Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"that which nourishes me also destroys me"

It's not just a quote from Angelina Jolie's yummy tummy tatoo. It's also a handy way to describe the pitfalls of some fairly solid movies, now playing at theaters near you.

(note: if you found this looking for Angelina Jolie stuff, click here)

Half Nelson
The Good: Ryan Gosling's performance. The film's welcome abundance of ideas and concern about problematic systems and our willing compliance in them -- not that these ideas are explored but at least they show up to class.
The Bad: Too much like its junkie lead. Half Nelson seems to sleepwalk when it should be alert, always searching for the next Gosling-centric high and missing other good stuff: something of a typical trap for small films with big talent actors at the center.
The Verdict: As a character portrait I'd give this a higher grade but considering the larger ambitions it holds, I'll settle on a B- Worth seeing, though, don't get me wrong. Not pleasant or cathartic despite it's good intentions. It raises a lot of issues only to throw up its hands in despair.

House of Sand
The Good: Fernanda Montenegro (but you knew that already, didn't you smarty) and it’s slowly shifting daughter-mother-daughter narrative. The setting: Like a tan version of Fargo’s blank white canvases, it gets a lot of gravitas and atmosphere from its endless grains of sand.
The Bad: Too much like its setting. Hypnotic gives way to monotonous, and the whole thing is a little obvious in its symbolism.
The Verdict: B- but I enjoyed Montenegro's effortless performance and I liked its confidence in the time structure.

The Illusionist
The Good: This film about a magician in Vienna has an absolutely refreshing modesty to it. It doesn't try too hard at all. For most of the running time, The Illusionist is content to be quiet and intriguing.
The Bad: But then there's the ending. And you realized this magician needed to spend more time dazzling in specific ways (as opposed to being vaguely fascinating) in order to pull off the intended grand sleight of hand. The trick ending feels like a bit of a cheat.
The Verdict: B-

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
The Good: Me: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl had it all: adventure, fun, great production values, memorable characters, and a legendary performance by Johnny Depp."
The Bad: Studio Executive: "So in the sequel, we're going to just point the camera at those same things again. Every last one of those things. You'll love it. Particularly Johnny Depp! He's so funny we didn't even bother giving him any jokes. But don't you just love him?!? Oh, and you liked it because of the setpieces last time right? Right? Well, whatever. We've added several --these will make really awesome levels of a video game that will double our profits. Aren't you excited to see what happens in 2007?"
The Verdict: C Me: "Um, I guess. Since nothing happened in 2006." Honestly, I can't imagine ever watching this again because everything I love about it is in pure form in the original. If they trimmed about 45-60 minutes, I'd go back. In my mind this is the longest commercial ever made. The Kill Bill Volume splitting in 2003 brought out many naysayers complaining about a crass budget-covering move. Why wasn't their more outrage at this film? This is a far more obvious case of numbers doing the creative thinking: It's like a collection of scenes with no rhthym or narrative import that exist merely to take you from Black Pearl to At World's End. There's not enough story to justify a trilogy. A plain old sequel would've been fine.

A Prairie Home Companion
The Good: Wonderful music, a jovial relaxed ensemble, and plenty of sunset warmth.
The Bad: In some ways, it's like a very pretty person who doesn't have to develop a personality to get attention. The film's general mood is so cozy, and its team comes with so much of a back catalogue of audience love that the film doesn't have to break a sweat at all to achieve its swansong like grace. I imagine that if I didn't love Altman and the cast so much from previous work, this would not have been so satisfying.
The Verdict: B+ Probably should've been tighter and more controlled. But who wants to quibble when everyone is having a ball, including the audience. Not I.

Related Posts:
What Did Fernanda Do To Deserve This? (House of Sand) * Addicted to Addiction (Half Nelson) * A Sure Sign of the Apocalypse (The Illusionist) * John Christopher Depp (Pirates) *

11 comments:

Beau said...

So basically, any sequel made back-to-back with the finale could be constituted as being a 2 1/2 hour commercial for that film? I dug "Dead Man's Chest", personally.

etslee said...

Not even a mention of the relationship b/w Gosling and Shareeka Epps in Half Nelson? It was one of the most interesting pairings of the year. I also don't think it was meant to be cathartic or come with any easy answers. The choices faced by the characters seemed very real to me.

NATHANIEL R said...

etslee --you're right it probably wasn't. but it was really unpleasant to have nothing to take with me in the end other than a strong character portrait.

maybe the first half hour raised my expectations too high? I don't know.

i'm happy that it worked for so many other people though since I definitely didn't dislike it.

beau --no. that's not what I'm saying. if your middle section is ALL connective tissue than yes. But usually within middle stories you can go interesting places and create indelible new characters (Two Towers) and in rare cases you can hit your peak (Empire Strikes Back) for the first half of Pirates I was waiting for it to start and for the second half I was just waiting for it to end.

all connective tissue for me.

Beau said...

i don't know why, but i just had a blast watching it. i realize that it basically rehashed every single joke from the first one, (and going overboard on the rum references) and that it turned johnny depp into a looney-tunes character, but in spite of it all, it worked for me. *shrugs*
what'd you think of 'the black dahlia', by the way?

NATHANIEL R said...

loved it in certain moments. a MUST SEE but not exactly good.

Beau said...

I agree entirely.
Favorite moment?

Kamikaze Camel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kamikaze Camel said...

See, with Pirates, that's why I liked it. It did have the stuff that made the original so good. I am so bloody sick of all these poseur superhero movies and whathaveyou like Superman Does Shakespeare While Fixing His Hair or whatever. I just wanted to wacky fun and thats what I got. I agree that it is too long, but I thought the original was too long also.

Kamikaze Camel said...

"wanted to wacky fun" should be "wanted some wacky fun"

Emma said...

I'm liking your thoughts to POTCII. Basically, because they echo mine. :P

pfangirl said...

Thank you, thank you for pointing out the flaws of Pirates 2. I thought I was alone in not buying into the hype!