Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Moving the Movie/Television Reviews Back Here


I know that I was doing the reviews on my review blog but given the little feedback thing at the end of the posts over there now, it didn't make sense to put these reviews there.  So I've moved them back to this blog.    

Shinbone Alley

Why would they do this to archy and mehitabel?  The songs are too cute to be a worthy complement to the dark themes of the text and even the more profoundly philosophical moments are watered down in animation that is clearly influenced by its generation rather than that of the author’s.  There are a few interesting moments (manifestations of Krazy Kat and Ignatz, the artist who also illustrated archy and mehitabel for publication).  Please, skip this animated mess and read the book if you’re curious.  I grew up with a collection of Don Marquis’ writing in my home and I have fond memories pouring over the pages, trying to understand his more political commentary and feeling sad for some of the brutality I found in the poetry of archy’s cockroach voice.

Band of Brothers

Rob has been encouraging me to watch this miniseries for a while.  I believe Spike television regularly airs it but they typically air it either as a weekend long marathon or a week long one with back-to-back episodes that air so late I can’t stay up for them.  Plus, to be honest, going to sleep after watching a war movie is typically not a good choice for me and my dreams will reflect the violence I have been viewing, something not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

I can see why Rob wants to own these dvds because the story is incredible.  These young men, some of them boys really, facing truly horrific experiences.  I give a lot of lip service to saying I am a pacifist and that I do not believe in a “just war” but the truth is I have always thought that America’s involvement in World War II was a good thing.  I still do but when I think more honestly about it, the war should never have happened to begin with and no no no there is no such thing as a just war.  I’m reading a book right now that discusses some of the repercussions of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars, and how the massive loss of young men resulted in a change in how we, as a society, grieve.

Watching this miniseries killed the last bit of romantic thought I had regarding World War II.  I don’t know how we, as a global society, can reach a place where war and violence are no longer the answer but I know it begins with asking ourselves how we might be violent in our own lives, in small ways, in gestures and in words.

But I am getting too deep and this is supposed to be a frivolous post about reviews so let’s move along to the truly ridiculous.

Lost Boys: The Tribe

Why do I do this to myself?  Because I am not feeling well.  Because I have spent the day reading deep things and thinking deep thoughts.  Because the weather is bad outside.  Because I am dealing with a lot of things that make me feel sad.  And because I just want to get outside of my head for a bit so some mindless nonsense should work.

But seriously, why why why?  Lost Boys was a quirky vampire movie and I like a good vampire movie.  Not brilliant but good with good acting and an interesting perspective on the whole vampire world, with a little tongue-in-cheek nonsense that showed the movie wasn’t taking itself or the whole vampire thing seriously.  This second movie is just a waste, with jokes that fall flat and a story line that is not even clever enough to be considered derivative.

Lost Boys: The Thirst

Which begs the question, why make yet another sequel if you can’t get it right the second time?  And this time there isn’t even an attempt at humor.  Or if there was I missed it altogether.  At least with the previous movie I could say “Oh, that was supposed to be funny.”  This time there was nothing, absolutely nothing, to like.  And the few flashback scenes that incorporated moments from the first movie into this one, were merely a reminder that these movies couldn’t come close to the quirky charm of the first.

So why did I suffer through this second one?  The young woman, Tanith Phoenix, is apparently being considered for the part of Wonder Woman.  I never liked the television show but I’ve always wanted to see a good version of Wonder Woman made, if possible.  And surely, it must be possible.  Look at Superman’s migration from television to movie and even to remakes for television and movies.  And what about Batman?  From cheesy television to good movie to even better movie.  If I had to vote, Phoenix wouldn’t be my choice for the new Princess Diana/Diana Prince.  Who would be?  I don’t know.  I’d have to think about it and the whole point in my watching these movies was to not have to think.  Let’s move onto the next review.

