Sunday, September 26, 2010

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Plan 9 From Outer Space
This must be the smelliest science fiction movie through which I've ever had the audacity to sit, but it does give some pretty important background for The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and its ilk. Plan 9 falls victim to every trap of science fiction since the genre's inception. The rampant sexism, ill-conceived morality, and truly ripe acting catch the audience in a headlock and start knuckling the defenseless members WAY before the crappy fifties "special" (think "short bus") effects get through. By this time, the audience has either drunk the kool-aid and wants to be the first on the block to throw a Plan 9 costume party, or has swallowed his own eyeballs in an act of self-preservation. This film garnered a whole sixty-three percent on the Tomatometer from pure stink alone.

This film doesn't need Tom Servo or Crow for a serious mock. Not since New Moon has a film been such a rat in a barrel, while ushers hand out the .22s. Honestly, if you like campy cult classics, this must be seen, but please, unless you're a long-time addict, have a shot of Stardust handy in case of an overdose.

Absurdistan

Absurdistan
This was a delightful film, but sensitive viewers may wish to be aware of strong sexual thematic elements, as well as some nudity.

The images and ideas behind this idea were extremely creative. This was a film unlike any I'd ever seen before - so much so that I was at a complete loss as to how to compare the film. From a standing rubric, this movie contained humor, romance, and intelligence. The camera work was sometimes sparse and mostly mainstream, but entirely adequate. The lighting showed definite signs of inspiration. The acting could possibly have been more nuanced, but because this movie was entirely humorous, the melodrama did not detract from the overall enjoyment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams This heart-wrenching collection of short films may not be typical of Kurosawa's work, but it still manages to capture that "otherness" of good foreign film. The stories themselves move quite slowly. Kurasawa gives the viewer full time to absorb the artistry of each camera shot, and each moment of acting. From the sorrow in the eyes of the young boy in "The Peach Orchard" to the fear and horror as it slowly fades into pain in the face of the soldier in "The Tunnel" this film follows the whole gamut of dreams feeling.

After Twilight I had been inclined to believe that dreams should stay in your head, but Kurosawa proved me completely wrong. These dreams expressed an id, processed through the lens of age, which captured something majestic in the human soul, and something profoundly ill-at-ease in our world.

This film may not be suitable for casual viewers, but it is an absolute must-see for those interested in film as an art.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Name is Nobody

My Name Is Nobody Terence Hill, as Nobody, needs no more than his brilliant blue eyes to capture the imagination of viewers. Although he has a model's figure and a leading-man's face, he doesn't seem at all afraid to make a fool of himself, to break the "blue steel" trap so many handsome actors step into. He makes me laugh all through this movie, not least when he tells the unforgettable story of the little birdie in the cow pie.

Henry Fonda had always seemed immortal to me, but re-watching this film I seemed to see him age as I do. That moment was a tender one for me. (I'm going to go watch The Lady Eve now just to make myself feel better.) Fonda brilliantly plays the aging gunfighter who takes on The Wild Bunch ("One hundred and fifty purebred sons of bitches on horseback") in silver-rimmed spectacles: a reluctant hero.

Although some of the humor in this film may seem heavy-handed, the swearing occasional, and the drinking stereotypically abundant, this film contains very little truly objectionable, and even tugs at the heartstrings as Ennio Morricone's ending strains deposit the viewer gently in the final credits. I admit it; I cried. Twice. I laughed much more than that, though.

If you aren't used to Spaghetti Westerns, you might be put off by Ennio Morricone. Personally, I have grown to love his themes, with their artistic homages to Wagner and light-hearted roughness. If you resist this film on that account, you're a fool, and you're missing out on one of the most amusing and warm-hearted films ever created.

Moonstruck

Moonstruck Even though Cher won an award for her performance in this film, I still find it highly underrated. The script is magnificent (when not performed by Nicolas Cage, who managed to smell to high heaven in this instance), and the setting and tone are undeniably and magnetically authentic.

Directed by Norman Jewison, who also directed Fiddler on the Roof (not to mention such other favorites as The Thomas Crown Affair and The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming), this film captures the soul of romance without turning it too hollywood-brass. Although thematically this film seems to advocate a "live in the moment" kind of carelessness and a "love conquers all" hype, a sense of permanence, of long-term sacrifice and sincerity temper that sentiment into something truly touching. It's played in a way that might almost convince a realist to believe in love.

