A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 487 – Immortal (2004)

Immortal (2004) – June 30th, 2011

Last night when looking through our list I asked Andy about this movie and he gave me a brief description and I thought to myself “Well, that sounds really bizarre.” And then I said we should watch it tonight because it was under two hours and tonight was going to be one of my later nights at work and we’re running low on those. We really need to make an effort to watch our longer movies on nights when I don’t work late so we don’t end up with a list full of things over two hours long. But hey, that meant we had tonight’s movie all picked out. Easy, right? If only it had actually been enjoyable for me.

I didn’t hate this movie. But I also didn’t really like it. I like the concept and I like a lot of the worldbuilding and I like the main character and I like the visuals but I didn’t really like the movie as a whole. It has one very significant flaw to it that bothered me immensely, and I’ll elaborate on that in a moment. But it also just never quite delivered on a lot of the potential it had. Part of the problem there is that I think this movie bit of way more than it could chew. The end credits mention that it is “loosely based on” a series of comics. And I’ve got to wonder if the comics it’s based on are any more lucid than the movie is, because the movie has a hell of a lot going on and not a whole lot of explanation for it all.

Granted, I’m glad that there isn’t a boatload of voiceover, which there could have been. There’s some, and it introduces some concepts, but then it’s done. But at the same time, when you decide to make a movie set in a world as outlandish as this one is? With Egyptian gods running around and non-humans and mutants and sewer hammerheads who can come up through drains like the slime in Ghostbusters II? You need to make sure that the important pieces of your world and plot can be understood through dialogue and action. I could blame some of this issue on the fact that it’s a French film in English and it’s entirely possible that some terminology just doesn’t translate well enough to get the meanings across. But at least some of the blame lies in the writing itself, because whole important bits and pieces seem to have been mentioned maybe once or twice and then tossed aside.

I’m running on a long day at work and a bad night’s sleep so I’m going to try and piece together some semblance of a plot here and hope it makes sense. I can’t guarantee it. It wasn’t entirely coherent in the movie and that’s not helpful. It’s the year 2095 and clearly it is The Future because there are flying cars all over New York City and people are walking around with some seriously modded looks. There are a lot of CGI Igors here, is what I’m saying, with skin patched together from what are clearly a number of sources and people have all sorts of funky stuff going on with their faces and hair and heads. Half the cast of the movie doesn’t actually exist. At least four fairly important characters are pretty much completely CG. So, you know, there’s that.

Enter two of our leads: Jill and Horus. Jill is a young woman who’s been picked up for some reason or another. Suspected genetic meddling, which is apparently an issue in The Future, but that’s one of the things that’s touched on and then tossed aside. We get a hint that genetic engineering is frowned upon and that there are mutants and non-human beings that aren’t accepted, but then the movie gets bored with that idea and moves on to something else. And that something else is a giant hovering pyramid that’s been floating over the city for a while. We get snippets of newscasters theorizing about it but we know for certain that it contains three Egyptian gods: Anubis, Bast and Horus. And Horus has been sentenced to death by the other two. They give him a week to go poke around on Earth before they execute him. And he’s intent on finding two things: A host body and Jill.

The host body is taken care of when he finds Nikopol, a convict whose cryogenic prison pod fell off of its storage blimp. Since he’s got little to no genetic modification, Horus can possess him just fine. So he does! Fab. And here’s one of my major issues with the movie. We never really get to know Nikopol. We know he comes to hate Horus and the things Horus has him do, but when Horus makes his offer, Nikopol says sure. We’re told, through signs and some talk, that Nikopol was imprisoned for starting some sort of revolution against the government and it has to do with the treatment of genetically modified people, I think? But since the genetic modification plot is given so little time and importance, so too is Nikopol’s part in it. And thus his character gets very little in the way of development. Is he a bad guy? A good guy willing to go to bad lengths for his goals? Who knows! Certainly not the movie.

We spend a lot more time finding out about Jill, a mysterious young woman who seems to not be entirely human but who knows little to nothing about herself. She has pale white skin and blue hair and lips. Her blue tears stain skin and her organs aren’t in the right places. The trouble with Jill as a character is that since she knows so little about herself, we know little about her too. Even when we get some information about her background the character who tells her who and what she is says that he doesn’t really know where she came from. And who is he? A traveler or something. He gets a monologue but it’s rambly and not terribly easy to follow. Suffice it to say that he brought her here and is giving her medication to turn her human and make her forget her past. You know, because she can’t possibly have any say over what she experiences or remembers.

Which brings me to my major criticism of the movie. Jill could have been a fascinating character but instead she is an object. Many of the other characters have things happen that are out of their control, and Nikopol certainly doesn’t get to exercise a lot of agency, but Jill is little more than a doll to most of the rest of the characters. To Dr. Turner, who becomes fascinated by her, she’s a curiosity to be tested and studied. She’s given tasks to perform and record the results of and she’s told what to do. To John, the mysterious man who brought her to New York, she’s a package to be delivered and set up. He gives her pills and tells her to take them and she does, never once questioning him even though the pills are changing her and making her forget everything. And to Nikopol and Horus? Yeah. Ick. Because Horus wants to have a child and Jill’s capable of carrying a divine baby, but Horus can’t knock her up himself. So he takes over Nikopol’s body and makes him rape her. And that on its own? Distinctly unpleasant, but as a plot point I can see where it’s going. Horus here is meant to be a nasty piece of work who sees humans as disposable. But again I have to wonder about Nikopol’s character. At times he berates Horus for making him do this but then he’ll lean in close to Jill and suggest that they have sex again because she owes him for defending mutant rights or whatever (to her credit, she points out she’s not what he thinks she is). And the worst part of it all is that the movie depends upon Jill becoming enamoured of Nikopol and wanting to care for him knowing that he’s raped her but not knowing the nature of the force that made him do it. I mean, if a man says “Sorry I raped you. I couldn’t help it. There’s another part of me that made me do it,” I don’t see that as mysterious and romantic and alluring. But the Nikopol and Jill romance is clearly supposed to be a thing here. Dark and unsettling, yes, but a thing nonetheless. And I find that to be so thoroughly off-putting that I just can’t run with the rest of the movie.