Californication

Or maybe we should have stayed with really pointless sequels because at least then I could allude to the better original that started it all.  And yet, it was something original that made me want to check this SHO television series: The Big C, a show which Rob and I have both enjoyed very much.  I figured that since we really enjoy some of Showtimes’ series, surely I would enjoy this one.  Not so much.  The characters are interesting and the acting is solid but the main character sort of wanders through his life trying to be glib and mostly being an asshole while the women around him are unbelievably enchanted.  The plot is so contrived that it is inanely predictable right down to the final moments of season one.  In fact, the final scene is so utterly derivative that I have no desire nor intention of watching further.  I wouldn’t have watched as much as I did if I hadn’t been in pain and on muscle relaxers.  It took my being doped up to tolerate this dreck.

Hancock

Just what I needed–a bit of mindless fluff.  Okay, let me admit up front that I am a Will Smith fan.  I know that some people find him annoying and ubiquitous but I have yet to see him in something where I didn’t walk out thinking that I like him.  This movie was no different.  And sort of like a dark version of The Greatest American Hero.  Anyone who has seen the trailer knows the premise: guy with super abilities drinks too much and alienates the general population.  Enter a PR guy and his lovely, little family, add a few unsurprising moments and you have a typical and fun movie.  There is a time and place for the occasional mindless fluff film and Will Smith delivers.  Not one I would take younger children to see and there is one truly stupid moment in the film that could have been dropped altogether.  But if I had adolescent boys who wanted to see something with a little blood in it, this film fits the bill perfectly.

I Can’t Think Straight

Completely mixed feelings.  I really wanted to like this little movie but . . . something was missing.  Is it because the script was overflowing with clichés and that the narrative arch follow so closely the typical romantic movie that I may have watched any of the plethora of chick flicks I typically dislike?  Was it the poor acting or the weird dubbing that made the acting seem somewhat off?  I have no clue what it was that left me so apathetic.  I liked the music a lot and the actresses are both lovely.  There are quick nods to the political context and religious implications but these are addressed in such a superficial manner as to suggest that women are unable to really understand such deeply relevant matters.  Especially when they are in love.  I don’t know.  But meh . . . most of the movie left me bored.  However, there is a soundtrack available.  Too bad I am on a buying freeze.  Otherwise, I’d totally jump on a used or like new copy because I’m not spending $20 something for a single cd.  Are they mad?  They must be.

Strictly Sexual

I love Amber Benson and I think I need to stop watching her movies and read her books because ever since her stint on Buffy, she keeps playing these amazing girls who keep being told they are overweight and need to lose weight.  This woman with a simply gorgeous face and amazing figure, I suppose by Hollywood standards she is “fat” but it only ends up pissing me off when another character says something hurtful or snide or even well-meaning about her needing to watch what she eats or lose weight or some other bullshit.

And of course, she’s wonderful in the role, which is a sharp departure from what I’ve seen her do before.  She knows how to deliver emotion and infuses her characters with such honesty that it is hard not to believe that they exist out there in the real world and not merely on the screen (or on the page of the script).  Independent film with the typical (why?) jerky camera crap which I suppose is meant to be arty but mostly ends up being annoying for me.  Okay. I have vertigo so I would find it annoying regardless but it especially detracts from some of the more emotional moments of the movie.  I never understood the relationships and the conclusion is satisfying only in its being predictable.  Great music.  No soundtrack.  Damn.

American Teen

Let me be honest here and admit that the primary reason I wanted to see this was because the cover is so obviously referencing The Breakfast Club.  The concept is unsurprising–the director of this documentary follows a group of teenagers, each typifying a particular stereotype, for one year of high school.  Not sure I get the connection between the “heartthrob” and the character Judd Nelson plays but I suppose there’s a tenuous relevance that is eluding me.

I have mixed feelings about this documentary.  On the one hand, it does sort of invite other adolescence to recognize themselves in the various people to sort of invite a “you are not alone” identification.  However, all five of the real life people are slender.  What?  There are no overweight stereotypes to be explored?  And truth be told, they are also all not unattractive.  None are drop dead gorgeous and one could argue that the boy with the severe acne is not immediately handsome but I’ve seen teenagers grow through these things into attractive young adults and there are moments when one can see that he will be a good looking man someday.

