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09 February 2006 @ 03:47 pm
January 2006 Retrospective  
Might as well go ahead and post this. Finally finished writing it last night, and having it unposted isn't helping my mood. These are not reviews, by the way...they're reactions.

Night and the City (1953)
Yes! First movie this year, and it's one on my Movies-To-Watch-This-Year list. Off to a good start. Richard Widmark is a small-time schemer. At first you think he's actually somebody in the underworld of London, but he's small fry. He's nobody. But he's got a plan to be somebody, and this plan involves breaking the local monopoly on boxing, which is the major gambling outlet. The plot is very intricate; everybody is double-crossing everybody, playing mind-games, and setting each other up. I actually had to watch parts of it twice to make sure I was getting the flow of the story properly, because alliances shifted so quickly and often. It does have a very "old crime movie" sort of feel, which I point out because modern viewers are likely to find the style archaic. But it's worth it to put yourself in the 1950s mindset and remind yourself that the film is groundbreaking in its use of on-location sets, relatively unknown British actors (especially to American audiences), etc. The interview with director Jules Dassin included on the Criterion DVD is very worthwhile...Dassin was one of the artists blacklisted in the McCarthy era, and producer Darryl Zanuck basically threw this project at Dassin, and told him to run away to London and film it, which he did over the course of just a few weeks.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
This basically...was not very good. I'm in a nice mood today, so I won't finish that the way I originally thought. I've read and enjoyed the book, but it's not one my all-time favorites, plus I'd heard a lot of negative things about the film, so my expectations weren't high. Yet I didn't expect it to be quite as difficult to keep my attention on it as it was. I was making up things to do so as not to get bored. It was dull, confusing, boring, and flat. The part when Bill Nighy is showing him the under-construction-earth and they're shooting above the surface on the little platform was cool. Other than that, not so much. Oh, and the part where it finally hit me that Zooey Deschanel and Emily Deschanel are sisters. (Seriously, I don't know why I hadn't connected the two before...it's just such a common last name, you know? But it wasn't until I saw this and was thinking, "wow, Zooey Deschanel really looks an awful lot like Emily Deschanel on Bones...wait...Deschanel..." Yeah. I'm a moron.) And the robot was amusing. All in all, it should have been a much better movie than it was--very good source material, very good cast, nice special effects--and yet, flat.

Madagascar (2005)
This movie has lost its audience. By that, I don't mean that it once had an audience, and it no longer does. I mean that it doesn't know who its audience is. It doesn't know if it's a kid's film with a message about friendship and contentment, an experimental film trying new styles of animation, a neurotic comedy about personality clashes, or a film buff's dream with references to too many classic films to count. It tries to be them all (mostly the first and last ones), and doesn't really manage to be any of them. When the lion falls to his knees on the island and shouts "You blew it up! Darn you all to heck!" it's a recreation of the end of the 1968 Planet of the Apes, down to the lion's movements and the camera angles (and was, in fact, the moment I enjoyed most in the film). But how many kids these days will have seen Planet of the Apes, even the new one, much less the 35-year-old classic? And on the other hand, how many adults will enjoy the intertexual references enough to overcome the frivolity and pointlessness of the main plot? It is certainly possible for a film to appeal both to children and adults, and both to those who recognize the references and those who don't. Take Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride. It's just as enjoyable whether you recognize that the caterpillar is Peter Lorre or not. Or many other things. Madagascar might please kids, but it only frustrated this film-buff adult.

