A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 546 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair – August 29th, 2011

Where the current series of adaptations has stopped and gone back, the BBC series went on for one more in the timeline while they still had the actor who played Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the right age for The Silver Chair. I can’t fault them that, though I have to say that this is my second least favorite of the Narnia stories (the very least favorite being The Horse and His Boy, which I could never quite get into). It’s not the concept so much as the characters. And it’s not the characters in general so much as Jill Pole. I want to like it a hell of a lot more than I do and that’s frustrating.

The thing about the earlier stories is that they’re mostly about grand adventures in the wondrous land of Narnia. The children brought through from our world to Narnia have a sense of epic destiny and importance. And while there’s plenty of danger to go around, there are also friendly allies and the general knowledge that the heroes aren’t alone. This story, on the other hand, is rather dire. And made more so because of the air of missed opportunity. Eustace Scrubb returns to Narnia in this story, having entered when he and a schoolmate, Jill Pole, wanted to get away from some bullies. The thing is, their adventure starts quite differently than all the others. They start in Aslan’s country. And instead of organically finding out what needs doing by exploring in Narnia, Aslan sets out specific tasks for them. Tasks they mess up at every opportunity.

On one hand, things go awry as soon as Eustace and Jill arrive, so perhaps if they hadn’t, Aslan would have just sent them on their way without any instructions and trusted that they’d figure it out along the way. On the other hand, he didn’t drop them directly into Narnia, so I take that as an implication that he was planning on talking to them at the outset anyhow. Regardless, Jill earns some distinct grumbling from me when she shows off, makes Eustace fall over the edge of a cliff and then has such trouble remembering four simple directions from Aslan that she arrives in Narnia too late to convince Eustace of the first one. And that right there sets the tone for the whole thing.

The purpose behind Eustace and Jill being in Narnia this time is to save Caspian’s son, Rillian, from a witch who has kidnapped him and imprisoned him for years. Caspian is now old and sick and they witness him leaving to sail out to the islands, Eustace not realizing that the elderly king is his old friend. Of course, the first instruction Aslan gave Jill was to tell Eustace the first person he saw would be an old friend and he should go to him at once to get the help they’d need for their quest. Jill gets there late, Eustace doesn’t understand what Aslan meant and Caspian sails off without speaking to him. No help for them! Fortunately for them, the talking owls help them out, deciding that the assistance they need is a Marshwiggle.

Now, Puddleglum the Marshwiggle is one of my favorite parts of this movie, and not just because he’s played by Tom Baker, though that is certainly amusing. But he’s one of the few touches of Narnia in the story, since the adventure itself takes Jill and Eustace far to the north. He’s much like Trumpkin the Dwarf was before he believed in Aslan. Very pessimistic and talking down much of what he encounters. But he’s also quite brave and he knows more about the land than either of the two human children, so he’s a good companion to have on an adventure like this. So with Puddleglum in tow, they set off northwards to find the missing prince and return him to Narnia.

And as they go, Jill manages to forget pretty much everything she was told by Aslan. She and Eustace fight and bicker and prod at each other constantly. Puddleglum’s dour and negative nature eventually wear the two others down and they start ignoring his advice. They miss two instructions and end up almost eaten by giants. And through it all I can’t help but think “If Lucy was there, she’d have found Rillian, brought him back and thrown a party by now. Get on with it!

Now, I’m pretty sure that’s the story itself as written. As I said, I’m not as fond of this one as I am of the first three and the last two, so I haven’t read it as many times as I’ve read the others. But given how faithful the other BBC adaptations were, I expect that holds true for this one as well. Which means I can lay it all at C.S. Lewis’ feet. On one hand, I understand that after writing the first three, with the Pevensies and grand armies and adventures with kings and all, writing a different type of adventure must have been nice. They can’t all be romps with royalty through beautiful Narnia. There’s a widening of the world here as Eustace and Jill discover places that we were never shown in the earlier stories. And I appreciate that. I just wish that these dangerous and grim lands had been explored by people a little more likeable, who could see the mysterious magic of their surroundings better than Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum do. As it is, while Eustace is a good deal better here than he was when we met him in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and I like Puddleglum as a character, Eustace and Jill aren’t a great pair. It’s as if the entirety of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was told with Lucy and Edmund traveling together, before Edmund spoke to Aslan.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s just not fun to watch this group have an adventure. The movie was shot in lovely country and I like all the ideas of there being a ruined giant city and the “gentle” giants who are only gentle in that they’ll cook you before they eat you. The underground kingdom isn’t anything terribly special, but the costumes are amusing and there’s a nice blueish cast to everything that sets an eerie otherworldly mood. I’ve got no fault with the acting. It’s not the performances that keep me from enjoying this. After all, I like the David Thwaites, who plays Eustace and I love Tom Baker ad Puddleglum and while I don’t like the character of Jill I do think Camilla Power did well with her. And then there’s Barbara Kellerman as the witch. And I really kind of love that the White Witch, Green Witch and the hag from Prince Caspian are all played by the same person, as if all the witches in the stories are one force. It’s the story. And since the BBC sticks close to the stories with these adaptations, there really wasn’t ever going to be anything to help that.

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

Movie 545 – The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC) – August 27th, 2011

More Narnia tonight, and this one a real departure from the newer adaptations in that it’s been packaged as a single story even though it’s really not. I know originally it was meant to be two separate stories, but by the time it was aired in the US, it had been combined into one. The best reason I can think of is that the first part, Prince Caspian only takes two ½ hour episodes from beginning to end, whereas The Voyage of the Dawn Treader takes four and both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Silver Chair took six each. So it makes perfect sense for Wonderworks to have stuck the two and the four together to maintain a regular schedule. Then again, if they’d had a daily half hour time slot they could have just shown the entire four story set as a run of eighteen episodes. That’s practically a full season of television. Regardless, we watched them together tonight as a single movie.

Really, they do go well together. After all, they’re linked by the character of Caspian. And it’s clear that they were intended to be watched rather close together. From what I recall of the books, Prince Caspian ends with the children all heading off on different trains to different boarding schools, whereas The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has Susan off in America, Peter visiting with Professor Kirke and Lucy and Edmund stuck spending the summer with their aunt, uncle and cousin. This adaptation, which is as faithful to the books as the first one was, has changed this one thing to bump the stories up against each other. The trip into Narnia to help Prince Caspian claim his throne here takes place as one last adventure for the whole family before Peter’s off to school, Susan’s off to America and Lucy and Edmund go to their cousin’s. And to be honest? I like what it does with the story. It wouldn’t work for a feature film, but for a serial it’s rather nice. And then too, the timeline works out nicely. Narnian time going faster than our time, it works for me to have a short time in our world mean only a few years in Narnia, as opposed to a year or so meaning the same thing when it apparently meant hundreds of years before.

