Monday, October 3, 2011

Hello Down There

The only reason to indulge in this bit of pointless nostalgia is to see Richard Dreyfuss as a punk teen. I'm almost convinced.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny on the BountyI couldn't finish it. I'm sure it's a great drama full of huge ideals and brilliant acting (actually, Clark Gable isn't that good, as far as I can tell from his other films), but once again, the plot was long and had too many elements and turns to pull together into a coherent plot, at least in the first ninety minutes. Did I mention that it's long?

I say this, despite my love of sea stories. Do without this one.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Great Ziegfeld

The Great Ziegfeld William Powell and Myrna Loy, though not together in this film for very long (as the film focuses largely on Ziegfeld's varied acquaintance), still manage to exude their typical chemistry. I have never seen those two in any films that didn't just make me want to hug them both. Powell alone has some panache, and a great deal of pleasant sarcasm, and Myrna Loy has enough humor to remind me happily of Ginger Rogers (one of the funniest ladies I've ever seen), but together, they make magic. I guess some screen personalities just happen that way.

Until Loy makes her appearance in Ziegfeld, I actually had some trouble sympathizing with the character, and the lavish stage scenes, though they made me gasp and wonder even now, actually seemed to drag on quite a bit. I fast-forwarded them once I got the drift. I think the camera might have moved too little, and my postmodern brain can't handle a shot longer than seven seconds unless Fred Astaire is in it. I don't want to blame the camera for the boring songs, though; I want to blame the songs. They were boring. Boring songs. Long songs that didn't say anything interesting. Short melodies repeated much too often, and meaningless lyrics combined into something dreadfully tedious. Yep.

Only watch this if you're interested in it as a curiosity. As a work of film, it's notable but not earth-moving.


Fun with Dick and Jane

Fun with Dick and Jane An earlier version from which Jim Carrey's remake was made, this film, though obviously closely related to its remake, actually appealed more for its periodicity (though the remake was quite timely). The  middle-class spending which served largely to convince me I grew up in oppressive poverty actually elucidates American fiscal habits and our casual relationship with debt. Jane Fonda's portrayal of a woman determined to maintain the veneer of luxury both amused me, and made me feel pity.

The crime elements actually are quite funny. The way the two would-be criminals bungle their way through (assisted no doubt by the inferior police forces in seventies films) their first crime until they become almost shockingly proficient, and delightfully blase.

It's a great period piece. Check it out if you want to catch a wonderful glimpse of the past, and Jane Fonda's amazing body (mostly clothed).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mistress of Spices

The Mistress of SpicesI love the actors in this movie, but I don't think I can fully stand behind it, or them. Several creative and colorful images enhance the production. I felt particularly fascinated by the language of spices, whose vocabulary, I must admit, seemed to have been expanded for the purposes of the plot.

Despite the imagination of the tale, and several of the interesting thematic elements, I can't help feeling that a moral outweighs the artistic considerations. In my own words, the movie seems to be saying that you can have sex outside of marriage (outside of the rules of your culture), and still have the support of your traditions. It doesn't work like that. As I watched, I constantly found myself saying those exact words: "It doesn't work like that." The mechanics of the theological realm created inside this story seem alien to my Western theological roots. The gods Tilo (Aishwarya Rai) worships are her spices. They speak to her in a kind of sub-linguistic revelation, helping her help others, but they have established some arbitrary rules (no touching skin, no love, no leaving the store). Tilo pushes the rules and disobeys her spices, who punish her by turning her good intentions into various pseudo calamities, until she turns her future fully to the spices (in a scene I didn't entirely understand). Apparently, at that point, a *spoiler alert* deus ex machina decision by the spices says she's allowed to break the rules too, because they trust her now.

It doesn't work like that. The whole film was full of the kind of paranoid superstition that will drive you mad (or at least, obsessive/compulsive), and none of the consistency of theological doctrine. Religions generally have had a somewhat tenuous relationships with causality, but in this movie I think they pushed too far.

I think, looking at the film as a value system, allowing Tilo to break the rules undermined the strength of her position as a figure of faith and tradition, and knowing the jealousy of the spices, I'm not certain it was necessarily a bad thing, but I sense an inconsistency that I can't quite put my finger on.

I dunno. It's very romantic. Check it out if you like romantic bollywood.

