Reviews written by registered user
|6 reviews in total|
I happened to channel surf to Turner Classic Movies just as this one was beginning last night, and once I got past the unlikely opening sequence I couldn't possibly turn away from the unlikely rest of it. It's a romantic comedy with Norma Shearer and a supporting cast that includes a lovely Hedda Hopper and a formidable Marie Dressler. As these things go -- silly rich people playing out a ridiculous "who'll pair up with whom?" plot in a Long Island mansion -- it's amusing and pretty good fun. I guess it's not a movie to recommend per se, but I have to admit I was in the mood to enjoy it last night, especially Marie Dressler's overacting. So if you stumble across it as I did, sure, go ahead, stick around. You won't believe your eyes.
DERSU UZALA just blew me away. Set prior to the Russian revolution it
tells a deceptively simple story of a small band of Russian soldiers on
a challenging mission to survey a Siberian wilderness that's forbidding
in summer and absolutely treacherous in winter.
Fortunately for them, along the way they encounter Derzu Uzala, a little man who lives his life alone, at one with the forest and its creatures, and who agrees to serve as guide for the expedition. He's at one with his surroundings; he refers to animals and plants and stones and everything else in his world as "men;" he's short; he's initially perceived to be a fool but it turns out he's incredibly strong and capable and wise; he can handle a weapon more skillfully than any of the soldiers -- it's almost as though the Force is with him. Yes, I realized when I heard (read) his mangled syntax that Artoo and Threepio clearly weren't the only characters George Lucas lifted from an Akira Kurosawa movie.
But that's a side issue. This film is gorgeous and gripping: I was hooked from the opening scene and I hung onto every small thing that happened from then on. And really, in this film only small things happen, but they add up to an epic tale of nature and the ultimate wonder and tragedy of life itself. And it's all set against the backdrop of breathtaking Siberia.
My only regret about seeing this wonderfully photographed film is that I didn't see it on a huge screen in a proper movie theater. The Kino DVD transfer just made me sad. There sat the movie on my widescreen TV like a pitiful postage stamp surrounded by an ocean of black border. Sure, I could enlarge the picture to fit side to side, but then the subtitles were chopped off at the bottom. I think Kino could have done better and I hope Criterion will someday give this film the loving care it deserves.
Saw it in 3D, in fact.
It's all about a comic book superhero who's also a Norse god with Norse god friends and relatives. They live Norse god lives in a quadrant of outer space called Asgard and not everybody is who he thinks he is and people can fall asleep at the drop of a helmet and their enemies live in a deep freeze and if you displease Dad you can get banished to Earth without a hammer. The parts of the movie that take place in Asgard are excruciatingly, watch-checkingly boring, and the parts that take place on Earth are bearable at least, and occasionally amusing.
Maybe it's just me; I'm not a comic book aficionado -- haven't been since adolescence about a half-century ago -- so I suppose much of this movie's charm must inevitably be lost on me. But I'm not a total snob about these things -- I did enjoy IRON MAN (cleverly referenced in this film) and I liked the entire middle of BATMAN BEGINS. I just think there was less to like here. Much less.
And I can't quit without mentioning that once again I'm convinced 3D is a worthless gimmick that not only adds nothing of value to the experience of viewing movies like this (and AVATAR and UP and 15 minutes of HARRY POTTER and even IMAX in outer space), but it detracts from my viewing pleasure. Why do so many people seem not to care that watching a movie through sunglasses filters out the color? All scenes in THOR were mostly brown and uniformly dark and ugly. I tried watching without the glasses for a while, and as long as the focus of the scene was on the middle distance, everything looked almost good -- almost acceptable, in fact. But anything close or far was blurry, so eventually I gave up and got with the ugly dark brown program. Three-D is a stupid idea, worthless and stupid and it needs to have a wooden stake driven through its wretched heart so it can slither back to the grave where we buried it in the '50s.
I loved this movie -- I mean, I was just enchanted. It was everything
I'd hoped it would be and more. My friends whined about this and that
-- the music was discordant, the camera-work was too shaky, what was
the deal with the albino crocodiles, etc. etc. and so forth. Bleh. What
do they know?