There’s a whole subplot with a CG senator and his secretary and he’s using this shark thing to track down Nikopol since Nikopol knows things and started a revolution. You know, the revolution the movie spends almost no time on. But I find it hard to get invested in that bit. There are no actual human actors involved and the plot it’s dependant on is all but non-existent, so it’s just plain easier to focus on the Jill and Nikopol and Horus bit. And I haven’t even gotten around to talking about “The Intrusion”, which is some sort of dimensional rift in Central Park that no one’s allowed near but which John can use to leave Earth and by the time we got to it I just couldn’t care. I was too irritated with the senator plot that went precisely nowhere and the rape-as-romantic-interlude/female-lead-as-walking-incubator plot that made me retch. This movie gave me so little to actually latch onto, which was such a disappointment. It looks so interesting and has such an odd mesh of ideas and concepts, but I just can’t seem to care.

June 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Immortal (2004)

June 30, 2011

Immortal

Last night Amanda asked me “What’s Immortal?” I had to think a bit to remember the movie she was referring to then I replied, “Oh, yeah, it’s that utterly bizarre French sci-fi film with all the digital people.” Really, how do you even describe this film? You could say that it’s an odd visit to the Uncanny Valley. You could talk about the great art design and outlandish look of the film. Or you could address the somewhat disjointed plot and its disturbing undertones. No matter how you look at it this is one of the strangest movies in our collection (and we do have a lot of strange movies.)

We’re told in the opening monologue of the movie that the Egyptian god Horus has been sentenced to death (though we’re never told what his crime is) and that he has only seven days left before he will be stripped of his immortality. Do you know what? Good. I wanted Horus to die in this movie because he’s a total dick. I think probably that’s the reaction the film maker was going for – Horus doesn’t really see any of the people he interacts with as worth anything except as tools for his own ends. He doesn’t comprehend or care about life or human emotion. He’s just in town to do something to preserve himself.

The town he’s in is New York City in the year 2095. It’s a sort of blend of Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell and Brazil. In this future New York there are aliens living in a kind of ghetto called Level 3. There is also a strange inter-dimensional Intrusion in the place where Central Park used to be. Practically the entire human population have been modified and enhanced by a company called Eugenics. For no reason that is ever adequately explained this corporation is in the habit of rounding up aliens and mutated humans for experimentation.

At the start of the film they have rounded up a mysterious pale skinned woman named Jill who has tinfoil for a scalp and cries blue tears. A doctor with connections in Eugenics notices Jill when she is being processed and for some reason decides to take her under her wing so to speak. Doctor Turner soon discovers that Jill is not human, and indeed has a physiology unlike any known species. Her cellular structure suggests that she is only three weeks old, her organs are all wrong, and she has no memory (perhaps because she is being heavily medicated with unknown drugs.) So Turner offers Jill legal papers and puts her up in a hotel room if Jill will in exchange perform experiments on herself to help Turner study her.

Meanwhile there is a serial killer in town, or so the local hard-boiled investigator believes. Turns out that all these guys exploded from the inside are just folks that Horus has attempted to merge himself with so that he can have a mortal vessel. He seems to be incompatible with all the humans in town because of their extensive genetic meddling, but he gets a lucky break when a pod breaks off of a passing prison zeppelin releasing a convicted criminal from thirty years of cryogenic stasis. Nikipol, the criminal, is a perfect fit for Horus, who moves right in. By odd coincidence Nikopol is a renowned rebel who once battled the founders of Eugenics. Local digital graffiti is all signed with “spirit of Nikopol” in his memory. So a corrupt senator and Eugenics board member spends most of the movie sending various nasty hit-men out to find and kill Nikopol before he can discredit the company.

Jill, meanwhile, has as little idea what’s happening to her as the audience does. Her only friend in the world, besides Dr. Turner, is a faceless man in black called John who came from the strange Intrusion in Central Park. He’s the one who has been providing her with mysterious narcotics. He has some kind of plans for her it seems. So does Horus (now possessing Nikopol.) This is when Horus turns from just an out-of-touch and uncaring god to an actively evil being as he has Nikopol repeatedly rape Jill. Yeah – the movie goes in some really unpleasant directions about halfway through. Jill, it seems, is almost unique in the universe in that she can pro-create with a god, so Horus is desperate to get her pregnant. The movie takes this really disturbing turn, and it just never comes back. Really – it is nasty and ugly and things don’t ever really have a satisfactory ending.

I think maybe that this is the point. This isn’t a “love conquers all” kind of feel good movie. It’s a movie about the capricious and uncaring nature of the universe and how powerless we mere humans are. It’s about how little real control we have over our lives. It’s about futility and ugliness and it seems to suggest that perhaps we should accept the little victories life offers us in consolation. It’s pretty bleak, I have to say.

I stress, however, that this is only my own interpretation of the movie. It doesn’t really try to hard to provide answers. Indeed it doesn’t much concern itself with being lucid or coherent. Much of the plot summary I just wrote is just my interpretation of events displayed on the screen, because by and large the movie doesn’t make many attempts to connect the various disparate things that keep happening.

I think this movie is more about creating a mood and showing a bunch of pretty pictures than about telling a story. It has a very strange aesthetic to it, with a largely computer generated cast and only a very few human actors. There’s Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Turner, Thomas Kretschmann as Nikopol and Linda Hardy as Jill, but aside from a few extras virtually every other character is all digital. In some cases the digital aliens and people look fairly real (and in a couple cases I’m still not sure if they were actors in extensive make-up or computer generated) but in most cases there is a cartoonish look to the people that makes them seem odd in comparison to the high-fidelity world around them. All the futuristic flying cars and VTOL hovering machines in the movie are digital of course, as are most of the sets and locations. It’s all very pretty and intricately designed.

In the end though a lot of pretty pictures strung together don’t necessarily make a movie. This film comes off as more of an experimental tech demo than a feature film. Its general incoherence, combined with the very disturbing plot about the non-consensual impregnation of an innocent and drug addled alien, make it kind of hard to watch. Which is too bad, because it’s so very strange and cool looking. I like the look of it – I just wish it was a different sort of movie.

June 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 486 – Insomnia (2002)

Insomnia (2002) – June 29th, 2011

We bought this on the strength of the cast, which looked excellent. I knew very little about it aside from that it was a thriller/crime drama/murder mystery. And let’s face it, there’s a lot of crime dramas out there. But then we realized this evening that it was directed by Christopher Nolan, which, along with the cast, elevates it quite a bit on potential alone. And that was really all I knew going into this tonight. Run time, basic plot concept, cast and director. That sort of stuff. And knowing it was Christopher Nolan, I admit my expectations went up a good deal.

