Films I Watched - May, 2005

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  • 5/30 - Look at Me - An overweight woman lives in the shadow of her famous father in this ensemble drama from France. The director sneaks into the film as the wife of a younger author hitching his wagon behind the father’s star, and Jean-Pierre Bacri does an incredible job of playing the dad as a self-obsessed neglectful star without turning him into an outright monster. The film delves into the lives of a number of characters, and for the most part, it juggles its various interlocking storylines with a delicate grace. I am a sucker for these type of films, and this one worked just fine for me. ***

  • 5/29 - Paths of Glory - With a few notable exceptions, Kubrick scores highest when working with a strong narrative. This is a heretic stance to take in film criticism, but I hold to it. This film has a short running time and a very strong story. Meld these elements to terrific direction and incredible performances few war films see, and the result is a masterpiece. Frustrating, tragic, and no doubt too true to life, this movie is one of the director’s very best. ****

  • 5/29 - Chicago - They say it takes a big man to admit he was wrong, but I am going to prove that rule false. I was wrong; while still not worthy of the multiple Oscars thrown at it, this is actually a decent musical. The direction is still largely a rip on Fosse, but the musical numbers and narrative zip are enough to justify the film. I must have been really cranky the night I watched this... ***

  • 5/28 - Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - And in the end, Lucas proves once again that he handles dark material far better than fare aimed at two year olds. While it retains many of the flaws of the other prequels – Hayden Christensen still is not a great actor, and the CGI R2-D2 and Yoda still occupy a different universe that the rest of the film – the very first breath-taking scene immediately signals this installment as a sea change. After the awe-inspiring spectacle fades, the film falters a bit before finding its footing, but once matters begin rolling down hill, this film catches fire like the series has not seen since the The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, this is no doubt the best entry in the series since that film, and it runs the original movie a close race for second place. Lucas remembers the drama and the spectacle here, and the two transform any predictability in the plot into tragic inevitability. Ewan McGregor is still uncanny in his performance, nailing a young Alec Guinness better than any actor should be able to do, and while the rest of the acting hardly impresses, Lucas still pulls off an impressive feat convincing audiences of Anakin’s metamorphosis into Darth Vader. It is stirring stuff, and a summer blockbuster that proves the format soars when handled properly. *** 1/2

  • 5/25 - Lola Montès - It would be too easy to declare this film the flipside to The Blue Angel, but there is a bit of truth to that comparison. Both films involve show life, both have a femme fatale named Lola, and both have a less than rosy outlook on love and life, daring to end on depressing conclusions. This film, however, is as much about Max Ophuls as Martine Carol’s title character, so that easy pigeonholing simply does not stand up for long. Lola is a woman of supposedly scandalous action; Ophuls convinces the audience of this with only a few examples. For the rest of the film, she is strangely inert, silent and still while the camera dances better than she can all around her. Peter Ustinov impresses as the witty, droll circus master who plays a important part in Lola's story. The widescreen framing, the camera movements, and the color are flatout dazzling, and the story is full of revelations that truly uncover characters and motives. There is one more great strength in likening this to von Sernberg’s 1930 classic. Both films are masterpieces of world cinema, living classics that still captivate attention and richly reward viewing today. ****

  • 5/22 - Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - Alex Gibney takes on the daunting task of explaining and thinking about the Enron scandal. When he is explaining complicated elements of the muddled mess, he soars. When he tries to place the entire affair in a broader framework, he stumbles, often making unfounded comments and/or contradicting himself. The results are impressive, but hardly groundbreaking or life changing. ***

  • 5/14 - Touching the Void - Taking his cue and fearlessness in the face of recreations from Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line, Kevin MacDonald creates a documentary harrowing enough to cream most of this decade's adventure films with its heart-pounding suspense. For most of the film, the craft is virtually invisible, but scooting an audience to the edge of its seat takes quite a bit of skill, and the fact that this transparency of manipulation is incredibly impressive. Luckily, the story is up to the task of doing the heavy lifting here, and the narratives are intercut seamlessly. In an age when the over-rated documentary is the rule rather than the exception, this one earns its praise. *** 1/2

  • 5/8 - The Sting - Paul Newman playing gruff friend to the boyish man Robert Redford is a classic example of what the folks in the know call screen chemistry. Their interplay would make much lesser material sail smoothly. Prop that charisma up with a well-written screenplay, some terrific period piece set designs and costumes, and a terrific supporting cast including the far too under-rated Robert Shaw (what could this man not do?), and you have a very fun romp that stole the Best Picture Oscar for my birth year. Is there a flaw in this film? Sure. The ending is much too easy to see coming. Still, even if the pleasures here lie simply in watching expert stars run through some delightful scenes, those are still quite quite valid pleasures, and the film is directed and pulled off with loads of charm and expertise. Let’s hope for one last Newman / Redford pairing before either of the actors call it a day. *** 1/2
Author Comments: 

I'm rating the films on a zero to four star basis. ** 1/2 is average.

I'm so jealous of your theatrical viewing of The Sting, a personal favorite, and one I'm happy to see you loved (is 3.5 stars "love"?) as well. I wish we could get a real DVD release of this one.

And no, I don't think there's anything Robert Shaw couldn't do. Is that a triple-negative?

I really enjoyed it, even if I also received the news that it was the last Sunday Classic until the start of fall.

At least it was a nice note to end on!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Thanks for the great review on Lola Montès. It'll be on TV, sunday. So, I'll try to catch it.

Thank you, though I fear my review falls far short of doing the film justice. It is perhaps the first new candidate I have seen this year for my top 100 films list. I loved it.

If you catch it, let me know what you think.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Ouch. Unfortunately a (for Luxembourg) big tempest caused a power failure during that night, so that my video didn't tape the whole film. So I'll have to wait.

P.S.: I'm glad to see you liked Episode III.

Sorry to hear about the storm. That's a great movie.

And yes, I am also glad to discover I liked the latest Star Wars film...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Hmm, generally I like storms and all that, except when there is a good movie on TV.

Tonight, I planned to see Bullitt, but again there are dark clouds on the sky.(and new tempests announced)

Lots of good news here! Glad you liked Revenge of the Sith; it helps with the sense of doom I have about the film, though there are still enough negative opinions around here... Also very glad to see four stars for Paths of Glory, one of my favorites. Your comments surprise me, though, given your love for 2001: A Space Odyssey; I think 2001 is much less about the narrative than most of Kubrick's other films. And wow, Chicago off your hate list, that is surprising. I still don't dare ask you to watch Signs again, though. :-)

I was greatly surprised by the latest Star Wars, and I am very happy Lucas finished off the saga in such fine form. As I wrote, there is a bit of drag in the opening hour, but when matters take off, they are terrifc.

Paths of Glory is a fantastic film. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the notable exception to the rule concerning Kubrick and narratives, and it is still my favorite from the director.

As for Chicago, mea culpa. The same weaknesses and flaws irk me, but just not as much, and the strengths seems a bit stronger this time around. It might well take a miracle, however, to get me to try Signs again, but one never knows. At one point, I might have said the same about Chicago...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I'm not waiting for a miracle, but I am curious - what made you decide to see Chicago again, anyway?

I caught some of it while flipping channels at a friend's house, and it seemed better than I recalled. Well, that and the fact that many people whose film opinions I respect seemed to like it more than I did combined to urge me to another viewing.

I tend to do this with celebrated films I don't dig. I can begin to tell you how many times I've watched Vertigo...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Woo-hoo, four new reviews and chock full of surprises! What a turnaround on Chicago, and I'm thrilled Revenge of the Sith was to your liking. We're making a rare theatrical outing to see it tomorrow night, and my hopes are a touch higher.

I bet you enjoy the latest Star Wars; I certainly hope you do, at least, knowing how rarely you get to hit the theaters!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Alas, our sitter was stricken by a stomach bug, so we've been postponed a week. I'm sure you'll see my review soon though. I'm sure to love it, the way my spring has been going. First I love an Alexander Payne movie, then I hate (or at least strongly dislike) a Zhang Yimou movie... The stars are aligned for liking a Star Wars prequel.

Strange days, indeed. I was disappointed with that Yimou film, but I don't think I actively disliked it to the degree you did.

Be sure to let us know your reactions to the laser opera when you do get to catch it!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Lester,

Nah you were right the first time on Chicago. The movie was mediocre at best. And that is being charitable for the strong performance of John C. Reilley. Richard Gere was disgraceful. Catherine Zeta Jones looked like a fullback and Renee Zill-Swigger started her turn to annoying media whoredom with that movie.

I saw Star Wars Revenge... I liked it too. Maybe not as quite as much as you because Lucas couldn't write decent dialougue if his life depended on it. Still it was rousing enough finish. I still say episode 7-9 will be made some day...

As for the future installments of the Star Wars saga, I'm not betting against you, my friend. I am glad you liked the latest one. I certainly did not expect to, so I left the theater happy.

I was surprised to like Chicago more on a second viewing. Does this mean a third viewing is now required to verify which impression is correct? I hope not; I didn't enjoy it that much. :)

It is always terrific to hear from you!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs