replaces Mushu, who was beloved even in China, looks like a kite. And American Humane wasn't able to say in the end credits that no animals were harmed. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Great Screen Matches: James Cagney and Joan Blondell

Joan Blondell and James Cagney in He Was Her Man (1934).

This is the third in an ongoing series of discussions of classic pairings of screen performers who collaborated on several movies.  Steve Vineberg has also written about Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray and about James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.

They were both made for Warner Brothers. In the big-studio era, before Truman broke up the motion picture monopolies following the Second World War, the studios owned theatres across the country, and their individual styles were linked to the kinds of audiences they attracted – that is, to the neighborhoods their movie houses served. Warners catered to working-class and lower-middle-class audiences, so they specialized in gritty films with proletarian heroes and heroines like gangster melodramas and social-problem pictures. Their roster of actors included Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Sylvia Sidney – and James Cagney and Joan Blondell. When Cagney played a tough, cocky gangster in William Wellman’s terrific The Public Enemy, he wound up a star. Blondell played leading roles some of the time but never quite made the leap to movie-star status. But she was fantastically likable and she had a long career, first in movies and then in TV: in 1979, the year she died at seventy-three, she made two movies and one TV movie and appeared in two series. Her last picture came out two years later.