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Jarring issue with Cole Porter's accent
In recordings, Cole Porter spoke more than a touch of the "phony English accent"--was it called "received pronunciation?"--that was taught in prep schools and spoken at Ivy League colleges up through the 1950s. Hearing Kevin Kline speak without a trace of it is jarringly anachronistic and makes it difficult to suspend disbelief.
At times this film literally moved me to tears, and the musical numbers are uniformly well-done. However, the conceit of trying to tell Cole Porter's life almost entirely through his song lyrics does not come off.
I was aware of two problems with this approach. First, the lyrics are so familiar that I tend to sink into them like a depression in an old couch cushion without really thinking about them. Second, they are at best allusive, and there are times when you want the prosaic plain meaning of the story told in a plain way.
When "Love for Sale" comes on, do we interpret this in a literal way--at this particular point in his life the historical Cole Porter visited a gay brothel? If not, what exactly does it mean?
"Night and Day" was famously a hit for Fred Astaire. So I was also baffled by an incident in which Porter and a male singer in a show flirt as Porter coaches the non-Astaire-like singer through the song. In an aside, somebody says "We should have given this song to Astaire." What are we supposed to make of this? Porter and Fred Astaire were lovers but they want to maintain plausible deniability? Porter and Astaire were _not_ lovers but they wanted to use this particular song to show Porter flirting with a man, so they alter history?
Proverbially, in musical comedy when the emotion becomes too strong for dialogue, there is a song, and when it becomes too strong for song there is a dance. This film, unfortunately, shows that when you have almost nothing but song, the effect is not uniformly heightened emotion.
The Jacket (2005)
A Jack London connection?
It's odd that not even the San Francisco Examiner's reviewer noticed the likely origin of some of the key story concepts for this film.
Jack London, author of "The Call of the Wild," wrote a reincarnation novel published under the title "The Star Rover" in the U. S., and (!) "The Jacket" in England.
In the novel, a convict at San Quentin is periodically subjected to torture in a compression device called "The Jacket." He learns to endure it by "willing himself to die." That is, he says that through an act of self-will he actually dies every time he is put in the jacket, and returns to life at the end of the session. During the times when he is dead he travels into the past and experiences incidents from his past lives.
Jack London does not appear to be credited, but one has to wonder whether the names "Jack" and "Jackie" are intended as homage.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Caution: "feel-bad" movie
I won't spell out the details, but I think some "truth-in-packaging" is called for.
In their urge to avoid spoilers, most mainstream reviewers have failed to make clear that this is a very dark-themed movie. My companion and I, having seen the trailer and read several reviews, went into this film unaware that this was not a feel-good movie. I'm not even talking tearjerker.
I'm talking bumming, big-time. This not "Rocky" or "The Karate Kid." This is not even "Love Story."
This is a feel-bad movie.
Your mileage may vary, and obviously many people liked the movie, but we left the theater with a feeling of dull despair, and, looking at the faces of our fellow theater-goers, we think we were not alone.
Call me unsophisticated, but this was not how I wanted to spend my weekend evening.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Pretentious "cinematic" crap
It happen a couple of times every decade. A director with more money than sense decides to make a movie without the tedious encumbrances of a story. No awkward plot resolutions, no "continuity" nuisances. Just a disconnected series of short scenes, acted with an air of great intensity or drama.
And, guess what? When you make a film without a story or continuity... nobody can figure out what's happening. You wouldn't think this would be a big surprise.
This "film" almost looks as if someone took bits of film from some unsuccessful, uncompleted project and deliberately cut them so as to obscure the story line and hide the fact that the story never resolved.
The result, of course, is a piece of crap.
Sophisticated cinema devotees do not wish to admit that they have no clue about they are watching. They do not seem to notice that the director, having nothing to say, has managed to say nothing. As long as each three-minute scene is acted with drama and intensity, the film becomes a Thematic Apperception Test, and some viewers will project their own story and emotions into the empty motion and noise and praise the movie they have just seen... a movie which exists in their heads and not on the screen.
The usual adjective for this kind of film is "cinematic."
The last time I was this annoyed with film was the time I went to see "Last Year at Marienbad" with a friend who insisted on staying until the end.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
A steaming pile...
I can't remember ever being as disappointed in a sequel before.
There were several very good scenes, the highway chase in
particular. I thought the martial-arts-ballet sequences went on way
too long, but your mileage may vary. The acting was good, but the
actors were betrayed by the incomprehensible screenplay.
And the magic is gone. The visual style and effects that seemed
so fresh in _The Matrix_, have since been milked dry by
rip-offs--and this one just seems like one more rip-off.
In between the action, this movie is talky and boring. Character
after character gives long ponderous, pretentious speeches. The
plot is incomprehensible.
I hope it will not be considered a spoiler if I mention that the movie
just comes to a dead halt at the end, with the plot completely
unresolved. It's as if the producers, like Ralph Bakshi in the
animated "Lord of the Rings," had simply run out of money before
it was completed.
I didn't think I was going to like it. I don't generally like "cinematic"
movies that consist mostly of mysterious images "Last Year at
Marienbad" left me cold. I liked "2001," but not nearly as well as the
current IMAX "Space Station 3D," and so forth. And the fact that this
movie is relatively obscure and seems to have a cult following
made me think it was only for film students, or people on
psychedelic drugs, or something.
The visual beauty of this film is overwhelming, and although many
of the shots are beautifully composed and would make nice stills,
it is very much a _cinematic_ beauty.
It also succeeds in engaging the left brain. Somehow the movies
makes you ask questions. To be honest, in my case the questions
are mostly on a superficial level: "where DID he take that? Where
IS that landscape? Did those KNOW they were being photographed by what was obviously a very, very long lens? What
IS that object?" Nevertheless it engaged you. And the pacing is
very good. The images are so rich and full of things to be seen that
I constantly had the urge when each scene was over to press the
"review" button to see whether I had really scene some detail.
Much of the movie was photographed in either time-lapse,
slow-motion, or with a very long lens. None of it looks gimmicky.
About a third of the film consists mostly of scenes of natural
grandeur: clouds, rock formations, landscapes, frequently in
timelapse with shifting light. About a third is what might be termed
cityscape and "animated people." Filmed mostly in New York, I
think. A good deal in timelapse, giving the impression of the city as
a sort of pulsing superorganism.
But there is human scale here, too; there are many photographs of
individual pedestrians, individual portraits, some downtown, some
in slum areas, and these are the most difficult to describe of all.
Heresy: the Philip Glass score is good, but I know that the biggest
obstacle I am going to have to repeated viewings of this film is the
score. I believe that I want to watch it many times. Listening to it,
though... well, once is enough... or at least want a year or two in
Space Station 3D (2002)
I'm sort of a fan of wide-screen processes and visual spectacle. And, lately, I've been disappointed. Up until "Space Station 3D," the two most spectacular visual experiences I've had in my life were "This Is Cinerama" (in the early fifties) and "2001: A Space Odyssey" (on its first run, in New York.)
I've seen "2001" several times since, hoping to capture the same thrill I did on its first run, but the visual spectacle was just not there in 35mm prints. Last year I saw a 70mm print of it at the Coolidge in Boston, and was very disappointed--I don't know what was wrong, but the focus was not good, and the deep, pitch-black, back-velvet sky I remembered in the original was washed out.
I've seen many IMAX films, many of them quite good--"Everest" being one of the best--but there is usually too much material in it that is just blown-up 35mm.
Oh, and I saw "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Miss Sadie Thompson" in lovingly restored 3D at a revival in Palo Alto, and while it was a blast, basically the 3D felt just as gimmicky as you'd expect.
OK. Space Station 3D is sharp, clear, all IMAX. The three-dimensional effect is totally convincing and natural. Like "2001," you can look AROUND at the things YOU are interested in instead of what the camera happens to be pointed at. I've never before had such a compelling sensation of "actually being there." Oddly enough, some of the most intense moments for me was not the scenes in space, but the scenes where astronauts and cosmonauts are simply walking around the Baikonur complex.
This film recaptured for me the sense of "being in space" that I had the first time I saw "2001."
This is just one sensational film and is well worth going out of your way to see. It delivers fully on the IMAX promise in every way.
(And I suggest that everyone make a point of seeing real IMAX while we can, as I have an uncomfortable feeling that IMAX is in the process of sinking into the mire of enhanced 35mm blowups).
I saw Cinerama in the early fifties, "2001" in the late sixties... I've had to wait over three decades to see something as spectacular. Go see it while you can. If 35 mm blowups and video "cinema" take over, it may be another three decades before we get anything like this again.
The Lord of the Rings (1978)
Visual similarity: did it influence Peter Jackson?
I first read "The Lord of the Rings" in 1964--just prior to its first appearance in paperback--and formed my own mental visualization of the book. I've seen the new Peter Jackson "Fellowship of the Ring"--and just recently, for the first time, the Ralph Bakshi cartoon.
I think the Peter Jackson movie is great. It did not, of course, match either my mental imagery or my mental _structuring_ of the story. But great, and worthy, nevertheless. The Bakshi cartoon is... well, let's say it's MUCH less bad than I thought it would be. Good enough to be sorry it was never finished.
The part that really interested me though, is that Bakshi cartoon seemed to me to have, let's say a very similar _storyboard_ to the Peter Jackson version. The pacing, the visualization, the sense of which incidents to stress and which to omit seemed very similar. Perhaps this is just coincidence; perhaps there are only so many ways to compress a very long, complex, rich, "literary" story into much shorter, "cinematic" language.
But I wonder...
I think it's interesting that both adaptors completely omitted the visit to Tom Bombadil, which to me has always been a particularly cherished part of the story, and that both of them compressed Faramir and Boromir into a single character (Boromir).
I'm not suggesting anything that I'd call "stealing," but I do wonder quite seriously whether Peter Jackson was influenced by the Ralph Bakshi version.
We all loved "Fried Green Tomatoes;" we all loved "Divine Secrets"
I'm not a chick, but I loved this movie. I saw in with my wife and a friend of hers.
My wife said "I'm hoping this movie will be sort of like 'Fried Green Tomatoes.'" It was.
Absolutely delightful, we laughed out loud MANY times.
My wife's friend was the only one of us who had read the books, and she said that she had to admit that the liked the movie better--simply because the book dwelt on the dark elements of the story more than the movie did.
I was slightly disappointed in Sandra Bullock's performance. She was OK--well, more than OK--but not quite 100% convincing. And it had the the usual Hollywood problem in which the performers who play "children" don't have a believable physical resemblance to their "parents." Just about everyone else was perfect.
Just like "South Pacific."
Oh, was there a plot? I couldn't pay much attention to the plot or characters, I was so distracted by all the pretty colors. Every scene in this thing was tinted some garish color, I guess supposedly to help you keep track of the convoluted plot. There was a dim blue, like a badly done "day for night." Some were a nasty yellow. It looked like a black-and-white film that had been clumsily hand-tinted, or colorized. Most amazing of all, some scenes were tinted to almost perfect imitation of the appearance of film that has been stored too long and has started to fade to oranges and pinks. It might have made sense if these scenes were supposed to be flashbacks to the Fifties--but they weren't. I kept wanting to get out a handkerchief and wipe off the screen so I could see the movie. I'm sure there was a movie behind those colored filters somewhere.