Monday, March 21, 2005

Movies Weekend 3/18-3/20

It was a busy weekend this week, more about that later, so movie viewing was truncated accordingly. Still, Jody and I managed to get a few movies in this weekend. Below are brief, but hopefully thoughtful, reviews of the films that we watched.

Bride and Prejudice (2004)
Two and a Half entertaining to be bought on DVD after seeing in the theatre stars

Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham)directs this ambitious, but slightly awkward, adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that combines Bollywood, Hollywood, and Working Title sensibilities. I very much enjoyed the film. Colors explode from the screen and the dancing is mesmerizing, but the film never delivered on the promise of its first musical number. The film opens with a wedding where Balraj Bingley (Naveen Andrews of Lost) is the featured bachelor in a stunning dance number where sexual tensions are played out. Accompanying Balraj is Will Darcy, played by Martin Henderson (Torque), who is stunningly handsome when brooding. Of course, this happens to be most of the time. Aishwarya Rai and Namrata Shirodakar are stunning as the two oldest Bakshi sisters.

The film is filled with beautiful people and a well crafted story, but the transitions between life and "fantasy" aren't smooth and may turn off some viewers. The same is true of the looping on some of the musical numbers, sometimes the voices don't visually mesh with the "singer". The movie drags a little in the middle and some of the translations of the "slights" Darcy is so prone to giving aren't adapted well. I personally wish that they had kept all of the musical numbers in the original language and not translated most of them into English. As I said above, the first musical number is amazing and it sets high expectations. Those expectations are never delivered, because the first number is the best.

All in all, it was a fun time and the romance works. Homages to numerous earlier musicals abound. If you like musicals or Pride and Prejudice you should enjoy it, if you like both it is a must see.

Little Black Book (2004) Two Stars of "glad I watched it on Netflix" romantic entertainment.

Nick Hurran directs this film in which an employee of a Jerry Springer-esque talk show snoops through her boyfriend's "digital black book" to see if he is an honest and faithful man. Brittany Murphy (Clueless and 8 mile) plays Stacy, a young aspiring journalist who has always wanted to be Diane Sawyers personal assistant and has an obsession with Carly Simon music. Given that Carly Simon did the music for Working Girl that might make you want to make certain narrative connections. Don't...well...maybe you should. Because Holly Hunter plays Barb, Stacy's older, more bitter, former stockbroker/truck driver, fellow assistant producer. If that doesn't spell manipulatively bad rolemodel, I don't know what does. The consistantly charming Ron Livingston (Office Space and Swingers)is wonderful and largely underused plays Derek, the above mentioned boyfriend.

Despite narrative weeknesses, two obvious twists, and a lack of any romantic chemistry between the principles, this film has a few things going for it.

First, the movie is beautifully shot. There were times when Theo van de Sande's (Out of Time and Blade) cinematography was the only reason I was still watching this movie. One crane shot in particular, which takes the audience from the "control booth" onto the production stage, drew me back into the narrative of the film. The camera work did everything it could to make this film a visceral experience, but just when de Sande had me, they would put in another awkward voice over or truly silly moment (and not in a good way).

Second, the underlying messages of this film are extraordinarily positive. The cruelty of "reality TV" is explored, as is the need to be honest with oneself about life and relationships. This is where the movie shines. Stacy is time and time again manipulated by Barb to worry about whether Derek was being honest with her, but it isn't until the end of the film that Stacy realizes she should have been honest with herself. As a sidenote, if Stacy had read Augustine's treatise Against Lies she would have been less susceptible to Barbs arguments.

Third, I enjoyed the frequent use of Carly Simon music and it tied in well to a final joke.

Fourth, while Brittany Murphy was flat as a romantic interest and I found her acting in this film to be subpar, the rest of the cast was thoroughly entertaining. Holly Hunter was fun, Ron Livingston was underused, Julianne Nicholson was charming as Joyce, and the cameo by Gavin Rossdale was a treat. Though I do have to say, when a throw away part steals the scene (easily) from the principle, there are some direction problems.

Watch the movie, enjoy it for what it is, and if you don't think it was as clumsy as I did, feel free to comment.

Stage Fright (1950 Three and a half charming stars

Ask me what I think of a random Alfred Hitchcock film and you are likely to get a kneejerk "Four Stars" reaction from me. Stage Fright is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. While the film is excellent, more about that later, it is a less than perfect Hitchcock film. Or as a friend recently asked, "Isn't that film usually thought of as a flawed Hitchcock film?" Most of the film's problems are rooted in two things. First, the film is too "stagey". Too much information is delivered in dialogue and not enough in visual form. Second, the narrative itself seems to be missing a couple of scenes. But enough of the small problems of the film and on to the positive.

Eve Gill (Jane Wyman The Lost Weekend or Mrs. Ronald Reagan for those Conservatives out there) is caught up in a plot of murder, mystery, and romance when she is visited by Johnathan Cooper (Richard Todd of Disney's Rob Roy the Highland Rogue and The Sword and the Rose). Johnathan is wanted by the police because he is thought to have committed a murder for the woman he loves, Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich Morocco and Touch of Evil). Eve takes Johnathan to her father and asks him to hide Johnathan while she solves the mystery herself. Alastair Sim (A Christmas Carol ) is charming as Commodore Gill, Eve's father, who is continually trying to get Eve to talk with the police.

Eve is an actress at the Royal Academy and decides to use her acting talents to find the real murderer and lead the police toward the villain/ess. In doing so, she meets up with Detective Wilfred (or as she calls him Ordinary) Smith. Smith is charmingly played by Michael Wilding (The Egyptian), and after seeing him in this film, I have added about two dozen films to my Netflix queue.

Like, the in my opinion superior, To Catch a Thief there are elements of the romantic comedy in Stage Fright and these are the parts of the film that work beautifully. The trio of Eve, Commodore Gill, and Ordinary Smith is charming and not to be missed. I really could watch a movie that is nothing more than these three individuals having an innocuous conversation. I enjoyed the development of the romance in this picture, but I thought that the "criminal" elements needed more and that the sense that Eve was in constant danger of discovery and possibly death should have been heightened.

All in all, this is a film that I could easily watch twice in a row with no break.

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