IR Film Review: THE HUSTLE [MGM]

The motivation of “The Hustle” is based in the texture of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” which was a film in the late 80s starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. While the tropes it played are a little out of date and less politically correct now, the re-imagining from the point-of-view of female grifters is a sound one. Spearheaded likely by Rebel Wilson against the foil of the more sophisticated Anne Hathaway, the aspect of one upping keys in the play but the tonal element is tricky. Wilson flails a lot in her performance whereas some comediennes can make it a little more fluid. She seems like she is trying too hard. But then again there is a small texture of that in Anne’s performance though when she gets frustrated with Rebel’s less accomplished con woman is when her true acting shines.

The key in this kind of comedy is obviously the heart and how it shines through without being too melodramatic. To Rebel’s credit, this starts to shine towards the end of the film simply because of the progression of story. The contrast though is too stark. Hathaway is good at this and gets to show her continual mastery of accents but it never rises truly to the level it could. This might inherently also be the fault of the directing. The film, despite being entertaining at times, feels slightly scattershot despite the beautiful surroundings. Hathaway’s employees truly get the performances right which is more a European structure of comedy in the fact that it is slightly underplayed but with a definite hit. This is where the diverge lies. The eventual revolution in a mark is expected but plays almost against the realization because it skirts the idea of the status quo. That said, “The Hustle” doesn’t necessarily want to be anything more but, as it is, it does its job plainly.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

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Gigi – Blu Ray Review

Gigi BR“Gigi” for a musical during the censorship-ridden “code” era is pretty amazing in terms of its ability. During that era, many directors probably wanted to take on more meaty and slightly controversial films but you couldn’t do such a thing and still work in the studio system. It just wasn’t done. Here you have a film about something that was very commonplace even a hundred and fifty years ago. Men had mistresses and wives and provided for both if they were rich. Contracts were made and honored and certain distinction were required. The one thing about “code” Hollywood that seems so outdated now was how hypocritical it was. Now people 50 years from now might say that about us and how we deal with certain elements of political correctness and that the 70s by comparison were an area of open free thinking. The truth is that despite any slanted perspective, “Gigi” does show a very modern women, albeit innocent, in the visage of Leslie Caron. She debates her place in this world but is also ready to forgive. This definitely stems from growing up in Europe and being outspoken although Hollywood will seemingly change you.

The movie mixes the social strata of the earlier French film but brings it into the musical tableau. The French actor here [Maurice Chevalier] who plays the Uncle to Gaston, Gigi’s would-be suitor, was originally supposed to play opposite Gene Kelly in “An American In Paris” but his alliance with the Vichi French Government at the time caused some political upheaval. In this movie, there is a definitely frivolity to him although Caron says in an interview during the commentary that he was very quiet and serious unlike his character. The commentary itself using an older film historian who barely highlights even interviews by Caron is a bit grating because the critic seems to be sugar coating everything. I understand the need to parry a little bit to the studio element and while the detail is appreciated, the tone seems overwhelmingly snooty and unimaginative as if stuck back in the 1940s itself. This is one of the weaknesses of this specific release because it seems to bring down a lot of the other aspects. You do get somewhat a perspective on studio politics but the breakdown of production design and other production elements simply get a “beautiful” or “stunning” compliment. And despite the fact that they might be, no historical precedent before or after is given for validation. There is a slight reference made to the 1949 French version of the film whose rights were bought to make this one.

That entire film, albeit a bit scratched because of the poor shape of the original, is included here on the disc in its entirety which is a wonderful companion piece in terms of side-by-side comparison. While some of the inferences might be different, the thought process of the two films is decidely similar. “Thank Heaven: The Making Of Gigi” points to how the film was made. The studio wanted to make another film with Leslie Caron after her success in “Paris”. She brought up this original French film which Audrey Hepburn (who also would have been stellar in the role) was playing on Broadway. The producer was able to secure the rights with Caron in the lead and set about to make the film actually in Paris with director Vincente Minnelli. Chevalier, originally slated for “Paris”, got the plum role here. Caron says though that Chevalier was nowhere near as jovial in real life as his character on screen.

The great thing about Caron, which is very much at paradox with the PC elements of the system, is the fact that she tells thing as they are. She says that one night Chevalier invited her and the cast mates to a wonderful dinner party on his boat and that it was fabulous. But otherwise he kept to himself, she said.

One of the major controversies of the film was how to get the subject matter past the censorship board. The producer, who had made “Paris” as well, explained it as a moral story to the “code” people. The reality is that, in essence, the film chronicles the manipulation and ultimate transaction of becoming a mistress versus a wife. Now ultimately Gigi wins out as the latter but she was the rare case. Of course this is Hollywood in the 40s so everything had to be on the “up-and-up”. Somehow the producer was able to convince the censor board that he would make a movie that would contain the proper values. Great negotiator and talker, however he did it.

Everyone in the film sang their parts including Caron but she was overdubbed in post. Granted the new voice replacing hers is more silky and smooth but I can imagine how mad that would have made her especially since the studio didn’t seem to tell her until she saw it. There is a little bit of it in the documentary though I think the replacement voice gives her a more mature vision (although the irony is that Caron although playing a teenager was already a mother at the time). Also related in the docu, which is the kind of cool Hollywood lore, is that the film was going over budget since shooting in Paris at that time was no cheap matter. Minnelli, according to Caron, would go through his set ups and almost wait until the end of the day to get one shot which would seemingly drive the cinematographer nuts. In one shot, he kept her doing the shot over and over because he wanted to ducks to pass a certain way behind her (even though I would think there was no such wrangler). Eventually the production had to return to Culver City to finish. Interesting through and through.

