Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

Wow. Cool. After her difficult divorce, cartoonist and animator Nina Paley decided to make a movie in which her story is paralleled with the ancient Hindu tale of The Ramayana. The result is a funny and sad mash-up of her waning marriage, conversational analyzation of the Ramayana characters, and a large amount of jazzy musical numbers vocalized by Annette Hanshaw. Sita Sings the Blues begins with a gorgeous opening sequence set to thumping background music, combining imagery of space, water, various Hindu gods, mother earth, and other symbols. After that the film divides itself into three areas.

The least amount of time is devoted to Paley's personal life, animated in a fluctuating, scribbly style with photographic backgrounds. We see Paley move to India to follow her husband's office transfer, and his unexplained waning affection. When she visits New York for a business trip, he advises her not to come back. It is unclear whether he found someone else, or just stopped loving her.

Intermingled with her story is that of Sita, wife of Rama, as she dutifully follows her husband into 14-year exile. Rama is an incarnation of the god Vishnu, heir to the throne, and the epitome of virtue, goodness, and courage. In turn, Sita represents all the qualities of a pure and dedicated wife. When she is taken by the demon king Ravana, Rama and his monkey-man sidekick Hanuman stage an impressive rescue, burning his entire palace down. However, now that Sita has stayed in another man's home, Rama declares her unclean, though she never even let her kidnapper touch her. She passes through a fire test to display her purity, and the couple returns to the kingdom for Rama to finally be crowned, now that 14 years have passed. However his people, having heard of Sita's experience with Ravana, don't respect a king who will take back a woman from another man, and so Rama sends her back into exile. She bears his twin sons and raises them alone. Years later he finds them and decides to take his sons back to the kingdom, but continues to reject Sita, and so she calls out to be released from life, and is literally swallowed up by Mother Earth.

The animation here is choppy and flat, incorporating the accompanying illustrations of the original text (I think? I'm not actually sure where they came from, but definitely an ancient version of the book- like the images on the Wiki page. Sorry if I am just lying). Several scenes are chronicled by three adorable cut-paper silhouette figures, who have a very laid-back, conversational way of narrating. The detail is exquisite. Paley also plays around with the images here, mixing ancient representations of the characters with modern objects in a collage format.

The third area is within Sita's story, but separated by a shift in animation style. Here are the numerous Annette Hanshaw musical sequences, sung by the Sita character. They relate to her story, though often in generalized terms, and the animation therein often details further events of the story in comical ways, or examines her unwavering attachment to a man who mistreats her. Visually it is smooth and layered, with loose and exaggerated movements. The character designs are very over-the-top, with Sita a large-breasted, wide-hipped Betty Boop-type and Rama the muscular, top-heavy dolt. I imagine it's quite difficult to animate musical sequences, but Paley does an excellent job keeping everything to the beat of the songs as well as making the sequences interesting.

I really enjoyed this film. It's an engaging story that says a lot about culturally perceived women's roles in reference to their husbands, without making any blaringly obvious grand statements. It is satirical, but not bitingly so. The impossible and sexist standards set for women in both ancient and modern times are clearly compared. The animation is lovely, with great use of different materials and styles to really showcase what 2-D animation can do. Though not especially detailed in her designs, Paley shows practiced understanding of movement, form, and color. Knowing that she did all of the animation herself really floors me. My only critiques are that it dragged a bit, from having one or two many songs, and I thought there was too little attention paid to the modern couple. I had no grounding for their relationship, and wondered about the husband's reason for leaving his wife. Otherwise: excellent. And now you can watch it all for yourself online for FREE! Yay Internet!

4.5/5

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Top Five: Dystopian Movies

Wow it's been a while hasn't it? After rewatching the first two Terminator movies last week (the new one doesn't come out until June 4th in Germany), I started thinking about my favorite movie portrayals of dystopian futures. Terminator 1 and 2 don't actually count, since I'm talking about movies taking place in those futures, not like hanging out in the present trying to prevent them. There's a lot of them, so I'm sure I'm forgetting an important one- I feel like maybe something else with robots...? Oh well!

Brazil. Obviously. (1985)

One of my favorite movies ever, and a dystopia that is equal parts hilarious and horrifying. Drawing from Orwell's 1984, Gilliam (along with Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown) crafts a future Britain completely controlled and watched by an intensely bureaucratic government. Amidst frequent terrorist bombings and a seemingly inescapable system, protagonist Sam Lowry must rationalize his ho-hum government job with his love for a rebellious American who keeps popping up in his dreams. It's just about a perfect movie, really, and an imaginative and beautiful portrayal of a bleak but still funny future.

Delicatessen (1991)
In Marc Caro's and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's black comedic team up, the future is rather silly and severely lacking meat. The landlord of a several-story apartment building makes do by periodically renting out one room to a stranger, whom he quickly butchers and sells to the starving community. When his daughter starts to fall for the newest tenant Louison, a former clown, there's a dramatic uprising planned with an underground movement. It's a cool concept mixed with an excellent cast and gorgeous cinematography.

Dark City (1998)
Not exactly a vision of the future, but I'm putting it up here anyway because I dig this movie so much. Set in an ambiguous city kept away from the sun, filled with the trappings of multiple time periods, this film presents a dystopia created and controlled by a secretive underground society. Each facet of the citizens' lives has been planted there by these pale strangers, including memories. Nothing can be considered real, and there is no way out. Wonderful and thrilling noir that manages to be both futuristic and anachronistic.

Children of Men (2006)
In 2027, no child has been born for 18 years and no one can figure out why. The world is a chaotic and run-down place and humans are on the brink of extinction. It's up to Clive Owen to deliver a mysteriously pregnant woman to a safe place to give birth, with the hope that she is the clue to human salvation. Scary stuff, beautifully directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

Wall-E (2008)
As cute and wonderful and funny as this was, I found the premise wildly disturbing and seemingly quite prescient. The idea of the human race cooped up in a space shuttle, growing more blubbery by the day while some corrupt robotic company promises to clean up earth but really just abandons it is frightening. And I think it made the movie that much more interesting and significant. Also: adorable.


Honorable Mentions
A Clockwork Orange (1971) Book was better, but still a very good futuristic story.
Logan's Run (1976) I like the whole "utopia is secretly dystopia" thing.
Appleseed (1988 and 2004) Different versions of another "utopia is actually dystopia" concept.
Gattaca (1997) Space! Genetics! Science!
Equilibrium (2002) Dig the premise, not so much the execution.
Idiocracy (2006) Probably the most accurate of any dystopic tale.

