Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Classic quickies: 49th Parallel

Combining elements of Hitchcockian suspense, propaganda for the war effort, Canadian travelogue and paean to the virtues of the Canadian people, diversity and democracy, the 1941 49th Parallel is both fun and compelling to watch.

This is one of the earlier collaborations of director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger -- who won an Oscar for this film. It's framed as an effective piece of propaganda aimed squarely at encouraging U.S support for the Allies. As the survivors of a destroyed Nazi submarine work their way from Hudson Bay toward neutral America, they encounter an extensive catalog of Canadian types. The contrast between the simple, generous, honest, diverse and proud North Americans and the arrogant, elitist Nazis is drawn ever more clearly, even as the noose tightens on the fleeing Germans.

Well written, directed and acted by a strong cast including Laurence Olivier, Trevor Howard and Raymond Massey, this release of 49th Parallel is fresh evidence that Criterion DVDs are reviving important films.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Summer movie rundown

Saw a few, missed a bunch (many intentionally). Some thoughts in retrospect:

  • Iron Man - surprisingly light and fun through the first two-thirds, a good super-hero date movie; Robert Downey Jr. is seriously back, part 1
  • Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - reasonably entertaining kids' fantasy actioner, bit of a disappointment with a slightly mean-spirited feel
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - the title indicates a poorly focused Maguffin, which is OK, because we came to see Harrison Ford crack wise and crack his whip, with exciting chases; delivers on expectations, but one hoped it might exceed
  • WALL-E - Pixar hits this one out of the park with charming characters, the awesome animation we expect, audacious story-telling, and a serious science fiction plot
  • Hellboy II: the Golden Army - Benicio Del Toro brings something sort of like Hellboy meets Pan's Labyrinth, with entertaining action and some amazing setpieces -- even if just a little predictable and without the narrative majesty of Pan's
  • Mama Mia! - oddly, I liked this better than the stage show, despite Pierce Brosnan's criminal take on "S.O.S." Meryl Streep seemed to be having fun. and its hard not to like Greek islands
  • Batman: the Dark Knight - compelling and truly dark, perhaps the best superhero film ever, with a haunting performance by Heath Ledger
  • Tropic Thunder - totally politically incorrect lampoon of Hollywood, utterly insensitive and often quite funny; Robert Downey Jr. is seriously back, part 2
  • Vicky Christina Barcelona - entirely lightweight, but with a fine cast; entertaining, well-written, well-acted and attractive fluff. Javier Bardem shows his range as a sensitive romantic artist in contrast with his well-remembered cold-blooded killer in No Country for Old Men. The dialog here is pure Woody Allen, but the Spanish scenery creates a nice departure.

100 Movies, 100 Quotes, 100 Numbers

OK, its not new. But some call this the all-time best Youtube video. I wouldn't attest to that, but this clever compilation from Florida librarian Alonzo Mosley is sure fun.