Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Film Week

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

TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934)
John Barrymore is a maniacal stage director on a train trying to entice his star, Carole Lombard, to let him direct her again. There's chemistry between the two, but I found it a little too hammy and over the top. It's just not dated that well. ***

IN A WORLD... (2013)
Lake Bell stars, in a film she wrote and directed, as a dialect coach trying to break into the world of trailer voiceovers. I never really thought before about how women don't do voiceovers for big budget action flicks. It's an interesting film; it's comic, but it's timed like a drama and plays out like one. It's about feminism, about how complicated relations between fathers and their daughters are, and about sexism in the film industry, but it never loses sight of itself as a character piece, and in that way its ambition never exceeds its execution. A rewarding film I'd like to watch again and continue to absorb. ****

AFTERNOON DELIGHT (2013)
This is what they used to call a seriocomic movie, starring Kathryn Hahn (a revelation here) as a suburban woman who feels a disconnect with her life. The movie makes a very vital point about how the things designed to make our lives easier can give us angst and a sense of generalized guilt. She and her husband (Josh Radnor) are in a rut, and her best friend (Jessica St. Clair) convinces her to go to a strip club to loosen up her inhibitions. There, Hahn gets a lap dance from Juno Temple, and becomes obsessed with helping the poor girl to get away from sex work. Temple, however, is perfectly happy doing what she does, and the level of disconnect there is where much of the movie's energy comes from. It's comic, but it's played seriously, and in doing so, writer-director Jill Soloway makes some sharp points about modern suburban life and all of its well-meaning hypocrisy. The movie doesn't entirely work, but it has the courage to be unlikable and it's well-observed. ***

THE CANYONS (2013)
I didn't think I'd see a worse movie from 2013 than Sharknado or Movie 43, but here it is. Whatever Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader want to whine about, their stunt-casting of Lindsay Lohan in their love letter to misogyny is not what sinks this movie. (And as bad as Lohan is, porn actor James Deen can't really hold his dramatic weight, either.) It's like a porno that's too good to be a porno. Or a porno for people who get off on emotional violence. Either way, it's truly a piece of shit. No stars.

TOUCHY FEELY (2013)
Rosemarie DeWitt stars as a massage therapist who suddenly develops a revulsion of human contact, while her dentist brother (Josh Pais) suddenly becomes very successful. This was written and directed by Lynn Shelton (who made Your Sister's Sister, which I loved), and she has an eye for character, but this one kind of left me cold. I like DeWitt as an actress, and Ellen Page gives a sensitive performance as Pais' daughter, but I just wasn't absorbed by the film itself. **1/2

THE BRITTANY MURPHY STORY (2014)
Weird. Lifetime's TV movie about the life and tragic early death of Brittany Murphy isn't nearly as exploitative as I was expecting it to be, but in its insistence on rosiness followed by sudden tragedy, it feels... not exactly honest. It's like all of the drama is sort of taking place in the margins while it mainly focuses on Murphy's relationship with her mother. I can't explain how, but by attempting to overlook any possible issues besides her heart murmur, it somehow minimizes her life and makes it hard to care about the film's bloodless, not-quite-human version of Brittany Murphy. In the title role, Amanda Fuller more or less gets Brittany's voice and mannerisms right, but the performance is more impression than fully realized character (not that the script gives Fuller, who probably could have been quite good, the opportunity to do much more than just be pretty and then fragile and then oh-so-wounded). It's the sort of thing you'd rather see a documentary about someone trying to make. I can't even rate this, it's barely even a movie. I loved Brittany Murphy. I would see movies just because she was in them. All this did was make me miss her, and I'm kind of sorry anyone bothered to do this.

THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940)
Slight but hilarious movie with Bob Hope as a radio personality who thinks he may have murdered someone. He gloms onto Paulette Goddard (don't blame him), who has inherited a family castle in Cuba that might be haunted. Good stuff, and Hope and Goddard are snappy (this is my favorite period of Bob Hope movies), but I did squirm a little bit at some of the racial humor around Willie Best as Hope's valet. I mean, it wasn't necessarily racist--some of it went right up to what would be racist humor and then subverted it, so it didn't feel mean-spirited or racist. It was kind of fascinating. And Best was hilarious, with great comic timing. But there was enough stereotyping in there that I didn't always feel comfortable about it. But, I mean, I have to admit, I enjoyed the movie. ***1/2

ROMEO & JULIET (2013)
I see the critics really ripped this one apart. I quite liked it, actually, but this has never been one of my favorite plays. The film is mainly pretty boys and pretty girls getting passionately carried away in Verona (and it has to be said, the locale on display here is stunning; this is the most beautiful-looking version of Romeo and Juliet I've ever seen, including the Zeffirelli version), but it mirrors the easy passions and rages of being a teenager. Douglas Booth is a very pretty Romeo, and Hailee Steinfeld is luminous as can be as Juliet, but the film is completely stolen by Paul Giamatti's sensitive Friar Lawrence, who gives the film its weight as a drama. It's really Romeo and Juliet for the Twilight generation, but it did make me think about the play in a new way, which is all I ask for from Shakespeare adaptations. Damian Lewis is quite good as Capulet, and I realized I'd never really considered the play from the perspective of a parent before, and that really sort of got to me. I don't know, I enjoyed it. ***1/2

SUZANNE'S CAREER (1963)
Eric Rohmer film about a student, Bertrand, who has mixed feelings about Suzanne, a girl that his womanizing friend Guillaume is freeloading off of. Though he admits that his anger should be directed towards his friend, Bertrand instead obsesses over his dislike of Suzanne, whom he considers trashy, even as he admires her efficient manner and her total lack of self-consciousness. It's the second of Rohmer's Six Moral Tales cycle, and I did like the moral of this one, and the way Suzanne doesn't have to earn Bertrand's respect, but instead merely surpasses him. ***1/2

MR. MORGAN'S LAST LOVE (2013)
Michael Caine as a widowed philosophy professor who sees nothing in his future until he meets a young dance teacher (Clemence Poesy). It almost sounds whimsical, but it's quite a depressing movie about obligations, the way families can be easily broken, and how we deal with death. It's not always successful, but Caine and Poesy are likable and the movie often gets by on that. ***

THE ENGLISH TEACHER (2013)
Too cartoonish and predictable movie with Julianne Moore (trying to play a real person in a movie that's not interested in reality) as a dowdy English teacher who runs into one of her former students (Michael Angarano) and tries to mount a high school production of the play he's written. Nathan Lane is somewhat enjoyable as the drama teacher, but he can play this in his sleep and sometimes phones it in. It also carries the message that selling out is probably for the best. The kind of thing that thinks it's quirky and unconventional, but is just kind of pointless. **

5 comments:

Yasmin said...

Have you seen the Boy George movie? I have honestly no opinion on it because I was just staring at Douglas Booth the whole time. So, so pretty.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Douglas Booth played Romeo in 2013? Good grief! Romeo is a teenager. I saw Douglas Booth play Pericles onstage in London 20 years ago. So he's way too old for Romeo. I'm reminded of the old MGM R&J, where you had middle-aged Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer ludicrously playing these two benighted teenyboppers.

SamuraiFrog said...

Yasmin: I didn't realize there was a Boy George movie.

Tallulah: Douglas Booth is 22. I'm not sure who you're thinking of, but the idea of a Romeo in his 40s against Hailee Steinfeld in Romeo and Juliet is pretty amusing.

The one that really gets me in the MGM movie is John Barrymore as Mercutio. He looks like someone's elderly, lost uncle.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Oops. You're right. I was thinking of Douglas Hodge. My goof. Yes, I saw Douglas Booth as Pip in a very poor Great Expectations and as Christopher Isherwood's German gay lover opposite Matt Smith in Christopher and His Kind. Yes, he should make a perfectly good, and awfully pretty, Romeo.

Tallulah Morehead said...

John Barrymore's readings of the Shakespeare is all that old MGM R&J has to offer. He is ridiculously too old and looks far too dissipated. It's no wonder he loses the duel, since he probably can't even see Tybalt.