Friday, December 30, 2005

Mini Reviews - Strangelove, Elling, Interpreter, Reefer Madness(s)

The holidays are always a crazy time. Intense, stressful, busy. It's a wonder there is any time for anything. Especially movies. But what better way to escape the madness of the season than with a few mad flicks? This week: Dr. Strangelove, Elling, Reefer Madness and another Reefer Madness, and The Interpreter.

Full week!

Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick, 1964)
I have never liked Kubrick. I was dating this guy in the mid 90s, the total artsy type, who made me watch his favorite film, A Clockwork Orange. I found it utterly distasteful and yet, oddly, boring. I mean, come on, a bar where the libations are poured out of naked mannequin breasts? Tell me that isn't disgusting! My next boyfriend, a wannabe soldier and war-movie buff, made me sit through his beloved Kubrick film, Full Metal Jacket. Again, I was mystified. What was it he saw in the movie that I didn't? I chalked it up to his fanaticism and moved on, but I had the same reaction to the widely loved Kubrick "classic" The Shining. Obviously there is something about this man's work I don't get. So far I see some common threads: his movies are disturbed, slow-paced, he loves wide shots, and he has a penchant for using familiar classical music pieces making his corresponding images feel like an odd ballet. I admit, I have only seen snippets of his reputed masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but what I saw confirmed three of the four theories at least. Dr. Strangelove is no different. Just when I thought I might actually be able to say that I enjoyed a Kubrick film, it left me hanging. At least there was some departure from his usual fare. Sure, his usual wide shots are present. And the familiar music is there (though not classical, in this case he was using songs such as "The Ants Go Marching One By One.") But it is shot in a grittier black and white, rather than his usual pristine color pictures. Humor/satire is also atypical for the filmmaker. It is also not so painfully disturbing to watch as some of his other films and it is actually interesting! Lots of politics that are eerily relevant. I didn't get as bored. And how could I not love the image of the cowboy riding the nuclear bomb to the dawn of destruction? (A remake with Bush riding said bomb might be sweet.) But then... it ended, it just ended, and I just went, "huh." Anticlimactic to say the least. I still don't get Kubrick.

Elling (Næss, 2001)
Two middle-aged, socially-challenged men find amity in each other as roommates at a mental institution. Released into the world, they have to find a way to survive with only each other as support in this Norwegian odd-couple film.
Sweet. I loved this movie. There is a lovely quiet about many Scandinavian films that Elling also has. Not slow and painful like Kubrick, but peaceful and zen. They sort of soak into you and you, in turn, eventually become soaked in their world without pomp and force. (See Babette's Feast.) I also especially loved that these two, though clearly mad to some degree, are remarkably normal. If this movie were made in Hollywood, they surely would have either had vacuous gazes and drool pouring out their mouths or would have been violently bouncing off walls à la Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys.

Reefer Madness (Gasnier, 1936)
A 1930s propoganda film that warns parents against the ill affects of "marihuana" on their children.
This is quite possibly the original cult classic. One of the first films to have midnight showings. One of the original "so-bad-it's-good" films. It is widely regarded as hysterical, in an unintentional Mystery-Science-Theater kind of way. But for me, there weren't too many funny parts. The scrolling title at the beginning was the funniest part for me:

The motion picture you are about to witness may startle you. It would not have been possible, otherwise, to sufficiently emphasize the frightful toll of the new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in alarmingly-increasing numbers. Marihuana is that drug -- a violent narcotic -- an unspeakable scourge -- The Real Public Enemy Number One! Its first effect is sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter; then come dangerous hallucinations...

I don't want to spoil it for you, but it gets better! Other than that, there is some hilarious over-acting, and ludicrous dancing, but mostly it is juuuuuuuuuussst toooooooo looooooong to wait for the humor. Apparently I need to get the new, colorized version featuring audio commentary by the MST3K dude. Apparently that is the definitive version.

Reefer Madness (Fickman, 2005)
Showtime-made movie version of the off-broadway musical version of the notoriously bad 30s propoganda film.
There is a difference between the kind of campy that is unintentionally funny - because it is just that bad - and intentionally, winking-so-much-I'm-developing-a-tick campy, which is generally, not funny. This belongs in the latter category. I also think that the Veronica Mars chick was miss-cast (though I love her on the show). Plus - when Neve Campbell and Steven Weber are in the thick of their hot dance sequence, all the hubby and I could say is "typical." If I have to watch another dance sequence in TV or film where the couple aren't actually dancing (and instead shift through a series of poses) so help me...

The Interpreter (Pollack, 2005)
Nicole Kidman is a South African bred interpreter working at the UN. She accidentally overhears an assassination plot in an obscure language and is suddenly in the middle of a political thriller.
Sounds good right? After a week of weird flicks, I was in the mood for some good ole Hollywood fun. And this was... not bad, but it wasn't great either. I was hoping for the kind of thriller that Hitchcock made. You know, the average Joe who unwittingly gets caught up in a spy-plot, and now somehow only he can save the day. Hitchcock was the master of the spy plot, but it has been done successfully many times since Hitch's day. This time, turns out she isn't average Joe (or Jane) and it's more Hotel Rwanda than North by Northwest. Come on Pollack, where's the MacGuffin? Too bad. Could have been really good instead of not bad.

Well, it's Friday night, projector's revved up, popcorn is popped, it's movie time!
Happy Viewing!

And Happy Pre-New Years!

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1 comment:

Colleen said...

My favorite of these "average Joe gets caught in spy plot" type movies is Three Days of the Condor with Robert Redford. He goes out for coffee and comes back and everybody in the office is dead. Great stuff, although the bit with Faye Dunaway was a little forced. Still - it's very 1970s but watching Redford put the pieces together while running for his life is wonderful. I also liked The Pelican Brief but then again - Denzel just has to stand there and I like it! ha!


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