Monthly Archives: July 2009

Day 33: The Wire, Season 4, Disc 2 (2006)

This show gets under your skin, people.  I liked the first three seasons intellectually, but this is the first one that’s really grabbed me emotionally as well.  My two favorite characters from the first season are still around and causing trouble, and the newer ones are starting to get to me as well.  I’m already bracing myself for the last episode of this season, to say nothing of Season Five.


Day 32: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

What can I tell ya’ll about Harry Potter that you don’t already know? 

There’s a moderate amount of snogging, and an immoderate amount of talking about snogging.  The Quidditch matches are extra-phallic.  Dumbledore does not make any sexual double-entendres unless you’re looking for them (and apparently some people are).  The Inferi look like Gollums.  There are lots of changes from the book (Harry and Ginny’s kiss, the fight scene in the marsh around the Weasleys’ house), but most of them are in the interest of making it a good movie, so I approve.  Rupert Grint is adorable (is it crass of me to add the “hot boys” tag when he’s only 20?).  Alan Rickman is flawless and devastating.  Tom Felton, the kid who plays Draco Malfoy, looks even more perfect for the role now than he did when he was originally cast for it.  It’s fast-paced, it’s fun, and it’ll make you want to join those goofy kids who started Quidditch teams at their colleges.

The one thing I’m not sure about is whether this movie would be a good time if I hadn’t read the books.  The pacing is so breathless that I feel like it might get confusing if I didn’t have my knowledge of the books to fill in the gaps.  If you have read the books, you should absolutely see it if you haven’t already.  If you haven’t read them, at least go back and see the other movies first.  It’ll make a lot more sense that way.


Day 31: Persuasion (1995)

I’d actually seen this one several years ago, before I read the book (which has so far been my MO with every Jane Austen book except Pride and Prejudice, to my great shame).  It’s the fabulous msnowe‘s personal favorite, so being the awesome friend that I am, I had to check it out and then re-watch the movie.

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I try not to be too nitpicky about whether the actors in an adaptation fit their characters’ physical descriptions in the book (“she’s supposed to be blond!  Did they even read the book??”), but it’s kind of hard not to notice in this one.  With the exception of Anne Elliott, who’s cast perfectly, everyone who’s supposed to be good-looking in the book is funny-looking in the movie, and vice versa.  I mention it only because so many of the characters in the book are defined, in part, by their attractiveness relative to everyone else; so sometimes their motives aren’t as obvious as they are in the book.  For example: Anne’s erstwhile lover, Captain Wentworth, is supposed to be a strapping demigod who’s about her age; here he’s played by the charismatic but craggy Ciaran Hinds, who’s got a solid ten years on the adorable Amanda Root.  One of the major conflicts of the early part of the book is the fact that they’ve been thrown together again after an eight year separation, and it’s supposed to be completely obvious that she’s lost her “bloom” while he’s improved with age.  But as you’ll see from the picture above, the actors playing them are pretty comparable in attractiveness, and since we don’t have Anne’s narration like we do in the novel, that tension never comes across.

None of this is to say I didn’t like it, or that faithfulness to the source of the adaptation always makes a better movie (that’s a whole other conversation for another day).  But I do remember thinking when I first saw this that the happy ending came about a little too easily and too quickly.  Maybe I’ll check out the newer version with Sally Hawkins and see how it stacks up.


Day 30: Public Enemies (2009)

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s planning to see this in the theater (which ya’ll should all do), so I’ll keep this short.  I will, however, caution you against expecting any Tim Burton-y wackiness, since that seems to be the main objection from people who didn’t like it (really, guys?).  Come on, people — it’s a biopic!  It may not be completely true to life, but it is at least realistic.    Don’t expect it to be something it’s not just because Johnny Depp is in it.

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Actually, one thing I will say is that I loved the way Michael Mann met the challenge of taking a real-life gangster and making him a likeable protagonist without sacrificing any realism.  When your outlaw-heroes are fictional, you have more room for creative license, so you can make them as cuddly as you want as long as they still happen to rob banks or sell drugs or con people.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I appreciate the restraint shown in both the acting and the directing here.  Also, keep an eye out for lots  (and lots) of A-list actors in one-line roles.  Good stuff!


