citizen kate: day four

day four begins with an attempt at reconciliation, a film noir peace offering, if only a parody. we begin the proceedings with carl reiner's dead men don't wear plaid (1982).

steve martin plays opposite some of the greatest stars of the forties in this, as a philip marlowe/sam spade type gumshoe on a case. what case? doesn't matter. its irrelevance is matched only by its incoherence. it's just a peg on which to hang copious gags and the novelty element on which the film hinges, the interaction with almost a score of films from noir's golden age. clips from everything from double indemnity (1944) to the big sleep (1946) are shoehorned into a convoluted mystery story to give the illusion that martin is getting leads from and being shot at, and sent on wild goose chases, by the likes of veronica lake, cary grant and humphrey bogart. the clips are incorporated fairly well and it's fun to play "spot the noir" - is that johnny eager (1941)?! - but the novelty soon wears off and it's only as effective as the current gag is funny. fortunately, a lot of the jokes are decent. i couldn't help thinking, though, that if mel brooks had done this it would have been a riot. it reminds me a little of one of those novelty records like mr. jaws where some interviewer has their questions answered with snippets of whatever songs were popular at the time, except with a multi-million dollar budget. i remember being really excited about this back when it came out but, as is the case with everything from 1982, it's not as great as you remember it being. still, it's nice to see steve martin doing material with at least a little more bite to it than the family comedy purgatory he has been consigned to lately. what happened to that guy? our bbc correspondent, dennis pennis, puts a bow on it for us.

next, we head south, as far south as you can go, for marianne noser and otmar gutman's meet pingu (2003).

this is a collection of claymation shorts that follow the adventures of a young penguin as he kicks around his antarctic village with his folks, little sister and best pal, robbie the seal. they are reminiscent - though considerably less sophisticated, artistically and thematically - of the work of aardman studios, home of wallace and gromit. these were amusing and i could see why young children would love them. language isn't a barrier, as all the characters mainly speak a nonsense, but still highly expressive, language called pengeese. pingu is easy to like, though his trademark honk is a bit annoying, because he a solid li'l dude. he loves his little sister, always looking out for her and making sure she is included in the fun. he is responsible and industrious, but not above getting into a little mischief now and then. all in all, a well-balanced, fun-loving kid. i'd probably never watch these of my own volition, though i know some adults love them, but if you have youngsters they would probably really enjoy them. plus, they'll learn a thing or two about being a decent penguin along the way.

we end the day with the odd film out this week. our only non-fiction entry this time around is bertrand norman's ballerina (2006).

i found this pretty fascinating. it provides unprecedented access to the lives of five ballerinas who dance for the kirov ballet company at st. petersburg's mariinsky theatre. beginning with the selection process at the vaganova ballet academy, we meet a group of girls who are set on an arduous, grueling career path from about the age of ten, their ultimate goal being prima ballerina status. as the field narrows, so does the focus of the film, selecting a group of five diverse dancers, all of very different temperaments and styles, all at very different points in their careers. they range from naif only beginning to find her way to the veteran attempting a comeback after a significant injury. the most beguiling of the lot was diana vishneva. holy cats. even my untrained eye could tell she was something special, that she has that inexplicable thing that separates artists from technicians. she dances because, as much as she doesn't even want to sometimes, she would probably die if she couldn't. not that the other dancers weren't impressive. they were all incredibly graceful, athletic and skilled. she is just operating on an entirely different plane. she is expressing something powerful. you might as well be watching her have sex, fight and eat an animal she has just killed with her bare hands simultaneously. it is that primal. obviously, she is a bit undisciplined compared to the rest of them but it is a trade i would make any day. she was undeniable, majestic when she was in motion. her segments alone make up for the film's shortcomings, the worst of which are some lame narration and a horribly squeezed full-frame presentation. if ever there was a city that needs widescreen, it is st. petersburg. this aspect ratio doesn't do justice to these beautiful venues and incredible dancers. overall, though, it was a very interesting look at a select group of extremely talented women. air this rarefied is never boring.

well, that was a day of blessed relief. hardly a homicidal impulse at all today. maybe i'll be back on santa's nice list just in time for his return tomorrow.

so long, suckers!

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