J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for January, 2009

Man on Wire

Posted by J on January 24, 2009

Man on Wire is about a group of misfits who help Phillip Petit wirewalk across the Twin Towers.  Back in the early ’70s, 200px-man_on_wire_ver2this group planned for months to sneak a ton of equipment into one of the Twin Towers, then rig it up one night so that Petit could perform his tightrope act.  The movie is about nothing else than this, but it makes every single detail grandiose.  There are even codenames for members of the group who do not need codenames.  Mark’s codename is “The Australian”, while Dave, a man who smoked pot every day for 35 days, has the codename “Donald.”  Maybe it’s just us, but “Donald” should never, ever be a codename.

The  movie spends most of its time building up to Petit’s stunt.  Petit initially dreamed up the event while at the dentist’s office, apparently so delusioned by tooth pain that he thought walking across the Twin Towers would be cool.  From there, Petit performs little stunts in preparation for his big day.  He walks across the towers of the Notre Dame cathedral.  He flies to Australia and walks across two points on a bridge.  It’s funny how much stock footage there is of Petit and his group, but that points out how self-conscious they are about what they are doing.  Essentially they pulled an elaborate prank, which they filmed as much of as they could.

The movie romanticizes everything about Petit’s stunt.  Problem with that is, though it was risky, it was not necessarily beneficial or wise.  Petit goes on and on about how beautifully subversive and poetic he was back in the day.  Sneaking past guards, hiding under tarps on the roof of one of the Twin Towers, staking out the building — this is all part of his great plan.  But this reminds us of a great moment in Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, in which Herzog points out that after the Age of Exploration, when the whole world had been explored, people started trying to do “stupid” tricks that they thought were heroic.  Like pogojumping for a week straight in Antarctica.  Petit essentially performed one of these stupid tricks, an elaborate circus act that took much skill, and talks about it as if it were a poet’s dream.

This movie has been nominated for Best Documentary for 2009, solely on the basis of visual storytelling and editing.  Surprisingly, there is no mention of 9/11 and the collapse of the towers.  The movie also has one brief scene of near-pornography near the end that completely snuck up on us.  Petit waxes poetic in the fact that, after his stunt, he engaged in the “pleasures of the flesh” with his girlfriend.  The movie re-enacts this moment because we obviously need a visual clue to help us understand what he means.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 0

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Posted in Documentary | 2 Comments »

Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia)

Posted by J on January 16, 2009

Sometime after the release of Braveheart, movies took a horrible visual turn.  Since then, during any action or fantasy 200px-princecaspianpostermovie that features large armies, you get the standard stuff.  The good guy army faces the army of darkness at around the 110-minute mark, and for the next 30 minutes there’s an incredible amount of grunting and sword clashes.  All of the main characters are featured in the battle, one of which will probably die bravely, saving someone else’s life.  Usually there’s a group of archers who fire arrows high into the sky, which the camera tracks for us.  There may be slow motion at a key point.  These battle scenes are, when you think hard about the depth of them, extraordinarily boring.  There is rarely nothing meaningful at stake for the individual characters, and since neither the good guy army or the army of darkness is nuanced, it is a fairly bland ending once the obvious outcome is decided.

Prince Caspian celebrates this blandness.   It has nothing great to offer except an attempted 150-minute emotional high, driven by the musical score featuring blaring french horns.  It’s as if John Williams went berserk and decided to write a rousing theme for every second of this movie.  After awhile, you get worn out listening to and watching this.  Life isn’t this tensely pitched.  Usually when it is, it’s really annoying, like when you’re driving through rush hour traffic.

There are stretches of this movie that are reasonable, especially those that are quieter and that feature lines that were obviously C.S. Lewis’s.  This could’ve easily been a more contemplative, dialogue-driven movie, which would’ve allowed the movie to  attempt to approach the profundity of the book it was based on.  But that wasn’t to be.  Because the movie features cardboard cutouts for characters, the final battle (and the battle before that) offers us little reason to care about who wins.  Sure, Peter might learn a lesson in humility.  Except for hair color and accent, he is indistinguishable — personality-wise — from Edmund or Prince Caspian.

And where is Aslan?  The Disney DVD intro claimed that Disney movies were “magical.”  Certainly Aslan provides the magic here.  He makes one brief appearance early on, and then arrives right on time during the final battle.  He’s a deux ex machina, coming from nowhere to make a big “ta da!” and save the good guys.  In this movie he is entirely superfluous to the plot, which is more worried about how to get to the next battle scene than anything else.