Day 29: This Is England (2006)

This is a tough one, but worth the effort.

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This Is England centers around 12-year-old Shaun, whose father was killed in the Falklands War.  He doesn’t fit in at school and ends up being sort of adopted by a group of teenaged skinheads.  They get into fairly innocent mischief (even his mother likes them!) until one of their older cohorts, Combo, gets out of prison and tries to recruit them all to the right-wing National Front.  Shaun and a few of the more impressionable boys help him terrorize the non-white population, until Combo really loses his shit towards the end and scares Shaun straight in the progress.

What I liked about this movie is the way the heavy subject matter is interspersed with moments of surprising humor and sweetness.  It’s a pretty standard technique, and really the only way to get through dark subject matter without totally losing your audience; but it’s done particularly well here.  It’s also worth watching for its portrayal of Falklands War-era England (it’s set in 1983), which I knew shockingly little about.  Apparently the movie is a  semi-autobiographical account of the director’s youth, which makes its even-handed treatment and light emotional touch all the more impressive.  Could’ve done without the final shot of Shaun staring straight into the camera, but that’s a minor beef.


Day 28: Big Night (1996)

I had a screenwriting professor in grad school who hated this movie and couldn’t understand why it got all the critical acclaim that it did.  At the time, his tastes and mine were so different that I figured anything that could inspire that much rancor must have something going for it.

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Now that I finally got around to seeing it, I’m inclined to agree with my professor’s original assessment: it kinda sucks, and when you hear that it was nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Cannes and that the script and the directing also won awards, its suckiness starts to seem pernicious.  Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub play Italian immigrant brothers who are struggling to keep their restaurant afloat.  Ian Holm owns the restaurant across the way, which does a booming trade in bastardized Italian food (because of course success means you’ve sold out), and he offers to get Louis Prima to visit their restaurant to attract business.  So they pull out all the stops getting ready for the “big night,” and you TOTALLY believe Louis Prima is going to show up because Ian Holm seems SO trustworthy, which is why [SPOILER ALERT!] it’s so shocking when he doesn’t!  Oh no!

OK sorry, just had to get that out.  Anyway, it seems to me that the real lesson of this movie is to leave the directing to directors and the screenwriting to writers.  Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott (who’s totally unnecessary but still funny as a used car salesman) co-directed the movie, and Tucci co-wrote the script as well.  The acting is mostly great — Tucci himself is to die for, Minnie Driver is annoying but believable, Isabella Rossellini is devastating as always, and Allison Janney is lovely and surprisingly understated  — but the story is flabby and boring.  A five-year-old could figure out that Ian Holm’s the bad guy, so there’s nothing resembling suspense.  There’s also lots of bickering masquerading as legitimate conflict, especially in the last excruciating half-hour, when Tucci and Shalhoub argue and kick each other on the beach while everyone else watches.  Just spare yourself the agony and watch Ratatouille instead.


Day 27: Up (2009)

Not on my Netflix queue, obviously, but a movie nonetheless.  If you’re thinking about seeing it, I urge you to catch it in the theater.  3-D movies are way too much fun; and a friend of mine and I came to the conclusion that Pixar movies just don’t pack the same punch on the small screen.

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This particular one rivals Wall*E for imaginative-ness of storyline and sheer cuteness.  You’ll probably find parts of it either wonderfully moving or unbearably schmaltzy, depending on your tolerance level; for my part, the only tears I cried were ones of hilarity (I won’t spoil it for you, but there are talking dogs).  The fabulous m.snowe addresses the movie’s almost complete absence of lady characters much more eloquently than I could, so I’ll add only that I would’ve found this absence much less troubling if it was an isolated incident in the Pixar canon.  But it’s such a common theme by now that you have to wonder (or at least I do) why the Pixar dudes apparently find it so easy to imagine women inspiring men on to greatness and adventure, but so difficult to imagine women having adventures of their own.

OK, OK, I had to get my two feminist cents in.  Other than that, it’s hard to find a flaw in Up, except maybe for the trailer preceding it for that gawdawful-looking hamster movie.  Really?  Hamsters?  Give me a large break.