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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Yes, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 at an 11:30 am show today. Curiously, there were only 5 people in the theater. I really debated as to whether I wanted to see it in 3D or not.

The problem with most of the 3D movies I’ve seen is that the technology doesn’t mix well with the type of hyper-fast edits that most movies use today. When each frame moves an object 10 feet or more in front of you, the movement scrambles the brain’s 3D wiring.  Or my brain’s, anyway.

That was certainly true for every single one of the 3D trailers I had to sit through today. I was not impressed. Or maybe it’s just the projection method. U2 3D was terrific in Imax, not so good in standard 3D.

But HPDH2 made very effective, and subtle, use of 3D. Much better than in an earlier film (Half-Blood Prince), where you kept the glasses off for most of the film and put them on at the end. This one is 3D all the way through. Under David Yates’ direction, the cinematography by Eduardo Serra is incredibly rich. For once, the 3D actually helped make me feel as if I was there.

It’s a great ending to a great series, both of books and movies. I was exhilarated.

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I know it’s fashionable for some people to dismiss Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life as mere Capra-corn, shamelessly manipulating the audience for sentimentality’s sake. It’s possible that some of these people have seen this Christmas favorite too many times. It’s also possible that they have never really seen it.

Regardless, I don’t worry much about the “message” of the film, except indirectly. I’m never persuaded that “this film shows that one person can make a difference.” Of course it does; that’s the way the screenwriters wrote it, for Pete’s sake. What does interest me is how the film draws us in to the characters and story. The writers and Capra, certainly; but special attention should go Joseph Walker’s cinematography and, above all else, the astounding acting of Jimmy Stewart.

Yes, he’s way too old for the part, at least the early scenes; but this is a fable, after all. What shines from the screen is the emotional honesty and conviction that Stewart brings to every scene. It’s impossible for me to imagine any other actor, of any time, pulling this off. (Well, maybe Tom Hanks, Stewart’s spiritual descendant).

I watched it again this Christmas season. I always look forward to my favorite scenes, and every now and again one will surprise me. I find myself drawn to earlier scenes rather than the attempted suicide/Clarence the angel scenes that are so much a part of the “story.”

7) Honorable mentions. IAWL is so full of the exuberance of life lived that it just bursts from the screen at odd moments. Two small things stand out for me: the crow that inhabits the Building and Loan office (why? on the other hand, why not?); and the unexpected laugh when rainwater pours out of George’s hat as he greets Bert at the door of his “bridal suite.” This is not a screwball comedy, but surely Capra’s background in that 30’s genre informs moments like this. And kudos, naturally, to Sesame Street for adopting the names Bert and Ernie.
[Update: The Wikipedia article on the movie notes that Jimmy the Raven was in all Capra’s films beginning with You Can’t Take it With You; and says that the Sesame Street connection was purely coincidental. I believe the former, but not the latter.]

6) George and Mr. Gower. This scene really hit me when I watched it recently. The young George prevents drunken Mr. Gower from accidentally poisoning one of his pharmacy’s clients. George’s pleas for  the old man not to hit his bad ear, combined with Gower’s remorse once he realizes what he almost did, are unexpectedly powerful.

5) High school dance: the Charleston. Just for the sheer exuberant delight of it. Watch George’s face as he does the old hands-crossing maneuver. Also note the framing of the shot where Mary sees George looking at her across a crowded room. There are dozens of people in the shot, but you can’t take your eyes off George.

4) High school dance: splash! OK, having George and Mary fall into the swimming pool is a plot point. But why have other students (and chaperones) jump in? Again — why not?

3) George confronts Potter. This is the ultimate Stewart-as-courageous-hero moment. Yes, there’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but this is the best of all. George is in mourning for his father, but provoked by Potter’s attempt to sink the Building and Loan, he rises to heights of eloquence and power when confronting the miserable, greedy wretch of a man Potter has become. If there’s a Capra political message in this film, it’s that ordinary people need to be given a chance to become productive members of society. I grew up in Gaffney, SC, a small textile town which is still suffering pathologies from the creation of Potter-like mill villages, so this speaks to me. Stewart cannot possibly be more heart-felt and convincing.

2) George and Mary on the phone. This had to have been a Capra favorite. George is trying mightily to resist Mary’s charms (and she knows it). But his stubbornness melts before their mere proximity as they listen to the speaker tube of the old-time phone (great use of a prop, by the way). The way George moves (is pulled) closer to her millimeter by millimeter is incredibly . . . well, stirring, in its chaste way.

