Monday, February 20, 2017

House of Strangers (1949)

House of Strangers is a nourish adaptation of Jerome Weidmans' novel I'll Never Go There Any More, which has also been adapted as a western in 1954 (Broken Lance) and a film about German circus performers (The Big Show) in 1961. The core of the story seems to be about how an overbearing father can tear his family apart by choosing a favorite son (in this case Richard Conte) at the expense of the others, and endanger a family empire (in this case, banking). Edward G. Robinson won a best actor award for this at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival, though to its determent the performance now plays very strongly of its time. The plot is actually fairly complicated, though at the same time not a lot seems to happen. Still its an interesting enough film and contains several story and thematic parallels to the later Godfather Trilogy, not the least of which is Conte's presence. ***

The Lego Batman Movie (2016)

I must admit that I have never seen The Lego Movie, I want to, it's on my list, but I've yet to see the film. I was however well aware of Will Arnett's breakout vocal characterization of Batman in that film, gravelly, megalomaniacal and dry. Said portrayal carries the bulk of this spin off film, The Lego Batman Movie, with Arnett getting many great lines. Even though I have not seen the original Lego film I get the sense this movie must in many ways be a pale imitation of it, it has a safe message about the importance of families, most of the gages are safe, its full of pop culture cross reverences of everything from Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings to Jaws and Gremlins, as well as songs that are maybe not quite awesome. Enjoyable, but unless you have kids maybe don't pay full price. **1/2

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)

H.G. Wells helped expand and adapt his own short story of the same title The Man Who Could Work Miracles into this comedy fantasy picture for famed English producer Alexander Korda. As part of a bet between three God's, one of whom is played by a young George Sanders, an Essex haberdashers assistant (Roland Young) is granted nearly limitless super human powers, which he spends the whole movie dithering over how to use. Intriguing premise feels largely squandered, this movie aims for the fanciful but comes off dull and ineffectually preachy. I have a similar feeling about the work of George Bernard Shaw, and Well's earlier fiction is much better then this, maybe its a Fabian Society thing. *1/2

The Last Five Years (2014)

The Last Five Years is the (rather modestly budgeted) film version of the (presumably modestly budgeted) off Broadway musical of the same title. It the story of the rise and fall of a five year relationship between aspiring actress Cathy Hiatt (Anna Kendrick) and budding novelist Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy Jordan). The chronological presentation of events is notably a-typical as "all of Cathy's songs begin after they have separated and move backwards in time to the beginning of their courtship, while Jamie's songs start when they have first met and proceeds through their crumbling marriage." (Wikipedia) The novelty wears thin however in that Jamie is not all the likeable, in fact he's kind of jerk, and even Anna Kendrick's best efforts can't make any of the songs memorable. This movies a slog and I can't recommend it. *1/2

Friday, February 17, 2017

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

The first film directed by Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki for his own studio. Based on Miyazaki's own 1982 Magna of the same name, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind concerns "a princess of a small kingdom on a post-apocalyptic Earth with a bioengineered ecological system, who becomes involved in a war between kingdoms while an environmental disaster threatens humankind."-Wikipedia. Miyazaki's imagination is super creative and original, and this film really hit home for me how consistently high quality his work has been over the course of quite the career. You have a strong female protagonist, you have what is lightly a message movie that is both very Japanese and very contemporary in it's 1980's era concerns, I'd say the film feels enjoyably of its time. The movie also has what I would consider to be the strongest score of any of Miyazaki's movies, I've been listing to selections from it over the week since I saw this picture. Hayao really came out of the gates running. Also I suspect that the fox squirrel is a direct creative ancestor of Pikachu. ****

House (1977)

House the 1977 Japanese horror film has no relation to House the 1986 American horror film other then that both movies take place partially inside of a house. The first feature film directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi, who had previously directed commercials and short experimental art films, took advantage of a Japanese film industry in a moment of transition to make whatever the hell he wanted, and it turned out to be a huge hit. House is loosely a horror film but really goes all over the place in terms of tone and visuals, there are early portions of this film that play something like a Japanese version of Sesame Street, and then later there is nudity. The plot concerns seven high school girls who travel to the country home of one of the girls (Kimiko Ikegami) aunt (Yoko Minamida) for summer vacation and are all gradually killed off in various ironic ways by 'the house' itself (a girl who likes to play the piano is eaten by a piano, a girl who likes to eat watermelon is turned into a watermelon, ect). It's all very strange, very kinetic, and it all gets to be a little much. Though only 88 minutes in length the persistent, ungrounded strangeness of the film wore on this viewer, I think this could have been a great 20 minute short, but at this length I got tired. Still depending on your tastes this film could well be worth seeing, even if just to satisfy you curiosity. This movie is really something, it just turns out not to be something for me. **

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Elegy (2008)

The great Nicholas Meyer adapted a lesser known Philip Roth novella, The Dying Animal, and Spaniard Isabel Coixet very capably directs his screenplay as Elegy. The narrative goes back to that very Rothian story well of an illicit romance between a successful older man and mysterious younger woman. Now that kind of thing I've seen enough times before that I got kind of bored with it, but the stuff that comes after the breakup is where things get interesting. Penélope Cruz is of course beguiling as the woman, and Ben Kingsley is rather impressive as the man. Kingsley unfortunately has become a bit of a self stereotype, he seems most often to be cast in films essentially just to be Ben Kingsely, here as the urbane, lustful, ageing literature professor he's really given a chance to act, and its wonderful to see. Dennis Hopper is joy every time he's on screen here as Kingsely libertine poet friend, and that's Blondie front woman Debbie (billed as Deborah) Harry as his long suffering wife. Peter Sarsgaard is Kingsley's mildly estranged son, and that plot line is moderately interesting counterpoint to the primary goings on. Patrica Clarkson is Kingsley's secondary love interest. The movie is in no hurry to get where it is going and lags a little at parts, but really comes together at the end and has some poignant things to say. Of the four Philip Roth screen adaptations I've seen, I'd rank this number two. ***1/2