Sunday, August 31, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (8/24/14 - 8/30/14)

The World According to Garp (George Roy Hill) *** - This is my own way of commemorating Robin Williams who sadly passed away a week ago. This is the first film of his which really showcased that he's much more than just a brilliant improv comedian. He can also be a subtle dramatic actor as well. He's of course excellent, as is the cast especially Glenn Close as his mother (who despite being only a few years older than Williams manages to convince you she's his mother with barely any makeup). The film, based on a John Irving novel, feels a bit like a fantasy but it's not. It's just really, really quirky. It mixes quirky elements with more serious darker elements and of course recurring feminist statements contained within, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so. It's a very good film. But I hesitate to call it great.

City Girl (F.W. Murnau) ***1/2 - A waitress in a big city diner falls in love with a country guy visiting the city. They quickly get married and move to the country where she faces his stern father. As I was watching, I thought this is kind of lightweight for a Murnau film. I mean, the director of Nosferatu and Sunrise? But then as it progressed, I saw that it has gotten more complex and darker. It pretty much turned into somewhat of a companion piece of Sunrise. It's not quite as great as that film. He uses some of the same notes but it's still a wonderful film worth checking out since hey, it's a Murnau film.

Boyhood (Richard Linklater) **** - This film has been very much hyped up and talked up ever since people have laid eyes on it. Almost everyone I know loves it. I tried my best to lower my expectations so as not to be too disappointed. I have to say: The praise is definitely earned. Beyond its hook of filming the same group of actors for a couple of weeks once a year for 12 years and with the children literally growing up before our very eyes, this is a journey in the lives of not just a young boy but that of a family (a divorced mom and dad and their two children). All the happy, sad, painful, scary, tragic, triumphant, funny moments that growing up bring. Richard Linklater somehow manages to encapsulate a something magical and universal as seen through the prism of what's essentially someone who's kind of ordinary. There's drama, for sure but Linklater never falls into the trap of being emotionally manipulative or sentimental. Wonderful performances (though, yes, the kid kind of becomes the weak link once he got older but that's an extremely minor quibble). These are one of those films that remind me why I love the cinema. I can't wait to see it again. Best film of 2014 so far.

Anna Christie (Clarence Brown) **1/2 - A young woman who used to be a prostitute finds her estranged father who is a sailor and works for him. Then she falls in love with another sailor. There's really one reason to see this and that's Greta Garbo who plays the title character. She, along with the three main supporting cast, members elevates the material and the often stage-y purely perfunctory direction. There have been better films made with a similar subject before and since. But none of them have Greta Garbo in it though.

Project A (Jackie Chan) ***1/2 - Can you believe I've never seen any of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong films all the way through? Well, it's time to remedy that. I must admit, I really had fun. Here, Jackie Chan plays a guy in the coast guard who must team up with the police to help capture pirates. The plot is kind of lame but of course plot is just an excuse or rather a template for Jackie Chan to show off his unique mixture of exciting, death-defying martial arts and hilarious slapstick comedy. It's all silly fun. Hollywood doesn't quite do justice to what Jackie Chan can do, really.

Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg) **** - Is it wrong for me to say that this feels like Stagecoach set in a train in China instead of the Old West? Well, feels that way at least and that's a compliment. Marlene Dietrich leads an excellent ensemble cast as "Shanghai Lilly", an "escort" of sorts traveling to Shanghai on a train with a group of characters in the middle of a Chinese civil war. The film is superbly crafted, has sprinklings of humor along with some genuine suspense but I'm surprised it's also kind of moving and sweet in the end. Dietrich's character is kind of almost the opposite of her character in The Blue Angel.

The Purge: Anarchy (James DeMonaco) *** - I didn't see the first Purge movie although I seriously considered it because it's such a really great idea for a dystopian satire: for 12 hours every year, the government legalizes all crime including murder in order to control the population. I've been hearing from people whose opinions I take seriously that this one is an improvement and you don't need to see the first one in order to appreciate and follow this. I must say, I kind of liked it. Of course the story is pure pulp and the satirical elements are not handled all that well (it needed more black humor, IMO). It's entertaining but nothing more than that. I'm trying to imagine something like this on the hands of someone like John Carpenter or Terry Gilliam.

M├Ądchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan) ***1/2 - I can't believe this film was made in 1931! A teenage girl sent to a very strict and conservative all-girls boarding school falls in love with her beautiful female teacher. Yes, a lesbian drama involving teenagers! Though the film has no sex scenes or nudity, the themes tackled are still pretty daring. I can't imagine viewing this through 1931 audience's eyes. But it's Europe so I guess they must be more liberal and open-minded there. That alone makes this film worth checking out. Add to that the great performances and the emotional third act. This also strikes me as the female equivalent of budding-sexuality-in-repressive-boarding-school subgenre that includes If... and Zero for Conduct. It doesn't quite reach the heights of greatness of those two films but this is still a film more people should see.

1 comment:

Arion said...

Great selection of movies! I'm especially interested in Boyhood, hopefully I'll be able to see it soon.