Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Film Week

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

Much better than I thought it would be, but still not, you know, good... There's a lot of potential here for either a decent skiffy action flick or a thoughtful picture about experimentation and animal rights, but the film tries to do both and in the end accomplishes neither. I prefer the scenes in the beginning, where it's sort of a family drama about James Franco and his Alzheimer's-suffering father (John Lithgow) and the super-intelligent ape he's raising as a son (and Andy Serkis and the effects animators do a good job, again, with the expressiveness of the CGI character, though here they don't manage to create the sense of weight and gravity that would have really made things believable; instead, you're always aware you're watching a special effect and don't get lost in it, because it doesn't blend just right and there is no sense that the character is affected by the physical world around him, nor is the physical world affected by him). Lots of ham for a picture that doesn't actually star the late Charlton Heston, but it does get in a lot of the cheesiness that makes most of the Apes pictures so enjoyable. It feels like a franchise reboot, so if we get to a third version of Planet of the Apes, I hope it's not as mind-numbingly awful as that fucking Tim Burton movie. This is basically a CGI remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, something the filmmakers never copped to, for some reason. **1/2. If you're looking for a silly action flick to waste a Friday night with (exactly what I did), you could do a hell of a lot worse. Or you could just watch Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which is better and has Ricardo Montalban.

Finally got around to sitting and watching Todd Haynes' short film, which we're not supposed to be able to do, telling the story of Karen Carpenter with Barbie dolls. I've heard about it a lot over the years, but was surprised by how deeply it examines the psychological and emotional causes and ramifications of anorexia. I think this actually still stands as Todd Haynes' best work. Probably because it's one of the few that Harvey Weinstein didn't fuck with... Heartfelt but not worshipful portrait of Karen Carpenter, and the soundtrack has all the Carpenters songs I like. ****

The first film from Celine Sciamma, the director of last year's excellent Tomboy. Like that film, this one deals with gender identification in teenage girls. It focuses on three girls: childhood friends Marie and Anne (who is desperate for a sexual awakening), and the popular and beautiful Floriane, whom everyone assumes is a slut and whom Marie is in love with. I think a good part of the reason I find movies like this so interesting (and French women especially make these well) is that the experience of a girl growing up is so different and foreign to me. In this film, we're watching the socialization process from a feminine viewpoint. Nicely minimalist, dealing with its characters and not with pop culture bullshit. And on a less analytical note, it's a beautiful little movie, easy to get wrapped up in. ****. I would like more from Sciamma.

HUGO (2011)
Terminally whimsical, oppressively magical early cinema fan fiction that at least gets most of the details about one of my favorite filmmakers right (although the cause of Georges Melies' career downfall is simplified into "all the magic going out of the world" or some such bullshit, as opposed to changing audience tastes, terrible business decisions, and Thomas Edison's monopolization of the film industry and pirating of Melies' films). Asa Butterfield is way too intense as Hugo Cabret, a character whose every problem could be solved with just a couple of well-placed explanations; he doesn't even have to volunteer them, he just has to answer some questions put to him by other characters. Sacha Baron Cohen essentially plays Roberto Benigni in one of a number of totally unnecessary subplots which seem only to exist to make yet another fairy tale version of Paris seem more precious. I can't believe a Martin Scorsese movie that runs just 90 minutes needs padding, but here it is. Looks good--CGI Paris looks great, even despite the apparently only four colors Scorsese is allowed to use--but I just didn't connect with it emotionally on any level at all. Good production design, but totally cold. **1/2

Somehow, this is the one Joe Johnston movie I've totally missed over the years. Johnston manages to avoid a lot of (but not all) of the obvious cliches in a movie about a boy in a coalmine town in the 1950s (Jake Gyllenhaal) inspired by the launch of Sputnik to build rockets, and his foreman dad (Chris Cooper), who doesn't know how to handle the distance between them. It's a nice movie, touching in places, emotionally sincere, and with an interesting true story at its center about a young man who became a NASA engineer. Oh, for the days when we used to be optimistic about space travel... something that died in my lifetime. ***1/2

Hilarious, tongue-in-cheek women-in-prison movie about a couple of revolutionaries (Sid Haig and Pam Grier, both having a lot of fun) infiltrating a Filipino prison camp for women. Violent, funny, and with lots of casual nudity, it's entertaining as hell. I especially dug Vic Diaz as one of the gay prison guards; just the way he looks at things sometimes is hilarious, without overplaying it. ***

Lifetime movie that we watched mainly because Becca still isn't over Shannon Elizabeth. Remember Shannon Elizabeth? I wonder if less and less people do... Anyway, in this one she's being stalked by a guy who kills himself and still keeps stalking her. Not as hilarious as that should sound. *

Lifetime movie we watched mainly because I'm still not over Charisma Carpenter. Here Chrissy Lee makes the cardinal Lifetime movie mistake of dating a cop and then leaving him, so things get all violently stalkery. *1/2. The extra half is for Chrissyliciousness.

