Friday, May 30, 2003

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Had lunch today with several of my ex-coworkers, and I was reminded by the wise and beneficient Stupid Llama that I had promised to write about the movies I'd seen lately, and of course he's absolutely correct. So, that time has come.

Of course, being unemployed means one has more time to sit around and watch movies, which is just fine until the money runs out...I recently took the opportunity afforded by my dole check to rent several films that I had been curious about but hadn't seen yet for one reason or another. So...I'll just go through them in alphabetical order, since I don't really remember which ones I saw first. Or maybe I just don't want to think about it all that hard. Anyway. First up:

Amelie, which is a movie that you might want to have an insulin injecton before watching because it's just so gosh damned sweet. But, miraculously, it never becomes unwatchable because it's so imaginatively directed. It's whimsical and entertaining and charming in spite of itself. I was shocked, I tell you, shocked to discover that the same fellow responsible for City of Lost Children and Alien: Resurrection did this film. You should see this, but only if you have a high cutesiness tolerance.

Catch Me If You Can, Steven Spielberg's based-on-a-true-story account of one Frank Abagnale, Jr.– who got away with impersonating an airline pilot, doctor, secret service agent and lawyer (in all fairness, he passed the Louisiana bar exam) all before he turned 18. he also made himself rich by forging his own payroll checks, which earned him the attention of the US Treasury dept. In this film, he's played by Leo DiCaprio, and say what you will about him, he's very good here as is Tom Hanks as his Fed adversary. It was fun and engrossing and never dragged, even though it was almost 2 and 1/2 hours long. Christopher Walken is also great as Frank's father, a bit of a ne'er do well himself. The trademark Spielberg schmaltz is mercifully abandoned, with one brief exception at the end. Well worth renting.

The Devil's Backbone, Guillermo Del Toro's moody ghost story, is about a near-abandoned Mexican orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, and a grisly secret shared by a couple of the kids and one adult. Genuinely creepy and full of imaginative touches, I couldn't help thinking, though, that this would have been just as interesting without the supernatural elements. I especially appreciated the novel setting for this type of film, more often sunlit and bright as not. I also couldn't help but think of Gilbert Hernandez' stories of Palomar in Love & Rockets, and wonder what he thought of this movie. Another recommended rental, and I'm beginning to look forward to the Hellboy movie a lot more.

My daughter ordered Drumline the other night off Pay-Per-View without me knowing (not too happy about that, but oh well...), so I thought I'd watch it since I was paying for it. I would imagine band directors all over the country fainted dead away in bliss after viewing this, which is about as effective a band recruiting tool as you could hope for. It leaves no cliche unturned in its story about a cocky kid from a bad neighborhood who gets a college scholarship because he's a drumming prodigy...but unfortunately for all involved not much of a team player. But don't worry, it all turns out OK and we're treated to a lot of pretty darn good marching band presentations. Orlando Jones, of 7-Up commercial and Evolution fame, plays a somewhat stick-in-the-mud director who is resolutely old-school in the face of modern, hip-hoppish Marching Band routines. It's a little distracting seeing the 7-Up guy in a straight role, but he's pretty good. Worth catching on cable, but don't rent or for God's sake don't pay-per-view. Older High Schoolers and band members might like it, though...

Femme Fatale, for the first hour or so, is a fine heist thriller expertly directed by Brian DePalma, pushing those Hitchcockian buttons as fast and as hard as he can. But he lost me completely by throwing us a totally arbritary plot twist curve in the last quarter of the film, which invalidated almost everything that came before it. I hate it when filmmakers do this; it makes me feel cheated and makes me think that the director doesn't have the courage of his convictions...or is just fucking with his viewer, and not cleverly. Even though the outcome of the plot twist is, as it turns out, a bit more palatable than the events prior, it still pissed me off. The nominal star, Antonio Banderas, gave a typical mumbling, distracted Banderas performance, and really wasn't given too much to do except look confused most of the time. Well, that, and imitate a gay man in an embarrassing mincy fashion in one scene. Many criticized Rebecca Romijn-Stamos's acting; I thought she was a little too low key but otherwise fine. Guess I just have low standards, I don't know. So, I can't recommend this, although it's not really a bad film. Wait for it to come on cable, if you've got to see it or rent it as a freebie if you can.

Speaking of films in which I felt cheated, Insomnia was a big disappointment for me. It wasn't the acting– Al Pacino was understated for once, and not bad, and Robin Williams was, well, Robin Williams on lithium or something. Robin seems to be trying to atone for Patch Adams by playing low-key nutjob psychos, and he's pretty good at it I guess, but he never really convinced me. I heard that Hilary Swank was in the film, but you'd never know it by her miniscule part in which she was asked to do nothing but walk around looking at Pacino's character, who was just as big a creep as Williams'– and that was the biggest problem I had with this film. There was just nobody to care about. By making just about all the leads as unsympathetic as they could possibly be they shot themselves in the foot as far as I'm concerned. So what was supposed to be a fascinating character study of a legitimate killer and his adversary who's not exactly without sins of his own just became a snooze-fest which made me happy only when it was over.

I caught all but about the first 15 minutes of Monsters, Inc. the other night, when my daughter brought home a friend who brought his DVD copy to watch. I don't know what he had in mind, but I ruined it I guess by sitting and watching it with them, heh heh. Anyway, it's Pixar, it's Billy Crystal, it's clever and funny and imaginatively conceived. You've probably seen it already anyway, but I liked it.

Finding myself awake in the wee wee hours the other day, I happened to catch an airing of Ringside Maisie on TCM. Maisie, well played by Ann Sothern (who was a hottie in the 40s, let me tell you), was the subject of about a dozen low-budget films made in the late 30s and 40s about a fast-talking New York gal with a heart of gold and her search for happiness. Here, she gets involved with a young boxer who's being groomed by his fast-talking manager for a run at the heavyweight crown. It all turns out OK at the end, and Maisie ends up with the manager, who was her real-life husband at the time. It was a fun time-waster, and I hope I get to see more Maisie films one of these days.

And that's it! There may have been one or two others, but I don't remember them if there were, so there you have it– my recent movie viewing list. Thanks for reading, and comments are welcome.