Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Film Week

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

THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE (1953)
Fun adventure romp with Errol Flynn a bit long in the tooth as the Robert Louis Stevenson hero who survives the Battle of Culloden, becomes a pirate, and returns home to take revenge on a brother who doesn't deserve it. Colorful and lively, with Flynn matched by a very fun Roger Livesey as his Irish sidekick. Drags a bit in the middle when all of the very ostentatious pirates begin to parade through, but an enjoyable little movie on an early morning. ***

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1976)
The movie that dreaded a clear plot. This was a movie I saw solely because I used to be intrigued by the box cover when I was a kid. I didn't realize it was directed by the same guy who made the execrable The Legend of Boggy Creek. This one's just as bad. Zero stars.

ATLANTIS (1913)
Tepid, overlong Danish film about a doctor who goes on a cruise to forget his troubles after his daughter dies, and who then falls in love with a singer who uses him. Decent shipwreck sequence, but very long. **

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1913)
I found King Baggott unintentionally hilarious as Hyde. Overdramatic grasping of the throat and wagging of the tongue and all that.

THE EVIDENCE OF THE FILM (1913)
Nice editing on this short picture about how film evidence can save lives. Self-serving, but smartly put together. **1/2

THE DRAGONFLY AND THE ANT (1913)
Wonderful stop-motion version of "The Grasshopper and the Ant" by Russian animation pioneer Ladislaw Starewicz. He certainly doesn't go the Disney route and let community win out in the end; here the grasshopper simply has to starve to death for being such a wastrel. No safety net in the insect world. Excellently made. ****

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1913)
Another Starewicz film, this one feature length and in live action, and based on a Gogol story involving a demon (very well played in a frightful mask by Ivan Mozzukhin), a witch (very sexy, played by Lidiya Tridenskaya), a Cossack village, and a Tsarina's lost shoes. Compelling and magical. ****

PASSION FLOWER HOTEL (1978)
Natassja Kinski stars as an American girl in a European boarding school in a film that splits the difference between sexploitation and coming of age romance. There are a lot of movies like this from around this time (and a couple of them star Nasty Kinski) that send are charming and not overly earnest, and that send out a rather positive message about sex. Here, again, we have a film that shows us how teenagers approach sex as something of a mystery and through the language of children, but who discover also that it's not some sort of light recreation. Here we're told again that sex is best with someone you have genuine feelings for, and that it can be wonderful. I like that message. It seems to be the total opposite of the message we're sending out to kids now. When did we get so unenlightened and scared again? ***1/2

SHAME (2011)
Well, here's the opposite message, but in a very powerful and well-acted film. Michael Fassbender is excellent as a man who has become addicted to meaningless sex and masturbation to the point where it poisons every attempt at intimacy in his life, even to the point where he can't have a normal relationship with his own sister (the overrated Carey Mulligan, doing yet another of her annoying Katie Holmes impressions). It's an unflinching film, very honest and uncompromising in its character study. And, of course, Fassbender looks great naked. There's a point in there, I think, about how modern technology has made anonymous, consequence-free sex much easier for a certain type of person, but wisely sticks to a character study instead of damning the viewer. **** One of the best films of 2011.

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