Monday, 7 December 2009

Last Week's Miscellany

It's been a while since I posted a multiple review -- well, not that long actually come to think about it. Apart from festival summaries, I tend to do this when there is not much amongst my recent viewings which I really want to discuss at length. This is a selection of what I've been up to over the last seven days, bunched into suitable categories:

Disappointments: I actually managed to delete three items from my famous list of movies that I have never seen and really want to view, but unfortunately none of them lived up to their hype. "Song at Midnight" (1937) is one of the few films still extant from the legendary Chinese director Ma-Xu Weibang (who directed some 500 or so), but apart from some interesting camera work, this Chinese version of 'The Phantom of the Opera' was a plodding affair. "Ascent to Heaven" (1951) is one of Luis Bunuel's lesser efforts during his long Mexican sojourn; the slight story has occasional touches of the director's surreal style to come, but it stops too abruptly, as if the producers had run out of dosh. Finally I managed to trace a copy of "Forbidden Zone" (1980/82) a cult item from composer Danny Elfman's brother which is a series of surreal musical sketches performed by a large weird cast including the two brothers and their Oingo Boingo Band, all of whom seemed to be performing under the influence.

Visiting the past: Every week in this cinematic household there are some re-visits to previously viewed movies. It's been quite a while since I last saw "Seventh Heaven" (1927), director Frank Borzage's classic silent romance, and I wish I could report that this Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell pairing remains as charming as my recollection of it. My memory is also to blame for the re-viewing of "Silent Hill" (2006) since I could remember almost nothing of this movie based on a video game, most of which involves Radha Mitchell running around in the dark; a good ending however. Still holding its appeal is "Dreamboat" (1952) with college professor Clifton Webb's past as a silent movie swashbuckler coming back to haunt him; the patische movies remain amusing and Webb is always more than watchable.

Worthy but heavy-going: Too many films that I watch seem to fall into this category, but I guess that is preferable to juvenile gross-outs which account for much of the current offerings. "The Baader-Meinhof Complex" (2008) is a German film dealing with the left-wing terrorist group of the title, whose protests only proved to underline the fact that all fanatics have a very blinkered view of right and wrong. "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" (2005) was written and directed by Rebecca Miller and stars her husband, Daniel Day Lewis, as the last holdout of a hippy commune, still fighting progress; the best turn is from Camilla Belle as his teenaged daughter, but it was hard to like the remainder of the relatively starry cast. "Tokyo Sonata" (2008) is a Japanese movie about a salaryman who loses his job but who can't bring himself to tell his dysfunctional family; while it is reasonably well done with interesting characters, one has seen the basic premise too many times previously for it to totally satisfy.

That's not everything that has fluttered across my eyeballs last week. I can tell you the very worst of the lot: another miserable offering from the Sci-Fi Channel entitled "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus" (2009) which was only redeeemed by one shot of a low-flying passenger plane being devoured in a mouthful by the said shark. Where do they manufacture this rubbish? The best by far was a first viewing of "True Heart Susie" (1919), a sentimental D.W. Griffiths' offering starring the enchanting young Lillian Gish. It portrays a rural world which was fast-disappearing even then, as Gish sacrifices all for her childhood sweetheart, who rewards her devotion by marrying a jazz-age floozy, before the necessary eventual happy ending.

Bring on the next week! And the clowns...
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