25 January 2012

24 Jan - "The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I learned I was different from little boys"

All About Eve (1950)
dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Cleopatra, 1963)

Bette Davis (return from Witch Mountain, 1978)
Anne Baxter (The Ten Commandments, 1956)
George Sanders (The Jungle Book (voice), 1967)
Marilyn Monroe (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953)
Thelma Ritter (The Misfits, 1961)

I have a list of all the Academy Award winning films I'd like to see. At first I thought to watch them all, as a principle, but the first one is a silent film and I can't deal with that. Plus, it's stupid to sit through a movie I know I won't like just because some snooty academy goombah says it's the best. What do they know anyway? But I wanted to watch All About Eve, and I want to watch Mutiny on the Bounty, too, but later.

The movie is about a aging and jaded actress who takes in a seemingly naive and friendless waif, only to discover that this girl, the title character, has big dreams and will stop at nothing to achieve them. Eve is a very engaging character, as it is difficult to determine when she is acting at what moments she reveals her true colors. Surely, one thinks, nobody can be "on" all of time, right? But Eve's character as the fresh-faced, humble and starstruck girl in over her head in the big city is as much an act as the parts she steals away from her benefactress Margo Channing.

I think there are few scenes where Eve's character is honestly revealed. The first is when she attempts to seduce Margo's beau after her first successful performance as Margo's understudy. When she is thwarted, first we see a few alligator tears but then her rage is palpable. The second is when Addison the columnist declares that he has uncovered Eve's true past and effectively owns her from that point forward. The last is the final scene, where Eve collapses on her own sofa after recieving her Best Actress award and suddenly seems abrasive and jaded, perhaps having finally fully become Margo Channing, ready to be replaced by a newer and brighter young actress.

It's possible that Eve's character is meant to be some sort of sociopath. She is an expert manipulator except for the fact that her powers seem limited in their effect on men. Not only does Eve attempt to seduce Margo's boyfriend Bill (a director), but she attempts to break up Karen's (the playwright's wife) marriage as well, and of course ultimately her manipulative rampage is checked by Addison the columnist, who is determined to ride Eve's train all the way to the top. So maybe this movie has a sinister anti-feminist moral: Trust your man to stand by you, but your girlfriends are always going to screw you over in the end.

18 January 2012

21 Jan - "In God's name he took up the sword"

Black Death (2010)
dir. Christopher Smith

Eddie Redmayne
David Warner (Titanic, 1997)
Kimberley Nixon (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, 2008)
Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003)
Johnny Harris (War Horse, 2011)
John Lynch (The Secret Garden, 1993)
Tim McInnerny (101 Dalmations, 1996)
Carice van Houten (Repo Men, 2010)

In a lot of ways this movie was a lot like an inferior version of The 13th Warrior. The character is a less-than-enthusiastic monk who joins a bunch of religous knights on a witchhunt so he can actually ditch the monastery and run away with his girlfriend. Also, everyone's dying of the plauge. But when he reaches the rendevous point there's blood everywhere and it's presumed that his fair lady is deceased (except we all know that on TV and in the movies, no one is ever dead until you see a body). When they reach the bewitched village the necromancer apparently raises the monk's girlfriend from the dead and then there's a lot of quibbling about whether being Christian is actually helping anybody out or not, the nature of the plague as a divine retribution, and whether or not someone can be tortured into a believer. Sean Bean is drawn and quartered, it's pretty gross.

At first I thought the movie was becoming a sort of liberalist rant against organizaed religion (you know how they do!), but then the pagans turned into some real nasty jerks as well, so perhaps the critique is actually of a more generalized zeal. Can we trust anything you say when your actions are so shamelessly inhumane?

The witch turns out to be a charlatan, and the monk becomes a murderer when he thinks his GF has become zombified. When he discovers how he has been decieved, he goes sort of crazy and becomes a replacement for Sean Bean's ruthless character, but maybe worse. So is he driven by religious fervor, or just hate?

17 January 2012

16 Jan - "What's with all the bullets?"

Priest (2011)
dir. Scott Charles Stewart (Legion, 2009)

Paul Bettany (Iron Man 2 (voice), 2010)
Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002)
Maggie Q (Live Free or Die Hard, 2007)
Lily Collins
Brad Dourif (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003) 
Cam Gigandet (Easy A, 2010)
Alan Dale (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008)
Christopher Plummer (Must Love Dogs, 2005)
Stephen Moyer

I'm so behind on my posts, so I'm going to divide and conquer and try to publish 2 every day, the most recent movie I watched and the least recent, and so hopefully everything will converge upon The Return of the King (as one does) in a few days and then I can move on with my ho-hum life and this foolish attempt to record my emotional development through the mediator of cinema. If this were a movie, I would have just spoiled the symbolism by explaining it with a voiceover. Soorry!

