Friday, 5 June 2009

Movie Catch-Up - May 2009

I saw quite a few films this month, some old, some spanking new. I don't necessarily subscribe to the nostalgic view of cinema, that pre-Star Wars Hollywood films were on average better than modern efforts. Filmgoers have probably said that in every decade. We have always produced fodder. Remove the gems from Golden Age Hollywood and you're left with an awful lot of garbage. This decade has been no different. The few exceptional films each year tend to define the year. The rest is quickly forgotten.

Slumdog Millionaire won 8 Academy Awards this year and made a truckload of money. The poster quote whores endorsed it as "the feel-good movie of the decade" blah blah blah. Whatever. The tone of this film never sat right with me. It was clearly meant as a rags-to-riches fantasy, but the sheer weight of unending hardships suffered by the hero--who literally suffers all his young life--completely killed any uplift for me. This shouldn't have a fairytale ending. Most of the story is told in flashback, and it is a harsh and fairly realistic overview of slum existence. The boy loses his girl time and again, his brother spirals into criminality. It is a bleak tale.

And then there's the gameshow. An utterly contrived storytelling device links each question to a chapter in the boy's life, gifting the director free reign to jump back and forward far more often than is necessary. This is becoming a tiresome trend in modern moviemaking. Is there anything wrong with a linear narrative? One or two flashbacks is fine. But this sort of time-jumping mosaic hasn't made a single film I can recall more engaging, affecting, or dramatically powerful. Quentin Tarantino films are playful pastiches. A film like Slumdog should make the heart soar. Unfortunately, what I took away from it was an admiration for the technical virtuosity, an appreciation for the nimble screenplay, and a feeling of utter indifference toward the characters. I realise it's a fantasy, but it felt like a rigged game from minute one. If you want an honest slumdog film, forget this fake uplift and watch Fernando Mereilles' City of God.

Bette Davis' classic 1938 meldrama Jezebel hasn't aged well. She is tremendous as an egotistical southern belle who wrecks the lives of all around her before a Yellow Fever epidemic hits her home town. No one beats Bette in that kind of role (except maybe Vivien Leigh), but the rest of the film is fairly quaint. It's very much of its time--a woman's picture of stoic manners and mercurial temperaments and a scorned title character. Bette is never referred to as a screen beauty, but in these early movies, she is a stunner.

Jennifer Garner charms her way through 13 Going on 30, a kind of girl's version of Tom Hanks' Big. I wasn't expecting much from this one, but Jennifer's brilliant performance and what amounted to a nice, heartfelt ode to innocence really hit the spot. The ending perhaps should have been more bittersweet, but I give this one high marks. Mark Ruffalo plays another of his lovable sadsack boyfriend roles. He has great chemistry with beautiful Jennifer.

Drag Me To Hell is a return to his roots for Sam Raimi, after his brilliant Spider-Man trilogy. The Evil Dead formula, with which he made his name, mixed twisted humour with even more twisted scares. They're so fun to watch, even now, that I really think he's one of our better directors. Such low budgets yet so much creativity. And the films play superbly well to audiences. You can tell he's dying to entertain us (so to speak). Such is the case with his new one, a kitchen-sink-included horror rollercoaster starring Allison Lohman as the unfortunate victim of a gypsy curse. In three days, her soul will be taken by a demon. Cue lots of jumps, funny gross moments, and a rollicking good time. Though for my money, it would have been infinitely better with Bruce Campbell in the lead. Allison does well, but Bruce would have made this pure classic.

Tomorrow I'm off to see Terminator: Salvation. Middling hopes for this one, but I've a feeling I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Till next time...


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