Friday, July 02, 2010
Owing to a variety of excuses (a week-long vacation among them) this was an exceptionally light movie month. I saw only three feature films in June:
• Toy Story 3 (which I saw twice). Joan called this the best of the three, but to me, the first will always be the best. Having said that, the entire Toy Story trilogy is amazing—funny, moving and musically quintessential (thanks to the perfect songs and scoring of our idol, Randy Newman). The story this time around is loaded with equal amounts of sentimentality and suspense. Joan and I were both left sobbing by the finale (and that was my second viewing of it!).
• Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. This was touted to me as a blemishes-and-all look at the 77-year-old comedienne, showing how she lives and works, and how she has survived in her industry for so long. We see archival footage of her on old TV shows (i.e., The Tonight Show) interspersed with her current act and her day-to-day life. She grapples with an inattentive manager, a periodically slow work schedule, keeping various friends and relatives on the payroll, etc. To be honest, I was much less interested the machinations of her personal life than I was in her vintage comedy—it's extraordinary to see her performing live in the 1960s, and the fact is that I would have been much happier seeing a two-hour clip reel highlighting her standup act over the years. Rivers can be hilarious, yet often off-putting in an "outrageous" way, and I frankly find it difficult to watch her with the freakish amount of plastic surgery on her face. Not to say that a little nip and tuck here and there can't keep you looking youthful, but her face has started to resemble a rubbery Halloween mask.
• Just Wright. OK, this actually came out back in May, but Joan invited me to a screening at Paramount, and we just can't resist those freebies! We'd enjoyed the Queen Latifah comedy The Last Holiday a few years ago (or so she had to remind me), so perhaps this will be a tradition for us to see every corny QL comedy she puts out. Just Wright is as predictable and by-the-numbers as any movie ever made, but I find her to be a real charmer—she deserves to be a movie star, even if she's destined to earn her nut making these extremely contrived kinds of flicks. I liked it more than Joan did, having a slightly higher tolerance for unabashed romantic chick flicks than she does.
Over the years, I have read numerous accolades for the 1968 British film If... (directed by Lindsay Anderson). Made only a few years before A Clockwork Orange, the film stars Malcolm McDowall as an odd lad in a private school who suffers brutality and indignities from his classmates, and finally rebels in a shocking and savage manner. The film could almost be a prequel to Clockwork Orange—in fact, there was a sequel of sorts to this movie called O Lucky Man. As meaningful and innovative as If... is supposed to be, I had much the same reaction to it as I did with Clockwork Orange; I just think you have to be British to sufficiently appreciate these films. I don't identify or sympathize with McDowall's characters, and each picture fails to move me because I don't care about any of the characters.
Hard Candy (2005) is another tough one for the same reason—in this two-character drama, who do you root for: the yuppie pedophile (Patrick Wilson) or the relentlessly sarcastic 14-year-old (Ellen Page) who stalks, torments and brutalizes him? I watched this film on the recommendation of my friend Geof, and because I was so profoundly impressed by Ellen Page when I saw Juno in 2007. (I even love her in the series of TV commercials she made for the information-technology firm Cisco.) Although it's a tough film to watch, and lacks a character you can truly like and identify with, Hard Candy is the demanding, challenging and provocative drama that I was expecting If... to be. There are a few twists as the game of cat-and-mouse unfolds, and although it's not really a home-run kind of movie, at least it made a deep impression on me—and deepened my appreciation for Page's talents. She is a powerhouse in Hard Candy; it's a phenomenal performance.
Another movie I've always heard fantastic things about, and finally had to make myself sit down and watch, is The Magnificent Seven (1960). This is a Western remake of a Japanese film called The Seven Samurai (which was itself inspired by American-made Western movies). Like most Westerns, the plot is a pretty basic good vs. evil story: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, et. al., are gunfighters who band together to protect some gentle Mexicans against bad guy Eli Wallach and his gang of thieves. It's entertaining but didn't strike me as anything remarkable.
Lately I have been thinking about Sandy Duncan, an actress who had a lot of success on TV, but who I fell in love with in various movies from the early '70s. I find her to be quite fetching in a tomboyish way, and her smile never fails to melt my heart. So I treated myself to the old Disney movie Million Dollar Duck (1971), co-starring Dean Jones and Joe Flynn in a refashioning of the old Aesop tale about the goose that laid the golden egg. It's a wonderfully enjoyable kids' movie and Duncan is incredibly cute and enjoyable in it.
THE FINAL TALLY (with 1-10 ratings)
Toy Story 3 (10)
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (7)
Just Wright (8)
Hard Candy (8)
The Magnificent Seven (7)
Posted by Brett at 5:13 PM