zustifer: (comics: zippy ha ha incongruous)
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), Nagisa Oshima. Feb 10, 9pm. View count: One.
Laitakaupungin valot (AKA Lights in the Dusk, 2006), Aki Kaurismäki. Feb 11, 4pm. View count: One.
The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Mark Dindal. Feb 26, 3pm. View count: One.

Well, okay, this is a weird progression, from bleak awfulness to glib doofiness, but let's do it.

Merry Xmas was a rough one. Somehow I'd never seen this, despite it starring not only David Bowie but Beat Takeshi and Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of my favorite musicians ever since I learned about YMO in college. So I finally rectified the situation, finding that, indeed, it's not a fun movie. It's about a POW camp during WWII, and nearly everyone ends up broken, or dead, or about to be dead. The soundtrack is rather wonderful (I do love Sakamoto); it does a fantastic job of mirroring the grinding awfulness of POW life, along with small strains of defiance or prettiness.
Much is made of the mutual incomprehensibility of the Japanese and the British. A significant amount of time is expended in each trying to make the other understand.

Lights in the Dusk is, from what I understand, typical of Kaurismäki's work, in that it's about The Little Guy and how he gets screwed in daily life. It follows a security guard through his screwing-over by a rich cabal who want to pin a jewelry heist on him. I mostly enjoyed this due to its finnish quotidian details, as the plot was sort of uninterestingly predictable and, in one spot in particular, almost insulting. The interiors were nice, though.

The Emperor's New Groove is another one of those 'dude is selfish and mean and then, through the magic of friendship, learns the error of his ways and becomes Good' things that Disney loves a lot. I was surprised by the way every lead voice actor was readily recognizable, and I'm definitely sad that Eartha Kitt can't be in more movies. (I'm also sad that she didn't really get to turn on the evil, vocally, in the way that we all know that she can. She's more of a Malificent than she is one of these flashes-in-the-pan.) John Goodman also didn't really fit the visual role he was given -- his voice has too much dignity and gravitas. Patrick Warburton, was, however, the right choice, as ever. And David Spade was fine. Visually the whole thing wasn't anything monstrously spectacular, but it was pretty enough (I feel as if not enough research was done into Mayan visual motifs, though). It did, however, nag at me that everyone was so white. Very strange. At least the story seemed to be aware of itself, which is worth something.
I can't shake the feeling that this entire movie's philosophy/zeitgeist reflection can be summed up by these few seconds of video.
zustifer: (comics: creeper)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Tomas Alfredson. Jan 28, 7pm. View count: One.

Oh man am I pleased I got to see this on the big screen. I'd had some people tell me that they didn't understand it, and that it didn't work for them, but I did not have that experience. I'm sure there are some things I missed, but it mattered not at all, because of the character-centric tone of the movie. The characters had behavior that showed what they wanted -- and so I didn't need to know what the intricate machinations were doing at all times, because all of the characters had direction. If that makes sense. (Honestly even having said that, I didn't feel completely at sea or anything -- I'd wager that a lot of the backstory/intricacies were elided from this two-hour version of the story, and perhaps the remnant feeling of there being a lot of delicate navigation of the spy landscape remained without the actual events to back this up. This could have contributed to people's feelings of not knowing what was going on.)

Stylistically, this one's a beaut. It recalls my favorite slow-burn, distancing directors (Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders in a way, Coppola (specifically for The Conversation, which TTSS positively stunk of. This is the right choice). It also has a distinct european flavor to it, which makes sense given the director, but I'd forgotten this when I was watching, and I still kept thinking "What if von Trier had directed The Conversation in 1974?" (And had also done a good job, which is not always the case with von Trier. (Also: the original novel came out in 1974. Wheels within wheels.)) There's a lot of outside-looking-in, and distancing shots through frame-within-a-frame windows and doorways. Flat, square camera angles, with beautiful natural light sometimes and unpleasant institutional lighting others. The props and set dressing alone deserve a significant amount of praise; the early 1970s stylishness was impeccable, not to mention the effort that must have been expended in tracking down all the antiquated machines and institutional details.

There's little spy glamour in this piece. It's chiefly concerned with middle-aged men and their only subtly dramatic actions. There isn't a lot of hand-holding of the audience content-wise, either. Even Gary Oldman's acting is barely there, but still excellent (recalling Gene Hackman in The Conversation, for sure). I approve of all of these things.