On the other hand, by focusing so closely on the problems that these teenagers face they are given a weight that perhaps reinforces the “drama” of the moment rather than the ephemeral nature that these situations truly convey.  A far more integral issue in one person’s life (an older sister’s suicide) is given less relevance than getting into college or finding a date for the prom.  Not meaning to suggest that going to college or not going to college won’t define a person’s future, the truth is that many people happily survive not going to prom and a sibling’s suicide is going to have a lifelong impact.

To be honest, I only really cared about one of the young people presented on the camera.  I suspect most people would feel the same way, caring more about one of these teenagers than any of the others, probably the one within whom they recognize themselves.  I realize that is what I did, feeling an empathy for the one that I did offer the others.

But I watched the whole thing so I guess I was more engaged in that one person’s experience enough to suffer through the rest of the stories.

Fantasia 2000

I was a bit underwhelmed by this movie mostly because I didn’t like the use of famous people in between the segments.  I felt the music should stand on its own inarguable merit and, although I realize that Leopold Stokowski was hardly unknown at the time of Fantasia, I assumed that the sections in between each number would be in keeping with the original and not so much an opportunity to pander.  I especially enjoyed the pieces Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respghi and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the latter as much for its homage to Al Hirschfeld’s line drawings that were a delight to me as a child.  And because I watched it with Bibi we both enjoyed the silly flamingos in the section taken from Saint-Saens’ The Carnival of the Animals.  The section inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite definitely recalls the final number in Fantasia (Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain) but was less heavy-handed with the religious theme.

I had heard or read somewhere ages ago that the original conception for Fantasia was to release it occasionally, adding a few new pieces and mix them up with the familiar older pieces.  Naturally, Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice remained in this “sequel.”  I think it was a wonderful and ambitious idea. I’m sorry that the studio chose not to follow through with it.  If not going to the trouble and expense of rereleasing a new version to the theater, at least offering a straight to video/dvd option.  It would not surprise me to learn that the only exposure some children get to classical music is one or both of these films.  Not to suggest that there are no other ways to be exposed to classical music but it is a disappointment that such a grand vision was never fully realized.  I doubt they will go so far as to resurrect the idea.  More’s the pity because occasionally the animators do such a wonderful job of creating a visual that works well with the music that they truly do create magic.

The Aviator

I have to say that I love Leonardo DiCaprio and he is yet another actor whose talent surprises me every time I see him in a film.  My children and I had planned on seeing this movie when it came out in theaters, prepared to choose it as our “Christmas Eve Flick” but it ended up being released on Christmas day and we went to see something else altogether.  (I forget what we eventually chose.)  DiCaprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes is remarkable and he’s brilliantly directed by Martin Scorsese; together they manage to convey Hughes’ charm as well as his compulsions.  Taking a lot of liberties with the backstory, obviously adding details that could only be guessed at and creating a life that was both excessively public and extremely private.  DiCaprio is absolutely brilliant in the role and is surrounded by other actors who rise to the occasion.  A lengthy yet gratifying movie but one I’m glad we didn’t watch on Christmas Eve because it definitely isn’t a happy little walk in the park type of film.

The Pillow Book

I’ve wanted to see this movie for a long time, ever since I first started reading Sei Shonagon’s writings.  I lost interest somewhere along the way when I realized that the movie couldn’t possibly be like the text but eventually wondered if there was any real connection between the two.  The film is clearly inspired by the text and does an interesting job of using intertextuality to tell the story of obsession and fetishism.  I had heard this film described as erotic and sexy; I found it to be neither of these things, often getting close to one or the other only to lose direction somehow, shifting into a subliminal perversion that gives this film a psychological depth I was not anticipating.  This is the sort of film one almost needs to watch more than once to get a full grasp on everything that is happening.  And even then, I would suspect some layers would remain hidden.

