Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Film Week

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

REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER (1978)
Well, that's a shame. I thought the previous two Pink Panther films in the series were surprisingly fun, but this one was just unwatchably dull. Didn't help that they were just repeating the same jokes from the last two, but telegraphing them from miles away. *1/2

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921)
Great-looking (particularly the shots of the rocky waves), but I found it mostly dull and obscure. **1/2

ONE WEEK (1920)
Fantastic Buster Keaton short, his first as a solo star. Here, he's a newlywed building a home out of a kit, but he's sabotaged by a romantic rival. The gags are hilarious, and I like the way Buster plays with expectations right at the end. Just great stuff. ****

THREE AGES (1923)
Buster Keaton parodying the style of DW Griffith's Intolerance (even poking holes in Griffith's preachy moralizing) by portraying three love stories across three ages--the Stone Age, the Roman Empire, and modern times. I thought the Roman gags were the funniest, particularly the chariot race and a lion that just made me laugh. I think a lot of these gags were lifted later by Bugs Bunny, but they worked for me. Neat stop-motion in the Stone Age sequence. Wallace Beery plays the heavy. ****

CURIOUS ALICE (1968)
Bizarre, quasi-animated anti-drug PSA short. Some of the animation is pretty decent--each character in Wonderland represents some particular drug--but even at 11 minutes it drags. It looks like someone made it to drop acid to, actually. Watching it straight it has the effect of making you feel like you're in a room full of people who are stoned out of their mind. You know what it feels like to me being straight in a room full of people who are stoned? Totally fucking dull. Interesting outcome: it doesn't make drugs look bad, it makes drugs look boring. **

STOKER (2013)
Visually fascinating, strange film from Park Chan-Wook, with Mia Wasikowska as a girl whose father dies on her eighteenth birthday, leaving her with her cold, distant mother (Nicole Kidman). Days later, an uncle whose existence she never new of (Matthew Goode) arrives, and throws things into gradual, calculated disarray. At first, I had no idea what I was watching, but as it went on it turned a corner and just pulled me right into it. It's controlled, but underneath it's batshit insane and totally committed to that insanity. I'm giving it ***1/2, but my estimation of it might change. I can't stop thinking about this. It's a sort of masterpiece of weird.

SOCIAL NIGHTMARE (2013)
Lifetime movie about a high school girl (Kirsten Prout) whose life begins to crumble when she's bullied repeatedly online. Daryl Hannah plays her mother; Chloe Bridges plays her hot, hot, very hot, sexy friend. Really compelling, actually--it's hard to stop watching--but the twist ending is predictable from the first half-hour in. **1/2

A SISTER'S NIGHTMARE (2013)
Another Lifetime movie, this one about a cop (Kelly Rutherford) with a violently aquaphobic daughter (Peyton List, from Disney's Jessie). When Rutherford's dangerous sister (Natasha Henstridge) is released from an asylum, she insinuates herself into their lives and starts generally acting creepy. Kind of a fun-bad movie for a while, but then the climactic twist just kind of turns the whole thing into bullshit. **

SINS OF THE PREACHER (2013)
Another Lifetime movie (it was that kind of day). The true story of a preacher who murdered his wife; actually, it's about the woman's mother, who led the charge to have her daughter's death looked into and suspected her son-in-law of the murder. In the end, he gets put away on circumstantial evidence and hearsay. (I'm not commenting on the actual trial, of which I know nothing, but on the way it's portrayed in the movie, which has a poor grasp of the legal system.) It seemed crazy in the commercials, but it's like a really earnest Hallmark movie that we're apparently supposed to take very seriously. Boring. *

THIS IS THE END (2013)
The trailers did a good job of hiding just how insane this movie gets. Funny as hell from start to finish, and like Superbad (also written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), surprisingly sweet and sincere about best friend feelings. All six of the leads (Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson) have really good senses of humor about themselves, playing themselves in the midst of Biblical Armageddon. One of my favorite movies so far this year. I just found it that funny. ****

THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)
Rob Zombie's latest horror film is, thankfully, a giant step up from Halloween 2. Zombie throws a lot of horror elements in here, but it's basically one of those Satanic cult movies they were making in the 1970s. Sheri Moon Zombie plays a local DJ who is descended from a witch hunter and who finds herself slowly going mad under the watchful eyes of three sisters (Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn) who own the apartment building she lives in. It's not heavy on plot; Zombie is more concerned with the atmosphere, which he mostly gets right. A well-made exercise, but it doesn't quite pull you into the terror enough to really, truly be effective. ***1/2

LOVELACE (2013)
Well-made biopic of Linda Lovelace, her brief moment of stardom, and the hellish personal circumstances that put her there and turned her into a commodity. It's really well-structured, but it's held together by Amanda Seyfried's performance in the title role, which is sympathetic, powerful, and brave. This is the kind of performance I've been waiting from for her for a long time now. Most of the other performances are very good--Peter Sarsgaard is scary as hell as Chuck Traynor--although James Franco is just not remotely Hugh Hefner. I'm sorry this didn't get a wider release and more attention, because Seyfried deserves it. ****

THE BLING RING (2013)
Sofia Coppola is typically non-judgmental in her newest film, merely observing the circle of teenagers who targeted and robbed celebrities in the Hollywood Hills a few years ago. It's not a dramatically tense film, but it's shocking to see the arrogance with which these kids would breeze into celebrity homes and use them as their own personal closets, completely unworried about security cameras (which is how they eventually got caught) or the consequences of their actions. This is another one of those movies that shows us a younger generation made up of listless kids with no concept of punishment and who seem to genuinely believe they're entitled to a rich life they haven't earned. It's an interesting picture of how children are growing up now in a collapsed economy with ineffectual parents and power they don't know how to wield responsibly. They just want things to happen to them because they think they're special. Not much as a drama, but as an observation of a certain mindset, it's kind of fascinating. ***1/2

THE SAILOR AND THE DEVIL (1967)
Surreal, almost scary animated film (produced by Richard Williams and animated entirely by Errol le Cain) telling the story of a sailor who came too close to the isles of the damned. Bouncy and fun at first, then increasingly horrifying. ****

CLEAR HISTORY (2013)
Cute flick about a man who walks away from a start-up company building an electric car, only to see the percentage of the company he gave up become worth a billion dollars. Larry David stars in the role, changing his name and appearance and moving to Martha's Vineyard to find a simple life of happiness. But, a decade later, his past catches up with him in the form of his former business partner (Jon Hamm), who moves onto the island. The catch is, he doesn't recognize David, giving David the opening for revenge. Some good twists and turns, with David basically giving the same performance he gives on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Good cast, too. Not a great flick, but not a waste of time, either. The fact that it's not overly ambitious helps; it's amiable and funny. ***

LE COMBAT DANS L'ILE (1962)
Romy Schneider stars as a woman whose husband goes on the run to escape an act of terror he committed. While he's gone, she grows closer and closer to his best friend (Jean-Louis Trintignant), eventually becoming pregnant by him and falling in love. When her husband returns, he demands a duel over her. Interesting example of a liberal French New Wave film, made in response to New Wave films producer Louis Malle felt were too hardline conservative. Schneider is excellent. ***1/2

TRISTANA (1970)
Luis Bunuel film, starring Catherine Deneuve in a great performance as a teenage orphan taken in by a nobleman (Fernando Rey). He seduces her and treats her as both wife and daughter, telling her that he won't marry her, but that this makes them both free. When she falls in love with an artist (Franco Nero), her guardian turns out to be a hypocrite. Compelling film, putting much of Bunuel's usual social commentary into the background (it takes place in 1920s Spain), focusing instead on the characters and their increasing bitterness towards their circumstances and the social institutions and conventions which they feel have created their unhappiness. ****

WINTER LIGHT (1962)
Ingmar Bergman film about a priest undergoing a crisis of faith. I know this will sound funny to some, but I found this Bergman film in particular to be obscure, remote, and hard to watch. I know lots of people who feel that way about all of Bergman's films, but I usually love his movies. **

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

LOVELACE was here for one lousy week, and I missed it.
I dont think I've ever actively seen any PINK PANTHER movie. Oh, it'd be on TV and I'd catch a scene, but that's not what I mean.