Sunday, 18 July 2010

Just a few films I've seen this summer

The Last Station--A bunch of British actors get together and shriek and shriek and shriek. When they’re not shrieking, they are grimacing, crying, or throwing things. The movie has nothing intelligent to say about Leo Tolstoy and his wife’s fight to retain the copyright to his work. I never believed Christopher Plummer was capable of writing a run on sentence let alone great works of Literature. Helen Mirren has her moments, but her performance would have worked better in a comedy, and she ends up screaming most of her lines. Paul Giamatti is his typical useless self. The only emotion this overacted actor can portray is the fulness feeling in the before scenes of a constipation commercial. James McAvoy is miscast, and his character, a pain in the ass. The movie felt like a 5 hour miniseries that had 10 minutes of material. * out of ****

A Small Circle of Friends--A movie about sixties activism. It shows (rather well) how students reacted to the political upheaval around them. As a historical piece, it’s quite good, but as a movie, it doesn’t gel. It bites off way too much as it takes on the vietnam war, conservative v. liberal college administrators, the weather underground, feminism, lesbian feminism, free love, etc, and this distances the viewer from the material. It’s more a filmic textbook rather than a movie. Karen Allen and the late Brad Davis are fantastic in their roles. Allen in particular has a naturalness about her acting that is a joy to watch. She should have had a better career. Davis plays the brash Leonardo De Vinci, and he never shies away from playing this guy as the obnoxious asshole he really is. Jameson Parker (from a show called Simon and Simon) is the weakest of the three. He’s attractive, but his character is a bit of a cypher, and Parker doesn’t do much with it. There’s a strong supporting performance from John Friedrich as a Southern Republican turned Weather Underground member. Parker’s character should have been axed, and the movie should have concentrated more on this character. **1/2 out of ****

Equus--Yes, it’s the movie where a teenager blinds six horses with a sharp hook. The movie benefits from fantastic performances from Richard Burton, Joan Plowright, Colin Higgins, Eileen Atkins, and Peter Firth as the boy. Richard Burton in particular makes us aware of the psychiatrist’s own pain, and how his helping the boys can be his redemption for his staid life. The movie has two problems: it’s way too long, and it never establishes a point of view about the boy. What is his problem? Is he gay? The blinding comes after he can’t get it up for a woman, and his orgasmic scenes with his horse read like a description of gay sex. Close your eyes and listen to what Firth’s character actually says. But the movie also puts forth the idea that religion is the problem, and he’s replaced devotion to horses with devotion to God. Or the movie suggests that it’s a class issue. He’s striking out against the privileged class. As a result, it’s all a bit muddled. The blinding of the horses is brutal, and there’s a lot of frontal male nudity, but it’s not of the hand in underwear kind. The movie is held together by very strong performances. This was Burton’s last great performance based on a look at his imdb filmography. A movie that succeeds just enough to recommend it. *** out of ****.

I, Madman--This is a creepy, clever horror thriller that came out in 1989. It starts Jenny Wright as a bookstore worker who becomes obsessed with horror books. The killer in her book appears to have come out of the book to kill for real. The movie has a nice visual flair, and the director Tibor Takács throws in little comic bits that work and add to the enjoyment. Eighties heartthrob Clayton Rohner is on hand to take off his shirt, romance Wright’s character, and act confused and disbelieving. He does it quite well, and the two have a passionate and believable sex scene at the beginning of the film. It’s hard to take this film seriously as it does get sillier by the end, but it’s a low budget popcorn entertainment that’s a real joy. There is real energy and intelligence in a lot of what goes on in I, Madman. The film is rooted in character rather than gore. A definite recommendation. ***1/2 out of ****.

High Anxiety--Couldn’t even finish it. Turned it off after 20 minutes. Not one amusing line or action. Every thing in 20 minutes failed. This is the movie to torture me with if I ever stumble upon top secret government information or if I’ve done something to piss you off and you want to get back at me.

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