Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Film Week

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

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (2013)
It's not a train wreck, but it's a mess. I love the original Anchorman; I expected it to be terrible and it took me completely by surprise, and I am on record as saying it's one of the funniest movies of the 2000s. This one... well, it's like they know a lot of people loved Anchorman and now they feel like they're doing you a favor by making a sequel, so they can get away with anything they want, so why bother building up the comedy when they can go straight to the belabored repeated bits from the first movie and unearned punchlines with no set up? I don't know how much Judd Apatow (a producer here) had to do with this, but this movie really suffers from what I think of as the Judd Apatow Comedy Deficiencies: too long, too full of itself, not knowing when a scene is over, and an unfortunate unwillingness to cut out long improvisational bits. That was one of the strengths of the original movie: it was tightly edited so that, instead of repeating itself or keeping a scene going, they just picked the funniest bit and kept the pacing tight. Why is that such a problem these days? It doesn't get funnier the longer you just linger over it, guys. Another real problem is that none of the characters feel real. Everyone's a Ron Burgundy, an over the top caricature, so Ron's weirdness becomes muted and, frankly, annoying, and the satire doesn't land, because there's no realistic context to set everything against. Trying to turn Brick into a character we genuinely care about just doesn't work because there was never anything there. Some decent laughs, and not a total waste, but a real misfire. **

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
An even more cynical person than me might write: "Hey, look, it's the 2014 edition of that movie that Wes Anderson keeps making." At this point, you really know what you're getting with Anderson and either his affectations work for you or they annoy the shit out of you. This is one of the times it worked for me, though I honestly came very close to shutting it off in the first 10 minutes. What really makes it work is Ralph Fiennes, who is brilliant as a concierge accused of murdering a rich widow. Fiennes is so good, so impossible to look away from, that all of the storybook/old movie cutesiness that Anderson deals in becomes less twee and more of a legitimate reflection of the character and time period and the way the story is told--we are, after all, being told this story by a narrator, and this is how he's chosen to remember it. I guess it sounds like I enjoyed this movie in spite of myself, and that's partially how I feel. I'm just surprised that instead of being as annoyed as I often am by Wes Anderson, I found this one wonderful and let its whimsy work on me completely. ****

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980)
I appreciate what they were going for, even if they didn't really pull it off. (James Horner's energetic, brassy score sure makes you feel like they did, though.) The Magnificent Seven in space, right down to Robert Vaughn being in it, and very ambitious for what's obviously not a very big budget, it's the kind of movie that totally fits my aesthetic despite it not really being a very good movie. I really wish I'd seen this when I was under 10, because I probably would've loved it then. **

STARCRASH (1978)
I wish I'd seen this one as a kid, too. This one is a flurry of activity in the beginning, but the last half of the movie just drags and drags and drags. Easy to appreciate the weirdness of the robot, of the aliens, of David Hasselhoff and his eyeliner. Christopher Plummer appears in this movie and his performance is more serious and dignified than maybe this movie deserves, and I think that's indicative of the problem here: I wish this movie were sillier and took itself less seriously. Still, Caroline Munro in that outfit makes up for a surprising amount. And I like the way outer space looks so colorful. The director clearly wanted to make a Harryhausen Sinbad movie, and I appreciate that, even if he didn't really come close to pulling it off. *

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980)
Sea monsters try to mate with the ladies. Pretty simplistic, but some fun moments. **1/2

THE NORMAL HEART (2014)
Film adaptation of Larry Kramer's autobiographical play about the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, beginning with the publication of that article in 1981 and continuing through 1984. Mark Ruffalo stars as Ned Weeks, a writer who becomes a loud, passionate activist, frustrated by the fact that no one seems to be listening or doing anything about what quickly becomes an epidemic. One of the things this movie did was make me think about gay sexual freedom. That probably sounds very reductive, so be patient with me. There's a stereotype I grew up with that gay men were all recklessly promiscuous and I heard adults say (when I was a child) that that was how AIDS spread so quickly. I never forgot that, but never confronted it, either, because when I grew up it was so obviously bullshit; this stereotype that was created for me was of gay men voraciously having sex with anyone they could, as though it was the only thing they wanted to do with their lives (and always tinted with this idea that it was predatory and deviant). The worst kind of suburban fear-mongering. But in this movie, Ruffalo flat out says that it's impossible to tell gay men to just stop having sex because that ability to have sex when and with whom they want had become an integral way for gay men to unashamedly express their identities. I never thought about it like that, and I'm not sure I'm explaining it well. I never thought about how much the fear and confusion of the crisis set back gay civil rights. That's straight privilege--I never really had to think about it, so I just didn't. But I remember from the time period how there were so many people who thought gay men were being punished for their deviance, which a lot of people believed right up until straight people started getting AIDS. A lot of government indifference and hemming and hawing and now 36 million people are dead.

The movie itself is compelling and passionate, and I identified with Ned Weeks and his frustration that something needs to be done yesterday and feeling like he was getting nowhere. The anger of the time period is still fresh, and time has not diminished the rage. At once blunt and poetic, and alive. ****

4 comments:

Jason said...

Heh - you apparently were keeping track of the Netflix stuff that went away on January 1st, like I was -- I also watched Battle Beyond the Stars last week, and was bummed I didn't get around to Starcrash and Humanoids from the Deep. :D

SamuraiFrog said...

Ha, yes. Actually, I wish I had been keeping better track. They were on my queue and I didn't see they were disappearing until the last minute, and I only got to see them all by staying up late on the 31st. We started Humanoids from the Deep at 11:30, and I kept wondering if it would just cut off at midnight.

Becca wants this to be a holiday tradition, I think. The same thing happened at the end of November, when we watched CHUD, The Stuff and The Initiation practically the day before they disappeared. She said our new tradition is shlock movies for Thanksgiving, and named it CHUDsgiving, so I guess it's a thing.

Roger Owen Green said...

"I honestly came very close to shutting it off in the first 10 minutes." Again, my fear about video v. the cinema.

BTW, I LOVED Budapest Hotel.

Chip Chandler said...

Nice comments on Normal Heart -- nice to see a straight guy get it.