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
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
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.
Mädchen 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.