So it’s clear that the two stories were meant to run into each other, regardless of whether they were packaged as a single six episode set or one two episode set and one four. And I like that. In my review of the new adaptation of Prince Caspian I complained a good deal about all the walking and talking that happens in the book. It’s tedious, to be honest. And in an slavish adaptation, it would bog down the entire story. So it’s a little truncated here. Far more present than in the new version, but it’s not allowed to overwhelm the actual story of Caspian fleeing for his life and encountering true Narnians and leading them in battle to reclaim his throne and bring faith in Aslan back to the country.

The thing is, without all the talking and walking and meandering thoughts on the nature of faith, it’s really a rather short story. Caspian flees the castle and meets the Dwarves and Trufflehunter the talking badger, who introduce him to many of the other old Narnians before they all have a wild feast on the Dancing Lawn. He uses Susan’s horn to call for help, which arrives in the form of the Pevensies, who show up at Aslan’s Howe (where Caspian and his people are already dug in) just in time to stop an attempt to resurrect the White Witch. And then Susan and Lucy head off with Aslan to wake the trees while Edmund and Peter challenge Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, to buy time before the battle. Which ends up being not so big a deal since Aslan shows up and scares everyone away before the battle really has a chance to get going. It’s accurate to the book, yes, but it’s amusing to see what the book comes to when all the talking is reduced but the rest of the plot isn’t padded out.

All of that means that Prince Caspian makes for a good introduction to the next story. It shows the differences that have come to pass in Narnia without delving too deeply, since they’re not going to be all that different for long. It introduces a character who, by the next story, will have grown into his role as King. And it primes Lucy and Edmund for going right back into Narnia, which of course they do, given the set-up I mentioned before. So almost as soon as they’re back in England, they see a painting with a Narnian ship and they’re being pulled into it with their cousin, Eustace and there’s Caspian, now a young man, sailing off on a quest.

This version is, like the others, quite faithful to the book, so there’s no additional plot here, just Caspian’s search for the seven lost lords and a trip that goes from island to island, event to event. This being a serial, the episodic nature of the story works far better than it would in a single movie. It feels right to have things happen bit by bit. They go to one island and find slavers and then they deal with that! Then they go to another island and find a different problem, deal with it, move on. Etcetera. There’s no attempt to tie everything together with a villain or additional overarching problem to solve. The only problems at hand are the missing lords and the specific issues at each location. It doesn’t quite translate out to an island per half hour episode, but near enough. And I’m fine with that. I like each island having its own story and its own problem. I like the time allowed for Eustace’s transformation and I like that he changes for internal reasons in this version, as opposed to external reasons in the other.

In many ways, this story is about individual voyages for each of the main characters. Edmund is the only one I can think of who doesn’t get a solo situation to face. But Lucy has to face down her jealousy of her sister. Eustace becomes a dragon and has to cope with his greed and attitude. And Caspian has to face the responsibility he has as a King. Edmund’s only real problem to face down is when he and Caspian argue over the island where the water turns things into gold. But then, Edmund already had his personal journey all the way back in the first story, so I forgive that and I enjoy seeing the group grow. And the movie does it all nicely. It’s lovely seeing all of the ocean scenery and I love the boat used as the Dawn Treader. The end has always disappointed me somewhat, but I credit that to the technology to do what needed doing not quite existing at the time it was made. Overall, though, I just enjoy this movie. It’s the sort of thing I can put in and watch a portion of, then go back to later and it’s perfect comfort viewing.

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

Movie 544 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (BBC)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (BBC) – August 26th, 2011

Back to Narnia for the weekend, which feels rather fitting. There’s something about traveling to an imaginary land that seems perfect for a stormy day and we’re expecting a hurricane to arrive this weekend. I’ve probably been influenced by Wizard of Oz. Regardless, staying inside and watching a trio of three hour long fantasy serials seems like a fantastic way to spend a nasty weekend. And these three are straight out of my childhood, much like The Box of Delights and A Little Princess. All BBC adaptations of classic children’s books. All shown in the US on PBS’s Wonderworks series. All long and incredibly faithful to the books.

It’s a shame, really, that the budget for this wasn’t higher. These Narnia serials were made to be shown in six episodes each, covering just under three hours. That gives an enormous amount of screen time to a book adaptation and that’s one reason why they can afford to be so faithful. Much as I love and adore seeing books I enjoy on a big screen, I admit that when it comes down to it, I think a television miniseries is a hell of a lot more effective. Just look at Dune as an example. Think about the David Lynch adaptation, then, if you’ve seen it, think about the Sci Fi Channel miniseries of the same book. They’re very different creatures, and while I enjoyed the Lynch version, I thought the miniseries did a far better job of bringing the world of the book to the screen. I’m saddened to hear that the planned Dark Tower movies are in limbo now, but I honestly hope that someone like HBO picks them up and gives them a good miniseries treatment. Because a miniseries allows for a lot more exploration. And so it is with this series. If only it had been given more money.

Granted, the effects aren’t terrible. I’ve seen far far worse. But anyone who’s seen older Doctor Who episodes will understand when I say that it is distinctly obvious that this adaptation is a BBC production. Which personally, I find charming. I grew up with this stuff. It’s nostalgic for me to see the 2D animation for many of the animals and the not-quite-matched-up torsos and bodies on the centaurs. It’s the spirit of the thing that I find important, and I really do think that this adaptation manages to capture that even with a budget that is a tiny fraction of what the newer big screen adaptation surely had.