I wish I could say that the movie completely lived up to those expectations, but it’s not quite there. Oh, it’s not that it doesn’t work. I was just hoping for more twisty-turny psychological effects of the film’s gimmick. After all, part of the conceit of the story is that the main character, Detective Dormer, doesn’t sleep at all through the entire movie, which takes place over the course of a week. The murder mystery takes place in northern Alaska in the summer and the sun doesn’t really go down. The brightness coming in around the curtains of his hotel windows keeps Dormer awake through the night, leaving him bleary and confused during the day. Not the best mental state to be in when investigating a murder.

I would not be able to live in Alaska in the summer. My sleeping habits are atypical at best – I’m nocturnal and I’ve dealt with insomnia in the past – and the idea of having perpetual daylight and not being able to sleep? I’ve been in that state where you’re so tired you can’t trust what you’re seeing and you still can’t sleep and you would give anything to just get a few minutes. If you’ve never experienced it I don’t recommend intentionally trying it. We sleep for a reason. And this movie does an excellent job portraying the experience of being sleep deprived. Dormer focuses on sounds and the world recedes and he sees people where people aren’t. The thing is, while the cinematography showcases the visual effects well and the sound department did a fantastic job with the audio effects and Al Pacino gives an admirable performance, I felt like the movie could have gone further. It could have used the confusion more explicitly in places.

Part of Pacino’s character’s story is that he’s doing things that good cops don’t do. He’s acting questionably. And throughout the movie I had the suspicion that some of what he was doing could be attributed to sleep deprivation and unclear thinking. But then the movie goes and says no, not necessarily. Which means that the effects I was hoping for from the sleep deprivation aren’t so much from the sleep deprivation, which means I think that aside from Pacino’s performance and the handful of explicit moments of visual and audio confusion, it doesn’t so much affect the actual plot as much as I wanted. One thing it does do, however, is provide a link between Dormer and his prime suspect, author Walter Finch.

Finch calls Dormer in the middle of the night, talking to him about how isolated you feel when you’re awake that late. How it seems like you’re the only person in the world. This late night call connects the two and introduces Finch to the audience. And he has a good reason to be calling Dormer: He believes they’re alike in more than just their inability to sleep. He sees them both as accidental killers, unintentionally causing people they cared about to lose their lives. Because he saw Dormer and his partner in the fog, when they were out looking for him. And he saw Dormer take aim at his partner and fire. And he saw Dormer’s partner try to get away from him and he saw Dormer hold him as he died. So the movie links the two men, the detective and his suspect, through both action and reaction. Through manslaughter and insomnia and guilt.

The story follows Dormer as he goes to Alaska to help investigate the murder of a young woman, but that’s not really the story on its own. Because Dormer’s problems in LA, where he’s from, don’t go away just because he’s been sent north. He’s being investigated by Internal Affairs. His partner has decided he has no choice but to cut a deal. And Dormer knows that this will not go well for him. It colors every move he makes. Every decision. Which is what makes the whole insomnia aspect not matter as much as I want it to. The things Dormer does and doesn’t do and his reasoning for everything could well have happened back in LA, without the sunlit nights and lack of sleep. The only thing that really seems extreme for him is when he shoots his partner, and that happens well before he’s so sleep deprived that he’s seeing things. I guess I just don’t feel like the movie took its hook and fit it well enough into its plot.

Now, Dormer and Finch? They are very nicely built characters with lots of motivation and personality. And Pacino and Williams play their roles extremely well. I do love seeing Robin Williams do roles that don’t depend on his manic comedy persona. But there are a number of minor roles that could have been more fleshed out. There’s the murder victim’s abusive boyfriend, whom we only meet a few times before he’s framed for his girlfriend’s murder. There’s the innkeeper for the lodge where Dormer is staying, who listens to him and talks to him and tells him how there are two kinds of people who live in Alaska: People who were born there and people who came there to get away from something. And there’s the local detective, Ellie Burr (played by Hilary Swank), who’s followed Dormer’s career for years and is eager to prove herself both to him and in general. And I wanted more meat for all three of those characters. They could have figured in a lot more and for the latter two it seems like they really should have. Burr is such a pivotal figure in a lot of what happens at the climax of the film and the innkeeper has some lines that suggest that she’s meant to mean a lot more than she does. It’s frustrating, feeling like I’m missing bits for them.

All that being said, despite my criticisms of the spare treatment of a few characters and the uneven handling of hook vs. plot, I really did enjoy this movie. It’s visually gorgeous, and not just because of the beautiful scenery. It’s superbly acted and while I would have liked the plot to be better dealt with in places the actual lines as written all work on their own. I loved seeing the play between Dormer and Finch and how they interacted. I loved seeing Burr figure out much of the puzzle on her own. And I had to take some extra time to think about it before I could finish my review. Which is something I don’t usually allow myself but I really didn’t want to rush this one and I still feel like I haven’t done it justice. I wish it had been better, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good.

June 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Insomnia

June 29, 2010

Insomnia

A couple odd coincidences tonight. We pretty much drew this movie at random from our collection to watch this evening and it just happens to be our second remake in two days and our second Robin Williams movie this week. I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about this movie before I started watching it tonight. I knew the basic premise – Al Pachino is a hardened detective in Alaska, Hilary Swank is the brilliant rookie who idolises him and Robin Williams is his prime suspect. I knew it was a taut psychological thriller. What I didn’t know, or had somehow forgotten, was that this was directed by Christopher Nolan.

Now that we’ve finally watched this movie I have to say I think it’s the best thing I’ve seen Al Pachino in a long, long time. Maybe one time he was a powerful legitimate actor, but I have lately come to associate him with crazy over-acting. He’s the devil in Devil’s Advocate. He’s the megalomaniacal nemesis Willy Bank in the third Ocean movie. He’s a coke-snorting crazy fiend with a little friend. He’s Shakespeare’s Semitic villain. It was refreshing to see him in a more restrained and intense role. Make no mistake – this is his movie.

Pachino is Detective Will Dormer. His boss in LA has sent him up to help out with a murder investigation in Alaska – mostly to get Will and his partner Hap out of the city because Internal Affairs is causing heads to roll back home and Will is a tempting target for a ball buster looking to make political points. He has a long career of catching slimeballs and he worries that if IA were to concentrate on taking him down all his past victories would be undone.

Amanda and I watch a lot of procedural crime shows on TV. Mostly Criminal Minds these days. So there’s a certain familiarity to the notion of the a couple veteran detectives flying in to help out the locals with an unusual case. The twist is that this movie is not just about catching the criminal. It’s about a detective torn apart by the compromises he’s had to make to catch the perps he knows are guilty. Things get far worse for him when Will accidentally shoots his own partner while attempting to capture his suspect – his partner who was getting ready to play along with the Internal Affairs detectives in LA.

