Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Movies I've Seen Lately

This Blog should not be confused with the still-to-come "Best of 2011 Blog." That is in progress. It will come sooner, rather than later. I have one more film I want to see before I start making declarations, and it's coming from Netflix today. I expect to have the year end wrap-up done early next week.

However, in preparation for that, I have seen quite a few movies recently, as well a revisiting some older favorites on Blu-ray/DVD. Here's the last batch I saw in the theatre.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Amazing. When I was very young, I watched the BBC mini-series version on PBS, staring the great Alec Guinness as George Smiley, as well as the sequel, Smiley's People. I believe I detected a wink from our new Smiley, Gary Oldman, to Guinness in some vocal inflections.

The film deftly smashed down a truly sprawling, epic novel (the mini-series was 7 hours, to give you a sense) into 2 hours of full-on tension and spycraft. I have come to a place where I love watching films about people who do interesting jobs exceptionally well, and this cast, comprised of almost every interesting English actor working today, shows us exactly that. No, there's no action "set pieces," no sex, the violence is anything but sensationalized, but what it does have is a gripping sense of what it must've been like to work in intelligence during the cold war. A ripping thriller.

The Descendants
I have much love for George Clooney. In so many ways, he represents all we have left of the "old school" movie star. He's unabashedly glamorous, undeniably cool, and refuses to let his popularity make his choices of projects for him. You know that whatever you see him in, it's because he wanted to do it, not because some studio head, or some agent told him it would be "good for his career."

Clooney is as good as he usually is in The Descendants, which is very good. It's another low-key role, but that's what Clooney does. He's not a scenery-chewer, he's a leading man. the fact it's low-key doesn't take away from the truth, or honesty, he brings. The film is beautifully shot (Omaha's Alexander Payne), well acted across the board (the whole cast is great), but, ultimately, I've seen a lot of these "family in crisis" films. You know, where the absentee parent, at the most stressful time imaginable, has to step up and actually be a parent. It's a terrific film, but the familiarity of the beats knocked it down a few pegs, for me.

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Yeah, yeah, everyone hates Tom Cruise. That's a damn shame, because he's a hell of a movie star. Personally, I have no problem with his personal beliefs, because, flat-out, they're none of my business. When he makes a good film, I will step right up and say so. Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a good, but not great film.

What I can report is that Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Ratatouille) makes a pretty triumphant debut as a live-action filmmaker. There are action sequences here that rival any other film you'll find. The sequence with Cruise's Ethan Hunt dangling on the outside of the world's tallest building is with the admission alone, it's so well executed and effective. Simon Pegg gives good comic relief, and Jeremy Renner shows his action chops. Sadly, the film doesn't completely mesh, so as to go from "exciting good fun" to "great movie."

War Horse
I'm a HUGE fan of the play. While Steven Spielberg brings every bit of his populist talent to bear on this story, and crafts a film of powerful imagery and emotional hooks, I couldn't help but find myself missing the intimate nature of the stage production. Part of me really wishes I hadn't seen the play, because I know that Spielberg's handsome film would've hit me even harder. (I was still in tears, make no mistake)

War Horse is Spielberg in full epic mode. Gone With The Wind-style sunsets and the whole nine yards. I'm sure plenty of people will call it sentimental hogwash, but where else are you supposed to go with a young adult book, narrated by a horse, no less? In my mind Spielberg has caught the perfect tone, and while I feel the wider canvas of film diffuses the intimate focus that the stage version had, this is still a fine adaptation.

The Artist
I have to be honest, if I was going to pick the biggest disappointment of the films I've recently see it would be The Artist. That may seem a very negative comment, but I had very high hopes for this film, a pastiche of silent film. Sure, it's gorgeous, it's fun, and downright funny. I also feel like it overstays it's welcome a bit. I couldn't help but find myself fighting to no nod off at times.

The performances are exquisite, with complete fidelity to the style being used. Jean Dujardin is quite hilarious in the lead role. The script is witty, the supporting turns amusing.

I think the main problem, for me, is that the 30's/40's, while I admire the hell out of the craft on screen, are not MY "golden age" of Hollywood. For me, it's the 70's. I'll take The Godfather, Easy Rider, Bonnie & Clyde, or Taxi Driver over any of the films of the silent or early talkie era. Your reaction to The Artist may depend on your feelings. I certainly saw more people walk out of this film than any other this year (only 3, but still). That said, it's beautiful and well worth seeing.

1 comment:

  1. I'm absolutely with you on TTSS. It took mental effort to keep up, but I found myself completely grabbed. And in addition to the acting, directing, and screenplay, the production design, costumes, and cinematography combined into an unbelievable reproduction of the era. (So much brown!) Maybe that 70s evocation was part of why you loved it so much, given that it's your filmic golden age?

    And I think I loved MI:GP more than you, but that may partially be because I saw it in IMAX, and the sheer scale of it (and the remarkable way that Brad Bird used that scale) overrode any possible objections. I imagine it's still thrilling on a normal screen, but in IMAX it's overwhelming.