The story is, of course, much the same as the book. I mentioned already that it is impressively faithful as adaptations go. The Pevensie children, sent away from London to the safety of the countryside during World War II, discover a passage to Narnia through the back of a mysterious wardrobe in a spare room of the country house they’re staying in. Again, Lucy is the first in. Again, her siblings don’t believe her. Again, Edmund follows her then lies to Susan and Peter after having met the White Witch. And again, he sells them out for a pile of Turkish Delight. Again, the children all end up going into Narnia and again, they discover that they are to lead a revolution against the White Witch. The basic story doesn’t change from version to version. But in this adaptation, it feels as if the writers went through the book page by page to decide not what to include, but how to include it. At times, it works very well. At times it’s obvious just how far beyond the means of the adaptation some things were. And that isn’t necessarily a budget issue every time. This was made in 1988. Even the highest budget couldn’t have made some things technologically possible.

Still, I’m not criticising it for its shortcomings. The acting isn’t winning any awards, though I always did like the children who played the Pevensies. Barbara Kellerman as the White Witch chews far more scenery than I ever would have thought possible had I not seen this as a child. I compare all other scenery chewing to this, really. But that works. She’s over the top and incredibly dramatic and I love it. I think my only criticism is Aslan himself. The huge fake lion is well done and all, but there’s something a little too ponderous about his line delivery. It makes everything he says feel like he’s trying to put people to sleep. Which is frustrating, because I like the vocal quality of the person doing the lines, but the delivery is so slow, like they were directed to speak more deliberately to communicate authority or something. Whatever the reason, it just sounds drowsy, not powerful.

Other than that, however, I really do enjoy this version of the story. It’s not lush or epic or spectacular, but it is thorough and sweet and it feels right. It’s faithful, which I’ve mentioned, but it’s also respectful of the source. I’m not saying the newer version isn’t, just that it’s readily apparent here that this was made by people who knew the story and knew the source and who wanted to take everything on the pages and put it all up in visual splendor. And if that meant some awkward bits that didn’t translate perfectly from one medium to another, then so be it. Those bits would still be there so there’d be no doubt that this is the story in its entirety. And I appreciate that.

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

Movie 541 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) – August 23rd, 2011

I’ve mentioned that I grew up with the BBC versions of these stories and I have to admit that the third story was always my favorite. Same for the books. I loved this story of a voyage at sea, full of all of the perils of such a quest and all of the beauty of it too. I loved venturing past the known lands of Narnia into the unexplored islands and the waters beyond. So I was looking forward to this installment, but I was again nervous. I knew going in that it was going to be a difficult transition from page to screen. I knew that like in Prince Caspian, changes would have to be made. I also knew that they’d run into trouble with the movie during filming. So I think my worries were reasonable. Turns out they were also at least a little justified.

Now, let me make it plain that I really did enjoy this movie. I had fun watching it and it had a lot of what I wanted from it. But it is not the story I loved from the book and it is not the story that the BBC put on the small screen. In some ways that was inevitable. Much as I love the original story, it is almost tailor made for a mini-series. It’s an episodic journey from Narnia to the edge of the world, stopping at one island to deal with a problem, solving it, then moving on to the next. There’s the dragon episode and the sea serpent episode and the Dufflepud episode and so on and so forth. Yes, there is a plot that ties them together, but it seems to have little in the way of urgency.

In the original story Caspian, who is now King, has embarked on a voyage to the Lone Islands and beyond to try and find the seven lords who were loyal to his father and banished by his uncle. And in the original? That’s the plot. Caspian has gone in search of the lords. That’s it. Reepicheep, the valiant talking mouse, wants to sail to the end of the world, but Caspian’s just looking for some lords. And maybe it’s been too long since I read the book and there’s some pressing reason for it to be Caspian doing this, but If there is, it’s not really enough of a reason to have made an impression on me. Why Caspian himself? Why would a young king, new to his throne, recently done overthrowing the uncle who’d killed his father to steal the kingdom, leave said kingdom to go sailing? It just seems like perhaps he could have sent envoys to the islands instead. I’m just saying. So I totally understand why this new adaptation felt the need to make the whole thing have more of a pressing need.

Not that said need shows up right away. Caspian’s already on the ocean in the Dawn Treader when Lucy and Edmund and their sulky and obnoxious cousin Eustace get pulled into Narnia to join him. But it’s not long before we get a clue as to the larger overarching plot that’s being introduced. One of the first episodes of the original story involves Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace being captured by slave traders and auctioned off. And that’s kept mostly intact. But added to it is a mysterious green mist that swallows human sacrifices sent out to it in dinghies. And there you have your overarching plot. Now not only is Caspian out to find a bunch of lords for his own personal reasons, but he has a duty to the people of his kingdom. To people long neglected before he came into power. And I like the concept there. It makes the whole voyage seem a little more important and a little less like Caspian wanted a vacation.

The trouble here is that the whole mist thing then has to permeate the entire movie, tying it together. And it succeeds in some places and not in others. There are places where it feels somewhat organic, and other places where it’s clear just how much needed to be changed in order to give the movie an exciting climax instead of the ending it had originally. Working the mist into places like the island with the water that makes everything into gold? That doesn’t feel unreasonable. Having it be a sort of sign of temptation and fear works nicely. And that’s a common theme in the whole story anyhow, with people wanting to do things they know they shouldn’t. Lucy is tempted to say a spell that will let her take her sister’s place as the favored daughter. Eustace gives in to the temptation to take a dragon’s treasure. Edmund and Caspian fight over the gold water. The Dufflepuds are all but ruled by their own whims and wants, regardless of reason. I get it. I do.

Unfortunately, at the end the movie has to take all of that and work it into a big climax. Using an island from the actual story, where all of your nightmares become real, was a good idea. It means there’s no new locations being added and a truly sinister location from the original story gets more of a featured position. But it also takes the sea serpent and puts it there as the climax. And comparatively speaking, that just doesn’t measure up to the giant battles in the other movies. It feels like it’s trying too hard. And while the serpent itself is well done, I’m also disappointed that it’s shown to be a creation of fear, not an actual thing living in the oceans around the Lone Islands. Battling everyone’s fears to help find the last lord and dispell the curse that threatens the islands? Yeah, okay. It works in theory. But it’s so very different from the original story and from the previous movie adaptations.

