A review of the films I've seen this past week.
JANE EYRE (1943)
Very much a Gothic fairy tale version of the Bronte novel, with a moody atmosphere of shadows and fog. Something I noticed this time; I always get a little disappointed in film versions when Jane grows up. I find her story as a child so compelling, something just grabs me about it, and this version has strong performances from Peggy Ann Garner and Elizabeth Taylor. But Joan Fontaine is an excellent Jane, and even though the film isn't exactly an interesting take on the novel itself (it kind of abandons a lot of the smart, resolved, inner Jane when Rochester arrives and the whole thing becomes more or less Beauty and the Beast), it is a very enjoyable old movie. Orson Welles as Rochester, with his fake nose and his flamboyant performance, doesn't really fit the tone of the story at all, but is nonetheless completely enjoyable. It's kind of a panto; his performance runs right over Jane Eyre (and Jane Eyre), but I couldn't help but love it. Like I said, a Gothic fairy tale, like a storybook that simplifies its original source in a way that doesn't really do the novel justice, but which is enjoyable as its own entity. **** for its warped sense of style alone.
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006)
Mandy Lane (played by Amber Heard) goes on a ranch vacation with her shitty high school friends (mostly guys trying to fuck her), and then a slasher movie happens. Kind of a mixed bag. The cinematography is good, but mostly because it's emulating The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, and the twists are pretty predictable. All the elements are there, but not in the right measurements. **1/2
THE LAST STAND (2013)
Silly-but-fun action flick with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the sheriff of a small border town who is the only thing that stands in the way of a powerful drug dealer trying to escape federal custody. It's silly, and Korean director Kim Jee-woon does a lot of those fun, earnest flourishes that for some reason we tend to think are cool in Asian cinema but silly in American action flicks (I guess because we're not used to that style). But it's a surprisingly enjoyable action movie with a good B-movie cast. Just a fun waste of time on a weeknight. ***
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013)
I never thought I'd see an actual interesting vampire movie again, but Jim Jarmusch really made something offbeat and dreamlike. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play Adam and Eve, vampire lovers who are reunited after a long break. It's basically a film about ennui and angst, but making the characters vampires amplifies their world-weariness into something much larger and more daunting. In this way, it's kind of like a movie about... not depression, exactly, but about how huge and crippling depression often feels to a depressed person. No gimmicks; engrossing. ***1/2
DESPICABLE ME 2 (2013)
I enjoyed this one at least as much as the first, maybe more. Gru is now a reformed villain, living as a father of three adopted girls and adapting to his suburban life. The larger plot involves him getting recruited by an organization that roots out supervillains, and falling in love with his new partner, but somehow it still doesn't feel gimmicky and it doesn't rely on media parodies. Instead, the humor comes from the characters and the more-pronounced presence of the Minions. The emotions are still genuine, as they were in the first movie. I wasn't sure if they could recapture the magic of the first Despicable Me, but once again they've eschewed the usual crutches of modern CG animation and just told a funny story about characters. I really like these. Beautifully animated, witty, and likable. ****
Historical fiction inspired by a painting of a real person: Dido Elizabeth Belle, a black woman who was raised in 18th century English society by her great-uncle, the 1st Earl of Mansfield. Not much is known about the actual Belle, so the screenplay puts her around the edges of one of the Earl's real court cases as Lord Chief Justice of England, the Zong insurance case of 1783. That case revolved around a company trying to claim insurance on a group of slaves who were starved, killed and then thrown overboard. Though framed as an insurance fraud investigation, it was also a landmark case which helped lay the groundwork for the UK's 1807 abolition of slavery. Tom Wilkinson is quite good (of course) as the Earl, who is torn between English tradition and what is right. Much of the film follows Belle as she falls in love with a passionate law apprentice who demands England change, and she is wooed by an officer who seems to only want her for her money. The film also touches a lot on the racism of 18th century British peerage, who either grudgingly accept Belle as one of them, or are disgusted by her mixed heritage and refuse to see her as an equal. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Belle, carries the weight of the film on her shoulders very well; she's likable and moving, and quick to stand up for herself and others. (You may remember her as Martha's sister on the third season of the new Doctor Who.) The film has a good cast, actually, but she and Wilkinson leave everyone else behind. Still, for a film about such an interesting character and revolving around such an important event, I wish it had been more engaging and substantial. Worthwhile, no doubt about it, but ***.
Wednesday, July 08, 2015
A review of the films I've seen this past week.