Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Movie Update 35

Here are a few movies I saw before the end of the year. I won't keep you in suspense: I liked them all.


One of Akira Kurosawa's last films, Dreams is more like a collection of shorts, all based on various dreams he had and presented in very different ways. You can detect some progression as it goes on, as the early segments feature children as the central characters, while later ones are generally darker, and the last few all star the same person. But mostly it's just disjointed ideas brought to life in usually interesting ways. I liked the movie more than I thought it would, from its bizarre fantasy imagery to its more unsettling moments. I've never felt more cold watching a movie than I did watching the blizzard segment. It also features Martin Scorsese in a cameo as Vincent van Gogh, which is weird.

The Limey

I kind of like the idea of Steven Soderbergh, but I haven't actually really, really enjoyed a movie he's made until now. The Limey is an extremely sharp and tight revenge thriller starring Terence Stamp as an older British career criminal who takes a trip to America after getting out of jail to get even with the man responsible for his daughter's death. There's really no nonsense about the movie, it's pretty short and has very few characters who aren't directly related to the single central story thread. It's not the most exciting movie ever, but it's occasionally quite tense and sometimes even pretty funny. It also has a lot of nice little touches, like Soderbergh inserting snippets of a much younger Stamp from another movie to establish his backstory. The whole thing is very minimal and hazy, with its frequently jumping around in time in moments of reflection. Not quite great, but a very good take on some pretty basic material.

Miracle on 34th Street

I've seen pieces of this movie before, but the part that I didn't know, and what I think is totally brilliant about it, is that it never answers the question of whether the "Santa Claus" in this movie is actually Santa Claus. It doesn't answer the question because the answer doesn't matter, what matters is the message he's trying to give to the people around him. Well, I thought it was clever, anyway. Otherwise, it's a charming old Hollywood movie with charming old Hollywood acting, and it's sort of interesting seeing Natalie Wood this young even if her character is pretty annoying. A really nice family holiday movie, that nicely skirts a lot of issues with that subgenre.

Running on Empty

Sidney Lumet's Running on Empty is an odd little movie, combining elements of crime and soap opera. The story begins years before the film itself starts, when a couple decides to bomb a laboratory owned by a company that made napalm, and accidentally severely injures a janitor that wasn't supposed to be there and goes on the run. Years later, they're still on the run, changing identities and moving every time they suspect the law might be on their trail, with two kids in tow. They're pretty used to it, but the older son, played by River Phoenix, is getting a bit old to be staying with them, almost ready to graduate high school. Things really change when he both meets a music teacher who's impressed by his piano skills and wants him to go to college for it, and falls in love with the teacher's daughter. Family drama ensues. It's the kind of thing that probably shouldn't have worked, but Lumet is a director who seems to be able to do a lot with some slim material. It's far from his best movie, but it's a pretty good one with some strong emotional moments.

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