Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Weekend Movie Roundup (May 26-28)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Based on the true story of a 1972 New York bank robbery that went horribly wrong. Al Pacino stars as Sonny, a blue collar guy who turns to bank robbery for somewhat unusual reasons. Unfortunately, despite his planning, the cops arrive during the robbery and soon put together a veritable army outside. Sonny and his accomplice Sal become trapped inside with their hostages, the bank staff. Sonny attempts to negotiate with the cops to secure their escape.

Although it sounds uninspiring, this film was made when (in all likelihood) these sorts of stories hadn't become stale. Even today, this remains an excellent film because it doesn't play out in a cliched manner. The characters feel real, and the events play out with believable tension. Even the minor characters have dialogue and character traits that feel natural. Good writing and directing, and Pacino is fantastic as the charismatic robber who becomes increasingly desperate and optimistic in equal parts as the film progresses.

King Kong (2005)
I'm not sure I need to summarize what Peter Jackson's ambitious remake of the 1933 classic is all about. A film crew led by director Carl Denham (Jack Black) heads off to an uncharted island (uncharted in the 1930s - we know where it is now). There, starlet Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is captured by the natives and sacrificed to Kong, a giant ape. Kong and Ann cross the human-ape divide and forge a strange friendship, but Denham has plans to make a fortune by capturing Kong and exhibiting him for all the world to see. A lot of jungle and city based mayhem and destruction takes place.

Kong was definitely flawed, but I loved the damn thing for its old school adventure mixed with dramatic gravitas. It was spectacular and over the top, but also has quiet, reflective moments. Technically, almost everything was fantastic - Kong, New York, Skull Island, most of the dinosaurs and creatures, the biplanes, the costumes and sets. The cast is stellar, especially Watts and Serkis, who acted out Kong's movements and expressions. Jackson manages to again mix the fantastic with the serious in an engaging manner. The flaws? It runs too long for the amount of story it has to tell - some judicious editing would probably have helped. The ridiculous sub-plot involving Jimmy and Hayes adds nothing to the film, and neither does the appalling brontosaur sequence that has some of the worst effects seen in a mainstream movie in some time. There are several sub-par effects like this - the raptors and the brontos, and several of the blue screen shots.

Despite these flaws, it's still very good. Perhaps not a classic, although I have a feeling it'll be looked back on fondly.

Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have teamed up several times - some argue that this is their finest effort to date. It tells the story of Ed Wood, considered by many to be one of the worst filmmakers of all time, and how he went about making a string of terrible low budget films during the 1950s. The film centres not only on Wood but also the group of filmmakers he surrounded himself with; a substantial portion of the story is devoted to the friendhsip between him and Bela Lugosi, the out of demand actor who was once famous for portraying Dracula. Wood and his pals struggle to get funding and resort to all manner of desperate methods to get their films made. Throughout it all, Wood is seemingly oblivious to how bad his films are, and continues to maintain belief in himself and finds the enthusiasm to marshall his troops to get the job done.

Ed Wood is a wonderful film, plain and simple. I find it hard to imagine that people could actively dislike the film. It's very funny, but doesn't sacrifice dramatic depth for comedy - there are poignant moments of bleakness and despair throughout. The film mows past them in the same way Wood did - with boundless energy and enthusiasm. Depp is fantastic as Wood, but incredibly he's eclipsed by Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi, who's simply brilliant. The acting is great all around, and Burton's touch keeps the film in a whimsical pseudo-reality populated by misfits. Shot in black and white, the film draws you into Ed Wood's world and you can't help but root for him as he endeavours to churn out (crappy) films in a hopeless quest for recognition and greatness.

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