Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kamikaze Girls

Kamikaze Girls I admit it; I didn't actually finish this movie. I probably should have stopped it sooner. The melodramatic style and exaggerated flashbacks, though amusing and probably indicative of the narrating character, put me off. I found them vulgar and incomprehensible.

I think this movie had great potential, stylistically, but I'm not really sure how to feel that Netflix thought I'd rate this four stars. I gave it a generous two.

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist (1948) - (The Criterion Collection) As part of the Criterion Collection, you can expect certain quirks and oddities in the film, as the goal of the company is to restore old films, and in this case, I'm very glad they did.

Unlike the musical version, or any other version I've seen (of perhaps three or four), this version's antagonists really antagonized. Alec Guinness plays the money-grubbing, scheming, Jewish Fagan, and the moment I realized that he wanted Sykes to kill Nancy (planned it! Schemed for it!), I actually gasped out loud. I'm not sure who to blame for the antisemitism, having never read the book, but it wouldn't actually surprise me if Dickens himself were the culprit. To be fair, though, Dickens has written several similar characters, and the majority spring from the London culture (which Dickens harshly critiqued), and not from abroad, necessarily (unlike Holmes villains, who are almost always either foreign, or female).

Several of the scenes toward the end of this film contain weighty art-shots and significant pauses for emphasis, and I enjoyed the skill with which the crew put them together, and the time they give the audience to digest what they have and have not seen. Perhaps these moments stood out to me because of the silence. Try it for yourself and decide.

Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance? While not as overtly romantic or emotionally fulfilling as the American version, this film does give its audience a solid glimpse of life in a different culture. I saw many similarities with American life, and many differences, and I felt entertained and mildly enlightened by it.

The images did lack some color, although perhaps because I did view this on an older VHS cassette. The framing and lighting felt as though the director was naturally timid, but attempted something more dramatic. It felt like a great effort, although a largely successful one.

Like most foreign films I've seen, the pacing in this movie followed differently than what might be familiar to us. Children and teens would find it slow, and some of the casual conversation perhaps inappropriate, but always uniquely realistic (in a very movie way).

Lord Love a Duck

Lord Love a Duck Again, I have seen this film before. I still like it for several reasons, but before I explain why, I would like to point out that I found the framing and editing quite careless, as if the visual director felt a little too off-hand about the whole thing. Perhaps he did, and perhaps he was justified. This movie can only aspire to cult classic status, and will never be considered a true success.

Both Ruth Gordon and Tuesday Weld play highly sexualized characters, although in Ms. Gordon's case, the sexuality is mostly verbal. Ms. Weld, though, simpers and wiggles and otherwise lives it up. I remember specifically any scene involving cashmere sweaters. You would, too. Although it feels like too much while one watches, I think it may be necessary to her character. Barbara Ann is a vacuous nobody, who, if she had any depth, might be bitter. The actress does a marvelous job capturing that, though, and we truly wonder how Allen (Roddy McDowall) gets at all emotionally involved.

Roddy McDowall's character has much more depth and energy, but his focus (as a teen) is captured by Barbara Ann, who abuses it terribly until the final moments when he breaks completely. In my youth I never quite understood what happens because the ending doesn't feel as serious as it should. But in fact, Allen does commit a horrible crime made light by the script and filming. It seems now a careless ridiculousness, or the desperate humor of a confused generation.

Memorable quotation: (from a drive-in minister) "Prayers are answered because whatever happens: that's the answer."

Ultimately, the movie is funny and ironic and insightful.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Racket

The Racket Robert Mitchum has a really tiny mouth.

As another near-Oscar, this film's main strength was its plot. The story develops in clear pieces as major climaxes come and pass, to let the audience catch its breath. Although the themes are clear and laudible, the story itself does not have that epic-feeling ending typical of Hollywood where everything's settled, and the world can continue toward Utopia. The ending is actually "happy" without being orgasmic. I consider it fine work.

The protagonists are policemen, and the bad guys are criminals, but there are criminals in the middle as well, and good guys who have yet to make up their minds. In this way, the characterizations featured here are remarkably nuanced for the era. Even now, when our tendency is to romanticize criminals, we rarely find that kind of balance in a world set up clearly as a conflict between good and evil. We tend to see every character as clearly good or clearly evil, although possibly disguised as the other.

Strictly Ballroom

Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition I hate the cover on this one. Oh well. Anyway, I could watch this movie twenty times. I probably have watched it twenty times, and every time I'd say the same thing: Excellent!

