Saturday, October 27, 2012

Once Upon a Time in the West

This film breaks my heart. Every time.

It's difficult to watch, like so many other great films, with long visual shots and little dialogue. The soundtrack, music by Ennio Morricone and other sound effects, still comprises most of the story - no surprise once you realize that a harmonica plays a key role from beginning to climax.

If you watch westerns you'll recognize most of the actors with speaking rolls, but traditionally the one that shocked America was beautiful Henry Fonda (blue eyes and all) as the sadistic and thoroughly hatable baddie. The romantic hero is played by Charles Bronson, as a native American. Another significant post-Colonialist move was placing a female at the center of the story, around which the plot moved, and through which, like the railroad, all parts met (an idea expressed in the amazing commentary (though John Carpenter comes off as kind of mean)).

A must-see. Ten out of ten. Right after Sergio Leone's other masterpiece: My Name is Nobody.

The Werkmeister Harmonies

On my favorite level, this unashamedly difficult film is the story of a boy who was a whale.

Bela Tarr unfolds a simple but interesting narrative, full of big people, little people, and the apparatuses that fill in the blanks between, including (significantly, in my opinion) books.

Emotionally evocative in black and white, the images often pass slowly, or remain on screen interminably, subtly shifting, progressing, regressing. For an audience with a visual attention span of seven seconds, all 2.2 hours are impossible, but moving nonetheless. This film can change you, if you can sit through it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Losers

Based on a comic book, this film contained some art-shots, especially of "Max." The brief obscuring of his face increased that rather bland face's impact.

In the vein of The A-Team, the plot follows the exploits of a disenfranchised military group as they recover from the CIA's betrayal, and return to the United States to exact their revenge. They are picked up by a mysterious and "volatile" woman. I enjoyed the marginally futuristic technology.

There's a twist or two. The film is generally fun, and very exciting, but often violent. I found myself wincing at each blow, and scanning past the fights. I'm becoming soft in my old age.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Peggy Sue Got Married

Netflix has been throwing this film at me since I joined more than five years ago. I finally gave in and watched it. I decided it was a morality tale on the ills of wearing white suits.

Nicholas Cage is worse in this film than he was in Moonstruck (though clearly, he didn't ruin either film, to my surprise (and delight, in the case of Moonstruck)). I don't understand his voice. Did he think sounding like a cartoon all the time was a good idea? Frankly, I wouldn't hire him as a voice actor either, but I've really loved his more recent stuff, when he plays regular guys (who turn into flaming skeletons, and drink jelly-beans from a martini glass).

Ultimately, the story of Peggy Sue, who falls very ill at a twenty-year reunion and wakes up to find herself in high school in 1960, is sweet and very, very odd. My brain didn't stretch well over the first few scenes. I couldn't figure out what year it was supposed to be, and why the clothes were weird, or how old anyone was supposed to be. I eventually figured it out, though. Kathleen Turner brilliantly performs a grown woman in the life of a teenager. Things would certainly have been different.

If you're looking for a content advisory, Peggy Sue makes several morally questionable decisions, especially about sex, alcohol, and cigarettes. She makes some great social decisions, though.

I found the scene where Michael asks her to tend chickens with Beth in the hills outside of Provo slightly offensive (as it was clearly written out of ignorance), but still funny.

3/5 for enjoyment, 5/10 for recommendation. Toss a coin - you won't miss anything, or probably regret watching it either.

Starcrossed

James Spader plays an auto-mechanic who has to help a gorgeous alien escape earth and lead a rebellion on her homeworld, which has apparently been taken as slaves for a race of black-leather-clad male models.Her race has outgrown both sex and freedom, which are apparently idiologically linked as somehow costly.

 

The special effects were inexpensive, and the ending ambiguous. The acting was odd. . . not Kristen Stewart bad, necessarily, but very odd. Also very odd were the biblical allusions/references. He quotes Genesis, and she talks about heaven (is Heaven actually described in the Bible?).

 

It's a really obscure, mftv thing, though, so I doubt whether I shall spare the time to figure it out. I gave it 3/5 stars, for strangeness, but on a recommendation scale of 1-10, I think I'll stick to three.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Move Over, Darling

Doris Day and James Garner star in this remake of the 1930's screwball comedy My Favorite Wife which originally starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Move Over, Darling gives its predecessor a delightful nod, and still updates the characterizations and situations for the decades-later rewrite. A woman, lost on an island for years while her children grow, returns from a heroic rescue on the day her husband declares her dead and remarries. The problem remains one-sided as she intercepts the honeymoon and pressures her husband to break it to the histrionic new bride. Things even out, though, when the poor bigamist learns that his wife wasn't alone on the island for all those years. She lived with a beefcake who's just as happy to disrupt the marriage and snag the faithful, returning wife.

The original screwball paced itself more evenly, with a lengthy sine-curve of problems and resolutions until everyone finally reconciles. The update moved much more in the mountain-climbing pattern we're accustomed to until the delightful conclusion.

Oddly, Doris Day doesn't sing as much in this as Irene Dunne did in the other, and where Irene Dunne was playful and teasing, Doris Day played up the belligerence, which felt more realistic, as reactions go. That pouting anger seems to indicate that the film didn't just emerge in color, but it also changed genres. Screwball comedies depend largely on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl tradition. An MPDG is alluring for her maturity in immaturity. She's affectionate and kittenish, even (especially) when she's torturing the straight-man husband/lover/stranger, but she doesn't throw tantrums, take the hard line, care about money, or betray real emotion. She's ridiculously unrealistic, but nevertheless attractive for audiences of all gender orientations because she imbues the plot and script with amazing amounts of energy, unpredictability, and wit, which explains her eternal presence in all media.

Screwball comedies, however, died soon after the thirties. Move Over, Darling represents its succeeding genre: the romantic comedy. Romantic comedies rely purely on plot to keep the in-love protagonists apart until the final scenes. Because of this plot-pattern foundation, rather than the often tragically flimsy reliance on characterization and script for romantic suspense, the lead female character in a romantic comedy often emerges MUCH less sympathetic or attractive, especially to other female audience members (watch Meg Ryan in Kate & Leopold, or Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, or any other examples of the "bitchy-businesswoman rom-coms" sub-genre).

The result of this re-distribution of emphasis from character to plot is a deeper, more human but sometimes less light-hearted story, unless you enjoy watching angry women. I don't think I do, but I still recommend this one.

 

Another odd moment that seemed to stick in my brain occurred during the courtroom scene. In My Favorite Wife the judge asks the bride if the marriage to be anulled was "kissless" - a clear and probably legal euphemism for "not consumated," and Bianca answers, and the conversation continues. In Move Over, Darling, though, the same question is asked, but with different words. "Without kisses?" the judge asks. "Without anything!" she replies, deeply distressed. The audience (including me, eighty years later) clearly understands what "kissless" means. I feel two questions about this. Why is it so important to the audience that the characters make it clear they didn't have sex? And why change the wording to something which both emphasizes sex, and cracks what seems to be an unfunny joke?

The first question is more complex than it seems. In MO,D, the script and scenes demonstrate exhaustively that Nick Arden couldn't possibly have slept with Bianca, despite her psychologically emphatic enticements (seeming to indicate, on a sidenote, that psychology makes you sex-hungry while five years on an island with tarzan just makes you a little sentimental). So why would they need to set up the little courtroom drama? Why do they need to establish her LEGAL virginity?

MFW poses a different question altogether. The audience doesn't actually know if the marriage is kissless until Bianca states so for the court. In the final scenes, the first wife is curled up in her twin bed with a suggestive expression while HIS twin bed remains empty (she's banished him to the attic). I mean. . . what? It's as if they mean to write "sex" between the lines, but yet make it entirely unlikely. Do they mean to suggest  they'll share her twin bed, or are we to imagine that twin beds are a myth of thirties film (perpetuated for another few decades)? Or that despite Dunne's kittenish longing, all she really wants for her own personal satisfaction is to know that her husband is in the same room? (Oh dear)

Well, I just have questions. Let me know if you figure anything out.