Friday, March 11, 2011

Penny Thoughts ’11: Mar. 4-10

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) ****
Director/Writer: George Lucas
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smitts, Matthew Wood, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee

So Natalie Portman follows in Alec Guinness’s footsteps as an Oscar-winning “Star Wars” alum. Of course, Guinness received his Oscar long before “Star Wars” and was good enough in the first movie to receive another nomination for his work. Portman’s “Star Wars” appearances were more like a stepping-stone to her Oscar work.

Nevertheless, every time I’ve watched the conclusion of the prequel films I’m shocked by how much better this one is than the other two.  It’s almost as if Lucas’s writing is ghosted by someone else when compared to the scripts of the first two. But, even in those, it’s the plotting that has been their strength, not the dialogue. Here the plotting reaches a new level of excellence as the Chancellor’s plot as the evil Darth Sidious comes to its twisted and inevitable conclusion. It helps that the dialogue doesn’t get in the way so much this time around.

A major problem that Lucas faced in this prequel series that few give him credit for is the fact that from the beginning everyone knew exactly how the whole thing would turn out.  Perhaps he needed to show us more about the conclusions earlier in the series, because it is those inevitable “Star Wars” myths like the Emperor’s ascension, Yoda’s exile, the births of Luke and Liea, and the battle between Obi Wan and Anakin that are so satisfying to finally witness. Yet, what really impresses me is the completeness and intricate execution of Palpatine’s plot to destroy the Jedi and become Emperor. Lucas doesn’t make the mistake of assuming Palpatine is powerful enough to have thought of everything, but he’s placed so many failsafes into his plan, he can’t possibly lose.

I’m sure many will question my opinion, as even this chapter has diminished in people’s minds since it’s release. But if you look at Palpatine’s plotting in this one, it’s hard to find a place where Lucas has allowed him to miss something. Even his reliance on others to do things that are not within his power is not random and produces results that are plausible within those character’s personalities.

Read my original review here.

Inglourious Basterds (2009) ****
Director/Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Gedeon Burkhard, Jacky Ido, B.J. Novak, Omar Doom, August Diehl, Denis Menochet, Sylvester Groth, Martin Wuttke, Mike Myers, Julie Dreyfus

It’s been a year and a half since I saw this QT masterpiece in theaters. One reason I took so long in getting back to it is because I’ve been trying to convince my wife to watch it. She’s not having it, mostly due to the unseemly title “Inglourious Basterds” I think. I think she’d enjoy Shosanna’s revenge story.

Me? God, how I enjoy Tarantino’s rich dialogue. I could watch this movie again right now. In truth, this movie is just a series of conversations at tables with a few of them lacking the table. Most of these conversations end in sudden, brutal violence. But, the conversations themselves hold all the suspense, excitement, thrills and exquisite detail of any good action sequence. And, it’s so much more interesting than a typical action flick.

Read my original review here.

My Dad Is 100 Years Old (2005) ***½
Director: Guy Maddin
Writer: Isabella Rossellini
Starring: Isabella Rossellini

The first movie of Guy Maddin’s I ever saw was “The Saddest Music in the World”, which starred Isabella Rossellini as a beer baroness who holds a contest to find the music of the film’s title. Not long after that she collaborated with Maddin on this 16-minute tribute to her father, Italian neo-realist filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. In it she plays herself and several of her father’s contemporary filmmakers: Alfred Hitchcock, David O. Selznick, Frederico Fellini, and her own mother, actress Ingrid Bergman. They discuss the validity of her father’s work while Rossellini describes memories of her father and professes her love for him in juxtaposition to the criticism of his fellow filmmakers.

In light of the criticism against Roberto Rossellini’s work as being static and boring and dealing too much with the realities of life, Maddin makes for an odd choice to direct a tribute to him. Maddin’s films are filled with such dreams and fantasies. They combine those film notions with reality in a way that I’d call a dreamumentary, where it’s impossible to separate dream from reality. Rossellini’s work was based solidly in reality. Nevertheless, Maddin and Isabella Rossellini create perhaps the most fascinating tribute I’ve ever seen of a fellow filmmaker in this unusual film.

