I sweat too much in the face to ever be a contestant on any quiz show!
Some recent and some older films this week,
Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus And 2012 (2013, Sebastián Silva, Chile) ***
Michael Cera is surprisingly great in this film. I’ve never bothered to hide my general dislike of Mr. Cera, or rather my belief that he’s not a talented actor. Film after film he plays the same character, with decreasing returns. Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus And 2012 is different, it shows Mr. Cera as an asshole and a prick in a very believable manner. The movie itself could have been great had it run with the idea of this group of outsiders lying to themselves. The path the film does take is interesting and funny at times, but it falls short of being anything more than an interesting character experience.
The Host (2013, Andrew Niccol, United States Of America) *
Who would have guessed an adaptation of a Stephanie Meyer novel would be terrible? Nothing is done with the interesting science fiction premise, the love triangle idea is tired and insipid, and the film ultimately stumbles through every important moment. What did shock me was how terrible Saoirse Ronan is in the lead role. She’s an actress I usually enjoy, but everything she attempted in The Host missed the mark by a mile. A blockbuster love story that has no punch and certainly no love, basically a Stephanie Meyer film.
Our Nixon (2013, Penny Lane, United States Of America) ***
The final act is fascinating, but the film takes too long to get there. It spends the first two acts supplying mundane tidbits about all the men involved without ever actually letting us truly know those men. The phone calls and old footage used in the final act do allow us to know these famous men, but the first two acts feel unneeded by the end of the film. I wanted a more complete film, not merely an ending.
Cutie And The Boxer (2013, Zachary Heinzerling, United States Of America) ***
Neat little love story that is odd in a way that truly engaged me. The film is brisk though, and lacking in some serious meat. Take the son for instance, a character who is given a high level of importance for about four minutes and then tossed to the side. I understand it’s not his story, but he’s integral to the core relationship and we needed to be told more about him and how he has impacted Noriko and Ushio’s relationship. Still, I did enjoy my time with these people, and found their love story, as well as their art, to be oddly uplifting and agreeable.
Shane (1953, George Stevens, United States Of America) ***
A competently made film, but for whatever reason I struggled getting into the story. Perhaps it was the overreaching nature of the thematic structure behind the film. More focus certainly would have helped, shine the spotlight on a couple of key relationships instead of trying for just about the entire town. It certainly settles right into the Western mythos and knocks its ending out of the park. It’s the getting to that ending where I feel the film stumbles too much. Still, all in all a film that I enjoyed, and I have a feeling that with a tighter focus I would have enjoyed the thematics a lot more.
Quiz Show (1994, Robert Redford, United States Of America) ***1/2
A great story and strong cast make for a delightfully mannered film. Quiz Show holds back, it’s reserved in the same way that the television show Twenty-One was mannered. Robert Redford stays in the background and lets his actors do their thing with the material. This results in a film that is eminently compelling to watch. I will say, though, that Mr. Redford fumbled the ball when it came to the women in Quiz Show. They are present, but they stand in the shadows of all the men. Maybe that was true of the time period, but it makes the two moments where we get big speeches from a female character seem false. All in all though, Quiz Show is a handsomely made film.
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972, George Roy Hill, United States Of America) ***
By the time it finishes George Roy Hill’s film has tackled some big ideas. What is free will, what is fate, and can the two coexist? Why do we celebrate the immaterial when life is what deserves celebration? These questions, and more, are asked around a menagerie of humor, war, family, and anti-war sentiment. The story is hinged on the empty character of Billy Pilgrim. I understand the purpose of making Billy an everyman, but it does create a disconnect between the viewer and the film. I couldn’t connect with the surface of Slaughterhouse-Five, and that left me at a distance from the deeper aspects of the film. Great on ideas, not great on relating to the audience.
A good batch of movies this week, but one stood taller than all the rest. Quiz Show takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!