The Bourne Supremacy

This was just a bit of escapist fluff while I was suffering from back pain.  Not fun at all.  So watching something that doesn’t require a great deal of thought was ideal.  This movie is about all I expected it to be.  Nothing more.  I’ll watch the third movie mostly to complete the trilogy but I really wish someone would get the jerky camera out of being vogue so we could move back to smooth shots that are easier for me to watch.






Best in Show

Ha!  A mockumentary about dog shows.  Hey!  The Siberian Husky won best in division but not best in show.  Oops.  Did I give away the ending?  I was just happy that the husky had any screen time.  The characters are funny, over the top, and all a bit ridiculous in their own ways.  Not that they are completely unrealistic.  At best, these people are caricatures of real people who are just as frighteningly obsessed or weird about their dogs.





Triumph of the Will

From mockumentary to documentary?  Hardly.  This is a ponderous bit of propaganda and, although I have often heard it praised, I cannot see what the praise is for.  The visuals are tedious and the film goes on endlessly, so over the top contrived that it is hard to watch without falling asleep.  One slight allusion to racial purity makes the viewer wonder what parts of the various speeches were excluded.  About halfway through I stopped watching and confessed to Rob that I simply didn’t understand Hitler’s appeal, having long heard he was a charismatic speaker.  He seemed so angry in his mannerisms and Rob said it probably had to do with the way the German language sounds–so hard and clipped–and that the gesticulations were more passionate than hostile.  I continued watching and I think Rob is right, that I am seeing these speeches with too much hindsight and am unable to watch this man objectively.  At the end, however, I also realized that this political rally, as it is woven into this film, is not unlike every other political rally–including Democrat and Republican conventions.  The only thing the film lacked were stupid and insipid jokes and the only thing our contemporary rallies lack is the apparent adoration and the worshipful rhetoric.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

This was a surprise find in the Netflix instant queue.  Purported by some to be the first animated film, it is mostly done in shadow puppet form filmed in stop motion.  Beautiful imagery with a story drawn from traditional Arabic literature.  The story is told in five acts and I think it would be great fun to see if a young child, not yet reading, would want to watch this and perhaps create a story for what is happening on the screen.  I suppose some children would find it all dreadfully dull but, as I watched it, I remembered my own fascination with older films, watching black and white movies with more enthusiasm than I did more current cinematic efforts.  Then again, I grew up when Disney studios were losing their grip on quality so it makes sense that I would prefer older movies over the newer ones.  But I digress.  I recommend this silent (with music) film because it is different from anything most children will ever enjoy on television or in the movie theater.

Beautiful Daughters

Eve Ensler, with the help of Jane Fonda, created an all transsexual version of The Vagina Monologues and listening to these women’s stories, sharing their own experiences with being transgendered.  Some of the women are talked to more closely than others and the stories are all different and evocative.  Ensler interviews these women and listens to what they have to say about being bullied, abused, even raped, until they came into their own, and how they made the transition in their lives.  She then adds monologues to specifically address these unique experiences.  Interestingly, in the wikipedia.org article for the play, no mention of this particular production or the documentary is mentioned.  And I am unable to find it available on dvd in amazon.com.  (Click the link and you'll see what I mean.)

The Odessa File

When I was growing up, I remembered seeing this movie’s poster and hearing about the book.  Perhaps there was a copy on a bookshelf somewhere.  For these reasons, that I remembered seeing the book and poster so clearly, I wanted to watch the movie.  I was incredibly bored as this supposedly suspenseful thriller gradually moves into what is an interesting twist at the end but, because everything that precedes it is so dreadfully predictable, the few who manage to sit through the film to the twist will probably be so numb with boredom that it won’t matter.  Or maybe I was still numb with boredom from watching The Triumph of the Will . . .   I noticed, as I was watching the movie, that there were certain lyric themes that reminded me of Evita and it came as no surprise when I later learned that Andrew Lloyd Webber composed the music for this movie.