It is mid-summer in northern Alaska, and the sun never sets. It just circles the horizon, providing twenty-four hour light. As the action in the movie progresses Detective Dormer is unable to sleep at all and slowly begins to lose his mind. Through some questionable police work he’s able to uncover the identity of the killer, but the killer knows what happened to Dormer’s partner and is threatening to destroy Will’s career if he’s brought in. It becomes a cat and mouse battle of wills, with Dormer’s very soul on the line.

It’s great to see Robin Williams in a completely serious role after the insanity of his performance in Aladdin. As the killer Walter Finch he is all cold calculation and sinister betrayal. He’s a worthy adversary for the sleep-deprived Will, and it’s a role for an accomplished actor at the top of his game. Williams provides just the right combination of smarmy and desperate. Finch sees himself as less of a rival for Dormer and more of a fellow killer. They have both inadvertently taken a life and both gone to great lengths to cover it up. How, then, can Dormer claim the moral high ground?

As soon as I saw Nolan’s name on the box I started to really look forward to this movie. I had heard some about it before but didn’t really know what to expect. What I got was an intense, sometimes disturbing look at how fighting crime can make somebody into a criminal – how constant exposure to that world can harden a man and corrupt his sense of right and wrong. This movie is gorgeous, powerful and contains some of the best acting of both Williams and Pachino’s careers. It makes me look forward to watching it with my mother-in-law, who is also a big mystery and procedural crime drama fan.

June 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 485 – Death at a Funeral (2010)

Death at a Funeral (2010) – June 28th, 2011

Back when we first watched the original version of this movie we really didn’t know what we were going to see. And then we loved it! But at the time I recall thinking that the style of humor and the way it was presented was so very British, I couldn’t imagine how it would play if redone with an American cast. So we figured hey, why not check it out and see? So we bought this and then we put it in our collection and didn’t watch it and didn’t watch it. No particular reason. We just always seemed to pick something else. But I admit, I’d been really curious.

I do find it slightly odd that this movie even got made, mostly because it’s not like the original was old or outdated or even in another language. There are no real barriers to an American audience watching the original aside from the British accents and British countryside setting. And as barriers go, those are flimsy ones. But then there is a bizarre habit on the part of US tv to remake British tv shows. They tend not to do so well. Witness the British and US versions of Coupling. Or don’t. Just go watch the first couple of seasons of the British version. It’s better that way. It’s a strange concept to me. That’s all.

But then I grew up on British television. British comedy, specifically. American sitcoms just never appealed to me the same way. So I probably never would have picked up the remake on my own. Without this project, even, I’d have likely left it on the shelf. And sadly, I think I might have been right to do so. I won’t say this was an entirely bad movie. It definitely has some fun performances and some great moments and it certainly captures the humor of the original in places. But overall I think it’s just plain trying too hard. Trying to capture the essence of a thoroughly British comedy with a thoroughly American cast and not quite managing to meld the two styles well enough to pull it off. So it just comes off as somewhat desperate in places.

It’s difficult to define the specific differences in style. The best I can do is say that the American version is far more blatant in its attempts at humor. So many of the jokes are spelled out and elaborated upon as if the movie doesn’t trust the audience to find them funny without additional prompting. I don’t so much like when a movie acts like I need to be told how to react to it. Let your story and actors do the job, thank you. Showing, not telling. I don’t want this whole review to be an exercise in comparison, but really, part of the brilliance of the original is how contained everyone is. It makes the explosions and outbursts that much more shocking. The humor is in the hushed tones and the build-up. I once read an interview with Patrick Stewart where he defined being British through an anecdote about falling off a surfboard and struggling in the water. Two other surfers paddled by and asked if he was okay and he said yes, hoping that they would understand that by ‘yes’ he actually meant ‘help me, I’m drowning’. And that’s how the original plays. In the US? We’d say ‘Hell no, get me out of this water!’ And that never happened here.

The trouble, I think, is that most of the cast, while excellent, struggled with how to take these thoroughly British roles and lines and perform them as Americans. Because this cast isn’t British and the story has ceased to be British, but the performances are still quiet and somewhat contained. Unfortunately, without the tension present in the originals, where a tight ‘I’m fine’ clearly means ‘I’ve got a dead body in the study’, that quietness just comes of as dull. And never in my life did I think I would be describing Martin Lawrence and Chris Rock as dull. There’s just no real spark there. It’s like they’re reciting the lines without making the parts their own. Like they were trying too hard to make the same movie as the original and missed out on making the remake special. And it could have been so much more.

The evidence for the potential this movie had is some of the other performances. Specifically, I think Columbus Short did a fantastic job as Jeff, the pharmacist who brews up a powerful hallucinogen that three people in the movie end up taking. Now, this is one of my favorite parts in the original but Short isn’t just rehashing the role of Troy. No. His delivery is fantastic in every line. He reacts well and he emotes well and he’s just generally fantastic. In fact, that whole subplot of the movie is well done. The main plot of the movie revolves around the funeral of a family patriarch and all of the horrible things that happen during it. His two sons, Aaron and Ryan here, bicker constantly over responsibility and money and jealousy and his widow belittles Aaron’s wife (and I’ll come back to that) and Aaron, who’s been taking care of his parents for some time wants to break free and there’s a hypochondriac friend of the family and a friend of a friend of the family who’s after the deceased’s niece and it’s a thorough mess. But then there’s a subplot about the niece, Elaine, and her fiance, Oscar, and how her father hates Oscar and Oscar ends up naked on the roof, totally hopped up on LSD.

I love this plot. I love every hideously embarrassing moment of it. I loved it in the original and I love it here. Zoe Saldana is fabulous as always and plays Elaine perfectly. I already mentioned Short as her brother, who concocted the drugs Oscar’s on through the movie. And then there’s James Marsden as Oscar. It’s a great role and Marsden does a great job with it. Every time this plot took over the screen I found myself paying more attention and laughing more. The cast for this subplot just seemed to bring their own takes on the situation and it works. The only detraction for me is Luke Wilson as the friend of the family who’s got a thing for Elaine. It’s a messy role and there’s this additional motivation for him where he’s not really after Elaine he’s after her father’s money and I get it, but it’s weak because it’s never really given much time. Ron Glass does a fine job as the father, but Wilson never seems sure of what he’s after so you never really get a feel for what he’s up to aside from bugging the crap out of Elaine.

