Sunday, May 13, 2007

APRIL 2007 Movie Reviews

*** Superior Film
** Solid Effort
* Same ole
# Sleep Aid

(Editor’s Note: Written before the recent French Election.)

Not long ago Dude said that he didn’t give up Perrier after our run-in with the French. For me, overpriced Perrier was easy to give up and not drinking French wine was a pleasure. The only thing that I couldn’t and didn’t give up. . . French films. Of continental European cinema, the French seem to please me more than any other. The next two films are two good reasons of why.

***PICKPOCKET (1959)
– Robert Bresson didn’t make many movies, but he’s revered as a master among a sub group of auteur critics. PICKPOCKET is a barely 75 minutes and with so little dialogue it’s more like a silent movie than a foreign language one. Our hero has a compulsion for picking pockets and he has no moral qualms about doing so. The money scene has our hero and two confederates working a train station ballet like. After the film I watched Paul Schrader’s introduction in which I learned that Bresson uses non-actors which means Bresson is one hell of a director because it worked and that usually doesn’t.

***Le SAMURAI (1967)
This is a great film noir that I had never heard of until Netflix recommended it. Alain Delon stars as the hired assassin who is spotted leaving a job. The police suspect him and that suspicion worries the mob that hired him enough that they try to kill him first rather than get caught in the web. I had never heard of director, Jean-Pierre Melville, but it turns out he was an actor in Godard’s BREATHLESS, the famous French new wave film. Melville now has my attention and I’ll try a few more.

**VOLVER (2006)
– The most enjoyable Almodovar film of the four or so I’ve yet seen. Penelope Cruz, her daughter, sister, mother and aunt are struggling with their past and their future. I’ve seen enough of his work now that I can safely say that Almodovar is incapable of showing a normal and healthy male/female relationship. TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN is about a guy who kidnaps a girl and turns her into his lover. TALK TO HER has a male nurse raping the comatose girl who gets pregnant and wakes up. In ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, mother and father are divorced because father is now a drag queen. VOLVER gives us the incest story that nearly repeats itself. Here if you step away from the gentle flow and your rooting for Penelope Cruz, much of the plot is laughable and yet Almodovar’s slight of hand makes it all seem so reasonable. That is a remarkable talent.

*WHO GETS TO CALL IT ART? (2003) – I thought this was going to be a documentary about the politics behind the modern art movement. Instead it’s a movie about a guy who actually got to decide if it was art or not, MET curator Henry Geldzahler. So the title should have been a declarative instead of a question. The movie is much in the mold of MAYOR OF SUNSET STRIP another obscure 60s figure that was nonetheless in the middle of much that was happening. The best part of the movie is the little vignettes with pop artists from the 1960s and how Henry was involved in their discovery and fame.

*SUPERMAN II (Richard Donner cut) (1982+2006) – When the original Superman was released to DVD a few years ago, Richard Donner said that he had shot more than half of Superman II simultaneously with the first movie but was fired after the first film was complete. Richard Lester took over and scrapped most of Donner’s footage. Fans on the internet started clamoring to see the Donner version and the studio yielded and hired a guy to put all that footage together. Despite the fact that Donner has to use a good portion of the Lester footage to bring his work to completion, the new cut is different in certain plot points, but not so different overall. I watched it with comic book guru, Sir Saunders, and he wasn’t convinced it was any better than Lester. I think that’s about right.

*ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968) – Several years ago with the release U-571, I asked co-workers to name their favorite submarine film. It’s hard to compare eras and even languages, but those who had seen DAS BOOT liked it best, followed by most who had seen HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Those of us who had seen RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP or OPERATION TOKYO discussed those for a while too. I even remember a guy standing up for CRIMSON TIDE. One guy was adamant to the point of conviction that ICE STATION ZEBRA was without a doubt the best. I figured that kind of passion was worth giving it a look someday. When Howard Hughes bought the Dessert Inn and purchased that Vegas TV station he made them run ICE STATION ZEBRA constantly. So I watched it while recovering from surgery. I found it a little pretentious actually with an overture and intermission despite being less than 3 hours. Rock Hudson is predictably solid as the captain. Jim Brown plays a badass Marine Officer in wooden manner. Patrick McGoohan shines as usual as an Intelligence guy along with Ernest Borgnine playing a Russian of all things. It was overlong and dated, and not charming dated like a 40s movie, with chessy sets that left no doubt that these actors were sleeping in their own beds each night. It’s a shame the plugger left the company because I wanted to ask him what exactly he liked so much. Maybe the worst Submarine film I have ever seen although not without some TOWERING INFERNO like entertainment value.

*THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) – Companion move to THE PRESTIGE, where another guy becomes a magician back in the old days. Edward Norton plays a smart Edward Norton, Jessica Biel plays Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti plays a police chief. It’s kind of like a Mamet film with slight of hand and cons and what not. I heard it wasn’t good compared to THE PRESITGE, but it was alright actually although it fades from the mind quickly.

– If you saw The Last Samurai then you know how Hollywood makes a movie in period Japan. Just replace sword fights with pretty girls and you have the essence. It was certainly better than the preposterous Cruise movie and a decent example of characters living through an era that ends abruptly. Ken Watanabe trades his Samurai sword for business clothing and he makes a decent hero to our precious geisha.

*THE BREAKUP (2006) – Vince Vaughn is perfect as the loutish boyfriend who half listens to and usually disappoints his girlfriend, Jennifer Aniston. Aniston is also perfectly cast as the girl easy to fall for due to her cuteness but impossible to stay with due to her stick in the mud personality. This was marketed as a big comedy, but it deals seriously with a number of the issues between people who break up. Aniston didn’t really want to split from Vaughn, but his insensitivity made her play hardball. Instead of apologizing, Vaughn escalated the fight and refused to budge. Trish commented that it must have been funny that they were dating while making a movie splitting. I replied that Vaughn must have thought, wow I’m with Brad Pitt’s ex-wife. And then a few months later, wow I can see why she’s Brad Pitt’s ex-wife. Trish, who has a soft spot for Aniston, thought my comment cruel and I promised never to repeat it to Aniston.

**WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART (1989) – Had this movie come after critics “discovered” Eastwood in UNFORGIVEN it probably would have received much better marks. 18 years later is holds up quite well like many of his underappreciated films from the 1980s. Eastwood plays a character loosely based on director, John Huston, and it means that he has more dialogue than any three typical Eastwood films. The plot revolves around whether Eastwood can bag an elephant before he has to commence shooting his “African Queen” movie. I especially enjoyed the scene where he tells the lady that she is much too pretty to interrupt, mostly because Dude once did a pretty good impression of that scene when we were sitting around at his house.


Dude said...

Never seen Ice Station Zebra, but I'll bet that guy watched it with his dad during the formative years. I actually thought U-571 was damn entertaining. I kept trying to hate it because of Matthew McWhatsHisFace and the cheesy special effects, but I think in the end it impressed me as a classic of the genre. I have never seen Operation Tokyo. Hunt was okay but I thought it was a bit overrated in its day and I haven't revisited it since. Crimson Tide was decent entertainment but I have low tolerance for Denzel when he is in righteous screaming mode. Run Silent is a great movie but nothing is even close to Das Boot which is one of my all-time faves of any genre.

By the way, I have already seen the best movie I will see this year and I'll give you the title in my next roundup. It's a 2006 film, much better than The Departed. Feel free to guess.

My other comment is on White Hunter. I think that is an astute observation that this film would have been better received after Unforgiven. It was really like nothing he had ever done before (other than the holdover voice from Heartbreak Ridge). Unforgiven showed the same maturity while revisiting the familiar western genre and he has been genius ever since. I remember watching WHBH with you and my mom and you and I really liked it while mom wondered where the bad guys were. That was 17 years ago and sadly, I don't even remember that line which I once ably quoted.

E said...

I can't look at Jennifer Aniston anymore without recalling your observation that she has no sense of fun. Which is a shame because she was not bad to look at.

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