I would beg of any who pick up this film to try it. See past poor Mr. Cage into the genius that is Moonstruck. There are moments of great humor, touching moments of poetry, and moments of real joy throughout. It is a tender film with underpinnings of realism. A true work of art.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire This movie kept me up until almost two in the morning. Typically of heyday Hollywood, the plot of this film follows a pretty steady pace. Billy Wilder proved his skill in keeping the conflict to a constant level throughout. It never dips into boring, and never into "bite your nails" intense.

The opening scenes are extremely and intentionally dated, but very funny. "Cuddles" Sakall stood out in a group of no-name older character actors, but they all filled their roles quite well. The script started giving me a headache after a while. Some of the slang in question has remained in our vocabulary, some is pretty obvious, and some, I suspect, was made up just to make things more interesting.

Barbara Stanwyck plays a character typical for her - the slightly shady and flamboyant woman of the world (which she pulls off stunningly) - and Gary Cooper plays a mealy-mouthed professor. It seemed a little odd, because I'm so used to seeing the professor types as quick, verbally, but the script (and his own acting, I presume) made him plodding, and a little naive, where Sugarpuss (obviously a stage name) came out with all the worldly-wise-cracks. Of the two, she seemed the most mentally acute, probably contributing to the stereotype which brands the formally educated as street-stupid, a pattern flattering to the proletariat who would have been paying to see the film at the time.

Anyway, loved it, and wish it were on more lists than the soppier "The Lady Eve" which borrows many of these same character dynamics but without the gangster intensity.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Pirates of Penzance

Okay, tragically, yesterday marks the day Amazon was set to release the 1983 Pirates of Penzance starring Kevin Kline, Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, and Angela Lansbury (and that really cool guy who plays the police sargent). So naturally I received in the mail the Doyly Carte version. Admitting the primary difference that one cast is comprised of professional actors and the other of professional singers, one cannot really compare the two versions.

Musically, this Doyly Carte version far surpasses the other. The chorus harmonized tightly with beautifully blended tones, and the orchestra kept to brilliant symphonic standards, showing off Arthur Sullivan's composition to perfection. The soloists (excepting perhaps Keith Michell/Major General Stanley) performed to virtuoso standards. The Pirate King (Peter Allen) may not have been operatically trained but he had lovely Irish trills.
I have seen this version criticized for its musicality from other sources, and I can only assume that whoever wrote those ill-educated analyses referred to one of the other myriad productions so easy to mistake.

Unfortunately, when it comes to anything but the music, this production falls sadly short. The cast were not selected for their looks, no matter what the script says. None of the spoken parts showed any but the most off-handed acting. During the singing, the acting was only good enough for the nosebleed seats in the local opera-house, and never once did the choreography impress me in any way.

I must say, that the between-acts commentary was distinctly ill-conceived. The commentator (whose name I should absolutely know) questions how old Major Stanley would have to have been when he married to have had so many daughters, but I distinctly remember the line saying that they were all Wards in Chancery, which means it's possible that he's not their blood father at all, but a legal guardian whom they've adopted (it's still possible that they are blood children, and just victims of some Dickensian legal tangle). That's a bit of a tangent, though.

Anyway, if you're a fan of Arthur Sullivan, please try this version, after you purchase the other version this weekend!

Billy Jack

Billy Jack From the opening music (the well-known folk song "One Tin Soldier"), I knew this movie would make me cry. Not just your typical, hollywood tear-jerker, this (eventually) Indy film will break your heart. The students at the freedom school act with endearing candor, and the townspeople with realistic indecision. The conflict, optimistically, comes down to one or two downward-spiraling sociopaths.

Tom Laughlin carries the film with incredible charisma and even carefully controlled sex-appeal. Although Delores Taylor's narration lacks emotion, her character emerges slowly with humor, intelligence, and the kind of quiet strength almost impossible to create on screen.

Although critics have found this film thematically confused, I saw it rather as humanly nuanced. The contrast of violence and peace seem much more practical than a purely hippie-driven peace-out (which would frankly nauseate), or a purely violent martial-arts film.

Be aware that this film does not move gently. No punches at the audience are pulled. Although the decency remains within FCC boundaries (it contains little swearing, if any), the plot and image blows are not padded. This serves to make the film realistically (and laudably) painful, but not necessarily suitable for younger children.

The sequels may disappoint, but this film certainly doesn't. Even the tomatometer calls it fresh. This film is a must-see, especially considering all of the pop-culture references to it, in everything from Pinky and the Brain to Yes Man.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Evita

Evita Tragically, or perhaps predictably, Antonio Banderas's performance as Che far outshone Madonna's (she played the title character). Jonathan Pryce played a faded Juan Peron. I suspect, from what I've read, that his role in Eva Peron's story was much more politically significant than this film (and probably the broadway show) depict. Still, Peron was steeped in the political, and worked well in the chemistry of the film.

