Saturday, October 29, 2005

Recent Movie Roundup

I've got something more substantial (and John Crowley-related, yay!) in the works for the next day or so, but for now, here are my thoughts on some films I've seen recently:
  1. A History of Violence: Not so much a missed opportunity as a barrel-full of missed opportunities. The film starts out with a fascinating premise, but whenever it comes close to addressing one of the many intriguing questions it raises--who is Tom? Is it possible for a man to remake himself? In doing so, has Tom perpetrated a fraud on his friends and family, or told them a deeper truth? Has Tom truly changed, or is he still Joey underneath? Where do Tom (and Jack's) displays of violence fit in? Is violence ever justified, or is it always soul-killing? Will Tom be forgiven, and does he deserve to be?--it veers away, usually into another scene of acrobatic and gory violence or acrobatic and slightly less gory sex. Viggo Mortensen does his very best with what he's given, and he's such an appealing actor that we can't help but feel for a character who isn't much more than a caricature. Tom can be boiled down to a simple description--used to be bad, now he's good--and a single imperative--protect his family--neither of which properly address the complexity of his situation. There's a lot worth watching for in A History of Violence--as well as Mortensen, Maria Bello gives a subtle, compelling performance, and the film itself is beautifully shot--but it fails to come together into a satisfying whole.

  2. Proof: A very pleasant surprise indeed. I saw the stage version on Broadway in 2001, with Mary-Louise Parker in the role of Catherine, and walked away vaguely dissatisfied. Now I think that the fault was in Parker (whose mannered performances have since blighted my enjoyment of otherwise excellent shows such as The West Wing and Angels in America) and not the play, because Gwyneth Paltrow's Catherine is delightful, in that special as-long-as-she's-not-my-sister/friend way. Although she's too old for the role of a 25-year-old math prodigy who has locked herself away from the world to take care of her mentally ill father, whose subsequent death has left her rattled and overwrought, Paltrow makes it, and the film, her own. She exudes the kind of intelligence I couldn't discern in Parker--it isn't a stretch to believe that this is a woman whose life is lived primarily inside her head and expressed primarily in the form of equations and proofs. Hope Davis is also great fun as Catherine's sometimes-shrewish, sometimes-well-meaning older sister, who cares for Catherine but can't, or won't, see her. In a culture that tends to vilify intellect and intellectual pursuit, it's good to see a film that acknowledges the fact that for those inclined to it, mathematics (and other sciences) can hold the same beauty and emotional significance as art or religion, and the same promise of salvation.

  3. Serenity: It occurs to me that although I've written about it twice, I haven't actually expressed too many thoughts about the movie itself. What strikes me as most remarkable about Serenity is how precise it manages to be while still giving the impression of being almost improvisational--just your average sci-fi action flick with lots of explosions and space battles. Every scene, every line in the film, have their place and their significance--a house being constructed, carefully and slowly, one brick at a time (River's nightmares, for example, take place on Miranda, and although we won't understand this until the crew reaches the planet, they tell us within the film's first five minutes exactly what we can expect to find there). The marvel of the film is that the end result seems effortless, which leads me to conclude that Serenity may very well be the best thing Joss Whedon has ever written (for all the justified complaints about characterization getting short shrift). Also worth mentioning is the superb work by the entire cast. Nathan Fillion and Summer Glau carry the bulk of the film, but their fine work is bolstered by Chiwetel Ejiofor's turn as The Operative, a role that could easily have descended into mustache-twirling cliché. Ejiofor manages to avoid this while still conveying the danger The Operative poses to Serenity's crew. Also notable are Tamara Taylor as the kindly-yet-sinister teacher in River's dreams and Sarah Paulson as the doomed Alliance scientist in the recording on Miranda.

  4. Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: I had my doubts about the feasibility of stretching Aardman Animation's flagship series about a hapless, cheese-loving inventor and his long-suffering canine companion into feature-length, but of course I should have given the creators of Chicken Run the benefit of the doubt. Realizing that on their own, Wallace and Gromit can't carry a 90-minute story, the folks at Aardman populated their plasticine universe with a host of quintessentially English (yet always slightly askew) characters, the most notable of which is Reverend Hedges, who steals each and every one of his scenes. The result is almost painfully funny--as after all, a film that centers around a town that has gone crazy over a giant vegetable competition can't help but being. The animation is, as usual, stellar, most notably the amount of emotion Gromit can convey simply by rolling his eyes.

1 comment:

Elise said...

Can I just say THANK YOU for the comments on Mary Louise Parker? I so totally agree. She doesn't irritate me to the point that, say, a Keira Knightley does, but she always looks as if she's just smelled something sort of nasty. I like Gwyneth much better in the role.

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