Friday, July 02, 2010

Penny Thoughts: June 25 – July 1

The Guns of Navarone (1961) ***
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Writers: Carl Foreman, Alistair MacLean (novel)
Starring: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, James Darren, Irene Papas, Gia Scala

I grew up with a Marine for a father. We celebrated the Marine Corps birthday every year, and we watched war movies. He initiated me to war cinema long before home video became popular, so going back and seeing the classics wasn’t as easy as it was today. I believe “The Guns of Navarone” was one of his favorites, but it was much easier for us to catch screenings of its sequel “Force 10 From Navarone”. Of course, the sequel doesn’t really have anything to do with Navarone. It shares a similar mission/adventure structure and the two lead characters, Mallory and Miller, return. It was made almost two decades after the original and benefits from the more efficient cinematic practices that developed in the 70s.

“The Guns of Navarone” is a classic World War II adventure, but the cinematic practices of the time do work against it to a fair degree. It moves at a much slower pace than its adventure requires. It was made before filmmakers were allowed to show deathblows. While people are killed on camera, the killing wound is never seen. If some one dies from a knife wound, the stab happens out of frame. If someone is shot to death, the wounds are vaguely confined to areas indicated by the actor’s body language. While I don’t feel blood and gore are necessary for a good action flick, I must admit war violence loses much of its power when it’s hidden. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t a worthwhile movie to watch, especially since it is available for instant streaming on Netflix. I just have to say, I still prefer the sequel.

The Black Stallion (1979) ***½
Director: Carroll Ballard
Writers: Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, William D. Wittliff, Walter Farley (novel)
Starring: Kelly Reno, Mickey Rooney, Teri Garr

I was seven when I saw this movie in theaters. I showed it to my eight-year-old this week. He has a fascination for film that I hadn’t even hinted at having at his age. I very much enjoy opening up older cinematic treasures from my childhood to him. Today’s kids aren’t really equipped for a movie like “The Black Stallion”. There’s almost no dialogue for the first 40 minutes of the film, although this section also held my four-year-old enthralled. Even the more conventional second half of the film is nowhere near conventional by today’s fast-paced standards. There are several very quite scenes, more completely silent scenes where the audience must put the pieces together in the same way the characters do, and the adults don’t talk down to children in the movie. There is a respect for the ages that seems to be disappearing from our society that is quite well on display in this picture. Adults don’t talk down to children and children have a high degree of awe and respect for their elders. It’s nice to return to times like those with a great piece of cinema like this.

The Road (2009) ***½
Director: John Hillcoat
Writers: Joe Penhall, Cormac McCarthy (novel)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron

“The Road” is dark and depressing, and upon initial viewing seems like a trimmed down version of the typical apocalyptic trials of survival. But in retrospect it begins to drill in to your psyche and reveal itself as something more than it seems. All the random encounters the hero and his son stumble upon in almost episodic rotation take shape in afterthought and you find that this apocalypse isn’t as dark as the rest, although it certainly looks as if it is. I loved the revelation near the end when the boy says to the father “No, I am the one!” I’d never seen that before, and the movie makes it painfully obvious that the boy is correct, although not until that very moment.

Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) *½
Director: Chris Weitz
Writers: Melissa Rosenberg, Stephanie Meyer (novel)
Starring: Kristin Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Anna Kendrick, Graham Greene, Billy Burke, Dakota Fanning, Michael Sheen

Nothing is more depressing to me than the fact that this series is still going. This is my immediate thought after screening the second of the “Twilight Saga” films, “New Moon”. I am still astounded at how boring they’ve made the vampire mythology, reducing it to a puppy love story that is tame even by the teenage standards to which they are marketing it. The MPAA lists the reasons for its PG-13 rating as “for some violence and action”. A vampire movie with “some violence”? There is nothing more violent and sexual than a vampire’s attack. It is a rape of the soul, while appealing to our lustful tendencies.

They can’t even seem to spice this series up by throwing werewolves into the mix. And I beg of you not to attempt the math involved with the reasoning given behind why the werewolves turn when they do. A new werewolf turns when a new vampire enters the territory. Huh? It doesn’t work out. How many Cullens are there? And how many wolves? Plus three vampires entered the Cullen’s territory in the first movie, then two of those vampires returned in this movie after all the Cullens moved away. So why did Jacob turn into a werewolf? You’re head will explode before you make sense of it.

At least this one’s prettier to look at, thanks to the capable direction of Chris Weitz. I hear the new one is the best of the three. Well, it didn’t have much room to get worse.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors (2010) **
Director/Writer: Tom DiCillo
Narrator: Johnny Depp
Featuring: Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore

This would be a great documentary for someone who had just discovered the music of The Doors and just had to know their story. For those who have been there, all this material has been covered before. There must not be too many secrets about The Doors, because there is so little here that I did not learn about twenty years ago. Director Tom DiCillo tells their story only with found footage of The Doors from when it was all happening and that footage is fascinating. However, his narration, even under the sturdy voice of Johnny Depp, is The Doors by the numbers. It plays like a checklist of all the big events of The Doors’ career and nothing more. There is no real insight here, just a series of facts and a forty-year-old obsession with Jim Morrison.

It’s Complicated (2009) ***
Director/Writer: Nancy Meyers
Starring: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald

“It’s Complicated” is a nice adult rom com. It isn’t great. It’s not the best work of the individual artists involved, but it’s enjoyable. It’s a little long. Streep and Baldwin do command their roles. Martin is funny when he’s allowed to be, but he’s seems a little constrained by his character’s personality, or lack thereof, which is unusual for Steve Martin. John Krasinski is probably the best part about the whole movie, and his role is fairly minor. He handles it as if it were major, however. There’s really not a whole lot I have to say about this movie, but I can’t say I disliked it.

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