Friday, March 18, 2011

Penny Thoughts ’11: Mar. 11-17

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) ****
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Melissa Mathison
Starring: Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert McNaughton, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote

When Roger Ebert wrote about “E.T.” for his Great Movies series, he described showing it to his grandchildren, one of whom was quite young at the time, maybe 2 or 3. He claims that the film enthralled even the younger child, who never looked away from the screen for the entire running time.

Although I admired his point, I doubted the truth of it, having showed many movies to my children as they’ve grown. If it doesn’t have fighting, my youngest boy doesn’t want to see it. Although, I did get him to sit still for almost all of “The Black Stallion”. He, of course, complained about the lack of fighting anyway.

Now, I have three children. My 3-year-old adopted Chinese daughter poses my biggest challenge yet in training a cineaste during her formative years. She doesn’t have much language yet, and has showed little or no interest in the wall we like to stare at so often at night. The bright colors and amplified sound don’t pull her attention, even with Kai Lan on it. But, to my surprise, “E.T.” turned out to be the first thing on our TV that she’s even noticed. I believe Ebert’s words now.

Needless to say, the boys were totally enveloped by the movie. The younger boy never even mentioned fighting, although he did want to know if the man with the keys on his belt was there to kill E.T. We told him to just watch the movie and he’d find out. Maire could only watch the amazement on the boys’ faces when her eyes weren’t glued to the screen. We sat and ate pizza (and later popcorn) and our children got to experience a momentous experience from our own childhoods.

D-Tour: A Tenacious Documentary (2008) ***
Director: Jeremy Konner
Starring: Jack Black, Kyle Gass

I am an unmitigated Tenacious D fan. I can’t explain it to people who don’t understand, but the D are like the nerd gods of rock, the gods that all of us who wanted to be rock stars might actually have had the chance of being; if we had the help of Jack Black, that is. “D-Tour” follows the D on the promotional tour for their second album and subsequent release of their feature-length movie. It is not some typical self-worshiping “promotumentary,” however, as it truly documents the trials of that tour and the failure of their dream movie project at the box office. It contains the D’s energy and their love of rock and crude humor, but it also contains all the setbacks. The two most noteworthy points in the film are Black’s utter shock at the failure of the film, which didn’t even perform in the top ten at the box office on its opening weekend; the other is a meltdown by Black’s bandmate Kyle Gass at a taping of the David Letterman show. The band was invited to perform; yet only Black was invited for an interview. They threaten to walk if Gass isn’t allowed on the couch as well.  While it’s usually kickass, sometimes it sucks to be the D.

In Between Days (2006) ***½
Director: So Yong Kim
Writers: So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray
Starring: Jiseon Kim, Taegu Andy Kang

Everything about adult life is more complicated than teenage life. If we only knew then how well we had it… But there is one thing about being a teenager that I don’t miss—relationships. Oh, they were so much more complicated. The indie film “In Between Days” follows a romance that never really happens. It takes place in a northern American city; but you might not realize it, since so much of the dialogue is in the Korean language.

Aimie is a teenager who feels isolated and alone in the wintery city. She lives with her mother, and although we hear her talking to her father, he’s out of the picture. By the end of the film we realize her conversations with her father are only what she wishes to say. It seems the only light she can find in her world is the friendship she shares with Tran. She wishes it to be more, and perhaps he does as well, but ah… their assumptions and difference persist in getting in the way. Such is the plight of teenage love.

Pom Poko (1994) **½
Director: Isao Takahata
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki (idea), Isao Takahata
Starring: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Tress MacNeille, Clancy Brown, John Di Maggio, Jillian Bowen, Marc Donato, Kevin Michael Richardson, J.K. Simmons, Wally Kurth, Jess Harnell, Maurice Lamarche, Brian Posehn, Olivia D’Abo

“Pom Poko” is the type of movie I don’t want to say anything negative about. It comes from the wonderfully inventive Japanese animation studio Ghibli, run by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Hayao Myazaki. “Pom Poko” is based on an idea of Miyazaki’s, but written and directed by one of his partners. It embodies the best notions of the studio, smart storylines, interesting characters, a-typical animal protagonists, and combines both human and environmental messages. It’s a blend of hand drawn animation styles. The raccoon heroes are drawn at times realistically, like the rabbits in “Watership Down”, at other times in traditional anime style, with large expressive eyes and mouths, and also in a minimalistic style when they are overcome by their emotions. Parts of the story are presented like a documentary, parts in first person narrative, and parts in third person. There are an abundance of colorful characters and the raccoons are depicted as creatures that have trouble committing to anything but partying. The film goes off on tangents, which is attractive at first. Unfortunately, the movie runs far longer than it should, and eventually the tangents become tiresome. I can’t help but think under Miyazaki’s direction the movie would’ve been sharper and more focused, depicting the raccoons’ struggle against the encroachment man rather than reflecting it.

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) ***
Director: Chas F. Reisner
Writer: Carl Harbaugh
Starring: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Tom McGuire, Marion Byron, Tom Lewis

I’ve seen a few Buster Keaton films at this point and there does seem to be something to the debate as to which was the best silent film comedian, Keaton or Chaplin. While Chaplin is often moving, there’s something pure and innocent about Keaton’s comedy. “Steamboat Bill Jr.” is the simplest of the Keaton films I’ve seen, relying mostly on sight gags that have become standards, like the dance he does for the baby around a corner that places the baby out of sight from Bill’s father who just observes his son dancing for no reason. I liked how Keaton’s character loves his father no matter what. Although, his father rejects him at first, the fact that his father always stands up for him gets a laugh out of me every time. This is not one of those silent films that will convert anybody who believes silents are some sort of lesser format, but it’s a good jumping on point for someone looking into the comedy stylings of Keaton. If you want to sell someone on the magic of the silents, show them Keaton’s “The General”.

No comments: