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Archive for the ‘FANTASY’ Category

The Shape Of Water

14 Jan

The Shape Of Water – written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. Thriller Fairy Tale. 123 minutes Color 2017.
★★★★★
The Story: An Amazon river god is imprisoned in a U.S. research installation, where he is tortured and threatened with dismemberment until a cleaning woman nurses and rescues him.
~
Of course, fairy stories are true. Myths are true. Allegory is true. That’s how come they last and carry weight in the spirits of children and indigenes. What “true” means is that fairy tales and myths and allegory mimic the inner procedures of the human psyche. The reason fairy tale and myth and allegory endure is that their method of communicating the most important human truths has never been supplanted.

So we see the kindness of the cleaning woman to be the real food she offers the creature, along with hard-boiled eggs.

But what use has this scary creature? The use is, as with all gods, that they never die. What goes with that territory is that they can heal death in others. Mercury, the god of thieves, medicine, tricks, and messages, is the winged avatar of this still, but Hindu religion is crammed with others. In all cases, they heal.

Not always in the way you might want, and in this case the healing teeters perilously before it is revealed. For the god has taken the shape of a merman, and his aspect is daunting. He is played by 57-year-old Doug Jones, lithe, sensual, sudden.

I can’t think of an actor who might have better played the cleaning woman who becomes his mate. Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito (which in English means “exposed” or “transparent”) opens her character up not just to him but to her colleague played by Octavia Spencer whose every word one always believes and so it is here. Over a movie house which seems to be playing forever the same B-Toga epic, Hawkins lives in generous neighborly conjunction with with a commercial illustrator whose style has dated him.

Richard Jenkins does him perfectly. He is the artist who cannot make a difference, the old fool, The Failed Father Figure Of Fairy Tale. Rather like the sad king with the unmarriageable daughter whom you find all the time in those stories. Either she herself or someone beyond unusual must rescue her from the doldrums of the kingdom. And in this case, the doldrums are enforced by a vicious tyrant played with his usual perfection by the handsome, hard Michael Shannon.

Mortal stupidity swirls them around – by the American military bureaucracy typified by Nick Searcy as the general in charge of everything – and by the Russians who want to steal the merman, and whose plans are foxed by Michael Stuhlbarg, who who plays a scientist/spy bent on saving the merman.

So you see, you have a full complement of forces, modern and fantastical, to urge our attention and our loyalties on.

The film is beautifully filmed and imagined. Just what you want for such a tale.

And what is it that you want?

What you don’t want is to be told. So both the merman and the cleaning woman are mute and must, nonetheless, make themselves perfectly understandable to themselves and to us. We see that it is not hard to do.

What you really want is resurrection.

And that’s what the picture provides.

Enjoy yourself. See it.

 

Inside Out

21 Jun

Inside Out – director Peter Docter. Animated Feature. 102 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: The inside of an eleven-year-old girl’s mind in crisis.

~

Even in 3-D the most noticeable aspect before us is not birds flying into our eyes, but the greater interest lying in the witty veracity of responses of the main characters to what confronts them. In this, all human comedy consists, and we are treated with an untiring and untiresome display of it, even when the film sinks beneath its own spectacle, as it is bound to do, because nowadays each film released must exceed the one before in vulgar excess, or the audience, it is imagined, will be failed and fail it.

For I long to dwell upon a detail. Won’t they allow me that, even once? Inside the little girl’s head we have such Castles In The Air as FAMILY, HONESTY, HOME, GOOFBALL, each one set up as elaborate Pleasure Islands Of Nostalgia And Habit. Oh, I want to examine one of those, see what it contains! Please! But no, we are whisked away to the next loom of catastrophe quicker than two eyes can blink or even one.

The trouble with catastrophe is that it soon becomes labored and ho-hum. Still, there is pleasing suspense in just how the two heroines will be reunited. For OUTSIDE is the girl Riley, whose thumbnail bio we are given from birth to introduce the human qualities she was born with and contains INSIDE.

INSIDE, from her first glimpse of air, Riley is possessed of and is possessed by a quintet of forces and tendencies, Grief, Rage, Paranoia, Revulsion, and Joy. Joy alone is female. Joy is Riley’s default position, and so Joy womans the controls.

But something goes wrong, and she and Grief are zoomed into a region separated from those controls and, to save the day for Riley, must get back to where they belong, a journey more picaresque and fraught than any one ever had getting back to Tara or There’s No Place Like Home.

On their way they enter many a curious station, The Warehouse Of Memory, The Palace Of Imagination, The Compost Bin Of Experience. They meet up with Riley’s imaginary childhood friend, Bing-Bong, with whom they try to jump The Train Of Thought. He’s a lot of fun, too.

I say no more, save that, as in Frozen, it was good to see two female heroes before us, and no romance. The idea of animation entering the mind was overdue, although it has always been present in Bugs Bunny without saying so. Best of all I liked the wit of the drawing and the script. If the film confuses movement for zest, that is the temptation of all cartoon.