As a movie, I think it works in many ways. As always I enjoyed the acting of the leads, this time including the absolutely marvelous Will Poulter as Eustace. Georgie Henley has grown up wonderfully and I truly hope she continues to act, be it on stage or screen. Same for Skandar Keynes. Ben Barnes does a lovely job as Caspian, though as I mentioned in my review for Prince Caspian, I do wish Caspian had been allowed to grow up across the two movies. It’s not the acting I take issue with. And I like what’s changed at the end, with Caspian deciding on his own not to continue on. Not to mention, I love the neverending wave at the edge of the world. And it’s not the necessity of changing things to make a feature film that I take issue with either. It’s that while I can see the germ of a good idea here, and I can see how it was meant to play out, it never strikes quite right. I wish Eustace had changed earlier. I wish things hadn’t been quite so melodramatic. I wish the sea serpent had been worked into the rest of the movie and something else had been incorporated into the end. I think that given how this movie went, it was a good idea to change tacks if this series is to continue. I’ve heard that The Magician’s Nephew is up next, and I think that’s a good plan. It’s got a clear villain in Jadis and it takes the audience back to the root of Narnia, reminding us why we’re supposed to care about the magic of it all. I hope it goes well. I’ll enjoy it anyhow, like I enjoyed this, but I’d like it if more people could enjoy it too.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 540 – The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) – August 22nd, 2011

I grew up with the BBC adaptations of the Narnia books, which meant that I was used to this story getting folded in with the third one. And it’s understandable why that might be done, since the story itself is somewhat simple. Without the introduction of the world to fill the time, the story is mostly a walk through the woods and a climactic battle. The version I was used to uses this story as an introduction to the character of Caspian and whipped right through it all. This version, on the other hand, takes a much different route, expanding the story a good bit and building it up into something more substantial.

Honestly, I like it both ways, but in order to make this story a full movie on its own there had to be some serious adjustment to the story. I went back and reread the book to confirm what I remembered about the canon and indeed, I was remembering correctly. From what I’ve read, C.S. Lewis meant the story to be about the reaffirmation of faith after the corruption of a religion. What that means for the allegory he wrote is that there’s a hell of a lot of talking about whether the old stories are true or just made up. Whether Aslan is real. Whether it’s worth believing in him. Pretty much every character except Lucy and a talking badger named Trufflehunter need to be reminded of their faith in Aslan or discover it brand new. So in the book everyone walks around a lot and talks a lot and sits and debates a lot. The climactic battle is over in a page or two at most and we barely get to see Caspian once he’s fled the castle. That doesn’t really make for a great movie.

So, let’s talk changes. I realize a lot of people were unhappy with them, but I thought they worked fine for a movie adaptation. For one, Caspian’s not a boy here. He’s a young man. There’s a running theme of conflict between Caspian and Peter over who’s really in charge. The whole issue of no one believing in Aslan isn’t quite as heavily laid down and the battles take up a good deal more time. There’s more tension too, which I’ll come to.

The story involves the four Pevensie children being called back into Narnia unexpectedly, right off the train station platform, only to find that hundreds and hundreds of years have passed in Narnia since they were last there. The first story already established that time in Narnia passes much faster than time in our world, so it makes sense that a year for the Pevensies would be centuries for Narnia. In their absence, Narnia has been taken over by people called Telmarines, who are human but come from a long ways away and don’t have any respect for native Narnians or Narnian beliefs. They banished the Dwarves, the Giants, the Fauns and so on and so forth. The talking animals went deep underground, though many animals forgot how to talk and became wild again. The trees stopped talking, as did the rivers and streams. All the magic went into hiding.

Still, some people in Narnia like the old stories and the history, including Prince Caspian and his tutor, Professor Cornelius. But Prince Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, is on the throne, and he hates the old stories. And when his wife gives birth to a baby boy he plans on killing Caspian and taking over the royal line. Caspian flees, meets some old Narnians (two Dwarves and the aforementioned badget) and ends up pledging to lead a revolution against his uncle. Hurrah! He calls for help and that’s why the Pevensies end up there, answering the call of Susan’s horn.

The thing is, in this version what was all done separately by one group and another gets done more as a cohesive whole. In the book there’s a lot of “Now let me tell you the story of how this came to be, which the Pevensies only heard much later on” type narration. And it’s only mildly annoying as a device and works fine for the pacing. In a movie, on the other hand, it just wouldn’t work right. And if it isn’t going to work right as written, best to find a way around it. Having the Pevensies and Caspian meet earlier on is fine by me and most of the major events are kept intact regardless. They do still go to Aslan’s Howe and they do still have to deal with the hag and the werewolf who want to summon the White Witch back. They still have a duel with Miraz and his lords are still duplicitous bastards who stab him in the back and blame Caspian. And Lucy and Susan still go off with Aslan to help wake up the trees. It all just happens in a slightly different order and combination as it does in the book. And I don’t mind that. I think it works well for a cinematic version and keeps the story interesting.

By far the biggest noticeable change is Caspian’s age. I say noticeable because I honestly don’t think the pacing changes and lack of walking are noticeable in anything but a positive way, unless the only thing you like about the book is the discussions of faith. Caspian’s age, however, is a mixed bag. I can’t complain about Ben Barnes as Caspian. He’s got a good dashing quality about him and he’s got a noticeably different look to him than the Pevensie children, specifically Mosely and Keynes as Peter and Edmund. I understand why he was aged up. It created more conflict for the plot so there was more to deal with once Caspian and the Pevensies are united, and since the pacing was changed, that was going to happen sooner rather than later. At the same time, it very much changes the dynamic between Caspian and everyone else. There’s a romantic subplot for him and Susan that’s rather shoehorned in and then was apparently mostly taken out, leaving the remaining bits shallow and confusing. Despite all that, however, my biggest complaint is a nerdy nitpick: Caspian being a young man already in this one makes his relative lack of aging between this and Voyage of the Dawn Treader annoying from a continuity and Narnia canon standpoint.

Overall it’s a gorgeous movie, with good acting and visual effects, which is much in keeping with the first movie. I expected it to be beautiful. I expected lush backgrounds and I expected gorgeous costumes. I expected to enjoy seeing the Pevensies again and I expected to be impressed by the scale of the battle and the whole world. So I have no complaints there. And I felt like they did a good job adjusting the story to make a full theatrical feature. I think where it suffers is in its attempt to take a story that is far far less involved and impressive than the first and put it at the same level, which I honestly don’t think is a resolvable issue. It’s big and impressive, but it lacks the impact of the first movie, which isn’t this movie’s fault. It’s the story’s fault. Can’t really fix that.

