Thursday, February 10, 2011

Film Fan #351-375

#351. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
This is a real strange one to list, because even Star Trek fans hate this one. But I don’t exactly ken to a lot of the standard Star Trek opinions (go back and see where I’ve ranked the others, since this is the last of the eleven films to date). I like this one, too. I think it’s deeply flawed, but there’s enough that’s absolutely right about it that I can overlook the imperfections. The idea of it is pure Star Trek, and that’s what I like most about it, and how most of that is disguised by the fact that, aside from The Motion Picture and about half of The Voyage Home, there’s really no comparison among the other original cast films, which strive so hard to be anything but what the original series was like, you’d guess the films and the show were only distant cousins. So yeah, when I watch this one, I’ve got a lot more on my mind than just what’s strictly on the screen. I think you ought to approach any movie like that. If you don’t, then all you’re doing is watching, and the movie itself has already failed. I figure if it can provoke more positive thoughts than negative ones, then you’ve got a success, no matter what.

#352. Excalibur (1981)
The above is kind of how this one is on the list, because on the whole, I think this is kind of a spectacular failure. It’s like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but without all of the jokes, like watching Graham Chapman clomp around the whole film, all self-serious, without any real conviction anywhere (and there’s the real joke of that film, by the way; this is not to take away from the performance of the late Chapman, but if you were to isolate that performance, I don’t think much of an argument could be made against that view). I love, however, the fact that this is an epic Hollywood version of the King Arthur myth, because even in 2011, it’s the only real Hollywood version of that myth to speak of, and I guess that speaks about King Arthur’s relative importance in today’s culture. (Hell, even the movie King Arthur, which attempted to strip away most of that myth, really didn’t do much of an impact.) I know there’s been a lot of work done on television in recent years, with a lot of it centering around Merlin, but that’s not really the same thing. Here you can see the potential, in the young careers that can be glimpsed: Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne. Maybe this entry is really a holding place for the theoretical movie that absolutely gets it right, brings together a truly all-star cast, at the height of its powers, and doing this thing right. Because Excalibur is only about halfway there.

#353. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
I don’t think the actual film itself is as good as the combined talents of Eastwood, Leone, and Morricone, or at least their reputations (or perhaps it’s simply that it was Leone’s genius to combine Eastwood and Morricone), but as far as Westerns go, this is an undeniable touchstone.

#354. Out to Sea (1997)
Most of the fun here is to see another variation of the classic and timeless pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathieu, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I don’t treasure this film for pretty much the same reason I treasure Conspiracy Theory: it gives a Star Trek actor a rare opportunity to shine outside of a spacesuit. Here it’s Brent Spiner, as a tyrannical cruise director. If Spiner had come up from, say, Saturday Night Live, this would have been the first of many comic gems.

#355. Batman Returns (1992)
It’s always funny to hear the same reiterations that Schumacher ruined the Batman films, because aside from Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman (which in hindsight, while undeniably a highlight of Pfeiffer’s career and having a certain sensual appeal…really isn’t all that special; you’ve seen Helena Bonham Carter recreate exactly the same performance many times since), nobody was really all that excited about Tim Burton’s second shot. But that’s the funny thing, because this is the one he truly makes a Tim Burton movie, with the spotlight squarely on Danny DeVito’s Penguin, with a more complete arc than the Joker got in the first one, complete with a full origin, motivation, and appropriate fall. Christopher Walken makes good work of his chance at the position of third villain. Batman himself exists even more as a visual afterthought, which is why I myself haven’t really considered this movie too much over the years. When I see “Batman” in the title, I expect to see, well, Batman. But I think Batman Returns is better than most people think, and maybe it’s reputation will one day grow.

#356. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Speaking of Tim Burton, this is probably his best movie, and it’s only ranked this low because I’m only beginning to grow in my appreciation of it, so I didn’t want to exaggerate. Really, the cast itself is beyond phenomenal, but the Martians themselves steal the show. It’s like a parody of Independence Day, released only a few months later. I don’t even know how that’s possible. And it’s not obvious, like the rash of parody movies that have been released over the past decade. It’s sublime. It’s brilliant. It’s not like any other Tim Burton movie you’ve ever seen. It’s all so deliriously entertaining, it’s got none of the pastiche you normally expect from him. It’s pure, it’s completely unfiltered. It really is his best film. I expect in some later version of this list, it’ll be ranked much higher.

#357. The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)
I sought out this movie because Bono of U2 had a considerable part in getting it made, and there’s a lot of him and a little of his band on the soundtrack, but really, among a number of other things, this may also be the one movie that truly does justice to the unique talent of Jeremy Davies, who would one day create one of the most indelible later characters on Lost.

