Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Film Week

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

THE LITTLE PRINCE (1974)
Stanley Donen directed this Lerner & Lowe production of Antoine deSaint-Exupery's beautiful novella. It's a mixed bag, but it had some things in it that I really liked. Honestly, I think songs are unnecessary, though a couple of them are nice, and you can tell that the filmmakers wanted something more lavish than what they came up with. Some scenes really get the lovely, quiet quality of the source material exactly right, and Steven Warner, the boy playing the Prince, is really quite charming in the role. But... I don't know, sometimes it felt like everyone was more or less falling in love with him, and that was a little disturbing. I get what everything represents, but... I don't know, I felt there were unintended implications. A disconcertingly tan Bob Fosse, as the snake, is the embodiment of sleaze, doing a dance that feels as much like a seduction as it feels like Every Bob Fosse Move: The Motion Picture. Gene Wilder is quite lovely as the fox, even though he song really sends the message that he's just falling in love with this boy. (The character in the book is pretty much thought to be deSaint-Exupery's young lover, who was a woman in real life.) I go back and forth on it, but ultimately it's the kind of mess I tend to like, because there's good stuff here that almost outweighs the stuff that holds it back (the sequence with the Prince visiting other worlds on his way to Earth is remarkable). Frankly, that kind of thing ends up being weirdly fascinating to me. So either **1/2 or *** stars. Your mileage may vary, but I've never pretended a review is anything but subjective.

THE PURGE (2013)
The premise--that on one night a year, all crime is legal, in order to cleanse people of their aggressive tendencies--seems dopey at first, but the film raises some interesting implications; most notably, that such a night would be used as a means to eliminate the poor. The film has a lot of ideas about class structure and violence that are very interesting; unfortunately, it doesn't really know how to say them, and uses them mostly as a backdrop for an exploitative home invasion thriller. It's not a badly made movie at all, and I appreciate that it's quite lean. It's actually very intense and suspenseful. But it's also disturbing how it puts the audience in the position of rooting for the family being attacked. It makes the violence committed on their behalf quite satisfying, so in the end it's a movie that's critical of violence that leaves you rooting for some of the violence. The movie has a chance to make a point at the end, or to turn the thrill the audience feels at "righteous" violence back at it, but it doesn't do any of that. It's in that **1/2 range for me; well-made and genuinely suspenseful, but it backs out of the moral/ethical questions it raises in favor of an action plot.

TOKYO GODFATHERS (2003)
A special, lovely animated film about three homeless people who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve and decide to track down and confront the baby's mother. It's shamelessly sentimental and built on a series of coincidences--it firmly falls on the "miracles happen at Christmas" side of these kinds of movies--but it doesn't feel cheesy or unearned, because the film also acknowledges the kinds of suffering homeless people are put through by society, and what we do to ourselves when our pain becomes unbearable. Part of what makes it so touching (and funny) is that it's ultimately about love and having a pure heart in a world where reality can be harsh and brutal. (Though that said, I didn't appreciate the homophobic slurs that get thrown around.) ****

THE LEDGE (2011)
A potboiler love triangle that gussies itself up as a tedious debate on the merits of atheism and the stupidity of faith. Charlie Hunnam is a strident atheist making strident points about his atheism to the religious Patrick Wilson who makes religious judgments and talks about the importance of religion. It annoys Hunnam so much that he resolves to charm away Wilson's wife, Liv Tyler. The message here is so muddied, and I think the filmmakers fall on the side of balance rather than one extreme or the other, so, agnosticism, I guess? The problem is, for much of the picture, we're clearly meant to be on the side of Hunnam, whose arrogant, grief-based atheism is painted as more thoughtful and noble and understanding than Wilson's arrogant, grief-based religious feelings. Sadly for them, Wilson's belief in a guided universe actually starts to sound less judgmental and more reasoned, so the movie overcompensates by having him go full-blown crazy. Meanwhile, Liv Tyler is stuck in the middle, a prize for them both to win, each trying to conquer her body, mind and soul, with seemingly no capacity to make decisions for herself. And also there's some nonsense with Terrence Howard as a sterile cop. *

THE COUNSELOR (2013)
A crime suspense thriller that is neither suspenseful nor thrilling. Cormac McCarthy wrote the screenplay, so everybody talks in parables instead of saying what they mean. As structure, it's frustrating; you know everything that's going to happen just by the way the characters are played, and, through stories, everyone more or less tells you right away how the whole thing is going to play out. But taken on their own, some of the stories are really good, even though none of it works as a coherent whole. Michael Fassbender is a lawyer who goes in on a drug deal that goes bad, and is targeted by a Colombian cartel that just assumes it's his fault. There's no reasoning with anyone about it, and every time he goes to someone for help, it's just more philosophy and parable. This guy can't even go and buy a diamond ring to marry Penelope Cruz with, without hearing a long story about diamonds that's a heavy-handed allegory for the film's themes. It's especially frustrating because Fassbender's character is so passive; things just happen to him, and he moans about it, but he's trapped in a series of consequences. Also stymieing the film is that Ridley Scott as a director is generally all flash and no substance, so the words don't always connect (and some of his visuals are just thuddingly obvious), and Cameron Diaz, in a key role, is giving us definitive proof that although she can memorize dialogue, she can't convey feelings with it or, you know, act. (And she's attempting some weird accent at the same time.) But some of it is so fascinating. It's like there's a good, weird, mysterious, dreamlike movie in there somewhere, it's just in the hands of a director who doesn't know what to do with it, and actors that are hit or miss with the material. I feel like, in the hands of a better, less realistic filmmaker, it could have been the most brilliant thing. But here, I was about forty minutes in before I even knew what was happening. **1/2

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

Saw an for The Purge, and knew I'd NEVER see it. The violence in the ad was starling.