Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Movie Update 11A

Life goes on, and I continue to watch a number of films that I have never seen before. I'm running out of "classics" in the instant queue at this point, and I don't know if I'm going to keep that when Netflix switches up the plans in a couple months. But I'll keep watching movies. 11B goes up tomorrow.

The Conversation

Sandwiched between the first two parts of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola made this film, a much more intimate and inward-looking affair. Gene Hackman does a great job (I find it amazing he was already 44 when this was made, but I hadn't realized he retired years ago either) as a surveillance expert who becomes worried by the content of a conversation he is hired to record, and reluctant to hand it over to his client. He's surrounded by a great cast, notably a young Harrison Ford as his main contact with the client, John Cazale as his spurned partner, and a brief appearance by Robert Duvall. It's mostly a character piece, and the script and Hackman's work do a great job of bringing a quiet by interesting man to life. Things do get hairier later on, with some surprisingly shocking moments as it reaches the climax. Nice anti-Hollywood ending, too.

The Hustler

I feel like Paul Newman was sort of a singular talent that came into his own in the 60s, and since he didn't have any direct competitor like Robert De Niro versus Al Pacino, some people my age overlook how amazing of an actor he is. There's no ongoing debate around him, he's just an amazing actor. Could be making crap up, though. In The Hustler he plays a pool shark, and while there are extensive pool scenes in the movie, it's more about the turmoil of the character, who realizes he's not who he thought he was after a game against Jackie Gleason's Minnesota Fats goes bad. George C. Scott is also great in the movie, and it's just a fun film to watch despite some pretty dark material towards the end. The good kind of sports movie that's not really about sports.


All I really knew about Robert Altman before seeing this was he made movies with ensemble casts that talked over each other, and that's certainly the case here. It's a Korean war movie that's really about the Vietnam war, and showcases funny actors rather than comedians trying to act. The three main characters are military doctors played by Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, and Tom Skerritt who don't care much for proper chain of command or behavior for their positions. It's not really realistic how cavalier they are with their mistreatment of other officers in the movie, but it's a satire, and it works. I didn't think it was an amazing movie, but I did enjoy watching it go through its paces, and there are a number of memorable scenes, even if some don't quite pay off or go on too long. I can definitely see how some producers looked at it and saw a way to make a series out of it, after removing some of the racier stuff. I assume I'll continue to never see it, but you never know.

Play Time

One of those movies that I didn't really love, but I appreciated the immense amount of care and craft behind. It's hard to say what Jacques Tati's deal is, beyond a lot of wide shots filled to the brim with little bits of physical comedy in every corner of the screen. Play Time is a film where dialogue isn't very important, and I could easily see the whole thing working almost as well with no subtitles at all (it's already a mix of French and English), or even as a silent film. It's about a tragic future version of Paris, where all of the famous landmarks people love have been replaced with plain buildings filled with sterile cubic offices, steel floors and chairs with squishy cushions. Humanity still shines through though, as Monsieur Hulot and an American tourist bumble around the trade shows and turn a disastrous restaurant opening into a heck of a party. I think the whole thing could have greatly benefited from chopping as much as half an hour off, but there's nothing wrong with any individual scenes. You can just only take so much whimsy and clever visual comedy before it all seems like the same stuff. Still a solid film.

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