Weirdly, even though the tone was good and the details seemed believable, it was obvious that this film is not from a british perspective. This adds a secondary amount of distance from the events -- a foreignness. I attribute a fair bit of the atmosphere to this thematically appropriate aspect; an underlying sense of not belonging is only right for a story immersed in (but barely focused on in its own right) spy culture. I'm going to read the book on which this movie was based, but I'm actually a little worried that it won't hold up without these visual/atmospheric layers.
zustifer: (comics: achewood: what death looks like)
The Secret of Kells (2009), Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey. Jan 19, 9pm. View count: One.
Conan the Barbarian (1982), John Milius. Jan 20, 9pm. View count: One and a half.
Thieves' Highway (1949), Jules Dassin. Jan 27, 7:30pm. View count: One.
The Breaking Point (1950), Michael Curtiz. Jan 27, 9:30pm. View count: One.

The Secret of Kells I quite enjoyed. It was very prettily done, and interestingly paced. It definitely rejected some of the Disney Movie Pattern that we've come to expect is necessary when it comes to kids' movies, which was welcome to me, at any rate. The characters were fun and not very cliched, and they avoided a lot of stereotypes. Recommended.

Conan on the other hand was not great. I don't think I'd seen it all the way through previously, but it was sort of hard to take most of it seriously. It didn't help that a guy was present at the viewing who kept trying to convince everyone of the movie's merits. This made me like it less in general. There were a few things I respect about it: the love interest looked like a regular person, as oppposed to a cartoon, and could fight; Max von Sydow; the camel punch was sort of funny; sorta liked all the goofy snakes. Maybe I should see this again sometime with less of a grudge against it.

Thieves' Highway (via Noir City) was a pretty good hard-luck noir with some real dark moments. The female lead was uniquely great, although I think they tried to (hilariously) pawn her off as 'french' for whatever reason. I'm definitely a sucker for a story about a guy trying to take care of his parents, or trying to correct an injustice done to them, and this film made me a sucker. It was pretty good.

The Breaking Point wasn't as deft or compassionate, really, but it was fine enough. The troublemaking lady of the picture was in The Day the Earth Stood Still (yay!) and The Fountainhead (boo), interestingly. The coolest moments in this one came from the various children in the story, who'd comment on the action in amusing and apt ways. And one of them was involved in a not-quite-underplayed moment at the end which came pretty close to choking me up at its emotional cruelty. The film had some good moments.
zustifer: (Default)
Woman of the Year (1942), George Stevens. Jan 7, 7pm. View count: One.

This one's sort of a doozy. It comes worryingly close to looking as if the movie's trying to paint Katharine Hepburn in the light of a successful lady who needs to stop being successful because she is married now. Even as it actually turns out, there're undertones of that idea, and obvious ones, too. The allegations that the movie is showing that one has to put in work to make any endeavor happen are sort of founded, but then there're also lines wherein Katharine Hepburn is explicitly called 'not a woman,' seemingly in reaction to actions of hers that are not concerned with the home. The money here is not entirely where the mouth is. The man half of the couple is often petulant and not inclined to talk about what his problems are. There's a couple of clever decisions made, such as not translating or subtitling foreign languages spoken (and Hepburn acquits herself pretty well in german and greek, as far as I could tell), Katharine Hepburn came off pretty believable as a really successful lady, even to the point that her core of wanting to be in a 1950s relationship seemed to ring a little false.
All in all, um, I don't know. I don't really feel like the merits were enough to make me think of it in an overall positive light. The writing didn't really strike me as being massively impressive, and the characters were cop-outs.
zustifer: (Default)
"White Christmas" (1954), Michael Curtiz. Jan 2, 8pm. View count: One.

Fluffy, but reasonably well-handled. A couple of old army buddies who have some kind of Danny Kaye/Bing Crosby singing/dancing theater career going meet up with a "sister act" whose one-song repertoire is about them being sisters. One of them is Rosemary Clooney, and the other is a very breakable-looking lady who does the dancing for the act. They all go to Vermont so that they can sing the word "snow" a lot, and do a Let's Put On a Show show which has some purpose that I can't remember. It was cheery and harmless, and really all the main characters are good at their jobs. Pros, all of 'em.

Hey, guys! I'm, um, having a blog here! I guess! Mirrored for now, but... maybe not forever? I don't know.

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Karla Z

February 2012

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