Films I Watched - June, 2003
Submitted by lbangs on Fri, 05/30/2003 - 04:15
- 6/30 - A Passage to India - When David Lean operated with all his powers, few directors could touch him. While not his masterpiece, A Passage to India is much closer to Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, or Great Expectations than it is to, say, Doctor Zhivago. A VERY young and nearly unrecognizable Judy Davis is the character that sets this film's central conflict into motion, that's easy enough to figure out, but pinpointing which conflict here is central is a much tougher task. Of course, this difficulty arises out of one of Lean's greatest abilities; at his best, he makes even the epic stories of national conflict incredibly personal. Characters embody the struggles without being reduced to simple symbols or allegorical straw men. Sure, Lean's visual powers still awe here, but more importantly, even with an out of place Alec Guinness, A Passage to India tells a grand story in small, intimate details, and the film achieves a personal power most epics can only dream of. It certainly wasn't the first time, but unfortunately, it was the last time Lean would conjure up this miracle.
- 6/28 - Spirited Away - I have been a Miyazaki champion for some time, but even I was taken aback by Spirited Away. Sure, he has shown an amazing ability to tap into a young child's view of the world before, as in My Neighbor Totoro. He has exhibited an incredible imagination and power of imagery in films such as Kiki's Delivery Service, and with Princess Mononoke, he proved that his animation ability was up to the challenge of any computer. I'm not really shocked that he swirled all these streams together in his latest offering; I am stunned, however, by what seems to be a quantum leap of brilliance from a man who has already shown himself one of the few masters working today. Like Almodovar's Talk to Her, Hayao Miyazaki's take on a magical wonderland in Spirited Away is an amazing, surprising masterstroke that leaves even those of us who expect excellence from this fantastic director dumbfounded. With his careful yet never boring pacing, his startling, creative imagery, and his observant, daring directing that would be a highlight even in a live-action film, Miyazaki has not just created the greatest animation film in the last few years. He has created a timeless masterpiece for the ages.
- 6/22 - Little Voice - Dgeiser13 keeps an excellent list of films with incredible casts, and while most of the actors in this film are hardly huge box office draws, I propose Little Voice as a candidate. Just look - Brenda Blethyn (you've seen the excellent Secrets & Lies, right?), Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor, Michael Caine, and Jane Horrocks. What, you say, Jane who? Well, she may be Bubbles to all us AbFab fans, but here, she is Little Voice, a painfully shy girl who never recovered from her dad's death and her dominating mother and is lost in a world of diva show tunes. The incredible secret of LV (as she is called) is that she can belt those show tunes sounding just like her idols, from Marilyn Monroe to Judy Garland. Horrocks does her own vocals here, and she will blow your mind. Watch the credits closely, and you'll even catch that Sam Mendes directed the original stage production of this film. The plot isn't likely to change your life, but the cast is terrific. I am a sucker for good dramas, and while you'll never confuse Little Voice with a masterpiece, it offered enough modest pleasures to keep me happy. Oh, and Jane Horrocks really *is* incredible. Catherine Zeta-Jones, watch with envy.
- 6/20 - The Changeling - This one's not for everybody, but me, I tend to dig moody, atmospheric thrillers, and this one was pretty good for the genre. Of course, casting George C. Scott for the lead is never a bad move, and he manages to carry this film through all the strange happenings with gravity and grace. Peter Medak also does a sharp job directing; he knows when to kill the incidental music (as in the opening scene), and he can creep his camera slowly along hallways while maintaining a visual composition most directors would kill for. The plot is not too difficult to guess, but this gem is going for sustained suspense, not shocks or twists. The wheelchair will creep you out, and I swear the makers of The Others must have seen this at some point. This is not a classic, but it is certainly a respectable entry in the often-horrible haunted house canon of films.
- 6/8 - Blade Runner - Oh, some films we perhaps should never watch twice. This was my umpteenth time to watch this old favorite of mine, but this was also my first time to revisit it in around a decade or so, and the truth is, this rewatching hurt a bit. The visuals are still beyond belief, knocking 99 percent of all this modern CGI crap on its ass, but then, Douglas Trumbull is the greatest SFX guy ever to live. The story ain't bad, though the much-heralded 'Director's Cut' is a rather lame twist to the original. The pace is still captivating, even if it seems to put some to sleep, and the cast we would all see again in thousands of productions, from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Newhart, is great. So what's the problem? Well, some parts are just a tad more forced than a young man might pick up on. Christ imagery may be quite evocative when one first encounters it, but after awhile, you realize it easily slides into cliche, and here, it is rather forced. In fact, this film simply seems just a few years short of maturity. The ideas are interesting, but they are a bit unsubtle and explored with a little less depth than one might hope. Still, Blade Runner is a great film, make no mistake. It just isn't quite as great as it was when I was ten, and that's a damn shame.
- 6/6 - House of Games - David Mamet's first time to step behind the camera created a terrific, twisty thriller that shocks you by sidewinding into a philosophical meditation towards the end. If you are a Mamet hater, this film surely will not convert you. In many ways, it is the mold of a typical Mamet film, with the odd rhythms, the deadpan deliveries, the sterility, the chill... But, these all are very important to the final, lingering impressions this film wishes to press into you. Of course, approaching a film titled House of Games as the straight-forward puzzle it appears to be would be somewhat foolish, wouldn't it? It is a trap. You think you have it figured out ahead of the curve, and then, boom - It doesn't matter that you figured it out. You weren't even on the right plane, and that twist you were so proud of yourself for seeing up ahead doesn't really even matter. Hitchcockian? Not really, though it wants you to think it is. Unless, of course, you're thinking of Rope, and then, you're half of the way there... Sort of....
- 6/3 - Altered States - Ken Russell has ruined many a film with his indulgent splashes of hallucinations and imagery, but oddly enough, this time around, it is that very tendency to produce eye candy that saves Altered States from complete silliness. With a plot that allows him to work his flights of fear and fancy into the actual plot, Russell is armed with a sense of purpose he seldom has at his disposal, and while the melodramatics (even with game performances all around from the likes of William Hurt, Blair Brown [who will probably always be Molly Dodd to me], Charles Haid, and Bob Balaban) threatened to do this flick in, the frequent trips of light, primal visions, and, especially, ear-bending sound keep this film just above water. You probably won't want to watch it twice, not unless you blinked and missed the quick shots of a young John Larroquette and a very young Drew Barrymore, and you will be completely forgiven if you catch yourself humming a-ha's Take On Me at the end, but the experiments should keep you dazzled long enough to survive the film's brisk 103-minute running time. A little thought might even peel back Russell's intentions to reveal Paddy Chayefsky's interesting intentions buried under it all, but really, I wouldn't bother. Chayefsky left production because Russell obviously didn't care about those concepts, and watching scenes performing 2001 tricks from the early 80s really won't do much to make you care either.
- 6/1 - Monsoon Wedding - My wife had yet to see this film, so a rental was certainly in order. I've already reviewed this film on my Best of 2001 list, so I won't add too much, except to say that now, in the light of the incredibly disappointing My Big Fat Greek Wedding, this film shines even brighter and continues to underscore Hollywood's (and yes, regardless of the company logo on the box, Greek Wedding is very much a Hollywood film) continuing inability to create hardly any dramas worth sitting through. I am still especially pleased to find fully-drawn parent characters rather than the typcial wise saints or foolish jokes we usually see. The father in this film is one of the best and most realistic characters 2001 had to offer us. This is a joyous movie alive and throbbing. The story is suprisingly moving, the vivid colors are beautiful, and the soundtrack is glorious to boot.