The Guyver

The Guyver This movie fell squarely between Power Rangers and something black and white with Godzilla. It reminded me a little of Big Trouble in Little China, but in a bad way. I fully understand why nobody likes or recommends this movie. Critics won't rate it, and the audience at Rotten Tomatoes gives it a whopping 38%.

Let me tell you: the creatures defy any reasonable suspension of disbelief. They look cute. Even Doctor Who - universally known for camp and low budget - regularly invented aliens more frightening (even in the sixties!). The bad guy was slimy. Despite his admiration of the human mutations he creates (he calls them "beautiful"), he consistently molests the poor female lead. Clearly this directorial decision is meant to make us cringe and identify him as icky, but it made the character one-dimensional and inconsistent (a criticism that seems much too drop-in-the-bucket for the film as a whole).

There's more. I fell asleep. I never fall asleep. During the FIGHT scenes!

Mark Hamill, well-known for his mediocre acting skills (although his voice acting is both interesting and consistently good), actually sparkled for his brilliance. Too bad he dies miserably, and with that awkward mustache.

I think the most indicative thing I can say about the male lead (whose name, for which he is probably grateful, I never bothered to figure out), is that his hair was flat. I love the eighties. Don't see this movie.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Inception

InceptionWith typical post-modern reluctance (shown by his usual almost painful undermining), Christopher Nolan once again took his audience through to a conclusion that on some level satisfied the audience, as proven by the statistics on rottentomatoes.com (93%). The movie reminded me very much of the British Life on Mars, in that the emotional ride necessarily becomes the basis on which we found our enjoyment because the literal facts remain confusing and unsatisfying. This idea of the real becoming subordinate to some less real/imagined . . . something (I can't ever call it a fantasy, because most of them contain some very nightmare-like elements) seems to circulate among British writers and filmmakers. Even Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat has toyed with the idea as he created The Flesh and then dared the audience/Amy to decide which was better.

Nolan actually did a very good job bringing the audience along in his intricacies (unlike Primer). I didn't get lost, and I was successfully able to maneuver my way through red herrings and legitimate clues. Although I honestly believe the ending is meant to contain some ambiguity, the audience maintains a steady emotional investment in a certain circumstance. It would be disingenuous of Nolan to steal that away entirely, and so I choose to believe that he did not cheat us on essentials, but only subtly defied us to put our weight on any single possibility. Like Life on Mars, our satisfaction in the conclusion becomes not based on belief, but based on choice.

Anyway, I liked it very much. I'd watch it again, if I weren't moving this weekend with two more overdue items at the local library.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cyrano de Bergerac

Cyrano de Bergerac Watching this stage version, my original impressions of the play were reaffirmed. The script is delightfully witty (albeit a bit over-rhymed), but Cyrano gets a bit too wordy in the final act. I remember Gerard Depardieu's version, and I thought it was a bit much, but after seeing this version, Depardieu's Cyrano seems pretty definitive.

Kevin Kline, Jennifer Garner, and Daniel Sunjata all fulfill their roles wonderfully. The supporting cast absolutely hold their weight. I'd recommend this version whole-heartedly as a brilliant look at what the live play should be.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tron Legacy

Tron: Legacy An amazing update. Although I wish Bruce Boxleitner had gotten more screen time (for sentimental reasons), this experience satisfied me. The special effects were both reminiscent of the original, and thoroughly updated (although at some point, keeping the old forms seemed a little pointless). The plot had some emotional depth, and the action scenes were entirely memorable, and thoroughly suspenseful.

As all films have flaws, I think this one would be entirely in the character department. The characters had difference enough to be functional, but not enough to become more than two-dimensional with perhaps a lot of shading.

Anyway, I liked it.

Last Chance Harvey

Last Chance Harvey This beautifully acted film really captured something important. The characters were played pathetically and realistically by two truly touching talents. All of the cliched scenes from any of a hundred rom-coms or chick-flicks in the hands of these craftsmen turn meaningful. Their age and emotional complexity add depth to what, in the hands of the young, would be mundane, trite, or even nauseating. I never once felt ill.

Brilliantly done, and an emotionally fulfilling experience.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch (The Movie) I really like Fairuza Balk. I really like Tim Curry, and Diana Rigg can be fun. This unbelievably hokey production, however, can't be worth much. It's very pre-Potter, though. Much of it reminded me of the newer franchise, including the boarding-school/castle thing, and several of the classes.

