Monday, March 27, 2006

Movie Mon. - Some Very Premium Movies

'Twas a very good week for movie-watching; a couple of them even inspired me to go check out some books from the public library. We'll see if the inspiration lasts long enough to actually get me to read them.

Oh, I've also decided to start including links to the trailers for all reviewed films if available, in case my descriptions don't quite do them justice.

The Happiest Millionaire: Old-school Disney musical from 1967 about an eccentric millionaire obsessed with the Bible and boxing (not necessarily in that order) dealing with his only daughter leaving home, as told from the perspective of his new Irish butler. This one was loaned to me by Cap'n Cluck, who loves this movie with a bloody passion; while I wasn't blown away by it, I did think it was an enjoyable little movie. It had some catchy songs (particularly the bar song "Let's Have a Drink On It" and the school of seduction song "Bye-Yum-Pum-Pum"), although a couple fell flat for me (the intermittent "What's Wrong with That" and the obviously-cut-and-re-added-in-re-release "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas"). A lot of the strength of the film comes from the cast: long-time Disney star Fred MacMurray as the titular character; a young Lesley Ann Warren (who I didn't recognize) as his daughter; a similarly young John Davidson (who I had never seen in anything other than That's Incredible or Hollywood Squares until now) as the daughter's fiancé; and the talented Tommy Steele (who will always be Og the Leprechaun from Finnian's Rainbow to me) as the butler. If you're a fan of old-school, family friendly musicals, you'll probably enjoy this one.

Kairo (English title: Pulse): Japanese horror film based around the idea that the spirits of the dead have started to bleed into our world through electronic equipment. To me, the film was just a muddled mess; I know that Asian films often remain more ambiguous than Western cinema, but this one took it to extremes. Maybe there's a bit of a cultural gap in operation here, but the character motivations made little sense, and the reason for the tendency of people to disappear into black splotches on the wall was never clarified to my satisfaction. I'm wondering if the upcoming American remake starring Kristen Bell will be much better; I'm sure hoping so. As it is, I'd say skip Kairo and rent Ringu or Three Extremes instead.

Howl's Moving Castle: Latest animated offering from Hayao Miyazaki, director of Princess Mononoke and the excellent Spirited Away. This one is based on a novel by British fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, and is the story of Sophie, a self-conscious hat maker who becomes embroiled in the machinations of witches and wizards after a chance encounter with the infamous wizard Howl leads to her being turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. As with all of Miyazaki's films, the animation is wonderfully inventive and beautifully rendered; the story was entertaining if a bit ambiguous at times (such as the exact parameters of Sophie's curse), but never to the detriment of the film, for me at least. While not my favorite Miyazaki film (that would be Spirited Away, which you really, really should see), I think that at this point it's a close second.

Dear Wendy: Adapted from a script by Lars "What can I do to make Americans look ugly and psychotic now?" van Trier, this uneven film centers around a group of outcast youths in a small mining town who form a society known as The Dandies, devoted to two things: pacifism and gun-worship. The Dandies well-structured (if borderline mental) world gets thrown into chaos with the addition of a new member who se take on the proper usage of firearms is a bit more violent. The first half of the film was a very odd, off-beat look at a group of strange but engaging characters: Jaime Bell (Billy Elliot) as the leader of the Dandies who names his gun Wendy and believes that she is a sentient being; Michael Angarano (Will in Sky High) as the runt of the pack who exaggerates everything by a factor of 10; Chris Owen (The Sherminator from American Pie) as the physically disabled Dandy who lets his disability keep him from fully engaging in the group; Alison Pill (Book of Daniel) as the shy girl who teaches herself to hit targets via ricochets; and Mark Webber (Broken Flowers) as the resident munitions expert. Watching these characters slowly come together and create the intricate rules and ceremonies of their society was interesting and entertaining to me; however, as soon as Danso Gordon was introduced as the street-wise parolee, the film lost a lot of its magic for me. I know the point of his character was to (a) show how the Dandies looked to a "normal" outsider, (b) set Jaime Bell's character into a tailspin of doubt and depression, and (c) set into motion the tragic end of the film; but knowing the point of the character's existence and enjoying the results are two different things. I suppose I had bought so whole-heartedly into the world the Dandies created for themselves that I hated seeing the outside interference tearing it apart. Plus, having this little bit of "reality" intruding made the over-the-top ending seem jarring to me; if the major shoot-out had occurred as a result of the Dandies' original doings, I think I might have been able to accept it as part of their off-kilter existence; instead, the wild variation in tone put me off. There was too much good stuff in the beginning for me to totally pan the film, but too much of the end section bothered me for me to praise it. My best advice is to see the film and judge for yourself.

Capote: Oscar winning film about Truman Capote's experiences writing In Cold Blood. A very well done film; Phillip Seymour Hoffman definitely deserved his Oscar win for Best Actor. Capote is an interesting character, at turns compassionate and self-absorbed, and such a skilled liar (both to others and to himself) that you're never sure what his precise motivations are at any given moment. Highly recommend this one, which has inspired me to finally read In Cold Blood.

House of the Dead 2: All Guts No Glory: Low budget sequel to a really crappy Uwe "Isn't Calling One of His Films 'Crappy' a Bit Redundant?" Boll video-game film about zed-words; despite loathing the original HotD with a passion (ranks right up there with Batman and Robin as least favorite movie), I thought I'd see how much a better a Uwe-free film would fare. The answer: not that much. Honestly, about the only thing that really caught me attention in the film was the belated realization that one of the commandos was played by Nadine Velazquez, best known to me as Catalina on My Name is Earl; didn't recognize her without the heavy accent and maid's outfit. All in all, not as painful as the first one, but not really worth your time either.

The Squid and the Whale: Well done drama about two brothers dealing with the fallout from their parents' separation; the elder brother (Jesse Eisenberg of Roger Dodger and Cursed) idolizes his famous author father (Jeff Daniels), parroting his every word without seeing the intense self-absorption that defines his character, while the younger brother (Kevin Kline's real-life son Owen) becomes a determined anti-intellectual "Philistine" to aggravate the father and ingratiate himself with his mom (Laura Linney) and her new tennis-pro boyfriend (William Baldwin). An interesting film, although I must warn the more sensitive among you that there's quite a bit of language and sexual situations here, including a scene that's every librarian's worst nightmare (please don't make me spell it out for you). An engaging character-study.

Everything is Illuminated:
Based on the novel of the same name, this off-beat film tells the story of Jonathan Safran Foer (played by Elijah Wood), a young Jewish man practically obsessed with collecting family memorabilia who travels to the Ukraine to track down a woman pictured in a photograph of his grandfather from before WWII. Jonathan is aided on his quest by Alex, a translator with a knack for interesting turns of phrase ("I'm a very premium dancer, many women wish to be carnal with me"), and Alex's grandfather, a driver who claims to be blind and travels with a psychotic dog they call his "officious seeing-eye bitch." Narrated by Alex, the film shows how Jonathan's journey changes each of them in profound ways. Sometimes touching, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and always beautifully shot (some amazing screen compositions throughout), Everything is Illuminated was by far the best movie I've seen recently. Highly, highly recommend this one. I checked the novel out from the public library this weekend, with luck I'll have a chance to read it soon.


Flunky lover said...

I just added Everything is Illuminated to my queue. There is a short wait on it so I hope I can see it before my free trial expires next week.