Werner Herzog has filmed a 3-D documentary at Chauvet Cave in southern France, location of the oldest known artwork on the planet. Surely you've seen pictures? The cave walls are covered with prehistoric renderings of bison and bears and lions and horses and woolly rhinoceroses and more -- all drawn in a similar style over 30,000 years ago with the sure hand of accomplished artists skilled in techniques of shading and placement and composition. Astonishingly, while these days we seem to move from realism to impressionism to cubism to whateverism at the drop of a decade, scientists seem certain that some of the stylistically identical Chauvet Cave images were created as much as 5,000 years apart.
And what wonderful images they are! Even on the pages of the National Geographic the lions roar ferociously and the horses neigh in terror and the rhinoceroses battle to the death while the bison gallop away in a prehistoric stampede. But Herzog has given us more than a mere magazine can manage -- he's brought life to animals in Chauvet Cave through the magic of the 3-D process.
Yes, I know, 3-D sucks. But in this film 3-D isn't just a gimmick -- the process actually pays off. Of course I'd seen 2-D pictures of Chauvet Cave, but until seeing this film I'd never understood how much the walls of the cave undulate, and more important, how the paintings take advantage of all those curvy surfaces. The muscles of the lion ripple with the cave walls; the body of the bison is placed perfectly so that as the rock turns at a sharp angle, the animal's head can be drawn to face the viewer -- in 3-D the cave seems miraculously to come to life.
Chauvet Cave was discovered in 1994 and for a time the public could visit. But it soon became apparent that human intrusions were changing the atmosphere of the cave, as mold began growing on the walls, and the precious art that had survived in pristine peace for thirty millennia was being threatened. Now the French government has wisely, blessedly closed the place to the public. Herzog and his crew were allowed to enter only for a limited time with limited gear, and from the sound of it this filmed record may be the best we'll see for quite a while.
I was fascinated by the whole thing and I wish I had a way to thank Werner Herzog personally for taking me to a magical place I regret I'll never be able to visit. I think that theme park they're planning to build nearby -- the one at which they'll recreate the cave for tourists -- probably wouldn't do much for me. This film, though, was a very welcome, quite unforgettable experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In early March, 2011, the producers of "Atlas Shrugged" held a
screening of the film at a theater in downtown Washington, DC, and I
decided to check it out. "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1" brings to the screen
Ayn Rand's tale of what would happen if the most productive members of
society, the titans of industry, were to grow tired of government
interference in their business and just quit, leaving society's leeches
to fend for themselves. It stars Taylor Schilling as lovely railroad
tycoon Dagny Taggert, Grant Bowler as steel tycoon Henry Rearden,
Graham Beckel as oil tycoon Ellis Wyatt, Jsu Garcia as copper tycoon
Francisco D'Anconia, and a wide range of familiar TV faces playing the
The movie may have been produced on a limited budget, but it actually looks good, though the key actors look much more like perfect Hollywood types than any titans of industry I've ever seen. But come on, this is a movie; let's give them some slack. Still, the dialog and the plotting and the characters seemed straight out of a breathless, cartoonish soap opera. You had your sexy young railroad tycoon scion and her untrustworthy Hollywood-handsome young brother and you had your Hollywood-handsome young steel tycoon and his untrustworthy wife and you had your suspicious middle-aged fat oil tycoon with his gaudy silver belt buckle and you had your Hollywood-handsome jet-set wealthy playboy -- and they all talked and talked and talked and jumped into each other's beds and dramatically threw drinks into faces and talked some more. At times I couldn't see how the actors mouthing that dialogue kept straight faces -- but they did, and I have to admit that given what they had to work with they generally acquitted themselves well.
But all that is superficial compared to my basic complaint, which is that the underlying premise makes no sense. I'm not talking about the mysterious stranger who appears unexpectedly in the night to make competent businessmen an offer they can't refuse, to make an argument so persuasive that they're invariably willing to give up home and family and everything else that they've struggled over a lifetime to achieve, give it all up without a second thought, to accompany this stranger to some as-yet undefined Shangri-La. Yes, I'll give the film all that. This is, after all, a fantasy tale and sometimes you just gotta go with the fantasy.
The problem is that in the world of "Atlas Shrugged," all titans of industry are unfailingly right and noble in all things and everybody else is unfailingly committed to working against the world's best interests. In this film the government disapproves of the invention of a miracle, lightweight steel that would revolutionize rail transportation, won't allow one person to own more than one business, allows agency heads to levy taxes, and with the Dow headed south of 4,000 and a depression gripping the nation, declares no industry can be more successful than any other because, well, golly, that just wouldn't be fair, now would it? Any fantasy requires suspension of disbelief, but some of the howlers in this movie surpass even Harry Potter's magic wand.
