Sunday, March 6, 2011

Too Many Movies, Too Many Days

Map of the Human Heart 
1993. 109 minutes. Directed by Vincent Ward. Watchdate: October 18, 2010.
Map of the Human Heart was thoroughly mediocre. A handful of cool moments, but otherwise a lot blandness and more than a few clichés. Also, Jason Scott Lee was really bad. The beginning was not bad. It seemed like a very different, interesting movie. But as soon as the children grow up, and Jason Scott Lee enters the picture, everything goes to shit, or at best boring mediocrity. The script has some interesting ideas but never really develops them, and while it avoids the worst cliches, it still never hits on anything as compelling as the first twenty minutes. But Jason Scott Lee easily takes the title of the worst part of the movie, singlehandedly draining much of my enjoyment. I hope to never see his face, or his unbelievably limited range again.


You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 
2010. UK. Directed by Woody Allen. Watchdate: October 14, 2010.
The new Woody Allen comedy is as confident and funny as Vicky Cristina Barcelona from two years ago, if slightly less novel because it lacks the Spanish setting and any performances quite as electrifying as Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. Still, I enjoyed it a lot with Anthony Hopkins and Naomi Watts really bringing their A game. Also, there's a marvelous scene where Antonio Banderas takes on the classic Woody persona. It's brilliant, especially if you're a big fan like I am. It was fortuitous that I watched Alice shortly before this, because they each offer slightly differing takes on the value of delusion and fantasy in a world that Allen views to be, as always, fairly bleak without some silliness and laughter.



Chimes at Midnight 

1965. 115 minutes. Spain. Directed by Orson Welles. Watchdate: October 14, 2010.
PFA was doing a "Shakespeare on Screen" retrospective so I got to see this and Throne of Blood, but I missed Welles' Macbeth and some other interesting ones. This didn't hold my interest as raptly as the other two Welles movies I have seen, but it still works pretty well. I'm not that familiar with Shakespeare's histories, but the scene where Falstaff is "enlisting" soldiers from the hobbled locals is brilliant as was the ending which is just a really powerful comment on the nature of these sorts of high end friendships. The comically bloated (and heavily bearded) Welles is perfect as Falstaff, since Shakespeare seemed to have thought up enough fat jokes for the character to only work if played by a real meat show.



I Walked with a Zombie 
1943. 69 minutes. USA. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Watchdate: October 13, 2010.

I Walked With a Zombie was fairly good for a B picture. I sort of imagine a situation like out of Ed Wood where Tourneur says the name of the picture and the studio's all for it and then he turns in this sort of Caribbean visual discursion of Claude Lévi-Strauss with just a touch of Frantz Fanon.  Studio must have been pissed! Delightful. Anyway, it doesn't hold a candle to Out of the Past, but I didn't really expect it to...Tourneur's got quite an eye, though. The line about death and decay early on reminded me of Orson Welles describing the sharks in The Lady from Shanghai. Perfectly foreboding. Some great music and photography and a tantalizingly treatment of some really interesting questions of anthropology and decolonization elevate what would otherwise be a forgettable but spooky movie. Tourneur's got talent, no doubt.


Five Graves to Cairo 
1943. 96 minutes. USA. Directed by Billy Wilder. Watchdate: October 13, 2010.
Billy Wilder just makes consistently excellent movies, at least so far as I've seen. This isn't anything groundbreaking, but it's still damn good. It's similar to Casablanca in a lot of ways, but still manages to have its own unique character in no small part due to the brilliant Erich von Stroheim. Akim Tamiroff and Fortunio Bonanova are entertaining if a bit vapid. The best scenes evoke the same finely tuned World War II tension that would be borrowed for some of the most satisfying scenes of contemporary adventures like the Indiana Jones movies and Inglorious Basterds. Oh and the flashlight bit is brilliantly shot.


Alice
1990. 102 minutes. USA. Directed by Woody Allen. Watchdate: October 11, 2010.
This was among the dozen or so Woody Allen films I haven't yet seen, so I picked it up for a few bucks at a supermarket bargain bin. It took awhile to actually get around to it, but it's actually quite good. There are a handful of inspired scenes that keep the story moving engagingly along. Allen successfully dramatizes the benefits and costs of escapism and superstition. Joe Mantegna, William Hurt and Blythe Danner are all terrific, to say nothing of Mia Farrow or Alec Baldwin. Definitely middle-of-the-pack Woody Allen, but that's not nothing.

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