1) George at the train station. My favorite of all. Stewart’s acting skill and the cinematography of the tracking shot that follows him down the platform are unsurpassed. George thinks that the arrival of his brother means he will at last be able to give up the Building and Loan. But after meeting Harry’s new bride he realizes that won’t happen. Stewart’s face is the perfect canvas for Capra to paint the conflicting emotions of happiness for his brother and despair for himself as full realization dawns.

If there were no other scene in the movie, this would be enough to know that there’s high artistry here. But It’s a Wonderful Life has so many of these that it’s the best possible Christmas film.

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Beware the Blob

theBlobIt’s conventional to talk of the great low-budget Sci-Fi films of the 50’s (Them, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, etc.) as reflective of Cold War angst — the Rooskies sublimated into a dreaded, unstoppable menace from outer space. Although Body Snatchers is quite a good film despite its studio-tacked-on happy ending, some of them are so hopelessly cheesy that they give cheese a bad name. So I always assumed the Cold War resonances were just spontaneously generated by the zeitgeist of the times.

Apparently not in the case of era’s premier wad of Gorgonzola, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen. According to Jeff Sharlet’s The Family, it’s a deliberate work of anti-Commie-rat propaganda. Sharlet describes the movie as coming out of a meeting at the Family’s 1957 National Prayer Breakfast, where actress/screenwriter Kate Phillips met evangelical Christian filmmaker Irvin “Shorty” Yeaworth. Yeaworth had financial backing (from where is not exactly specified) to make a movie that would subliminally impart a “wholesome” anti-Red message. The rest is cinema history.

Digression: my favorite pulp sci-fi novel of this genre was Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, written well before Heinlein went off the deep end. It was made into a movie in the 1990’s (forgettable, even with Donald Sutherland, Richard Belzer and Yaphet Kotto in the cast). But think what a Spielberg could do with this story.

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BourneI watched The Bourne Identity for the, um, umpteenth time tonight. My sister Jean had not seen it before. Besides the usual big things like car and foot chases, narrow escapes, etc., here’s my count of little things that appear in all three recent films:

  1. Bourne arriving on a ship at a port city – front and back shots.
  2. Bourne on a train looking at his reflection in a window
  3. A plate glass window is shattered
  4. Bourne shinnying up a drain pipe
  5. UPDATE 6/17/09: During a car chase, the car Bourne is in pulls out just in front of a bus

I’m sure there are others, but it’s after midnight and I’m too tired to think of them now. I’ll update this post if I get Comments, or can remember some more.

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ByeByeBirdieI enjoy the musical Bye-Bye Birdie. For one thing, I’ll always be a fan of Dick Van Dyke, star of the greatest TV sitcom ever. He had the lead role on Broadway and was in the 60’s movie.

But I don’t get the current fascination with the show. High school and amateur groups all over are doing it. Songs from it are on TV commercials. There are plans to put it on Broadway this fall and release a new movie version in 2011. I mean, “Put on a Happy Face,”, “Kids!” and the other songs are lots of fun. But why has this bit of 60’s fluff — yes, I said fluff — hit the zeitgeist bullseye?

I’m not complaining. Our son John has the lead in Cincinnati’s East Side Players production this summer. I’m just curious.

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McCoy or Gore?

McCoy or Gore?

My children humored me last night and went with me to the new Star Trek movie. Ingmar Bergman it ain’t, but it was totally enjoyable as a splendidly over-the-top action reboot of the franchise. The kids, who have never suffered through enjoyed watching any of the original TV series episodes, seemed to enjoy it (they said they did, anyway). I imagine there are Trekkies/Trekkers who will find fault with the re-imagining of the story, even though J.J. Abrams was careful to throw in some iconic characters and allusions to TV mythology.

The casting was quite clever, including Simon Pegg as engineer Scotty and most especially Zachary Quinto as a spot-on Spock. ‘Bones’ McCoy was Karl Urban, memorable in The Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Supremacy. But his struggle with an American accent kept reminding me of someone struggling to hide a Tennessee twang, and it finally hit me. He’s Al Gore.

Update: I Googled this idea to see if anyone else had noticed it. Jonah Goldberg compared the Gore & McCoy in a couple of columns around 2000, but not in reference to the current movie.

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