Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunshine in a bag

Beauty and the Beast: A great film from Disney’s output during its 1990s “revival” period, this does what Disney arguably does best: taking a classic fairy-tale and retelling it with enough added riffs, bells and whistles to a) extend it to feature film length, and b) keep mums/dads/babysitters watching along with the kids. This one’s particular strengths for the adult market include an unbelievably trippy production number involving furniture and cutlery (complete with a Busby-Berkley routine performed by teaspoons) and a mad battle sequence also involving animated furniture, which is well worth slowing down to catch the background action (including, among other things, a quick visual reference to Battleship Potemkin-- there’s actually a lot of German and Russian Expressionist namechecking throughout). As for the romance plot, this one shines through being not a story in which the protagonist woos and wins a love object (e.g. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Lion King etc.), but in which both main characters woo and win each other. Which I rather think is a much better message for the kids, and more satisfying for the grownups.

For a Few Dollars More: Sequel to A Fistful of Dollars, in which Clint Eastwood’s drifting mercenary, now turned bounty hunter, teams up with mentor-figure Lee van Cleef and learns a lot about strategy, revenge, and gunplay. Features similarities to the first one (Eastwood infiltrating a bandit gang, a vendetta on behalf of a family member, Eastwood being found out and beaten up by gang members following which he manages to exploit splits within the gang to his advantage, and a bandit obsessed with a dark-haired woman), but, rather than simply repeating with variations, actually deepens the themes of the first, exploring the motivations of both bandits and bounty hunters in a bleak and unsympathetic West.

Tightrope: Boring 1980s Eastwood-vehicle cop-flick, borrowing liberally from Manhunter and Coogan’s Bluff, without being as interesting or disturbing as either. Its main saving grace is, first, casting Genevieve Bujold (and, particularly, Genevieve Bujold in jeans, utilitarian haircut and no makeup) as a leading lady and love interest for Eastwood, and, second, subverting misogynist cop-film tropes by making Bujold’s character a feminist and a rape-crisis counselor, but not then making this a setup to reveal that all these tough women are really weepy, teary girls inside and they really just Need A Man. This one, attacked by the inevitable serial rapist/murderer, fights him off, then tidies her hair and goes round to Eastwood’s place to make sure his kids are OK. We could have done with more of her sort in this genre.

Double Take: Fascinating, complicated news-clip documentary, which interweaves parallels between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the films and career of Alfred Hitchcock. Through using the theme of doubles, a clever melange of news clips and Folgers coffee adverts (no really), and a fantasy conversation between Hitchcock in 1962 and his own future self from 1980, the filmmakers set up America and the USSR as evil doppelgangers of each other. The crucial point comes from an excerpt from Kruschev and Nixon’s “kitchen debate,” in which Kruschev states that the USSR has a better space programme than the USA, and Nixon counters that the USA has more televisions—something which Kennedy later used as a stick to beat Nixon with in the infamous televised debate, but, well, if you think about it, it was television, not spaceships, which won the cold war. There’s a lot more in there to enjoy, so go and watch it two or three times if you can.

Movie count for 2010: 121