In Brief: Holiday Film Viewing

Having this week off from work gave me the opportunity to do something I used to do quite a lot:  go to the movies and watch movies on DVD.  Fortunately for me there were a number of films that I wanted to see over my vacation, and lucky for me I was able to do just that.  So here are some short reviews for your reading pleasure:

In the Theatre

Tron: Legacy:  Like most SF geeks (SF=Science Fiction), I was pretty stoked about seeing this movie.  I really wasn’t a fan of the original, but I did become a fan of the video game that you could play on the Intellivision gaming system (this was back in the early ’80s if you couldn’t guess). What struck me about the sequel was the seriousness of the film. Sure the first film had a kind of seriousness to it, but it was a film where the villains and heroes were painted in stark contrasts. Tron: Legacy seemed to be more thoughtful, weighty, and compelling. Oh, how trailers can be deceptive. Sure, the new film was far more serious than its predecessor, but it was also pretty boring when it came to the plot. Jeff Bridges reprises his role as Kevin Flynn (and also plays Clu), and Bruce Boxlietner also briefly appears as Alan Bradey and Tron, but their roles seem kind of empty. The real plot is about Flynn’s son (Sam) and his battle with the various programs in the Tron universe who want to take over the non-virtual world (i.e. our world) by using a portal between the two. Sam (and Kevin’s) mission is to stop them from doing so. Alas, I didn’t give a crap about the plot. What I did like, however, were the effects and some of the gaming sequences. You can wait for the DVD release if you really want to see some impressive effects, but save your $10.00 for other movies that won’t leave you feeling short changed.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader I’ve seen all the films in this series and while I’ve enjoyed all of them, but I think this one is the one I feel most conflicted about. Why? Well, not all of the main characters are featured in this film — except in a couple of sequences — and the story is a bit disjointed. Lucy and Edmund are center stage, and so is their bratty cousin, Eustace. The film is about the kids sailing from place to place in search of various swords (they are magical swords, naturally) that will keep evil at bay. There are some grand sequences that involve battling a sea monster, and there is a Christian-inspired speech at the end (The story is by C.S. Lewis), but overall the story wasn’t as cohesive as I would have liked. Still, it’s a rollicking enough ride to recommend, and should be viewed on the big screen.

Black Swan:  Natalie Portman’s performance is certainly going to get her an Oscar nomination, but was the pre-release hype just hype or was there a there there when it came to the substance of this film?  Well, if the filmmaker’s intention was to show a psychologically damaged ballet dancer’s neurotic, but hardworking, drive to achieve perfection in dancing in the lead role of “Swan Lake,” then he succeeded.  It’s a very disturbing look at a young woman (Portman) who is kept in a state of arrested development by her overbearing mother, and is pushed to discover the emotional and erotic side of herself by an overbearing ballet director to the point of a split personality.  Portman (who I wasn’t sure could really act after watching her in the Star Wars films) delivers an outstanding performance where she conveys innocence, desire, envy, rage, ambition, and a number of other emotions that’ll have you wondering where she was hiding all that talent.  For an intensely creepy movie-going experience, Black Swan delivers the goods.

DVD

Local Hero:  Directed and written by the quirky Scottish director, Bill Forsyth. Local Hero tells a simple tale of an oil tycoon’s (Burt Lancaster) desire to buy up a whole Scottish village and the hot-shot negotiator from Texas (Peter Riegert) sent to seal the deal.  Along the way, Riegert falls in love with the place and the odd assortment of locals — who aren’t as naive about business as we’re initially lead to believe. Forsyth’s movies are not knee-slapping funny, but the humor comes out in the way in which the character’s respond to each other’s odd way of perceiving the world.  I absolutely adore this film (and Forsyth’s other films like Gregory’s Girl and Comfort and Joy), and would recommend these films in a heartbeat. However, in the years since this film has been made, the use of odd Scottish or English locals for comedic effect has become kind of worn, so the comedy in Local Hero misses the mark at times.  But if you can get past some of the clunky pacing, I think you’ll really enjoy it.

A History of Violence:  One of David Cronenberg’s best films in a long time.  The story is about a mild-mannered but friendly small town husband and father of two (Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall) who owns a local diner.  He lives a small town in the midwest and, on the surface, has an idyllic life with a wife who is very much in love with him, kids who look up to him, and a larger community where he’s one of the pillars.  Enter two murderous thuggish types who come into his diner with the intention of  robbing and killing his customers and employees.  This triggers something in Tom and he swiftly defends those in his restaurant with the speed and accuracy of a seasoned killer.  He he lauded as a great man by the community, the press, and even his family for this act of violence — yet he shuns it.  But because of the media exposure, he is visited by three gangsters from Philadelphia who are certain he is someone else.  And with that set up, Cronenberg leads us into a wonderfully layered exploration of violence in American culture. The way in which Cronenberg paces the horrifically violent episodes underscores the contrasts of place, character and culture in a masterful way.  All of the performances are impressive, but I think seeing William Hurt in the role of powerful gangster is worth the rental price.

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