Fantastic production design. Haunting stories rarely work for me, but this one did, in large part because of the atmosphere and the production design, and I quite liked Daniel Radcliffe's performance as a young widower sent to a remote village to ready an estate for resale. I think there are some modern touches I could have done without (the Woman in Black's ghostly presence is creepy enough without the Japanese horror flick shrieking we're subjected to), but ultimately the atmosphere wins. A classy and memorable production from the new Hammer Films. ****

In a year when so many of the most acclaimed movies have felt either forced or totally detached, it's nice to see something entertaining and charming getting recognition as well. Smart, too; it has some fun with its form (black and white, silent) because it knows that a modern audience is less likely to lose itself in something that seems so novel now. A love letter to cinema, with an impressive lead performance by French actor Jean Dujardin, who is immensely likable. I love some of the things it does with sound in this movie, impressionistic and stylized, just as it uses the black and white to create a landscape of heightened emotions rather than a detailed reality. I've always liked the universality of silence and black and white, and as an ode to such things, this is an excellent, beautifully-made lyric. ****


Tallulah Morehead said...

On Hugo, you left out what I needed to hear about: how was Sir Christopher Lee in it? What does he do? Is he needed and wonderful, or gratuitous and wasted?

I must confess, you are the first person I've heard from who's seen it who didn't merely like it, but loved it. However, I have not seen it yet, as the whole idea of a Scorsese kid's movie strikes me odd, and I know that Melias's story is too sad and tragic for an "uplifting" movie to tell honestly. Only the fact that Lee is in it (and is personally extremely proud of being in it. Lee collects great directors) tempts me to see it. So I have no opinion yet whether it's good or bad. Is there enough of Lee in it to make seeing it worth my time and bucks?

I am so rooting for The Artist at The Oscars this week.

SamuraiFrog said...

"I must confess, you are the first person I've heard from who's seen it who didn't merely like it, but loved it." Am I reading that right? I really didn't like the movie at all.

Honestly, Lee's in so little of the movie that I'd forgotten he was even there, and he's my favorite actor. He must have 10 lines in the entire affair, though he is (briefly, in only one of his scenes) the only person in France with a French accent...

Roger Owen Green said...

I found Hugo at arm's length as well, especially before the reveal.

SamuraiFrog said...

I agree with you; before the reveal it seems like there's no direction for the story beyond "sad kid lives in train station."

Tallulah Morehead said...

Yes, you read that right. I've heard from several people, most of them actually in the business themselves, and they all LOVED it.

Further, over at Rotton Tomatoes, it got a 93% rating, in this case: 180 positive reviews to 13 bad reviews out of 193 reviews. Did you read them wrong also?

I'm not saying they're right and you're wrong or vice versa because I have not seen it and have no idea who is "right" in my view. I'm just saying, yes, you read that right, and if you read the 180 positive reviews, you'd have read them correctly also. Your opinion may be right, but it's very much a minorty opinion. Nothing wrong with having a minority opinion, but don't pretend that when I say people are saying it's good, that that is mind-boggling, because, like it or loathe it, most people who have seen it apparently liked it, no, loved it.

I'd have said "And there's it's Best Picture nomination of course," but since Extemely Bad and Incredibly Cliched also got a nomination, that sort of becomes a moot reccomendation. But the fact that it is favored second-highest, after The Artist, to win does bespeak its popularity also.

So maybe it is as horrible as you feel it is, but the fact that most people feel otherwise is a fact, not an opinion. I have no opinion on it.

Sorry to hear there's so little of Lee in it. It does not attract me apart from seeing Lee.

SamuraiFrog said...

I'm not "pretending" anything; I was asking for clarification on your wording. You said "you are the first person I've heard from who's seen it who didn't merely like it, but loved it" when, apparently, I'm the first person you've heard from who's seen it who DIDN'T like it.

I was trying to be polite in discerning if the confusing wording in your comment denoted poor reading comprehension or was merely an error.

I guess you read that wrong.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Yes, I read that wrong, and I see now the flaw in my original sentence.