I think this movie makes a good nostalgia piece, but it's impossible to take seriously. They sing

The Boys are Back

The Boys Are Back Meh. I found the story interesting enough, especially the ending, but I'm just not enthusiastic about it. Perhaps nothing strikes my fancy that isn't more whimsical or surreal. I think the story was simply too mundane for my taste. I liked the emotionality. I appreciated the acting skill. I thought the characters/actors had a great chemistry. Positive, but not exuberant.

Me and Orson Welles

Me & Orson Welles For a film that Rotten Tomatoes really loved, I found the ending somewhat unsatisfying, although just possibly because I ducked out of the room at that point; I'm moving in a week and I've been organizing stuff all day. My room, twenty minutes to midnight, is a disaster area, and I'm tempted to sleep on the couch.

Anyway, back to the movie. Orson Welles is so obviously the villain of the piece, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. So many characters simply say he's a genius, but we aren't given the specifics of how. Those of us who have studied his work are pretty sure he was a genius anyway (however insufferable and egotistical), and yet I didn't see it here.

I liked the film, and I would certainly give it a positive review, but it didn't dazzle me.

All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal Cinema Classics) I hate war movies. Really, I'm the absolutely wrong person to analyze this, or even summarize since to me, war movies all have the same plot: a little zealous patriotism followed by a couple of hours of shooting, polka-dotted with tear-jerking dead/wounded scenes of stupidity and heroism. War movies never end well; as the great and eternal evil, they can't.

This one might be more picturesque than some. It might have some interesting effects. It has some very raw moments, but very few. It feels primitive. I think it deserved the award, though.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cimarron

Cimarron Another in a string of early films that can't quite decide into which genre they belong, this film might satisfy a number of human cravings. It might, but it probably won't. It's also another in a long line of undeserving Oscar winners. Loved Irene Dunne, though.

Rotten Tomatoes calls it rotten, with a sad 57%, but it's pretty easy to see why. Give this one a miss.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Psycho

Psycho (Collector's Edition) Brilliant. The only negative critique on rottentomatoes.com seems to be that it's not shallow enough, which I think the film can handle.

I wouldn't call this work perfect, by any means. The explicatory speech given at the end by the psychologist seems to dull the impact somewhat, but we know that Hitchcock jonesed for resolution, never fully embracing Modernism. He also seems to be somewhat of a Freudian Hack.

Besides that, though, this movie is amazing. Anthony Perkins is attractive and endearing - the quintessential . . . (it's a classic. Forgive the spoilers). . . serial killer. Janet Leigh plays a nuanced but only marginally sympathetic victim. The movie provided horrors that frighten even when you look at them straight, unlike most thriller stories, which look a little too. . . chocolate syrup? . . . when you face them completely.

I loved this movie, and it was with great joy that I discovered Netflix reserved the rating, which allowed my mother to allow herself to watch the thing with us. Honestly, the R rating could only have been thematic, because this film contains little that would offend - but plenty that might disturb sensitive viewers.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lili

Lili For many, many years as a child this was my favorite film. It was so much my favorite that I bought the book as a paperback (Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico). Although many seem to love both stories, after reading the book I could only see the deep flaws. Rewatching the movie, I see many of those flaws reflected, and I find myself unable to relate to the childhood part of me that loved this film. Let me explain why.

Although the stage-like filming kept that feeling of carnival pretending, the emotions running through this film felt much too real. This mightn't be a flaw -- it could be the most important factor, making the emotions the only "real" thing in the movie -- if only the rest of the movie treated emotions more realistically.

As in the book, the character of the puppeteer proved much too violent and problematic to allow for romance to develop without severe conscience issues, unless you want to admit that you'd encourage someone to enter or stay in an abusive relationship. In the book, the puppeteer is repeatedly physically violent, but even in the hideous fifties that wasn't appropriate on screen for a romantic film, so Paul Berthalet only strikes Lili once while the rest of his abuse is verbal and emotional. And yet the script obviously wants the audience to buy into the romance of the film; we want to buy into it. Mel Ferrer plays a strong man with emotional depth and tenderness. But in reality, if a man can't express his depth or tenderness, it's useless. It withers and dies, and in the shadow of violence, it's meaningless from the outset.