August 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 539 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) – August 21st, 2011

I cannot tell you how excited and nervous I was when I heard that new versions of the Chronicles of Narnia stories were being made for theatrical release. I’d read the books when I was a child and I’d loved them, overwhelmingly obvious Christ allegory aside, and then I’d watched the BBC adaptations over and over and over until I knew every line (we’ll be watching those this weekend). So a new version? With a new cast and new sets and new director? Done for the big screen? Well, it could have gone very well or it could have gone very poorly, hence the excitement and the nerves. Fortunately, I was not disappointed by this new adaptation. And I knew I wouldn’t be as soon as I saw the children cast as the four Pevensie siblings.

Casting can’t carry a movie on its own, it has to be backed up with a number of other successful factors. That being said, the casting here was excellent, especially Georgie Henley as Lucy. Lucy, as you might know if you’ve read the books, is a pivotal figure in the story. She has to be young enough to be believable as the baby of the family, but the actress playing her has to shoulder a ton of scenes and a lot of plot. Lucy, after all, is the one who first discovers that there’s a whole other world accessible through the back of a mysterious wardrobe in a spare room of the house she and her siblings are staying in. She’s the first one to go through the wardrobe into Narnia and she’s the first one to meet one of its people and she’s the most vocal about its importance. And Georgie Henley is fantastic in the role. I cannot say enough about how awesome she is.

The rest of the Pevensies are also fantastic, which is such a relief. Skandar Keynes as the initially duplicitous Edmund, Anna Popplewell as elder sister Susan and William Mosely as eldest brother Peter are all wonderful and thoroughly believable both as siblings and as children of the time period the movie takes place in. I couldn’t be more impressed by them and therefore I’d like to offer some thanks to the casting crew. The story needs its four leads to shine and shine they do. Of course, it helps that they’re given a whole lot of faithful-to-the-book material to work with. I’m not going to get ahead of myself by commenting too much on the next two adaptations, but suffice it to say that this one, at least, kept things very close to the book that I remember. There were some fairly hefty changes made to the next two, but whatever changes were made to the first one, they didn’t alter the main characters or main story enough to draw my notice.

I’m assuming most people who might find this review will have read the book already, even though I know that’s an optimistic assumption. After all, I know my Hoot review routinely gets views from kids trying to do compare/contrast assignments without reading the book. Fat lot of good it does them. So I’m not going to do a point by point comparison. I’m just going to go over the basic story. Which is that four children, while staying in the country to avoid London during World War II, discover the magical land of Narnia after going through a portal in the back of a wardrobe. Narnia is under the control of an evil witch who makes it winter all the time (but never Christmas, since the Christ allegory has been banished for the time being). Only four human children will be able to save Narnia from the witch and end the long winter, allowing the lion Aslan (the aforementioned Christ allegory) to return to the land. So they embark on a quest, meeting talking animals, centaurs, fauns, dryads and so on and so forth, all of whom have been waiting for the day when Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve arrive to save them. Told you the allegory was obvious.

Of course there has to be more to stand in the way of the witch’s downfall than a bunch of snow and a missing lion. One of the siblings, Edmund, wanting to be more important than his older brother, is tempted by the witch and betrays his brother and sisters, eventually leading to Aslan’s sacrifice at the witch’s hands. Aslan being a Christ allegory, I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail about how well that ends up working out for the witch. So then there’s a big climactic battle and the four children are named kings and queens of Narnia.

Now. I could go into all sorts of discussion about the story and the allegory and how since they’re all siblings and the only humans in the kingdom clearly they’re never meant to have kids or anything and how looking at it as an adult I can come up with lots of Things To Say. But since the book this movie is based on was required reading in at least half of the freshman English classes at my high school. It’s been around for a while. I’m sure it’s all been said. And when it comes to this movie that’s not really the important point. The important point here is that the movie was able to take the spirit of the book, the tone and mood and feel of the book, which is full of this sense of wonder and magic and destiny, and put it on screen. It is an absolutely gorgeous movie that uses CG to wonderful effect to back up some fantastic acting. It feels right.

I really don’t know what else to say about this movie. It’s a lovely story that I remember fondly from my childhood. It’s got that whole vibe of kids who’ve got no power over their lives suddenly finding that they can save the world, which I love (and really, I should have written my thesis on in college). It’s got a fantastic cast, with the amazing Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and Liam Neeson as Aslan’s voice, plus James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, the first Narnian Lucy meets. And the visuals are fantastic, from the setting to the animals to the costumes. I am still in awe at Tilda Swinton’s outfits, which are all amazingly sculpted felt dresses that I’m sure were a bitch to wear but suit the character amazingly. It is simply an excellently made movie from top to bottom and it is a pleasure to watch it again.

August 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 533 – Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth – August 15th, 2011

Unlike the movie from last night, this is a movie I’d been meaning to see for a long time. It was sort of a victim of overhype, but in the sense that I’d heard such good things about it and I was petrified that it wouldn’t live up to what I was expecting. I wanted it to be magical and unreal and everything that The Brothers Grimm failed at. I wanted a new fairytale I’d never read or seen before and I wanted it to feel right. And I was so worried that something about it would ring false to me. That something other people were able to accept or overlook would jump out at me and ruin it all and I didn’t want that. So I didn’t watch it.

Thankfully, this movie was everything I wanted it to be, including incredibly dark and cruel. Which fits. Have you read any of the original Grimm stories? Take a look at The Juniper Tree for a good example. These were stories meant as lessons and cautionary tales. They weren’t padded at the corners with comic relief and lessened consequences like the Disney versions. People do horrible things to other people in the old stories. Parents hurt their children and people die hideous deaths. Gruesome things happen. And I should have known that Guillermo del Toro would get the tone right. He’s clearly well versed in the feel and mood of folklore like this.

The story has all the hallmarks of a classic fairytale: A young girl off in an unfamiliar place, a sick parent and a cruel step-parent, the promise of a better life and a quest to obtain it. But it’s all set in a very real time and place, a few years after the Spanish Civil War, in the woods where rebels are still fighting and the military has set up a presence at an old mill to try and weed them out. Ofelia and her mother arrive to stay with Ofelia’s new step-father, the sadistic Captain Vidal. Her mother is heavily pregnant and the pregnancy is going poorly. Ofelia worries about her mother, refuses to accept Vidal as her new father and yearns for something more. And she is rewarded for her imagination with the appearance of a fairy who leads her to a labyrinth in the woods. A labyrinth with a strange creature inside who tells her of another world where she is a princess, lost long ago. She’s given a quest to complete three tasks to reopen the other world and of course she accepts the challenge.

