Friday, October 29, 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Two-Disc Special Edition) (Harry Potter 3)The third of this series reminded me quite forcefully why I dread these stories. Bad things happen. We're talking endless misery bad things. I HATE stories like this. And honestly, the occasional light moment doesn't really make up for it. This movie bodes very ill for the remaining five. I almost stopped watching entirely halfway through.

I thought Black was a character that could certainly have been better developed, but I understand the time constraints in film-making (as well as half a dozen directors who ignore them entirely).

I hope I make it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Widescreen Edition) Dobby frustrated me extremely, as he did in the books. The child-acting was still pretty stinky, but making some improvements. It felt odd to have Ginny, the center, play so little part leading up, although I suppose that would be something of a giveaway. Unfortunately, as it is, it seems like the writer couldn't make up her mind who she should finally make the culprit, although making her an innocent seems to be a clever move.

I loved Moaning Myrtle. I thought the Basilisk was clumsily done.

This film was neither as funny, nor awe-inspiring as the first, but good enough to be getting on with.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Full Screen Edition) (Harry Potter 1) I recently began re-watching the Harry Potter films to so I could finally catch up. I'm afraid I have only seen up through film number four. My little brothers convinced me I was missing out, although I distinctly remember the books being agonizing.

I found the first film noticeably well-done for a children's film. Although the acting made me cringe several times (I had already known Daniel Radcliffe to be a terrible child-actor, after having seen him in David Copperfield), it didn't really spoil the movie, as the adult acting and the special effects really were a thoroughly amusing ride.

I think conceptually, this first film is the most amazing for the wonder it produces as a distressed young boy learns that he is special. Although I still have moral issues with creating any kind of idealistic fantasy in which children are not born equal (see "Percy Jackson"), I got over it for this movie.

Cool Air

The H.P. Lovecraft Collection, Vol. 1: Cool Air
I have always had a fascination for Lovecraft, and this indy film captured his style and periodicity quite well. Although no high tech special effects were even attempted, the camera work held the suspense and horror with remarkable veracity.
The acting was nothing noteworthy, but all of it was perfectly adequate to hold the audience.

And how am I supposed to draw attention to a film for being perfectly adequate? Lovecraft afficionados and true horror fans will certainly be interested already, and anyone else would be ill-equipped to appreciate the work.

How 'bout this? It's only forty-five minutes long - the length of a current television episode. I'd recommend investing the time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby Anne Hathaway managed not to ruin this particular film, but only because she wasn't in it. Although I never really found Madeleine at all sympathetic, this iteration was as unobtrusive, even in her acting, as Dickens wrote her. I liked it. It didn't scream "I'M FAKE!"
.
James D'Arcy as Nicholas managed his role quite well, although I'm afraid I compare him at moments unfavorably with the RSC giant Roger Rees. Where Rees played Nicholas as one truly headstrong, if not outright violent, D'Arcy underplays that part of his written character and so comes off as just slightly misunderstood.

The director amped up the violence and sexuality of this film to reflect our no-longer-Victorian times. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I understood completely. It did not detract from the film as a whole, but rather supplemented interpretations for a current audience who may not fully sympathize otherwise.

This version seemed a little abrupt. I felt that perhaps they should have extended this project (and the funding, I suppose) and developed Nicholas's life as an actor more fully. Cutting that out does seem to somehow diminish what little development he might make, as an essentially static character. I also missed the sympathetic light around the fallen character of Lord Verisopht. The producer seems to have cast him as the stereotypical chinless wonder, stuttering and scoliatic, where he might have been a briefly tragic hero, echoing somewhat the favorite A Tale of Two Cities. 


Despite the foreshortening, this version has captured my interest. I appreciated it, and hope more viewers will give it a chance.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paper Moon

Paper Moon Peter Bogdanovich does the retro thing again in this film, although where What's Up Doc? hearkened back to the mere screwball, Paper Moon more fully embraced a slightly different thirties style, more like Clark Gable than Cary Grant.

Those of you who enjoyed O Brother Where Art Thou will recognize many of the elements of this film, although the comedic elements aren't quite the same. Although the scripts had the same, long lines and monologues that older films seem known for, in Paper Moon the actors more fully embraced them, delivering them like they would Shakespeare, instead of George Clooney's rattled-off, barely intelligible, and over-written one-liners from O Brother.

Although Tatum O'Neal won an Oscar for her performance here, I truly think both Peter Bogdanovich and Ryan O'Neal deserve some significant credit (though I think I'm going to have to disapprove of any father who would allow his nine-year-old to smoke at all, let alone on camera) (and any director who would require it).

