Thursday, February 04, 2010

Giant Size Movie Round-Up: Pt. 1

It's only been a MILLION YEARS since my last review went up, so I'm going to gather a bunch and give (probably short) thoughts on them.

Avatar (2009) - I enjoyed the spectacle and the 3-D, but the story had nothing new whatsoever, and the ham-fisted moralizing made me roll my eyes quite a bit. Even though Stephen Lang (who was Ike Clanton in Tombstone, by the way!) is great in his role as cartoon military man, every line he had was mind-numbingly bad. This guy sums it up all the problems I had, and is funnier to boot. (See also his seven-part series on The Phantom Menace. It's very insightful.) And now a Best Picture nod?? Come on!

The Big Country (1958) - This one was great. It's really really good all the way up to the final scene, where it falls a bit short. A genuinely unique Western. You've got Gregory Peck as a former ships captain who has come out west to marry the daughter of a big-time rancher. He discovers that a war has been brewing between his future father-in-law and another rancher (played by Burl Ives).

So what's unique about it? For one thing, the sea-captain angle. For another, Peck never uses a gun. Ever. (As I watched, I wanted to be Peck. He's just the coolest guy. Always in control, always knows exactly what he wants and what he's capable of, never lets himself be manipulated by anyone else.) Then you've got the rest of the supporting cast. You immediately fall in love with Jean Simmons. Burl Ives utters all the lines you always wondered about in the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" song from Ren & Stimpy. Chuck Connors plays a great sleazy weasel. And Chuck Heston is in there too! He and Peck get into a fight in the middle of the night on a dusty prairie. It lasts forever, and there's no music during the scene. And it ends in a draw. There's also the love story, which doesn't go where you'd expect. And that really goes for the rest of the movie. It's unexpected. It surprised me, and most of the time I honestly did not know where it was going to end up. Compare that to Avatar, where I called out each and every plot point before stepping into the theater. Also deserving a shout-out is Alfonso Bedoya, Peck's best buddy on the ranch. He's a great character, and it's always good to see an actual Mexican rather than Jack Palance performing such a role in an old movie.

The only weak points are the music and the final confrontation. The music is generally very good, but there are a few scenes where it is ill-suited to the mood. The final confrontation between the two barons is a bit of a let-down, mostly because it plays out exactly as you expect it to. Given everything else that has come before, I was left with a "that's it?" feeling. It's logical and serves the story, but I was hoping for one last surprise.

Final note: this needs a Blu-Ray release. I didn't at all mention the fabulous titular setting. The DVD is decent, but you could definitely see where a bit of work and a hi-definition transfer would bring the movie back to glorious new heights in a home theater setting.

Ichi (2008) - A fun take on the Zatoichi world, this time with a captivating young girl as the new blind swordsman. Not a great movie, but certainly decent. I liked the guy who couldn't draw his sword, though I found the explanation for his condition wanting. The action scenes are well-done, though they aren't in traditional Zatoichi fashion. Zatoichi's scenes were always in real-time, but Ichi slows it down. You get to enjoy the choreography a bit more, I suppose, but there's something to be said for the long single-take action shots in the originals.

Moon (2009) - A really good little sci-fi movie. Sam Rockwell gives several great performances. The movie really makes you care about him, too, which doesn't sound significant, but I suppose that because of the ethical subject matter of the movie it hit me a bit deeper. Definitely worth watching.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) - Great movie. Boy, I've been on a Capra kick lately. As you'll see below, I finally saw It's A Wonderful Life for the first time. (I know.) And I love his sentiment and morals. It's done so well.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) - I can't believe I've been missing this my whole life. It really is one of the best movies I've seen. Such a great story, great characters, great message. This is up there on my list now.


Ric and Jeri said...

So glad you finally caught up with It's a Wonderful Life! It's the one movie I regret not watching this past Christmas season. I could swear I set my TiVo to record it. But whatever. And I only saw MSGTW last year for my first time, and I agree - instant classic in my book.

Avatar, I agree. And yes, the reviews from that guy are hilarious. I had to stop watching the Phantom Menace review because I have to watch it with Ric.

Glad you liked Moon too. I am disappointed that Sam Rockwell wasn't recognized for his amazing performance.

Ryan said...

Yes, you must watch that Phantom review with Ric. I think he'll get a big kick out of it as well.

And I agree that Rockwell should have gotten a nod for his performance. Especially from an Academy that nominated Avatar for Best Picture.