Tuesday, June 3, 2014

RECENTLY BEHELD: MAY 26 - JUNE 1, 2014

(1968)



For every bogus line of scientific findings there’s an earnest commitment to the subject matter in this fantasy wherein the latter ultimately wins out. The former is dismissed outright. The premise is the title and it’s so preposterous that you feel silly going in, but the second those apes ride up on horseback, with the prosthetic effect looking as terrific as it does, it’s the easiest concept to accept. Planet of the Apes is frightening, funny and chock-full of finger-shaking cautionary tales for all the humans that watch. It helps that Charlton Heston puts as much into this performance as his own from Ben-Hur. Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans absolutely nail their ape roles. This marks a legendary sci-fi experience and the start of an universe expanding to this day. Rod Serling helped adapt the film from the novel. Even as a standalone film this works as an elongated episode of The Twilight Zone, which I consider to be the best TV series that ever aired. And this would have been one of its key episodes.

★★★★★

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(2014)


Ida is the story of a nun who learns she is a Jew and spends a few formative days outside the convent with her rather un-nun-like aunt. Even though the rubble of WWII has mostly been cleared, Ida has to uncover some unfinished business. This is among the most visually stunning films of the year at 4:3 and in black-and-white, Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal aim the lens high as if they expect Ida and her aunt to rise up to the ceiling. This means the characters are often falling off the bottom of the screen and we may therefore never have been physically closer to a character. Agata Trzebuchowska is our nun. This is her first performance and that is simply astonishing.


★★★★★


* * *

(2014)


Justin Schwarz’ feature-length directorial debut is an impactful comedy about a dysfunctional family learning more about American history and each other over the course of a weekend. Griffin Dunne’s turn as the patriarch is refreshingly aware at just how out of touch he is, a rare character type who is as capable as he is believable. Madeleine Martn plays the coming-of-age daughter and manages to be our sarcastic voice of wisdom throughout without dragging down the whole expedition.

★★★½


* * *

(1959)


Perhaps the one Disney classic I had seen the least of, Sleeping Beauty is as streamlined and straightforward as they must’ve come out of Walt’s castle. A gorgeous, frequently profiled (as if a side-scrolling video game), animation with matter-of-fact magic and splendor in spades. This is a fairy tale that should be opened often.

★★★★½

* * *

(1992)


Harvey Keitel surrenders a career-defining performance as the ruined New York police detective at the center of the story. The film doesn’t judge his actions as much as the title does or as The Lieutenant condemns himself. This belongs alongside Taxi Driver as a difficult examination of a soiled Christ figure.

★★★★½

* * *

(2014)


This falls right in line with the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Snow White and the Huntsman as computer-generated inflations of existing Disney films. This one does stand out in particular as a character study of the villain, a most evil one as you may recall from Sleeping Beauty. Unfortunately, this tale is neither as necessary or as daring as you might have hoped. Jolie devours the role, but all I was left with were scraps of missed opportunity.

★★

* * *

(2012)


Leave it to Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy (a show that managed to make both an infant and a pet dog into ostensibly adult characters), to defile the seemingly most innocent of household items: the teddy bear. The result is a sexist, racist and all-together lewd series of scenes that finds Mark Wahlberg grappling with the age-old dilemma of "bros before hoes." Most importantly, the film is hilarious, pointed and actually a product of Hollywood romanticism. Any time that Ted is offscreen we’re waiting. MacFarlane's (who voices the foul bear) ascension into cinema is in strong form and promising prospect.

★★★½

* * *

(2014)


This genre farce won me over from the opening credits! Seth MacFarlane returns to the big screen with his sights on the American Western and he shoots straight through the heart of what makes them tick. It’s as clever a deconstruction and as lovely an ode to this genre as The Cabin in the Woods is to horror. Yes, the West was never this raunchy, but it has seldom been more fun.

★★★★

* * *

(1988)


What starts as a common comic caper (say that three times fast) entangles itself with each thief’s greater motivation and drags the poor lawyer (John Cleese) along for the ride. There’s four scene-stealing performances (Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin) which makes each of their encounters a delight to observe. This is a long over-due cult classic for me and I’m sure it will only improve with subsequent viewings.

★★★★

* * *

(1979)


The inherent problem with a film about a kids’ summer camp is the sheer amount and subsequent loss of control of child “actors.” It doesn’t help that the majority of the adults turn in work that’s just as weightlessly egregious. It would seem the problem lies beyond the casting and lack of directing and right down to the script, assuming one exists. The film has more in common with an observational documentary than anything remotely resembling a fine-tuned comedy that Ivan Reitman would go on to churn out.  The comparison to an observational film sounds like an interesting experiment to me, but still a failure with the aforementioned execution. I haven’t laughed less at an intended comedy since a Friedberg and Seltzer joint. In fact, I found its sense of humor a lot more offensive than many of the adult comedies of our day. The rape jokes, prat falls and PSA one-liners did little to inspire amusement or confidence.

I’ve yet to say a single thing about Bill Murray, whose film this is largely sold as. He’s not blameless nor is he entirely at fault. It’s his voice on the “Good Morning Vietnam” speakers that begins each day with a slew of Laffy Taffy rejected quips about the Great Outdoors. It’s his camp counselor character that sexually harasses a colleague only to win her over by the end. There is a special older brotherly bond he forms with a  hopeless newcomer, which culminates with Murray's “It just doesn’t matter!” tirade, the highlight of the film. I will not deny the sense of adolescent nostalgia and fond feelings lost innocence that Meatballs miraculously conjures up over its running time. Nor will I deny finding close to zero enjoyment throughout this self-described comedy.

★½

* * *

Throughline
Wherein I draw connections and conclusions on last week’s recently beheld:

This week’s crop had me thinking a lot about titles:
- The simplistic pitch of Planet of the Apes.
- The lost and found identity of Ida (she begins the film as Anna).
- A collection of lost and found identities in The Discoverers.
- The un/inspired giveaway of Sleeping Beauty (a titular character who might as well be sleeping when she’s awake due to utter lack of personality or any purpose beyond her alluring appearance).
- The judgement, expectation and hesitation of a Bad Lieutenant.
- The uninspired marketing of a Disney property in Maleficent.
- The warning of shedding the childish “-dy” off the end of Ted (a more serious name for an even less serious man-child).
- The promising, self-aware warning of A Million Ways to Die in the West.
- The red herring yet unforgettable use of A Fish Called Wanda.
- The inexplicable Meatballs.

Last week contained a collection of genres (as usual) but held a finale of four comedies: the stoner, the gross-out, the British madcap, the dated (in that order).

Two of the pairings were obviously intended: Sleeping Beauty before Maleficent. Ted before A Million Ways. The former a needed understanding of the property. The latter a needed case for an auteur. The weekend’s two wide releases came with those respective films built in and are pertinent texts with which to read into their descendants. Seeing the earlier film in each case gave me an appreciation of both the fan-service and the origin(s).

The other four films that were not from this year were victims of expiration. Checking Netflix and Amazon Prime has become a weekly routine and these were among the most necessary in my mind. It’s wild how much those dates now determine what I watch at home. In a way it's bondage. In another it's a catalyst for seeing film I otherwise may never have seen. It sure beats perusing a catalogue of thousands with no feelings of where to start. These four were titles I had long heard about but never seen. Planet of the Apes is also a case of preparation for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes next month (July 11th). I hope to catch up with its sequels (all of which of streaming on Amazon Prime by the way) before its release.

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Seen any of these films? What did you see last week? Please feel free to share your thoughts or your own recently beheld in the comments below!


Also, see what else I've seen this year in my Letterboxd diary.

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