Sunday, April 01, 2007

"U" is for "Unfortunate"

I rented 5 videos in a rush of what I thought would be a week of me doing nothing. Fortunately, I've been a lot more cognizant than expected but that means I've been more discerning of my movie viewing. I promised I would quickly write-up my thoughts on these so here they are. Unfortunately, not much to recommend.

Hailed as Jet Li's "last" Wushu film? Traditional martial arts? I'm not really sure what is meant by this, but my guess is it's like Clint Eastwood saying "Unforgiven" was his last "Western". Too bad. The melodrama that usually works in these Chinese Epics is way over the top here. Probably as the topic, based on a genuine Chinese sporting hero, has an almost spooky reverence and creepy theme of Chinese superiority.

Ben Affleck as George Reeves as TV's Superman, Adrien Brody, miscast in a poorly written role of a seedy LA private eye and Diane Lane as the rich kept studio executive's wife with a kept man of her own (Reeves). An interesting unsolved mystery is made dull with a focus on Brody's badly conceived character, and an almost lack of concern over the leading man's fate. Jeffrey DeMunn is great as Reeves' hopeful agent and Lane gives heat to her role, but when you have more fun spotting the background locales (Toronto's Sunnyside Pavilion on the Lakeshore and the Royal York lobby) than watching the movie, you know you're in trouble.

Tanner '88
Robert Altman's and Gary Trudeau's seminal satire of a congressman's attempt at the Democratic Presidential Nomination made for HBO, is apparently the parent of political satirical television for American critics. Seminal to some, out right dull to others. The low-brow video production, Altman's meaningless wandering camera and encouragement of overlapping dialogue winds up feeling like unedited set-up shots. The slowness of every scene seems so clumsy in comparison to the freshness of editing and lightness of handheld camera work in other "mock-umentaries" and what may have been thought of as cutting-edge looks pretty much out of touch with it's own technique. Add to this the overlapping dialogue with Trudeau's tactical political name dropping and overly obvious political speeches and what we imagine is intended as subtle just doesn't come across at all (I'm sorry, I don't really know which "Joe Kennedy" they speak of, and who the Hell is Bob Babbet?) I'm guessing, much my boredom is just as American might feel watching a Canadian TV movie on Trudeau-mania (our Trudeau not Doonesbury Trudeau) or "The Night of the Long Knives". The only surprising thing is the number of actual politicians who show up in the opening episode (Gary Hart, Bob Dole etc.) The filming also reveals Altman's lack of ability to generate the type of pacing you'd expect from 1 hour television episodes.

The "other" Capote movie. Despite a technique of threading in staged interviews throughout, I thought this was the better film. Unlike Seymour Hoffman who did a wonderful job of a large man portraying a diminutive imp, Toby Jones is Truman Capote. Even Sandra Bullock is a surprise as Nelle Harper Lee and Daniel Craig as Perry Smith is great. For me, this film did a much better job of showing what an oddball Capote was to anyone outside of Manhattan but also how his charms and genuine curiosity won over the small town characters and the criminals themselves. It also better reveals how the book "In Cold Blood" broke Capote emotionally and just how shocking the crime was to many Americans and how distasteful and pointless capital punishment can be.

F for Fake
Last on the list - still to be watched. This description from IMDB:

"Orson Welles' free-form documentary about fakery focusses on the notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory and Elmyr's biographer, Clifford Irving, who also wrote the celebrated fraudulent Howard Hughes autobiography, then touches on the reclusive Hughes and Welles' own career (which started with a faked resume and a phony Martian invasion). On the way, Welles plays a few tricks of his own on the audience."



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