Thursday, September 16, 2010

Penny Thoughts: Sept. 10-16

Back to the Future, Part III (1990) **½
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Thomas F. Wilson, Lea Thompson, Elizabeth Shue

The third installment of the “Back to the Future” franchise was always my least favorite. This is mostly due to the last few minutes, which get just a little too sappy and sentimental for my tastes. A strange thing to hold against this purely 80s film, I know. Perhaps I was offended by the besmirching of my western hero Clint Eastwood, although his name and image are really only used in respectful homage. Perhaps by the time 1990 rolled around I had moved on from my childhood film tastes. But I can’t fault the casting of Mary Steenburgen as Doc Brown’s love interest, an actress I’ve only come to appreciate more and more as she gets older and somehow more beautiful with age.

Tetro (2009) ***½
Director/Writer: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdú, Rodrigo De la Serna, Mike Amigorena, Leticia Brédice, Sofía Castiglione, Carmen Maura, Klaus Maria Brandauer

After a long hiatus, Francis Ford Coppola has returned to film making with two deeply personal films in the past few years. The first, “Youth Without Youth”, showed reflections of Coppola’s great artistry, but suffered from being a little too self-indulgent. His latest, “Tetro”, proves what a blessing it is to have this great filmmaker back in full form. Its pacing might feel a little slow to some. Its plot might seem too steeped in melodrama. But this is operatic filmmaking and requires such aspects that have become foreign to the modern film audience. The black and white cinematography reminds us how beautiful film can be, and the varying color techniques used in both flashbacks and fantasy sequences shows that even in film color can be applied like in a painting. This is fine artistic filmmaking.

Repo Men (2010) **
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: Eric Garcia (also novel), Garrett Lerner
Starring: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga, Carice van Hooten, Chandler Canterbury

I can’t really point out anything in this movie that’s terribly wrong, although the scene were the hero and heroine scan each others internal organs like some sort of sex fettish is a little questionable. My problem with this movie has more to do with some sort of intangible disconnect it seems to have with its own subject matter. It deals with repo men in the future that repossess body parts people can’t pay for anymore. Jude Law plays one of the best who eventually falls behind in his own body part payments. His newfound conscience just doesn’t seem to mesh with the mentality of the world presented here. Yes, his career has obvious moral questions to it, but if they haven’t occurred to him or the rest of the world by this point, I find it hard to believe they ever will. It’s a good attempt at a sci-fi take on our country’s current financial crisis, but there just doesn’t seem to be much outrage connected to the material, which is presented too much as in internal personal battle of conscience than as the morally reprehensible atrocity it reflects about society as a whole.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero (1998) ***
Director: Boyd Kirkland
Writers: Boyd Kirkland, Randy Rogel, Bob Kane (creator)
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Michael Ansara, Loren Lester, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., George Dzundza, Mary Kay Bergman, Bob Hastings

I love everything Batman. I was a pretty big fan of the animated television series that followed the success of the Tim Burton movies in the early 90s. “Sub Zero” was the second feature length film to be produced from that series. It featured a villain, Mr. Freeze, who was a very minor blip in the Batman mythos until the creators of the animated series turned him into a major player and one of the best developed villains of Batman’s rouges gallery. Don’t let Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as Freeze in “Batman & Robin” ruin it for you.

Superman Returns (2006) ****
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, Bryan Singer, Jerry Siegel (characters), Joe Shuster (characters)
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey, James Marsden, Tristan Lake Leabu, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint

I still see everything in this movie that most other people seem to miss, an incredibly true continuation of the themes and ideals presented in the first two Superman films with added dimensions to them.  Each time I see it the savior/Christ imagery gets stronger as I discover more and more layers to them. Parker Posey makes every film she’s in better. And even though Supes takes on a new role as stalker of his ex, his chief competition for Lois’s heart here says he’d do the exact same thing if he had those powers.

Good Hair (2009) **½
Director: Jeff Stilson
Writers: Lance Crouther, Chris Rock, Chuck Sklar, Jeff Stilson
Starring: Chris Rock, Nia Long, Ice T, Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton, Eve, Raven-Symoné, Tracie Thoms, Tanya Crumel, Kevin Kirk, Jason Griggers

“Good Hair” is a surprisingly fascinating documentary about black hair culture in the United States. I say fascinating, but in a more interesting way than an entertaining one. Chris Rock does his best as the host and narrator of the doc to make it entertaining, but there’s a feeling the director Jeff Stilson has restricted himself too much within its investigative documentary format. You can tell he’s a fan of sports documentaries in the way his integrates the build up of a big hair styling competition into the rest of the film, closing with the competition itself. But the rest of the film is kind of played out at the 40-minute mark. The last half hour spends too much time reiterating what has come before. One thing I took away from this doc, however, is that Tracie Thoms is da bomb! I suspected as much after seeing her in “Death Proof”, but it has now been totally confirmed.

On the Waterfront (1954) ****
Director: Elia Kazan
Writers: Budd Schulberg,
Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger

There once was a time when Hollywood made movies about real people. How ironic that one of Hollywood’s greatest ‘real’ actors, Marlon Brando, inspired a generation of actors after him just as Hollywood began shifting its focus to the overblown, outrageous situations in which real people never find themselves. “On the Waterfront” still carries all of it emotional power today, because it depicts real people dealing with real problems. Yes, the mob as depicted here is possibly a device used to heighten the reality of a time when work was hard to come by in America and there were few people to look out for the workers rights and well-being. Funny, that doesn’t sound like a far cry from today’s work environment. Anyway, it’s easy to feel the struggles of the workers in the movie, because it doesn’t take much imagination to put yourself in their shoes.

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