Monday, June 25, 2007
That Ol' Devil Consequence
The trailer to Cabin in the Sky, which we watched today. It's what they called a "Race Movie," back in 1943, and by that, they didn't mean that a horde of d-list actors would be put through the lamest paces possible by Hal Needham. This is the type of race film that never played south of the Mason/Dixon, much to the disappointment of those who were either proto-NASCAR fans, or, y'know, race.
Quite good, although it gave Ethel Waters too many songs to sing and Rochester and Lena Horne not nearly enough. Round that out with what amounted to cameos for Duke Ellington (as himself) and Louis Armstrong (as a trumpet-playing demon in a checkered bathrobe), and the film had too much talent to burn. One of those films that you're supposed to feel bad for liking, I guess - or at least the film company should be ashamed for making. And they assured us they were in a 'you hadda be there' kind of disclaimer at the beginning.
Anyway, the film doesn't really get aggressive enough in its stereotyping to offend anyone (unless they want to be offended), and the skill of the performers rises above any of the more cringe-worthy moments and characterizations. Could've used more uptempo numbers, though. The last twenty minutes has a big set piece backed by Ellington with a stripped-down version of his orchestra, so at least it goes out with a bang.
My advice? Rent the DVD and start at chapter 17, which is both where a very young and very hot Lena Horne enters the picture, and is the film's best song, "Life's Full of Consequence." A really great short and punchy song sung by Rochester in a remarkable state of shock and revelation, and Lena Horne as a pretty convincing argument for damning whatever torpedos you happen to have handy.
The funny bit is, I'm not even sure how we ended up with this film. It turned up from Blockbuster Online one day, and neither Yesenia nor I could remember placing on the queue. I wouldn't put it past me to have put it on there and forgotten - maybe as something to chase Idlewild out of my system. It's also possible that I accidentally put it on there when searching for Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, but apart from very similar titles, the two films couldn't have less in common.
Oh, well - a mystery for the ages.
Also, I finally saw all of:
And, well. It's a very good movie, but perhaps its legend has outstripped its reality? Edz came over to visit Yesenia, and I spouted off a bunch of stuff I had problems with, but what it boils down to is that it's a little unfocused. Is that really a problem? Not really. Clearly, the story isn't the most important thing - at least it's clear that it's not what Coppola was interested in.
What I was most amazed by watching it was how one of the most popular films of all time would have tanked at the theater, today. Could modern audiences tolerate things like the extended Sicily sequence? Doubtful. How about a crime film that takes a twenty-minute opening sequence set a a wedding just to establish a few characters? Also doubtful.
Anyway, it's one half of Yesenia's favorite movie, and it was nice to sit in bed with her and watch it.
And now, to work.
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You gotta see Part 2.
Speaking of movies, I've been developing a possible debate topic for us: James Cameron, the best director of big-budget action movies over the last 25 years, do you agree or disagree?
By best director I mean the balancing of entertainment value and quality filmmaking/writing.
The 25 years spans the release of The Terminator in 1984 through the releases of Avatar and Battle Angel Alita in 2009.
I was just sitting on the can the other day thinking about Avatar, and it struck me how cool it will be to have a movie with Star Wars level CGI AND a writer/director who can really get it done.
Is there anyone even close to Cameron when it comes to impeccably-made, big summer thrill-rides? Anyone else with the consistent track record (over the last quarter century)?
I don't think so. Spielberg cased in his chips in '93 with the first Jurassic Park. Peter Jackson obviously blew his wad on LOTR. Maybe Verhoeven is a good runner-up for RoboCop-Total Recall-Starship Troopers. Your thoughts?
last P above- I meant "cashed in his chips"
Can't quite get on board with James Cameron. His films take themselves way too seriously to be any fun, which is a primary component of action films, for me. Of course, when he does try to have 'fun,' the results are pretty lame, such as Jamie Lee Curtis doing a stripper routine in "True Lies."