So much was included it was hard to note what was missing, which was the presiding character of Attention – that which discerns the INSIDE with the OUTSIDE. But perhaps that was left in the hands of the audience for a job, which, with no applause, we all did accurately and with care.

 
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Posted in COMIC ACTION ADVENTURE, DRAMEDY, FANTASY, PERSONAL DRAMA, SUSPENSE

 

The Thief Of Bagdad

19 Jun

The Thief Of Bagdad – Directed by Raoul Walsh. Fairy Tale. A daring thief of old enjoys his calling no end, until the end, when he learns his lesson. 2 hours and 31 minutes Black and White With Color Filters Silent 1924

* * * * *

The style is Silent Gestural, with the body cocked back and the arms thrown wide and hair tossed rakishly. There are no small gestures, there are only gesticulations. And Fairbanks is an excellent actor in this style. No pose he strikes does he strike too long, and he knows that the purpose of the style is to provide the narrative with an exuberant foundation. This is one of the great silent films because of his keen acrobatic sense of himself in film, because of his fine physique which is bare to the waist at all times, and because of the irrepressible impudence of the character he makes for us. All this is played against sets of unheard of magnificence and spectacle, elaborate, yet quite spare and because spare, surprising. It is the film which launched the young designer William Cameron Menzies, and the sets are revolutionarily entertaining, as are the highly imaginative and varied costumes by Mitchell Leison (later to become a director). So in a sense there is not an ounce of spare flesh on either the actor or the settings, and these elements works brilliantly together. When you are not entertained by the one, you are by the other. Arthur Edison (who later filmed Casablanca and many another masterpiece) held the camera. But it is Fairbanks’ vehicle or rather he is its vehicle, as all this whizzes by this speed demon of a character, who never walks when he can stride and never strides when he can fly. After a bunch of establishing escapades, all of which are comic in a way which only silent pictures can make them, he sets out to woo, since after all this is a fairy tale, the princess. Never mind what happens then; we know there are dread feats to be faced. With his narrow glittering eyes, he accomplishes them all. He’s very good in love scenes: he’s perplexed, which means he doesn’t know whether she loves him or not; in nothing else is he uncertain. And opposing him is the Mongol Highmuckymuck aided by the princess’ handmaiden, played by the great Anna May Wong, who slinks. Fairbanks, however, bounds – with bowed arms always swinging in determination, so how can he lose. In the meantime, never have you seen such headdresses as on the men: hats the size of skyscrapers, turbans the size of hot air balloons, all towering above Fairbanks to make him appear like a boy, which at 41 he was. Raul Walsh was a master director of extras (see The Big Trail), and here he has several thousand, so it’s well worth waiting to the end of this, Fairbanks’ longest film, to see them moving through Menzies’ fantastic sets as Fairbanks wins the day.

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Alice In Wonderland

16 Mar

Alice In Wonderland – Directed by Nick Willing – Fantasy Live Action TV production. A Victorian 10 year old girl doesn’t want to sing at a party and runs off into the garden and down a rabbit hole and so forth. 133 minutes Color 1999.

* * *

A labored telling of a dream, oh dear, and we all know what that means. Lewis Carroll’s original, of course, is the most revolutionary work of English literature since Shakespeare. But here everything is literal and old mad hat. Here is a work that should work with the speed of film and works with the speed of high Victorian taffy. Film would be ideal for the material. But the sequences go on at great length and to no good. A director’s collision. Poor Martin Short who must endure himself straining through the same grimace reel after reel. Pete Postlethwaite in a sub-supporting role as The  Carpenter who duets with Peter Ustinov’s The Walrus, but, boy, is it clunkilly staged. Whoopie Goldberg alone survives because she really does have the smile of a Cheshire Cat, and because she is so knowing. And the great Elizabeth Spriggs triumphs as the Duchess. Otherwise the whole farrago is a Caucus Race. Gene Wilder as The Mock Turtle and Donald Sinden as The Gryphon were missing from the version I saw, so perhaps they, with a sigh of relief, are well out of it. Alice In Wonderland could satire anything around that is there to be satirized and allegory anything around to be allegorized. This version has wonderful costumes, true, but consists of  encounters with a series of very rude bad tempered personages indeed, and, alas, that is all it is. It just won’t join the dance.

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Destiny

12 Mar

Destiny –– directed by Fritz Lang –– a drama of redemption –– 99 minutes Black and White 1921

* * * * *

A lavish silent picture. The story of a young woman given three chances to redeem her lover from death. She deals with Death himself –– that Mephistophelean figure which the Germans seem to love –– and the three trials send her to foreign lands with the most elaborate sets and costumes imaginable. A beautifully made picture. It’s acted in the style of the silents with broad narrative histrionical gestures, but they work, because they are designed to, and they are needed to tell such a story. Don’t be put off by the style. It’s not old fashioned; it’s just a style –– mimetic, gestural, broad. Enjoy it for what it is and for what it does. Respect it. Lang is working on a mythic level here, and no medium in the world does this better than film –– for film more than any other art medium resembles dream.

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Batman Forever

07 Nov

Batman Forever –– directed by Joel Schumacher –– the caped superhero is beset on all sides, of course. ––122 minutes color 1995.

* * * * *

“Was that over-the-top? I can’t tell,” utters Jim Carrey, and one wonders at the question. Has Jim Carrey ever been under over-the-top? Certainly not in this film. He is clearly a great film creature, and give him a gilded cane and stand back. The picture itself is overloaded with focal possibilities. First we have Tommy Lee Jones miscast as someone who is not a genius and therefore cannot be played by him. All Jones can do is howl with gruesome laughter. He plays a petty thief running a covey of red capped robbers, but he is at once supplanted by Nicole Kidman, whose blond hair brings the only daylight into the night-owl doings of the Batman milieu. God helps anyone who commits a 9-5 crime in Gotham; Batman only saves the night, never the day. Kidman, no matter how ever-glorious, is soon supplanted by Jim Carrey as a sedulous inventor employee of Bruce Wayne. Carrey consumes every scene he is in, with his brilliant physical comedy and hyperbolic acting style and range of invention. He’s wonderful of course. But his Niagara turns everyone around him into a trickle. He is followed but not supplanted by Chris O’Donnell who enters as a fledging Robin. The whole film is all quite lovely, and gives full satisfaction to one’s longing for midnight draughts. Val Kilmer is Bruce Wayne, and why not? The part is cast for the mouth showing under the mask. He is a very good actor and perfectly at ease in the role of the adult orphan. Complaints are irrelevant. So is praise. Who could critique a mud bath at a spa or champagne fountain at a wedding? Not I. Over-indulgence is at times the only proper rule of law. All I can say is that Jim Carrey fifteen years ago was at the perfect age to have played Hamlet, and should have done so. He had the antic temperament, the innocence of eye, and the pain.

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The Fall

15 Oct

The Fall — directed by Tarsem Singh — a silent film stuntman falls from a train trellis and recuperates in a hospital where he meets a fantastical five-year-old girl and together they go on adventures, adventures, adventures. 117 minutes color 2006

* * * * *

Lee Pace forms half of the power of this piece; the other half is supplied by a 5 year old girl, Catinca Untaru, who is also beautiful — in the same way Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful at her age — dark eyed and forthright. She plays the enchanting and enchanted unwitting go-between in a dangerous plot in half of the movie, and in the other half she is part of a fabulous fable along the lines of The Wizard of Oz, in which all her regular-life characters also feature. The story is directed well in the first part of this fable, but things do not so much progress as parade as the treatment comes to depend too much on extravagant settings, so the conflicts in the tale become somewhat mocked by the spectacle. However, the film is beautifully shot throughout. And the little girl is so true that I would watch nothing else, were the young man not being played by The Great Lee Pace, for he matches her in connection, in humor, in reality of response, at every point. He is the only actor I have ever seen who is actually capable of contemplation on the screen. His ability to be present unselfishly is a wonder to behold. Of course, he is wonderful to look at also, as great stars always are, even those not as physically good looking as he is, and he is a male at the peak of his masculinity here, which is an additional great natural treat. I found the film unusual and gripping. It’s worth more than a casual viewing in my view. For we all share the same false and true stories of our lives.

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Marmaduke

12 Oct

Marmaduke — directed by Tom Dey — a comedy in which a young family man finds his doggedness and a young dog finds his manhood. 99 minutes color 2010.

* * * * *

It’s fascinating to watch the great Lee Pace, he of the immemorial eyebrows, play this white bread comedy to the limit of all it’s worth and not one grimace more. This extraordinary actor, the finest actor of his generation for all I know, is completely convincing, moment by moment, in the peanut butter and jelly of the genre, including all the considerable physical comedy the part requires. He is never too much, he is never too little. So much so that it’s virtually impossible to see how really good he is. To taste and compare, watch him in Soldier’s Girl, The Fall, Infamous, in which he plays Hickock the partner of Perry Smith of the Sutter murders, and the passionate romantic lead/pianist opposite Amy Adams in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. Sit back and be amazed at the art of acting at its best. Pace at 6’4″ towers delightfully over William H. Macy who domineers over him as dog food boss. Macy, of course, looks like a basset, and, wonderful actor that he is, gives the film the bite required. But see how Pace embodies this impossible subjection. It’s parallel to what his own great Dane evinces until the end. The dogs all speak. Marmaduke himself speaks Owen Wilson, while the bully pooch speaks Kiefer Sutherland. Others speak others. It’s all quite nice and mindless. I believe it is a children’s movie. Probably for male children, since the principals principally are males, but I wouldn’t know. I myself am a male child and, therefore, limited in my perspective.

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