Election on TCM

J'accuse!

Alexander Payne’s Election (1999), a wicked satire of power and social politics, is the confident second feature from the director and his screenwriting partner, Jim Taylor. Coming off of the critical success of Citizen Ruth (1996), a savage and darkly satirical take on the politics surrounding the abortion debate, Payne found the story for his next film in the novel by Tom Perrotta; it satirized the election process through the overheated incubator of a high school campaign for student body president, where favoritism, manipulation and apathy trump democracy at every turn.

For the role of the passionately dedicated and somewhat patronizing civics teacher Jim McAllister, Payne cast Matthew Broderick. It was Broderick’s earnestness and his straight-arrow quality that Payne found perfect for the part. While he had not actually seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) before making the film, Payne was well aware that his casting would reverberate off that beloved character, especially when it came to McAllister’s idealism overcome by his frustrations and shortcomings.

For Tracy Flick, the high school overachiever who sees winning as merely an act of will, he chose rising young actress Reese Witherspoon, who had shown great range and ambition in such films as The Man in the Moon (1991), Freeway (1996) and Pleasantville (1998). Though over twenty at the time, she is completely convincing as both a chirpy, eager-to-please high school senior and as a fearsome, at times emotionally volcanic competitor. Her mix of innocence and drive makes the sexual component of the story (dialed back from the novel, according to Payne, but still a significant element of the plot) all the more startling.

Continue reading on the TCM website.

Plays Monday, September 5 on Turner Classic Movies

DVDs for 1/20/09 – ‘Magnificent Obsession’

Magnificent Obsession is the first of Douglas Sirk’s great Hollywood melodramas, a romantic tale of hubris and loss and sacrifice and rebirth in a rarified Technicolor world of storybook-pretty homes and sun-dappled preserves of nature. The setting is the lakeside village of Brightwood, part idyllic, unspoiled small town, part playground for the rich, all wooded and bright, but apart from a few location shots, the Eden-like town is artificially created in the movie studio to give the director a painter’s control of his portrait’s landscape. And paint he does, embracing the unreal hues and constantly playing with his light as if he was directing a piece of expressionist theater, while never breaking the spell of his heightened world of American affluence and emotional turmoil.

Rock Hudson plays a self absorbed, thrill chasing millionaire playboy who rejects his irresponsible lifestyle and transforms into a soft spoken saint after his reckless ways leave bystander Jane Wyman’s life a tragic wreck. While never a slave to realism, Sirk really uses the studio resources and the Technicolor palette to transform the screen into a canvas of exaggerated sets and artificially recreated settings painted in unreal hues. His lighting is not expressive of the physical world but of the emotional temperature of the scenes, rising and falling like the lush score.

It’s utterly irrational on the surface, a plot of contrivances for our characters to suffer through and come out the other end “earning” their ultimate happiness. Sirk’s response is to embrace the emotional responses. His unreal exaggerations offer a fantasy world of beautiful people and tortured emotions and grand sacrifice to the altar of love.

Criterion’s two-disc edition features commentary by film scholar Thomas Dohery, the original 1935 adaptation of the Lloyd Douglas novel directed by John Stahl and starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor and the feature-length 1991 documentary From UFA to Hollywood: Douglas Sirk Remembers.

It’s the DVD of the week at Parallax View and I review it for MSN here.

Also new this week is Max Payne:

… the latest video game turned big-screen spectacle, featuring a high-concept premise, a boilerplate revenge plot, and heavy reliance on gunfire to solve the hero’s problems. Mark Wahlberg never cracks a smile as the hard-boiled burnout of a cop who tracks his wife’s killer to a street tribe of drug addicts haunted by demons out of a crazed reworking of Norse mythology. It’s not so much directed as designed in bold, graphic strokes by John Moore, who evokes a Frank Miller comic book come to life and visualizes better than he dramatizes. The script makes no sense, and Moore doesn’t seem to care. He’s more taken with the possibilities of this hallucinatory underworld and moves the film forward on pure visual momentum, carried on the wings of its demon visions and hovering above the literal explanations and narrative confusion of the script.

I review the DVD on MSN here. My earlier review of the film is on my blog here.

Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:

Movies: The Express (“your basic uplifting sports story about the underdog who fights against the odds and triumphs; at times it’s quite effective, at others more instructive than alive.”)

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