This Week In Cinema: May 22-28, 2011

More movies expiring on Netflix instant, will it ever end?

A lot of movies this week, a lot of variety, a lot of rambling,

Orfue Negro (Black Orpheus, 1959, Marcel Camus, Brazil/France/Italy) ***1/2

A retelling of the Greek legend of Orpheus, this tale takes place in Brazil during Carnival. That little bit of information is important because the beats and sounds of Carnival drive the entire movie. They even fuel the few silent moments when the music has stopped. This is most evident near the end of the movie when Eurydice is being chased by death. It’s a dramatic chase by itself, but the movements of the chase feel linked to the Carnival theme that has permeated the picture. It would have been easy for that theme to be done to the point of overkill, and I’m sure some will argue that it is, but I never felt that the theme overstayed its welcome. Orfue Negro is one of the few movies I’ve watched that is also driven by dancing, and not the pursuit of some sort of dancing prowess, but the way that the dance movements give the characters meaning. On the surface it may appear that the characters in Orfue Negro are shallow and not well fleshed out, but pay attention to the way they dance and that is clearly not the case. The story did take some time to get going, but once it did I was completely on board with Orfue Negro.

Les Enfants Du Paradis (Children Of Paradise, 1945, Marcel Carné, France) ***

There are movies that are well crafted, Les Enfants Du Paradis is one, and there are movies that are well crafted and engage me, Les Enfants Du Paradis is not one. My criticism of Les Enfants Du Paradis is that simple, it is a well made film but I wasn’t affected or grabbed by its story. The acting is fine, the costumes and set direction are excellent, and the story is well thought out. Where I had trouble was in the ability of the story to keep me interested, Les Enfants Du Paradis was a struggle to get through, it took me nearly all day in fact to finally get to the finish line. No matter how excellent the craft is behind a movie, it should never be that much of a struggle to get through. I shouldn’t feel like a movie was work, and when I finished Les Enfants Du Paradis I felt like I had just completed a homework assignment for school. Les Enfants Du Paradis gets high marks for it technical prowess, but low marks for its ability to engage me as a viewer.

Mon Oncle (1958, Jacques Tati, France/Italy) ***

Mon Oncle is my second time around with Jacques Tati, and it’s the film that has convinced me that Mr. Tati is not the funny man for me. Mr. Tati doesn’t employ laugh out loud humor, he employs a more subtle brand of humor, and I like his style very much. My issue is that I don’t often find what Mr. Tati is doing to be funny, even in a coy and subtle way. To put it more simply, I find the humor in Mon Oncle to be far more miss than hit. Mon Oncle is more than a comedy, it’s a very obvious satire, and again some of the satirical bits in Mon Oncle brought a smile to my face, but over all I was left less than impressed. I was reminded too often of Modern Times, with its similar take on simplicity versus modernity, and too often I was reminded of how much more I enjoyed Modern Times. Mon Oncle made me chuckle, I enjoyed it to a certain level, but at the end of the day I leave another viewing of Mr. Tati without seeing the genius that so many others do.

Waterworld (1995, Kevin Costner & Kevin Reynolds, United States Of America) **

I’ll give Waterworld a lot of credit, it’s certainly an ambitious film. The scope is grand, even if it never quite lives up to the ideas that its scope promises. In a lot of ways Waterworld is like the first time you get a job. There’s this great promised payday, you’re getting money, the scope of the idea of getting money is huge. Then you get said first paycheck and you realize that the government has taken a lot of your money and that despite working a lot of hours you still didn’t get much money. The scope existed in your mind, but it was never realized in the way you quite imagined. That’s how I see Waterworld, the scope and ambition are there, but limitations in technology and shortcomings in story don’t allow the ambition and scope to reach their full level of grandeur. Don’t get me wrong, Waterworld has a lot of problems, such as some bad CG and terrible dialogue, some weird acting choices, and a lead character who is such a prick that it’s nearly impossible to feel the heroic pangs for him that the film so clearly wants you to. Still, the ambition is there and it’s cool to watch a film try to be as ambitious as Waterworld. It’s not a good film by any stretch, but Waterworld is trying for something and I can respect that.

Brothers (2009, Jim Sheridan, United States Of America) ***

To start off with, I was a big fan of the movie Brothers is based on, Susanne Bier’s Brødre. I have no doubt that my view of Brothers was colored somewhat by how much I loved Brødre, in the interest of full disclosure I figured I’d let those reading know that bit of background info. That being said, I was able to look at Brothers on its own merits for the most part, and I liked, but didn’t love, what I saw. The strength of Brothers is in its cast, all three of the leads give strong performances. The weakness of Brothers can be found in the direction of Jim Sheridan, he never finds an even tone for the film. One can see this creep into the performances of his actors, there are moments where they seem unsure of themselves and their characters, and this is because Sheridan is unsure of the tone he wants Brothers to have. He tries to keep the subtle rhythms of Brødre, but at the same time he inserts moments of loudness that appeared to me to be attempts to cloy at an American audience. While this is going on the trio of leads- Jake Gyllenhall, Tobey Maguire, and Natalie Portman- do their best to keep the film together and move past the wanting mature of Sheridan’s direction and they mostly succeed. I mostly liked Brothers, and the actors get all the credit for that.

The Lovely Bones (2009, Peter Jackson, New Zealand/United Kingdom/United States Of America) *

An ugly film trying to masquerade as something it isn’t, a beautiful tale of life. There’s essentially two films happening in The Lovely Bones and neither one is done in any manner that makes them something worth watching. The real world aspect is all over the place, with a terrible caricature in the form of Susan Sarandon, and Mark Wahlberg still thinking he’s in The Happening. The in-between world looks great and wonderfully fantastic until the end when it begins to look bad in an overly done CG sort of way. The problems with The Lovely Bones run deeper than tone and an uneven film, the fact that it’s a badly made film is its biggest problem. Peter Jackson tries to play off a murder investigation next to a pair of girls celebrating and having a good time in some sort of fantasy land and it never feels right. The story plays up a never was relationship between two characters who shared a single three minute moment together, and may more ailments. The biggest problem of all in The Lovely Bones is the ending, or what I like to call the dumbest swerve and then moronically happenstance ending that I’ve seen in a long while. Like I said earlier, The Lovely Bones is a bad movie, it’s that simple.

Edipo Re (Oedipus Rex, 1967, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy/Morocco) ***

I feel like I missed the boat on Edipo Re. I found the first hour very interesting, Pier Paolo Pasolini used the age old story of Oedipus Rex to explore ideas like fascism and the fact that humanity will always turn on one another. The obvious undertones of the Oedipus Rex story were still present- incest, murder, how all males secretly desire to sleep with their mother and murder their father. Where I feel like I missed the boat is in the last forty five minutes, my interest waned and I didn’t care much for what Pasolini was doing with the film. The first hour had long stretches of silence where the world was explored and the viewer was given time to take in what they were seeing and what was happening on screen. In the last forty minutes the film sped up and the acting became more overtly hysterical, and at the same time far more boring. A lot of Pasolini fans love Edipo Re, but I can only like it because I watched two very different films combined as one.

Bart Got A Room (2008, Brian Hecker, United States Of America) **

There are funny moments in Bart Got A Room, but they are few and far between. My fiancee made the connection to Meet The Parents and how hard Meet The Parents tried to be funny and how it wasn’t as funny as a result. That connection made sense to me, Bart Got A Room uses every inch of its cinematic existence to try and be funny and quirky. The moments when it’s actually funny are when the film simmers down somewhat and lets its characters seem natural and the humor is natural as well, that’s when I laughed. The story is both pedestrian and stupid, but it could have been very funny if Brian Hecker didn’t spend all his time begging and pleading for a laugh from the audience. Bart Got A Room is a weird movie, not just because of its laugh peddling, it’s a bit too weird and also suffers from wanting to come across as too Indie. Bart Got A Room wants so hard to be something special, it tries so hard to be something special that it ends up being something very ordinary.

Accattone (1961, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy) ***

A pimp in 1960s, or 1950s, Rome has a tough time of it and he does what all pimps would do, he tries to go straight while staying true to his lazy roots. That description makes Accattone sound like a comedy, but this isn’t a comedy, even if it does have some darkly comedic moments. With Accattone, the first feature from Pier Paolo Pasolini, the viewer is given an ugly and disgusting Rome, a Rome far different from the Rome that America knew from movies like Roman Holiday. There’s no charming scooter rides in Pasolini’s Rome, just pimps, prostitutes, daily beatings, deadbeat fathers, whores doubling as mothers, and no redemption in sight. Accattone isn’t about the corruption of Stella or the corrupting nature of Vittorio, it’s about the stench of the city. I wish Pasolini had kept his focus on the stench and decay of Rome, but instead he takes a few side journeys that distract. He also inserts a dream sequence that is from a different movie and is like a virus invading the grounded and realistic Accattone. For a freshman effort Accattone is a good indicator of the ideas, desires, and obsessions that would drive Pasolini as a filmmaker. Accattone is also a good example of how his lack of focus on his stories held him back as a filmmaker.

The Fly (1958, Kurt Neumann, United States Of America) **1/2

Almost average 50s sci-fi, but not quite. There’s not much to latch on to in this version of The Fly, it’s very tedious and bare bones in its presentation. It’s not suspenseful, its effects are okay for the time, the acting is decent, the story is sparse in a bad way, and that’s about it. I have trouble eliciting any sort of strong reaction about The Fly, it’s a movie that exists and I watched it and that’s the most I can muster. The remake is leagues better, I can tell you that much.

Wrap-Up:

I watched a lot of movies this week, more than I probably should have. I might be reaching burnout levels when it comes to watching movies, but Netflix keeps adding to the expiration column of my instant queue. Either way, I watched some bad stuff this week, some average stuff, some interesting stuff, and more. The movie of the week is easily Orfeu Negro, and The Lovely Bones is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I still have some more titles on Netflix instant I want to get to before they expire, so expect another possible big entry next week, burnout be damned!

Cheers,
Bill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s