This show has such cultural significance that I can't believe it took me this long to see it. On the other hand, I reached the end of the film without being uplifted or enlightened. I think Che could have had a real effect on that, but his role was to undermine Evita worship, rather than to establish any truth in himself, especially considering the general opinion that Che could be Che Guevara, whose part in history makes him an unlikely source of truth.

Musically, this film had some significant melodies, and some real style variety, which I did admire. I'm a little biased toward Tim Rice, so I was inclined to pay more attention to the lyrics, and was not at all disappointed. It showed great sparkle and cleverness.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre I'm afraid that Franco Zeffirelli isn't quite the "faithful custodian of the classics" the sleeve claimed. The liberties he took with the plot appalled me, not because they altered in any significant way the flow of the story, but because condensing the love story into a couple of hours merely cheapens the experience. Jane's tormented youth becomes a few moments of discomfort, and her helpless wandering transforms into a short carriage ride after which she faints for no apparent reason.

I must say that the acting in the film is very fine. The spoken french rolled glibly from Charlotte Gainsbourg's tongue, and the passions evoked by the director in all the main characters fit the story very well. I have been used to seeing the housekeeper as a brusque and enigmatic arbiter, but she became a caring and somewhat lonely older woman in the honed talents of Joan Plowright. Only a brief camera moment saved her from accusations of coldness, though.

This version of the story still rates below that of the 1983 BBC version (starring Timothy Dalton), despite William Hurt's brilliant performance, and the breathtaking musical score. If you're interested in Jane Eyre, or Victorian Gothic at all, I'd still recommend it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries (Widescreen Edition) I'm not sure how I feel about the blatant ethnocentricity in this film. It is a strike at the upper classes from the upper-middle classes, and it so deifies graduate education that one wants to blame it for all the difficulties our economy currently suffers.

My personal feelings about education aside, the emotional truths in this film were severely overshadowed by its one-sided presentation of upper-class lifestyles. Don't mistake me; I'd probably be one of the first to send them to the wall when the revolution comes, but any argumentative document should allow for alternate perspectives. And one cute guy doesn't really cut it.

Economically, the moralistic message of this film stands to send us back into the dark ages where the upper classes do as they please, and the middle classes claim moral superiority, and the lower classes suffer pointlessly. Remind anyone of Charles Dickens?

I think the crux of the problem simply lies that all upper-class mothers were bunched together into the same stereotype, and the narrator/protagonist took her/them on as the obvious enemy. The indisputability of her claim only served to reduce her credibility. And she got into graduate school in the first round.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nate and Hayes

Nate and Hayes Before Captain Sparrow, Bully Hayes rode the ocean. Perhaps he didn't fly the skull and cross bones, but he certainly went in for some general rumpus in this socially conscious (if not entirely politically correct) pirate film.

I have been waiting for this film to come to DVD since the late 1900s. Now that it's here, I'm going to have to watch it again.

The comparisons between this film and Pirates of the Caribbean are unavoidable, and unfortunate for both, since one precedes the other by almost two decades, and the latter had an unimaginably higher budget.

No gaping flaws detract from the overall enjoyment of this film, although it is perhaps a bit too violent for the young ones. Too many native South Pacificers and Spanish soldiers leave liquid bits of themselves all over the islands. I thought it rather tragic.

But the scenery and sets are well-conceived. The acting sufficed, and the action continued at a quick pace, even for a modern audience.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pirates of Penzance

Gilbert & Sullivan - Pirates of Penzance / Anthony Warlow, David Hobson, Australian Opera
The Opera Australia did well enough on this beautifully voiced rendition of the Gilbert and Sullivan favorite. The sets were pretty sparse, although much dedication obviously went into them. It seemed like such a small stage for the large audience, and I'm sure they dubbed applause photos after the jokes. You could judge for yourself.

I'm not sure how I felt about the Pirate King doing a Jack Sparrow imitation. It seems a logical analogy, but it may have come over a little distracting, and of course, even as good as the imitation was, all I could think was that I'd rather have been watching Johnny Depp.

The Police Sargent was short and broad, instead of being the lanky dancer from the most popular version. It made a nice change, and the man had an amazing voice. The Major General disappointed, though. Mabel sang operatically, and Frederick was thankfully, not in HD, although I'm sure he's a nice guy.

I'd say pass, and find the Linda Ronstadt version.