After we were watching, a comment was made that this movie was less intense, and thus more watchable, than the Lord of the Rings series.  That’s like saying that the roller coaster with five vertical loops is much more pleasant than the one with twenty.  Mostly, we’d prefer to not ride the roller coaster at all.  But if were going to compare these two series, Lord of the Rings is far more preferable insofar as it is a much better spectacle.   Prince Caspian is for those who need a Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings fix, but can’t get it because they aren’t making any more of those stories.  Lewis’ works deserve better treatment.  We are waiting on the Christian Orson Welles to give the Narnia series another try.   Heck, we will settle for the Christian Michael Curtiz.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 7

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again | Leave a Comment »

Going My Way

Posted by J on January 15, 2009

The fact that Going My Way won the Academy Award in 1944 for Best Picture is as trivially incomprehensible as 200px-goingmywaybingRabbit Maranville’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame or the celebrity status of nine-tenths of the “celebrities” we have today.  We do not mean to attack a harmless, innocent flick.  Pouncing on this movie is like manhandling a kitten.  But, seen from today’s perspective, the movie is too slow and ambling to even deem “okay.”

Probably the golly-gee-whiz good-naturedness of this movie is what wins it brownie points.  Bing Crosby plays a youthful priest who’s ends up at St. Dominic’s, a New  York City parish.  Crosby has to answer to Father Fitzgibbon, an old Irish priest whose 45-year service at the parish gives him the right speak in brogue whenever he wants.  Insofar as there is a plot, it is that Crosby and Fitzgibbon lightly and playfully clash over certain ideas.  Crosby likes golf and piano-playing.  Fitzgibbon prefers to be somber and old-fashioned.  Who will determine the future of the parish?  This is the movie’s only real problem, and it is solved about halfway through.

Yet this is hardly a major plotline in a movie that is really a collection of subplots or vignettes, each of which are clearly designed to make the viewer feel good.  Of course, with Crosby in the movie, there is singing, but not enough of it — just four or five short songs.   The tempo of this movie is what will really test the patience of the modern viewer, who is used to quick cuts and a faster-paced narrative.  There’s even a long, inexplicable pause where we watch with Crosby a scene from the opera Carmen.  We couldn’t figure out what this had to do with anything.

The movie, which features the two priests, is heavy on Roman Catholic iconography.  Yet it is really just generically “religious.”  When Crosby gives advice to two young lovers, for example, he sings a secular song in an attempt to move their hearts towards charity.  There is even an American flag prominently displayed in the cathedral, which might be orthodox for Catholics for all we know, but is more a reminder here that Catholicism fits within the generic American religion, and not vice versa.

Entertainment: 3

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 10

Posted in Musical | Leave a Comment »

Captain Blood

Posted by J on January 13, 2009

They don’t make ’em like they used to.  Even though it doesn’t have the trillion dollar special effects or celebrity 200px-captain_bloodpower, we liked Captain Blood a lot more than the recent Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. In Pirates, you get the macabre mixed with Johnny Depp’s rockstar bravado.  Captain Blood is manned by Errol Flynn, who always has a playboy aristocrat aura to him.  For people who like Depp for whatever reason, it is worth giving Flynn a try.

But we don’t care much about that celebrity gaga stuff, so on to the brief analysis.  Captain Blood is basically the Joseph story cloaked in a 17th century English colonial setting.  And boy, does King James II really get thwacked.  Captain Blood is actually Peter Blood, an English doctor who aids rebels who subvert James II.  Blood is caught in the act of giving medical attention to a rebel, and eventually sentenced to banishment from England and slavery in the Caribbean.  Blood is rightfully indignant about this, as we the audience are supposed to be.

Once in Jamaica, Blood conspires with his fellow slaves to escape.  The plot is all over the place from here.  You will run into Spanish marauders and French pirates, with escapes and swordfights and a titanic fight at sea to end the movie, complete with pirates swinging from ropes from one sinking ship to another. The movie implicitly praises Blood as a pirate for awhile — i.e., as a thief — but this is complicated by Blood’s final choice in the movie.  The moral stance is clear here: anti-slavery and pro-individualism, with a historical stance firmly in favor of the Glorious Revolution that put William of Orange on England’s throne.  But it is really swashbuckling with a smile.  If you have time to kill, this one is pretty fun.

Entertainment: 9

Intelligence: 3

Morality: 7

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Pretty Good | 1 Comment »