Abuse is abuse. That character accuses Lili of only seeing his anger, but the man never showed anything else to her, except through puppets, and how is a person to know what is real if it goes through a filter that thick? It's as likely that Paul faked kindness in his puppets as that he really meant what his puppets said. How is Lili to tell the difference? Should she distinguish between them? Abuse is abuse, regardless of how the abuser finds to express any "other" side of himself.

Ultimately, although interesting and nuanced, this film has much more adult themes that make the ending all too problematic for a mature audience, and to a child, it could be teaching some dangerous ideas, like the tolerance of violence, and the same dangerous helplessness that characterizes so many of the Disnified fairy-tales.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Animals are Beautiful People

Animals Are Beautiful People Although largely less than scientific, this documentary explores the human, human-like and anthropomorphized behaviors of various forms of life in the Namib desert, Africa's largest natural reserve. Check out this picture of The Moon Valley, part of the desert in Western Africa

If the narrator, Paddy O'Byrne, sounds familiar, you might recognize him from The Gods Must Be Crazy, a film from the same creator: Jamie Uys. This DVD has been re-titled as Beautiful People, according to IMDB.com, but is listed everywhere under the original title.

And now to my opinion: I loved it. I laughed, I cared about the animals, and I wished it had been a little longer. Although many of the scenes were enhanced with animation, edited, or altered to make the documentary more interesting, all of them were fascinating.

My Name is Nobody

My Name Is Nobody You must see this movie if you have not already at least ten times. It's brilliant. It's funny. It's full of classic lines. It's dubbed over Italian. Love Sergio Leone, man. I totally dig the Ennio Morricone music, too.

This film also stands out as Henry Fonda's last western. He performs beautifully, and makes a respectable contrast to Terence Hill's good-natured comedy and pretty-boy blue eyes and dimpled smile.

Let me tell you a story. One of my best friends is seventy-six years old. She watches Australian soap operas and unfunny Brit-coms (nothing crass, just slow), and tells me how much she enjoys them. She fell asleep less than ten minutes into the movie, woke up just as the end credits were rolling, and said, "that film did nothing for me."

I cracked up just re-telling the story. Like most good things, this movie may require some effort: trying to stay awake, for instance, after a long, sleepless night. Some of the moments are a little more subtle than others, but the humor is well worth the effort.

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle In Time Like most people, I read this book as a child and really liked it. I finished the series at some point, and spent a few years fighting with my little sister over ownership of one of the books. Happy childhood memories I have!

I attempted to reread the book once, but Madeleine L'Engle disappointed me by not standing up to scientific scrutiny. How pathetic! It's a children's novel! Am I really so demanding? Apparently.

I enjoyed the movie, although it was a little bit long. The child actors seemed to have fun, and fit their roles well enough to help with the suspension of disbelief. The adult actors disappointed me a little, but I think they did simply what was expected, and that was play to a very young audience. They raised the pitch of their voices, and spoke softly, and got all "mommy," which drove me crazy even in kindergarten.

Audiences on rottentomatoes.com gave it a 47%. I think it deserved better, but not a lot. Maybe in the sixties would describe it well.

Washington Square

Washington Square I hate Henry James almost as much as I hate Thomas Hardy. Fortunately for my impartiality, I didn't know this film was based on a Henry James novel until I started doing my research afterwards.

The film still left me miserable. The jokes weren't funny (typically of Henry James), and like most American literature, the ending completely lacks energy or optimism. Should I blame the actors? Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing Catherine Sloper, captured perfectly all her character's clumsiness and ignorance. Albert Finney struck just the right chord of contempt and affection. Maggie Smith, the comic relief, actually frightened me. I would never blame her, but I most certainly might criticize the director. I think she veered too much toward Andrew Davies, which is a mistake* for any filmmaker.

Sidenote: Although I like Davies's work very much, it lacks innovation. He has never seemed to struggle or reinvent himself. We like him because he stays pretty true to the texts with which he works, but eventually that becomes a little too "safe" for any real creativity. I prefer Love's Labour's Lost, simply because it is brave.

Love's Labours Lost

Love's Labour's Lost Every bit as silly as the cover promises, this Kenneth Branagh's 2000 attempt puts Shakespeare's somewhat unimpressive text to all kinds of Fred and Ginger songs (written by Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Irving Berlin, mostly).

I think the effort was admirable, at least. The acting worked (I recognized and liked many of the cast - except Alicia Silverstone, who disappointed me), and the story seemed as plausible as any of Shakespeare's comedies, but so many other, little facets felt half-assed. The sets felt stagey (which isn't necessarily bad, except that so many other aspects of the film were meant to be rooted in film tradition), and the dancing. . . well, you can't have Fred and Ginger without, well, Fred and/or Ginger. Perhaps if it had been filmed in black and white it might have worked better.

Film critics on rottentomatoes.com didn't like it either, giving it a predictable 48%. Most of them found that it simply didn't work. The project seemed vague and unsuccessful, but one critic did point out that the whole idea was very imaginative. That's absolutely true. With an off-the-wall project like this, it's as likely to fail as succeed. Unfortunately, this one failed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Grand Hotel

Grand HotelGreta Garbo is a terrible ham. I kept laughing whenever she overacted (which was kind of a lot). Plus I got to see that cliched line, "I want to be alone."

Joan Crawford, however, is actually pretty funny, and very pretty.

Although this film probably began as the intertwining as several smaller plot lines (much like I imagine Love Actually did), in reality it felt chaotic and badly paced. This film is not a favorite.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Sunrise - A Song of Two Humans (Limited Edition) Yeech. For pity's sake, DON'T see this film colorized! I'm convinced that colorization is/was the bane of cinematography (especially when they got the woman's dress wrong from The Secret life of Walter Mitty).

Well, even if it's colorized DO see this film. It's a brilliant blend of humanistic realism and emotional surreality. Even rottentomatoes.com says it's worth it. They gave the film a completely earned 97% on the tomatometer.

Do you want to know what surprised me about silent films? I'm always surprised by the quality of the images. I have been used to watching things in snowy, fuzzy screens from bad cable connections, or degraded VHS. I always thought that the older the films were, the more degraded the images would be. I have so often been proven wrong, especially after groups like Criterion, who restore these old films and put them on DVD. I watch these movies and think, "they look like real people!" instead of vague, humanoid, painted masks. Really old movies, pre-'25, are still pretty blurry, but by the thirties, they all start to look wonderful, at least in parts.

In Old Arizona

In Old Arizona It's Black & White, folks. 1928. It's a Best Actor winner (Warner Baxter), but not extremely deep, as films go. As one critic on imdb.com noticed, the actors talk in twenties slang, although the film is supposedly set in the old west (1830s? pre-gold-rush, I believe). It actually made the whole thing that much more funny.

The main character is supposedly Portuguese, although his accent (completely fake, and really thick) seems more Italian. All the Portuguese Americans I know sound more French. Maybe they're from a different part of Portugal? At least anyone speaking Spanish spoke real Spanish, although some of the Spanish/Mexican accents were a little ridiculous.

The final, twist ending isn't really all that twisty. You pretty much see it coming from a mile away, which is fine, since that's what you want to happen anyway. Like I said, the movie's not all that deep. The acting wasn't brilliant, either (which makes me totally surprised that it won, but I suppose I should take a closer look at its competition).

It's funny. It's not too long. I think it's worth seeing.

Last Holiday

Last Holiday (Widescreen Edition) Way fun, if a little naive. Sometimes we just like naive.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet Although I fully appreciated how well the film avoided superhero cliches, Seth Rogen's character was much too over-the-top offensive for me to truly have any fun. I kept wincing. It falls into the same category as The Office (US) and Fawlty Towers - the "too painful to watch" category.

Kato was pretty fun to watch, though. I liked the effects during his fight scenes. I wouldn't at all have minded seeing him hook up with Cameron Diaz (although that was probably the obvious they were trying to avoid).

Maybe the movie was trying to avoid all its cartoonish predecessors of the nineties (The Shadow, The Phantom). In that case, it absolutely succeeded. Unfortunately, I liked its cartoonish predecessors (something of which I know I should be ashamed, but I'm unrepentantly NOT).

The characterizations seemed remarkably realistic, though. I enjoyed watching a superhero bungle his way into well-deserved infamy. Unfortunately, they pretty much nailed the "tortured past" cliche, and the lampshade wasn't big enough. The final dynamic - the main character's relationship with his father - worked quite well.