Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie Update 9

A couple William Wyler classics and a couple by favorite directors.


This was pretty damn good for what is essentially Bible fan fiction, and I liked it more than I expected. Ben-Hur is pretty much the definition of an epic, lasting well over three hours even without its extended overture and intermission, and telling the story of a man whose life has parallels to and intersects with that of Jesus. He butts heads with Rome, he spends years rowing on a galley, and he becomes a successful chariot racer. I'm not sure how I felt about the religious stuff, but it's generally secondary to the film itself, which moves along well despite the length and has a few really good scenes. The chariot race in particular is outstanding. There are obvious moments where the motion is sped up, but it's still a thrilling sequence over fifty years later.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Another Best Picture winner directed by William Wyler. The Best Years of Our Lives is sort of the quintessential inspirational movie. It was made very shortly after World War II, and shows the return of three soldiers to a town in central America; one missing his hands and worried how his family and high school sweetheart will take his new hook prostheses, one concerned that he won't be able to support his wife with no job to come back to, and one older with two kids who has concerns about his bank is treating GIs. They all go through some foibles before it all works out in the end. The important part is the journey, and there are a lot of good scenes in there, with everything from humor to betrayal and budding romance. It seems pretty honest for the time period, and it's a well-acted film in general.

Mean Streets

Martin Scorsese's first collaboration with Robert De Niro was originally conceived as a sequel to Who's That Knocking at My Door? and there are definite similarities. Harvey Keitel plays a similarly self-conscious street tough who balances hanging out with his criminal friends with a troubled romantic relationship, and there's a familiar sort of aimlessness to it. The film is as much about the experience of being in Little Italy as it is about the simple, flimsy plot, and while that may have worked for some, I found it a bit dull a lot of the time. Scorsese just wasn't quite the virtuoso he'd go on to be yet. Still, there's good bits here and there, particularly De Niro's unhinged performance which helped make his career and the ending, which is trademark Scorsese violence in full effect.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights

You know a director has lost his touch when one of his parodies makes Spaceballs look inspired. I don't want to be too harsh on Men in Tights, but the fact is it's not particularly funny, and on top of that it's fairly unoriginal. Pretty much every joke is either something being referenced that didn't actually exist in the film's time period, or just kind of silly. The musical numbers seem awkwardly stitched in, and the entire romantic subplot is basically exactly the same as the one in Spaceballs. The cast is solid, and about the only thing that keeps the movie decently enjoyable instead of completely boring. Cary Elwes basically plays Westley again as Robin Hood, Dave Chappelle is one of his wacky sidekicks, Richard Lewis plays the mildly villainous Prince John, and Patrick Stewart has a solid cameo. Dom Deluise also does a pretty good Brando in The Godfather impression for no real reason. I don't know, I chucked a fair number of times, but I still recognized the movie has highly lacking compared to most of Brooks' earlier work. I wish he had made more movies back when he still had ideas.

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