#358. Out of Sight (1998)
Here’s the irony of this movie. Yeah, and so while George Clooney managed to trick critics at this point in his career to actually respecting him, here’s Jennifer Lopez, who at this point in her own career was actually respected. She was respected so much that a TV show was eventually created for the character she played in this movie. It sucks, because once she decided to have a music career, everyone completely overlooked the fact that she really does have talent. It’s like Clooney made some wicked deal over this movie, and the reward was that he would eventually get respect, and that Lopez wouldn’t. George Clooney, you are an evil, evil man.

#359. The Quiet American (2002)
I love careers where an older actor only really seems to have succeeded relatively late in life. On the one hand, it might sound a little depressing (but you do have to keep in mind that as far as being movie stars go, it’s not as if they would truly have been suffering beforehand, and to have wild success later, that’s almost better, if you’re not embittered by that point, but I digress…). On the other, you’ve got someone like Michael Caine. This is something like a latterday noir thriller, but the real treat is simply enjoying Caine, the very definition of a pro, enjoying a rare headliner.

#360. Highlander 2 (1991)
The secret here is that this is probably the best overall Highlander experience. It sounds a little stupid to say something like that, since this is basically the Star Trek V of that franchise, but there’s enough evidence, and versions of this movie, for the truly discerning to reach that conclusion for themselves.

#361. Romancing the Stone (1984)
Michael Douglas is a movie star at any age, and this is basically his Indiana Jones, as a romantic figure. The movie may also be enjoyed for a classic score.

#362. Chaplin (1992)
Movies made out of real life are a tough genre; you never know if the real impact is based on your thoughts of the real events or the movie itself (I’m looking at you, manipulative Social Network). And here’s the challenge with this one, do you enjoy Robert Downey, Jr.’s best performance (rather than his more recent unhinged deadpan routine), or are you simply fascinated by the life of Charlie Chaplin?

#363. Henry V (1989)
I skip over Hamlet (there are other versions on this list, that I have more recent experience with) to reach Kenneth Branagh’s other notable Shakespeare adaptation, the one he handles with a little less finesse than Much Ado About Nothing, where the Shakespeare dominates a little more, risking more alienation with modern audiences. But it’s a challenge worth taking, to get over that hump.

#364. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen scores his biggest triumph by making everyone fall in love with Diane Keaton.

#365. Cop Out (2010)
Kevin Smith is the reverse Quentin Tarantino. Both of these guys were rental store clerks who broke into filmmaking based on the strength of their passion for the things they used to immerse themselves in. The difference between them is that Tarantino exhibited real filmmaking talent in his own right. Smith, not so much. The irony of this movie is that it’s Smith’s most purely Hollywood production, which he found the courage to eventually denounce, because it was only a directing gig, and he had gotten tired of not being loved by Hollywood. Tracy Morgan is always better than most people admit, and so is Bruce Willis, but the real treat of this movie is Seann William Scott, bouncing all around, even when no one is paying attention, and delivering a knockout performance.

#366. The Pink Panther (1964)
The original Inspector Clouseau movie, though in some respects you’d hardly know it. Almost directly a straight parody of the then-incipient Bond films, with Peter Sellers attempting to solve the mystery of the Pink Panther (a diamond), which has gone missing. Excellent Henry Mancini score.

#367. Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969)
James Garner undercutting the Western genre, which probably helped to bring it to a popular close.

#368. Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
Inexplicably (or maybe some kind of punishment and/or backlash), Marlon Brando delivers a towering performance in a well-known story, and nobody really cares.

#369. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Became a holiday TV staple, so clearly it’s memorable in some regard. There are so few actual Hollywood standards, ones that anyone can just watch without really thinking about it, you’ve got to support them. The true immortality of Cecil B. DeMille.

#370. The Untouchables (1987)
You’ve got Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and yes, Robert De Niro (as Al Capone!). You’ve got a winner.

#371. Amadeus (1984)
I became obsessed with the idea of Mozart because of this movie. It’s a real shame that F. Murray Abraham hasn’t really been able to parlay a career out of it.

#372. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Disney got back into the game with this one, realizing that the modern era, at least to that point, depended as much on the music as anything.

#373. High Anxiety (1977)
Mel Brooks parodies Hitchcock and who knows how much else of what was then dominating culture at the time. Still deserves to be popularly revisited.

#374. The Lion King (1994)
Disney’s last big hit was the first one the studio turned to in order to transform that musical genre into an effort to revive some floundering pop star’s career. Here was the perfect bridging of that ambition, with Elton John.

#375. THX 1138 (1971)
Star Wars has come to so thoroughly dominate the legacy of George Lucas that it’s become easy to believe it’s all he’s capable of delivering. I will have to revisit American Graffiti in another version of this list, but for now let’s go back to the beginning, THX 1138, which anticipated The Matrix, The Island (obviously), and hard science fiction on the big screen, with Robert Duvall, of all actors, portraying a man trying to break free from the system, represented by of the most purely visual experiences ever set to film. This is basically impressionist filmmaking. This is George Lucas, master filmmaker.

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