Thursday, April 29, 2010

Penny Thoughts: April 23-29

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) ****
Director: Chris Columbus
Writers: Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling (novel)
Starring: Daniels Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ian Hart, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, John Hurt, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw

Yes, that says “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, not “Sorcerer’s”. For some reason my DVD copy of the movie has the book’s original title, rather than the dumbed down for American audiences version. This is fitting since the studio, at great risk during these early films in the series, didn’t dumb the actual movies down for American audiences. It’s quite astounding that the studio allowed the filmmakers to really take their time with these first few films to really establish character and setting, which is so important in the Harry Potter universe.

Clocking in at two and a half hours (not including end credits), I think it was a risk to trust audiences would sit through that length for what many considered a kid’s movie. Watching it for the first time with my own children, however, I find it really isn’t so much a kid’s movie, as it’s a movie with kids as the main characters. I think it’s a little much for my 4-year-old, but it’s right up my 8-year-old’s alley. I believe the character he identifies with the most is Hermione. He does so love to tell us all the facts he reads in his books.

The Slammin’ Salmon (2009) **
Director: Kevin Heffernan
Writers: Broken Lizard
Starring: Michael Clarke Duncan, Steve Lemme, Jay Chandrasekhar, Erik Stolhanske, Paul Soter, Kevin Heffernan, April Bowlby, Cobie Smulders, Carrie Clifford, Will Forte, Lance Henriksen, Jim Gaffigan, Morgan Fairchild, Vivica A. Fox

I’ll admit I’m a fan of the comedy stylings of Broken Lizard. Their “Super Troopers” is one of the best stoner comedies I’ve seen, and “Beerfest” makes for a solid spoof of all underdog sports team flicks. I was disappointed to find that their latest workplace comedy found itself sliding through its theatrical run nearly unnoticed to be released almost directly to DVD. But upon viewing it, I think I can see why. Not only is it their weakest entry under the Broken Lizard banner—their involvement in the atrocious “The Dukes of Hazzard” luckily was not done under their banner—but it seems to have little relevance with just about anything. There is still a good deal of charm to the work they do here, skewering the notion of former athletes going into the restaurant business. But this effort lacks the sharp wit and biting sarcasm of their previous efforts. Much of what is on screen is just goofiness. Still the burn victim waitress desperately trying to get people to order food from her makes for a pretty funny gag.

Blue Velvet (1986) **
Director/Writer: David Lynch
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Dean Stockwell

I saw David Lynch’s “Blue Veltvet” a very long time ago and didn’t like it. At the time I had not developed my cinematic vocabulary to the degree that I could understand just what he was trying to accomplish with the film. Now, I’m versed enough in cinema that I can tell you exactly why I still don’t like it. It’s boring. I thought for all these years that David Lynch’s weirdness somehow clouded for me what was appealing about this movie to so many film lovers. But the story is not complicated. It’s simple even. The strangeness is just decoration for a very basic coming of age story. While the film is beautifully photographed by Frederick Elmes, not all the oddities Lynch can dream up can save it from the flat script. It’s just dull.

Convoy (1978) **
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Writers: Bill L. Norton, C.W. McCall (song)
Starring: Kris Kristopherson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair, Franklyn Ajaye, Seymour Cassel

I read somewhere that this was a hard to find movie, but that it was available at Netflix. So I queued it. Coming in well after Peckinpah’s prime, “Convoy” is a silly late-70s trucker trend cash in for the once great filmmaker. Yet it still retains the dying cowboy breed and anti-authoritarian themes of all his best films. It even includes a couple of his favorite actors, Kris Kristopherson and Ernest Borgnine, as the hero and villain respectively. But if you want to see what Peckinpah was all about, I’d suggest starting about a decade earlier.

The Boondock Saints (1999) ***
Director/Writer: Troy Duffy
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, David Della Rocco, Billy Connolly, Bob Marley

I’m a decade late coming to this cult favorite. It’s easy to see where the appeal of this movie lies. It has a very original way of presenting its material by showing the audience in flashback sequences what a loony, but very good FBI agent pieces together about a series of gangland murders that occur in the Boston area. There are many entertaining moments and certainly some unique sequences, but the whole show is really stolen by Willem Dafoe’s performance as the FBI agent. Without it, I’m not sure the movie would work. While his is one of the most original characters to grace the screen, the remaining cast of characters is made up of unbelievably incompetent detectives and gangsters, and the three anti-heroes, who are made up of two Irish brothers indistinguishable from each other and hordes of other anti-heroes and a loud-mouthed annoying Italian that you’d rather see get wacked as early on as he was supposed to be than survive through the entire plot while holding the other two back. It’s Dafoe who makes the whole thing worthwhile.


Alan Bacchus said...

Two stars for Blue Velvet? Booo!
I see where you're coming from in the critique.
For me, it works as many of Lynch's films do - in moments and scenes and mood.

Andrew D. Wells said...

I didn't like it the first time I saw it some twenty years ago, and I didn't like it this time. It isn't that I don't do the whole strange David Lynch oddity thing. I just thought it was boring. I'm a big fan of Wild at Heart, Mulholland Dr., Lost Highway (although that one took two viewings to appreciate), and certainly Twin Peaks (tv show and movie for very different reasons). I had a similar problem with Inland Empire that I had with Blue Velvet. It was a little dull. But that had more to do with length and meandering, and my dislike of Blue Velvet is that it never has anything interesting to say. It is filled with some great moments and a couple of great scenes, but a movie is two hours long and needs to be a cohesive whole, even when it's subject is incoherent madness. But Blue Velvet isn't madness. It's quite sane with insane dressing. And it was boring.