Friday, June 25, 2010

Movie Log: Mid-June, 2010

It's been a hectic month, and I've gotten behind on writing about the movies I've seen. (Not even counting things I watched again, like Meatballs -- with my two sons, last Saturday, since they hadn't previously known that it just doesn't matter. Or the MST3k version of Zombie Nightmare, since I've never tried to "review" RiffTrax/MST3K, and don't want to start now.) So, just like a few weeks ago, here's a quick round-up of everything I've seen in roughly the past three weeks.

Someone recommended F for Fake -- an odd documentary directed by Orson Wells, clearly using bits and pieces of several failed projects, in the mid '70s -- in a comment here on one of my other Movie Log posts. (Probably that Richard Gere movie about Clifford Irving, who faked the Howard Hughes diaries. Aha! It was called The Hoax, and both someone anonymous and Alexx Kay mentioned F For Fake.)

F For Fake is partly the story of Clifford Irving, and partly the story of a famous art forger named Elmyr de Hory -- but mostly the story of Wells talking about fraud, and fakery, and stage magic, and whatever else he can spin out to knit together the reels of film he has, while at the same time keeping anyone from suing him. Wells is getting older here, and larger, but he's still Orson Wells at this point, and not the shadow of himself he became later -- he commands the attention of the camera, and knows instinctively how to keep that attention. So if F For Fake doesn't actually go anywhere, or explain much of anything, or give any solid basis to its half-hinted insinuations and veiled suggestions, it's fascinating as it circles the fakeries of de Hory and Irving, and lets the two of them speak at length.

Somewhere -- I forget, now, exactly where -- my sons saw a preview of Dragonball: Evolution, and so we had to get that movie and watch it. (It was our Saturday movie two weeks ago, as I recall.) It deviates pretty seriously from the Akira Toriyama original, not least in the Caucasian-ization of Son Goku, and the opening does raise the specter of a lot of tedious Oh-my-life-in-highschool-is-so-horrible bumf which (thankfully!) disappears quickly, but it's not a bad wire-fu movie in the end. Because, let's face it, the only reason to want to see Dragonball: Evolution would be for the fight scenes. I was happy enough to watch those fight scenes, once they started coming more quickly, and they were all just fine for me. (Others may have higher standards in wire-fu; my serious watching in this area was twenty years ago, so I'm out of step with the current state of the art.) If nothing else, I didn't think it was nearly as horrible as it's generally considered -- oh, sure, it's a generic comic-book movie (in a Japanese rather than an American idiom), but it revels in its material without ever laughing at itself or doing anything utterly stupid.

On the other hand, Mary and Max is a clay-animated movie that's really not for kids. (They'd probably be bored with it, anyway.) Mary (voiced by Toni Collette) is an Australian pre-teen in the '70s with a dingy, unhappy life -- drunken mother, distant father, unfriendly schoolmates, etc. -- who decides to write to a random New Yorker for a reason sufficient to motivate the plot, and so does. The random man she connects with is Max Jerry Horovitz (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman using a schmaltz-dripping accent and more than a little hesitancy), whom the audience recognizes pretty quickly is a borderline functional adult with Asperger's Syndrome. (Which he duly is diagnosed with, later in the movie, once that becomes recognized.) They write letters back and forth to each other, in the usual two-damaged-types-heal-each-other fashion, though not without problems along the way. It's also a very, very heavily narrated movie; the voice of Barry Humphries is talking nearly every second that Mary and Max doesn't have the voice of Collette or Hoffman reading one of their letters, leaving little time for silence or any other voices.) It's a great movie to look at, though, even if it is all in shades of gray and black -- but the talking could have been dialed down more than a little. In an odd way, it ends up being the non-neurotypical version of 84, Charing Cross Road.

The Wife is a huge fan of costume dramas, and particularly those with happy endings, so there was no chance that we would not see The Young Victoria. I enjoyed it well enough for what it was, though Rupert Friend (here as Albert, the minor German princeling Queen Vicky marries) still doesn't seem to be working hard enough in anything I see him in. The movie is what it is: this year's slab of romantic history, tricked out to give work to a small army of hairdressers, costume experts, topiary designers, minor British actors, and the rest of the UK film industry. There's one of these every year or so, and I'm sure I'll end up seeing them all. As always, our heroes are positioned firmly on the side of what seems to our era as very, very mild liberalism, of the "well, maybe the lower classes shouldn't just be forced to die in the streets, at least, not always" school. Emily Blunt does the obligatory "I am the Queen" act, though I didn't believe her hair was in period for more than a second. If you don't get enough of this kind of thing from PBS on Sunday nights, here's another dose.

As long as there's an England -- and it has a functioning film industry -- there will be a steady stream of uplifting movies based at least vaguely on real events, like Billy Elliott, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, and The Full Monty. One minor entry in that genre was 2000's Greenfingers, with Clive Owen as a jailbird redeemed by the healing power of the soil. It could have been more cleverly done, or less obviously, and Helen Mirren is just about wasted as Georgina Woodhouse, the kind of gardening expert who wears huge hats and who I'm morally certain is based on someone specific. But it's an agreeable way to spend about a hundred minutes, and now I should be able to keep it separate in my head from Saving Grace (the other British growing-things comedy from about the same time), since I've seen them both.
Listening to: The Indelicates - Savages
via FoxyTunes

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