Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DVD Catch-Up/What I've been watching

Since the theatrical slate is about as exciting as a bowl of bran flakes, I've taken to watching mostly the small screen lately. Here's a rundown of DVDs of movies I've seen, and other titles I've seen via the cathode ray tube (Yeah, I still have one of those.)

New DVDs

Edge of Darkness - Very solid police procedural that I believe was unfairly tainted by the cloud that hovers around Mel Gibson. Point blank, the man still holds the screen and does so very well here as a vengeful cop investigating the murder of his daughter. Solidly directed, as usual, by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) and well written by William Monahan (The Departed). GRADE: B+

Invictus: Decent yet somewhat lacking sports melodrama from Clint Eastwood. It suffers a bit from over-earnestness, and Eastwood errs in the sports sequences by playing too many shots in slow motion. The film benefits, as expected, from strong performances by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.  GRADE: B

Leap Year: Well, of course I liked it. It's Amy Adams. And no, had any other actress been in the lead I probably wouldn't have forgiven the extremely predictable plot, but my bias is my bias, so there ya go. Full review - GRADE: B

The Messenger: This drama focuses on a side of the military that is too little thought about, because to think about it too much is unbearable. The leads are two Army officers who have the grave mission of telling families their loved one has died in the line of duty. The performances are so poweful I wish the drama hadn't gone somewhat muted by the end, but it's well worth seeking out. GRADE: B+

Nine: When I saw this in December, I enjoyed the energy of the musical numbers, and - that was about it. The songs are well sung, but I didn't connect with the drama of Daniel Day-Lewis' tortured director at all. Hence, the film faded quickly from my memory. GRADE: C+

Small-screen viewing

Annie Oakley: No, no one sings "There's No Business Like Show Business" in this version, and to be honest, I didn't miss it all that much. George Stevens' 1935 drama about the Ohio sharpshooter.  Stevens' comedy rhythms are a bit awkward, and the plot is certainly hokey/dated, but it gets a ton of charm from its performances, most especially that of Barbara Stanwyck in the title role. GRADE: B+

Broken Embraces: Pedro Almodovar's latest, about the melodrama surrounding a blinded movie director doesn't live up to its early intrigue, with the third act being a bit rote, but there's enough fascination to make it highly watchable. I would have much rather seen Penelope Cruz Oscar nominated for this film than her unsurprising work in Nine. GRADE: B+

A Foreign Affair: Well of course I liked it, it's Billy Wilder. And I haven't met a Wilder movie yet that wasn't at least decent. This one, about a love triangle in post-war Germany isn't as fresh as the best Wilder, but the sharp performances by the ever-sultry Marlene Dietrich and the always delightful Jean Arthur make it hold up quite well all the same. Fun character actor recognition: the commanding officer in the film is Millard Mitchell, who would later play the somewhat dotty studio head in Singin' in the Rain. GRADE: A-

Red Cliff (extended version): John Woo's return to foreign language film isn't quite the return to form I hoped it would be. As expected, it's filled with dazzling camerawork, with exciting battle scenes, but Woo stacks the deck too much with the sprawling story. The drama, though solid, never leaves the conflict in enough doubt. GRADE: B

Seconds: Underrated, thoroughly engrossing and eerie paranoid thriller about a man who changes identities so completely that he gets a whole new face and, indeed a whole new life. Striking direction by John Frankenheimer and innovative camerawork by James Wong Howe power this movie, which dilutes only a little at the end with a somewhat  abrupt denouement. GRADE: A-

Summertime: This David Lean film isn't as strong as his early British movies (e.g. Great Expectations) or his later massive epics (e.g. Lawrence of Arabia), but it's kinda hard to miss with a romance fronted by Kate Hepburn, isn't it? GRADE: B+

Targets: I saved the best for last.  Peter Bogdanovich's 1968 thriller at first seems to be two completely different movies. One is about an aged star (Boris Karloff0 who is disillusioned with the movie business, and the other is about a crazed gunman who goes on Charles Whitman-like shooting sprees. Bogdanovich cleverly and chillingly dovetails the two plots; this is his second-best film, after The Last Picture Show. GRADE: A

1 comment:

Scott Copeland said...

You are being kind to Nine. The numbers are forgettable, and I didn't care a bit about the plot. The cast tries, but I thought the director had no idea what to do with the film.
I completely agree about Targets, though.