Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DJG / The Weekend Watcher

Deconstructing Harry * * * 1/2
Directed by: Woody Allen / 1997

Several sources had pointed "Deconstructing Harry" as one of Woody Allen's finer late period works, if not one of his overall best. Sometimes I tend to put pop-culture quick to praise on my back burner, as to let the hype simmer and to see it within my own frame of vision and mind. I've done this with "Deconstructing Harry" and many other Woody Allen pictures and in fact have taken my sweet time in devouring his massive film output, as opposed to other directors. Woody Allen has a lot to offer and a ton of storytelling and film weapons he's amassed over the past four decades. Instead of critical hail, this watcher feels more hail stormy frustrated and a bit cheated by "Deconstructing Harry”. It definitely has many brilliant ideas and devices brewing, yet they seem to compete at times and the picture never fully realizes itself, leaving me with a "Ho-Hum-Didn't-Do-It-For-Me-Coulda-Been-Better" verdict as Allen’s typographically reliable white serif on black background credits rolled. Mostly, I think its Woody Allen himself who ruins the picture for me. I once enjoyed his little self-loathes, upper-crust tantrums and society stabs from his high rise Freudian observatory. However, the older I and the older he gets, the less I care about hearing him whine about the meaning of life and art shop talk. And the more I just want a creatively solid story without the "F" word dropped every thirty seconds by a motor-mouthed old man who can't manage to walk down the street, yet somehow ends up always getting to create for a living while finding solace and score in beautiful women decades younger than him. I once was gaga for "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan", two films that are still great and grand, yet have not been quite in tune with me after a four year separation from watches because Allen has slowly gotten on my nerves over the years. Or, maybe I did some sort of weird growing up since yesterday, or maybe I just never really fully soaked in his films before? Regardless, I say for him to stop complaining and stop trying to act, man! "The Purple Rose of Cairo", now that is a five star Woody Allen masterwork for me and he stays behind the camera. To each his/her own, I guess?


Toy Story 2 * * * * ½
Directed by: John Lasseter and Ash Brannon and Lee Unkrich / 1999

While sick last week I put on some good ol’ “Toy Story”. This past spring I extinguished my tax refund dollars wisely and purchased a one-two VHS (The big, awkward to shelve, puffy cases.) punch of early Pixar at a used culture store. Let’s go backwards even more: I was one of those high school guy geeks who declared “Toy Story” as his favorite movie for a short while…at least before I saw “Evil Dead” or “Monty Python and The Holy Grail” for the tenth time. So, you can see why I got beat up a lot? Anyway, college hit and then adulthood and blah-blahs. Even though I still had all of my toys and am a firm believer in not getting rid of the good and formative things from the past (especially play things), I had tucked my love for “Toy Story” in the back of the pop-culture closet. Seeing it again for the first time in thirteen years (Really, is it a teen now?), I was re-confirmed that “Toy Story” is a masterpiece and connects the dots back to my zitty high school face and now sits firmly in my all-time Top 25 again. Anyway, onto “Toy Story 2”…yep, a half a star not-quite-as-good as the first, but equally charming, bitter-sweet and mesmerizing. It’s easy to get picky with more recent Pixar’s…but, the “Toy Story” franchise (Do two films equal a franchise? I think that these two do.) is one that will forever not only be in my treasure chest, but one that I’ll treasure inside of my chest. Am I swooning hearts, or just gearing you up to punch me?


Magnolia * * * * *
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson / 1999

After last year's mega biblical parable-like wallop, "There Will Be Blood", Paul Thomas Anderson was asked (I can’t remember the source.) if God was relevant in his film universe. He stated to just leave that up to the viewer. Personally, this viewer answers with a giant YES. Next year "Magnolia" is reaching its tenth birthday. This is something that I find astonishing as the film still feels extremely fresh and packs quite the punch, even after five or six watches. And that's the THING. This films can't be seen once or even twice. This tightly-wound multi-layered, genius flowing film demands to be seen multiple times and something new and slugging can come from it each time. Though, what might be more astonishing is that P.T. Anderson was basically still in his film diapers (a young late '20s) when he wrote and directed this very personal and poignant film on loss, suffering, regret, redemption, faith, forgiveness and uncovered layers. At first watch "Magnolia" might awkwardly shuffle and not unravel just right and tight. But, watch it multiple times and then see the magic unfold. And what other non-musical films do you know of that have a climactic ensemble sing-a-long that is one of the best uses of a song in a film ever, followed with a plague-like ending that is quite possibly one of the most astounding things you'll ever see on film? See “Magnolia” and report back to me. And if you had trouble with “There Will Be Blood”, then you might just want to stay away from “Magnolia”. Though, I’ll just leave that decision up to the viewer.


