Monday, October 13, 2014

Catching up With the Movies

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. (1962) Considered by many to be among the greatest Westerns ever made, which may explain a lot about why I went so long without watching Westerns. The story is good, but delivered in such a ham-handed manner I couldn’t take it seriously. Actors’ actions and reactions were exaggerated to the point where high school musicals look nuanced in comparison. The acting is broad overall, making the quieter scenes—where they actually talk, and don’t make speeches—welcome relief. Character actor heaven, especially Liberty Valence’s (Lee Marvin) henchmen: Strother Martin and Lee van Cleef.

Out of the Furnace. (2013) This was recommended and the trailer looked good, so we took a flyer, it taking place in Pittsburgh, and all. Loved it. I feel guilty sometimes when I enjoy a Christian Bale performance, knowing what a self-important asshole he is (or at least can be), but he carries this film effortlessly. There are couple of plot points—not really holes—that keep it from getting highest marks, but they’re not critical. Well worth anyone’s time.

Klute. (1971) Jane Fonda’s Oscar-winning role. Released in the early part of the 70s Golden Age, it doesn’t hold up well. Director Alan Pakula went for a psychological thriller, but the plot doesn’t hold water, the actors speak wooden dialog as if they didn’t believe it themselves, the pacing is lugubrious, and the timing for the final scenes is ludicrous. Not even Donald Sutherland could save this for me. (Frankly, he’s not very good in it, either.)

Jackie Brown (1997) I had a day off work and dilated pupils from an ophthalmologist appointment, so watching TV was about all I could do. The Beloved Spouse came home a short ways in, said she hadn’t liked it the first time we saw it, and would stay while we ate. She stayed for the whole thing, said. “That was a lot better than I remembered it.” One of the best Elmore Leonard adaptations (of Rum Punch), and one of Tarantino’s best movies, from the days when he was more concerned with making good movies than with making “Quentin Tarantino” movies.

Get Shorty (1995) I’m not going to say any more than I have to, if that, about this. My annual birthday movie, brought out early to try to recover a thoroughly shitty day. There’s no way I can watch this and not feel better.

LA Confidential (1997) Get Shorty was over too early to go to bed, so I asked TBS if she’d mind watching LA Confidential. She said she’d hang in until she fell asleep, then stayed awake past midnight. This is as close to the perfect crime film as I’ve ever seen, and damn near a perfect movie.

The Big Lebowski (1998) Burned out after a couple of tough weeks, I drove home from Pennsylvania, dropped my ass in the chair, and asked TBS if she’d mind spending the evening with The Dude, because my buddies didn’t die face down in the muck for me to have a shitty weekend. As expected, The Dude abides.

The Mexican (2001) Getting back to normal life, this underappreciated little comedy tries to achieve on multiple levels, and pretty much does. It’s nothing special, and it probably doesn’t pay to look too deeply at how the story holds up, but it has an Elmore Leonard quality to the loopiness of the plot and characters that made it a fun way to spend an evening.

The Guns of Navarone (1961) Hadn’t seen it in at least thirty years, and it surprised me. What I’d thought I’d like, hadn’t aged well, and what I’d forgotten was much better than to have been forgotten. The classic Alistair MacLean commando tale, the battle scenes don’t hold up after you become accustomed to Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. On the other hand, there’s far more anti-war sentiment and shades of gray than I remember. Gregory Peck sure could chew some scenery when he had a mind to.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013) Great fun in another of Wes Anderson’s off-kilter worlds. We first became acquainted with Anderson with Moonrise Kingdom, and the ads for The Grand Budapest Hotel were too good to pass up. Anderson’s films are highly stylized, stiff to the point of absurdity, which makes the lunacy they depict all the more entertaining. Highest marks.

Hour of the Gun (1961) Probably a more realistic depiction of the Wyatt Earp-Doc Holliday-Tombstone period than even Tombstone, begins with the Earps and Doc on their way to the OK Corral, none of that fussy family and wives backstory bullshit. (I hope to know more which is the more accurate after I read a book currently working its way to the top of the TBR list.) James Garner and Jason Robards are well cast as Wyatt and Doc, though Val Kilmer has created the definitive Holliday. It’s a compelling story, but somehow doesn’t quite measure up. It has a little of the same problem as The Guns of Navarone, as more sophisticated viewers will wonder how accurate these guys can be at distance when shooting everything—pistols, rifles, shotguns—from the hip, and often pointed at an angle that would put the bullet in the ground six feet away from the shooter.


pattinase (abbott) said...

For some reason the charms of THE BUDAPEST HOTEL eluded me. Maybe I need to see it again. Some of this films work for me but not all of them. Loved his last one though.

Mike Dennis said...

Dana, I think you've encapsulated a mini-arc of the effectiveness of Hollywood storytelling.

Time was, you could walk into a theater and see the famous actors up on the screen, with their fake Hollywood accents and exaggerated gestures and wardrobe-department clothing (NEVER dirty, mind you), and be transported to the world of make-believe.

Hollywood magic.

That was what fueled movies like THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. They weren't serious attempts at telling a compelling story as much as they were come-ons for moviegoers to sit in their seats and be carried away by all that star power. Throw in a little action and everyone walks out saying, "Ooh, what a great movie!"

On the other hand, films like JACKIE BROWN, LA CONFIDENTIAL, and, really, almost any Christian Bale film, zero in on telling the story through realistic dialog and pacing, centered around high-powered actors who bury themselves in character.

That, I believe, is why the newer films are believable and therefore, much more enjoyable, while the older ones are, generally speaking (and there are exceptions), emblematic of a bygone Hollywood ethic.

Dana King said...

I'm with you, Mike. Somewhere in the 60s the stylized, staccato dialog of previous movies started to break down. By the 70s acting styles had changed dramatically, so much so even older actors started to pick up on it. Lines had more time to breathe, and directors (cinematographers, set and costume designers) began to realize new techniques allowed them to create higher levels of verisimilitude, and not to depend so much on "Hollywood magic." Now people expect to be brought into the movie. At least when Hollywood makes an honest-to-God movie that's about something you haven't seen in a comic book.