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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Movie Musings

Before this year's upgrade to Verizon FiOS, I've never used DVR technology before. (Yeah, some of y'all are thinking of that Beverly Hillbillies episode when the Clampetts discover the telephone.) I've been recording movies left and right, and if I manage to watch them all this year, I'll be surprised. Here's some of what I've watched.

Alice in Wonderland (2010) I really like the way they wove several Lewis Carroll works into the film. Almost every denizen in Wonderland is really really creepy. Even the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Dude, she's creepier than the C. S. Lewis' White Witch. Hatter's recitation of "Jabberwocky" fits the atmosphere perfectly:

Avatar The Na'vi are arrogant xenophobes. Earthlings land on their doorstep, ask to trade for a mineral the Na'vi aren't even using, and the Na'vi tell the Earthlings to pound sand. They accept a token delegation of humans - first Grace (Sigourney Weaver) and then Sully (Sam Worthington) - but there's no negotiation; the Na'vi are all our-way-but-the-skyway.

If i were to meet the Na'vi, my instinct would be to talk about Earth history, about how trade creates cross-cultural goodwill and elevates living standards. But this approach would fail. The Na'vi trust their deity Eywa for all their needs, and to engage in trade would be a betrayal of Eywa.

Understanding this, I would take a different tack: happy humans are less bothersome humans, and allowing them access to unobtanium acts as a form of self-defense. I'd frame it as Eywa's provision to pacify certain bipedal alien species.

The villains are (presumably retired) United States Marines hired as private contractors for the unobtanium mining firm. We're expected to believe that the Marines could breed the equivalent of Spanish conquistadors. Well, maybe it is possible - decades of compounded interest from the Bush-Obama stimulus packages have to be paid somehow. Lotsa luck getting the Na'vi to understand the concept of fiat money, though.

Coraline Good film, but this stop-motion animation horror film is not for little kids.

Inglorious Basterds Brad Pitt is not a pimply teenager anymore. His Lt. Aldo Raine and Christoph Waltz's Col. Hans Landa steal the show. Waltz establishes his abilities at drama in the opening sequence, and at comedy when he bargains for his cooperation in arranging the Reich's surrender. The moment at the party when Landa starts speaking to Raine in Italian is one of the most hilarious moments in this dark comedy. Sylvester Groth plays the slimiest Joseph Goebbels you will ever see in cinema. I liked Bridget (Diane Kruger), but I wish she could have had some of the snappy one-liners.

Monsters, Inc. One reason Pixar tops Disney in the imagination department. Yeah, Disney owns Pixar, but Pixar employs a very different creative team and not the Disney old guard.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington If they ever remake this film, will they keep the series of scenes where Senator Smith punches out the entire Washington press corps?

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) is an absolute doll (no pun intended).

I didn't like the dose of anti-prosperity gospel. Larry (Ben Stiller) found success as an inventor of Ron Popeil-styled gadgets, and his work was taking him away from the museum he loved. I wish he would have found a way to balance both, delegating more of his executive duties to free up personal time. And add an Amelia exhibit to the NYC museum.

The Phantom I read the comic strip regularly on Daily Ink. The movie had a lot of great things going for it. The Phantom/Kit Walker (Billy Zane) has an engaging personality and fills the action hero role well. The plot was entertaining despite a few flaws. the really serious one is the injection of Indiana Jones-styled magic relics - that's just not the Phantom universe. Second is the mild miscasting of Diana Palmer. Diana's supposed to be a brunette. Then there's the complete reinvention of Guran. I didn't even know he was in the movie until the final credits, and he was in several scenes. He's supposed to be a chubby middle-aged black guy, but in the film he was a young turbaned Asiatic. Next thing you know they'll cast a fair-haired guy as James Bond.

Rope One of the reasons James Stewart and Alfred Hitchock were international treasures. This features one of the great movie endings: Stewart, after discovering the body and delivering a speech on the value of human life, fires three shots out the window, and he and the two murderers calmly and silently listen to the outside sounds of voices and approaching sirens.

Where the Wild Things Are This is not a kids' movie. This is an instructional film for clinical psychologists. At least the part I could get through - I could not get past the scene where the "wild things" first talk of eating the boy. I can stomach only so much constant childhood misery.


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