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Weekend Movie Report #4

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It’s a couple of weeks since the last one, so there’s lots to cover.  Let’s get going!

Weekend Winner

A Prophet (2009 Audiard, French)

Strap yourself in for a gruesome murder scene involving a safety razor, an indication of the sorts of commitment the main character, Malik, has.  The film is both a study of the ability of prisons to turn minor offenders into hardened criminals and how a person makes their way in the world, even as a criminal.  In the latter, the film reminds me of The Godfather or Scarface (1983).  In a strong group of contenders this week, A Prophet stands out for its lasting power to raise questions.

Weekend Loser

Flicka (2006 Mayer)

Why would I have subjected myself to a by-the-numbers wholesome family film like Flicka?  It’s based on the book, My Friend Flicka, which is set a stone’s throw from where I grew up.  It’s not bad for what it is, but there’s a world of film makers more inspired out there and it feels like a waste of time.  Also, the film was tainted by the accidental death of a horse on the set (probably why it was released with very little publicity).

Honorable Mentions

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938 Curtiz & Keighley)

I don’t know why people keep trying to improve on this story when it was nearly perfectly presented in 1938 in Technicolor.  It marks the beginning of the color epics before WW II, which would include Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.  Olivia de Haviland and Errol Flynn are working near their best.  Check out the extras on the Blu-ray for the archery wizardry of Howard Hill, who provided all of the key arrow stunts in the film.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007 Dominick)

This film will probably be rediscovered again and again, becoming more successful as time passes.  Its original run got decent critical praise but the audience never really showed up.  Beyond the marquee players are a handful of great supporting performances from actors who have since proven their abilities, like Jeremy Renner and Sam Rockwell.  The cinematography and use of landscape is nearly perfect.  Look for it cheap on Blu-ray, I found it at Wal-mart for $10.

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009 Moore)

Michael Moore is an incredible comedic mind, which makes is all the more strange that his genre of choice is the documentary.  This is another good showcase of his style, although the problem he’s tackling is bigger than what can be dealt with in a 2-hour time span.

Departures (2008 Takita, Japanese)

Expecting another tiring Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, I was surprised how much I enjoyed Departures.  Maybe the requirement that voters have actually seen the nominees is starting to pay off.  Anyway, don’t discount this dark comedy with a heart.

Night Moves (1975 Penn)

Gene Hackman’s turn as an out-of-his-depth private investigator (a staple of 70’s post-noir crime films), anchors this character-focused story.  As it turns out, the objective isn’t as important as the evocation of Harry Moseby’s milieu.  Look for very young-looking James Woods and Melanie Griffith early in their careers.  Compare to The Long Goodbye and Chinatown.

No End in Sight (2007 Ferguson)

This documentary makes its way onto the short list of Iraq documentaries because of the access to people who were on the ground and trying to make the best of the situation, only to be ignored or countermanded by senior Bush administration figures.  It’s not aging well, as the general wrong-headedness of the war effort is hardly a surprise at this point in time.

The Piano (1993 Campion)

The Piano is another of those “great” films I’ve resisted for a long time, although I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed it at the time of its release.  I didn’t get interested in Campion until recently with Bright Star, and it’s clear that Campion’s had great skill for some time, given how solid The Piano is.  Paquin’s Oscar for the supporting role was probably a bit generous in retrospect, but Holly Hunter earns her award while not even able to make use of her voice.

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982 Parker)

I saw this in college at the only midnight movie I remember ever having while I lived there.  I can still hear the bottles rolling down between the seats.  For a film that evokes drug culture so strongly, I’m surprised how well it coherently tells a story without use of dialogue.  The animation segments are still outstanding.

Saw (2004 Wan)

Not as gruesome as I’d expected and I was surprised by its Hitchcockian heritage.  Not a bad horror film for people who don’t like horror films, as all the violence is well-placed and not gratuitous.  There’s a hint of the Edgar Allen Poe or Arther Conan Doyle closed-room mystery in the predicaments Jigsaw sets up.  Still don’t need to see the sequels…

Scarface (1932 Hawks)

Forget De Palma’s remake in 1983, I’ll take the original because is has 100% more Ann Dvorak.  Like a lot of early thirties films, pacing and scoring are occasionally deficient, but the action sequences are tastefully done.  The ethnicities of the gangsters seem to veer between broad stereotype and afterthought.  The whole experience is a fresh mess and too much fun.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971 Mel Stuart)

It’s interesting that you can come back to this film as an adult and have a different experience just as rewarding as that when you were a child.  In retrospect, any attempt to remake this film was doomed to fail, as there is a certain space that can’t be reproduced.

Dishonorable Mentions

(500) Days of Summer (2009 Webb)

There is such a thing as too many gimmicks, as this film proves.  It’s an interesting mess and the third of the time that the gimmicks work is pretty good.  The foreign film homage is great for film geeks and the musical number complete with Disney animated birds are among the high points.  The film is not particularly generous with Deschanel’s character, who rarely overcomes the role of foil to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s lead.  Too cute in the end, I wish this film could be re-edited and re-mixed.

How Much Do You Love Me? (2005 Blier, French)

Yet another in a long tradition of free-wheeling French romantic comedies, which are not conventional in the Hollywood sense.  In this case, we have a recent lottery winner buying the long-term services of a prostitute played by Monica Belluci (freakishly beautiful at 40, and still able to vamp it up).  Also playing a goofball pimp is Gerard Depardieu.  I can’t say I didn’t like it, but I know this isn’t a great entry point for people who are unfamiliar with French films.

Paprika (2006 Satoshi Kon)

Some might say Inception is essentially based on this animated film, in which scientists have discovered how to journey into patients’ dream spaces.  The visual impact of the film cannot be denied, but its vague script is unnecessarily obtuse and the fat guy humor translates poorly.

What Would Jesus Buy?  (2007 VanAlkemade)

If we weren’t living in an era of such incredible documentaries, this film would perhaps be more impressive.  As it is, this is a bit underwhelming compared to its peers, although the principal subject, Reverend Billy, is greatly entertaining and the message is worth hearing.

Written by Bill

November 7, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Movies

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