Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Film Week

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

I had mixed feelings in the lead-up to this; I love Sam Raimi, but my basic fear was that it was going to be another completely joyless piece of shit like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland movie. So, I don't know if this makes sense, but I somehow liked this movie more than I thought I would, but didn't love it as much as I'd secretly hoped. It's not a great fantasy movie, but it is a pretty amiable, likable one, with some good acting and some not-so-good acting and excellent special effects. I've heard some people saying the movie highlights James Franco's limitations as an actor, but it's not really the kind of movie where a performer gets to stretch themselves; it's personality over skill in a big, expensive, studio tentpole movie like this. (That said, Michelle Williams is good, and Rachel Weisz really gets into her performance. Mila Kunis... well, her later scenes are the reason she was cast, but she can't carry the dramatic tension of her early scenes, which is a shame as she's potentially the most interesting, conflicted character in the movie.) I also wish that every Oz movie didn't feel the need to slavishly devote themselves to constantly nodding at the 1939 MGM movie, when there's a wealth of material in the original novels that you can go with. It was nice to see the China country depicted for once, and the China Doll is one of the movie's better characters; the special effects give her a lovely marionette quality. Ultimately, I really enjoyed it, but it's not one that's going to stick with me or that I'm going to watch over and over again, like many other Raimi movies. I especially loved the Flying Monkeys (baboons were a great idea; they're big and terrifying), the Emerald City (looking Art Deco, which is actually how I've always pictured it), and Danny Elfman's great score, complimenting Raimi's direction and the editing as opposed to generating every emotion, like in Tim Burton's soulless films, such as the aforementioned complete piece of shit Alice in Wonderland, which, as I've said before, is a complete piece of shit. I'm going with ***1/2, but it's mainly for the special effects, the score, the editing, and Williams and Weisz. Poor Witch of the North got the shaft.

[An aside, spoilers if you think you need them: at the end of the film, the two bad witches get away and James Franco, having faked his death to pretend he's indestructible, becomes the Wizard of Oz. The movie is taking in so much money that Disney and producer Joe Roth want a sequel; it takes place 20 years before The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so Roth has pooh-poohed the notion of the sequel involving Dorothy or any other familiar characters because there's such a wealth of stories to tell. My opinion? Not really. What else is there to say about a Wizard who has now made himself the prisoner of his throne room and gadgets, and who is supposed to appear dead for the next 20 years? And what's the plot? The witches try to take the Emerald City again, only to fail again? Who cares? They should just make The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and be more true to the book. I'd love to see that. Then again, what I'd really love to see, is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in stop-motion animation. Let's do that, instead. Spoilers over.]

The first of a new series of Mickey Mouse shorts, which you can watch here. It's getting sort of mixed-to-negative reviews, but of course I loved it, not just because of the energy and the charming design of the short itself, but because of the promise it holds for more shorts to come. To me, this kind of thing is much more interesting than the features Disney and Pixar are currently designing. Have you seen the Planes trailer? Go fuck yourself. ****

A riveting political picture that I'm sorry I hadn't seen when it first came out. Joan Allen plays a senator undergoing her confirmation hearing to become Vice President of the United States. As the process begins, there are pictures of her unearthed that appear to show her having group sex at a college party when she was 19 (one of the things the movie doesn't really touch on is that the situation appears more like a date rape than something that happened with sober consent). The film is very much about the ethics of the situation. Allen refuses to comment on the pictures or the innuendo that are dropped at her hearing, feeling that to address them--whether they're true or not--legitimizes them as a valid part of the political process. Much of the wrangling in this film--which plays like a political thriller, and is indeed suspenseful--is not only over the ethical issues and an address of partisan hypocrisy in politics (the film feels very much like a reaction to the then-recent Monica Lewinsky affair), but also the blatant sexism of the situation. Would Allen's sex life be considered relevant to the situation if she were a man? The Contender does an excellent job of making us uncomfortable, sometimes even infuriated at the shifting boundaries of political relevance and a growing hunger to know the details of someone's personal life. Like I said, I'm sorry I didn't see it back in 2000, but seeing it now with 13 years of hindsight and an ever-crumbling ethical structure in the media and in politics, the movie seems much more prescient. An excellent film, and one that's very bold in its willingness to take sides to make its points. ****

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