Now, in older fairytales, it’s simply accepted that there’s magic in the world and that it can be dangerous but also helpful if used right. That seems to be par for the course. In this story, however, the people around Ofelia have plenty to worry about without magic and believe that she simply has an active imagination and lets it get the better of her at times. She ruins a new party dress by climbing into a hole in a treestump and getting all muddy. She disappears when she should be somewhere important. She uses folk remedies to try and help her mother. And almost all of the adults around Ofelia are dismissive at best and downright cruel at worst. Ofelia has legitimate fears of losing her mother, of what her step-father is capable of, of her new baby brother dying. And not only are the majority of the adults around her dismissive of what they claim is her imagination, but they dismiss her fears. They dismiss her.

Now, it would be incredibly easy to write off the fantasy aspect of the movie as being all in Ofelia’s head. It’s a fairly easy leap to make from fantasy to coping mechanism. And that’s all well and good. It works on that level just fine and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to view the movie in that light. Personally, however, I prefer to believe that it’s a melding of the two. That when Ofelia most needed some magic in her life to cope with the horrible events unfolding around her, the magic in the world responded. It could be argued either way, and I can see how one might lean towards the fantasy being imaginary, given that it doesn’t end up saving Ofelia’s mother and it doesn’t fix everything right from the start, but that’s just not how these stories work. There are always tasks to be undertaken and prices to be paid and monsters to defeat. If you don’t take the time to prove your worth, then you haven’t earned the help you’re being offered.

Likewise, I choose to take the ending as it’s presented to me. In a fairytale, with a magical land under the ground, there’s no reason why Ofelia couldn’t be transported there. She’s repaid for the work she did and the people left behind in the regular world don’t need to know what’s happened. It suits a story of war for there to have been such a loss. As painful as the situation must be for Ofelia’s one stalwart supporter, the amazing Mercedes, she’s not one to shy away from painful situations. The combination of magic and non-magic worlds hinged on Ofelia’s presence, so her departure leaves Mercedes to deal with the real world problems she needs to focus on. I like that there’s a separation there. That the worlds converge for the space of the story and then separate again.

And let me take a moment to praise the character of Mercedes, who is one of the strongest women I’ve seen in a movie in a while. She is fantastic and powerful and sympathetic and amazingly well presented. I loved everything about her. She is, as an adult, dealing with difficult situations that Ofelia, as a child, is not ready to handle. The two of them together are fantastically well written characters and I loved seeing them in the same movie, reflecting powerful female characters at two stages of life.

The other thing I’d like to praise, which makes the movie complete, is the visual style. It is distinctly Guillermo del Toro’s style, and that is gorgeously perfect for a story like this. I’m sure if I could spend more time on this and more time on the movie itself that I would see more and more and more details that connect back to the story itself and its meanings. It’s a rich world in both aspects, with the real world no less deep than the fantasy world, just with a different look. If the visuals didn’t work the movie would still be a wonderfully told story with fantastic characters and acting, but it would feel as if it had been cheated of much of its depth had it not looked like it does. Fortunately, the movie has everything I could have asked for and everything I hoped it would and I was very much not disappointed.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 510 – Inglorious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds – July 23rd, 2011

We went to see the new Captain America movie yesterday afternoon and after we got home we looked through our movie list for something suitable. Obviously we’d already watched the 1990 Cap movie and I wanted something long. We’ve got a fair number of movies over two hours that we just never feel up to when we get home from work on week days. This one popped out at me, what with it being set during World War II, much like the new Cap movie. Except this one is decidedly less superheroic and more incredibly obviously Tarantino. Granted, since it is Tarantino, there are some comic-y aspects. But that’s the least of its issues.

Back when this movie came out I remember reading a review of it that I found fascinating. All of the marketing for the movie played up Brad Pitt’s role and showcased the whole “killin’ Nazis!” aspect as if the Basterds were the point of the movie. As if it was two and a half hours of a squad of American soldiers kicking Nazi ass in the woods. And there is a bit of that, yes, and the Basterds are in a good deal of the movie. But what the movie actually is, is a tale of righteous revenge. And we all should know by now how I feel about righteous revenge. It’s a not uncommon theme for Tarantino, so I wasn’t at all surprised to see it as a theme here. But I was surprised that the plot that has the most righteous revenge was barely a hint in the marketing. It’s the heart and core of the movie and the Basterds almost fuck it up.

Really, this movie feels incredibly disjointed. It’s presented in chapters, for one, which immediately makes it episodic. And it has two focal storylines that eventually come together, but not until well into the movie. First there’s Shoshanna’s story. Only after we watch a Nazi officer with the nickname “the Jew Hunter” have her family killed while they hide under the floorboards of a neighbor’s house – a scene that takes a good long time – do we get introduced to the Basterds in the next chapter. Now, while the Basterds are far more what I expect from Tarantino, there is a certain Tarantino quality to the beginning of Shoshanna’s story, such as the switch to English from French based on a fairly flimsy excuse. It just struck me as so convenient and ridiculous and tongue-in-cheek in a thoroughly bizarre way. So we meet Shoshanna and we meet Col. Landa (the Nazi officer who killed her family) and then we’re whisked away to meet the Basterds.

Now, the Basterds are thoroughly Tarantino. A squad of Jewish-American soldiers who hunt Nazis and scalp them? Yeah, that’s Tarantino. And to an extent the Basterds are an example of righteous vengeance on their own. At least two of them were originally from Germany and have returned as American soldiers. The whole idea of this squad and their nicknames – shown to us as comic-book style titles for the couple we get backgrounds for – is exactly what I expected when I heard Tarantino was doing a World War II movie. They’re a team of bad-asses who do bad-ass shit. They’re over the top and they’re apparently unstoppable and they scare the crap out of the Nazis and infuriate Hitler by their very existence. And that’s all well and good, and the ads would have you believe that the movie is entirely made up of this team of bad-asses doing said bad-ass shit. The thing is, it’s not. There’s a single scene of them being bad-asses and that’s really it for the squad as a whole. Individuals from the group get to do stuff later on, but what surprised me about the movie is how it treats the Basterds.