Nim's Island * * * *
Directed by: Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin / 2008

Growing up country, I had a steady diet of tree houses and forts, inside and out. Add on top of this, a healthy dose of all things pop-culture that sprinkled my childhood hideouts, creations and imagination beyond to the idea that I was in my own world. My eyes grew red for many an hour as I read private island tree house variety shows like "Swiss Family Robinson", and “The Gummi Bears” (In particular, the episode with Gusto Gummi’s who lived a life of solitary artistry on an island). Oh, and just to keep bears on the menu, “The Berenstain Bears” and their tree house and (In particular, the episode where the cubs had a private clubhouse on a little island in the woods.). These shows illuminated my own fantasy of wanting my own private island, and I got it even if it was all in my head. And I still have it now while I sit in my little clubhouse beneath the earth. But, whenever I hear about other grown-ups, like Johnny Depp or the late Marlon Brando, purchasing their own islands, I get a little envious. I want Nim’s island too as it seems like quite the life, even if it’s a little far-fetched. But, I like to stick to that old phrase (Who/Where does it come from?), “Let a Dreamer Dream”. Enough of my dreams, “Nim’s Island” is about a little girl named Nim (The charming Abigail Breslin and not that other young girl who is in everything.) who lives on a private, unknown island with her marine biologist father and a charismatic crew of lovable marine and jungle creatures. Nim is also into adventure. Naturally, one would have to have some adventure up their sleeve living on their own island. Oh, and Nim’s island houses a sleeping volcano. To make a long story short, Nim is really into a series of book about an Indiana Jones-like adventure seeking, fedora and leather jacket wearing hunk named Alex Rover who globe trots for treasure, saving lives in the process. The “Alex Rover” books are written by a reclusive (cliché idea, but cute movie) San Francisco author named Alexandra Rover (This was a great role for Jodie Foster.). Anyway, Alexander Rover cures her reclusive tenderness by seeking adventure in her title character that has given her a career. She lives in Alex Rover so much that she has conversations with him and seeks advice from his out of the house expertise. Rewind a bit: Nim’s father leaves his daughter’s island for a night to capture some glowing sea bacteria. A few bad storms, choppy waters and circling sharks later and his boat is a sinking turd as he tries to find his way back. All the while, Alexandra Rover emails Nim’s father with a question as her latest “Alex Rover” novel has her blocked with trying to illustrate with words what the inside of a volcano looks like (Yeah, I too asked the question, “How do the heck does this island have power. Is this LOST?” Actually, it is called solar powered internet.). So, Nim gets pumped up for Alexandra’s email, thinking that it is the real Alex Rover. Nim also explains that she is in need of help because not only is her father lost at sea, but she had badly injured her leg from a fall while researching the volcano. So, of course Alexandra Rover, after much coaxing from the imaginary Alex Rover, musters strength to leave her home and fears behind as she somehow finds the island and it upsets Nim that she is not a he. And then Nim’s father comes home and you get the sense that Alexandra Rover is gonna stick around on the island and become Nim’s mother. Ok, so you got all of that? I’m exhausting this one…but, it’s a load of fun and made me feel like a kid again. Oh, and there are cruise ship buccaneers…and all that fun stuff. See it if you want some great childlike adventure for your own private island imaginations.


Strictly Ballroom * * *
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann / 1992

It's fair to say that Australian director Baz Luhrmann makes entirely unusually interesting pictures, even if the viewer isn't necessarily "into" them. There are definitely weirder movie makers, but to work within the Hollywood system with the pictures that Luhrmann makes would have to be a challenge. I think I officially proclaim Baz Luhrmann as the Terrence Malick of traditional quirk. Malick is more the classic master, but Luhrman stands on his own film language level. My main comparison is that they both take incredible amounts of time between pictures. Though, Malick wins at that with 20 years between “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line”. "Strictly Ballroom" is Luhrmann's first feature and it's a simple, yet odd little story, about competitive ballroom dancing. Such subjects are not my cup of cinema tea, but I found it oddly compelling and quite unique in a Baz Luhrmann sort of way to keep me compelled and bewildered. Being that his only two follow-ups have been the impressively odd "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge!", I'm very interested in what brand of unusual his fourth film will finally bring this fall to the movie house. I understand it’s a WWII drama. One can only imagine what kind of imagination Lurhmann will cook up this time.


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