Thursday, April 07, 2011

Movie Roundup

Burn after Reading: Cohen Brothers black comedy, following on their familiar two-idiots-acquire-something-valuable-and-mayhem-ensues theme (q.v. Fargo, Raising Arizona, A Simple Plan), but setting it in Washington among the paranoia of the Bush Junior regime. A friend of mine describes it as "bleak," but I just thought it was hilarious.

Infamous: Truman Capote, portrayed here as a cross between Holly Golightly and Porky Pig, writes a fictionalised biography of a convicted murderer (played by Daniel Craig with such intensity as to make anyone realise he's wasted on the Bond franchise), but finds that the experience takes him to his moral, spiritual and ethical limits. Through telling this story, and also exploring Capote's friendship with Harper Lee, the film considers the boundaries between truth and fiction, and the cost of fictionalising truth, without coming up with any easy answers.

Fantasia: the 1940 version (to be precise, the 1969 edit with the racially insensitive bit removed). Some bits work better than others: The dinosaur/Rite of Spring and the witches' sabbat/Night on Bald Mountain sequences were definite hits, the Toccata and Fugue left me rather cold, the Nutcracker Suite/flower fairies and Pastoral Symphony/Greek gods ran the complete gamut from charming to boring to downright offensive, and the dancing hippoes/Dance of the Hours was vaguely insulting to women, composers and Italianate architecture. And how I feel about The Sorcerer's Apprentice depends on my mood.

Fantasia 2000: Scored slightly better than the earlier version in terms of outstanding sequences, with the nature spirit/The Phoenix and Rhapsody in Blue/New York in the Thirties sequences being both fantastic, and the Pomp and Circumstance/Donald Duck loading the animals onto the Ark sequence deserving an award for sheer chutzpah. Unfortunately there was also two tedious sequences, an overly cutesy one involving flamingoes, and a bunch of pointless celebrity intro spots, which just makes the film look like the studio are afraid no one will see the movie without slebs. Take about half of this movie, about half of the previous movie, mash them together and get James Earl Jones to introduce the lot, and you're sorted.

Toy Story: A film that manages to weave together product placement, computer animation, kidult sensibility, irony and metatextuality (prior to this film, after all, Woody and Buzz Lightyear weren't toys...); thus, probably the defining film of the 1990s.

Manhattan: Woody Allen is a New York writer with a complicated sex life. Diane Keaton is a New York writer with a complicated sex life. Meryl Streep is a New York writer with a complicated sex life. In fact, pretty much the only person in the film who isn't a New York writer with a complicated sex life is Mariel Hemingway, which explains why Woody Allen winds up dumping her and then regretting it. So not exactly the most complex or original Woody Allen film, but it's charming and pretty, with some witty lines and a wry take on a world recognisable to anybody who's ever been involved with any sort of literary/arts/academic scene.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: Disney's first full-length feature. As it was made before animation had settled down to a series of tropes, it's interesting to view in the context of 1930s cinema more generally: a male and female love interest who might as well have been Dale Arden and Flash Gordon with slightly different hair; dwarves; organised labour (Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go), and animated animals which are cute but still recognisably animals, even if they do weird things like scrubbing pots with their tails. Also interesting in terms of the ambiguous Christian imagery at the end: is the Handsome Prince actually Jesus Christ, resurrecting the deceased Snow White and taking her away to a golden castle which hovers on the horizon as if in the sky, or is Snow White herself a regendered Christ-figure, a person of royal blood who dwells among the poor and the lowly and makes their lives better, is killed by those in power, and, after lying dead for a while, revives and goes up to claim her magical/heavenly kingdom? You decide. The version we saw had a couple of worth-seeing featurettes, in the form of a behind-the-scenes piece (with surreal footage of dancers in huge dwarf masks and beards cavorting around so the animators could get the movement right) and a cut sequence which explains what happened to the soap that Dopey swallows during the washing scene, and where Snow White is supposed to sleep.

Movie count for 2011: 50