I think the only fair way to review a movie like The Great Gatsby
) is to ask how well it stands on its own. How good would this movie be if you had never read the novel, or if the novel had never existed and this were an original work?
By that standard it seems a mixed bag. It’s a high quality production. It looks really terrific. The soundtrack seems a bit off for a story set in the 1920s but there’s nothing technically wrong with it. The acting is appropriate for a rather melodramatic story, including a fine scenery-chewing star turn by Leonardo DiCaprio. The story however is the main problem. As told here it leaves me cold.
The movie begins with a framing device that was not in the original novel but which is presumably intended to allow the movie to be “novelistic”. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) has been committed to a sanitarium for depression and “morbid alcoholism.” His psychiatrist tells him to write down the events that are haunting him. Carraway sits down at a typewriter and begins to pound out a manuscript that will eventually form a novel called The Great Gatsby.
From Up on Poppy Hill
) (Kokuriko-zaka Kara
) is not the greatest movie that Studio Ghibli ever made. Still, even a second-rank Studio Ghibli film probably beats a first-rank film from any other animation studio. If you are an anime
fan or just interested in Japanese culture you probably will want to see this, but it may leave the average American viewer cold. In any case it seems to be getting a fairly limited theatrical release, so if you want to see it in a theater you probably need to move fast.
The screenplay was co-written by Hayao Miyazaki and the movie was directed by his son Gorou. The story is set in 1963 and perhaps deliberately the animation has an old-fashioned look, more like Totoro than Arrietty. (Of course that means it looks like late-1980s anime, not like early-1960s anime which would be very crude by comparison.)
The story, based on a 1980 shoujo manga, is a low-key high school romance and coming-of-age story. Umi Matsuzaki helps run her grandmother’s boarding house located on top of “Poppy Hill.” Every morning she goes to the flagpole in the garden and runs up naval signal flags spelling out a message to her father, the captain of a supply ship that went down during the Korean War.
At her school some of the boys are trying to save a decrepit building called “The Latin Quarter” which serves as their clubhouse. A boy named Shun Kazama catches her eye with a dangerous stunt and she is gradually drawn into the campaign. It seems hopeless since Japan in 1963 is focused on modernization rather than preserving the past. She has the insight that the only chance to convince the adults to preserve the building is to make it more presentable.
The move 42
) begins with the disclaimer “Based on a true story” which is commonly a bad sign. However this movie sticks pretty close to the facts–a good idea since the facts in this case would be difficult to improve on.
“42″ was the number worn by Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era. He was an extremely talented all-around baseball player, noted particularly for his base-stealing abilities. He was also noted for his gentlemanly demeanor and his refusal to be provoked by the repeated racial abuse that he had to endure.
It would be easy to fall into the trap of portraying such a legendary character as a saint but the movie does a good of showing him as a human being–a human being who had to work very hard to control his temper under extreme provocation, but who had the strength and determination to rise above it and get his revenge by playing great baseball.
Harrison Ford almost steals the movie as Branch Rickey, the President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who signed Robinson in 1947, a time when no one else dared to challenge the unwritten rule against hiring black players. Rickey was a colorful character, a canny old man who did a lot to shape the game of baseball as it currently exists.
There seems to be some disagreement among reviewers about whether Spring Breakers
) is just a trashy exploitation movie or whether it is a gripping drama featuring stinging social commentary.
The Violent Years (IMDB), Ed Wood’s 1956 drama which illustrated America’s moral decline with numerous examples of pretty girls behaving badly. I remember watching that classic on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
To me it seems a lot like
My point is this: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Spring Breakers is a good movie–but it might be good if it had little robots at the bottom of the screen making snarky comments.
First, I want to make it very clear that Oz the Great and Powerful
) is not
a prequel to the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz
) which is still under copyright. Instead it is based on the original 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum, which is in the public domain. Disney is a highly ethical corporation which is famous for defending its copyrights with the fervor of a rabid pit bull and lobbying voraciously for copyright extensions. They would never ever make a derivative work of someone else’s copyrighted movie.
Except…oh, who are we kidding? It is obvious from the very beginning of the blank-and-white opening sequence that this is totally based on the 1939 movie rather than the book. Oz the Great and Powerful (OTGAP) is loaded to the brim with shots, imagery, lines and jokes taken directly from the 1939 movie. Furthermore if this were based on the book the witches would all wear white, the Munchkins wouldn’t be singing dwarfs and the Wicked Witch of the West wouldn’t skywrite.
If the owners of the 1939 movie (Time Warner?) were to sue Disney they would have a pretty good case. However even they might quail at the thought of going up against Disney’s mighty army of lawyers.
OK, but aside from the little matter of copyright fibbing, how does OTGAP stack up as a movie, considered on it’s own terms? Actually it’s pretty good. It is funny and charming and it actually seems closer to the spirit if not the text of L. Frank Baum’s book.