Match Point (2005)
Wow, was this theatre packed out. I seriously thought I wasn't going to get a ticket, or a place to sit. Apparently more people than I expected were interested to see if Woody Allen could still make a good film. The verdict: He can, but it's not AS good as the hype. It's more taut and less self-involved than the typical Woody film. Scarlett Johanssen, as always, is absolutely amazing. Jonathan Rhys Meyer broods and deceives, but while he's excellent at smoldering, he doesn't do much else...it was a little hard to believe that both women in the movie love him almost immediately, and continue to love him after the initial "he's smoldering" phase. The beginning was overdone, and the ending rushed. My favorite bits were all the parallels to Crime and Punishment, which I felt could've been explored further (instead, the film just stops), but I can also see that Woody didn't want to overdo the connection and end up making Match Point little more than an imaginative adaptation of C&P. You know who I really liked? Tom, Chloe's brother. I would've taken him over whats-his-face-main-character any day (Chris, was it?). I'd like to see it again, just to see what my reactions are once I know how it ends. Overall, I'd say I was slightly disappointed largely because my expectations were unproportionately high...it was still a very good film, it's just that it could've been even better. I definitely liked the "match point" metaphor, and the moment when he throws the ring toward the river and it bounces back? Perfect.

The Big Heat (1953)
This is one of those film noir classics that I've been meaning to see for like ten years and just haven't. But now I have. Go me! I'd forgotten that this is the one where Gloria Grahame gets scalding coffee thrown in her face by her thug boyfriend. All the film history books mention that. Anyway. This is another one where you kind of have to put yourself back into a 1950s mindset, but not quite as much as Night and the City. Glenn Ford is a pretty understated actor, and Gloria Grahame is honestly excellent in everything she's in, and here she's coming off a Best Supporting Actress Oscar win the year before for The Bad and the Beautiful, which is on my rewatch list. It's directed by Fritz Lang, so look out for genuinely German Expressionism-influenced angles and shadows, and they're here, starting from the very first shot. The story, however, doesn't altogether fit with the fatalistic tone of typical noir films...the hero is a detective investigating an apparent suicide by a high-ranking official; before long he's thrown off the case (and the police force) for not buying the suicide party line, his family is threatened, and he loses everything. So far, so noir. But it doesn't have the depressing undertone of "this is the only way it can be," and he doesn't succumb to despair...there's not even a deterministic voice-over. The dynamic between Ford and his wife is really well-done, even in the few scenes we see it. All in all, a film that is quietly good while you're watching it, but gets better and better the more you think about it.

Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
Comparisons with Spellbound are pretty much inevitable: documentary about a bunch of kids making their way to the big year-end competition in the arena of their choice (spelling or dancing). In a way, these comparisons are unfortunate, because while the two films have similarities in both style and content, they really are different, and have a different focus. Mad Hot Ballroom concentrates on a middle-school program in public schools in and around New York City which teaches fourth and fifth-graders ballroom dancing. The kids move from shy and awkward, especially when the boys and girl have to dance together, to confident and precise when the competition rolls around. It's really about the impact a simple program like this can have in the lives of these mostly underpriveleged, largely non-Caucasian kids. The informal interviews with the children are especially provocative, as these eleven and twelve-year-olds are talking about how they hope they will find boys to date who are good to them and "don't sell drugs." The teachers are as empathetic as the kids, and their concern and love for these children radiates through the screen. All that said, as a movie, it doesn't come close to matching Spellbound. The kids' backgrounds are too similar...there are some differences, of course--one school is almost completely made of kids from the Dominican Republic, one school is largely black, another is pretty evenly mixed between black and white, some are clearly better off than others--but you don't get the range of backgrounds that made Spellbound so fascinating. Also, Spellbound followed ten or twelve kids, some of whom got cut fairly early, but there were still two or three in the top ten that we knew and were rooting for at some level. By the time we get to the final competition in Mad Hot Ballroom, there's only one school still in it that we know and care about. None of this is to say that it's not a worthwhile film. But it comes across more as an educational "here's how some NYC schools are serving the needs of their students and communities through an unusual avenue" than as a feature film.

Reefer Madness (2005)
OMG, so funny. I've had this around for several months, but hadn't gotten around to waching it until I wanted to check quality before sending a copy to rachelmack. Once I started watching, I couldn't stop. It's just so ludicrous and over-the-top, the dialogue, the acting, the songs, the plot itself...now I'm interested to see the original 1938 film this is based on, because apparently a lot of the dialogue is lifted directly from it. And in that case, it wasn't intentionally funny, like this one is. Of course, the loss of Kristen Bell singing will have to be sustained. My new rule: Kristen should sing in everything. Yes.

Munich (2005)
Let's see, what to say, what to say?  I wasn't familiar with the event, the hostage situation at the Munich Olympics that ended in the deaths of the hostage Israeli team as well as most of the Palestinian attackers.  (My knowledge of post-WWII history frankly sucks, a situation I need badly to rectify...I was vaguely aware of something happening at the Munich Olympic games, but as far as what it was or who was involved, this was really my first exposure to it.)  Really, though, that's just the beginning of Munich, which focuses mostly on the Mossad initiative to assassinate those who planned the attack.  Eric Bana, as the Mossad operative in charge of the European assassination team, is impressive as a man torn between loyalty to his country and his distaste for killing and his growing suspicion of Mossad.  I've read several critiques of the film saying that Spielberg doesn't take sides, which lessens the impact of the film.  I don't see this at all.  True, he doesn't come down clear on one side or the other...but exactly how one sorts through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and comes down solidly on one side I'm not sure--even leaving aside issues of political correctness, the issues are simply too complex and too tied up with 1300 years of religious and political conflict.  It isn't an easy answer, and this movie recognizes that--while it is clearly from the Israeli viewpoint, it doesn't let the Israelis off scott-free, either.  And really, it's about Avner (Bana) and his own personal experiences stemming from Munich, and not a universal political statement.  I've also heard complaints that it's overlong, and I didn't experience that, either...I walked out of the theatre shocked that it was three hours later, because it didn't feel like that long.  *shrug*  I liked it, thought it was very well done (not up to Schindler's List, but then, not much is), and my already high respect for Eric Bana is now even higher.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Duuuuuude.  Johnny Depp was freaky in this.  I mean, I love me some Johnny Depp, but damn.  I'm not a huge fan of the original, which means two things.  One, I didn't have huge expectations for this, because part of the reason I don't care for the original is a general distaste for the story (although, part of that comes from it freaking me the hell out when I was like six and seriously thought that all the other kids were dead and turned it off in horror before the part where you find out that they're all going to be fine and they'd just learned some much-needed lessons).  Two, I'm not attached to the original, so I'm not a purist about it, and I don't care about the changes in tone and additions and stuff that Tim Burton made.  Largely, I liked the changes, myself.  But to really compare them, I'd have to see them both in close succession, and given than I don't care about them that much, not likely to happen any time soon.  That said, I was really in the mood for something bright, colorful, and with enjoyable music.  And this fit the criteria, so it was a good viewing experience.  Except I think I need to see Finding Neverland stat, so I can get hot!lovable!tear-jerking Johnny Depp back in my head instead of creepy!fatherissues!Johnny Depp.  *twitch*

A Year at the Movies - Kevin Murphy
Kevin Murphy (the man behind, or rather, under, the robot Tom Servo on Mystery Science Theatre 3000) is the coolest person ever. He somehow convinced a publisher to support his writing this book, which involved Kevin going to see a movie in a theatre every day for a year, traveling the world to experience film festivals, theaters in Finland, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, London, the Cook Islands, Hollywood, New York, Italy, the smallest theatre in the world, an igloo theatre, a theatre north of the arctic circle, etc. I'm sorry, but this would be the best job ever. Of course, there's a little more to it than just watching movies. A lot of interesting things about the way we experience movies, and what is wrong with the current multiplex mentality get highlighted in the series of 52 weekly chapters. I laughed, I cried, I got a lot of good movie recs, and I was inspired to see more movies in theatres, and in better theatres.

Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
Harold Bloom used Invisible Cities as an example in his book How to Read and Why, and it was one of the more interesting-sounding ones he covered. Usually I can't say this, but in this case the reality exceeded the anticipation. Bloom considered it as a collection of short stories, and I suppose that's where it fits best if you have to categorize it, but this book laughs in the face of attempted pidgeon-holing.  The underlying conceit is that Marco Polo and Kublai Khan are in Khan's garden, and Marco is telling the emperor about the multitude of cities he has visited around Khan's empire and beyond. All of the cities bear a woman's name, and each chapter, or story, or section (most of them only a page or two long, or even less), is about a different city. As Marco tells about the cities, we don't get realistic descriptions or facts and figures--what we get are meditations on memory, on desire, on names, on time, on many other things, until the cities become a dreamlike metaphor.  It's mesmerizing, it's beautiful, it's intriguing, it's thought-provoking, it's elusive, it's ambiguous, and it's unforgettable. Once in a while I'm reading a book and I suddenly think "Oh my goodness, this is a book that I will remember forever and come back to and reread many more times, and always get something new out of it." This was one of those books. I wanted to write down quotes, but there were too many, and the beauty of the prose builds on itself to the point that you simply cannot take just a sentence here or a sentence there...you must savor the entire paragraph, the entire chapter, the entire city.  Read it.  It's short.

Small World - David Lodge
A slight yet mostly entertaining novel set in the world of jet-setting academic conferences.  The characters are English professors of all varieties...the theorist, the anti-theorist, the Marxist, the young idealist, the feminist, the various proponents of various theoretical positions.  The story, such as it was, vaguely involved the young idealist chasing a girl all over the world, from conference to conference, intersecting with other academics at said conferences.  Yeah, pretty much a soap opera with high-falutin' and obtuse academic language.  Relatively innocuous, but certainly nothing special.

On Literature - Umberto Eco
After having read and loved The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, I was already pretty sure I would enjoy reading some of Eco's non-fiction essays, and I wasn't wrong.  From general treatises on the function of literature to introspective examinations of the way he himself writes and the influence that other writers, especially Jorge Luis Borges, had on him to theoretical studies on symbol and style, the breadth and depth of his sheer knowledge and insight are captivating.  And that's not even mentioning the one of the history of falsehood (which touches a lot of the same occult ground as Foucault's Pendulum) and the one dealing with medieval mindsets.  I don't agree with him on everything, but I find his theories of intertextuality to be among the more interesting and persuasive theories I've read.  And he totally won me over by one thing: he defended theory in one essay with a defense that makes even me appreciate theory in a much deeper way than I thought I ever could, while in another essay he debunks the theory-as-be-all-and-end-all and in yet another, he maintains levels of close textual analysis that can't be beat.  I'm extremely excited about reading every single thing he's written.
Professional Basingstoke enthusiast.dachelle on February 9th, 2006 10:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Match Point - TOM! Yes! This is where my Matthew Goode crush came from. The whole movie, I kept thinking, "Where's Tom? What's Tom doing? When will he be back? We need more Tom!" I basically agree with you on everything else about the film, too, including the ring tossing scene - that was great.
Jandyfaithx5 on February 10th, 2006 03:20 am (UTC)
Tom was the best. I just wanted Chris to go away and have Tom be the main character. Although, then, no story...because he never would've gone all Raskolnikov. Nola was an idiot for letting Tom get away, although he was probably better off without her. However hot she may be.
bright as yellowidreamofpeace on February 9th, 2006 11:41 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen Munich, but I've heard the criticism about Spielberg's not taking sides and I think that that makes it MORE powerful, especially since he's a Jew and he'd be expected to do so. It's true that the blame in the whole Israeli/Palestinian conflict cannot be put completely on either side's shoulders. People find that odd about me since I identify very strongly as a Jew, both religiously and ethnicly. But I have a brain; I don't follow mindlessly. I applaud Spielberg's attempt and I REALLY want to see this movie. *Damn movies being $10*
Jandyfaithx5 on February 10th, 2006 03:27 am (UTC)
I don't find it odd about you. You're very level-headed and open-minded...just because you strongly believe something doesn't believe you blindly believe it. And you're exactly right. If Spielberg had strongly taken a side, it would've been much more propoganda-ish and ultimately less powerful and interesting. Can't you use your student ID to get cheaper movie tickets? Or are movies that expensive in L.A? It's usually $6.50 for student tickets here, $8.50-9.00 normally. Of course, if you get popcorn and soda, that adds another $10 or $11 on...I rarely do that.

