28 July 2009

Coming Soon

If you've never watched, it's time to start.

The Beatles

A Hard Day's Night
The first and best of the Beatles films. It's a testament to their talent that they are as photogenic and personable as their music is enjoyable. As a group, they wreak havoc on peaceful communities as Beatlemania follows them around. As individuals, they get into mischief and have surprisingly humorous adventures considering they are playing themselves.

There's no real plot. They are in a town to do a television broadcast. Paul's grandfather, a "king mixer" according to Paul, accompanies them and serves to fill people's heads with false notions, particularly Ringo, who decides to go "parading" late in the film, leading to the narrative's only moment of real crisis.

The scenes of Beatlemania, from all accounts, are toned down. The craze was often more frantic and at times more violent than what the movie shows. And of course the music is great, with the first Beatles album of completely original music. The title track was written over a couple of hours at the behest of the producers, who needed a song to go along with the name of the film.

It's a hugely entertaining film, with a kind of silliness that is missing from a lot of modern films. Every once in a while you need a good flick with little plot and plenty of personality.

Even more silly than Night but with more plot, which becomes problematic at times. Ringo has randomly come into possession of an Indian sacrificial ring which a cult will stop at nothing to get back. For whatever reason, the ring means that Ringo will soon be covered in red paint and killed as a sacrifice. The film follows the Beatles as they travel around evading the cult and playing music along the way.

It's also a good deal more surreal than their previous film. For instance, the house that the Beatles all live in is a cross between a funhouse and a barracks. George's room features a lawn equipped with a gardener who uses fake chattering teeth to trim the grass. John has a bed built into the floor.

The events are sometimes transitioned by humorous intertitles, telling us what to expect or what happened in between scenes. At one point, Paul is shrunk and his impending journey is announced as "The Exciting Adventure of Paul on the Floor."

It's not quite as charming as their first film, and in some ways is one of the strangest films I've ever seen. But The Beatles are all there, with their personalities in tact. And because of that, and the music, it's still a very entertaining movie.

Update at Large

A few updates on some films I've seen in the theatres, most of which haven't inspired a full review:

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Much better than most of the reviews would have you believe. I haven't seen the original, but that doesn't really matter. It's a solid thriller with two good performances at its center. This is one of those John Travolta roles that pops up every once in a while and reminds you of why he's a star, and helps you to forget some of the drivel he's done in the past decade or so.

I will agree with the critics who were unhappy with Tony Scott's style. At times, the style works, like in Man on Fire. But this story has enough adrenaline that the frenetic editing and music becomes overkill. Still, as I said, it's mostly consistent and a good piece of entertainment. It is what it is, and if that's what you're looking for, you got it.

Year One
There's some good, clever ideas here. But in the effort to make it a more accessible Jack Black vehicle, it becomes an unqualified mess. And I mention Jack Black specifically because this is the film in which he has officially worn out his welcome. I don't want to see him and his usual schtick for a long, long time.

The tinkering results in scenes that go nowhere, gaping plotholes, and narrative lapses, such as two or three scenes in which a character is in mortal danger only to cut to the next scene in which they are perfectly fine, with no hint of how they escaped certain peril. It's not a good film by any means, but a few bright spots remain, particularly the show-stealer David Cross.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Much has been said, so I won't devote a lot of space to it. Any charm that the first one held has been squashed in the sequel by Michael Bay's doubling of everything. Since the first film had one dog, the second has to have two, and so on. It's silly and medicore at best. However, a phenomenon has to be pointed out: for the most part, audiences have really enjoyed it. In some sense, it gives people exactly what they want. And for whatever reason, that includes Robot Heaven.

Public Enemies
A fascinating and entertaining look at one of America's last great outlaws. In a sense, it has feet firmly set in both the classic gangster genre and the 21st century, mostly owing to the high-definition digital cinematography. While it might be a tad bloated, Johnny Depp keeps our attention riveted on Dillinger. Christian Bale serves his purpose, but without much flair.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
One of the highlights of the series so far. There has been some rumbling among fans about the ending and other differences from the book. I'll say it again, you can't judge a film by its faithfulness to the source material. Period. End of story. Get over it. It's a lovingly painted portrait of a year at Hogwarts, and the last bit of innocence that these characters get to have. It's as enjoyable as the series has ever been, owing largely to the central characters, who have grown into fantastic actors. Jim Broadbent makes a wonderful addition to the cast. In a way, it's a transition piece, sort of in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back. There's no real beginning or ending, but it's a great ride nonetheless.

12 July 2009

Best Pictures: Going My Way, 1944

I feel rather bad calling Going My Way a simple film, but it kind of is. I feel guilty, in some kind of religious way, almost, in not recognizing some kind of deeper significance to Leo McCarey's 1944 Oscar winner. But still I stumble through to my verdict- a kindly film without a whole lot else beneath it.

It's the story of a priest trying to modernize a parish at the behest of his bishop. He intially butts heads with the elder priest in charge, but they reconcile. There are a few subplots, including one dealing with a banker trying to foreclose on the church and his son who is in love with a girl from the streets (providing the film with its edgiest material- a vague reference to prostitution).

The priest (Bing Crosby) also nurtures a boys' choir and uses their talents to get a song ("Going My Way") published so he can raise money to save the church. The priest is more worldly-wise than the elder (Barry Fitzgerald), going so far as to take the kids to baseball games and movies (gasp!). It's almost like a kind of anti-Doubt.

That's probably too much plot, but there's not much else that inspires me to write. It's a solid, friendly narrative, capably directed by McCarey, with a couple of good performances to anchor it. Beyond that, it's not what I'd call great, or "best."

A bit of data: The other nominated films that year were Double Indemnity, Gaslight, Since You Went Away, and Wilson. I'm a fan of Wilder's Indemnity, but I can see where the Academy would go for something like Way over the sometimes ambiguous tone of the former.