This film is an older version of the typical makeover romantic comedy (beginning weirdly as a kind of mocumentary), but with Australian ballroom dancing featuring heavily. He's an open amateur and champion, and she's a beginner, but she has the attitude he needs to be his best self.

The themes of overcoming fear and the frustrations of the older generation resonated strongly with me as an adolescent, and I recommend it to any young person on the verge of a big decision.

As filming goes, it's a dangerous proposition. The costuming, steeped in all the tackiness of eighties ballroom dancing (and Australia), can be truly off-putting. The multi-culturalism works well, though, and balances and grounds the flashiness with some real depth. The dancing is all spectacularly done, and the acting works well, too. The camera finds an occasional art-shot or slow-motion, but never anything really wild or innovative. It's a romantic comedy, and it works.

The Fountain

The Fountain (Widescreen Edition)This film should only be watched once.

As a second-time viewer, I knew approximately how it ended, and how the three epic stories tied together, but it wasn't pleasant to watch. It wasn't pleasant the first time, but at least the images were striking, and felt like some kind of voyage of discovery. Watching this again was a bit like watching The Sixth Sense for the fourth time. The impact had disappeared.

For most of the film, the camera moved toward those truly frustrating close-up, poser shots that so irritated me about Master and Commander. I understand that these are pretty people, and they earn the money, and so they get close-ups, but when it doesn't enhance the plot or the artistic composition as a whole - when it doesn't create unity, then it has no place. Actors should understand that, and have a serious heart-to-heart with their directors about it.

I usually enjoy watching Rachel Weisz, but in this film she seemed flat, passive, and enervated. To be fair, she was playing a tree dying of cancer, but I can't help thinking that the character written for her ultimately sabotaged the film as a complete work.

Female

Searching for this title on Amazon.com brings some eye-opening results, and none of them are this film.

It's another pre-code, Forbidden Hollywood movie about (of all the things) a bitchy businesswoman who does basically what men did back then - troll through the vast army of compatible employees and use them as one-night-stands. That works, as far as it goes. I felt quite sympathetic with anyone or anything that would convince her of the serious error of that kind of life (I'd feel the same way if it were a man).

Unfortunately for my feminism, this particular female falls in love and finds that "she just can't do it" like a man can, ie.: be both romantic and business. Men, though, men can continue their extra-marital activities for decades after marriage AND run a company. Such gifted human beings! How did they ever do it?

I imagine that today's bitchy businesswoman rom-coms are directly responding to this kind of nonsense, although they go much too far in the wrong direction.

This film is a historical oddity, but not necessarily worth watching except out of curiosity, or as a study of feminism (like shooting fish in a barrel) or Hollywood anti-feminism.

Three on a Match

Three on a Match [VHS] I watched this on DVD as part of the "Forbidden Hollywood Collection" and as always, enjoyed it. Although parts of it seem a little melodramatic, as a pre-code film I think it more naturally captures the essence of the age. I don't necessarily object to Hollywood code, but it definitely had an effect, and you can see that when you compare the film eras.

The story is a melodramatic cautionary tale for women, but does have some minor themes of redemption and optimism. The story follows three female acquaintances from their grade-school days through marriage, and in some cases, death. I saw a strong tendency to stereotype, but I suspect that kind of grouping must have seemed necessary for the morality tale: sort of an, "if you're like this" thing.

Bette Davis plays a relatively small role, which I appreciated (I'm not a Davis fan) but all three major actresses performed beautifully.

Phoebe in Wonderland

Phoebe in Wonderland This most amazing story of the psychological journey of a very young girl emphasized some very difficult conflicts in our society. As our awareness, naming, and categorization of mental illness progresses, our appreciation for imagination decreases. It shouldn't necessarily be that way, and the mother in this story feels acutely these pressures, as well as the other significant conflict in the story, which is between motherhood and scholarship.

I appreciate and enjoyed both the children's and the adults' performances. The images blended well into the themes, although I'm not entirely sure they blended well with each-other. I like seeing things through Phoebe's eyes. It's hard to do, but I'm glad it was done.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Zathura

Zathura (Special Edition) I'm pretty sure I've reviewed this film already, but I watched it again, so I'm going to tell you again how beautiful the images in this film are. Admittedly, it's a ton better on a huge screen, but nothing can suppress the sheer imagination of this movie, even Kristen Stewart's bad acting. Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference between her and her wax replica. It's kinda tragic. Dax Shepard, though, did a wonderful job, as did both of the child stars.

