Saturday, August 29, 2015

Screening Log: This Year's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" Films, Part Two

*Click the links in the titles to view the original articles for more detailed analyses*

Dick Tracy (dir. Warren Beatty, 1990)

Warren Beatty labored hard to bring the classic comic strip hero Dick Tracy to life, and it shows onscreen. The film pops with art deco design and vibrant colors, with more than a few grotesque character designs to really sell the comic-book world the film inhabits. Yet, despite its visual excellence, the film falters in terms of story and acting. Beatty does his level best as the famed detective, but isn't always up to the task. Al Pacino goes over-the-top cartoony as the film's villain, Big Boy Caprice. Madonna, however, hits the right mix of sultry seduction and sublime silliness as temptress Breathless Mahoney. If only the rest of the film could have followed her lead. B

Amadeus (dir. Milos Forman, 1984)

This is what a biopic should be: a portrait of the subject's life thematically, spending less time on nitty-gritty details and "greatest hits" moments and more time on context and the subject's importance. But who's biopic is this? Is it Mozart's, played with impish delight by Tom Hulce? Or is it Salieri's, the pitiful Svengali played by F. Murray Abraham (in an Oscar-winning performance) who wanted to be the vessel of God's holy noise only to outdone by a vulgar young man? The beauty of Forman's brilliant adaptation of Peter Shaffer's play is that it operates as both. It's a splendid duet that gives due to both the composing legend and the man who toiled in his shadow. A

Magic Mike, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and more after the jump.

Magic Mike (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2012)

It could have just been a sweaty, trashy glorification of male flesh, assembling a cast of ripped bodies like Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, and Matthew McConaughey to get naked onscreen. And make no mistake, there's plenty of that to gawk at. But the film's power comes from Soderbergh's masterful direction and genuinely strong performances from Tatum and especially McConaughey. The latter has perhaps never been better, embodying the sleazy yang to Tatum's future-gazing yin. For a film about strippers, it leaves a thoughtful impression. A-

The Red Shoes (dirs. Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell, 1948)

The film is best remembered for it's vivid colors and showstopping centerpiece sequence: a performance of the titular ballet that more resembles a fever dream than a theatrical performance. But there's a lot more to the film, namely the tragic narrative of a young dancer (Moira Shearer) who's rise to the top of the ballet comes at a very steep cost. Shearer is a vision to watch, and the film matches its visual splendor in emotional drama. Thematically, it may be an oft-told tale, but rarely has it been told this vividly. A-

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (dir. Ang Lee, 2000)

Ang Lee's wuxia epic has only improved with time. With the novelty of the film's "wire-fu" stunts wearing off (but make no mistake, they are no less breathtaking), the emotional richness and fascinating characters have risen to the focus, giving the film the necessary stakes to match its impressive scope. Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi all give excellent performances, with Yeoh and Zhang still the standouts. The film's a potent reminder that no matter the genre, Lee is one of the finest directors working today. A

Sunset Boulevard (dir. Billy Wilder, 1950)

This classic, scathing showbiz expose has stood the test of time for a reason. Wilder's Hollywood noir follows the crucial mistake a young writer (William Holden) makes in collaborating with a faded silent-film star (Norma Shearer) who's ready to make a comeback. Wilder's excellent compositions and skill with the actors give the film a shadowy archness, and Holden makes the most of his starring role as the man caught in the star's web. But what's really helped the film obtain classic status is Shearer's fearless, flawless performance. She's become synonymous with her character, Norma Desmond, but make no mistake: Shearer is acting the hell out of that role. Desmond was ready for her close-up. Shearer got her's and never let us forget it. A

"Never Catch Me" music video, by Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar (dir. Hiro Murai, 2014)

A great video for a great song. A fairly simple concept: two kids rise from their coffins and dance their way to freedom. The metaphor is powerful, the dancing terrific, the cinematography gorgeous, and the song excellent. A

[safe] (dir. Todd Haynes, 1995)

Hayne's first collaboration with muse Julianne Moore is a fascinating puzzle of a film. Moore's Carol is plagued by an unknown disease, disrupting her affluent life in suburban California. She believes she is allergic to the 20th century, and retreats to the desert to a clinic that seems to function more as a cult. But what is actually making her sick? There are no easy answers to be found here, as Hayne's enigmatic direction leaves the film open to numerous interpretations. Yet there's no denying that, very early in both of their careers, Haynes and Moore are displaying total control of their artistry. This film was simply the beginning. A-

Chicken Run (dirs. Peter Lord and Nick Park, 2000)

Speaking of beginnings, this film marked the first time that British stop-motion animation studio Aardman produced a feature film. It's quite a winner at that: mixing dry humor with kid-friendly animation and surprisingly dark thematic material, all of which is alleviated and elevated by the fact that the main characters are chickens. Not everything has aged particularly well - namely Mel Gibson's role as hero Rocky - but it's still a delightful introduction to the works that the studio would later put out (2005's Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit remains the studio's feature-film apex). B+

Angels in America (dir. Mike Nichols, 2003)

I don't even know where to begin with how much I love this HBO miniseries. Well, yes I do: as I wrote in my original, Tony Kushner's plays are perhaps the greatest texts I've ever read. That the miniseries is simultaneously faithful to those texts and interprets them in exciting, brilliant new ways makes it even better. No one could have done it better than Nichols, who keeps the focus on the superb cast - including Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Jeffrey Wright, Mary-Louise Parker, Patrick Wilson, Ben Shenkman, and Justin Kirk - in the midst of the supernatural elements and big ideas. See it for yourself: it's a rare work that tries to be about everything, and comes much closer than anyone else ever has. A+

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