Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)
I’ve loved Italian Cinema since I took a class on director Federico Fellini at IU. One of my favorite actors that he worked with was Marcello Mastroianni, who played the lead roles in La Dolce Vita and 8 ½. I’d heard that he gave a good performance in Big Deal on Madonna Street, so I decided to check it out.
The film is about a group of criminals who seek to execute a plan to rob a pawn shop. They run into a lot of mishaps as they try to pull off this scheme, but find other life-changing experiences along the way.
Mastroianni gives my favorite performance in this movie. He plays Tiberio, whose efforts to help his fellow gang members are hampered by the fact that he has to take care of his perpetually crying infant. Mastroianni excels at heightening the humor of Tiberio’s situation by not exaggerating his reactions to it. It is hilarious to watch him holding a screaming infant as he attends a gangster’s funeral or bringing his child to a jail so his imprisoned wife can take care of him like they are the most natural things in the world.
There are a lot of great things about Big Deal on Madonna Street. It has that fun atmosphere that a lot of 1950s Italian films have, as well as an excellent script that’s full of great jokes. But the most memorable thing about it for me is Mastroianni’s performance. It features the laid-back charisma that animated soulful explorations of the human condition in some of my favorite Fellini movies, except that here it is calibrated into comedic gold.
Jack Miller, contributor | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
The highlight of my moviegoing life during the last full month of summer was the Super Monster Movie Fest, held at the Skyline Drive-In in Shelbyville, Indiana over the course of two nights this past weekend. The event garnered my attention through its unique and thoughtfully curated line-up of horror films, which included a nice mix of low-budget obscurities (4D Man, 1959), cult favorites (Re-Animator, 1985), and immortal classics (Frankenstein, 1931). The schedule even had some auteurist interest in its programming of two features by Terence Fisher (Island of Terror and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, respectively), the underappreciated British director who often worked at Hammer Films in London.
Opening the festival on the first night was a screening of the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fredric March in the dual title role. Though this pre-Code outing was not the first screen adaptation of the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson novella (it had previously been filmed as a silent version in 1920), this was the first sound adaptation and is regarded by most film buffs as the finest version. This iteration of Jekyll and Hyde is often cherished for its startling technical effects and for Mamoulian’s early predilection toward complex camera movements, but I was most taken with (and eventually disturbed by) its thematic concerns. While some Jekyll/Hyde works seem to posit the conceptual material as an allegorical treatment of homoeroticism or homophobia, this one lingers on the split character as a way of dealing with domestic abuse. Mamoulian even seems to play on some of March’s affable charm as a romantic lead in order to remind us that monstrous figures can hide behind respectability, wealth and a good-natured façade. This is a harrowing, heartwrenching work which still has the power to unsettle and to ultimately move us.
Laura Ivins, contributor | Fast Color (2018)
This movie was a revelation. Fast Color is set in the near future, where climate change has strained rural America’s natural resources. Amidst this setting, we have a troubled woman running from a nameless government entity and from her own powers. She attempts to find sanctuary back home with a family that is reluctant to welcome her.
There are many things that make this film feel special – the well-paced plot reveals, the depth of the performances, the visceral impact of the setting – but the visual effects deserve particular praise. The scene where we discover fully what “fast color” refers to took my breath away and caused me to tear up. I can’t wait to experience that moment in a theatrical setting. The IU Cinema will screen Fast Color on Friday, September 13. Get your tickets now!
Michaela Owens, Editor | You’ve Got Mail (1998)
When I first saw Nora Ephron’s classic rom-com a few years ago, I wasn’t blown away. A remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 masterpiece The Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail, for some reason or other, failed to make an impression on me. Oddly enough, I experienced the same thing with Ephron’s other famous film starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, Sleepless in Seattle, so when I decided to give Sleepless a second chance this month, it only seemed fair to give You’ve Got Mail another chance as well.
While I’m still not a big fan of Sleepless (I know, it’s blasphemous), You’ve Got Mail wound up thoroughly charming me and I think it’s because this time around, I paid attention to the script. I’ll admit that during my first viewing, I became distracted by the film’s somewhat muted palette and the cast’s bland wardrobes, especially since I was mentally contrasting this look with the black-and-white beauty of Lubitsch’s film. However, when it comes to Ephron, it’s the words that matter the most, and no one spoke those words quite like Hanks and Ryan. As I watched their feuding bookstore owners slowly fall in love, I felt myself positively swooning. If you don’t have goosebumps by the time the exquisite final lines are spoken, maybe you need to give the film another shot like I did. After all, movies like Ephron’s, and screen teams like Hanks and Ryan, are rare these days, making their existence all the more precious.