July 29, 2009

1984: The greatest year for movies...ever?

Chris Nashawaty at Entertainment Weekly just posted a story with that title on their Web site. I am inclined to agree with him. I have culled from his list my favorites:
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
  • Amadeus
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • C.H.U.D.
  • Ghostbusters
  • Repo Man
  • Romancing The Stone
  • Sixteen Candles
  • Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
  • The Natural
  • The Terminator
  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • Top Secret!
Plus two movies with great soundtracks: Stop Making Sense and Purple Rain.
Can you name another calendar year where you can name 13 movies you loved?

July 17, 2009

Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince

A brilliant adaptation of a overlong, boring, and clunky book, HBP the Movie one of the best Potter movies, and loads better than HBP the Book. Our young actors performances are getting better with each passing year: Tom Felton is a special revelation as Draco Malfoy, finally given something worthwhile to do in the movies besides sneering. Jim Broadbent is ideally suited, perhaps a little twitchy, to play the professor with a secret.
Over the course of the school year, Dumbledore instructs Harry on Voldemort 101, Harry suspects Draco Malfoy is a newly-branded Death Eater who's hatching a murderous plot, and, on a lighter note, romance is in full bloom as the hormone-soaked teenagers of Hogwarts suck face all year long.
In the book, the History Of Voldemort classes are supremely satisfying, but Harry's yearlong Malfoy conspiracy theory is not dramatically satisfying. Screenwriter Steve Kloves fixes this problem so by the end of the movie, we understand what Malfoy's been up to all year, and we actually care what happens to him when he meets his final confrontation with Dumbledore at the end of the movie.
The romantic storylines are very entertaining and silly, especially scene-stealer Jessie Cave as the love-struck Lavender Brown.
There was a lot of heavy lifting to do in the second half of this movie, in order to set up Harry's mission to destroy Voldemort in the last year of J.K. Rowling's saga. I don't know if Voldemort's Horcrux plot device is going to make sense to the uninitiated, but Kloves made a valiant effort to explain the concept to us.
NOTE: This movie is rated PG, even though it's full of bloody curses, the murder of a principal character, and undead zombies dragging Harry to a watery grave in a terrifying underground cave. This movie will give small children nightmares. (At the AMC Framingham Premium Cinema)

July 10, 2009

Public Enemies

A technically proficient but soulfully deficient gangster movie, from the kingpin of gun battles, Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice). Talk about great gun battles- Mann truly knows how to stage a shootout, this time with tommy guns, single-action rifles, and shotguns. The live effects and sound design are both superior.publicenemies
The casting is almost all fantastic- lots of doughy white 1930s faces with bad skin and sweaty necks: David Wenham, Stephen Dorff, and Giovanni Ribisi are fellow gangsters; Academy-Award winner Marion Cotillard succeeds in an underwritten, thankless role as Dillinger's moll; Christian Bale is fine as Melvin Purvis, the only G-Man with a soul; Billy Crudup looks nothing like J. Edgar Hoover, and he puts on a ridiculous Jimmy Cagney voice, as if all men in the 1930s talk like that? I really enjoyed a brief appearance by veteran character actor (and three-time Michael Mann alumnus) Stephen Lang.
It wouldn't be too hard to turn John Dillinger's last year of bankrobbing and police-fleeing into a metaphor: escaping the miseries of the Great Depression, making a better life away from a brutal childhood, innocent girlfriend = redemption from sin? Take your pick. Unfortunately, we aren't given much of a reason why we should care whether Dillinger makes that Last Big Score or not. Johnny Depp, who just turned 46 (!!), looks about ten years younger, as the charming, level-headed, and well-dressed Dillinger. We understand that Dillinger has spent over ten years in prison, and his childhood was brutal, but that makes him no more than a cliche ex-con. We need more from Depp, and the script, to care about him like he was a real person.
Mann goes out of his way to illustrate the changing times in organized crime and law enforcement, illustrating the proto-FBI's incompetence with vigor. J. Edgar Hoover's civil liberty-bending tactics feel very post-Patriot Act.
Mann's digital video camerawork is mostly superior, with no compromise compared to 35mm film, except in a few low-light scenes, where the graininess is distracting and unacceptable.(At the Somerville Theater with Emily, Sarah, Amy, and Adam)