Thursday, February 25, 2016

Film Week

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

THE LEARNING TREE (1969)
Gordon Parks wrote and directed this film, based on his novel, about a group of black friends living in a rural community in the 1920s. The film is mostly seen through the eyes of Newt, a teenager who watches his hot-headed friend Marcus end up in prison after a racially-driven confrontation. It's a shocking movie, even now, because its style is reminiscent of coming-of-age movies about teenagers growing up in a small town, but with incidents of racism that are both aggressive and casual. The language being thrown around in this movie is hard to deal with. It's the perfect tone for the movie, because it shows in just its setting and its racial divides how hard it is for teenagers to grow up when the odds against opportunity are stacked so greatly against them. ****

TOMORROWLAND (2015)
I don't know, I didn't see the cynicism people said was there. That said, I think there was a bit of a struggle in its tone, if only because I wanted to see more of Tomorrowland itself. For a movie this long and full of (great) special effects, its reach is somewhat small-scale. After a charming opening at the 1964 World's Fair and a preview of Tomorrowland which is easily the best part of the film, the rest is just a power struggle between a four or five people in an underpopulated enclave. It has an optimism at its heart, but I wish it was more fun and delighted more in its possibilities. It settles for being enjoyable on a basic level as a skiffy-oriented adventure film, and there's nothing wrong with that, but there's not much that's remarkable about it, either. ***

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (2013)
You know, it just occurred to me as I was watching this that I've never seen a Jodorowsky film before... have to remedy that... But I do love the novel Dune, and this film about Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to make a film of it in 1974 is brimming with creativity and enthusiasm. His project has always sounded rather wonderful, and in a way, by never happening, it will always remain perfect. What I found especially interesting was the section of the documentary where the filmmakers noted all of the influence the project has had, despite never being made, in the science fiction films of the late seventies and early eighties. I love this kind of film, just watching an artist talking about what drove him to create is artistically inspiring. ****

STRAIGHT TIME (1978)
Dustin Hoffman as an ex-con, fresh out of prison, who tries to reintegrate into society. Life on the outside is too hard, and he returns to a life of crime. The film doesn't quite come down on the side of whether Hoffman has been dehumanized by the system and is simply giving in to it (his parole officer, a particularly sleazy M. Emmett Walsh, harasses him), or if a propensity for crime is simply in his nature. Certainly he doesn't feel like the opportunities for fair treatment are there, no matter how hard he tries. Early roles for Gary Busey and Kathy Bates, and of course I thought Theresa Russell was beautiful. And of course Harry Dean Stanton was quite good because, come on, Harry Dean Stanton. I think the film dragged in some sections, but it's compelling. ***

FOXCATCHER (2014)
This film about John E. du Pont and his relationships with Dave and Mark Schultz was directed by Bennett Miller, the same man who directed Capote, and I think it suffers from some of the same problems of being weirdly remote. Steve Carell's performance as du Pont is interesting, but the role never feels inhabited so much as caricatured, though I do think that facet makes the character unsettling and unknowable in a way that works for the story. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are both excellent as the Schultz brothers, Olympic gold medalists whom du Pont becomes fixated on while building himself a wrestling team. There is a gay subtext that is unmistakable, but not forced in. But I found the docudrama style held me at a distance, and while I was interested by what I was watching, I was never drawn into the people involved in this drama, and as a result it felt long. ***

SHOCK (1977)
Mario Bava flick with beautiful Daria Nicolodi as a widow who returns to her old house with her son and new husband, and finds that she's too haunted by her previous husband's death to be comfortable there. In many cases literally, as her son interacts with his father's ghost and is sometimes possessed by him, And that kid is one of the creepiest kids in the history of creepy movie kids. I've not had a lot of experience with Bava, and what I have seen I haven't always liked, but I really found this one effective as a psychological and emotional trauma thriller. Great, involving stuff on a dark Saturday night. ***1/2

PIXELS (2015)
Terrible. Just, really awful. So, aliens attack the planet using creatures from old Atari arcade games. That sounds like a fantastic set up for a funny adventure film. But what should have had an Edgar Wright directs Mars Attacks! feel to it was... Jeez, where do I start? Adam Sandler just takes a big shit over this with his lazy Adam Sandlerishness. Jesus, even Ben Stiller would have been more likable in the role. There's the usual Sandler anti-intellectual streak running through this flick, but there's also a weird defensiveness about being perceived as a nerd. So the other nerdy characters have to be even more pathetic and cliched so that Sandler can be, I guess, the George Clooney of nerds. He's right about everything, he's good at everything, apparently he's devastatingly handsome and charming, because the more of a jerk he is to Michelle Monaghan, the harder she falls for him, which is just insulting given this movie's bizarre misogynistic streak. One character (played by the inexplicably-in-demand-despite-being-utterly-charmless Josh Gad, who is far too young to be in the role) meets the video game sprite he's been in love with since he was a child, and she immediately turns into Ashley Benson, starts kissing him, and then lets him drag her around and never says a word once, before marrying him and having kids with him, because what this obsessed social misfit really deserves is a literal trophy wife... This movie... Kevin James as the US President? I can't even look at Kevin James without getting unreasonably angry. I know, I know, it's my fault for watching it. I know. Old arcade games are my milieu, man. But what a piece of garbage. Beautiful special effects in the service of nothing. Nothing. *

4 comments:

Devilham said...

Pixels. Now the maglite thing is starting to make sense

Splotchy said...

We'll always have Pixels, the short film. I've seen that probably 20 times. You've seen it, right?

SamuraiFrog said...

About that many times, too! It's wonderful enough that I held out hope that *something* in that movie would work. In my heart, Chris Columbus is still the guy that wrote Gremlins and The Goonies and not the guy who directed Nine Months...

Roger Owen Green said...

Pixels looked terrible in the trailer. The Daughter wanted to see it. I never mentioned it. It came and went.