Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen for, I think, the past three weeks.

I don't know, I just find Shirley Temple delightful. None of the films I've seen with her have annoyed me yet, and I like it when they show up on TCM. This one has an especially good supporting cast, including Randolph Scott, Gloria Stuart and a funny Jack Haley. Seeing this one, I would have absolutely cast Jack Haley as the Tin Woodsman, too; he's vulnerable, has great timing, an effortlessly good singing voice, and wears his heart on the sleeve. You just want the guy to succeed. ***

Brit Marling is such an interesting writer; Another Earth was deeply fascinating, and so is this film, which follows two people trying to expose a cult that revolves around a woman (Marling) who claims to be from the future. It examines the ideas of faith and belief, as one of them (a nervous schoolteacher) finds himself abandoning his skepticism and believing in her, while the other (a former addict) is contacted by the FBI and told what may or may not be the truth. The film doesn't really give you a definitive answer, but plants the seed of doubt firmly in either direction, truly leaving the interpretation of the film to the viewer. Very smart, very compelling. ****

I thought it was okay. It sort of went by in a blur, but the musical scenes were mostly nice, particularly "White Christmas." Not so much "Abraham," though, which was the most bizarre outpouring of disturbing blackface I've ever seen. Surprised to see that. I mean, I know it's of the time and all that, but I just found it deeply, deeply unsettling. **

The Animaniacs Christmas movie. It showed up on the Hub a couple of days before Christmas and I was surprised how much I really enjoyed, since my appreciation of Animaniacs is pretty much non-existent (except for a few songs). Lots of fun. ***

Interesting, involving French Canadian film about identity. We follow a couple through the 1990s, as Laurence (interestingly, a name that can be either masculine or feminine in French) starts to come to terms with his desire to be a woman and how that effects both his life and his relationship with his girlfriend Fred. Much of the dilemma is whether or not Fred will continue the relationship and give Laurence her support, and for a time she does. But his identity crisis forces her to examine her own identity as well. It's a long movie--I've seen critics who feel it's overlong, even pretentious, and it might be somewhat inaccessible--but I didn't mind the journey, and what I thought was especially interesting was the ideas it raises about how we construct our identity and how we're willing to express it. What it made me consider is that, on some level, it might not be possible to be completely true to ourselves and still be in a relationship, because we naturally make compromises in what we want to accommodate the relationship. It's just a matter of what we can live with and what's more important to us: our own happiness or mutual happiness with another person. It's a fascinating quandary, and I can't think of another film that made me really think about it. Excellent soundtrack. ***1/2

THIS IS 40 (2012)
Shrill, grating film about a totally unlikable couple. At this point, you know a Judd Apatow movie is going to be overlong and indulgent, but so are lots of movies. What matters in a movie like this--which isn't really a narrative, but a loose collection of scenes--is whether taking the journey is intellectually or emotionally stimulating, and this is neither. There's not a single likable character who registers. Leslie Mann plays another shrew who browbeats and bullies her husband, and Paul Rudd plays another wishy-washy guy who doesn't just grow up already. I've seen a lot of men talk about how Mann's character is so mean and Rudd is so likable, but I didn't like him at all; he's a weenie who runs and hides from his family and his responsibilities at every opportunity. She may steamroll him, but it's probably very frustrating for her that he's so avoidant. In the end, nothing's really settled and I just never felt good about them together; they seemed to hate each other the whole time and only stay together because they both have such bad daddy issues that they don't want to transfer the cycle to their own children. I kind of felt bad for all the actors. The usual Apatow problems of non-pacing and too much improvising apply; there's no structure, no tension... nothing. This might have worked as an HBO series; as it is, it feels like Apatow's trying to cram eight episodes of a half-hour TV show into a long, formless movie called This Is Literally Everything That's Wrong with Well-Off White People. *

Surprising, touching short film about a boy and the robot he can't get rid of. Fantastic twist at the end. ****

MOON ROCK (1970)
Bizarre, fascinating short animation by Yellow Submarine director George Dunning. It's based on lateral thinking, and I'm honestly not sure I understand any of it, but it's just endlessly fascinating. ****