The thing is, the heart of the movie is, as I said, Shoshanna’s story. We meet up with her later on, a few years after the massacre of her family. She’s moved to Paris and somehow obtained a cinema. And she has apparently been living her life quietly until now. Until a young German soldier approaches her and hands her the perfect means to an end she likely never thought she could get. He has a crush on her, you see. And he’s a war hero with a film made about him. And combine those two and you have a gala premier for the film, hosted at Shoshanna’s cinema, with the entire Nazi high command – Hitler included – invited. Of course she will want to do something with this situation. And in any other movie, by any other director, this would have been the A plot. The marketed plot. The story of a woman who has lost everything and who has a chance to do what the entire Allied forces tried and failed to do throughout the war. For me, this is the A plot. Shoshanna, in hiding as Emmanuelle, is a wonderful figure, carefully putting into place everything she needs and sacrificing what she has not just for revenge, but for the good of all the people Hitler has yet to kill. But this is Tarantino. And we have to deal with his Basterds.

It becomes apparent when the British army appears on screen, planning an operation meant to do pretty much precisely what Shoshanna is planning but with less intelligence about the location and the people and more fiddly details, that things might well go wrong. Shoshanna has things well in hand, with a store room full of highly flammable film stock and every reason to be present in the cinema and the knowledge of how to keep everyone inside long enough to kill them. But the Brits have come up with a plan to infiltrate the premier with one of their men and a couple of others along with a double agent from Germany, plant some bombs and blow the place up themselves. Really, given the number of obstacles in their way, it seems destined to fail. And after a rather tense scene in a bar, where the three intended infiltrators meet up with an SS officer and we end up with a thoroughly Tarantino Mexican standoff, it’s clear that the Basterds are way out of their element.

Things only get worse at the premier, with Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine speaking Italian with a ridiculous Tennessee accent. The tension here for me wasn’t so much about Shoshanna against the Nazis or the Basterds against the Nazis. It was about whether the Basterds would fuck everything up so badly that someone would try to leave the theater early, alerting everyone that they’d been locked in before Shoshanna or her lover, Marcel, had a chance to light the place up. Every line they say, every move they make, every action, every look, it’s all nervewracking because they are so not spies. They’re bludgeons, not rapiers. They’re not trained to go in and do espionage work. I struggle to even begin to understand why they’d even be the ones called in to help with this. Couldn’t someone better be found? I mean, look at Operation Mincemeat! That’s a real operation carried off during World War II. And it worked. And here I’m expected to believe that no one better could be found for this mission.

It’s such a strange way of marrying these two plots. The Basterds are a great team of bogeymen for the Nazis and they’re clearly very good at what they do. But they come very close to ruining everything Shoshanna had set up. And they do end up keeping her from killing off the man who killed her family. If they’d stayed out of it all then Landa would have been in that cinema, not off making deals with the Americans to get himself out of the war. And Landa himself is an odd character, embracing his title early on, then claiming to dislike it later. Who on Earth is he? What is his motivation? I could never quite see it, possibly because he is a different character depending on which plotline he’s taking part in at the time. It simply feels as though Tarantino had two ideas for a World War II movie, both involving over-the-top revenge that never actually happened but don’t you wish it did, but couldn’t quite decide between them and decided to stick them together. I can’t fault the writing in each individual scene. The bit in the bar is amazingly tense and the writing is superb from the beginning of the scene to the end. But in the overall context of the whole movie it’s far messier. The parts are good, but they don’t necessarily make a good whole. It’s all very strange. I wish I could like it more. Maybe if it had been two separate movies I would have.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 467 – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – June 10th, 2011

You might notice that we’re using the “updated” title here. This is because it is the title on the cover of the DVD we own. Nice as it would be for us to have the original, the fact of the matter is that the bitty little changes in the box set version of this movie aren’t nearly as egregious as, say, the changes made to the Star Wars movies. So I don’t much mind using the newer version and titling it accordingly. Because when all is said and done, this is indeed part of a series and it is indeed all about Indiana Jones and it’s not that big a deal to me to put his name in the title.

It seems like such a little thing to fuss over. After all, there’s so much awesome in this movie, it’s hard for me to care about the title and whether the name was attached or not. When this was originally made it wasn’t necessarily predicted to be a hit. It was a tribute to old action/adventure serials and apparently was passed over by a number of production companies before Paramount took it on. So why would they bother to tack the main character’s name onto it? The name didn’t mean anything to anyone at the time. Now, on the other hand, it’s instantly connected to a bullwhip and a fedora and a hatred of both snakes and Nazis.

Sadly, I think I saw this movie after I saw its sequel. Now, tomorrow night I will tell the story of watching the sequel with my great-aunt and great-uncle and a friend. Tonight I have no such anecdotes. I saw this movie eventually, after I’d seen the second one, and it was like night and day. I felt like this was just more straightforward. You had a pretty easily identifiable artifact that Indiana had to find and the antagonists trying to get it before him were Nazis. That right there is a pretty easy set-up. Beat the Nazis to the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a simple goal and plot with plenty of obstacles and hang-ups to keep things interesting.

This movie had to serve as an introduction not only to Indiana Jones as a character but also to the world he inhabited. Sure, it looks like our version of the 1940s, but this isn’t quite our world. In the world Indiana Jones lives in, the supernatural is real and a force to be reckoned with. Or forces, given what we see later. Regardless, there is more going on here than we out here in the real world get to see. Of course you could argue that these things wouldn’t be common knowledge in the real world so it might as well be real. But let’s be honest here. This is a movie in which people’s faces melt. And I like that it’s a version of the world in which these things can and do happen. It adds a bit of a thrill to the whole thing. It makes it fantastic, not just fun.

The character of Indiana Jones, on the other hand, is very down to earth. At least, in most respects. I think what I like most about Indy is that he’s sort of a suave guy, but not entirely. He gets flustered while teaching an archaeology class because the girls all have crushes on him and he has no idea how to react to that. He’s got a rough history with the female lead, Marion, and yes, he’s charming, but he’s not that charming. He’s not James Bond, is what I’m saying. He’s rough around all of his edges. He doesn’t dress all slick and smooth, even when he’s teaching and could get away with a little more polish. When he’s out being Action Archaeologist he’s wearing a far more utilitarian outfit than a suit. Tough pants and shirt, battered leather jacket, rumpled fedora. He’s got tools and he’s not afraid to get dirty. And he gets in trouble! A lot! How many times does he get thwarted or captured in this movie? I wasn’t counting, but it’s not an uncommon occurrence here. And somehow it doesn’t make him any less the hero of the movie. Largely, I believe, because he’s one man, albeit with two able companions. But still, even three people against an entire encampment of Nazis and the locals they’ve hired? Not really good odds. So one would expect Indy to get knocked around a little, and he does. And he takes it like a champ.