To me, his dialogue is pretty bloated and flat - the framing sequence of "Titanic" being the most ludicrous. Of course, in order to qualify for this derby, he needs to make another movie. How many has he made since "Terminator?" Five?
"Avatar" does have my attention - let's see how he handles it. It'll be sanctimonious, that's a given.
This isn't to say that Cameron isn't capable of iconic moviemaking. Obviously, the T-1000 is one of the major touchstones in action film.
You know Spielberg is my choice (with caveats), but I'm sort of surprised you didn't mention Sam Raimi or Zemeckis. Zemeckis - who has admittedly become a major shit-merchant in recent years - has a pretty astonishing CV when you put it on the same time-frame (25 years). And I'm probably more stoked for "Beowulf" than "Avatar."
I agree with you on Jackson, who really needs to get his shit together. I also throw Bryan Singer on the pyre. "Superman Returns" must be the worst big-budget studio film in ages. What a huge, boring, self-aggrandizing mess.
Christopher Nolan could get to the top five. "Batman Begins" and "The Prestige" show he can get results from cash and casts, and - unlike Cameron - he really knows how to write.
We disagree on Gore Verberinski (sp?), but I liked all three "Pirates" movies - not loved, mind you.
Brad Bird? Is animation worth consideration? Because his films are always well-written and very exciting.
I personally thought "Revenge of the Sith" was a great, great movie, so Lucas redeemed himself in my eyes. As far as pure action, he even got the job done in "Menace" and "Clones," where the action sequences were still great, but the script and stakes got back up to par for "Sith."
I don't disagree about Cameron taking himself too seriously. He's clearly an egotistical jerk. But he backs it up. He has a completely unique texture and tone to his movies. And his level of quality is consistent. I mean, his weakest film is True Lies? I thought True Lies was pretty damn good, and fun. (A lot of critics considered it misogynistic and mean-spirited, but I liked that about it. Let's be honest, I think most guys enjoyed those elements very, very much.)
I would vehemently disagree with you about Christopher Nolan, since the script for Batman was under-developed and bad (what did they give Oldman to work with? Nothing. How about when Batman gives the little kid the taser? That made a lot of sense.)but I did very much enjoy "The Prestige."
I stand by my position. Over the last 25 years (as of 2009), Cameron is the guy.
I really think "Abyss" is his weakest, but a lot of that has to do with the choice of actors. "True Lies" was just a mess - big, loud and impersonal. And I wouldn't mind Cameron being a jerk, except it's affected what he thinks is funny. All of the humor in "True Lies" is mean-spirited and unfunny. (Those two things are not connected in my mind, btw)
I agree that "Batman Begins" had major script problems. I think that's a studio thing - how many TOYS can we get out of this? So there are always 25 different plot lines competing for space. Do away with the WayneCorp boardroom crap, the mob boss, and the EMP, and punch up Oldman, and there's your movie.
I note that "The Prestige" came out AFTER "BB," and has a much more complex story more cohesively told, so that's why I nominate Nolan.
Nolan has only made two good movies- Memento and the Prestige. Neither a big money-maker. Batman Begins made money but it was quite bad. So, for me, it's hard to put him in the same class as Cameron.
No matter what you think of Cameron, all his films were big hits, big events (even, for me, Titanic) that had a lot of little sweaty-palmed geeks awfully excited before opening day, and all his films delivered, in terms of box office, geek factor, and, by and large, critical reception.
So I am still unmoved, arms akimbo.
P.S. Speaking of guys who feel they can "deliver," I caught the first half of "Lady in the Water" last night. A film I was actually excited to see after I'd delightedly read the full body of reviews that endlessly found ways to enunciate how bad it was.
So, I got tanked up on vodka and checked it out. Looking for monumental badness? Nary a right move or appropriate moment, directorially or script-wise? Boy oh boy does this "deliver"! I can't wait to see it again! Oh, the sumptuous narcisism in M. Night's eyes, every moment he's on-screen as the brilliant writer/savior of the planet!
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