Any suggestions? What are your favorites? I'm always on the lookout for good dystopian movies (or books). But please don't recommend Blade Runner. I've seen it: Eh.


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Monday, May 25, 2009

Galaxy Quest (1999)

I saw Star Trek again the other day (in German, no review until I get it all in English), which naturally sparked a heavy hankering for Galaxy Quest. And now that I'm a bit more knowledgeable about Star Trek in general, I got more of the jokes! The story follows Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), general asshole and former star of Galaxy Quest, a popular Star Trek-type sci-fi television series. He and the rest of the cast (who hate him) spend most of their days going to fan conventions or ribbon-cutting ceremonies. There's Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), the Spock-type character and former stage actor, Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub), the ship mechanic, Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell), the precocious kid pilot who's now all grown up, Guy (Sam Rockwell), who played the expendable "Crewman Number Six" in one episode, and Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver), the woman. When Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni), a pale stranger with odd body movements, shows up requesting help, Jason thinks it's a job offer.

Turns out Mathesar and his cohorts (including Missi Pyle and Rainn Wilson) are actual aliens, and when a hungover Jason puts on his Commander swagger and tells off an ugly green alien Sarris (Robin Sachs), it's for real, and now everyone is in danger. Jason rounds up the rest of his "crew" for a pretty exciting space adventure as they play their ch
aracters in real life, due to the aliens' belief that the tv episodes are "historical documents" of actual events. Of course it turns out they're in way over their heads, but gosh darnit if they won't use all of the fake skills they learned on the show to get out of several sticky situations, after some extra assistance from devoted fanboy Brandon (Justin Long, in his first onscreen role). This harrowing experience will surely give them all a better appreciation for their lives and help them learn to put up with each other.

This movie is pretty hilarious, you guys. It's a loving parody of that show some geeks kind of like, but can easily be enjoyed by regular people too. The script, written by David Howard (and his only screen credit to date), is top-notch, filled to the brim with witty dialogue and ridiculous conversations that are only made better by the superb cast. Tony Shalhoub, though with less screen time than many of the others, has some of the best line deliveries of the film. And Alan Rickman, my goodness, so spot-on as a disgruntled stage actor constantly lamenting his one famous role. His deadpan "By Grapthar's Hammer... what a savings." gets me every time.

Sigourney Weaver, whom I'm beginning to realize I kind of love, is hilariou
s but I felt bad for her. I get that she is playing the only female character in a sci-fi spoof and so it's for the sake of comedy that her shirt is ripped like crazy and she is super blonde, etc, but it was just sort of like awww Sigourney Weaver, you are so funny here but also this is a little bit below you maybe? And I'm usually not a big Tim Allen person, but he is pretty good in this. It helps that he's surrounded by such awesome people all the time. Mix in Justin Long, Sam Rockwell, Missi Pyle, and a bunch of adorable aliens and basically every scene has something to like!

Story-wise, Galaxy Quest has a great premise and it does a lot to expound upon the relationships between the actors and their characters, and beween the actors themselves. The effects are just ok, but you don't expect that much. Some of the sci-fi stuff they threw in gets a little silly, feeling overly dramatic (apparently this was originally written to be a more serious film) compared to the rest of the story, but it's not enough to be very detrimental. Overall, I totally dig this movie. Good times, all around! And it's even got a new super-shiny edition just out, to sort of tie it in with the Star Trek mania going on, I'd imagine. Notice you can totally buy it together with Mystery Men for just $16.48! Hell yes!

4/5

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1976)

I remember seeing this in 7th grade history, and for some reason it stuck with me. Probably because that's around when I saw Singin' in the Rain for the first time and started really getting into the 1920's. Then I noticed it on the Netflix Instant Streaming thing and was like hey! Let's do this! Also, Bud Cort!

Set in 1920 and based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name, this made-for-PBS production stars Shelley Duvall as Bernice, a shy and serious young woman visiting her fun-loving, highly desirable cousin Marjorie (Veronica Cartwright) for the summer. Bernice is perceived as plain-faced and dull-minded, always bringing the mood down at parties she attends with Marjorie. When she overhears her cousin complaining about her spoiling everyone's fun, Bernice decides to go back home. Instead, Marjorie convinces her to stay if she can make-over her personality a bit. Marjorie teaches her to be frivolous and flirty, to take more pride in her appearance, to have more self-confidence, and to be kind of a bitch. Soon Bernice is sought after by all the men in their group of friends, especially Warren (Bud Cort), the Yale-educated aspiring writer who lives across the street and has been pursuing Marjorie for years (she always shoots him down, but would not want him to date anyone else). One common topic of conversation is Bernice's boast that she will soon bob her hair, much to everyone else's shock and interest. When a jealous Marjorie tricks her into actually doing it, it gives Bernice a new acceptance of herself and the will to get out from under her cousin's thumb.

The story is an interesting look into the lives of privileged young people at the dawn of a new decade. They dance, they drive around wildly in cars, they flirt effortlessly- they are always on the lookout for something outrageous and new. Bernice starts off as the antithesis of this outlook, dreading a crowded dance floor and unaware of how to snare a man's affections. Her transformation makes her more interesting to those around her, but at the loss of any depth she might have sought to have. Lines like "the only topics of conversation between you and a man are 'you, me, or us'" made me so frustrated even in middle school. I first thought it was completely a satire, written to poke fun at the empty lives of these shallow partygoers, since most of their conversations seem so empty, but Wikipedia tells me Fitzgerald based it on letters he wrote to his younger sister on how to attract men. Which actually makes it kind of funnier.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair is cute and well-made, but not particularly interesting to people not into the 20's. Not much actually happens, and all of the characters are sort of awful in their own way. Half of it is just conversations between the cousins about boys: sigh. Mostly I get a kick out of seeing Bud Cort go on about his future plans and how he doesn't have much time, he's already 19! Adorable. And Shelley Duvall's scary face and annoying voice suit the character surprisingly well. The ending, however, is what really saves it. Definitely the best part. Check it out if you're into the time period or Fitzgerald and have 45 minutes to spare.

3.5/5


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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Frank Capra Double Feature: Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

I've been meaning to see both of these films for quite a while, and it seemed appropriate to knock em both back in the same go. It was a nice way to spend the evening, but I admit I didn't enjoy either as much as I wanted to.

