Monday, December 01, 2008

Recent movies - Sunshine, Speed Racer, Man with the Gun, The Alamo, Broken Arrow

Sunshine (2007) - I think I added this one to the queue a while back based on Nobody and Jeri's reviews, but I didn't remember what they'd said until I went back and read them again after finishing the movie.

Sunshine makes a very strong case for Blu-ray. The visuals and sound design are very impressive. It's funny that Nobody mentioned that passage from Out of the Silent Planet in his review, because by odd coincidence I had re-read that book just a few weeks before watching Sunshine, and was thinking of similar things as I watched the movie.

Using the sun as a character in a sci-fi film was a great move. The sun provides a strong visual, a host of problems, the ultimate solution, the dichotomy of giving life and destroying it. More powerful than any other physical thing we know, yet, in the story, tiny humans are needed to save it. The sheer scale of each of its attributes dwarfs everything else we can think of save for God Himself. To one of the characters, the sun becomes God. For another, it becomes at least an obsession, though I appreciated the distinction between "weirdly obsessed" and "absolutely crazy."

Some have written about the tonal turn the movie takes towards the end, but it didn't feel that jarring to me. Sure, there are several logical problems with the other captain's return, but I wasn't taken out of the experience by it. While we're on the subject, I expected a different ending. Boyle takes the conventional route, story-wise, and I expected something a bit more surprising, something a bit more philosophical about the Sun.

Overall, though, it was a unique experience, worth having for the visuals and sound design alone. And it had Hiroyuki Sanada from The Twilight Samurai!

Speed Racer (2008) - A lot of fun. I can't think of any complaints. The style of the film felt just right, the action was exciting, the acting was good (how's this for a paradox: the annoying kid didn't annoy me. I don't know how that works either), and the message was actually good and not watered down with the usual Disney "listen to your heart" crap. That last element in particular made me grateful. Usually in family fare such as this, I'll put up with "what does your heart tell you?" because it's part of the genre. But the sentiments expressed by the Racer family to one another were all worded well, and true to boot. There may have been a slight hint of "I'll support you no matter what you choose," but it was drowned out by better stuff. (Odd note: Hiroyuki Sanada was in this one, too!)

Man with the Gun (1955) - A pretty interesting western with a plot similar to Warlock and Appaloosa. I prefer those movies, but Man with the Gun has a lot going for it.

First of all, Robert Mitchum has become a favorite actor of mine. His voice, face, and demeanor are so iconic. He's perfect here as a "town tamer" named Clint Tollinger (cool name), hired to rid the city of a negative element who work for an unseen landowner named Dade Holman.

He's tougher than anything Holman can throw at him, and smarter too. Like Virgil in Appaloosa, Tollinger has a violent temper, and often provokes his enemies into fights so he can kill them. This plays into the morality aspect that Warlock and Appaloosa also address regarding giving civilians complete legal impunity to clean up the town as they see fit. Similar to Warlock, there is a civilian character (named Jeff Castle) who doesn't agree with the use of a man like Tollinger, and thinks the law should handle their problems. (Complicating matters further is his fiance who develops something of a crush on Tollinger because of his bravery.)

There is a romantic interest for Tollinger: a woman from his past who left him because of his violenct tendencies. Nelly Blain (played by Jan Sterling) is actually the reason Tollinger came to the town in the first place; his hiring as town tamer is incidental. They speak of a daughter they had. He wants to know where she is and how she is. Blain says she is safe in another part of the country, but there is more to that story that will come out by the end (a rather dark note for a 1955 Western).

A pretty good Western, different from your standard fare, and interesting as part of the sub-genre of Town Tamer Westerns that Warlock and Appaloosa belong to.

The Alamo (2004) - About as bad as everyone told me it would be. Not horrible, but nothing special either. Billy Bob Thornton as David Crockett was the only fun thing to watch. Everything else, including the battles, bored me. I skipped around quite a bit. Jim Bowie bored me, William Travis bored me, Sam Houston bored me. Ugh.

Broken Arrow (1950) - The true story is more interesting than the film, but Broken Arrow gets points for its sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans, even if they still cast Caucasians in the lead Indian roles. Of note is Jeff Chandler's Oscar-winning performance as Cochise, the Apache chief who becomes blood brothers with Jimmy Stewart's Tom Jeffords. As I understand it, this was one of the first movies to depict the Native American plight accurately. While the Apache in Broken Arrow are shown fighting and killing settlers, they are shown to have good reason for their anger and mistrust, and are played as human beings rather than savages. Chandler in particular brings a strong sense of wisdom, bravery, leadership, and rationality to Cochise that doesn't come off as cheap or artificial. On the other hand, the love story between Jeffords and an Indian maiden is lame and obviously added to the story "because that's what you do" in a Hollywood movie from the 40s/50s.


_Shane said...

I really enjoyed Sunshine as well. That was the third film by Danny Boyle that I've watched and I really enjoyed them all a lot. I'm eager to see Slumdog Millionaire.

Speed Racer? You're a brave soul.

jeri said...

I just re-read my Sunshine comments an pretty much feel the same looking back on it months later. Astounding beginning, and generic ending.

And Shane, Speed Racer really was good!

Hey Ryan, I posted another insane amount of reviews on my blog today. I'm productive when I'm out sick. Enjoy!

Ryan said...

"You're a brave soul."

Hahaha! I thought the same thing until I read a few reviews from trusted sources. It really was a fun movie! Honest!

I've been hearing really good things about Slumdog Millionaire. Let me know how it is when you see it.

I feel bad being happy that you're sick, Jeri. :) Hurray for reviews!

redison said...

'Speed Racer' is one of the best movies of the year. I wrote about it earlier this year when it came out. So enthralling, that movie...

The Horns and the Hawk said...

the only movie i've seen on this list is sunshine, but God i love that movie. the ending made me all choked up, but i had to work hard to hide it because i saw it in the theater with man friends.

and i agree that i wasn't at all jarred by the change of direction for the movie. i don't understand the complaints of people who said they were, especially if they saw the trailer.

Nobody said...

I loved the cacophony of color that was Speed Racer and admired the extremely two-dimensional backgrounds floaing around behind characters. The idea had never occured to me till I saw it but this bold flatness made Speed Racer the most authentic live-action adaptation of a cartoon ever.

But the best thing about Speed Racer was the fistfight in the mountains which took the Biff, Bam, Pow style of Adam West combat and made it look super cool! That, rather than the Matrix-lite fight in the bedroom, was the Wachowskis' first contribution to action photochoreography since bullet-time.

Matt said...

My heart tells me I should give speed racer a try.