So this is the first of what I hope will be a weekly series where I write brief comments on what movies I watch outside of the movie theatre each week. I'll reserve the longer reviews for new films, and sometimes I'll write longer posts on individual films, but I'll try to write at least something on the films I watch at home. This post includes a couple of days from last week since I'm late getting started. As I said, my goal is at least five movies a week (last year I watched 227 films!). And without further ado:
A capable biopic directed by Lord Richard Attenborough, but it has one central flaw. The movie takes the cliche biography film path by focusing on all the women in Chaplin's life. Sure there were a lot, and that's an interesting sidenote. But what makes Chaplin's legacy endure and what makes him most interesting are his films. Attenborough chooses to focus on the sordid gossip in lieu of film production. There's barely a mention of the great lengths he went to to film The Gold Rush, hardly a mention of the bravery of filming a silent film during the emerging sound era, the film that went on to be the greatest film of all time: City Lights. They don't mention clearly the formation of United Artists. Chaplin changed film history, but what we get is a laundry list of infidelities. The performances are capable enough, though Downey is a little too mumbly for my taste. Interesting, but ultimately comes up short.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Like the Star Wars prequels, it generated a lot of interest and fans early on but as time goes by it earns more detractors and more ire for George Lucas. And I do, like so many others, blame Lucas rather than Spielberg. I have the common problems with it: gophers, monkeys, waterfalls, etc. But I think I have an easier time getting past those than some. I still enjoy the film. As a piece of escapist entertainment it's just fine. And maybe that's all we can really expect from Indy. But I would have enjoyed a better script and a better conceived plot. In the end, one of the lesser entries in the franchise, but not as bad as everyone says. It will survive with the rest of them.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Unfortunately, kind of overlooked this summer. And it's box office performance seems to have tanked the next installment (unless another studio picks it up from Disney, anyone? anyone?). I am one of the very few people to have thought it better than the previous film. It's more mature and thoughtful than Lion, Witch and takes more time to develop the characters. The special effects are some of the best this year. It still has that feel of being Lord of the Rings Jr. but if the series is allowed to continue, it might stand as one of the strongest installments. Let's hope it finds a renewed life on dvd so we can find out.
The Godfather Trilogy
What can I say that hasn't already been said? It took me a few viewing to really appreciate the first film, and on this second viewing of the second film I can already begin to feel myself warming to it. They're not the most accessible films, oddly enough, but they are rewarding once you get into them. The third film has those flaws that most people mention, the second is one of the greatest sequels, to be sure. But it's that first film that ranks the best for me. It's rich and complex, and is famous for all the right reasons. Perhaps I'll write on the trilogy later on in more depth, but for now, kudos to Coppola and his team for creating a purely dramatic trilogy.
The Hidden Fortress
One of Kurosawa's lesser efforts, but even that is better than the work of most directors. A great exercise in, if not style, clear and entertaining storytelling. Part of it was the inspiration for Star Wars, and it shows. What made the first Star Wars film so successful owed a lot to this and other Kurosawa films, and Lucas seems to have completely lost that in the prequel trilogy. Kurosaswa's chief actor Toshiro Mifune is once again fantastic as the general, and the supporting players, with the exception of perhaps the princess, play along beautifully. It's gorgeously shot and works as a great entertaining adventure, proof that great art and populist entertainment need not be mutually exclusive.
Is this the darkest comedy ever made? Possibly. It's classified by most as a comedy and will be competing for the best comedy prize at tonight's Golden Globes, but I didn't laugh for most of it. But that doesn't mean it's not a comedy. It's the kind of humor that makes you laugh on the inside, the kind of humor that lends levity to what would have been a violent drama. It helps to balance the mood, slightly tipping it into the comedy range without being a laugh-out-loud riot. The acting is excellent, and McDonough's script deserves an Oscar nom this year. If you're familiar with his plays you will likely love the film, and the film's critical success will hopefully give him enough clout to make more. Let's hope so.