MOVIE ROUNDUP January 2005
Here are the movies I’ve seen since last time.
+CELSUIS 41.11 (2004) Documentary produced by Lionel Chetwynd, one of the few out-of-the-closet conservatives in Hollwyood. Chetwynd was also behind the Tom Selleck IKE film that showed on A&E last year. The main purpose of this film is to refute Michael Moore and MoveOn.org type critics before the November election. The movie begins with interviews of the unwashed protesting in NYC before the Republican convention. They let and old leftist lady tell us that she doesn't mind dictators if they provide education and healthcare. That footage is cut together with scenes of some Mullah cutting off a guy's hands. The other genius play is cutting together Michael Moore insisting that there is no terrorist threat with the twin towers footage. The rest of the film is a refutation point by point about the war in Iraq and John Kerry's leadership ability. For this we get interviews from noted conservatives like Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Medved (A Yale Classmate), and Fred Thompson. I liked it quite a bit but it seems to have lost its punch with the election over.
OCEANS 12 (2004) – is one of those sequels born out of box office expectations rather than compelling continued storyline. There are some good moments like a Bruce Willis cameo and Julia Roberts impersonating herself. The first movie had such a great cast that it was fun to see them again. It’s not difficult to figure out some “surprising” elements of the story and yet the central heist is so convoluted that you might as well wait for them to explain it at the end.
+ TOKYO STORY (1953) As I continue to make my way down the Sight and Sound list, I came across this Yasujiro Ozu film about a postwar Japanese couple that travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children. The children are busy. The oldest son is a doctor always on call. The daughter is a shrew that’s outwardly critical of her mother at every turn. At first the parents seem pathetic, but as we get to know them we realize it’s the kids that are missing a wonderful opportunity to know their parents the way we’re getting to know them. This is especially true when the mother spends the night with her war-widowed daughter-in-law that appreciates mama more than her blood children do. The movie was a great reminder of how we have but one set of parents and when they go we don’t get another chance to live those moments. Ozu does all of this with subtleties instead of mallets over the head. It’s even better on reflection than it was a few weeks when I saw it.
DARK DAYS (2000) - A documentary about a group of bums living in the Amtrak tunnels below Manhattan. Using plywood they have constructed these little shanties. They all have electricity and thus television and cooking capabilities. Some of these people are crack heads and others are just hustlers selling trash-rescued goodies on the street or recycling bottles to make money. Interesting, but it had no unifying point.
+THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (2004) – I’m not a fan of remakes, but Demme and company did a pretty good job here. Despite the movie critics looking for and finding Bush parallels, the criticism is really leveled at Democrats by members of the farther left. Senator Meryl Streep can say that her character was based on Peggy Noonan or Karen Hughes, but the director made sure she looked just like Hillary Clinton. Liev Schreiber is the decorated military hero that uses his accomplishments to fuel a political career (John Kerry). His father is a famous Senator that never reached potential (Al Gore Sr.). Though no political parties are named, and I even heard one critic claim that the mother and son were of different parties, it’s obvious from a political junkie POV that these people are Democrats. No Republican would give the speech that VP hopeful John Voight gives at the Convention. The company Manchurian Global (A way to use the 1962 title) was compared to Haliburton in the newspaper rags and that was probably their target, but Haliburton was on no-bid contracts under Clinton and that seems to be the point here too. The movie has a socialist bent in that we should fear corporations not governments, but its not a Bush hit piece like the critics wanted it to be. It was even entertaining if a bit hokey at times.
MEAN GIRLS (2004) The dialogue is a little wittier but the story is no better than average teenage comedies. There was a period in which Clueless, Election, 10 Things I hate about You, and Cruel Intentions gave teenagers meatier scripts, but those days seem to be over.
THE HUMAN STAIN (2003) A decent effort by the usually reliable Robert Benton, but I can see how this material was much better suited to Phillip Roth’s novel than it is to the screen. I think novels are more about the journey and movies are more about central conflict. Some movies can play the journey card, but they often lose the descriptive prose that made it work in the written form. The main character’s central secret would fit well inside your head, but it didn’t seem believable played out. In fact, the secret wasn’t big enough for a big movie bang, while I can imagine it being a shocker in print. It had some good moments and a wonderful cast, but it didn’t work for me as cinema.
MAKING OF THE MISFITS (2001) A rather pedestrian look at the making of the classic film that failed to be a classic.
+BOTTLE ROCKET (1996) Wes Anderson’s first film has the style that you’d expect and the Wilson brothers to remind you further. Scorsese said that it was one of the best films of the 1990s, and my guess is that he liked it because Anderson uses color and music much like Michael Powell does in Scorsese favorites, THE RED SHOES and TALES OF HOFFMAN.
+BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE (2004) This was an interesting documentary about New York theatre from end the of World War II to the beginning of the Vietnam War. It was the pet project of Rick McKay, a PBS guy who couldn’t convince any network of its worth. McKay spent 5 years interviewing every surviving Broadway star of that era that he could find. There was a lot of interesting tidbits including a horde of cast members talking about a particular actress that one remembers today. We also got to see a lot of old rare footage of Time Square.
SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE (2003) Womanizer Jack Nicholson has a heart attack at Diane Keaton's house. Nicholson is dating Keaton daughter, the winning Amanda Peet. Keanu Reeves plays the Doctor Dude that mends Jack's heart and tries to steal Diane's. The movie's purpose is to get Nicholson to realize that he's supposed to be with Keaton and not those youngsters. It takes a rather long time for a comedy (a little over 2 hours) to get there. It's the kind of movie that casts faces in even small roles. Jon Farveau shows up at Jack's assistant for two scenes. Paul Michael Glazer (Starsky) shows up twice as Keaton's ex. I enjoyed it more than I would have predicted, but that doesn't mean that it's not predictable.
WILD BILL (1995) Quirky western directed by Walter Hill with Jeff Bridges as the famous lawman. The critics didn't think much of it and it the public didn't show up. Rather than a straight plot the movie contains a bunch of random scenes of Bill killing people and romancing Diane Lane. Lane's son feels that Bill did her wrong and he returns to get revenge. It's laughable as history, but Bridges is good and the supporters are good and it had its moments.