JOHNNY B HEART NETFLIX Part THREE!
Yep, I'm finally getting around to posting a line or three about movies I've viewed while subscribing to that online service. There will probably be a couple more, then that will be it for a while since I cancelled my subscription yesterday. I loved the availability it offers- there's no way I could have found films like Lost in La Mancha or Girl With The Pearl Earring in my local Blockbuster. But at $19 a month, I just couldn't justify continuing with it, especially since I still get cable, and before Netflix I would maybe rent one or two DVDs max a month, sometimes not even that. Maybe someday I'll renew my subscription, but it won't be anytime soon, sorry to say. Anyway, here are some flicks I've seen lately. I'm giving them one-to-five star ratings.
WHALE RIDER ****
Whale Rider is the story of Pai, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes, part of the Maori tribe in New Zealand. The Maori claim to be descended from Paikeia, the Whale Rider, and in every generation for 1000 years, a male heir born to the tribe's chief has assumed the throne. When the current chief's son gives birth to twins, one boy and one girl, the boy dies in childbirth along with his mother...leaving Pai in the care of her father (who has ambitions towards an art career and doesn't want to live in New Zealand or be chief) and grandfather, who is quite unhappy that there will be no male to take his place. While her father travels the world, Pai lives with her grandparents and strives to prove that she can be worthy of chiefdom, against the wishes of her grandfather, who loves her even though he is determined not to allow it. Whale Rider reminded me a lot of those foreign children's films they used to show on Saturday mornings all the time in the 60s and 70s; very earnest and centered on its young star, who manages to play her part with passion, yet maintains a sense of detachment which makes her come across as enigmatic. It's a bit of a "female empowerment" story, documenting her struggles to prove what we find out early on- she is indeed the rightful chief, and she can summon whales to prove it...as well as swim like a fish and hold her own in battle with the village boys. The film effectively shows the contrast between modern-world sensibilities and old-world native superstition and ritual, and the conflicts that brings. We are never allowed to get away from the family-bonds message that is the center of the thing; despite being the nominal heavy of the film, we are still shown how the grandfather/chief likes to give Pai rides home from school on his bicycle and the inner conflict he himself feels, torn between love for his granddaughter and his concern for the continuation of his tribe and the way of life he's determined to protect. Nice performances, gorgeous scenery, and really the only negative I can cite is that the actors' accents were so thick that it was hard for me to follow conversations all through the film. Despite this, Whale Rider was a fascinating look into a culture and a locale of which I knew nothing, and an appealing drama.
THE PUNISHER **1/2
I've probably mentioned before at some point that I've never really been a fan of this character; not that I have anything against killing-machine heroes, but there's just something about the Frank Castle character, in all his many incarnations since 1975, that has failed to grab me. Heck, I bought his second appearance in the 1976 B&W Marvel magazine Marvel Super Action for Chaykin's Dominic Fortune back-up. I later picked up his first appearance in Spider-Man, because I found it for a buck or two (before the character really got popular), but let it go when I sold my original collection back in 1987. I did pick up the first dozen or so Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon Marvel Knights issues, because I loved Hitman and Preacher so much, but soon grew tired of the juvenile groove that Ennis has found himself in, so I moved on. So what I'm trying to say is that I have no vested interest in seeing Punny done right; I watched the first attempt at filming his adventures, with Dolph Lundgren in the role, with a shrug even though I didn't think it was as bad as its detractors claimed. Not all that good, either. I was in no hurry to see this supposedly superior, "this-time-we're-gonna-do-it-right" version, and in fact, when I saw the early advance pics of Thomas Jane as Frank, I thought they were putting us on- he looked skinny and blonde! That's why I'm just now getting around to seeing this- I just couldn't be arsed, as Garth would say. And it's funny- my opinion of this new Punisher is about the same as it was after viewing the Lundgren Punisher...it's not all that great, but it's certainly no disaster. The performances are a lot better, for one thing- Jane is great, and John Travolta used his still-flickering charisma to enliven the role of the pussy-whipped mob boss that orders Frank's family killed. It was cool to see Jaws' Roy Scheider in the role of Frank's dad. The scriptwriters wisely resisted the urge to camp things up, and remained mostly faithful to the character, the Ennis/Dillon version in particular. The production values leave something to be desired- this thing looks like your basic late-night Cinemax "erotic thriller"-style time waster, and I question the need to replace the mousey Joanie character of the comics with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' hard-luck horny junkie. But at the end of the day, after all the shooting and grimness and explosions and so on, I was still shrugging my shoulders when it was over. Guess there's just no way I'm gonna get worked up over the Punisher and his world. My loss, I guess.
I had more, but my computer crashed and I lost it. Oh well, I'll try again later.