Now, speaking of additional motivation, that’s something that was added to Aaron and his wife’s situation. And I actually really quite liked the idea of it. They’re not just trying to move out. They’re trying to start a family and have a baby, which has been difficult, apparently. And this is all introduced well and given a couple of good moments for Regina Hall as Aaron’s wife, Michelle (and overall I think Hall did very nicely with what she was given). There’s more there for the conflict between Michelle and Aaron’s mother, Cynthia. And Cynthia, played by Loretta Divine, is fantastically and serenely biting and grief-stricken, so the additional lines about wanting a grandchild play well. If only they played more. Because that little bit of motivation seems to disappear about halfway through the movie, like the writers forgot they’d introduced it. Which is how a lot of the newer material feels.

Overall I felt like this movie had promise, because it’s still a fun premise and a whole lot of what made the original fun is still in there. They’ve even still got Peter Dinklage as the blackmailer who shows up at the funeral with some secrets about Aaron and Ryan’s father. And he’s great. And Danny Glover is fun as the grumpy uncle and all the pieces are there and then some. But it comes together sloppily. Whether it’s the addition of more obvious joke lines or more motivation, the lackluster performances from the two leads or just that it’s really hard to make a British comedy into an American comedy, I don’t know. After watching it we immediately put in the original while we worked on our reviews. I really wanted to like this movie and I liked bits and pieces of it. But I just couldn’t manage to like the whole package together.

June 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Death at a Funeral (2010)

June 28, 2011

Death at a Funeral (2010)

This is a very strange experience. Since we watched the 2007 original version of this movie for our project we have watched it a couple more times, and we’ve come to enjoy it as a new favorite. We’ve seen it with Amanda’s parents and with some of our friends. We might not know every line yet the way we do with our all time favorite movies, but it’s fast approaching that level. As a result it’s very odd to see this American re-make of the film, which is scene for scene very faithful to the original.

I can’t help reviewing this movie more as a re-make than on its own merits. It’s so incredibly close to the original version, which just highlights the differences and alterations made to appeal to American audiences. Right from the very first scene it’s clear that although the script is virtually identical and every character is the same this is a disorientingly different movie. In the first scene Aaron is waiting for the funeral home director to deliver his father’s body for the titular funeral. In a mix-up that indicates just how everything is going to go wrong for Aaron on this day the corpse delivered into his living room is not his father. Now in the British version the funeral director admits his mistake and beats a hurried retreat. In the American version there’s a confrontation, the funeral director refuses at first to admit that there’s been any mix up, then he reassures Aaron that this sort of thing hardly ever happens – he’s pretty sure he knows where the body really is (it’s in one of two places) and then he thinks he’s lost his keys.

In my review for the original I said that it got much of its humor from the tension of knowing that some great new disaster was about to happen. This movie, by contrast, is a collection of great comedians all trying desperately to steal scenes from each other. Every line has to be a punchline and every performance has to be bigger and funnier. The end result is that there’s a feel of desperation to this film – as though it’s trying frantically to make you laugh rather than just relying on the solid script and the embarrassment of family forced together.

The plot is, as I said, almost exactly the same. Chris Rock plays Aaron, the responsible brother who has been living at home with his parents (in their enormous mansion somewhere just outside of LA.) His father has passed away and all his relatives and some family friends as well have come together for the funeral. There’s his hysterical mother, who can’t stop crying dramatically whenever death comes up in conversation. There’s the irresponsible younger brother Ryan (played by Martin Lawrence) who is a well respected author living in New York with money problems. There’s a pair of angry uncles, one a wheelchair bound curmudgeon and one a wealthy but bitter doctor. There’s cousin Elaine and her fiance Oscar and her brother Jeff the student pharmacist. There’s Aaron’s dimwitted friend Norman and his pal Derek who tags along in hopes of seeing Elaine. And there’s Peter Dinklage reprising his role as the father’s blackmailing secret lover.

What’s interesting here is that the biggest names in the cast are in supporting and generally unfunny roles. Chris Rock is very much the straight man who has to be stoic and maintain his dignity in the face of the madness surrounding him. Martin Lawrence plays his character as egomaniacal and sleazy, but doesn’t really get to crack wise much. Zoe Saldana, as Elaine, is probably the most level-headed person in the entire movie. Tracy Morgan’s character Norman is supposed to be bumbling comic relief, but his performance didn’t stand out for me.

Most of the laughs in the movie come from the many ancillary characters. These are my favorite parts of the movie. James Marsden plays the role of the anxious fiance Oscar who inadvertently takes a heavy duty hallucinogen instead of Valium. It’s the role that Alan Tudyk played in the first movie and both of them are hilarious in the part. It’s largely improvised I think, and they’re given free reign to go as mad as they want to. Danny Glover is the irascible invalid uncle Russell, and it never stops being funny to see him beating people with his cane and yelling at them.

It’s perhaps most fascinating to see Peter Dinklage performing exactly the same role as he did in the 2007 movie. It’s line-for-line exactly the same character (except that instead of a fancy dress party it’s pictures of a Dreamgirls premier that he has pictures of.) Even his costume is the same (only this time he has the beginnings of a goatee.) In keeping with the general amped up tone of the rest of the film he’s a little more insane when his character is high on hallucinogens, but otherwise it’s largely the same role. It says something about the impact he made in the first movie that the producers of this one couldn’t find anybody else to fill his shoes, but I’d imagine that it must have been hard for him to keep the character fresh.

I admit that I didn’t like this version of the movie as much as I did the original. It’s trying too hard to be funny instead of building that repressed English tension that made me laugh so much at the first one. It’s more zany and less restrained. My preference is entirely a matter of personal opinion though, and probably influenced by the fact that I saw the other one first. Perhaps if I were more familiar with this one I would have reviewed the other from a different perspective. As it was however although I got a few good laughs out of the 2010 movie and really enjoyed some of the performances and actors in it (always a pleasure to see Ron Glass for example) it mostly just made me want to put the 2007 one in when I was done. Which is exactly what we did.

June 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 484 – Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin (1992) – June 27th, 2011

The first time I saw this movie was in the theater. Amazingly, one year my mother allowed my brother and I to pick a movie each to go to for our birthdays. Normally, movies in theaters were a forbidden world for us, to be attended only when visiting friends whose parents didn’t mind going to theaters. So the opportunity to go to a theater twice? Holy crap. I don’t know what I picked. No recollection at all. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as memorable as this was, but my birthday came after my brother’s so he got first pick. Oh well. I still got to go.