The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978) ***½
Director: Eagle Pennell
Writers: Eagle Pennell, Lin Sutherland
Starring: Sonny Carl Davis, Lou Perryman, Doris Hargrave, Eric Henshaw

I imagine the relatives of the filmmakers who made “The Whole Shootin’ Match” saw the final product of their hard work and imagined it was one big waste of time. Perhaps I don’t give people the credit that the film’s director, Texan blue-collar auteur Eagle Pennell, gives his own characters. They are people who would be called white trash today, but they aren’t people who’ve given into their lot in life. Just like any of us, they have their hopes and dreams to cling to. They’re stuck in their patterns, but they strive for better.

Despite its simple plot, untrained acting, and low budget production there’s something of genius in “The Whole Shootin’ Match”. It’s a real slice of middle Americana. The characters aren’t stupid, even though they probably aren’t highly educated. They may not have made anything of their lives, but not for want of trying. And in many ways, their struggle is everyone’s struggle. They struggle against their place in the world, their own selfish choices, and elements that are also beyond their control. But through it all they maintain their desire for more in life.

Ghostbusters (1984) ***½
Director: Ivan Reitman
Writers: Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, William Atherton, Ernie Hudson

The main reason no “Ghostbusters” movie will ever be as good as the original is because it was in that film that they had their unrepeatable stroke of genius. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is unequivocal comedic genius. Making a big Michelin Man like image into what is supposed to be a giant Earth destroying monster, with his perpetually smiling face, is something that cannot be topped, no matter how hard you try. I certainly hope that “Ghostbusters 3” will live up to the original in terms of combining comedy with state of the art special effects. While the special effects will most likely be mind blowing, the current atmosphere in movies suggests that the melding of that with comedy just won’t be up to the snuff of 80s filmmaking. This is one of the few areas where I feel 80s filmmaking has yet to be matched, this notion of turning every genre into a comedy.

Machete (2010) ***½
Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis
Writers: Robert Rodriguez, Álvaro Rodríguez
Starring: Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Segal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Shea Whigham, Lindsay Lohan

“Machete” was one of the lost gems of 2010. Released on the dead zone weekend of the Labor Day holiday, “Machete” marks Robert Rodriguez’s latest tribute to 70s grindhouse cinema. Inspired by the fake trailer he made for the “Grindhouse” double feature he made with Quentin Tarantino, “Machete” follows the exploits of an ex-Mexican Federalé who finds himself involved in a political plot in Texas to elect a corrupt Senator funded by a Mexican drug lord. It’s filled with the same exploitational material that made his “Planet Terror” a jovial guilty pleasure. The violence is gratuitous and plentiful. Women appear nude just to expose their breasts to the audience. The dialogue is cliché and purposefully laughable. And the whole thing is an absurd exorcise in style that is much more fun to watch than it has any right to be. The filmmakers are even able to get a message about illegal immigration into the mix.

Read my original review here.


Alan Bacchus said...

If there's one certainty in this world, it's that Ghostbusters 3 (if it ever comes to fruition) will be TERRIBLE.

Andrew D. Wells said...

I'm not so sure. I don't have high hopes. Let's just get that on the record. But, Aykroyd and Ramis are smart comedians, they just might be able to pull it off. And I don't think Murray and Weaver would jump on board if it didn't at least sound like a good idea. However, it is doubtful.

SD said...

Oh, "The Whole Shootin’ Match” is a work of beauty. Was that your first time you've seen it? The film itself feels drunk--it shoots too wild, laughs too loudly and exposes too many raw nerves. Not too mention it drive Redford to start Sundance.

Andrew D. Wells said...

SD - Yes, that was the first time I've seen it, although I had read a bit about it and Eagle Pennell before. Raw is a good way to describe it. Drunk is too, but I just loved how it doesn't play judge the characters. It just presents them. They're so genuine.