Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of year roundup

The new year promises to be a busy one for me, and unfortunately there's several films I've seen recently that I won't have time to do justice with a thoughtful review. So... to hell with thoughtfulness! Here's some absurdly incomplete mini-reviews:

Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942, USA)
It's all too easy living here in America to turn our heads and ignore the world's misery. But was it possible during WWII? Bogey tried, and might have succeeded had the tragically beautiful Ingrid Bergman not stepped in. We all know that war brings out the worst in humanity; Casablanca reminds us that in some cases, it also brings out the best in us.

Pride & Prejudice (dir. Joe Wright, 2005, UK)
Yes, I watch "normal" film too. This stellar adaptation, though not necessarily critically underrated, sadly failed to step out of the long shadow cast by the wildly popular BBC miniseries version of 10 years prior (starring Colin Firth). It's all the more tragic, as the performances in this film are impeccable, and though I've yet to see much range from Keira Knightley, her proud and outspoken attitude feels perfectly suited for her character, Elizabeth Bennet. Jane Austen was the greatest social satirist of her day, and this film is one of the few that does her justice.

Ugetsu Monogatari (dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953, Japan)
Everyone knows the Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa, but how many have seen the films of his contemporary Kenzi Mizoguchi? His films didn't receive the international attention that Kurosawa's did, and only recently have western audiences gained access to them. Ugetsu Monogatari is based on an old Japanese morality tale from the 1700's; it depicts the folly of war profiteering, and in a way could be construed as a warning to the peasantry not to try to rise above their station. Ugetsu is aesthetically stunning, with a photographic prowess surpassing Kurosawa's films made around the same time. The story kept me mildly entertained, even if the philosophical thrust found little resonance.

Oldboy (dir. Park Chan-wook, 2003, South Korea)
A twisted tale of revenge that vacillates between psychological thriller and bilious gore. Many find in this film the philosophical antithesis of the conventional good guy / bad guy revenge flick; for me, the entire premise is so outlandish and twisted that I think it's overreaching to attempt to extrapolate any grand statements about life or the human existence. But who cares? It's an engaging story, well-told, cleverly photographed.

Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1958, USA)
This might be #2 on TSPDT's 1000 greatest films list, but it's not even close on my list. Kim Novak's performance was frighteningly lackluster, and the film itself showed none of the narrative innovation or audacious brilliance of Hitchcock's superior "Rear Window." The only intriguing relationship in the film, that between Jimmy Stewart's character and his friend and one-time lover "Midge", played by Barbara Bel Geddes, seems to have been all but forgotten on the cutting room floor.

Once Upon a Time in the West (dir. Sergio Leone, 1968, Italy)
You might think from reading this blog that I have nothing to do but watch film, but truthfully, I value my time, and if a film doesn't grab me within the first, say, 20 minutes, then I'll find something better to do. Once Upon a Time in the West is just such a film; since I haven't seen it all the way through, I'll withhold judgment, and only say that in terms of my present taste in film, this one isn't for me. Of course, I'm probably in the minority on this; a lot of people regard this the greatest western ever made.

Also, to recap the films I have reviewed in the first two months of my blog:

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