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.

The Other Guys

The Other Guys (The Unrated Other Edition)The critics may disagree, but I found this film just slightly more than a little frustrating. Mark Wahlberg's character was obviously trying to pull away from being Farrell's straight man, but I didn't quite understand the senseless anger thing. Were they mocking cop dramas? Are guys in cop dramas senselessly angry all the time? I'm sorry, I just don't get it. Eva Mendez was hilarious, though. All three of them set up some really great gags.

The movie made me laugh, but I really don't think I'd give it four stars.

Salt

Salt (Deluxe Unrated Edition)This film had all the elements of a classic cold-war spy thriller in much the same way State of Play reprised journalism drama. Both Liev Schreiber and Angelina Jolie played very well, especially off each-other, and although this film must essentially showcase stunts and physical effects, the plot and ending work quite well too, without becoming too belabored or falling into too many cliche traps.

Salt is ultimately exciting and fun, but don't try to wrangle a classic out of it.

State of Play

State of Play (2009) It's very important to give yourself time to process a film before writing about it. As you look back at the dwindling memory of the experience of watching a movie, that Hollywood glow slowly fades into a more two-dimensional image that is much easier to criticize. Which is why I'm writing about this movie RIGHT NOW.

Effing brilliant. I loved every moment of this film that I didn't fast-forward (I get really anxious during moments of high tension, so I fast-forward them. I don't miss any dialogue, and I still get a fairly thorough idea of the images). Everything about this film amazed me. The cast were perfect, and I'm not even a very big Russell Crowe fan (well, I wasn't).

The story may not contain anything ground-breakingly unheard-of, but the whole thing plays with (almost as a masterpiece) the intrigue drama. I was constantly amazed how such a classic story became fresh through this production. I never felt deja vu, or had flashbacks to other films. I simply enjoyed the ride as if I'd never been before.

The director, Kevin Macdonald amazed me. The tone, character interactions, the whole piece just fit amazingly well. I'm giving a shout-out to Rodrigo Prieto as the cinematographer. I don't know if he's directly or indirectly responsible for the amazing way I absolutely DIDN'T get annoyed by too many boring close-close-ups, and the framing of the scenes in the garage, but I thoroughly enjoyed it all very, very much. I'm going to have to appreciate Justine Wright's work as film editor, too. I haven't heard of these people. You probably haven't heard of these people, but they do their jobs well.

Rotten Tomatoes critics generally agree with me (84% on the tomatometer), but they probably gave themselves time to digest, and dig out the flaws. Ultimately, finding flaws with this film would only give you a false impression about how it felt to watch it. I saw none while I was watching. It was just a lot of fun. I'm going to watch the BBC series now, because A) it's got John Simm (of the BBC's Life on Mars - the BEST television show I've seen since Wonderfalls) and B) it'll give the plot some stretching room. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Wyvern Mystery

The Wyvern Mystery The plot of this miniseries follows that of Jane Eyre significantly, at least in generalities. A young woman of humble origins is raised in a wealthy household. She marries a young man of fortune, but must hide from her benefactor, who she is told would take his revenge for casting him off. There's a madwoman in the attic, somebody dies. . . Anyway, it's all pretty mundane. It doesn't shine, as a story. Even the ending pulls you down in to the dumps. It's way too Thomas Hardy for my personal taste.

I think I could re-write this much, much better. As a matter of fact, I think I will.

Besides the writing, this film is beautifully acted. All of the players convince me completely. The images are characteristically Gothic, but the camera seems a little too close-in sometimes. I suppose it's a technique for causing anxiety as part of its frightening appeal, but I more often felt blind. It's probably just a personal quirk.

The Happiest Millionaire

The Happiest Millionaire Wow, the sixties were really swinging! This children's movie has a large, happy scene which takes place in a bar, and alcohol and tobacco feature heavily. I wasn't necessarily bothered, as I'm not a mother, but I suspect serious reasons that this film has never achieved real prominence (well, in addition to the mediocre music). It's not exactly Mary Poppins, despite what the cover says.

In addition to the inexplicably lax attitude toward controlled substances, the film also stretches for interminable lengths. The plot isn't anything to write home about, and large chunks of it are put on hold while we listen to the tedious show-music. I fast-forwarded the Entr'acte.

Pluses include Tommy Steele who always makes me smile, Greer Garson (but without the wig), and Lesley Ann Warren (though I'm not sure if Clue made me completely forgive her for Cinderella). Also, the alligators did a wonderfully random job.

Sadly, I've never been a fan of Ken, so the story's hero had little or no appeal for me. As such, I'm not a great judge of his value to the work as a whole.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Who Am I This Time

Who Am I This Time? This obviously low-budget adaptation of a Kurt Vonnegut story actually rings a bell with me. I remember seeing it when I was younger, and thinking how unsatisfying I found the ending, but now I think I have grown into an ability to interpret contemporary film (ha ha ha). I get it. I like it. I leave the piece with a huge glow, and a feeling of contentment.

Unfortunately, I've read about too many method actors who simply can't find anyone to put up with their off-screen shenanigans indefinitely. It's great when you can feed your husband community theater for the rest of your life, but what happens when a big producer hires him to play a serial killer, or an abuser? It sounds a little too wild for me, although for the right guy I imagine you could put up with a lot. Or if you're the right woman, perhaps.

Anyway, it's less than an hour long, and it's great to watch and recognize the lines especially if you've ever worked in drama or a theater (or literature). Oh, and Christopher Walken gets an affectionate nod. Both he and Susan Sarandon won me over completely.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre It's in the theaters, folks, not on disc yet. I've seen about six versions of this book. I have my favorite (Timothy Dalton's, though I've yet to see the Ciaran Hinds version - I think he'd be perfect), . . . and then I start thinking about Pride and Prejudice.

As film adaptations of classical literature go. . . And there I shall stop. Just go see it. You don't really care what I think anyway.

Knight and Day

Knight and Day (Single-Disc Edition) I understand that "Roy" was birth-named Matthew Knight. It made sense. But Day? I have no idea where that comes from. Perhaps I simply wasn't paying enough attention, which is likely enough, because within just a few moments I knew this wasn't exactly a thinker.

This summer movie is just plain silly. Silly, silly, silly. I couldn't take it seriously for a moment. Although I enjoyed a few things, the stunts were all way over the top, the acting was good enough without being deep, and the plot itself moved quickly and relatively logically, the piece as a whole simply didn't have the capacity to hold anything more than the shallowest of entertainment.

For what it was, it was well-done, but I can't help wishing it were at least one thing of the many things it wasn't.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Doctor Who: The Movie

Doctor Who: The Movie (Special Edition) The 52% tomato-meter reading can be explained only in one way: the only reason anyone would watch this film is that he or she is already a fan of Doctor Who, and as such, cannot help but promote anything Whovian, no matter how campy. Tragically, I fall into this precarious category.

As a dedicated Whovian, I have become accustomed to the Who Camp. Mind; it's a different kind of camp than your usual cult classics. Who Camp involves slimy villains, (usually) badly-written lines, overacting to the point of melodrama, and general adult silliness, which in itself, does not diverge from normal camp. Who Camp, though, also has a sweeping sense of optimism and universality which many productions completely lack. The Doctor, as a character, embodies something more/less than our need for a superhero, and yet carries us away in an imaginary place where the earth is protected (although, like most superhero stories, his also invents the villains from whom the earth must be protected), and we're safe to run away to places more alien than our own minds. How many of us feel safe enough to run away to, say, Taiwan?

Unfortunately for this movie, the Doctor travels to America, which he (and the audience, supposedly) finds ultimately to have been a mistake (almost always). Not only does he travel to America, but he travels to America in the nineties: not exactly an ideal vacation spot - and the dogs have noses.

Paul McGann does actually have many of the aspects of Doctor Who that his predecessors did. He finds delight in childish things, like perfectly-fitting shoes. He must convince doubtful mortals of their imminent danger and convince them to help. The villain is mildly frightening (Pre- John Simm, The Master hasn't ever been entirely frightening, for all his cruelty and callousness). The Tardis had changed significantly from the days of the white roundel, but because it has continued to change, we barely notice anymore. At least it still functions (even with the brakes on). If McGann does make one mistake, it isn't his fault. It's those damn writers. They A) had him confessing to be half-human (which is totally apocryphal, and serves no purpose), B) harped on the "only thirteen lives" thing (which I suppose we could toss out as a bit of outdated Time Lord legislation, used here only to add some sense of urgency to keeping the Doctor alive), C) actually acted romantically interested in a human, which doesn't quite work for anyone but Rose, especially in something as short-lived as a TV movie. The Doctor, as a 907-year-old, must see time passing more quickly, and a two-hour-stand must seem ridiculously brief for any sort of emotional involvement. And even with Rose, it didn't get all - biological. And finally, D) have him spouting personal nonsense to every third stranger he meets, as if time travelers have little better to do than interfere in little lives, one at a time. I might stretch that last one by building a kind of "he saw it coming" or "he went back and set it up" mythos, but I don't think the writers of this movie thought that far ahead. Shame on them.

It's also not McGann's fault that the aluminum apparatus in which he's suspended toward the end of the film makes him look like a [insert British expletive here].

The film had many disadvantages, but the only one that really bothered me was the Doctor's sentimentality. It's a different sentimentality, completely lacking his characteristic resilience upon which fans so constantly depend. Our Doctor feels things, certainly, but he doesn't get all mushy at the slightest provocation. Or any provocation, really. Not mushy. This movie made him mushy. For that, I'd never rate it above three stars.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Broadway Melody

The Broadway Melody (Special Edition)Hated it. This film rested squarely on an outdated obsession with the melodrama of the stage. It doesn't age well.

Blase. Dull. Unmemorable music upstaged by mediocre camera and filming. It's proof that the Oscars don't weather time.