It started with Mr Smith Goes to Washington, based on the story "The Gentleman from Montana" by Lewis R Foster and originally conceived as a sequel to Mr Deeds Goes to Town, the film stars the incomparable James Stewart as Jefferson Smith, patriotic "Boy Ranger" (aka Boy Scout) leader and historical hobbyist. When a senator from his unnamed (but supposedly Midwestern) state passes away, it's up to Gov Hopper (Guy Kibbee) to assign a new one. What this really means is newspaper mogul Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) tells the governor whom he should appoint, in order to continue control over the intensely corrupt political machine of his state. Caught between his conscience and his debt to Taylor, Hopper selects Jefferson Smith: popular enough to appease the people, and naive and inexperienced enough to be easily duped by corrupt officials.

When Jefferson and his cynical but knowledgeable secre
tary, Saunders (Jean Arthur) speedily craft a bill for an all-boys summer camp, it clashes with a shady deal Taylor had worked out with the other Senator, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) to build a dam in the area the camp would be, effectively stealing water from all surrounding farms. Paine works to discredit Smith in the Senate, and now it's one man against 99 in a surprisingly intense political standoff. Thankfully Saunders is there to help him out, since she actually knows a thing or two about government (Smith didn't even know how a bill becomes a law. Honestly).

I've been wanting to see this for like six years, and I have to say that while I liked it a lot, it wasn't as good as I'd hoped. James Stewart is of course wonderful, and really helped keep me interested. He was the perfect combination of innocence, passion, and comedic timing. I think the description "aw-shucks" was invented for his portrayal of Jefferson Smith. He was silly, but I still took him seriously. The filibuster at the end is so intense and Stewart is just acting his heart out- it is wonderful. I liked Jean Arthur as well. I hadn't seen her in anything except for You Can't Take It With You, and she didn't really stick out to me there, but in Mr Smith she was spirited and intelligent, and played a very good drunk. Plus I like how her character had "come pretty far for a woman", was indeed quite smart (though of course not even her career girl know-how could stop her from falling in love with her boss, or quell her desire to get married and quit; ahhh the 30's).

Mr Smith was overlong, and didn't have very good pacing. A lot of scenes would be cut short too quickly, losing the flow of the story; a lot of scenes could have been cut out
altogether. Conversations could have been shortened. It felt like the film didn't really get going in an enjoyable way. I don't mind long movies in general, but not enough was happening here to justify the 129-minute runtime. My other main problem is not actually the film's fault, but my own. I guess I have become a bit jaded in my young lifetime and having a father who works in politics (and hates it) hasn't helped me maintain my wonder and awe for American government. All of Smith's enthusiasm and unshakable belief in the system felt so removed from an actual person's mindset. I liked the character, but I couldn't wholly get behind him on his moral crusade because it didn't seem real. I know the film is a product of its time, just as I am, so there that is. Still an excellent film, though, especially for any Stewart fans.

4/5

Mr Deeds Goes to Town, which I guess I should have watched first, begins similarly to Mr Smith: with the death of an important person and a big change in a regular joe's life because of it. Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), a small-town tuba player and greeting card poet, inherits his distant uncle's millions and is shuffled off to a mansion in New York City. He wants to give the money away, but his would-be attorneys keep him busy with fancy parties and the like, hoping to dupe him out of his fortune. Reporter Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur) poses as a working girl down on her luck, so she can get the scoop on his story.

She exaggerates his quirks and upbringing in her pen-named stories so he is publicly considered a fool with too much money, but quickly regrets it as she gets to know him better. They fall in love in a few days, blah blah blah. When Deeds decides to use his money to set
up a large-scale aid project to benefit farmers all over the country, the lawyers seek to discredit him by claiming he is insane, and unfit to be in charge of the fortune. The ensuing trial is the most interesting part of the movie, recalling strange things Deeds had done and various insults to his character, while he sits sullen and silent, heartbroken after discovering Babe's true identity.

This movie has a lot of similarities to Mr Smith, but less heart. The story structure was a little off-kilter, making it drag at parts or just be a bit dull. The ideas are great, but the execution is a little lacking. I found the trial at the end to be the most interesting (similar to the filibuster in Mr Smith), and it might have been cool to make it more of a courtroom tale, mixing in earlier parts of the story as testimonials or something. The way it was organized it almost felt like two different movies spliced together.

I also have to admit I wasn't impressed with Gary Cooper's performance. I'd never seen him in anything so I didn't know what to expect, knowing only that Jean Arthur considered him "more manly" than James Stewart. That may be true, but his portrayal of Deeds was all over the place, and I just couldn't get a handle on the character. One moment he is childishly excited at the sight of fire trucks, the next he's unabashedly telling off "moochers" trying to trick him out of his money. He oscillates between silly and extremely level-headed. And sometimes he is just overly mean (especially to his servants). I understand he is supposed to be an idiosyncratic character but that doesn't mean you can just throw a barrage of quirks and seeming shifts of intelligence/awareness at the audience and expect them to fall for this concocted lovable oddball. Not sure if it's just me, or if I missed something, but it really took away from my enjoyment of the movie.

It's still pretty good though! Like any Capra film, it's got a lot of feeling and some great comedic moments. I liked the little musical part in which Babe and Longfellow are drumming and singing "Swanee River"; in fact this might have been better as a musical. The story is interesting and I can see why people like it, so maybe it just isn't for me. I'm glad Capra's often there to uphold the rights of people who aren't perceived as "normal", I'd just rather see him do that in You Can't Take It With You, which is to me a much more intriguing film with similar themes.

3/5

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Continuing with my Star Wars trilogy nostalgic/homesick viewing, we have The Empire Strikes Back, considered by many to be the best of the series. I usually agree, but Return of the Jedi often sneaks up to the number one spot. It concerns the further trials of Luke, Leia, and Han but this time the story is more complex and interesting. The Rebels have been operating out of the ice planet Hoth (you know, the one in the new Star Trek movie?), but Han has to go because he's got a price on his head for his debts to crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Before he's able to leave, the base is attacked by super imposing Imperial Walkers. It is rad. But also, sad. Some people die, naturally our heroes escape. Luke heads off on his own with R2 to find Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), the last Jedi Master, so he can begin training as a Jedi. Leia makes it off on Han's ship with Chewbacca and C-3PO. The sexual tension is the main focus of the journey.

