Collected Dailies 6

In the Name of the King (2007) – If I were king of the movies and you wanted to make one of those tales in which the guy’s wife and/or kid are foully murdered or kidnapped, to set the guy up for,  and loose him on, a 90-minute quest of  enraged vengeance-taking audience-pleasin violence, I’d give you five minutes of screen time to complete that family-devastating prologue. Wife and kid must be dead or kidnapped by 5:00 into the film. That should be plenty of time. She’s beautiful. Modest cleavage. He loves her. He loves the kid. He spends his days growing turnips and splitting firewood, whilst, as it happens, he’s the greatest martial-arts swordsman in the kingdom. So by 5:01 of the film, not one second later, I want action. Why must I watch him teach the kid how to harvest turnips, when the kid is going to be pushing up turnips directly? I don’t want to wait longer than five minutes for him to shovel into the grave the strangely rich, soft, black, loamy soil that he’s managed to find in a totally rocky landscape. No later than that for his teeth-gritting oaths, etc. Ray Liotta is out there, waiting, one of our current great, if not greatest, vengeance magnets for guys like Statham… Question raised by movie: how do you get your boomerang to kill somebody and still come back to you?

***

When Deliverance (1972) came out, my dad and I went to see it together. Afterwards (afterward), I asked him what he thought about it, because he grew up in the hills, whereas I grew up down on the flats. He said, “It was realistic, except for the people.” I was thinking about that tonight as I watched Winter’s Bone (2010). That is, I see what he meant… The movie reminded me how cold it can get in winter. Especially if you’re living in a house with a chimney that’s come away from the wall… The first image that comes up for me when I think about the folks around about where we lived: we knew a family that kept a little store on the highway and one night when we were leaving their house after dinner, the mom stood in the doorway and called, “Ya’ll come back, hear?” Everybody  always said that – we said that – so I don’t know why I happen to remember her so well. She had her apron on… I’m adding this movie to my top-5 movies-where-somebody-loses-a-tooth list.

***

A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) (1946) – Having watched Powell and Pressburger’s Colonel Blimp, I thought I’d try another, and the FilmSpotters raved about this one. RAF pilot bails out without a parachute, should be dead, but his “conductor” (guy standing in for Death) loses him in the fog and he survives. The movie immediately put me in mind of A Guy Named Joe (1943), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946),  and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), movies in which men almost die, die and come back, or just plain die, but then find themselves in touch with both the living and the beyond. During the U.S. Civil War, there was a dramatic increase in interest in the supernatural. Psychics abounded. So many young men taken from their families. Could they at least be contacted one last time? Could they tell those left behind where they had gone? It made me wonder whether these movies were a similar response, to the multitudes killed in WWII. In the present, we’ve had a spate of shows in which the protagonists are dead but don’t know it. Hope that’s not a sign of something… Lots of closeups. Raymond Massey’s craggy face. What, on the human face, constitutes a crag? In the end, the movie turns on the question, should an American gal marry an English guy? Argument against: cricket and cold rooms. Rebuttal: Frank Sinatra singing to screaming young females. Then a bunch of stuff about American exceptionalism that would ring true and delight today’s tea-party members.

***

I’m one of those who reads Pride and Prejudice again every so often (and Persuasion too), and has watched many a miniseries of it, as well as a few feature films, including the Keira Knightley misfire. It was with great delight that my eye fell on Lost in Austen (2008) on the library shelves. I plucked it up and was careful not to read any reviews of it, because I didn’t want to be told that it was a stinker; let me savor my anticipation of a little fresh Austen, sort of, and let me find out for myself whether it’s good or  disappointment, in due course. LIA is an English miniseries in which a young woman, Amanda, , obsessed with P and P, to the exclusion of any interest in her boyfriend, finds herself magically trapped back in time in the Bennett domicile, just at the start of the action in the book. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is thought to be away visiting Amanda’s home at the same time. In other words, British TV has devised a way for us to take one more look at a favorite novel, from a novel perspective. (Elizabeth is played by Gemma Arterton, prepping for her  roles as Io in Clash of the Titans (2010) and Tamina, Queen of the Persians (or whatever) in Prince of Persia (2010))… Later: This is great. So unexpected. A revisit with tweaks. Hat off to Guy Andrews, who shares the writing credits with, naturally, Jane Austen. Notes: Mrs. Bennett isn’t hare-brained enough in this version; Hugh Bonneville seemed to be channeling Sir A. Hopkins a time or two; every so often, as Elliot Cowen (6′ 2″) and Jemima Rooper (5′ 3″) argued, Jemima appeared to be staring straight up to meet Elliot’s eye; once or twice, Cowen put me in mind of a young Val Kilmer; the movie includes the expression “Steering the punt from the Cambridge end.”