I must be grateful to dear, little, golden Oscar for encouraging me to watch this movie. I don't think I ever could have forced myself to finally click the blue "Play" button without that pressure. I never expected it to be so perfectly funny, and touching at the same time.

Madeline Kahn also makes an important appearance, and although she's still very funny, toned down her acting significantly from the usual cartooniness to fit the genre shift Bogdanovich made. She doesn't at all play the wig-wearing harridan from What's Up Doc? nor the over-sexed Marlene Dietrich from Blazing Saddles, and certainly not Mrs. White from Clue.


I see why this film catches the label "must see" from film buffs, and a whopping 90% on the tomatometer.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bullitt

Bullitt Although not a particularly romantic or away-sweeping role, Bullitt brought out the best of Steve McQueen, which, if you ask me, is his ability to play put-upon and still seem sexy. Although his girlfriend dumps him for the stupidest reason I've ever heard, he still comes off a winner, especially through the harrowing car-chases, in which McQueen typically does a significant chunk of his own driving stunts.
Knowing he eventually died of his cavalier recklessness does nothing to mitigate the fear, sensibly enough.

Robert Vaughn surprised me, playing a character despicable, if not truly evil. I had been used to seeing him from U.N.C.L.E. and even as a schmuck, I still think he's cute. I wouldn't date him, though.

The plot of this film rolls evenly, mostly set pieces for moments of adventure. The full story could be summed up in just a few words.

The filming and script are typical minimalist, and neither indulges in feeling or sentiment. Even the sense of relief when the action has passed lasts only a few dark seconds until the credits roll. It truly captures the essence of its era in film history that way.

This film will appeal to those who perhaps enjoyed the spy films of John Le Carre, or the sparer moments of classic adventure television.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Avatar

Avatar (Original Theatrical Edition) It didn't blow me away. I did develop a real hatred for the stereotyped military/establishment/colonialists, which indicates good filming, but doesn't at all veer from the norm, or show any depth or nuance.

The way in which this film immerses the viewer in a whole different world/eco system seems to have garnered all the attention for this film (along with the ground-breaking special effects, which honestly, kinda did blow me away), but it's all aimed at creating Utopia, where most fantasy realms are dystopic.

I speculate that the reasons for this common dystopia include a prevalent belief that any Utopia is either behind us or never existed, and anything we could create/discover in the future would be as flawed as we are. The optimistic-to-the-point-of-delusion belief that we might someday meet a culture/world who did it correctly, or who have some essential evolutionary advantage that makes them successful in a way we will never achieve faces down and ultimately loses to the continuous disillusionment we provide each other, and as any closely examined society reveals essential flaws. Star Trek admits it; why doesn't James Cameron?

Cameron thoroughly mapped out his fantasy utopia, and the threat - our materiality and military - that reality faces. It was a very structuralist enterprise, and seems to have been successful, but as a post-modernist, I can't help wondering why we didn't see other sides to the issue. The script only made it worse, dividing things much too neatly between the good and the evil, although I do think that was the better choice than most of the quasi-moral muddles most postmodern scripts spew out regularly.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Okay, not an instant classic, but this movie certainly caught my attention, held it for at least an hour, and made me smile, giggle, and even laugh out loud. As long as you don't expect Nicholas Cage to win any awards for his acting (nor the main character for his looks - the poor kid lacks chin), you should be able to take this experience all in with little to no salt at all.

It's just fun. It's not deep, or particularly well-made. The plot, special effects, minimal characterization, and amusing script make for a couple of really enjoyable minutes. Just sit back and turn off the inner critic. Remember when you were a kid and movies were just these flashing lights that told a story? Although I have to admit, this film contained some truly funny lines, and some real cleverness.

This movie has been streamlined - any elements that don't fit the "good, clean fun" ideal got sanded down in post-production, which took real skill, as did the special effects.

I'd class this film with Enchanted except that Enchanted actually attempted some meaning (and failed, really), where this film just let itself have a little fun. It didn't take itself too seriously, and didn't try to engage any of the grey cells. In that way, it's similar to MANY more films than movie makers or critics like us to think.

The Invisible

The Invisible This commercially produced film, steeped in the most crass of Hollywood and the music industry, nevertheless contained much more substance that I would have anticipated. At moments the audience may wince at the pretty, clean, white people in roles that seem more common in a different kind of neighborhood, but who is more racist: me, for thinking only non-caucasian ethnicities kill each other, or them, for making a movie with only a single non-white actor of any note?

