Monday, January 26, 2009

This Week In Tickets: 19 January 2009 to 25 January 2009

I kept myself busy seeing movies this week, even if I found scant time to write about them - I got the review of the first part of Che done fairly quickly, but then work was dense - full days of mind-numbing copy, paste, and test at work left me with precious little interest in doing much with the computer either on the way home or once I was there. I just finished that tonight, and will probably only do a write-up of Chandni Chowk to China from this week, despite there being few reviews online for the older Lean films.

This Week In Tickets!

The Brattle's Lean series has been fun, although I've mostly steered clear of the epics to concentrate on the less-seen early British films. I vaguely recall seeing Lawrence of Arabia at the Coolidge when they had a 70mm print, and tend to think that only being able to vaguely recall what is generally considered an excellent film is something of an indictment of it.

I'm actually somewhat shocked that I got to see two films - two long films! - on Saturday: That was the day that June, July, and August Red Sox tickets went on sale, and my usual history with that is that I get two computers going at around 10am and then sit helplessly watching them until 7:30pm or so, a Saturday wasted. This time, I got tickets at around 11:30am. We live in a time of wonders.

Waltz With Bashir

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2009 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Good intentions do not make a good movie. Waltz With Bashir is one of the best-intentioned movies you'll find, but despite attention-grabbing bookends, much of the film is inert, filled with rotoscoped talking heads who speak about their war experience in drones, including above flashbacks meant to help us experience the war and explain why the narrator cannot remember his part in it.

The big trouble with this film is the animation. It's not that animation is not an appropriate medium; it's that writer/director Ari Folman chooses a style that distances us from the people he's talking to but uses little of animation's ability to communicate in broad strokes. It tends to look artificial, and not the artificiality of memory.

Hobson's Choice

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2009 at The Brattle Theatre (Encounter David Lean)

One of David Lean's comedies from his earlier period, Hobson's Choice is a breezy and enjoyable tale of two ugly ducklings who bring out the best in each other. John Mills is a hangdog delight as ignorant bootmaker Willie Mossop, and Brenda De Banzie (who reminds me of a friend I really must email) as the severe daughter of the man who owns the shop Willie works in and decides to seek his hand in marriage, at first to spite her father: He has laughed at the idea of the thirty-year-old spinster getting married, and she sees opportunity to go into business for themselves, as Willie is the true talent behind the shop's reputation.

Charles Laughton plays the father with broad, drunken slapstick, but he's mainly a distraction from the fine performances by Mills and De Banzie, who give their characters confidence and genuine affection as the film goes on. For all the pratfalls and roundabout plots around them, their finding the whole of each other is the film's main delight.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 January 2009 at The Brattle Theatre (Encounter David Lean)

Summertime is a small confection which offers different delights from Hobson's Choice - in this case, it's the beautiful photography of Venice which takes center stage, both Jack Hildyard's conventional cinematography and the moments where the scene shifts to what Katharine Hepburn's Jane Hudson sees through the viewfinder of her 8mm camera. It's a delightful example of how a tourist sees the city that we enjoy but don't miss once Jane puts down her camera and starts experiencing the city rather than just recording it.

Part of that is a romance with Rossano Brazzi's Renato de Rossi, a charming pairing of suave European man and uptight American woman. We know from the start that it is likely temporary (although, in a movie, it may not have to be) - Jane and Renato are still in the summers of their lives, but fall will be coming very soon, and this may be Jane's last chance to live like this.

Blithe Spirit

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2009 at The Brattle Theatre (Encounter David Lean)

Ah, how this movie saddened me. There is such great potential here. Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings play a married couple that are each on their second marriage after the death of a spouse, only to find themselves haunted by the ghost of Harrison's character's first wife. There's thematic richness here that playwright Noel Coward may not have recognized before divorce and remarriage became relatively routine; who can't understand the idea of being haunted, literally or figuratively, by an ex who just would not go away? The movie also takes a twist midway through that could provide for some wonderfully black comedy.

It just doesn't come together, though - we spend much of the first act beating the joke about Harrison speaking someone only he can see and Cummings being insulted into the ground, and the second half dispenses with playing with the idea of an ex-wife who won't disappear like she should to spend time on the mechanics of exorcism. The jokes are all right, but the movie could be so much more.

One thing which is a delight is Margaret Rutherford as the medium whose first seance summons the ex-wife and who tries to exorcise her later. she's a character who is much more than just her purpose in the movie, and she does a fine job of neither playing the fool nor making the rest of the characters look foolish.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2009 at The Brattle Theatre (Encounter David Lean)

Ah, what a joy this movie is. It starts slow, and I will admit to fidgeting somewhat as the initial battle of wills between Alec Guinness's Col. Nicholson and Sessue Hayakawa's Col. Saito played out - solitary confinement is not exciting cinema, and the rule Nicholson goes to the wall for (officers not having to do manual labor) seems ridiculously classist.

Then, though, the movie takes shape, and Lean handles his dual narrative tracks beautifully, as Nicholson uses the bridge as a way to build morale among the British prisoners, playing Saito for a fool from the moment he utters the line "if I were you, I should have to kill myself", while American prisoner Shears (William Holden) escapes and is dragooned into a mission back to the camp to destroy the bridge. Lean gives each half long sequences rather than choppily jumping back and forth, but never so long that we feel like the other is being slighted.

And then, in the last few minutes, he turns everything on its head. Guinness has probably never been better than he is in the film's last ten minutes, delivering a simple line ("What have I done?") with such understatement that it's devastating. We've allowed the movie to convince us of something that we thought was wrong in the beginning, and then in its final minutes we get the rug yanked out from under us.

The Unborn

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 January 2009 at AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run)

Unusually for a horror movie, The Unborn piles the stupid on early but finishes with some pretty nifty ideas. Sure, it's pretty easy to miss some of the stupid because writer/director Daivd S. Goyer is distracting you with Odette Yustman in all sorts of tight clothing (I mean, look at that poster!), but the film actually does a good job of pulling random jump moments into a story that involves Jewish mythology and the sort of Nazi mad occult scientists that you usually find in a Hellboy story, finishing up with a nifty cross-denominational exorcism.

A couple notes: (1) Unless the demons were cutting wires (which they weren't), why would flashlights still work when the electricity is mystically interfered with? Seriously, movie, the reason God invented candles was to make walking through deserted hallways creepy. (2) You let me down, youth of America. Normally I defend you against the people claiming teenagers have ruined the moviegoing experience, pointing out that seniors and others are just as bad, but you conformed to every negative stereotype imaginable at the 1:35pm screening on January 25th.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 January 2009 at Regal Fenway #5 (first-run)

Defiance isn't bad. Nothing in it will particularly stick in my memory for long, despite striving for epic status. I liked most of the characters and performances - Liev Schreiber makes a fine action hero, and I didn't really see that coming - and the action is well-done. It's well-meaning and sincere and its only real sins are pushing the True Story angle too hard at the ends.

Well, that and the subtitle weirdness. Most of the actors are effecting Slavic accents, since the movie tells us its set in Byelorussia. I knew that former SSR is now known as "Belarus", but based on the name they show in the opening, I got the impression that they spoke Russian there, so when the movie would switch to subtitled Russian, it often seemed random. Since there's never any need for characters to not be understanding each other until Germans show up, it seemed unnecessary.
Waltz With BashirHobson's ChoiceSummertimeBlithe SpiritBridge on the River KwaiChandni Chowk to ChinaThe UnbornDefiance

No comments: