Monday, July 14, 2003

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Like I said earlier, I watched a movie or three over the last few days. First up, Martin Scorcese's Big Sweeping Epic Gangs of New York, which dealt with 18th century New York, the Irish-American section in particular, and the relationship between three people: Bill (The Butcher) Cutting, who pretty much runs things in the Five Corners, played with brutal bravura by Daniel Day-Lewis; Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), son of Cutting's chief rival, who seeks revenge for his father's death by Cutting's hand; and Jenny Everdeane, a pickpocket and thief once indebted to Bill and falls in love with Leo. It's a very long film, but I kinda wish it was longer because it's oddly paced and one wishes more time had been spent on certain scenes and situations. The ending, in particular, seems rushed and somewhat unsatisfying. In fact, the middle part of the film is given to the conflict that Leo's character feels when he's taken in, recruited into Bill's gang and is treated like a son by the Butcher, who is totally unaware of Leo's agenda, and for me it's the most involving part. After the deception is revealed, the rest of the film became anticlimactic. But Gangs is still very much worth one's time- the sets and costumes look absolutely authentic and the performances are all first rate, not only the principals but supporting players like the great Jim Broadbent and John C. Reilly, who was in every other film released in 2002, I think. Leo succeeds in making his character work despite his unconvincing baby face, and Day-Lewis is amazing in his role, even though his accent (more Brooklyn-ish than Irish) bugged me throughout. I mean, everyone else in the film, even Leo, spoke in that Irish brogue: "Oh worra worra me, faith n' begorra" type stuff, but Bill was all "dese" and "youse". I'm sure Scorcese and Day-Lewis did their homework, but it kinda jumped out at me.

Also, I rented Treasure Planet, last year's big flop Disney traditionally-animated feature film. Everybody's wailing, lamenting and gnashing teeth about the death throes of hand-drawn animation, citing the failures of this and this year's Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. It seems to me that the problem isn't that people are rejecting traditional animation out of hand, it's that the concepts that trad-animators are proposing and getting approved somehow are DOA. Boring. Stodgy. For the life of me, I couldn't imagine why, when Planet was first announced, anyone would want to see it. Kids don't know jack about the Stevenson tale, and we already have at least two live action feature films of the story. Same goes with Sinbad. It seems to me that if trad-animators would work a little and seek out projects that are, shall we say, a bit more unusual and interesting to people other than bean counters, then perhaps their films would fare a bit better at the box office. Even going back a bit, projects like Titan A.E. and Spirit: Wild Horse of the Cimarron were yawn-inducing as well. The exception to this was Lilo and Stitch, which still suffered a bit from Disneyization but had a novel setting and characters to bouy it. Emphasis novel. Be this as it may (and bear in mind that this is just my opinion) there was much to like in Treasure Planet. Character designs were great, and there were several exciting set pieces, especially the struggle to escape a black hole; I liked the way the Jack Hawkins/Silver relationship played itself out too. I liked the feline Captain character, voiced by Emma Thompson. She was smart and tough. But they had to hedge their bets by infusing the hoary old Stevensen story with typical Disney-ish cliches like annoying comic relief robots and the obligatory contrived happy ending, not to mention songs which were (thankfully) not sung by the characters themselves. I could live with the conceit of the starships looking like old wooden sailing ships, but the more one thought about it the less sense it made. Treasure Planet is worth a rental, because it's well animated and involving, despite the cliches...but I'd wait until the rental price goes down.

And of course, there were my usual Turner Classic Movies viewings. I watched 1939's The Roaring Twenties, a big-budget gangster flick set in the prohibition era and featuring the best: James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. And of course, there was the angelic Priscilla Lane as Cagney's would-be romance. She gets to sing several songs, including "My Melancholy Baby" which I think made its debut in this film. Poor Cagney couldn't catch a break in this flick. Here's a link to a TCM piece about Twenties. Bogie also appeared, with Edward G. Robinson and another of my long-ago inamoratas, Ann Sothern, in Brother Orchid, an amusing tale of a gangster that hides out from his enemies in a monastery and learns a few life lessons in the meantime. Bogart is pretty slimy, Robinson shows great range, and Sothern is lovely and funny as always. On Sunday, I caught two Errol Flynn adventures: They Died With Their Boots On, with Flynn as Custer at Little Big Horn, and The Charge of the Light Brigade, this time with Errol as a Major in the British army in this tale based on the Alfred Lord-Tennyson poem. I always enjoy flicks with Flynn in 'em...he has that dashing air of good fun and high adventure, but is good enough of an actor to convey drama as well if need be.

I've got a few more films that have come out lately I want to see, and I'm sure some good stuff will come on cable eventually (there's a Maisie film coming on sometime in the next few days...!) so you can be sure I'll eventually write about 'em right here.