Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past two weeks.

THE RIVER (1951)
Jean Renoir is a great observational director. This film is about an upper class English family living in India. Ostensibly, it's about a teenager's first love, but the film envelops so much more than that, showing us these people as they live and interact and embrace India. It's about emotions and behavior and each frame is full of beautiful color and detail. Renoir captures an outsider's view of India, but he doesn't get in its way, letting India and the Ganges River reveal themselves through this experience. The best part of the film is dancer Radha Burnier, who plays a mixed-race neighbor's daughter. She's fascinating to watch, particularly the way she regards the young English hero that the other girls are throwing themselves at. ****

ONE FROM THE HEART (1982)
Roger Ebert called it: it's an interesting production but a bad movie. Francis Ford Coppola went all out with the sets and the production and completely forgot to populate his movie with living, breathing human beings. The human drama of a couple whose marriage is falling apart feels perfunctory and mechanical, because Coppola seems only interested in the staging of each shot and not about anyone becoming emotionally involved. And, I mean, it's a beautiful movie to look at, but the characters are awful. Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr are held at arm's length; they're too passive to give a damn about. As their brief love interests, Nastassja Kinski and Raul Julia fare better, working with what they have. Most of the performances seem dictated by timing. The songs by Tom Waits and Crystal Gale are okay. There's some really good stuff in here, but this is (to me) the movie that pretty much killed that 1970s Golden Age. Every criticism people level at Star Wars (production value over people!) is much more accurate to this indulgent, unlikable mess. *

THE MAGICIAN (1926)
Paul Wegener as a medical student who becomes obsessed with obtaining a virgin's blood in order to use a magic spell to create life. Very gothic, gleefully perverse, and Wegener is a great horror figure, always looming with his stare and his tight lips and his cloak. Very atmospheric. ***

OLIVER TWIST (1922)
I'm so familiar with this story just from the movie versions; I've never actually read the Dickens novel. I should rectify that. This is a very good production, with appropriately grim sets. Jackie Coogan is a very vulnerable Oliver Twist (this is the year after The Kid), and Lon Chaney is compelling as Fagin. ***1/2

MONSTER ROLL (2012)
A short film about sushi chefs fighting sea monsters. That's all you need to know. God damn, I hope this is some kind of show reel for a feature film, because I would line up for that. ***1/2

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)
I found this one a little hard to get into, if only because the opening felt hacky and forced. You know, there are six of these found footage horror flicks a year, you don't need to spend so much time setting up and explaining the device, I'm overly familiar with it as is. As the film goes on, though, it pulls a lot of really great tricks and gets really, really suspenseful. So I'm giving it **1/2 because it took a while to work on me, but when it does work, it really works.

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