Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Film Week

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

MARTY (1955)
A real gem about a single butcher (Ernest Borgnine, who won an Oscar) who meets a plain social outcast (Betsy Blair) and falls in love. It's an interesting study of loneliness, taking place over one night and into the next day. I liked that the film delved into different kinds of loneliness, different reasons for it, and how your family can crush your spirit just when you think you're finding something so simple and daunting as personal happiness. Compelling, beautifully acted. ****

JUNGLE JIM (1948)
B-flick based on the Alex Raymond comic strip, with Johnny Weismuller still in the jungle but speaking normally now. Mostly it's done in a sort of serial style; every few minutes, like clockwork, there's Jim in an action situation, having to fight some animal (most of which don't actually live in Africa except in these old B-movies where every exotic animal ever lives in Africa, including Florida alligators, orangutans from Borneo, and, here, sea monsters). A lot of the barely-over-an-hour running time is taken up with cute antics from Jim's dog sidekick and his crow companion. George Reeves is an interesting villain. I want to say it's fun, but, honestly, it's surprisingly tedious. **

THE LOST TRIBE (1949)
Jungle Jim finds a lost tribe, men in ridiculous gorilla costumes, other stuff. *1/2

PYGMY ISLAND (1950)
Jungle Jim, little people... things. I think. *

THE DICTATOR (2012)
Sacha Baron Cohen gives it a pretty good try, eschewing the documentary format that made Borat so good and Bruno so repetitive. The problem is, as committed as Cohen is to the character, most of the jokes seem pretty obvious, even a bit dated. His character could have walked out of an old Road to flick... in fact, making something along those lines might have been something I'd rather watch. This seems like it would have been the comedy hit of 2003. Now I've seen enough attempts at satire about Middle Eastern dictatorships to create a syllabus. Anna Faris is also truly irritating in this movie, and I've actually never said that about her before, ever. **1/2

STARLET (1969)
Sub-Russ Meyer sexploitation film that spoofs the skinflick industry a little too heavy-handedly. Also: not very sexy. **1/2

DIRTY GIRL (2010)
High school slut (Juno Temple) and gay outcast (Jeremy Dozier) go on a road trip to find her biological father in the 1980s. This one was surprisingly effective; not a knock out of the park, but a surprise double, at least. Once you get past all of the over-the-top Southern accents and the "golly, everything in the South is so cartoony" attempts at comedy, there's a genuine emotional core that makes this girl's journey resonate a little more than I expect in a lot of modern movies. ***

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)
Interesting film about the planning of a robbery, the robbery itself, and the aftermath. It's a noir film, but it's got a sort of caper feel at times, too (and not in a silly way). I especially liked Sam Jaffe as one of the masterminds; I just sort of felt for the guy. Louis Calhern is great, and Sterling Hayden is good, too, as a criminal who wants in on the robbery so he can buy the ranch his family lost in the Depression. And Marilyn Monroe makes a real impression in a small but key role. The tension never really lets up the entire time. One of John Huston's many great films. ***1/2

THE UNSUSPECTED (1947)
Claude Rains is excellent in a film so derivative of Laura that you already know everything that's going to happen in it. But Rains is so damn good, as always. **

JANIE JONES (2010)
Abigail Breslin plays a young girl whose mother dumps her with the father she's never known, a singer played by Alessandro Nivola. It's sweet and a little hard-edged, and Breslin is quite a little actress. ***

PUSS IN BOOTS (2011)
Better and more fun than I expected once you get past the first half-hour. I think a lot of it is due to Antonio Banderas, who doesn't play Puss as cute or funny; there's a sort of integrity to his take on the character that makes a lot of the adventure plausible and palatable. By contrast, Zach Galifianakis doesn't really add much as Humpty Dumpty, probably because so much of his screen persona involves a physicality and presence that his voice can't convey on its own. I don't really need to visit the Shrek universe again, but this one didn't make me sorry I had. Much, much better than the wretched, embarrassing Shrek the Third. ***

SPIDER-MAN XXX: A PORN PARODY (2011)
Works for me. Xander Corvus actually isn't a bad Spider-Man for what could have been a really cheap movie; Peter O'Tool isn't a bad Kingpin, either. The film's take on the iconic upside-down kiss scene--Capri Anderson giving Spidey an upside-down blowjob in the alley while serious, romantic violin music plays--is funnier than a lot of things I've seen this year. ***

THE HOURS (2002)
And as I was watching it, I lamented the end of an era. They don't really make movies like this anymore; it's like the last great movie of the 1990s. A great cast, an interesting central concept, and economical; it's not overlong, but it gives itself the space to breathe and let us into the characters and consider what it's about without self-consciously overwhelming us with dialogue and pretensions of wit. It's also a great example of how one piece of art can comment on another without becoming didactic. Here we have cross-cutting between three stories: Nicole Kidman is Virginia Woolf, writing Mrs. Dalloway and slowly feeling a fatal dissatisfaction and instability creeping in; Julianne Moore is a housewife in 1951, reading Mrs. Dalloway and feeling so tragically that she doesn't fit in to her own life that she's contemplating suicide; and Meryl Streep, fifty years later, living Mrs. Dalloway--planning a reception party for her dying, AIDS-riddled friend and lost love (Ed Harris), and who is beginning to wonder if her life has meaning or merely momentum. I think this was the right time in my life for me to see this film, having read Mrs. Dalloway in college and having gone through the years of depression and anxiety and instability. I understand with every fiber of my being the way life can stop making sense and you can become more and more disconnected from your happiness, the people who love you, and even your sense of self. I understand the desperation it can make you feel. I identified more than I would have if I'd seen it back in 2002. I thought it was a masterpiece. ****