A nearby movie theater has started showing the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series: live broadcasts of Metropolitan Opera performances. I took the opportunity to see Parsifal yesterday.
This is a great production with terrific stagecraft. Visually it looked astounding. As for the music, well it’s Richard Wagner. Not, in my opinion, Wagner at the very top of his form, but even on an off day he was pretty amazing.
As for the story…OK the story, based very very loosely on the Arthurian legend of Sir Percival, is pretty bizarre. It’s very mystical and weirdly misogynistic. It makes the Ring cycle seem like the evening news.
) is one of those complicated thrillers where you are never quite sure who the real villain is. In this case you may not be sure even after the movie is over. This may be why the move, even though it is very well done, left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied.
Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for insider trading. His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) has stayed loyal to him and is eager to restart their life together. Martin has big plans to get back into the high-flying investment business, though there are worrying hints that he may be contemplating further unethical actions.
But Emily is suffering from severe depression. After a suicide attempt she ends up under the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist. He seems capable and well-intentioned but he is under a lot of pressure and may be willing to bend the ethical rules a bit.
After trying several standard anti-depressants Banks ends up prescribing “Ablixa”, a heavily advertised new drug. But Ablixa turns out to have side effects which in this case have tragic consequences. A tormented Dr. Banks begins an increasingly obsessive quest to find out the real cause of the tragedy.
Quentin Tarantino’s ultra-violent new movie Django Unchained
) pays homage to a number of classic Westerns, particularly Mel Brooks’ 1974 Blazing Saddles
). If you think of this as something like Blazing Saddles
, except with wall-to-wall graphic gory violence instead of fart jokes, you won’t be too far off.
The story takes place in the American South in the years just before the Civil War. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is a German dentist who has taken up the more lucrative occupation of bounty hunting. He tracks down the bad guys on the “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters, kills them and brings them in for the reward. He has no interest in the “or Alive” part. If he encounters people who deserve killing but aren’t on the posters he will kill them too if he can get away with it.
Although he dislikes slavery he ends up acquiring a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who can identify some men he is looking for. Having freed Django, Dr. Schultz notices that he has a talent for bounty hunting and takes him on as a partner.
Silver Linings Playbook
) is one of those romantic comedies where the characters are crazy and they have lots of misunderstandings but they muddle through to a heartwarming ending. However in this case “crazy” means “diagnosed mental illness” which gives the humor a rather dark edge. Still it is quite well done, with good performances and a script that is neither patronizing nor absurdly unrealistic. On balance it is pretty entertaining.
The hero Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) suffers from bipolar disorder. He handled the breakup of his marriage very badly and as the result of a plea bargain has spent the last eight months in a mental hospital. He still has problems starting with the fact that he won’t take his meds. Nevertheless his optimistic mother (Jacki Weaver) checks him out and takes him home. The first thing he does to repay her trust is to try to smuggle out his buddy (Chris Tucker) who appears to be a charming sociopath.
Pat’s OCD-afflicted father (Robert De Niro) greets him sceptically but is too wrapped up in his own obsessions to object too much. Still it looks like Pat will probably be sent back to the hospital in short order, especially given his determination to win back his ex-wife in spite of the restraining order.
But fate takes a different turn when Pat is invited to dinner by his best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz). (Ronnie seems fairly normal but his marriage is clearly under stress.) At the dinner are Ronnie’s wife Veronica (Julia Stiles) who is a jerk, and her sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who also suffers from bipolar disorder and has had a really rough time of it lately.
Tiffany immediately takes a shine to Pat, but he is still obsessed with his ex-wife and rejects her rather rudely. Tiffany however is smart, determined and not easily discouraged.
I went to see Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Hobbit
) with some trepidation. Much of the scuttlebutt that I had heard was fairly negative. However I was pleasantly surprised. Judged on it’s own terms, as a fantasy-adventure movie, standing on its own without reference to the source, this is actually pretty good.
Much of the controversy centers on Jackson’s decision to split J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1-volume novel into three parts. This is just Part 1. After all, Jackson earlier adapted the three volumes of Tolkien’s sequel The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) into just three movies (IMDB1, IMDB2, IMDB3).
Jackson’s goal is to expand The Hobbit, originally a simpler and less ambitious story, into a epic comparable to LOTR (though with more humor.) This is clearly perilous.
Peter Jackson is obviously a Tolkien fan and his adaptations follow the novels more closely than the usual movie adaptation of a novel does. This may or may not be a good thing. You can’t just film a novel line by line. The media are just too different. You have to make changes and attempting to follow the novel too closely may make the changes even more disconcerting to fans of the novel.
The movie version of The Hobbit turns out to be quite similar to the LOTR movies (though funnier). Once again we have stunning scenery, great special effects, grotesque monsters, bloody battles, noble elves, awkward hobbits, boastful dwarves and a wise old wizard who seems a bit too full of himself.