Once you do see Munich, make sure you post about it...I'm interested in your reaction.
bright as yellowidreamofpeace on February 10th, 2006 06:04 am (UTC)
Yes, yes on the believing but not blindly believing.

Movie tix are $10-12. Only certain places accept student ids and then they're around $8.50. So, to add to all the other incredibly expensive things here... My mom is coming tomorrow and I might beg her to take me:)
Dapsdaps on February 11th, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about Match Point, and I thought that moment where the ring bounces back off the fence was brilliant too. Also totally agree about Tom, though that was just because I thought the actor who played him did a really great job, better than Jonathan Rhys Meyers by far. Though in a way maybe Meyers did a good job because my friend kept pointing out to me during the movie how obvious it was that he was acting, but since the character himself was acting all the way through it too, it makes sense. This movie sparked more discussion among my friends than any other we've seen in ages - especially how seemingly insane it was for Chris to jeapardise the life he had created for himself by having an affair, especially when he clearly didn't like Nola enough to sacrifice his lifestyle. He really deserved no sympathy at all, and yet I was really scared on his behalf that he might get caught. It definitely had its flaws, but I found it really, really interesting.

On Munich, I had read tonnes on a conservative blog that I read that the movie was very anti-Israel and puts terrorists on a moral equivalence with the people trying to kill terrorists, and although I never heard anyone say this, apparently some on the other side of the issue have said that it's completely biased in favour of Israel. It was clearly neither, and was very, very balanced. On such a complicated and difficult issue, I suppose Spielberg did the right thing. After watching it I did find that there had been something missing from it, and that maybe it was too balanced and too free from propagandising that it left the movie without anything to say. On thinking more about it, and especially viewing it as Avner's story, it works fine. I guess it seems like this story could have been told without any real-life historical setting. Avner's story would have worked fine had the terrorists been fictional, and had the movie been free of any of any Israel/Palestine issues. Since it did choose to use that event and that conflict as its foundation, I guess I just wanted a little more from it.

I also did think it ran about half an hour longer than it needed to - some of it seemed stretched out a bit to me. Despite all of that I still think it was a really excellent movie, and Eric Bana was just incredible, I just didn't think it was quite as great as it could have been. :)
(Anonymous) on February 11th, 2006 10:45 pm (UTC)
A conservative blog said that? They must not have actually watched it, because honestly. *sigh*

And yeah, I really can't believe Chris let it go that far with Nola, although I think Chloe's obsession with having a child pushed him away a lot. Still. Dumbass. And I totally wanted him to get caught. :)
Jandyfaithx5 on February 11th, 2006 10:46 pm (UTC)
Apparently LJ decided to log me out unexpectedly. That anon comment is me.
Dapsdaps on February 11th, 2006 08:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, and about movie ticket prices, my cinema BADLY needs to branch out to America so that you guys could get Unlimited cards! I think Britain seems to get a better deal anyway when it comes to those. Wednesdays are 2for1 because of a mobile phone company promotion, many cinemas will over discount tickets on Tuesdays or some other mid-weekday. $10 prices for movies would result in me having seen soooo fewer movies in the cinema.
Jandyfaithx5 on February 11th, 2006 10:49 pm (UTC)
Yes, it totally does! Well, we do have some discounts...like I said to Lis, students and seniors get usually $6.00 or $6.50, and matinees are $6.00. Some theatres have rush hour shows for $5.50-$6.00, and there are a couple of cheap theatres that show movies a month or two after they come out for $2.00.

But the unlimited card would be the best. How much does that cost? Is it by month?