Monday, July 23, 2007

Movies I've Recently Seen

Ah, AFI 100 list, you inspire me so!

On the Waterfront
Well, this was pretty much as good as advertised. I know that the film is more or less Kazan's defense of his own "ratting" to the HUAC folks, but to be frank, my knowledge of US History is pathetic enough for me to not really be comfortable making a judgement as to whether or not that testimony was morally justified or not - I simply don't know. But what I think detractors can miss, probably deliberately, is that in the film Terry Malloy's decision to "rat" is not gray or morally complex - it's pretty simple. These people are killing friends and family, after all - his testimony is hardly controversial in theory. So, stripping away all the layers of meta-subtext, we have an extremely compelling, very well-acted film about a man who, eventually, does the right thing. And with a meaty, for-the-ages performance from Brando sitting at the middle of it. And - oh, yes - a Leonard Bernstein score that's gorgeous, rich icing on a very well-made cake.

To Kill A Mockingbird
Just as touching, and gripping, as I remember the book to be. Great casting afoot here - not just with the obvious greatness that is Peck as Finch, but with the kids, who, after all, command a lot of this screentime. The actress who plays Scout really makes the film - she's so disagreeable, so ornery, so loving, and so comfortable in her own skin that we never question this precocious little girl. And the delicate, surprisingly lovely score was a nice surprise as well. Another one of those stories that I remember as being happier than it is, too - after all, Tom Robbins is killed at the end, after being found guilty of a crime he didn't commit.

Stranger than Fiction
A wonderful high concept. A solid central performance from Will Ferrell that shows that he's not a one-trick pony. Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman as good as they always are. A disarmingly sexy performance from Maggie Gylennhal. A tight script. Inventive direction and uses of visuals. All excellent ingredients. But in the end, the lightness in the way that concept is presented - the disbelieving ease with which the characters react to this completely bizarre conceit of a man living a life being written by a novelist, and of him hearing the novelist as she
writes - kind of derails the whole thing. I mean, at the end, when the Dustin Hoffman character tells the Ferrell character that he has to die because if he doesn't the book won't be great . . . well, they lost me. My love for Edward P. Jones' The Known World has been documented often here, but I would never tell a real person that they should die to make the book so good! Who would? I feel kind of guilty - I liked this film! But it's a pretty big hole and one that I really can't get past.

Until Whenever


Roger Green said...

I've seen all three of these in the 21st Century (Mockingbird not for the first time). All excellent choices. I'm sure I reviewed Stranger Than Fiction, and the hole didn't bother me as much:

Gordon said...

Also recently saw all three (Waterfront for the second time), and I agree with your assessment - if you see the movie outside of the politics, as one man vs. the system, it actually works.

I've also been working to convince people that Stranger than Fiction is a Will Ferrell movie for people who don't like Will Ferrell.