Monday, April 21, 2008


I’m way behind. Dude's recent post got me going.


BLACK SNAKE MOAN (2007) Christina Ricci is a nymphomaniac whose boyfriend is shipping out in the service. Not a good combination we can guess. The first plot point is nympho girl refusing her boyfriend’s best friend. He gets angry and beats her up and leaves her for dead on the side of the road. Along comes Sam Jackson who nurses her to health and then ties her up to heal her of her other affliction. And somehow it all has a happy ending. It’s recommended for those who like seeing Ricci scantily clad and like feeling guilty about it even more.

RED ROAD (2006)
A Scottish film where the DVD gives you English subtitles by default and you’ll appreciate it about 1/3 of the time. Our hero Jackie monitors security cameras in a high crime area of Glasgow. She’s suffering from the death her husband and child and early on in the movie she discovers the dude who is responsible. Using her power with the cameras and some cleverness, she tries to get even. I can’t say much more without ruining it, but it’s a nice change of pace overall and worth the time.

–The basic plot has our masked hero blowing up things and creating general havoc in London set in the not too distant future. It takes a while for us to learn that he is a revolutionary fighting against a fascist English government. It seems that the current dictator and some pals took over Britain after a series of terrorist activities that they themselves orchestrated. That could have actually worked as satire, but this movie takes itself seriously. A little research revealed that the original story was written in the 1980s and it was a nuclear attack and not terrorism that brought about the events our hero fights against. So it was really a reaction to Thatcherism, they just updated the bugaboo post 2001. The big ending that I don’t mind spoiling is V blowing up Parliament, the oldest house of representative government on the planet. For a movie like this to work, it has to have a measure of plausibility. You have to imagine that a country could actually take such a turn. Fascism will never return in the form of militarism. That card was played and defeated by the very same England. Fascism can only return in the crisis of health care and the environment, things that are hard to oppose. In this form it’s no more viable than medieval serfdom. Now forget the politics and the film is stylish and Natalie Portman’s prison sequence was pretty inventive and quite effective. It really had a lot of things going for it except believability.

Carl Dreyer’s Joan film was thought lost until the early 1980s where a copy turned up in a mental institution. This is not a life of Joan, but her trial and execution. If I had not acted in that Joan of Arc play back in college, I think I would have been lost on the background and characters, because none of that is explained. The politics behind Joan’s trial are not discussed either. I think the story works better in the context of her whole life because it’s more of a tragedy after you’ve seen her heroism. I have to suppose any Frenchman in the 1920s already knew the story and must have understood the tragedy without the prologue. As I have said before, I prefer silent comedies over silent dramas where the broad acting brings intentional laughs. This might be one of the few times where that level of intensity works in a silent drama. There is nothing entertaining here although you can appreciate technique and it will only cost you 80 minutes.

THE LEOPARD (1963) – This is my first Visconti movie and many consider it his masterpiece. I didn’t read anything going in and I was surprised that it’s a costume drama, sort of an Italian Gone with the Wind. Both GWTW and LEOPARD are set in the 1860s, both movies are about a way of life ending, and both movies are epic length. I guess I was expecting all Italian directors of this time period to be practicing neo-realism. What is weird about this movie is that it stars Burt Lancaster of all people and he’s dubbed in Italian. If I’m from Italy I probably don’t notice, but it’s Burt Lancaster and I know too well what his voice sounds like and when he opens up and I hear a husky Italian voice come out of his mouth it feels weird. There is an official release English language dubbed version and I would rent it and see the whole three hours again if I knew it was Burt Lancaster’s voice. I’m interested to see some other Visconti movies to know whether or not this is typical, because this one didn’t really rock me as I had expected, though any guy will appreciate Claudia Cardinale’s presence.

TALK TO ME (2007)
– Don Cheadle plays an ex-con who lips his way into a job as a radio DJ in 1960s Washington D.C. The movie is based on the true story of Petey Greene, but rather than a pure biopic, the film tries to be a panorama of politics and race relations in the late 60s. Near the end it changes focus entirely and follows Petey’s manager played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Cheadle proves capable again and Eijofor is every bit his equal. Like most biopics they have plenty to say up front about the rise of a person, but no easy resolution. Sometimes historical figures have not the decency to die a hero or martyr for the screenwriter. Watch it if you’re in the mood for the material or skip it with little regret.

SPIDERMAN 3 (2007)
– The first movie in the series was alright. The second movie was an improvement focusing on the conflict between being a hero and leading a normal life. This third film comes out of nowhere as an “everything but the kitchen sink” fiasco with too many villains, too many love interests and too many subplots. They even re-write history a little by having someone else kill Uncle Ben. The Spiderman stories are interesting for their more complex villains, but after three films, that becomes a liability. All the back stories become redundant and you long for one guy to be pure evil just for variety. The character of Spiderman ends the trilogy as more of a psychologist than a super hero. And that could have been fine had they focused on Peter Parker’s complex relationship with the new Goblin. I suppose that was too cerebral for the producers who wanted action scenes that would play better overseas. So we’re introduced to the Sandman and Venom two more bad guys that don’t mean it. They really set themselves up for a great third movie and didn’t deliver.

I AM LEGEND (2007)
I would usually skip this at the theatre, but Sir Saunders and the boys were going to see it so why not. I thought the trailer looked interesting and the reviews were decent too. It based on the same source material as THE OMEGA MAN, and this one has better production values. Just a character with the whole of Manhattan to himself gives the movie an intriguing pull. It also has Will Smith going for it, a real movie star in a time of few. The plot has Smith as last man on earth fighting a gang of vampires that only come out at night. The movie grabs you in many kinds of ways. I especially fell soft for the dog, having lost my own this past year. I AM LEGEND is a vehicle movie in the best possible way.

CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) – Gene Lockhart seems a bit too old to play Bob Cratchet and the translation isn’t nearly as grim as later ones. I guess that a plus after seeing ignorance and want between the legs of that second spirit in so many films. Lionel Barrymore was supposed to star as Scrooge, but the arthritis that would later render him to a wheelchair prevented it. If you can find a copy you have to hear the Barrymore radio interpretation of this material. Reginald Owen steps in and does a decent enough job as Scrooge. The 1951 version outdid this.

Patrick Stewart as Scrooge this time. He’s got the accent down from birth. The rest of the film follows as expected. I kept thinking that this could be a signature take on the tale, but despite Alistair Sim’s 1951 version, I still think the best telling of this material is yet to come.

1 comment:

Dude said...

Not much to add. I'm on record liking MOAN and VENDETTA. The believability issue didn't trouble me so much. I used to read graphic novels in the '80s so I'm already on the page with the hyperrealism and don't sweat the details.

I wouldn't mind seeing LEGEND. I half-watched SPIDEY ONE on a plane one time and got nothing out of it. I often replay in my mind the conversation I had with Tobey Maguire at Bellagio a few years back. We didn't talk movies, but he hinted that he was thinking of retiring and I like to think that I talked him down. So you have me to thank for SPIDEY THREE.

Post a Comment