Racial issues aside, this film still startled me with its depth of emotion. Although the plot itself held no real surprises, and the ending was a kind of slow exhale, nothing in the film shook me out of the experience. Like most films, one or two lines may have been somewhat underdone, but for the most part, they worked in context. The eventual reluctant alliance between the two main characters built naturally from propinquity and forgiveness, rather than from some artificial, hormonal thing one usually gets in teen melodrama.

The teens were too pretty, perhaps. The main character lives the kind of charmed life suited to The Breakfast Club. But what kind of teen fantasy involves being beaten up and left for dead? Who daydreams that they get haunted by the person they killed, and then shot by their boyfriend? The accusation that this film expresses some kind of adolescent fantasy may indicate its origins, but not the complete realization I just watched. This movie is a strong ideal well-funded.

The big question: How did this film get a 20% on the tomatometer, and Twilight, which I could barely stomach, got a full 50%?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fear of the Dark

Fear of the Dark My little sister, for no apparent reason, loves scaring herself (and she truly does get scared). We watched this film together (she cuddled with her boyfriend, and me making snide remarks as I slid off the couch) until she decided it was too scary, and shut her eyes.

Although none of the actors or actresses were at all recognizable, though the acting was certainly passable, this film had a big studio feel in the camera work (excepting a few amateurish moments), and some real skill went into the lighting (although I did notice a few rough spots). The special effects came across brilliantly in the eerie darkness.

The plot was likely not intended to do much more than build the opportunity to scare children. Although the monsters are real (proven by a kind of second-hand gimmick), the audience doesn't get the courtesy of any kind of explanation, which fact, although profoundly realistic, also reduces the story to a series of frightening moments held loosely together by family and romantic ties (no pun intended, but I'll take credit for it nonetheless). No psychological, supernatural, scientific, or mix thereof reasons present themselves for the boys' (self-?) torture. The audience exits the film wondering "what just happened?"

The score/soundtrack were probably badly chosen. In moments when silence would have enhanced fear, the audience hears loud rock music which actually reassured me several times. I felt "well, if we're supposed to build up our courage and energy, he isn't going to die." And depending on your audience, that may have been the intention.

Parents, this movie contains an instance of underage smoking and the occasional swearword, as well as some frightening images and scenes. Your children will probably be in bed with you tonight. On the other hand, they'll be too young to know how badly this film compares with so many others.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Chess: In Concert

Chess in Concert Any Glee fans MUST see this filmed concert, especially for Idina Menzel (who, although she has obvious vocal strengths, occasionally reveals some bad habits - the danger of Broadway).
Any chess players should, just for the atmosphere (no real chess moves/strategies are more than hinted at, and the actual moves are portrayed in interpretive dance). (I know - it sounds silly, but it's really quite amazingly beautiful).

The musical speculates on a possible story around the cancelled 1979 match between Anatoly Karpov (Anatolij Sergievskij in the script, sung by the breathtaking Josh Groban) and Bobby Fischer (Freddie Trumper, sung by a brash and impressive Adam Pascal). Although most of the characters were imaginary, and any real people were heavily disguised, those two shadows fell unmistakably across the stage.

The story involves several large "what ifs." It began with: what if they had actually played? and ultimately focuses more on the politics and relationships than the actual moves and strategies on the board. This perspective reveals the real problem of the plot, which is its difficult moral ground. None of the characters shows much more morality than a simple love of the game, which leaves three inspiring voices without any speech. Several of the songs speak from sincere emotional places, but none of them speak from any sound truth. They're always shifting, and flowing from one confrontation to the next without any real anchor or place of safety. It's a scary way to write a musical, but I'm not sure I can entirely fault it for that, although the balance between chess and relationships seems precarious at best.

I whole-heartedly recommend that you see it and make your own observations. The songs are brilliant and entertaining, and the irony fully abundant.

New In Town

New In Town (Widescreen Edition) This movie sucked all the joy out of my television and excreted it onto the purple, industrial carpet.
I got a little nostalgic for Christmas, but although this movie mentions Jesus a couple of times, it doesn't have any overtly Christian themes, just cultural observations.
The city vs. town dichotomy stood out well in the film, but didn't resolve my nagging hatred of over-pilatied, city cats in stiletto heels. She may have won the company, but that character didn't win the audience.

I think my personal life brought way too much to this movie, and I can't seem to rise above it to a pure critique. I don't really think this movie is worth the effort, either. Although the director obviously knew what he was doing, and the fine line he trod, the end result simply lacked significance. It had that deplorable "Hallmark" MFTM feel.

I don't know whether to rant about the movie or the world itself, which sends a pretty unsubtle hint that I should just shut up.