Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Irreviews, 2010: Issue X

Blow Out (1981)
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer(s): Brian De Palma
Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow
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Made as homage to Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, Blow Out instead comes across as a cheap knock-off of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation. Changing the plot device from photography (as in Blow-Up) to sound recording, De Palma "homages" and rehashes Antonioni's and Coppola's films in what winds up a depressing mess. The first two acts of the film play well, with John Travolta giving the audience an attractive and charismatic protagonist (Jack Terry). Unfortunately, the ending only provides a perverse (and open-ended) resolution that, while clearly included for its shock value, lets the film down. Despite the tragic background given to Jack Terry, no explanation is given for his inexplicable decision to use his lover's dying scream as a sound effect. Yes, it plays at stupid as it reads.
Verdict: Eh... SEE it. I'd say SKIP it, but most of the movie is actually pretty good.

The Cat Returns (2002)
Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Writer(s): Reiko Yoshida, Aoi Hîragi (comic)
Starring: Japanese voice talent
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Probably the most "traditionally Disney" Japanese animated film I've ever seen, The Cat Returns convinced me that the Japanese need to stick to what they do best, because emulating Disney is not their strong suit. Yes, the story is occasionally hilarious and touching, but the narrative direction remains unclear even upon the film's conclusion. An overt moral tale ("believe in yourself"), the subversive nuances present in most Studio Ghibli films are noticeably absent. Not altogether bad, but slightly disappointing. And shame on you Disney (the film's US distributor) for using dubtitles (find a real translation if you can)!
Verdict: If you're really into Studio Ghibli or Japanese animation, SEE it.

City of Ember (2008)
Director: Gil Kenan
Writer(s): Caroline Thompson, Jeanne Duprau (book)
Starring: Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan, Tim Robbins, Bill Murray
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The remnants of humanity have been forced underground to live in a self-sustaining city. Only, the city is falling apart. Two teenagers discover clues that will help humanity return to the surface and a harrowing mystery unfolds. There are no strong antagonists in the film, merely a handful of slightly lazy conspirators, and the film often glosses over its own world (the large insects are underused, the city itself is more plot-device than "character"). All that aside, the supporting cast is a treat and help carry the film quite well.
Verdict: SEE it. A decent family film.

Dressed to Kill  (1980)
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer(s): Brian De Palma
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen
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Brian De Palma seems to have always had a problem ending his movies. His "shocks" rarely work, and his "epilogues" (as in the case of Dressed to Kill) are worse. Known as a thriller director, his best work is clearly in the action genre. Dressed to Kill, however, is one of his thrillers. Although an early pioneer of plot twists of the type that are far too prevalent in modern films, Dressed to Kill suffers from being predictable a bit too quickly. Michael Caine, however, plays his role expertly (and creepily) and Angie Dickinson exudes a helluva lot of sex appeal. Still, in addition to its built-in shortcomings, Dressed to Kill is not a film that has aged well. It's not bad, but it's not great, either.
Verdict: SEE it if you're a De Palma or a genre fan.

Porco Rosso (1992)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Japanese voice talent
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There is no other word for Hayao Miyazaki than brilliant. How else can you describe a man who creates an alternate inter-war reality in which the Mediterranean is overrun by air pirates in flying boats and whose hero is a World War I ace magically transformed into a pig? And makes it work! Though the third act is a bit chaotic, the entire film is a wonder. Though all the characters are fully developed, the love interest, Gina, has a subtext that is realistic, engrossing, depressing, and inspiring. A brilliant film from a brilliant mind. Odd trivia: Japan Air Lines is credited as a producer.
Verdict: SEE it. Fabulous film.

3 comments:

  1. i remember Dressed to Kill being a big deal when i was in highschool...funny, after all these years i've never seen it. City of Embers (which i've never heard of) sounds ok, as does Porco Rosso--but Japanese cartoons are an acquired taste, and unless it's on the internet somewhere, i'll gladly skip it.

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  2. hmm. i might check out perco rooso...i read city of ember, so wil def check it out...

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  3. I'm adding "Dressed to Kill" to my queue. Love Michael Caine.

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