After experiencing engine damage and running into a huge Imperial ship, they make it to Cloud City, mayored by the pornographically-mustachioed Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), an old frenemy of Han's. Meanwhile Luke spends most of the movie hanging out on Dagobah with Yoda, a crotchety and strangely aggressive green troll-like creature with Force powers and wisdom to spare. When he senses Leia and Han are in trouble in Cloud City, he rushes to help them even though he hasn't completed his training. Of course it's all a trap! Darth Vader wants to get his hands on Luke! There's a big lightsaber fight, some cocky guy gets frozen in carbonite, and some whiny guy finds out his dad is totally evil. This is all common knowledge by now right? I'm not breaking any hearts with poorly-disguised spoilers?

When I was kid this movie fascinated me for one big reason: the bad guys win in the end. Yeah, Luke and Leia get away, but Han's shipped off to Jabba and Luke's lost a hand and the Empire is not left any weaker. I know it's not really "the end" of the story as a whole, but to me the idea of a movie in which good did not triumph over evil was so interesting and different. Now of course I understand that there are lots of stories with bad guys winning, but it's still a cool thing. The overall plot of this is smarter than the first film. Nothing is black and white, no character wholly decent or despicable. Obviously it's not the most complex character study or twisty-turny thriller, but it's a good example of well-plotted and accessible science fiction. My main issue is that Luke seems to spend an eternity on Dagobah. I understand it's necessary for his character to grow and use the force or whatever but he literally spends like two thirds of the movie hopping around a swamp complaining about how hard it is to lift stuff with his mind. Boring.

Otherwise, Empire has some pretty sweet moments. You've got the beautiful Cloud City, a smooth new character in Lando, the classic "I love you!" "I know." moment, Imperial Walkers stomping all over Hoth, the "just how incestuous was that?" kiss, carbonite freezing, Luke giving Yoda piggyback rides, and of course, one of the best reveals of any movie ever at the end of the Vader/Luke battle (which, when I hear the dialogue, never ceases to remind me of this). Just cool stuff happening all over the place. Compared to the first one, the pacing is better, the characters more well-rounded, and the use of the force more prevalent. Love it. Good times all around, and perfectly setting everything up for the final installment, in which much ass is kicked, and fuzzy animals run rampant.

4.5/5

Haha this is pretty great. If only it would happen in real life.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Sin City (2005)

Wow it had been so long since I'd seen this movie. When it first came out I obsessed over it for weeks and weeks, and then again when I got it on DVD, so I'd since been taking a break. But the other night it was just Time. Sin City adapts several Frank Miller graphic novels directly to the screen (there isn't even a screenwriting credit, just credit to the source material), divided into three major interconnected stories and one short. Each one details the type of sordid events intrinsic to Basin City, a wretched hive of scum and villainy if I ever heard of one, in which halfway-decent people are hard to find and hard to keep alive when you do.

"The Customer is Always Right": This short opening piece stars Josh Hartnett as The Salesman, a hired assassin, seducing an unnamed woman (Marley Shelton) just before he kills her. It's a beautiful scene, perfectly setting the stage for the heady concoction of gorgeous cinematography and ultraviolence that lies ahead. The color is used to exquisite effect- the brief glimpse of eye color as her cigarette sparks remains one of my favorite visual moments of the film. The Salesman also serves as a convenient bookend, appearing in the film's final scene with a wink and a smile to presumably knock off another character.

"That Yellow Bastard" (Part One): Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a stern and dedicated honest cop, "pushing 60", rushes into the lair of Junior (Nick Stahl), child rapist and son of a senator. He aims to save 11-year-old Nancy Callahan (Makenzie Vega, younger sister of Alexa Vega who starred in Rodriguez's Spy Kids trilogy) from his clutches, knowing that Junior's connections will protect him from any action by the general police force. Despite his age and heart condition, he manages to be pretty badass. Unfortunately his partner (Michael Madsen) turns on him, a party to corruption like most of the people with power in the city. It crescendoes bloodily of course, but it is clear that Hartigan's story is not yet over...

"The Hard Goodbye": Don't know what all this "Mickey Rourke's turn in The Wrestler is his first decent role in ages, yay for comebacks" talk is about, because his starring role in this segment is certainly memorable. He plays Marv, a thuggish ex-con with a menacing, unnatural face and a history of hallucinations. The beautiful Goldie (Jaime King) gives him the night of his life, and ends up murdered as he slept next to her. Now Marv is on the hunt for her killer, feeling indebted to her for showing him such kindness (other women were always afraid of him). He interrogates a score of low-lifes in a variety of painful ways, working his way up to the head of a conspiracy involving prostitution, murder, and cannibalism. He has to press on through his fears of mental illness and avenge Goldie, despite multiple attacks from a Goldie-lookalike and a lightning-fast, closed-mouthed fighter (Elijah Wood). Hopefully he won't have to kill any bishops.

With Marv's comically irreverent inner monologue and the story's incredible immorality, this segment captures well the black humor central to the comic. Marv's likability keeps his gruesome acts from becoming too sickening. Everything is very, very over the top and that is probably the point. The selective color in this one is largely red, and mostly blood. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There are also some lovely moments with Goldie, who has been imbued with subtle incandescence and soft overall color, marking her as an "angel" in Marv's mind. Plus Carla Gugino is there! She is always awesome, but often in awful movies. In fact when I try to explain who she is to people who haven't heard her name, I usually say "The lesbian parole officer who's super topless in Sin City" and I get instant recognition. Of course.

"The Big Fat Kill": Easily my favorite, this segment follows Dwight (Clive Owen), a mysterious ex-con currently dating Shellie (Brittany Murphy), a talkative waitress at Kadie's Bar, which is featured in all three major stories. When her abusive ex Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) shows up at her apartment with four bro pals, Dwight takes it upon himself to teach him a lesson. After the group is convinced to leave, he follows them out of fear they'll drunkenly hurt someone else. They drive up to Old Town, a special part of the city operated solely by well-armed prostitutes. This set-up is part of a shaky truce in which the cops leave the women alone so they can do their business and protect themselves against the mob and pimps, while they work the police force for free. It's helped the women turn around the "bad times" when they were overrun by outside forces, but is constantly on the brink of crashing down around them. Jackie Boy holds a secret that could easily bring the bad times back, and Dwight takes it upon himself to work together with leader and old flame Gail (Rosario Dawson) and seriously skilled Miho (Devon Aoki) to prevent that from happening. There's a lot of fighting and explosions and guns. And partial decapitation (well, just one).

This was the first time I ever saw Clive Owen in anything, and I totally had an instant crush on his character. He's so cool. It's the accent, I suppose. And unflappability. And bright red shoes. Anyway this segment is the most interesting to me. I loved the cha
racters, and it was nice to see women, you know, doing something, even if it was incredibly scantily clad (it's Frank Miller, I'd expect nothing less). The women of Old Town are a force to be reckoned with, both in looks and deadly control of weaponry. Miho is so awesome, wordlessly utilizing her crazy sword and throwing-star skills at every opportunity. I wish she was in it more though. This story also features a scene directed by Quentin Tarantino (it is so hard for me to reconcile the fact that one of my favorite directors is bffl with such a hideous, disgusting creature. Ughghghgh. Not that I don't watch Tarantino movies, I just am grossed out by him as a person). Nope, it's not one of the ninja-related ones like one might assume, but rather a completely dialogue-driven scene (what else?) between Dwight and a strangely injured Jackie Boy. Pretty funny, and pretty colors.

"That Yellow Bastard" (Part Two): Oh snap, Hartigan's back! It's 8 years later (bringing it to around the time of the other stories) and he's been cooped up in jail, part of Senator Roark's revenge for the damage Hartigan did to Junior's child-spawning area. He goes to find Nancy, who's been writing to him this whole time, to discover that she's an exotic dancer at Kadie's Bar. He had thought she'd been hurt or kidnapped, but it was all a ploy by Junior to get to both of them again. The two are on the run from the spoiled brat and his thugs, but there's no stopping everything from coming full circle. Is Hartigan too old to save Nancy once again? Will Nancy be able to do anything to save herself? (Probably not, I mean, she is a woman.)

I actually liked Jessica Alba in this (she can get on my nerves). She's cute and strong and looks good in a sexy cowgirl outfit. I imagine that whenever Bruce Willis asked himself "Why am I doing this movie again?", he would then recall that he totally gets to make out with Jessica Alba, so whatever. Color was used exceptionally here, mostly for the Yellow Bastard's sickly, stink-ridden blood. You could feel how despicable he was. I also really liked the scene in which Hartigan is in Kadie's looking for Nancy, and she is in full color while he remains black and white. Nice. I like this story but it doesn't excite me as much as the other two. Maybe because there's no mystery. It handles more serious and real subject matter than the others (yes murder and cannibalism are serious, but sexual abuse is more relevant to most moviegoers, I'd imagine), and is less over the top. There's nothing wrong with that, but it sort of takes away from the film's theme as a whole- it just doesn't flow as well. I do love Junior's bodyguards, though: "two thugs with delusions of eloquence". Hilarious.

Sin City is just so many things I love about film and storytelling in general all rolled up into one beautiful package. The non-linear and broken up plot structure, the exceptional choreography, the little nods to other stories with interconnected characters, the excellent cast, the utter faithfulness to the source material, the gore and violence so copious even someone as squeamish as me can appreciate it... everything is just pretty great. Obviously, it has its problems. It's a little overly-silly at times; especially once the novelty of watching it wears off, some kooky dialogue moments pop out more and more. It's dominated by white dudes who never shut up, but I guess that can be said about most movies that aren't romantic comedies. But it's also the kind of movie whose beauty, wit, and imagination shine brighter than its flaws. I can look past them easily and see only the things I love. Then I wonder what the hell Rodriguez is doing that can justify not working on the sequel to this for four whole years. Sigh. I love the man for his undeniable talent, not so much for some of his project decisions.

5/5

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Maybe it's something about being in a foreign country, but I have been craving Star Wars, mostly for its familiarity and lightsaber battles. Luckily a fellow American and temporary expatriate has been feeling the same and we've been making our way through the original trilogy. These are the kinds of movies that I have just seen so so so many times, and though they're always entertaining, I'm constantly finding new ways to watch them. It was easy for me to watch A New Hope and just pick apart so many little irrelevant things, just for the fun of it. Or talk over all of Luke's lines with WAH WAH WAH WAH or C-3PO's with WHINE WHINE WHINE. This is fun for someone like me, but I won't do it to you since of course at heart I really love this movie. And I know there's so much that can be said about this series, and it's already been said by scores of people, so here are just a few thoughts.

Since I know there are those of you who haven't seen any Star Wars movie (lamentable, but it's your prerogative), here's the breakdown for Episode IV: A New Hope: It's space, and the evil Empire has taken over most of the galaxy under the leadership of an unseen but greatly feared Emperor and his second-in-command, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), a cyborg with an array of telekinetic and telepathic powers arising from The Force, a universal energy that a few special people can manipulate. He is currently overseeing construction of an all-powerful battle station, the Death Star, that can hell of pulverize a planet. He's also kidnapped Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), a leader in the rebellion who is believed to be holding secret plans that could defeat the empire. She gives the plans to her droids R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) who escape to the desert planet Tatooine, where they are picked up by young and feathered-haired Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

He enlists elderly recluse Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi (Alec Guinness) to unlock the plans inside, and soon enough the group is off on an adventure to save the Princess. They hire the cocky but capable Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his Wookie co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to transport them. Obi-Wan tells Luke about his father, who was a Jedi (someone who uses the Force for good), and teaches him some ways to hone his own powers. They hap-hazardly stage a rescue for Leia, who ends up being more proactive and level-headed than her so-called saviors once she's out of her cell. Now they've got to make it to the Rebel base so they can team up to destroy the Death Star. Woooo.

Yeah so I am totally aware of what a dick George Lucas is, and I don't like what he's done with the series since the original trilogy, and yes he's pretty bad at dialogue and direction. But really, I am still totally impressed with him when I watch this movie. The next two are better-written and better-made in general (Lucas did not direct or write the scripts), but A New Hope is still a kickass movie loaded with imagination and vision. He didn't have much, and everyone around him thought it was a stupid idea that wouldn't be successful, but he proved them wrong and that's pretty cool. I'm not sure why this franchise has the incredible staying power and influence that it does, but it's well-deserved. It takes elements of samurai lore and mythology and classic storytelling and mixes them together in spaaaaace, making it instantly better.

Lucas has created some excellent, memorable characters and it's always great to be re-introduced to them in this movie. They are all made infinitely better by the marvelous cast. Of course Harrison Ford stands out (as he does in anything) and his Han Solo is so perfect. He has just the right amount of self-confidence, self-absorption, and underlying tenderness to make a classic role. Plus he has all the best one-liners, and knows what to do with them. Carrie Fisher is badass and condescending in the best way. Though Leia needs saving at first, she can take care of herself. She even stands up to Darth Vader, who could force-choke her in a second. Mark Hamill is whiiiiiiney but it's in a lovable, I-can't-wait-for-him-to-be-an-awesome-Jedi kind of way, and appropriate for someone so young and naive. R2 is absolutely adorable despite its lack of speech, and C-3PO is a good foil for him, though inanely talkative. Obviously we've got one of the best villains ever in Darth Vader. He can choke you with his mind for goodness sake! His mind. I think the skeletal General Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) is great too- perfect mix of cowardice and merciless self-preservation.

There are of course so many other aspects of this movie that help make it such a big deal. John Williams' score fits each scene so perfectly, making the dramatic more dramatic and the exciting more exciting. Music is always important in a film, but I feel it has a bigger effect than usual in these movies. We watched the non-CGI'ed version, which was nice, as I hadn't seen that since I was a kid. It still looks great, and appropriately grittier.
The landscapes and interior sets are lovingly detailed and fully imagined. The puppetry/makeup/animation for the aliens is good enough to not need CGI. It feels more real, actually, because it is more substantial. The digital effects don't feel solid enough to me.

All in all A New Hope is a fun, action-packed, creative movie, but mostly it's there to set the stage for the awesomeness of the next two films. Taken on its own it's still a great time, but not amazing. The stilted dialogue and at times poorly-paced plot structure keep it from excelling, as well as a host of little errors or continuity issues now that the prequels have been made. Luckily we can all sit back down and watch The Empire Strikes Back immediately after, and try to forget what George Lucas has been doing for the past decade.

4/5

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

First Blood (1982)

I will readily admit that the overlying reason for seeing this was because of liking Son of Rambow so much. But hurray now I have seen another well-respected film and can knock it off that pesky list of "movies I should see sometime finally". First Blood, the first in the Rambo series, stars Sylvester Stallone as the title character, a Vietnam War veteran and Green Beret traveling through a small town looking for someone from his old team. He is assumed to be a troublemaking vagrant by Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and promptly arrested because he won't leave town. When he is assaulted at the police station, he is overcome by memories of his war-time experiences, and lashes out in terror. He manages to escape the station on a motorcycle and makes it to the surrounding woods.

The Sheriff is determined to find him and take him in, and leads a group of police officers into the rocky forest, armed with guns and a helicopter. Rambo utilizes all of his special training to defend himself, integrating himself into the environment and making good use of his only weapon: a large serrated knife. After one of the police officers is killed and several are injured, Rambo's old leader, Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) is called in along with some military forces. Trautman does his best to connect with him, trying to lure him out without any more bloodshed. But it becomes clear that Rambo has suffered a severe mental break, losing touch with reality and holding fast to his defensive instincts, feeling forced to enact this
one-man war.

I didn't know much about this movie going into it, but I was surprised by how dramatic it was. It was tense and action-y and thrilling, to be sure, but at its heart was the very serious issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was impressed with Stallone, whom I have not seen in too many movies but has never done much for me. He was athletic, naturally, and extremely intense. His performance was fairly subtle (it helped that his character wasn't very talkative), and his big scene at the end was very affecting. I liked Richard Crenna a lot, too. He had an unexpected kindness in his eyes that really made me feel for the character. Plus he made clear his disapproval of Sheriff Teasle, who was such a dick, so I knew I could be on his side.

First Blood is a really good thriller/drama, and for the most part I liked it. But it wasn't particularly memorable. I think it was a little overly simple. Not enough happened, somehow. Or it took too long to get going. I don't need it to be a huge over-the-top action flick but it just felt a little lacking in general. I couldn't completely get into it. I guess the premise and completely male cast also threw me off a bit- there was nothing here I could relate to, which managed to keep me from seriously investing myself in it. Oh well. Still a very interesting movie, and as I've heard it, the best of the series?

4/5

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Friday, May 15, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Oh my, oh my. I traveled to Stuttgart to catch X-Men Origins: Wolverine in English, not wanting to miss out on any of the glorious nuances of such a fine piece of cinema. Prepare yourself for some serious ranting from a rather dedicated X-Men comics fan. Let me just start off with a huge siiiiigh, and we can begin. Spoilers ahead, etc, but you should really know what you're getting into here.

So here are some things that happen in this movie: Baby Wolverine is a sickly child in like the 1800s, and there's an asshole older boy who hangs around- he is the son of some hairy guy, who was I think a stable worker/farm hand-type in the employ of Baby Wolverine's dad. One night asshole boy's dad is manhandling Baby Wolverine's mother, strikes down BW's gentlemanly dad, and confesses that he is in fact BW's real father. BW is angered by this information, pops out his bone claws for the first time and kills his father in a rage, then gets a whole "NOOOOOOO!" moment when he realizes what a freak he is. Baby Wolverine and asshole now-brother (who has gross claw fingernails and a healing power) run away and pledge to stay together forever. There's a montage of various wars they fight in side by side, all grown up and portrayed by Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine) and Liev Schrieber (Victor/Sabretooth).

When they're sentenced to death by firing squad but do not die, they're recruited by William Stryker (Danny Huston), who's "putting together a special team of special people like you", etc. We fast forward a few years later and sort of meet the team, or at least we view them briefly, as they perform a job hunting down a special kind of metal. There's John Wraith (will.i.am, if that's the correct way to write it), who can teleport, Frederick J Dukes (Kevin Durand), who doesn't seem to have powers?, Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), who is good with
a gun, Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), who can control electronics, and Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), who has badass sword skills and a nonstop mouth. Eventually Logan gets sick of the nonsensical violence employed by the group, and runs off to lead the quiet life of a lumberjack in Canada, leaving his brother to stay with Stryker and give in to his darker tendencies.

After a few years Stryker shows up to warn Logan that someone who is most likely Victor is picking off the old team, as Bolt and Wade were recently found dead. Wouldn't you know it, Victor shows up and kills Logan's girlfriend Kayla (Lynn Collins), just to piss him off. Logan becomes Weapon X after Stryker persuades him it's the only way to defeat his brother, allowing adamantium (the metal they were searching for earlier) to be bound to his entire skeleton in a really painful process. He hears that the plan is to extract his healing factor DNA and wipe his memory so that another super powerful soldier can be produced, and escapes before they have a chance. Totally nude. Into a waterfall. Now he's on the hunt for Victor, who has been working for Stryker this whole time, extracting mutant powers from the ones he's killing.

Logan meets up with Wraith and Dukes (who is now very poorly CGI-ed into The Blob), who point him toward Remy LeBeau aka Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) aka a big reason I was excited for this movie. Turns out Stryker and Victor have been up to some crazy mutant children stealing and experimentation on an island with nuclear reactors, from which Gambit had escaped. He drops Logan off there in his plane (yeah, Gambit is a pilot?) and now it's all "oh hey look what you did to me you killed my girlfriend wah wah wah I could really punch something". But whoa mindfreak! Kayla is alive! She's a mutant with persuasive powers who pretended to be dead so Stryker could convince Logan to become Weapon X. Her sister Emma is one of the kidnapped kids. As is, by the way, a young Scott Summers aka Cyclops. Ugh. I can't go on. But I must. Some of the stupidest stuff is coming up.

Logan and Kayla free the kids, but before they can get very far Stryker unleashes Weapon XI aka Deadpool (Scott Adkins), who is actually Wade Wilson with his mouth sewn shut, an
amalgamation of mutant powers, and no mind of his own. So just like in the wars, Logan and Victor team up against a common enemy. On top of a nuclear reactor. It's pretty boring. The kids are led out by Professor Xavier's mind messages so that Patrick Stewart could have his weird younger-age cameo. After Logan beheads him, Weapon XI falls into the reactor and is presumed dead. Stryker realizes the best thing he can do is shoot Logan in the head with adamantium bullets, because, literally, "His brain will heal. But his memories won't". Oh. My. God. Gambit finds him all disoriented, and tries to help him out and get him to leave, totally psyching me up for a possible Wolverine/Gambit buddy movie, but no, Wolverine just wants to be by himself and figure it out without any stranger's help. Buh. Kayla dies, so sad, but not before persuading Stryker to "walk until his feet bleed, and then walk some more". Victor just sort of runs off. My secret scene at the end credits was Logan hanging out in Japan (one thing vaguely accurate about the character! great job "writers"!) drinking hell of alcohol. No, he is not drinking to forget. He is drinking to remember.

Oh my god typing out that long-ass summary just brought back the numerous feelings (well mostly feelings of "anger" and "that was so dumb", but in large quantities) I felt after just seeing it. I mean even from a non-comic fan's perspective it sounds stupid right? What isn't stupid is just tired, or not done well. There were a bunch of characters introduced for seemingly no reason, and given little to do. The only one of Stryker's team that stuck out in any way was Wade, and that's mainly because he actually had lines. I didn't even catch the names of some of the other team members, and they served very little purpose to the plot. Waste of screen time. X-Men 3 had similar issues with an overabundance of characters and no one knowing what to do with them. Also the whole "kids are being experimented on, let's save them!" aspect was so pointless. I felt it was added on as almost an afterthought, since for the most part the focus had been on Wolverine's revenge, which should have been enough. Then suddenly we're supposed to care about a bunch of faceless children, one of whom happens to be a whiny jerk from the other movies, and that becomes a part of the movie's big ending scenes? Really?

There were a few things I liked. I've always thought Hugh Jackman makes a good Wolverine, despite his height, and he was consistent here, and looking great. Liev Schrieber, though far too neatly-shaven for the role, did a surprisingly good job, bringing a certain underlying viciousness and cruelty that is integral to Sabretooth. And though their time was short, I thought Wade Wilson and Gambit were really done well. Ryan Reynolds has the sarcasm and pluck, as well as impressively-jacked arms, to do the character. Gambit is a favorite of mine (and most X-fans, I'd wager), and I dug Taylor Kitsch in the role. He didn't do the accent strongly enough but he definitely had the charm, confidence, and skill with a staff down. I liked the Bolt character despite my aversion to Dominic Monaghan (ughhhh Charlie). Also in general I found this movie pretty funny. I know it wasn't supposed to be, but the laughter helped fight back the frustration. It was definitely entertaining, in its way. And the action scenes were decent.

Continuing on the awful things about this movie, here is a list of things from the comics they fucked up beyond forgiveness, at least that I care about (surely there's a lot I didn't catch). Most of you probably aren't interested in this and you are free to skip to the end, but gosh darnit it's my blog and I would like to complain. So thanks, in advance, for putting up with me. Beware many cuss words.

-First of all. Emma Fucking Frost. My god. She is one of the best ever characters, both as a villain and X-Man, and they changed her so much it didn't even make any sense! She was barely in the movie, yet still they managed to do everything wrong: give her the wrong power (turning into her diamond form is her secondary mutation, which developed much later in life, and which she rarely usues because her telepathy is so strong that it is usually all she needs), fabricate a sister, make her generally useless (when usually she is a woman who Gets Shit Done), and oh, she wasn't even that hot. Sorry, Tahyna Tozzi, but you are no Emma Frost. Though I am willing to blame the writers for most of the character's issues. What was the point of even having her in the movie? None whatsoever. They just wanted to invoke my ire. Well great job guys, ire is officially invoked.

-I don't even read Deadpool but, really guys? REALLY? Show a pretty good Wade for five minutes then take a different actor, give him a shitload of powers, sew his mouth shut and call him Deadpool? What? An all-powerful enemy is bad enough, but they could have at least just made him another dude. It could have been some random guy they found and renamed Weapon XI. And now there's plans for a Deadpool movie, and I hope they retcon the hell out of it and they make it an actually good movie so we can forget this movie ever happened.

-Give Gambit red eyes. It's so easy, you guys. Come on.

-Sabretooth and Wolverine are not brothers, and never have been. It is dumb to say that they are, and fabricate some deep connection between them. They have always been enemies from their days in the Weapon X program due to their conflicting ideologies and inability to best one another. That is good enough, Wolverine writers. We don't need to add more to it.

-As much as I don't like Scott Summers, do we really need to change his backstory? Now he's part of some secret experimentation crap? And that's how he met Professor X? No. Also, the glasses he wears do not cover his entire eye area (only the front, not the sides), and I hope we know what that means (obviously the filmmakers did not). Yes, it means his concussive force blast would be popping out of the sides of his glasses! It'd be mad hectic! Get it right! It's the little things, really.

-The Blob. looked. so. awful. I don't know if it was CGI or a bad fatsuit or a combination, but he was just so poorly done. So fake. Also, The Blob did not start out as a muscle guy and then eat too much and become impossibly fat. Part of his power is his size. He has his own gravitational field for goodness sake.

- I'm no Wolverine expert, but I'm pretty sure he'd have sensed that Kayla wasn't really dead. It's not a big deal, since I understand it was like a main thing of the plot that he want revenge for her, but come on. That Romeo and Juliet shit would not work on Wolvie's super senses.

-Adamantium Bullets? Really? This isn't even a comic-related thing, I guess. But my god it is just so so so so so stupid I have to comment. I'm pretty sure they forgot about the whole memory-loss thing and threw in "adamantium bullets will destroy his brain memories!" while they were in the middle of shooting. Buh.

-Laaaaame secret ending. Though I've heard the other one was more interesting. Deadpool putting back on his own head, or something? Though that makes me nervous that the Deadpool movie will actually involve this stupid monstrosity version of the character.

Yeah sorry this has been quite a rant, I guess. Anyway, this movie is pretty bad, but some of the cast members do their best to make tolerable. If you're not a comic fan it might be more to your liking, but honestly it was pretty dumb in general. It tried to be serious and could have succeeded, if it hadn't been written and executed so poorly. Too bad. Maybe the sequel will suck slightly less, and won't be such a sausage fest (will someone please for once in their goddamn lives write a decent role for a super heroine in a movie? Please? Elektra is really not enough, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend definitely doesn't count).

2/5 (.5 extra for Hugh Jackman's butt?)

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sweet Charity (1969)

Somehow I'd never seen this, despite my love of musicals and Shirley MacLaine. Sweet Charity: The Adventures of a Girl Who Wanted to Be Loved is a musical with big names, ambitious choreography, an adorable title character, and a lackluster plot. Charity Hope Valentine (Shirley MacLaine) is an eternally optimistic pushover working as a dancer and escort in a seedy club. She tells her dream of escaping this establishment after saving enough money to buy a house to her fiancé, Charlie, who promptly robs her and pushes her into a river in Central Park. At first she refuses to recognize he did either of those things, persisting in believing the best of someone for the sake of love, but her friends/co-workers/roommates Nickie (Chita Rivera) and Helene (Paula Kelly) eventually convince her otherwise.

Later that night Charity runs into famed Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal (Ricardo Montalban), and charms her way into an evening with him at a fashionable club, finishing the night in the bedroom closet of his ornate apartment, hiding from the off-again-on-again-girlfriend who ends up back in his bed. Not long after, she decides to get herself out of her disreputable career, but finds no office jobs available for unskilled women. As she's leaving the employment agency, she gets stuck in an elevator with handsome square Oscar Lindquist (John McMartin), who asks her out after she tries to help him with his claustrophobia issues. Charity is delighted to be dating such a kind and respectable man, so she hides her true profession. When he proposes, she finally tells him what she really does, fearing he'll leave her but determined to be honest.


Sweet Charity is all about the performances and the dancing, and not much else. This is mostly an ok thing. Shirley MacLaine is adorable and sympathetic, despite her character's numerable misguided or foolish actions. She is a good pick for the part, utilizing her natural charm and joyful expression to counteract her underwhelming singing voice (it's not bad at all, just not as strong as a lead female character's usually is, especially for such a splashy musical). John McMartin is likable, Ricard Montalban is the picture of sophistication. Sammy Davis, Jr shows up for an exciting hippie-inspired number. Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly play well off of MacLaine's naivete with straightforward pragmatism and excellent dance skills. If you look closely, you'll see a young Bud Cort for about one minute at the very, very end. It is awesome! And you bet I was super proud of myself for spotting him.

Like the original Broadway production, this was directed by Bob Fosse, which means Glitz! and Glam! and Sexy Experimental Jazz Choreography! The dance numbers are incredibly, incredibly self-indulgent, but I kind of loved that about it. Some of them, like "The Rich Man's Frug" and "Rhythm of Life" don't even pretend to have relevance to the plot. It's mostly just Fosse showing off how talented he is with a lot of enthralling and stylized modern dance moves performed by women in glamorous costumes. All of the musical sequences are really exceptional, but not particularly accessible, and the kind of thing I suspect only die-hard musical fans could really get into.

I haven't seen the original Fellini version Le Notti di Cabiria, so I'm not sure if these issues are inherent to the original or part of the musical adaptation, but the story was a little dumb. Though the focus was definitely on the music and the lead character, the plot is still important enough to drag down appreciation of the movie as a whole. It all felt very disjointed and sort of pointless to me. The segment with Vittorio Vidal had no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the story. She didn't have grand revelations (except the one about how jealous her friends will be now that she gets to hang out with a movie star), there was no romantic aspect; but yes, there were two great dance numbers. Sammy Davis, Jr's hippie religion, while colorful and groovin', also had little relevance to anything, except to showcase that Oscar is totally into Charity. Yay. Plot takes a backseat to dancing in a lot of musicals, but this film actually strove to deal with some interesting issues. Then they sort of forgot about those issues so more people could sing about unrelated subjects. I liked the concept of a woman working in a (perceived) ignominious position and trying to have a normal relationship despite that. I was interested in Oscar's reaction to her job: as a so-called "good man" could he overlook her past transgressions now that she is trying to get out and make a better life for herself, or would his strict moral code leave no margin for error? But that kind of stuff only really came into play in the last third of the movie, so it almost felt like an afterthought.

*Spoiler Alert* I have to say the very end of Sweet Charity really affected how I felt about the film as a whole. Here's a woman who has desired only to be loved (it's even in the title), only to be disappointed over and over again by every relationship. Even on the brink of marriage to a "good man", she is left alone. I thought it was sad that her only way out of her situation was going to be marriage to an overly moralistic accountant- as if we need more examples of the "saving" qualities of that institution and its effect on working women. When Oscar decides he can't look past the other men she's been with and leaves her in the middle of getting a marriage license, I was glad. He had been a symbol of everything Charity needed to escape, and I wonder if her devotion was misplaced due to her need to love as well as be deemed a better person. I honestly had no idea where the story would go from there. As she sits in sorrow in Central Park she is given a flower by a group of hippie teenagers, and suddenly her face brightens. She walks around the park gleefully, suddenly regaining her optimism and showing great resilience in the process. She can be alone and be ok with that. She's already quit her job so her life is open to every possibility. It was an unexpected and actually pretty satisfying ending. Too bad the story leading up to it was mediocre.

Sweet Charity features impressive choreography and a great cast, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wasn't really into musicals. Or Shirley MacLaine.

3.5/5

Big Spender


There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This


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