WILD CHERRY (2009)
Oh, fuck you, American Pie wannabe. *

MADAME BOVARY (1949)
Engaging adaptation of the Flaubert novel. It compresses some of the events of the book, but gets across the core feeling of Madame Bovary's dissatisfaction with life. Jennifer Jones is very good in the title role; I realized as I was watching it that I haven't liked her in movies very often, but I really did here. Van Heflin is very sympathetic as Dr. Bovary, trying to humor his wife's extravagant fantasies even while she hurts him, and not realizing until it's too late just how much her desire for the finer things strains her emotions. It's deeper than just "Oh, she couldn't tell the difference between fantasy and reality," and although Madame Bovary isn't always sympathetic, director Vincente Minnelli avoids making her a monster. The framing device, with James Mason as Flaubert defending the novel in court, is a tad heavy-handed. ****

THE MISSIONARY (1982)
Michael Palin wrote and stars in this film as Victorian Era missionary attempting to save the souls of prostitutes and navigate an affair with Maggie Smith. Surprisingly unfunny and a tad on the tedious side. **

THE LORAX (2012)
You know me: I'll see it if it's animated, even when I know I'm not going to like it. Hollywood once again trades Dr. Seuss' sincerity for heavy-handed confrontations, an action formula, terrible songs, and star voices. (I am so sick of Ed fucking Helms right now that I can taste my annoyance.) Beautiful to look at, very well animated, and I loved the character of the Lorax himself. Danny DeVito is so good in the role, and lends a roughness and gravitas that the film never earns or lives up to. The forest animals are hilarious, too. But it never justifies itself; it's so unnecessary, and at its heart it's yet another anti-corporate message brought to us by one of the biggest corporations on Earth. Fuck you. **1/2

LA BELLE NOISEUSE (1991)
One of the most fascinating films I've ever seen detailing the creative process. It's surprisingly powerful and riveting, even at four hours long. And once again, I'm just going to hand this over to Roger Ebert. ****

3:10 TO YUMA (1957)
Tense, suspenseful Western about a farmer (Van Heflin) trying to do the job he was hired for and escort a charming outlaw (Glenn Ford) to meet the train that will take him to prison. Ford thinks he spots a weakness in Heflin and tries to exploit it and talk, bribe, or threaten his way out of the situation. And all the while, his gang is looking to rescue him. In its way, it's a study in masculinity and what kinds of male attitudes society demands; is Heflin a coward because he doesn't just shoot Ford dead, a fool because he doesn't agree to take thousands of dollars to let Ford go, or admirable because of his resolve? I was wrapped up in this one, even as I knew what was going to happen because I've seen the remake (a movie I liked when I saw it, but which hasn't stayed in my mind over the years, probably because it seemed less personal and suspenseful than this one). ****

EAT (1963)
BLOW JOB (1964)
SLEEP (1963)
KISS (1963)
Some of Andy Warhol's "anti-films." They're not designed to be films people would watch, so I don't feel compelled to rate them. I mean, how do you rate a five and a half hour film of a person sleeping that's intentionally designed to be unwatchable? At the same time, I admire the point Warhol is attempting to make about what people will watch and the differences between narrative and observation. I found Eat the most interesting, but it's also the shortest of the four.

WOMAN HATERS (1934)
Part of Columbia's Musical Novelties series, but also the first short starring the Three Stooges. It's all done in verse, with Larry, Curly and Moe joining a woman-hating society. The trouble is, Larry gets married that very night and tries to secretly go on a honeymoon. When Moe and Curly find out, they follow along and also fall in love with Larry's new bride. It's all done in verse, which is fun. ***

WE BOUGHT A ZOO (2011)
Every time I think Cameron Crowe can't get more cloying, silly and obvious, he puts out another pile of saccharine that makes me wish I'd never even bothered. This is American filmmaking now, in all of its overwrought preciousness, and it has a goopy soundtrack and close-ups of men crying because oh my god the specialness of children and cute niceness and emotions and stuff. Jesus Christ, Cameron, rein it in a little; when you have a character having his emotional revelation breakdown scene in practically the opening credits, where else is there to go? How about telling a story and earning some of those tears, alright? Everyone wants to go right to the meaningful payoff without bothering to put the meaning into the goddamn thing. An embarrassment. Compared to this overly-earnest, unbaked mess, Big Miracle is a freaking William Wyler movie. Zero stars.

2 comments:

Tallulah Morehead said...

When I was a little boy, 60 years ago, the Jungle Jim films ran on local TV as a series. I didn't even realize they'd been made for theaters. I remember enjoying them, but I don't remember the films themselves. I considered revisiting them when I saw that TCM was running them, not having looked at one in almost 60 years, but then thought "Who am I kidding? There's not a chance in hell I'd make it all the way through all of even one."

I recorded The Asphalt Jungle but haven't watched it yet. Good to hear it's good. How about "The Asphalt Jungle Jim"? Then-a you got somethin'!

Hobgoblin238 said...

Ok that sounds HILARIOUS! The upside down blowjob....Oh my god! HAHA!