Monday, December 6, 2010

Drum Roll, Please (part 1)

I've actually watched a fair amount of films in the last month or so. It's a lot easier to watch them than to write about them, for sure. I tend to enjoy most of what I watch, but don't always have something specific to say about it. I also prefer face-to-face conversations about film because I find that I often have more to say about a film than I think I do once I hear a little more about what someone else has to say. All that said, here's my list, in the order (more or less) in which I saw them:

Vengeance Valley (1951)- I have come to love watching Burt Lancaster act. He won me over with Vera Cruz, and I think I've had a crush on him ever since. I've seen The Professionals, The Train, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Apache, and this one. This is the weakest of the lot, but it's not Burt's fault. He plays similar characters in all of his films, but isn't that why I keep watching?

The Fly (1958)- Everybody loves this film, and I did, too. I don't know that I'd gave anything intelligent to add. I want to see more of Vincent Price.

Sanjuro (1962)- I watched this with the family and we all loved it. Kurosawa has an amazing ability to be able to insert humor- even slapstick humor- into an otherwise serious film. Amy and I discussed a little bit afterwards how it seems like films these days tend to stick to their marketed genres but that some older ones seemed to have an easier time trying to be all things to all audiences. Sanjuro is really a movie with wide appeal- adventure, drama, humor, philosophy... there's a little something for everyone. It's not as epic as Seven Samurai, not as intense as Rashoman, and doesn't take itself as seriously as Yojimbo (though it stars the same character)- but it manages to be all of those things in little ways, and in that manner holds its own against them.

She's One of Us (2003)- This French film has a great mood and features a stellar performance by Sasha Andres (a French indie rock musician, I gathered), but it loses some focus towards the end, as it tries to speed up the timeline at the expense of the mood it creates initially.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)- I watched this with my family and we all enjoyed the characters immensely. One thing I will say for older films is that they were better at being all things to all audiences than today with all of its genres and subgenres. Drums manages to be action, historical fiction, comedy, drama, and romance all rolled into one. It's unfortunate that the Indians were relegated to their typical pre-civil-rights roles of aggressors or comic relief. More than the story, though, the characters win the day here: Christian Reall and widow McKlennar, among others.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)- It does its own thing while furthering the mythology of the first. This is no Blair Witch 2. It's smart and scary and creative with its self-imposed limits. I may even like it better than the first.

Puppet Master 1 (1989), 2 (1991), and 3 (1991)- I watched all three of these in succession one morning before work. It was intriguing to see how each film almost tried to reinvent the franchise, something that (if what I've read about the other films is accurate) each successive film tried to do as well. IThe puppets are bad, then they're good, then they're bad... Maybe the point is that it's the people behind the puppets who are truly responsible for the evil that goes on. But that's probably giving the films too much credit. t's hard to put together any kind of timeline or mythology because of all the retconning going on. That said, while the first and second languish somewhat under the burden of the horror status quo of the day, part three (Toulon's Revenge) stands as a decent film in its own right. The entire film takes place in WW2 Germany, and the puppets are a part of a lowly puppeteer's effort to exact revenge on the Nazis who killed his wife. It's more than just "good for a horror film."

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)- Well, I saw the first two, so... It's what you'd expect from a big budget Disney sequel. Disney has a hard time making a downright bad film, but there's a lot of Hollywood gloss here. My favorite scene by far is the sequence where Sparrow is all alone in limbo and the crabs carry the ship. It was a refreshing and unique intermission in an otherwise overstimulating film.

Oldboy (2003)- You know, this film blew me away right when I saw it, and I still think it's pretty spectacular. The famous scene in the hallway, where the protagonist fights like twenty guys with a knife stuck in his chest, is one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen. But the more time that goes by, the more I'm unconvinced that the antagonist could actually have realistically accomplished what he did (in terms of brainwashing) to the principal characters. Again, the narrative technique was nearly flawless. I was pulled along helplessly and completely from beginning to end. And Park's other two films in the "vengeance series" are high on list. It's a shame that sometimes one element of a film can diminish so much of the rest of it (I have completely changed my opinion of a film because of a bad ending), but sometimes it happens. I imagine, though, that a second viewing of OldBoy might balance things out a bit more.

Well, I have to go to work and I'm only a third of the way through. Once again, stay tuned!

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