I honestly expected to hate this, but when it won me over, it really won me over. Wes Anderson's interesting quality is his wistfulness. I think he tends a little too much towards cutesy, but there's a genuine sort of wistfulness in there that, in this case, combines the remembrance of young love and how epic infatuation can seem with a lonely, regretful adulthood that brings its own resentments. It's easy to dismiss this as shallow pastiche, but genuine emotions come through. I admit, I was surprised. I don't usually care much for Anderson's films, but I ended up relating to this as a sort of fantasy film about young love; it's like a storybook, but not one that's been closed off from some place genuine. It's a great movie. It's also satisfyingly concise; at 94 minutes, it's a nice reminder that the art of compression isn't dead. ***1/2

LINCOLN (2012)
I honestly was prepared to hate this movie--god knows I've hated most of Spielberg's movies over the last 20 years--but I'm surprised by how much it affected me and how much it remains with me. It's not a perfect film, but it has a power that I find lingers with me. I think a lot of the reviews of this film have been pretty much useless; lots of critics seem annoyed that it's not more of a grandiose biopic, but I think what Spielberg has done (to my utter amazement) is to chop through to the heart of the story he's telling and not stray too far from it. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing as Lincoln, particularly in his body language and the obvious physical toll being at a historical crossroads exacts on him. I like the way the film can just fade around him as Lincoln tells a folksy story to illustrate his point or to pass the time when waiting for important news. Lincoln here seems to feel each and every death in the war between the states, and it's very effective. But it's not a biopic, it's something that's a much more interesting idea for a movie: it's about Lincoln's desperate attempt to get the 13th Amendment passed through a lame duck Congress. In that way, the picture's much more like 1776 than a sweeping biopic, and it's riveting. The parallels between politics of the time and how little they've changed now are obvious, and surprisingly cinematic. It's a great-looking movie, one that draws you in with quiet and the power of its performances, not only Day-Lewis' but Sally Field's and Tommy Lee Jones' especially. It's a movie assured of being on the right side of history, but also looks at how that history gets decided. In fact, I really only have one problem with this movie, so...

Spoiler, possibly: what bothered me is the very end of the movie. There's a scene, after the end of the Civil War, with Lincoln and his Secretary of State and others, and then Lincoln has to rush out to meet his wife to go to the theater where he will be killed. The President, as we've seen, doesn't like wearing his gloves, and leaves them behind, walking towards history. That's really the end of the movie. But Spielberg can't resist showing us the reaction to the assassination, Lincoln dying in bed, and then this cheesy, cliched shot of Lincoln reflected in the flickering of the oil lamp while giving his "with malice towards none" speech, like this is some movie from 1942, the music swelling in case you missed how important Lincoln was in the last 150 years. It's a thudding, obvious end to a surprisingly thoughtful movie. It doesn't ruin the picture, but it shouldn't be there. Lincoln walking away, leaving his gloves behind: that's the end of this movie. Spielberg has taken his story and, instead of the worshipful picture of remote authoritarianism that his entire filmography prepared me to expect, given us a very human portrait. Lincoln is about the human being who crafted and desperately pushed through a Constitutional Amendment that ended slavery. He's not unapproachable and perfect, he's very much a human being. And ending on that human moment is the right call. But Spielberg, of course, can't resist deifying the man at the very end, and it's just a tasteless mistake. Just lop off those four minutes, or move the speech to before the scene of Lincoln walking away, and that would have been the right way.

Spoiler over: But it's a surprisingly great movie, which I didn't expect at all. ***1/2


Roger Owen Green said...

I really liked Lincoln, tho you are right about the ending. I was more bothered by the beginning , with people quoting Lincoln to Lincoln. It was VERY Spielberg.

And I loved Moonrise Kingdom too.

My wife and I were talking about Bing Crosby, which led to Holiday Inn, and whether we should show it to the Daughter. I DESPISE the Lincoln segment.

SamuraiFrog said...

It was just so disturbing. I'd never heard about it before, and then suddenly... Jesus. I actually watched it the day before Christmas, and I was just really angry.

Roger Owen Green said...

Holiday Inn at 44:50