Thursday, December 23, 2010

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week... a day late.

WHERE EAST IS EAST (1929)
Lon Chaney plays an animal trapper in the Orient, who has raised his beautiful daughter (Lupe Velez) alone. Just as his girl is falling in love with the son of an American circus owner, her estranged mother (Estelle Taylor) shows up and starts vamping all over the place. Somewhat melodramatic, but also wonderfully pulpy and perverse, as I expect from a Tod Browning flick. Not the equal of The Unknown or The Unholy Three, but not bad at all. ***1/2 stars.

INTOLERANCE (1916)
Oy. DW Griffith's ego loses control. After critics took The Birth of a Nation to task for its overt racism and bigotry, Griffith set out to make a film whose hidden message was that people who have a problem with you (a) framing the Civil War as the rape and oppression of the South by black people, (b) blaming the loss of the war on the fact that Southern women are simpering and weak, and (c) portraying the Ku Klux Klan as patriotic defenders of tradition.... are intolerant! Yes, it's very well made. The spectacle of the film--which follows, editing back and forth, four stories set in the present day, at the fall of Babylon, at the Crucifixion, and at the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre--is impressive. On its surface, it's high art. But at the same time, it takes a guy with balls of solid rock to compare his critical drubbing to Jesus being crucified by the Romans. And never a thought that tolerance, in fact, goes in two directions--someone disagreeing with your viewpoint isn't always intolerance; sometimes it's just a disagreement. So, I'm a little torn here, but I have to go with ***1/2 stars because it's an incredible film. I deduct just half a star because the movie is so very self-serving.

SORORITY ROW (2009)
Surprisingly fun update of the so-so slasher flick The House on Sorority Row. The cast are mostly pretty likable (I really dug my Rumer and Jamie Chung), the film is enjoyable, and it embraces what it is. Plus, Carrie Fisher rocks in this. Silly, but fun. *** stars.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)
It's like someone cut my head open and made a movie out of what they saw inside. I adored this movie. It's probably the best translation of the comic book format I've ever seen; it gets all the sensibilities right, but adds the cartooniness and the high drama that are often missing. Emotions are supposed to be raised in this kind of a picture. Comics are like opera, but with a different visual language (here filtered through video game sounds and imagery). It gets across not the experience of reading a comic book, but the way a comic book makes you feel and imagine as you're reading it. I thought it was flawless, pitch perfect, particularly in its casting and the performances. Your precious Jesse Eisenberg would never have been able to pull this off. I especially have to mention that I loved Kieran Culkin, Brandon Routh, and Ellen Wong. Brilliant. Maybe my favorite movie this year, unashamedly. **** stars.

NINJA ASSASSIN (2009)
Wow, that was just bad. I was hopeful, because I loved V for Vendetta and Speed Racer, but this was just boring and pointless. * star for the violence. If you're into gore, there's some creative stuff here, especially in the beginning.

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009)
Oh, god, stop moving the fucking camera and do an establishing shot! Goddammit! This movie is impossible to look act, which is fine, because if you were able to pause and pay attention to what's going on, you'd realize that you were watching one of the worst things in the history of time and space. If you were one of the people telling Roger Ebert he was old and out of touch for calling this abomination out for the piece of filth it is, you are an idiot. No stars.

EASY A (2010)
I was really surprised here. I expected it to be pretty lame, but it's actually a smart, funny movie. Very well-written--the characters are mostly organic and believable instead of the usual high school stereotypes--and Emma Stone is at her most appealing here. The comparisons to Clueless and Mean Girls are warranted. Here, Stone plays a high school student who lies to her best friend (Aly Michalka) about losing her virginity, then gets a reputation as the school slut. She embraces it for the popularity--even sewing a scarlet "A" on her clothes--but begins to have second thoughts when her friends turn on her. **** stars, one of the best recent comedies I've seen.

1 comment:

Kal said...

Once again you get these right. Intolerance was one of those University Film School movies that you just had to see for the brass balls it took to make it. Griffith may have advanced the tech of movies, like one Mr James Cameron, but I would have done with waiting a few more years for those innovations if I didn't have to deal with enormous ego on either of them.

Scott Pilgrim was brilliant and one of the few movies that I have seen twice in the theatre during the same run. Michael Cera can be so cloying at times but he was perfect mainly because the characters around him were all so well written and often got the best lines - even the evil bfs were interesting. This is in my top five for sure.

Thank you for saying all you needed to say about Transformers. The only thing that hunk of junk got right was the voice of Optimist Prime. I would shake my head at little kids who thought it was so great last summer - then I showed them 'The Rocketeer' and 'Golden Voyage of Sinbad' to show them what a REALLY COOL adventure looks like. I made believers out of them.