The two extra shorts on the disc again show the paradox of the day. The first is a short subject called “The Million Dollar Nickel” which has the narrator talking about sending letters to people overseas during the war effort letting them know that they were not alone. The government contributed to this making the ability to write letters like this affordable. Of course, in the age of emails, this seems almost irrelevant but one has to understand the age that these people were living in. Again the paradox is that people might one day think this about us. One person in particular who was interesting to see, besides Leslie Caron, giving testamonials in regards to their respective countries, is a very young Ricardo Montalban, every bit as poised and majestic as he was in real life. I only talked to him once on a satellite TV interview for “Spy Kids 3D” but the commanding presence is every bit what you would expect and respect.

The other short is a cartoon called “The Vanishing Duck” which is about a funny little duck who discovers a paste that makes him invisible. He of course, the duck teams up with Jerry (as they are playing against Tom) in making this decidely slapstick as only Tex Avery could do. Rounding out the elements on the disc is the trailer which simply paints the element of Gigi  as carefree and “bred to be wed” which downplays any essence of what might be lying underneath. Rather the hype talks to the aspect of what a great theater show on Broadway, “Gigi” was. Subversion is always an interesting gift in marketing depending if it is used right. “Gigi” is filled with tidbits of information and, in including the original French film, gives a neat perspective definitely from a film student point of view. However, because of its distinctly underwhelming commentary by a less than engaging commentator, the disc falls short. Because of this, out of 5, I give the Blu Ray of “Gigi” a 2.

An American In Paris – Blu Ray Review

American In Paris BROne of the first of the golden age musicals on Blu Ray: “An American In Paris” makes the colors pop even though the aspect ratio is small. What is amazing is the fact of the film being shot almost completely on the backlot at MGM (now occupied by Sony Studios) here in Los Angeles. The key to this film is suspension of disbelief which current movies have a problem doing (with an exception being the recent “Angels & Demons”). The story actually is a mainstay of Hollywood. The interesting angle is of Gene Kelly’s character not being too much of a “goody two-shoes”. In fact, he dismisses a benefactor in a slightly older but beautiful woman just because he doesn’t want to live by the rules. Now this is an adequate thought but one that still motivates many. Leslie Caron plays the ingenue. According to the commentary, Kelly met her after he saw her perform in a ballet in Paris. I actually met Caron for a film a couple years ago starring Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson but possibly didn’t fully appreciate her impression in this arena say compared to Debbie Reynolds. Caron entered into the Hollywood system which she knew nothing about. Caron is able to relate that the studio set up escorts for her for film premieres, made sure she was in designer wear, looked radiant, etc. It was a whole process which is still at play in Hollywood but much less formal per se. It is very interesting to hear it discussed so relevantly in a girl who at that time hardly knew English.

The sequences in the picture work well but the one that stands out is obviously the ending ballet, specifically the scene around the fountain. In using Gershwin’s music which is the mainstay of the film, there is a melding of jazz and classical which Saul Chaplin says makes it utterly original. However it is also Gene Kelly’s dancing in front of the kids to “I Got Rhythm” which shows the kind of star he was. “S’ Wonderful: Creating An American In Paris” shows the density of creation needed for this movie. Like today’s hype, nobody thought that Gene and company could pull this musical off, specifically putting an 18-minute ballet at the end of picture, which ended up being the film’s “piece de resistance”. The reason they were able to do it is because one of the actresses (the older love interest) got chicken pox.

In the end, the film won best Best Picture as a kind of “come from behind” win. The studio honchos were banking against the picture to fail but the greatest success stories come out of such things. The aspect of “I’ve Got A Crush On You” being Kelly’s favorite and eventually cut out of the film is relayed by his widow and Leslie Caron talks about Kelly being the Big Brother watching out for her on set. She said Vincente Minnelli called her “Angel” but that he wasn’t very communicative. The outake for the song “Love Walked In” with a singer standing around a piano is too static for sure but you sort of wish there was some dance rehearsals captured on film like they have today. But back then printing film was all about the economics.

The audio outtakes don’t sound too much different although one still thinks that the “I’ve Got A Crush On You” would have added an even deeper layer to the picture. The audio interviews show how different the journalistic angle was from today. These interviews were very much scripted to the last detail and released on par with the studio. The stars including Gene Kelly understood the importance of this especially within the censorship-induced elements of the time. “Gene Kelly: An Anatomy Of A Dancer” paints a true portriat of the dancer from a political point of view. This angle could not be seen at the time of the studio system and people were probably too scared to talk about the true politics. However this doc shows how his family especially in his later years infuenced his decisions. The balance of power and creative might have shifted but the aspect of what Gene Kelly did for modern dance on film and the American consciousness is absolutely unforgettable. He was the definition.

“Paris On Parade” is a travel tix that is meant as a key in to “An American In Paris” by showing how the world works together even after the elements of wartime. It is congenial enough for sure. “Symphony In Slang” is the included cartoon and uses slang to relate what is happening literally in a man’s life as he is trying to get into heaven. It is quite metaphorical and intense especially for kids of the day. Maybe it relates to Kelly always pushing the envelope. The trailer keys into the highlights of the day and the opening images ironically enough are all from the closing ballet. “An American In Paris” mixes the necessities of the studio system but like “Singin’ In The Rain”, although not to its heights, it combines the element of experimentation and neo- realism to a mainstream box office film which makes it no less a triumph in the 40s then it came be seen today. Out of 5, I give the BR of “Paris” a 3.