Friday, April 02, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Mar. 26-Apr.1

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Extended Edition (2003) ****
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Bernard Hill, John Noble, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Karl Urban, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett

Well, now we get to the rub. The real reason I went on this return journey through Middle Earth. It wasn’t to revisit a modern classic that dominated the Academy Awards for three years running at the top of the decade. It wasn’t because I’m a fan of the fantasy genre and needed to see one of the greatest fantasy franchises ever put to film. It wasn’t because I needed another dose of the film with a thousand and one endings. No, it was all to get this film and the performance of actor John Noble.

I’ve been so impressed with Noble’s work on the first two seasons of the television series “Fringe” I just had to revisit one of his other performances. On television he plays the somewhat off-balanced Dr. Walter Bishop; in LOTR he plays the totally off-his-rocker Denethor. The story of Denethor and his sons Boromir and Faramir, struck me as one of the most touching in this epic of epics, and Noble’s performance as the mad guardian of the throne of Gondor is one of the most frustrating because he’s so good in it. John Noble—just one of the many treasures of LOTR.

In the Loop (2009) ***½
Director: Armando Ianucci
Writers: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Ianucci, Tony Roche, Ian Martin, Harold Manning (French adaptation)
Starring: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky, Paul Higgins, Mimi Kennedy, Alex Macqueen, Olivia Poulet, David Rasche, Steve Coogan

The most entertaining element of Armando Ianucci’s lacerating comedy about British and American politics is the characters’ ability to verbally assault each other. I don’t believe our real politicians are this clever in the verbal insults they throw around at each other. Nor do I believe that half of the characters here are intelligent enough to throw around such effortless wit, but it all makes for a wildly entertaining romp about the London and Washington political landscapes.

$9.99 (2008) **½
Director: Tatia Rosenthal
Writers: Etgar Keret, Tatia Rosenthal
Starring: Joel Edgerton, David Field, Leon Ford, Samuel Johnson, Claudia Karvan, Tom Budge, Jamie Katsamatsas, Anthony LaPaglia, Ben Mendelsohn, Geoffrey Rush

One of the many ‘9’ titles to be released in 2009, “$9.99” is an odd little stop motion animation film done in the hyperlink tradition of having a large cast of characters acting out their own lives oblivious to the connections and relationships they hold with the other characters in the story. For much of the film, the stop motion seems a curious format to tell these people’s stories, and it may suffer from the filmmakers thinking they’re material is slightly deeper than it actually is. But it is a fascinating movie of sorts, especially considering how oblivious a father and son seem to be of the other son’s separate story, which is the most shocking of the bunch.

Fitzcarraldo (1982) ****
Director/Writer: Werner Herzog
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale, José Lewgoy, Miguel Ángel Fuentes, Paul Hittscher, Huerequeque Enrique Bohórquez

“We are starving for new images.” – Werner Herzog

Herzog’s 1982 movie “Fitzcarraldo” presented one of the boldest images in the career of a director who as actively pursued some of the most original images of any director. It is probably one of the boldest entry in another of Herzog’s ongoing themes as well, that of the obsessed loner, bent so single-mindedly on an idea that can only bring about his own demise. The image of the steam boat being hauled over the mountain is probably the most well-known of this German film, but it seems to me the image of Klaus Kinski riding on the roof of the boat through the Amazon with a phonograph at his side blasting opera to the natives is more encompassing of the film as a whole. Kinski’s madman is really a kid at heart playing in an area of town that is far from the safe confines of the neighborhood playground. There is oblivion to Herzog’s heroes that he uses as a mirror reflection on humanity as a whole.

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