The Nazis always make good villains, especially when you’re dealing with a style like this. It’s supposed to be a style homage to serial adventures and the time period and villains back that up very well. Not to mention, well, they’re the Nazis. They are the epitome of villainy in our history. Put Indiana Jones on the screen and have him facing a Nazi soldier and you immediately know who to root for, even if you’ve never seen Harrison Ford in your life. And they lend a slightly more serious tone than a random villain would. They keep the goofiness that happens in some scenes from taking over the whole movie and making it parody, which is good because the humor should keep moments light, not laughable.

Now, my one real issue with the movie is that it is so heavily influenced by serials. I get why that is – it was homage – but at the same time, it’s a movie. It’s all going to be shown at once. So while I can identify how each successive “chapter” has a conflict and a resolution, there are times when I wished it wasn’t so obvious. But that’s really just me poking at the movie. Because on pretty much every other front it’s fantastic. I especially like Marion, an old flame of Indy’s who’s been stuck running a bar in Tibet until he shows up again, and Sallah, a friend of Indy’s in Egypt where they go to find the Ark. Marion, played by Karen Allen, is feisty and strong and yes, she does need rescuing a few times, but she’s hardly helpless. And when she does need rescuing you can tell she’s pissed off about it. Sallah is Indiana’s contact in Egypt, and he is played with boisterous competence by John Rhys-Davies. He always seems to know the right people and have the right tools and be able to do just the right thing. It’s a great role and Indiana certainly relies on him (not to mention, he saves Indy’s life a few times).

The bad guys are sinister and slimy and easy to hate. The good guys are fun and interesting and sympathetic. The plot is easy to follow, the story is well-paced, the dialogue is snappy and the action is fun. Which really, is perfect. It’s what I think of when I think of the name Indiana Jones. What’s bizarre is that the next movie isn’t really the same sort of deal and the third movie, while charming for many reasons, doesn’t quite capture the spark of the first. Oh, I’ll enjoy watching them, and we’ll see how the fourth one goes (I haven’t seen it yet and my expectations are low) but this one really was and is and will be the perfect Indiana Jones movie. So it’s really only right that it bear his name.

June 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 465 – The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon – June 8th, 2011

It had been some time since I’d last seen this movie before tonight. I last saw it for a film class in high school, which was more years back than I usually think about. And to be honest, I don’t remember what I thought about it then or what my response to it was when we had to write about it. The class was a sort of quick overview of film and covered a strange array of titles (off the top of my head I can think of this, The Rules of the Game and The Deerhunter) over the course of a single semester and I know for certain that we watched this. But while I can vaguely remember what I said about The Rules of the Game and vividly remember what I said about The Deerhunter, what I mostly remember about watching this movie was that it wasn’t quite my genre but I liked it fine anyhow.

And it still isn’t really my genre. It’s not that I don’t like mysteries or noir or the sort of private eye that Sam Spade is. It’s just not my go-to genre. Which makes this movie difficult to review much in the same way No Country For Old Men was. Fortunately for this movie it’s got a few things that I find interesting and the main character is one of them. I actually rather like Sam Spade. He’s very much looking out for himself and I think I’ve made it clear I find that sort of character fascinating. But what makes him even more interesting to me is his secretary, Effie. I love Effie. I love her so much she’s going to get her own paragraph in a moment.

Now, Sam is a detective. And he’s got a partner, but of course he can’t keep that partner for long. Miles Archer gets bumped off just a few scenes in, setting everything else in motion when his widow sends the cops in Sam’s direction. He’s been approached by a woman with a patently false name to tail a man she claims is up to no good. Of course there’s more to the story and it turns out that the woman, Bridgid, along with two men (Kaspar Gutman and Joel Cairo), is after something important and valuable and there are people willing to kill to get their hands on it. The movie is full of double crosses and lies and bribes and deals. And through it all Spade has to figure out what the real story is, since none of the three main players is telling him, and also figure out what to do about it. After all, he doesn’t want his former partner’s murder pinned on him and there are two more deaths that he’d like to steer clear of. And Sam does so by paying close attention to everything around him and playing everyone off each other, including the cops.

But Sam also has an ace up his sleeve and that ace’s name is Effie. She’s his secretary, but while the role is a small one I can’t help but think about it in more detail. Effie’s always around the office and seems to be quite observant. She makes some interesting deductions of her own, suggesting them to Sam (who of course tells her why they’re wrong but also acknowledges that they were good ideas). She helps out with Bridgid, taking her home and trying to keep her safe. And when Sam comes into possession of the Maltese Falcon everyone’s so hot on obtaining, who does he trust to go and retrieve it and bring it to his meeting with Gutman, Cairo and Brigid? Effie. She’s depicted as a genuinely good person, smart and trustworthy. She’s not Sam’s type romantically, but that doesn’t matter one bit.

I do have some problems with Sam as a romantic lead. He’s not romantic. At least not for me. Maybe it’s that the ladies who fancy him so are attracted to the fact that he doesn’t seem to give a damn about them? I don’t know. I’ve never been much for that sort of romantic relationship in movies, but I suppose it’s a trope. Maybe it’s that some gals have a thing for Bogart. I don’t. Oh, he’s fun to watch and he does an excellent job in this role and there’s nothing terribly objectionable about him given the time period, he’s just not for me. Also, I would like to note that he doesn’t hit any women in this movie. He does slap Joel Cairo (played fantastically by Peter Lorre) and tell him “When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it.” But I would just like to note that Woody Allen can kiss my ass for Play It Again, Sam and the constant references to punching women.

Regardless, I just don’t find this a very romantic movie. There’s a good attempt at it, with lots of dialogue between Brigid and Sam as well as some scenes that suggest that Sam’s been chased by the widow of his former partner. But they’re really not the highlight of the movie for me. The highlight is watching Sam work through the puzzle of it all and figure out a way to come out clean. This certainly isn’t my favorite movie in the world and it’s not flawless, but it is fun and it’s a solid mystery with some great performances, so I don’t argue with its classic status for one moment.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment