Thursday, March 18, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Mar. 12-18

Frantic (1988) ***
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Roman Polanski, Gérard Brach
Starring: Harrison Ford, Emmanuelle Seigner, Betty Buckley, Gérard Klein, Patrice Melennec, John Mahoney, Jimmy Ray Weeks

Roman Polanski’s attempt at a Hitchcockian thriller isn’t really much like Hitch, except for that rooftop scene; but it isn’t bad either. Polanski concentrates more on the isolated hero theme that dominates most of his films, while Hitch’s thrillers were always more claustrophobic. Many were disappointed at the time, but the film ages well and acts as a great example of Harrison Ford’s underappreciated acting skills.

Ponyo (2009) ****
Director/Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Frankie Jonas, Noah Cyrus, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Betty White, Lily Tomlin, Cloris Leachman

I am probably more in love with the films of Hayao Miyazaki than I am even with Pixar. It’s no surprise, though, that Pixar head guru John Lasseter champions Miyazaki’s films. The main difference between Pixar and Miyazaki lies in the commitment to what type of fantasy audiences will accept. Pixar’s doesn’t stray too far from what we recognize in our own world, while Miyazaki’s mind is willing to entertain any sort of alien idea and image that might come wandering along. What both film haven’s have in common, however, is their strict and microscopic observance of human nature and behavior.

Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series (2009) **
Director: Tor Helmstein, Ian Kirby
Writer: Andy Shapiro
Starring: Moon Bloodgood, Cam Clarke

Video game animation has come a long way. This Web series of six ten-minute animated episodes was made using video game animation characters and settings. It looks good for a video game. It looks like crap for a movie, however. This companion piece to the latest Terminator sequel has a satisfactory storyline. It’s too bad they didn’t want to shell out the money for real animation.

Terminator Salvation (2009) ***
Director: McG
Writers: John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Michael Ironside, Helena Bonham Carter

Upon a second viewing, it’s quite surprising how good this entry into the franchise is, considering it comes from a director that actually chooses to be known as McG. I’m especially impressed by what a good casting choice Anton Yelchin was for the young Kyle Reese, whom all the action of the film centers around. Read my original review here.

The Princess Bride (1987) ****
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: William Goldman
Starring: Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Chris Sarandon, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Peter Cook, Mel Smith, Fred Savage, Peter Falk

The charm of this film never ceases to amaze me. I recently read three introductions to the book by William Goldman. The intros are nearly as entertaining as the story itself, but there is something very basic to the story—something that drove Goldman to search out and adapt the story by S. Morgenstern from when his father read it to him in much the same circumstance that is depicted in his screeplay—that speaks universally to tale seekers. Aren’t we all tale seekers? It has so many elements that became cliché long before Goldman gave the world of Florin new life in his book and this film, and yet under the direction of Rob Reiner they seem fresh and fun, even after the 20th viewing (that’s a rough estimate).

Up in the Air (2009) ***½
Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Walter Kirn (novel)
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, Melanie Lynskey, Danny McBride

Jason Reitman’s third time at bat isn’t as impressive as his first two movies. It doesn’t take the same risks as “Thank You For Smoking” or “Juno”, but it’s still an incredibly well crafted film that fits in well with our current economic crisis. Some of the plot’s developments are not as surprising as they should be, but it does have the guts not to let George Clooney’s hero off easy in the end. It’s an enjoyable comedy and a good character study of a man that has sold a bill of goods to himself about a lifestyle that is far from the typical American dream and yet well in tune with our societal obsession with the acquisition of symbols of status.

Kelly’s Heroes (1970) ***½
Director: Brian G. Hutton
Writer: Troy Kennedy-Martin
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor

“Kelly’s Heroes” is one of the quirkiest and most wonderful WWII movies around. To think you could make an anti-authority war flick/heist flick and still have it work as a war picture. It isn’t completely serious, but it never succumbs to camp. You’ve got comedians working with action stars and they all fit right into the WWII setting. And then there’s Donald Sutherland with the world’s first flower power tank commander, and he sells it. This movie would make a wonderful companion piece to the George Clooney war/heist flick “Three Kings”.

Hunger (2008) ****
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Enda Walsh, Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Liam Cunningham, Brian Milligan

This is the second British prison film I’ve seen in the past month. Like the more outrageous “Bronson”, this film is driven by the experience of prison more so than by dialogue. That is the extent of what it shares with “Bronson”, however. “Hunger” goes deeper and much more seriously into the prison experience, dealing with Britain’s policy of not recognizing political crimes differently than other criminal acts. Of course, this was not actually the case as the political prisoners were brutalized in ways the general prison population was not for their refusal to be recognized as anything but political prisoners. Artist Steve McQueen, in his debut directorial effort, does an amazing job immersing the audience in the prison experience for IRA member Bobby Sands, who would eventually lead a hunger strike that would finally see to changes in the British policies. Michael Fassbender’s performance and physical transformation as Sands is nothing short of amazing.

The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) ***½
Director: George Roy Hill
Writers: William Goldman, George Roy Hill
Starring: Robert Redford, Bo Svenson, Bo Brundin, Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Lewis, Edward Herrmann, Philip Bruns, Margot Kidder

As I get older, I find myself more and more enamored of the cinema of the ‘70s. Even a fairly innocuous story like that of “The Great Waldo Pepper” has more depth and character in it than 70% of what we get fed by the studios these days. With it’s ending and a good many of the plot’s interior developments, no studio would have even looked at this film today. It reminds me a great deal of Clint Eastwood’s oft-overlooked, warm-hearted movie “Bronco Billy”—one of my favorites of his—with it’s unconventional hero who pushes on in a career that has passed its prime, still striving to bring some dignity to a world that has forgotten much of its gifts. And oh my goodness, look at the talent gathered together for “Pepper”, of course there’s Redford and Bo Svenson in a sweet role like I’ve never seen him, the young Susan Sarandon and an even younger Margot Kidder, George Roy Hill directing, William Goldman writing, Edith Head costumes, Henry Bumstead production design, photography by Robert Surtees, and music by Henry Mancini. Wow, what a great little movie.

Astro Boy (2009) **½
Director: David Bowers
Writers: Timothy Harris, David Bowers, Tezuka Osamu (comic series)
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane.

“Astro Boy” is a little too innocent to be intense and a little too intense to be innocent. It is a spectacular looking movie that can’t decide whether it’s for kids or teens and seems to be aimed just a hair too young for adults. It tells one of the most popular stories of animated films, that of the adolescent trying to find his place in the world and learning to accept who he is in the process. It never really brings much of anything new to this concept, but not for want of trying. The closing action sequence is the least schizophrenic of the film and creates a solid ending for a movie that seems to be going through the same growth hiccups as its main character.

1 comment:

Alan Bacchus said...

Good lineupo of movies this week.
I think we're the only ones who liked 'Terminator Salvation'. Everyone's missing out.

'Up in the Air' annoyed the hell out of me. Just rubbed me the wrong way from beginning to end.

Kelly's Heroes! Love it. Such an awesome flick. Love the theme song too.