So, yesterday Cora had a bunch of her german friends over for dinner and Cillian and I watched Priest. I was pleased when he suggested we watch a movie because I'm just terrible at navigating large groups of people. Especially when it feels like everyone else likes each other a little bit more than they like me (Some people are able to successfully avoid this kind of scenario their whole lives, or else I'm just overanalyzing everything). I said we should watch something I've already seen before, in case it's hard to pay attention, so I suggested The Fifth Element, but I guess Cillian doesn't like that movie because he put on Priest, which I think would have been hard to follow in a dark movie theater with an acceptable sound system. On Cora's laptop, it was near impossible. Luckily there was a really tidy recap at the climax, where the villian explains the whole sequence of events for the stupid audience members, like me, who haven't been able to put it all together on their own yet. I finally understand why action movies always have that, now.

I found the premise to be delightful. In a post-apocalyptic future organized underneath a totalitarian clergy, one member of the elite warrior-priest caste goes rogue to take on a vampire scourge that has kidnapped his estranged daughter. That's some L33T science-fiction, right there. In this sotry-world, the future is very wastelandy, which is not an unreasonable assumption, especially if someone Fs us all over and drops a nuke somewhere. Yes, the future is a dark and desolate place, but nevertheless our Hero must fight to protect it.

14 January 2012

14 Jan - "Let's just pack your car up and we'll go somewhere and start over"

The Burning Plain (2008)
dir. Guillermo Arriaga

Charlize Theron (2 Days in the Valley, 1996)
John Corbett (Dreamland, 2006)
Robin Tunney (The Craft, 1996)
Marty Papazian (The Island, 2005)
Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, 2011)
Seth McGrath (Twilight, 2008)
JD Pardo (A Cinderella Story, 2004)
Rachel Ticotin (Don Juan DeMarco, 1994)
Taylor Warden (Employee of the Month, 2006)
Kim Basinger (Batman, 1989)
Fernanda Romero

This was a real depressing movie which was nice because as I recall I was real depressed when I watched it. It had a very clever plot device, sort of like a Grand Hotel Theme, but gradually you learn that what you thought were parallel narratives are more deeply connected than you originally thought. This is satisfying because as we follow the main character's development and recovery, we simultaneously witness her unraveling and subsequent breakdown.

I think the most confusing part of the movie, for me, was the developing romance between Santiago and Mariana, after the death of his father and her mother. At first I thought that I was supposed to seeing something darker than love, perhaps something more like a desperate need for acceptance or affection. But then later in the film I was forced to reevaluate that position, when Mariana's return to Santiago is supposed to symbolize some sort of rebirth, and she confesses that she only left him in the first place because of self-loathing and the fear that history always repeats itself. Even so, the interactions between those teenagers seemed pretty twisted, at least to me.

04 January 2012

4 Jan - "You have to look forward, or you'll never get home"

War Horse (2011)
dir. Steven Spielberg (Jaws, 1975)

Jeremy Irvine
Peter Mullan (Braveheart, 1995)
Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, 1996)
David Thewlis (Timeline, 2003)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace, 2006)
Patrick Kennedy (Atonement, 2007)
Pat Laffan (Leap Year, 2010)

I think the only bad thing I can say about War Horse is that it's terribly self-aware. Spielberg can tug on heartstrings like Celtic Woman can wail on a lap-harp. I would be interested in a side-by-side comparison to determine exactly how closely the plot of this movie parallels E.T..

Apart from that it was lovely. Very sentimental. Very feel-goody. I know this was a play for a while, and I guess a book before that. I don't really know about either of those but some scenes looked and felt very theatrical. Especially that very moving scene where the English guy and the German guy walk out into no-man's land to cut the horse out of the barbed wire. When I saw that scene I imagined it on a stage. I could see it. The dialogue was very stage-like as well, and for that reason it felt like the continuity of style was a little disjointed. Is this a movie or a stage production? Make up your mind, everyone.

Here's the thing about horses, though. Some people get it, and some people don't. So when I am talking to people and they ask me what I thought of War Horse, I just have to answer with a question, "Well, did you like Black Beauty?" Because it's essentially the same, and you either love it or you don't.

02 January 2012

1 Jan - "Don't leave me here alone. Don't go where I can't follow."

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
dir. Peter Jackson (King Kong, 2005)

Sean Astin (Encino Man, 1992)
Sean Bean (The Dark, 2005)
Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, 1998)
Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)
Billy Boyd (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers2002)
Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy, 2004)
Bernard Hill (A Midsummer's Night Dream, 1999)
Ian Holm (Alien, 1979)
Ian McKellen (The Da Vinci Code, 2006)
Viggo Mortensen (G.I. Jane, 1997)
John Noble (The Last Airbender, 2009)
Miranda Otto (The Thin Red Line, 1998)
Bruce Phillips (Without a Paddle, 2004)
Shane Rangi (The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 2010)
John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989)
Andy Serkis (The Prestige, 2006)
Joel Tobeck (Eagle vs Shark, 2007)
Liv Tyler (That Thing You Do!, 1996)
Karl Urban (Priest, 2011)
Hugo Weaving (The Wolfman, 2010)
David Wenham (Moulin Rouge!, 2001)
Elijah Wood (Deep Impact, 1998)

I brought the new year in with this most appropriate film, The Return of the King. Does any movie (besides maybe Star Wars) better represent the inevitable end to all things and simultaneously a rebirth of all that possible and good in the world? Perhaps at times it hits a little heavy with the symbolism, especially those parts where Sean Astin is talking in that halting and horribly affected hobbit accent, about "the old stories" and the likelihood that they will never survive their quest.

But there are good parts too. I remember in the movie theater when I went to see this the first time, when Faramir asks his father, the steward of Gondor, whether he would have been happy if Boromir was still alive and if Faramir had died in his place. When Denethor said "yes!" the whole theater collectively gasped. There are few scenes which represent the idea of perfidy so concisely.

I most often hear two key critiques. The first is that if the eagles were able to rescue Sam and Frodo from the volcano and take them back to Rivendell, why didn't they just get the eagles to drop them off in Mordor in the first place? The answer to that question seems simple to me. Traveling by eagle is terribly high-profile. I think those flying Nazgul would have nailed the eagles in short order, they wouldn't have even made it over the mountains.

The second critique is that the ending is waay too long, and I can get behind this. There's satisfying denoument and then there's LOTR, wherein things get ridiculous. First Frodo destroys the ring, and you're like, "badass! The movie's over! I've got to pee like a racehorse!" but then there's Aragorn's coronation, and some speeches, and then a part where everyone's reunited in Rivendell, and then a part where everyone's reunited in the Shire, and then Frodo and Bilbo get on the elves' boat and sail away. I suppose they should have streamlined all that somehow. So the movie ended with a sense of excitement and wonder instead of...peacefulness? It's unclear, and unsatisfying for that reason.

All the same, I always thought the ending was kind of sad, that even though the battle was won and the ring was destroyed and everything turned out as best as could possibly be expected, the elves still went away. They didn't want to live in the world anymore. I don't understand sometimes why everything magical has to disappear.

01 January 2012

31 Dec - "Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!"

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
dir. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)

Sean Astin (Toy Soldiers, 1991)
Cate Blanchett (The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999)
Jed Brophy (The Warrior's Way, 2010)
Brad Dourif (Priest, 2011)
Bruce Hopkins (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003)
Bernard Hill (Titanic, 1997)
Christopher Lee (The Last Unicorn (voice), 1982)
Ian McKellen (X2, 2003)
Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001)
Viggo Mortensen (Witness, 1985)
Mirando Otto (What Lies Beneath, 2000)

The Two Towers far surpasses The Fellowship of the Ring, that's not an arguable point. The challenge is much clearer than in the first film. Saruman has already demonstrated himself a traitor, now he is allied with Sauron in a battle to take over Middle Earth. These are the two towers referred to in the title, in case there was any doubt. In fact, when I was little I thought the two towers were Gondor and Rohan, all well.

So anyway, this time the stakes are higher and the adventure heightened. We've got to rescue Merry and Pippin, save King Theoden from Saruman's sorcery, and then deflect an attack from Saruman's army of Uruk-hai. We also get some sweet one-liners from Aragorn, including, "open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not!" When I went to see this movie in the theater with my high school friends (because LOTR was what all the teen girls were about, back then) we were particularly struck by that scene when Aragorn comes back to Rohan after he fell off the cliff during the battle with the Wargs (those giant hyena-monsters the orcs were riding) and he is particularly worn out and dramatic-looking. We were imitating that tableau for quite a while after that.

At this point too we began to realize that Legolas is a super-useless character. Apart from some particularly acrobatic moves (including a scene wherein he mounts a horse seemingly in defiance of all laws of physics) he participates very little in the progression of the plot and has some truly horrible lines ("A red sun rises. Blood has been shed this night"). Also, any purpose Gimli ever served apart from comic relief is totally abandoned.