I really had to laugh as I watched the impossibly sexy railroad tycoon and her impossibly handsome steel tycoon boyfriend desert their day jobs, completely turn their backs on any hint of believable behavior, and inexplicably take up the life of amateur gumshoes. See the industry big shots track down mysterious characters from Wyoming to Montana to Louisiana to Michigan to Wyoming again and back to Michigan, maybe, I think, and then turn into Nancy Drew and Frank Hardy while they explore a spooky old cobweb-infested auto factory, chance upon a secret panel, and uncover long-lost plans for a miracle atmospheric electricity contraption that'll save the world.
And how do we know it'll save the world? Remember those lab-coat-wearing geniuses in 1950s atomic monster movies who were trotted out to explain with total confidence exactly what created that monster and what the plot was about to require to kill it? Well wait'll you hear what our hero tycoons have to say when they get a load of that dusty old coiled-wire Frankenstein's lab gizmo. I gotta tell you, toward the end, this movie got downright silly.
But it didn't end. This is merely part one of three and it had no more finality than the first Lord of the Rings movie. But I predict fans of the book will like the movie a lot. It really does look good, apparently it's faithful to the story, the acting is perfectly competent ... basically the production shouldn't be an embarrassment to anybody involved. I've seen much worse.
I suspect, though, that this movie is unlikely to attract much of an audience beyond Rand fans, and even the faithful may have a few reservations. When the lights went back up at the screening I heard a lady behind me remark on "overacting" and the fellow next to me was telling his friend that overall it was good, but some things ... specifically bit part characters reciting the phrase "Who is John Galt" for no apparent reason ... came across as "forced." The big question for me was what there might be in the movie to attract people who will come into it looking for more than just an enjoyable rendering of a favorite book or validation of politics. I can't believe the melodrama aspect is strong enough to make it a good date movie. I certainly never worked up any interest in the personal lives of the steel, railroad, oil and copper masters of the universe. I predict there'll be an enthusiastic audience for this film among those who admire its philosophy, but I suspect few others will be drawn to it.
Saw it at a Sunday matinée in the multiplex up the street. The place
was packed and we got there just in time -- the theater sold out right
after we got our tickets. Seems to be a popular movie, here in DC
Young married Julie Powell is a miserable cubicle-dweller whose husband encourages her to write a blog about preparing every recipe in volume one of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in the space of a year. Great premise, right? Clever story involving a young woman finding fulfillment through Julia Child, the French Chef, the first Public Television superstar? Well, I read the book and I gotta say I didn't care too much for Julie Powell, who came across as a basically unpleasant human being I'd never invite to dinner. But the premise really got to me. "Mastering the Art..." is the cookbook I have always turned to when I want to prepare a truly special dinner. I've had the box set of volumes one and two since the 70s, and gotta tell you they're well-used. Volume one is falling apart, in fact. (Anybody know a good book binder in DC?) So what WOULD it be like to devote a year's spare time to that wonderful instruction manual for home chefs? I wanted to have the experience without doing the work, so of course I read the book. But golly, I didn't want to read about Julie's ovaries and her girlfriends' weirdnesses and her lust for some actor and on and on with the girl talk. What a totally tiresome book it was.
Anyway, I plowed through Julie and Julia thinking I'd eventually be charmed, but I wasn't. Too bad. And now comes the movie, and I'm thinking Nora Ephron will surely correct the book's biggest flaw, which was too much time (~90%) devoted to Julie's blog-slog and only a few fascinating pages devoted to Julia Child.
And I was right. The movie gives the stories I'd say about equal time, which is still too much Julie/Amy Adams, and not enough Julia/Meryl Streep, but it's SO much a better mix than the book. The life of Julia Child could make a good movie on its own without all the gimmickry. But this is a perfectly entertaining movie in spite of it.
Speaking of Meryl Streep, she is a marvel to behold in this movie. Her impersonation is dead on, even better than Dan Ackroyd's, which is featured prominently and hilariously in the film.
"Julie and Julia" argues that Julia Child changed the way America eats, and the more I learn about her the less I feel inclined to argue about that. The movie brings her fascinating story to life and if I had to put up with a few scenes of Julie Powell melting down, well ... so what? It's a great movie if you have been in love with Julia Child as I have for many years, and a perfectly good one if you haven't.