Although this movie seems a kind of sequel to Jumanji (which I also enjoyed), it has some interesting dynamics. The single father household seemed particularly outside, for the type of film. The house/set was amazing, and really brought out the imagination of this piece.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Seventh Heaven

7th Heaven This thickly sentimental silent film features Frank Morgan: The Wizard of Oz, although you won't know him to see him. I think the most amazing part of this movie is the careful, artistic nature of many of the images. Although the screen is small - widescreen is apparently not yet available in 1927 - many images capture the imagination, like small stills. Although some shots are made with moving camera, the majority are carefully framed art shots.

I can't say much for the soundtrack; it gets a bit repetitive. The film isn't strictly silent; it sits on the advent of movie sound. Before movie sound, the silent films played in the theater to live music, which lacked consistency from theater to theater. We know what sound is now. In between, hangs a brief era where a music score came with the film reels, either on the film itself, or played on phonograph. It doesn't include any dialogue, which is still read on the screen (only when necessary for plot. Quite often, we're left to imagine what's being said by the expressions, which are quite easy to read). The score of this film includes several very well-known classical themes, but as I say, it got a bit repetitive.

The acting is, of course, brilliant. The only major drawback is the syrupy sentimentality, which fits well with the final War drama. The movie actually slips through several phases. It begins as a bleak, realistic piece but moves quickly into romance, ending finally as war movie. All the way through, weaves a theme of religious/morality tale. Back then, I assume they didn't feel the need to slip into a specific and single genre.

The leading actor is quite handsome, and the leading ladies are quite the lookers, too. I didn't expect that.

This is the first of the Best Picture series. I recommend watching with an art major, and finding out what she thinks.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tangled

Tangled Gloria and I both noticed that this film seemed to correct many of the errors of its predecessors. Although I got nervous as the Little Mermaid comparisons blossomed in the dark, I was able to store them tidily under my chair and enjoy the movie. (Disney's The Little Mermaid is the only film I've ever seen that actually seemed commissioned by the devil himself. Skip the condemnation, and read the book.)

With a few embellishments (for the sake of length, I'm sure), Disney sticks pretty closely with the original story, although originally, the hero is a prince, and the evil witch gouges his eyes out and throws him from the tower. Disney disnified it (again): no blood (even from the witch), no eyeless prince. I liked Rapunzel, and I especially loved how the only one truly disappointed to be a brunette was the witch (when she looked young, she looked a bit like Cher. I wondered where they were going with that, because it seemed ethnocentric).

Also in the original stories, Rapunzel's parents are commoners, and they literally steal the plant from the witch's garden. Once again, Disney felt the need to clarify the whole thing morally (what!? Oh well, like I said - they're correcting their previous errors).

I also really, really, really liked anything to do with cast-iron skillets. But seriously: don't try that at home. You can actually kill someone with them (if you can lift them).

The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender Although this film got terrible reviews (Rotten Tomatoes gave it a whopping 6%), I can't help clinging to the belief that it has some merit. Although almost all of the things that made the cartoon enjoyable fell away in this critically shortened production, what remained includes the sense of adventure.

The major reasons I can't necessarily recommend this film include the sadly smelling acting, and the pathetically low-budget effects. Not all of the effects were low-budget, and not all of the acting smelled, just enough of both that I noticed even when I was only half-paying attention (Michael found a wolf-spider outside my bedroom door during the last half hour, and then teased me with it. It was a bit distracting).

The final nail in this film's coffin is its complete lack of humor. The most endearing aspect of the Nickelodeon television series was the way it left you laughing, and the way it poked fun at broad parts of our culture. I don't think a single person ever cracked a smile in the movie. It moved steadily and seriously, which made it difficult to love. It compares easily with Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice but even that one stopped for comic relief. The Last Airbender shouldn't need comic relief. It IS comic relief. It's a children's cartoon that includes an old martial artist who makes perfect tea, a ten-year-old with phenomenal powers and a sense of mischief, and a whiny teenager just trying to keep up. It's a perfect setup for funny.

Q: What do you call a fish with no eyes?
A: Blind

Sadly, I can't condemn the thing outright. It did get most of the plot right, and although the editing stinks too (like the acting), the action parts were pretty cool.

I hope they sue the editor. And hire a better scriptwriter for the stillborn sequels.