for colored girls

What the hell?  I remember reading the text for this play ages ago.  I never saw it when it was on Broadway but I remembered wanting to see it, thinking that the title was intriguing and the poster (again with the posters!) alluring.  For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.   The acting is hands down brilliant.  But to make the text of the play work, the producers or someone thought they had to add a bunch of melodramatic crap that reinforces so many stereotypes as to almost make the film feel like a blacksploitation effort.  And yet . . . the poetry, the few moments when the women are given a chance to speak in Ntozake Shange’s words . . . well, then the magic and then the beauty and then the breathlessness.  These are the things I remembered from reading the book and which were nearly lost on the screen.  I commend Tyler Perry for taking on such a challenging vision, to translate this play into a movie.  I only wish it had been done better than this.  So much better than this.

(Okay Satia, how would you have done it?  I think they had a good idea in wanting to offer some threads between the different poetic monologues.  However, I would have filmed these as though they were a silent movie, music but no words.  Let the women’s voices when they share their individual stories, be the only words expressed and the rest be visual.  Silent.  Evocative.  And don’t add melodramatic crap to what is already happening on the stage/page.  It wasn’t necessary; this won many awards from the Obie to the Tony as well as numerous nominations and it doesn’t need filler to make it powerful.  And it would have made the movie shorter, for crying out loud.  Over two hours of horrifying abuse and pain and experiences . . . no wonder the movie exhausted me.)

NOTE:  I have since reread the text and updated my review blog with a review of the original "script."

Anna Karenina

Ahhh . . . Greta Garbo and beautiful costumes and . . . only about half of the amazing novel.  I guess the producers knew that to do the entire novel justice they would have to make a very long move (like Gone With the Wind or Dr. Zhivago) and rather than bother with that, they just read the first sentence of the novel and said, “You know, Tolstoy’s right so let’s just tell one story and not bother at all with the other.”  It’s a shame, really, because I loved how the two stories intertwined and ran parallel to one another but the part that is dropped is mostly philosophical and internal growth versus the outward drama of Vronsky and Karenina.  I suppose there is no real way to communicate the beautiful and more simple story of Levin and Kitty’s relationship.  But now I am curious to watch other version, the mini-series or longer film versions, to see if they do the same thing, removing the secondary story altogether.

Whatever Works

What with all my reading being so heavy lately and my watching depressing things, I thought a little Woody Allen would do me a world of good.  I have to say that I disliked this movie almost as much as I disliked Mighty Aphrodite.  It isn’t that the acting is not wonderful.  If nothing else, he knows how to cast his roles.  But the characters are lacking something.  I am not quite sure what it was.  Having the protagonist talk to the audience (break the fourth wall), I thought that in some ways Allen was harkening back to his earlier works but I couldn’t understand to what purpose?  I expect more from him and haven’t been getting it lately.  Perhaps I’m the one who needs to harken back to his earlier works because this one left me saying, “Whatever.”

All About Eve

After so many poor choices, I simply had to choose a movie I knew I would enjoy.  This was a good choice if not a perfect one. I mean, it’s a good movie but not very cheerful.  Great lines and brilliant acting.  But I didn’t really understand Bette Davis’ character at all, to be honest.  Margo Channing is so insecure about being with a man eight years younger than herself?  Should I be insecure too?   Golly, I hope not.  Maybe not.  Rob’s not eight years younger than I anyway.  But still . . . didn’t quite understand it although she is clearly in a world that is more age sensitive.  I enjoyed the whole Broadway versus Hollywood mentality though.  It made me a little homesick.


His Girl Friday

Ahhhh . . . finally I figure it out.  And I forgot that Cary Grant’s character is charming but a manipulative cad to boot.  The dialogue is so crisp, though, and Rosalind Russell is a great match for Grant.  The two play off one another so well that her fiancé played by . . . well, whomever . . . is simply out-shined in every way.  Ridiculous story but in many ways so forward thinking: a man loving a woman who loves her career.  It definitely romances “back in the day” but I know better.  Typing on a typewriter would drive me nuts!  I don’t even like using my qwerty on my phone because the keys are not sensitive enough for me and I move too fast for it.  But I digress . . . or maybe I try to share these little asides so you might want to pay attention . . . great movie with everything spot on fabulous.  Love it love it love it!

