Sunday, July 27, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (7/20/14 - 7/26/14)

Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis) **** - As it turns out, 1967's Bonnie & Clyde wasn't the first great film inspired by the story. This one came first. It's only somewhat loosely inspired by the Bonnie and Clyde story in this film-noirish story of two gun-loving lovers who eventually become notorious bank robbers. It's not quite as famous as the Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway version but this film definitely deserves more attention despite the fact that it follows pretty much the same familiar tropes of anti-heroes on the run from the law. It is kind of B-movie-ish and pulpy but the performances are actually pretty great and the filmmaking is quite astounding, even a bit avant-garde.

They Came Together (David Wain) ***1/2 - After watching this film, I wondered why this didn't get a wider release. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are very well-known names supported by a mostly well-known supporting cast. And it's a very funny movie. Then I realize something: It's quite unmarketable to the masses. It's basically an often hilarious spoof of romantic comedies where every trope and cliche is lampooned and parodied in a very vaguely self-aware way where you either get its wavelength at once and laugh your ass off or you get lost. This comes from the creators of Wet Hot American Summer which has a similar comedic sensibility. I found this film often hilarious although some parts are hit and miss but when it hits, it's full-on hit. That said, it may not be for everybody. I highly recommend it though.

Hercules (Brett Ratner) **1/2 - I think lowered expectations made me like this a bit more than I thought I would. It is after all a film starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and directed by Brett Ratner. The film sort of deconstructs the Hercules legend with an attempt to ground it in reality and make him a more, umm, believable historical figure rather than a figure of myth and legend. It's not bad. But it's still far from great. The Rock is actually a fairly decent actor, when he's being a badass action hero who occasionally drops a zinger or two, but when he is asked to do something emotional and deeper, he falls sadly short. The same can be said with Brett Ratner. I can tell he wants this to be a sort of modern-day version of Jason and the Argonauts and whatnot. The man is trying to be Ridley Scott at certain points as well (even hiring his costume designer). But he's just not a talented enough filmmaker to balance the tone of serious and goofy which was often jarring. Ian McShane steals the show though.

Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker) *** - This film documents the 1967 Monterey Pop Music Festival with line-up of great bands and performers including the Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Ravi Shankar, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc. And the music is really mostly great and the film is well-made with some interesting visuals (which could be enhanced by certain substances, if you know what I mean) Even though I know that this predates Woodstock and Woodstock, the documentary, I can't help but feel that this is Woodstock-lite. Although it does contain footage of Peter Towsnhend and Jimi Hendix destroying their guitars on stage. That's something!

Man's Castle (Frank Borzage) ***1/2 - An online friend who is probably one of the biggest cinephiles I know ranked this as her #1 film of all time. I wouldn't go that far personally. But it's certainly a very good movie. This was made in 1933 during the Great Depression and a lot of mainstream Hollywood films would make movies focusing on rich people or musical fantasies or about the past. This one actually made a film about its present and its protagonists are poor people. It's a simple story about a con man/hoodlum/two-bit hustler who meets and falls in love (though he tries to deny it) with a young lady. Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young both give marvelous performances and the film balances the comic and tragic elements expertly. It's far from my all-time favorite but it is still a highly recommend film.

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