Sunday, August 28, 2011

Movie Update 15

A bunch of movies this weekend, as several were about to disappear from my Netflix streaming queue. Let's get right to it.


One of Woody Allen's earliest films, starring him as a sort of a deadbeat who moves to a South American country in the middle of a revolution after his activist girlfriend dumps him. This movie was quite strange to me, as it mixes Allen's natural film technique and some pretty Woody Allen jokes like the giving and receiving conversation with a lot of really silly and over the top gags that don't quite fit. Stuff like his dad making him assist on a surgery when he's saying goodbye or the whole courtroom scene would feel more in place if the whole thing was a wacky spoof like Airplane!. I did enjoy the movie, though. Lots of great gags prop up a simple story.


On the one hand, Edward Zwick should be commended for finding a way to tell a story about a Jewish resistance against Nazi occupation in Belarus with a Hollywood budget. On the other, after seeing movies with similar subject matter like Come and See, I kind of wish he had taken a smaller budget and just made a slightly better movie. I respect him for focusing on unexplored parts of history in his work, but Defiance as a whole feels kind of whitewashed. It's a pretty decent movie, but too much is just standard American war movie stuff. Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber give very good central performances, and their Belarusian accents sounded pretty good even if I still don't like the compromise of having a non-American character speak with an accent rather than his actual language. Really nice cinematography, too.

Jerry Maguire

This movie had a huge impact on popular culture at the time, and was nominated for a bunch of awards, but I don't think it really holds up as a great film. It was on AFI's list of the top 10 sports movies, but they must have been stuck at 9, because it's not actually a sports movie. Yeah, Tom Cruise plays a sports agent and a big part of the movie is his relationship with Cuba Gooding Jr's wide receiver character, but it's much more a romantic comedy, and a story about a man learning how to connect to people. He could have been in almost any other kind of business and it would have been the same movie. There are several iconic lines in the movie that are kind of entertaining to watch unfold, especially when Cruise is overselling them. The whole movie is sort of overly sappy and emotional, but it's slick and amusing enough to keep it watchable for most of the time it's on. Gooding is really quite entertaining too, though it doesn't strike me as the typical award winning performance.

A Night at the Opera

This is the Marx Brothers' follow-up to Duck Soup; their first film at a new studio and without their brother Zeppo. The plot is less out-there than Soup's, featuring Groucho, Chico, and Harpo as a few guys who travel with an opera company to America and try to help a down-on-his-luck singer score with someone else in the company and get the break he deserves. What really interests me is how the brothers continue to be giant assholes to everyone, even if they don't deserve it. The only people resembling antagonists here are the boss who doesn't want to give the singer a job until he has a better reputation, and a man who is his rival professionally and personally. But the first is just making a smart business decision, and the second never really does anything wrong, he just has more status as a singer and is also attracted to the same beautiful woman. It doesn't matter though, the film considers them the bad guys, and they get their shit ruined by the brothers constantly. The crowning moment comes at the end when the boss finally agrees to sign their friend, and while Groucho and Chico are debating the contract, Harpo tears open the boss' tuxedo jacket for no reason. God, I love the Marx Brothers.


Most people probably don't know that the Brian De Palma film starring Al Pacino is actually a remake of this, which is loosely based on the life of Al Capone. It comes right out at the beginning and denounces both organized crime and the government for not doing a better job of fighting it, and then tells the story of a man's rise to prominence and eventual downfall in the 1920s underworld of violence and illegal booze. It's an early film by Howard Hawks, and I think I would have liked it a lot more if it wasn't for Paul Mini's performance as the titular character. I really can't stand it. Tony Camonte bounces around, getting overly confrontational, pursuing his boss' girlfriend while flipping his shit when his sister so much as looks at a guy (what, is he hoping she'll join a convent?), and generally acts like a jackass. I'm aware that crime movies are built on their central figures being bad people, but they're supposed to be redeemable or at least likable in some way so we don't get annoyed whenever they're on screen. It's something they just hadn't figured out yet. Important and fairly well made movie, but a hard one to enjoy.

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