Children of a Lesser God

In keeping with my need to watch movies I am confident I’ll enjoy, I decided to watch this movie again.  I haven’t seen it in over a decade and I had forgotten how beautiful Matlin is.  Just lovely.  I’d also forgotten what an incredibly dysfunctional relationship the protagonists have.  Leave it to me to watch a love story and walk away feeling sad for them.  I had also forgotten some of the political implications of the movie about how deaf people were perceived in society and what how, even within the deaf community, there is a presumed statement being made when one chooses to learn to speak without sign language (or as a complement to sign language) and those who do not choose to do so.  It is obvious why this was so lauded when it came to the stage and it is good to see a play that is translated onto the screen so well.  (I remember reading the play ages ago, long before I saw the movie, in fact.)

Wallace & Gromit: Loaf and Death

I’m a sucker for W&G and Rob wanted to watch something lighter than my usual fair.  This was a natural choice.  Claymation, cheese-loving characters who are now bakers.  You still have the silly ways in which Wallace is gotten out of bed and Gromit’s silently reproachful and long-suffering glances.  There isn’t much mystery, to be honest, behind the mystery of the story.  Not that there needs to be.  Charming through and through.  I’d happily invite these two over to the house for some cheese.





Dreamchild

Well, I don’t know what to think of this one.  You have the Jim Henson studios making the “wonderland” sequences absolutely grotesque, more nightmare than wonderful.  The performances are wonderful, however.  Subtle and understated throughout.  The subplot involving the young woman who accompanies the adult Alice to America and the reporter who is trying to exploit the elderly woman for all he can is silly and a waste of time. The real plot is in the character of Alice herself, as told through flashbacks and occasional delusional side-trips.  There is a psychological depth to these sections which is intriguing and, if not for the ugliness of the creatures created by Henson’s studio, would have been perfect.  The problem is that the creators thought they had to make Carroll’s creations look grotesque but this is an unnecessary and even redundant choice.  By making them so ugly on the outside, the truly grotesque qualities of the characters themselves is lost.   Better to have had them devolve into ugliness, if one must have them ugly at all.

Enchanted April

And after watching an ugly film, I wanted to watch something I remembered as lovely.  I originally watched this movie when I was still happily married, or at least thought I was.  That was about 20 or more years ago.  I loved this movie then.  I love it now.  (I would highly recommend this movie to you, Saila, as I think you would adore it.)  For those who read my movie reviews, you probably know I am not terribly fond of romance movies and tend to avoid chick flicks on principle because I find them foolish and tedious, at best.  Having said that, I love this romantic BBC production chick flick.  Love it love it love it.  The actresses are beautiful.  The costumes are beautiful.  The scenery is beautiful.  It’s just a lovely movie.  I want to read the book but I’ve never been able to find it at the library.

A perfect movie on which to end this month’s many movies

4 comments:

  1. Some very interesting reviews. I'd like to point out that I had alot of hope for The Lost Boys sequel and as most sequels inevitably do, it disappointed me. I know this isn't your book blog but if you enjoyed band of brothers you should read Ishmael Beah's novel A Long Way Gone. It recounts his life as a child soldier.

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  2. I've had the book on my "to read" list for a while but I haven't approached it because I know this is a topic that will make me sad and angry. I have to be in the right place before I read a book about certain things and lately hasn't been emotionally the right time for me. But it's there, on the (what I lovingly call) neverending-to-be-read list.

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  3. Believe it or not it actually has a few uplifting points. This is especially true towards the end.

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  4. You know, if you were to tell me that a harrowing novel about a child's war experience has a happy ending, I'd probably roll my eyes and know I would never get around to reading it because I prefer my novels to have less closure and ambiguous conclusions. But when it comes to memoirs and such, I inevitably want the story to end on a good note. Not a perfect one, per se, but an optimistic one.

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