***

Predators (2010) – Adrien Brody. Makeup and facial prosthetics for the role? Don’t know why, but I like it. Doesn’t look like him. I’ve got an in-law working in makeup; I must ask her about this. They’ve made Brody look just that much less dippy as he assumes the Schwarzenegger role. He lets Poley push him around in Splice (2009) and look what happened to him there. He’s not let some combat-hardened girl push him around this time, nor no alien either… The problem of proportion: as the wild pigs attack, Brody and his mates open fire, the Russian with a gattling gun that expends about a thousand rounds, and next to him the Yakuza popping off a couple of shots with a Sig 9. Sort of like a fireman with a fire hose wide open, and next to him, a companion with a squirt gun… Scene that defines the movie: the band of misfits commences fire and expends enough ammo to stop a battalion. All pause to reload. These guys have enough room in their pockets to provision an armory and none of it shows… As with horror movies, part of the fun is guessing in what order the protagonists will get picked off. The first here is a no brainer if you’re thinking in terms of actor’s contracts and schedules. Other than that, the guy I chose to go first was still kicking after two others had gone down. Take a drink every time you get one wrong… Let’s keep in mind that these Predators hunt Aliens for fun, too, not just humans, another issue of proportion…OK, I was in the ballpark, picked-off-wise. I’ll try to do better in the sequel.

***

Temple Grandin (2010) – Worthy HBO effort. Claire Danes earns her paycheck, going full autistic. Most viewers probably know the general facts presented by this biopic, but it’s interesting and informative to see Grandin’s story realized onscreen. Austin environs stand in for Scottsdale, which seems a little odd if you’re familiar with Scottsdale in the 60s, but that’s a nit. The same trope is cycled multiple times throughout the film: mean, uncaring grammar school kids; mean, uncaring high-school kids; mean, uncaring college kids; mean, uncaring graduate school teachers; mean, uncaring feed-lot workers; so forth. But in each cycle, Grandin takes another step. Lazy screenwriting, but the material overcomes that. This is perhaps the only movie outside the Third Reich with a happy ending based on the improved design of a slaughterhouse.

***

Death at a Funeral (2010) – I heard/read more than once that this remake is funnier than the original. Maybe it is, although I liked the original a lot, and maybe if I had waited longer between watching the two of them, I would have enjoyed the second one more, but plot/action/arc were just too familiar the second time around, deflating the humor of surprise, and so I bailed.

***

Jumping from Crowe’s Robin Hood to FanFan le Tulipe (1952) makes me realize, in contrast at least, how turgid Robin Hood is. Gérard Philipe  and Gina Lollobrigida leap off the screen.

***

Right at Your Door (2006) – Huh? I thought that this was a recent release, but I guess not… My theory is that it was funded by one of the major big-box stores, to get us to go out and stock up on emergency supplies: a dirty, virus-infested series of bombs are detonated in L.A (I had to look up “series is” vs “series are”). The only hope of the locals is to duct-tape their houses to a fare-thee-well. Some time is spent on tape acquisition at the outset. Meanwhile, my spousal unit, during the initial scenes, kept remarking on how unsympathetic the main character was. Made me wonder whether the writer/director planned it that way or not. See, the whole point of the movie  is that the guy tapes himself inside, but his wife is outside, downtown, probably infected with the toxic virus. She makes it home and wants to come in, naturally, virus or no virus; he says no, please curl up out back. So my question is, did the writer/director intend for the guy to be sympathetic at that point or not? Does it matter? He’s running around concerned about his wife in the beginning, so he cares, but it’s tough to make him the nice guy when his wife is outside the door pleading and he goes, Baby, I’m sorry, but… The movie continues. Stuff happens. It’s a movie for our time, a cautionary tale, a horror story, operating on multiple levels, a nice little, have-a-nice-day-but-oh-by-the-way-you’re-screwed movie, sort of like the daily news. Kudos to Chris Gorak, writer/director. May he prosper.

***

I’ve been reading Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, Amy Kelly (1950), for, well, for years, a few lines at a time. I keep the book in a spot where I usually only have time for, say, a half page or less, not being one to dawdle. And now, in Robin Hood (2010), it’s spoiled for me in the first five minutes of the film? Unbelievable… I wasn’t interested in the movie until I listened to an interview with the director, who described the historical research that went into the script-making. I’m a total sucker for historical dramas, so I obtained the movie immediately… Kermode and Mayo have been merciless re Crowe’s accent or accents in this movie. Northumberland residents writing in, Irish-Scottish-Kiwish references made. Good example of ignorance (mine) being bliss: I can’t hear the problem. I’m postponing my plans to become wiser by learning the Northumberlish accent, at least till I’ve finished this movie… Why would a major-league scriptwriter put dialog into these twelfth-century mouths like “We go all the way back, me and him.”  “Stay safe!”  “I love you all to bits!” “Don’t go in harm’s way1” and worst of all, “They’re men of the hood”?… And speaking of accents, William Hurt did just fine in Yellow Handkerchief, with his Louisiana oil-platform speakin. But here, as a Norman noble, he looks pained and wisely lets out his assigned dialog, in barely disguised American, as surreptitiously as possible. King John to Hurt: “What the devil are you doing here?” which is what I was thinking too… How many English are in this movie? Any at all?… Lot of black capes in this movie. Bill Russell wore a black cape. Velvet. You have to be a mighty cool dude to carry that off, and when I saw him in an S.F. restaurant with it on, he was… Request for comment: Does a steel sword pulled quickly from a leather scabbard always give a mighty ringing sound?… Anyway, the history: 1200 A.D. is sort of early to be doing the English/French thing. Is it better to insist on getting the history right, or just go ahead and make a movie full of nonsense because it, at least, introduces the subject?… There is something basicly wrong with this movie, history aside. It’s got the visuals, Ridley Scott in good form, the stars. Was it me, just wanting a Roberto Rossellini cinema history lesson, or was there something more going on here? Perhaps there should have been less history, to mitigate the nonsense. Yes, that’s it.  This is a fundamental good guys/bad guys tale; history isn’t; lose the history… Has someone done a chemistry comparison of the Robin/Marian couples in cinema? Do Crowe and Blanchett have chemistry? Together, I mean. She’s still Queen Elizabeth to me, even if she’s hanging out in the Saxon fields here. Crowe and Blanchett, the beauty and the beast… Flynn and DeHavilland, Connery and Hepburn, Costner and Mastrantonio, Elwes and Yasbeck, Bedford and Evans, Fairbanks and Bennett, Bergin and Thurman, Greene and Driscoll, Greene and O’Farrell, Todd and Rice? Ten couples to watch and rank on the romantic-o-meter. I seem to recall Connery and Hepburn squabbling before one or both of them expires tragically. Bummer! Don’t end a Hood movie with a dead Hood, even if he’s a geezer!… Romance question: when one member of the couple, usually the female in the case of a heterosexual pairing, is grievously or mortally wounded, often with blood on, in, or about the mouth and lips, how often in real life does the couple go into a passionate lingering kiss? Seems like the suffering one would push off weakly and go “Jesus. Please…” weakly… One thing that this R.H. got right: in the ’38 version, Flynn brings down a huge buck and later carries it in to the Sheriff’s banquet hall over his shoulders. The thing would have weighed 500 pounds. In the finally scene of the 2010 R.H., one of his men strolls along with what is essentially a doe over his shoulders. Less dramatic, but there’s good eatin in those does!