Now, this is a Disney movie, which means it’s a severely altered version of a classic folktale. It’s not a folktale I’m as familiar with as I am with some of the other things they’ve done (and yes, I still refuse to watch Disney’s Hercules), but it’s pretty obvious that this is not traditional. No classic folktale stars anyone remotely like Robin Williams, after all. The closest I can think of to his particular brand of manic energy would be how I normally think of Loki. But we’re not in Scandinavia in this story. We’re in the Middle East, telling a story about a street thief who gets his hands on a lamp containing a genie.

Visually, this is a gorgeous movie. It uses a combination of 2D hand drawn characters and 3D rendered backgrounds and for the most part that works very nicely. There are a few bits during a daring escape from a collapsing cave where it’s obvious the folks at Disney wanted audiences to know how fancy their 3D rendering tools were, but it’s not obtrusive otherwise. I admit, I do like the old 2D animation with something a little deeper behind it. Ironically, it makes the 2D animation pop more, which is pretty neat in my opinion. But on top of that the movie has a lovely color scheme, full of rich jewel tones. Sure, the red = bad, blue = good thing has been done to death, but it’s played well here. It’s just flat out a pretty movie. I especially love all the transparency effects that are done with veils and smoke and the like. I could put this movie on mute and just watch it for the visuals and be pleased by it. But then I’d miss out on Robin Williams.

Let’s be honest here: I watch this movie for Williams. The visuals are amazing and I do like Jasmine’s independent attitude, but Robin Williams is at the heart of this movie and without him it just wouldn’t shine the way it does. Now, I’m not talking RV or Patch Adams Robin Williams. I’m talking early Robin Williams. Live standup Robin Williams. Radio broadcast Good Morning Vietnam Robin Williams. There’s a great early Williams show that I haven’t seen in years and which is apparently not available on DVD at this time and I found a laserdisc version for sale on eBay but alas, we lack a laserdisc player. And he is wild in it. And that is what I think of when I watch this movie. You can tell he improvised a ton and you can also tell that there was no way some of this stuff couldn’t be used. But much as I love his performance, let’s face it, it was not intended for kids to get. Groucho Marx, Peter Lorre, Arsenio Hall, Ed Sullivan, Jack Nicholson and more I can’t even name or remember to name, and they’re good impressions made better by the animation. But what seven year old knows who Peter Lorre was? Still, I’m not complaining. Because I do indeed love Robin Williams.

By far the musical highlight for me is the introduction of Aladdin as Prince Ali, which is sung mostly by Robin Williams. It’s a hugely fun number featuring tons of ridiculous lyrics and visuals and Williams delivers the whole thing perfectly. There are a couple of other fun numbers, but for the most part the ones that stick with me are the Prince Ali song and A Whole New World. The former because it’s awesome and the latter because it is precisely the sort of song that sticks in my head and makes me renew my vow to avoid Disney movies. It’s a wistful power ballad that melds with Part of Your World in my head to form a sort of ur-earworm. And that is what South Part: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was parodying with Up There. Which gets immediately added to the mix so that in my mind I see Satan riding on a magic carpet and combing his hair with a fork. Yeah. Like I said, this is why I avoid Disney movies.

So Aladdin meets Princess Jasmine when she’s snuck out of the palace to experience life outside the confines of being a princess. He saves her when she breaks the law without realizing it and for his trouble the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar, grabs him to help with a scheme to gain access to the magical lamp. Aladdin ends up with the lamp and a magic carpet, wishes to become a prince and then there’s a parade! Of course Jafar manages to ruin Aladdin’s plans to woo the princess (well, Jafar and Aladdin’s inept attempts at being suave). He nabs the lamp, wishes for lots of power and wealth, and you can guess that they manage to turn the tables on him and all live happily ever after. As plots go it’s not the most complicated of stories. And the lessons it’s imparting aren’t complicated either. Be true to yourself, be honest with those you care about, give people the freedom to live their own lives. I can get behind all three of those.

What I can’t get behind are the plot holes. Leaving aside the fact that I have never seen a non-evil Grand Vizier in any movie ever (as a friend of mine mentioned, it seems to be a perk of the position), there are some issues with the plot. Much as I admire Jasmine’s insistence that she be allowed to marry who she wants, when she wants, if she wants, the whole movie revolves around Aladdin trying to convince her to marry him. And the whole plot point that the law says she must marry a prince? The movie hinges on it. Apparently she’s been tossing princes out on their rears for quite some time and her father is now frantic about getting her married off by her birthday or… um… it’s never made clear, I don’t think. The law says she has to marry a prince by her upcoming birthday “or else”. And then at the end the Sultan is all “Whatever, I make the law! Marry whoever you want!” If you loved your daughter so much, genius, why didn’t you fix that law in the beginning when it was so clearly an issue? And even disregarding that whole deus ex machina sort of ending, there’s the bit with the genie and Aladdin’s last wish. Why does he have to use his last wish for the genie? Sure, he promised, but why not wish himself a prince to satisfy the law (or wish for the law to change) then hand off the lamp to Jasmine and have her wish the genie free? All fixed! It’s the sort of set of plot points that sets my teeth on edge.

All in all, though, I do enjoy the movie. Plot issues and earworms aside, it’s beautiful to watch and it’s got Robin Williams. Apparently they had a ton of extra material from Williams’ recording sessions, not all of which was appropriate for a Disney movie. Oh, how I wish for some of that stuff to leak, because I would love to hear it. Unlikely, I suppose, so I’ll have to be content with what’s actually in the movie. And what’s in the movie is really a lot of fun. Added to the great animation and visuals, it makes for fun viewing. Just beware the earworm and don’t step in any plot holes.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Aladdin

June 27, 2011

Aladdin

I saw this for the first time on opening night at the Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood. (Thank you Uncle Ken!) It was a spectacular experience with a whole chorus line performing songs from Beauty and the Beast before the feature and all the pomp and circumstance that a Hollywood premier should involve. (At least that’s my vague recollection… it might have been the Beauty and the Beast premier I’m remembering.)

What I do know is that I love this movie. It’s been a few years since I last watched it and I was surprised and relieved to find that it hasn’t really aged very much in the intervening time. Oh, the first verse of the opening song has been altered to make the movie less offensive, but other than that it’s the same movie I first saw in the theater. Even today I find that I enjoy the humor, the gorgeous animation and even the message of the movie.

In the same way that many Disney animated films are loosely based on fairy tales this movie is loosely based on tales from 1001 nights. A lovable rogue and thief on the streets of Aggrabah (a character familiar to us after having already reviewed two different versions of Thief of Bagdad) ends up in possession of a magic lamp containing an all-powerful Genie. Using his three wishes he attempts to gain the love of a princess, only to have the lamp stolen by a power-mad Vizier (is there any other kind) who wants to rule the world. That’s the rough outline. What makes the movie fun is what it does with that.

For one thing it has a fantastic and snappy collection of songs. This was the Alan Menkin and Tim Rice era of Disney musicals. Indeed there are many songs here that feel almost as though they are lifted directly from Little Mermaid in tone and spirit. I know that in Amanda’s book this is a down side because now she has songs from this movie caught in her brain, but I still enjoy them after all these years.

For another thing it has fantastic, fluid, beautiful animation throughout. I remember being very impressed at the time by some of the computer generated backgrounds such as during the magic carpet escape from the cave of wonders. It may look a little dated today, but at the time it was groundbreaking stuff.

I also enjoy the blatant messages in the plot. The notion that Aladdin should be honest about himself to win the heart of Princess Jasmine. The repeated insistence of Jasmine that she is not a prize to be won and deserves to make her own choice about whom she will marry. They’re simple morals but effective nonetheless, which is something Disney is fairly good at.

Of course all this pales in comparison with the one true reason to watch this movie. Two words: Robin Williams. This is his party, and everybody else is just invited along. His mile-a-minute riffs combined with the wild animation provided by teams of hard working animators results in a wonderful and mesmerizing experience. Amanda and I laughed at all the references that would sail right over the heads of children in the audience from Groucho Marx to Peter Lorre to Ed Sullivan. Then there are the bits that would have seemed topical at the time but are artifacts from a bygone era today, like his Arsenio Hall whooping. The truth is that no matter how many times I see this movie this shtick doesn’t get old. It’s Williams just doing his usual thing, albeit edited down for a G audience, and that’s just fun.

What can I say? This movie brings back happy memories. Memories of watching the film with my friend Rachel while she sang along. Memories of playing the classic SNES game based on the movie. (I think it has been re-released on virtual console for the Wii – I may have to buy it and play it again.) I know that for Amanda the result of watching this movie is that she wants us to own some Robin Williams stand-up routines, and I’m fine with that as well.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 483 – Metropolis (Complete Restored – 2010 – 148 min)

Metropolis (restored – 2010 – 148 min)

The story of this movie fascinates me. Not the story within the movie, which is mostly a big deal because of when it was told and how it was told, but the story of the movie as a piece of art. Made in 1927, it originally ran at well over two and a half hours. Then it got cut. And cut harshly. Surviving prints ended up around an hour and a half and that’s what people saw for decades. There was a two hour long version out there, but from what I’ve read, each version put out was missing different things. Some countries cut some scenes, some cut others, and what remained was a fragmented work. Until just recently, when versions in Argentina and New Zealand were found to contain a relatively huge amount of what was missing from everywhere else. And so here we are, with everything currently viewable. Yes, there’s still some stuff missing, but we’re talking about eight minutes as opposed to half an hour. That’s significant.

This movie is important for a number of reasons. It’s a well made movie that tells a good story, but it’s also impressive not only due to its preservation and restoration history but also its technical merits. It’s been years since I took a film class, but I remember enough to be impressed by many of the techniques apparent in this movie. Things we take for granted like dolly shots and composites. Composites done now are relatively easy. Then? They involved taking the film and re-exposing it while filming something new. What always struck me about these older techniques is how risky they were. Film stock was and is pricey stuff, and to risk what you had doing shots like that? Amazing. When you think about what was involved in making a movie in the 1920s, then look at this movie, it is simply astounding. Because to put it bluntly, it holds up. It holds up remarkably well.

Oh, sure, it’s silent. No spoken dialogue, reliant on intertitles and the emoting done by the actors on screen. Of course you know right away you’re looking at an older movie. Black and white, silent, that tell-tale silent movie makeup with the ultra pale faces and ultra dark lips and rimmed eyes, and the title cards, obviously. But forget that. Don’t think about the time period it was made in. Think about the story and the acting and the sets and the cinematography. Because they all hold up.

The story is straight up sci-fi dystopia with a message. There’s this amazing city, you see. The city of Metropolis. And it is a wondrous place, full of wonderful people who create and learn and spend all day goofing off. But down below the city, keeping it running and allowing all the people above to do as they please, there is another city. The lower city is full of machines and the people who spend all day every day running them. And reaping no reward for their work. If you guessed that the message here is about the risks of class differences and capitalism, you get a banana sticker. Congratulations. And you know, I get that such an obvious message will turn some people off, but I’m not one of those people. Because I love when a message that’s really pretty clear and obvious is told so well. And the way this movie is told is fantastic.

The leader of Metropolis is a man named Joh Fredersen. He’s very firmly in favor of keeping his two populations separated and maintaining a blissfully privileged life for his son, Freder. But then in comes Maria, a young woman from the Worker City who’s managed to bring a group of Worker children up to one of the gardens. Freder is fascinated by her and follows her when she’s kicked out. And so he discovers a whole new aspect to his world that he never knew existed. Maria is all for a peaceful meeting of the people above and people below, believing that there needs to be a mediator between the two. And that could be the story right there. A simplistic way of telling it would just work with that material, keeping it with Freder, Maria and the two cities. But no, this movie has more.

It would just be an alternate world dystopia if not for the introduction of Rotwang, an inventor in the upper city who has built an automaton. Joh goes to him in hopes of gaining his help in subduing the workers. But Joh and Rotwang have a history involving a woman they both desired and Rotwang wants revenge on Joh for winning her. He kidnaps Maria, transforms the automaton to look like her, then keeps her prisoner while the automaton is sent out to both cities to stir up the people against each other. Because while Joh wants to crack down on the workers, Rotwang wants Joh to lose everything he holds dear. Now that? That is a great way to take the message and wrap it in something more substantial and specific.

I could probably go on for pages telling the story, and one reason I’m tempted to do so is that it really is told well and it’s detailed. Amazingly so for something that depends on intertitles and visual actions. And I’m just so pleased to see so much of what was missing the last time I watched it. The background between Joh and Rotwang is more expanded, as are a few more bits that set the tone for the whole movie. And I love that. Then again, even without the expanded footage this is a wonderfully immersive movie. The sets are enormous, giving a wonderfully deep sense to the underground city. I actually find the worker city underground to be more convincingly done, largely because it’s meant to be contained and enclosed, even when you’re out in the streets. The upper city is supposed to be towering into the sky, but due to restraints on locations to film from obviously most of the upper city scenes are indoors. Lush and expensive and clearly different from the worker city, yes, but I get less of a visceral feel for the city itself. Still, they are amazing sets.

The performances are also wonderful. Yes, they’re exaggerated in the silent movie style, but not in every scene. Freder does a hell of a lot of emoting, as do the rioting workers and rampaging rich folks as well as Rotwang. But Joh and Freder’s good friend Josephat? They’re far more restrained and their performances still work, playing well against the dramatic Freder. Every scene has someone getting visibly emotional and someone holding firm. And then there’s Maria. And not just Maria, but her doppelganger, the automaton who is given Maria’s face and body so she can incite both classes to violence. Brigitte Helm really got to strut her stuff here. She gets to play the sweet and earnest Maria and the sinister automaton (as well as a host of other masked characters – she is thoroughly amazing) and she nails both characters. It’s a truly fantastic set of performances from her and she really does make the movie.

There’s no way to watch this movie without seeing it as a part of film history, so I don’t recommend trying to divorce it from its roots and place. But it’s not just a classic because it’s survived. It’s survived and been restored this much and so much effort has gone into it because it is so amazing. It is an excellent movie and I’m thrilled that we own the most complete version currently available. Maybe some day that last eight or so minutes will be found in good enough shape that we can see them.

June 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Metropolis (Complete Restored Version)

June 26, 2011

Metropolis (The Complete Restored Edition)

It is nearly impossible, watching a classic film produced on this scale and with the weight behind it of this movie, to separate the film itself from the historical significance of it. Particularly a restoration project like this that attempts to re-create a long lost original from bits and pieces found in old records and ancient film archives. To a certain extent I find myself watching the restoration and not the movie.

When I first saw this in the eighties it was as a colorized VHS with a soundtrack by Queen. Even so I knew I was watching an influential classic film that had become a part if the pop culture lexicon long before I was even born. From that first viewing there were certain images that were indelibly burned into my memory. The colossal city-scapes of the towering skyscrapers surrounded by freeways, raised rails and biplanes. The creepy Machine Man being transformed into Maria’s doppelganger and its subsequent bizarre behavior. The denizens of the city below being fed to the machines. The movie might be somewhat overbearing and blunt in its message and some of the visual language of the day might not translate to modern viewers (although it’s impressive to see how much more modern the cinematography is than the Douglas Fairbanks Thief of Bagdad, which we have already reviewed) but there’s no denying how powerful these images are.

This movie is a parable. It’s a tale of a (not too implausible) future where the elite rulers of society live in pampered luxury atop mighty skyscrapers while deep below the earth teeming hordes of downtrodden labourers maintain the colossal machinery that keeps the city running. Think Modern Times but less about the dehumanization of mankind in general and more about the power struggle between the haves and the have-nots.

When the son of the lord of Metropolis, the callow youth Freder, encounters a woman from below who is trying to show the children of the plebes how the other half live he decides to follow her into the worker’s city and is appalled by the conditions he discovers there. He trades places with one of the workers and soon finds himself attending a secret meeting of the proletariat led by that same woman, Maria, he first saw in the city above. She tells the masses that a mediator from above will come to them soon to find a way to bridge the gap between management and labour. (This is a particularly amusing scene to me because the way she explains this to her congregation is by relating a version of the parable of the tower of Babel. It’s a fairly meta scene to have a character in one parable telling another one.) Unfortunately Freder’s father Jon Fredersen witnesses this gathering and commands the fairly mad inventor Rotwang to discredit Maria using his newly manufactured artificial man in her guise.

There’s a lot of big action scenes after this. Rotwang kidnaps Maria and unleashes his automaton to incite both the elite and the downtrodden alike using Maria’s appearance. The workers revolt, destroying the machines that run the city and flooding their underground homes. Maria and Freder, with Freder’s compatriot Josaphat, rescue the children that the workers had absent-mindedly left behind in the flooded city. Ultimately there’s a fight atop a cathedral between Rotwang and Freder which seems forced and cliche to me, but might have been less so at the time that the movie was first released in 1927.

It’s a gorgeous movie. Not just for the time when it was filmed – it’s a beautifully designed movie for any time period, filled with colossal sets and action involving hundreds of extras. Some of the special effects are so far ahead of their time that I simply don’t know how they were accomplished at all. (Like the rings of light during the transformation sequence – were they hand animated – drawn right onto the negative? Were they filmed as an extra element as a second pass on the film? I honestly don’t know.)

The acting, too, is fantastic. My particular favorites are Alfred Abel as Jon Fredersen, with his wise and aloof mien and the great comic performance of Heinrich George as Grot, the head of the labourers and the only one who seems to understand what the result of their revolution will be. Far and away the best performance, in her many roles, is Brigitte Helm. She really gets to act crazy as the evil doppelganger and it’s rather astonishing to watch.

The version we’re watching tonight is the most complete version currently available. The original cut of the film was deemed by many theater owners to be too long and so the only versions available for many years were severely truncated with entire plot arcs missing. (There’s a rivalry between Rotwang and Jon Fredersen over Freder’s mother Hel for example which had been in the script but didn’t exist any more in the footage available up until about 2002.) Then a few longer prints were discovered in various film archives which allowed film historians to put together this version which is only missing two brief scenes. The film quality of some of the restored footage is very noticeably worse than the digitally re-mastered portions of the film which had been restored back in 2002. As a result it’s extremely obvious when your watching bits of the film that are newly re-discovered. I found it both fascinating and distracting. I’m delighted that a version of the film that is almost completely restored to the way it was in 1927 is available now on DVD, but it’s difficult to enjoy the movie for itself when the blend between old and newly discovered footage is so jarring.

This movie is required viewing in most film classes, and it’s clear to see why. It’s an astonishing accomplishment and filled with iconic images that have been often imitated down through the years. It even has a couple unexpected camera moves that must have been experimental and revolutionary at the time. There’s a dolly shot when Freder and his father are talking. There’s a POV push in when Freder sees a discarded piece of Maria’s clothing while he is hunting for her after her abduction. There’s a shot during the escape from the flooded city where the camera swoops madly (because it was mounted on a swing.) Not to mention all the huge vistas, composite shots and special effects. It’s a significant investment of time to sit for 148 minutes of silent movie. You can’t really look away or become distracted when you might miss title cards with essential dialog. But I think it’s an investment well worth making if you can get this version of the film. Academically and aesthetically it’s a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

June 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment