Sunday, October 9, 2011

Movie Update 22

Another weekend of movies. A couple of these I really liked, a couple I didn't.

The Birth of a Nation

It's kind of hard to separate how important this movie is in terms of setting standards of filmmaking that would be followed for a long time, and how horrible the content of its second half is. The film is in two parts, the first of which depicts The Civil War, and ends with Abraham Lincoln's assassination. The second part is about reconstruction, which could have been an interesting subject if handled appropriately. It wasn't though. Black people are portrayed by white actors in make-up, and shown to basically impose their will on the poor white southerners, ruining everything and even trying to steal their women. Eventually the Ku Klux Klan manages to restore order by running out the vile usurpers and their enabling carpetbaggers. It's both inaccurate and terribly racist. Pretty hard to defend.

The Conformist

It's kind of hard to describe why I thought this movie was great, but there was just something very gripping about it. It's a very artful film depicting a member of the fascist party in Italy who is charged with assassinating an old professor who fled to France. He decides to do the job while on his honeymoon, and things get kind of messed up when he also falls for the professor's young wife. The movie uses violence very effectively, with it only being a factor in a couple scenes but having a huge impact every time. Bernardo Bertolucci probably gets a little too obsessed with depicting sexuality in his other movies, but it's wielded effectively here to set a specific mood and explain the film's characters without being too obvious. Definitely not for everyone, but I was into it.

The Leopard

I was enjoying myself with this movie for a while, but I eventually realized that it wasn't actually going anywhere and it started to seem like a waste of time. I think you can tell a story about the lives of royalty and what they experience when the nation they live in starts an inevitable shift towards a more modern form of government in less than three hours, but the director was more interested in painstakingly filming all of the lavish sets and costumes than doing that. It's a beautiful movie, but it just loses momentum at some point. It starts out pretty competently, with a rebellion and a love story, but eventually they get to a ball and it kind of just stops. Weird to watch the life drain out of a film like that.

The Verdict

A David Mamet screenplay directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Paul Newman is a formula for a great movie, and that's pretty much what they made here. Newman plays an aging, alcoholic, ambulance chasing lawyer, who sees a chance to redeem his career when he's given a case concerning a woman who was improperly anesthetized before surgery and then fell into a coma. He's up against a large firm and doesn't have much of a case to work with, but he still brushes aside opportunities for compromise, even against the family's wishes, all in the belief that what he's doing is right. It's ultimately a pretty simple film with a predictable ending, but it works because of the three guys I mentioned. Newman's performance is simply fantastic, not shying away from the character's severe flaws but still coming off as a guy worth rooting for. Lumet doesn't try anything too flashy, but every long shot seems carefully considered and just right for the scene. Definitely one of the best courtroom dramas I've seen.

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