***

I had a strong sense that something was wrong with MacGruber (2010) as I was watching it. Maybe something about its mixture of silliness and action violence. Tropic  Thunder (2008) and Pineapple Express (2008) brought that off, but it must be tricky to do.  I frequently found myself, at the beginning for example, relating to the movie as action-only; wherefore the sudden goofiness was then somewhat jarring. Or something. But having said that, I smiled, chuckled, and chortled quite a bit… Val Kilmer. This guy. He’s kind of a mess. Works in anything and everything. And he’s an actor I love to watch. Perhaps the fact that in MacGruber he played a character named Dieter Von Cunth, silent h, helps explain the movie’s R rating… Remind me to research the surname “Wiig.”

***

Splice (2010) – You may be wondering what genes get spliced together to make the critter in this movie. Answer: just the ones necessary to advance the plot… Sarah Polley – what a filmography for someone only 31, and she looks like a normal person. Now she’s been in both my favorite modern series (Slings and Arrows) and a truly silly movie.

***

The Yellow Handkerchief (2008) – Engaging road movie with two  youngsters still fresh to me, Kristen Stewart (oops, turns out I”ve seen her in six other movies, and I have yet to catch a Twilight movie) and Eddie Redmayne, doing an interesting American accent, plus William Hurt, playing that guy who is gruff and uneducated, but does the right thing a couple of times up front to ensure that you like him and root for him in the movie, and who utters a profound screenwriter’s thought from time to time (and the kids get to utter those thoughts, too), but who in flashbacks and the heat of passion commits an accidental  sin or two, for which he seeks forgiveness after serving six years. You know, that guy. Also Maria Bello, taking her clothes off a couple of times, per usual. Great locations along the Mississippi that had me sketching a map of the states as I watched, to see if I could remember the course of the river and its Missouri and Ohio tributaries. Hurt waxes voluble with his Louisiana accent, whereas in Robin Hood, he limits himself (I’m just imagining him standing there in the Hood scenes, telling himself that he’s English royalty.).

***

A lot of my movie-watching choices are inspired by film discussions that I listen to on podcasts such as /Filmcast, B-Movie Cast, Movies 101, Double Feature, etc. Such is the case with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), featured on Filmspotting recently. First thing to impress me in the movie is its color. I wrote a review of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and I remember reading about the care and trouble taken with the color in that movie. Some woman – I forget her name – was the great Technicolor expert, I think. When Speed Racer (2008) came out, I remember a lot of chatter about the color in it (I liked the color, but not enough to finish the movie). We’re living in an age of greater subtlety in color palates, not to mention the ubiquitous blue light, but it’s still a pleasure to feast one’s eyes on the richness of a Colonel Blimp. And what happened to the “r” in “colonel”?

The first startup that I worked for encountered a rough patch and was acquired by the Arthur J. Rank company, which also made Colonel Blimp. Perhaps you’ve seen the big dude hitting the… the gong? Whatever that big cymbal thing is called… I never got to meet Mr. Rank, if he was in fact still living at the time. Rank Co.  eventually sold the company to some awful Texas conglomerate of three letters, the first being D, but I was long gone by then.

It’s remarkable to me that this movie, made in 1942/1943 in England, can be as temperate as it is toward the German people.

***

The Square (2008) – It’s been done many times before and it’ll be done many times again, but mixing a bag of money, adultery, blackmail, arson, lowlifes, dog-eating sharks, general violence, and multiple deaths, well, that’s entertainment!

***

Proof (1991) – Russell Crowe at 27, playing a lot younger. Just a kid. A lot of miles to go, to turn into Robin Hood. Hugo Weaving at 31, maybe playing a bit younger as well. Genevieve Picot, a Tasmanian (and I met another Tasmanian a couple of weeks ago as we waited in line at the Rinconada Children’s Pool), who beguiles the young Crowe.

Advertisements

2 Responses

  1. wait, so did you think the actors in Winter’s Bone werent very convincing? I wouldnt know (thanks to a lack of family vacations to the backwoods of the Ozarks…) but my view was rather biased since I had listened to old Mr. Edelstein rave about character authenticity on Fresh Air…

    • I thought that the actors were convincing and I loved the movie. I was just trying to say that of all the folks I met or lived next to while growing up in the South in the 50s, I never encountered any quite like those in the movie. Although, now that I come to think of it, there was a woman without a nose, and a kid my age with six fingers on one hand.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: