Thursday, December 03, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past two weeks.

IN THE LAND OF THE HEAD HUNTERS (1914)
Very interesting film by photographer Edward S. Curtis. All of the actors are Kwakwaka'wakw natives living in Canada. The story is your basic Trojan War type of deal, but what's really fascinating is how the movie preserves genuine aspects of Kwakwaka'wakw culture, making it an important document. The plot is melodramatic and mostly fictional, but the film has been preserved because of its depictions of genuine artwork, dances, architecture, construction, and ceremony. Apparently some of the rituals depicted were, at the time, illegal to perform under Canadian law. Fascinating stuff. ***

UNBROKEN (2014)
Angelina Jolie directed this war movie, about a soldier who endures Japanese prison camps during World War II, and she has a good eye. But the movie just didn't really connect for me. The sequences on the life raft were pretty good (there's a shot involving a shark getting shot by a plane that really surprised me), but the entire movie felt more or less remote. There's not much dramatic tension, and the outcome is never really in doubt; honestly, a contemporary tag of documentary footage touched me much more than the entire film leading up to it. I didn't hate it, mind you, I've just already forgotten it and don't have much to say about it, because it's not really a substantive movie. **

MISS MEADOWS (2014)
This plays like a quirky, dark short that got bumped up to a feature, so the filmmakers blew it full of hot air. Katie Holmes is occasionally interesting as a manners-driven substitute teacher with her head in the 1950s who will kill to maintain the social order she craves. But what might have been kind of funny and weird at 20 minutes or so feels endless at 90, and it just becomes very hard to care about the point. Throw in a pretty predictable ending and an even more predictable denouement that I guess is supposed to be making a point about how ineffective police are, and it all adds up to nothing, really. **

FURY (2014)
Interesting, messy portrait of a tank crew in World War II as the Allies are making their way into Germany. The actors are all quite good in roles that are complex and messy; none of the characters are heroes or inherently good men caught up in impossible roles. They're men put to work in an uncompromising situation where not killing can mean getting someone else killed, and the movie paints that bleakness with noise, confusion, panic, and unrelenting violence. The movie's not entirely successful; it wants us to reconsider the Greatest Generation and their Good War by showing us men capable of being both saviors and monsters, and who end up both and neither; by sharing in their claustrophobia and not shying away from the brutal violence that makes up their world. But it also can't resist occasionally romanticizing its macho cliches, and so the movie doesn't quite come off the way it should. It's a solid war movie with complex characterizations and some very good performances, particularly Brad Pitt as the crew's sergeant. It's not Peckinpah, but it's not easily dismissed. ***1/2

CAPOTE (2005)
I knew I'd get around to it one day. Insightful character piece about Truman Capote and the writing of In Cold Blood, and how it cost him his self-respect. It's a well-paced, at times riveting movie, and honestly the only thing I didn't like about it was Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance. It kept taking me out of the movie. Hoffman was a talented actor, but his Capote is an impression. A caricature. It doesn't sink the movie, but it feels like when he's not doing something really emotional he's indulging an affectation to the point where it gets a little irritating. ***1/2

JIM HENSON'S TURKEY HOLLOW (2015)
Based on an unproduced Jim Henson-Jerry Juhl project from 1968. Interesting adaptation; Roger Langridge had done a graphic novel adaptation last year which was quite charming, but this version keeps only the framework and its central idea and creates a different story, but one that feels very imbued with the spirits of Jim and Jerry without looking over its shoulder to make sure its Henson enough. (Director Kirk Thatcher said in an interview that he never asked himself "What would Jim do?" but "Would Jim like this?" which is a wonderful approach.) A couple of kids and their divorced dad go to visit a hippie aunt (Mary Steenburgen) in the town of Turkey Hollow over Thanksgiving, and end up searching the woods for the town's mythical monster. The movie touches on all kinds of themes of divorce, family, ethics in farming, spirituality, and the magic in the world around us. And there are monsters: four musical monsters who are some great Henson Creatures and inhabit the woods and eat rocks. And Ludacris narrates. Lovely stuff, and a lovely tribute to Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl. ***

2 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

I'm much more forgiving of PSH in Capote than you. Yes, it's caricature, but it worked for me.

SamuraiFrog said...

And he won the Oscar and everything, and like I said, it didn't destroy what was a very good movie.