Monday, December 01, 2003

I'm behind by two movies now, so I'll pound these out. Actually by three movies, but the first one sucked. I'll do the first one quickly.

EARTHQUAKE

This is the kind of movie that you end up over at a friend's house in the middle of the day on Thanksgiving weekend watching because you're full of food and have nothing better to do. And Lo!
What gets me is that this is an example of a movie that gets money upon money thrown at it by a studio and meanwhile (a year or two later actually) Coppola is chewing off his own limbs to get Apocalypse Now made.
Earthquake was one of those lugubrious disaster flicks that studios wanted us to want in the 70's and, forgetting and repeating history, again in the 90's. It has Charleton Heston, George Kennedy, Walter Matthau (working under a fake name), the remains of Ava Gardner, Lorne Greene, and Victoria Principle taking second billing to her breasts and afro.
The earthquake doesn't happen until about four hours into the film. There's long and involved plots that don't really have anything to do with each other except to give us a puritanical morality, dishing out comeuppances from the hideously amoral to those who made slight personal errors. When the earthquake comes we see giant hunks of building instantly turn into small pieces of foam when it cuts from the long shot to the close ups in the street. We see the senseless destruction of many models that some poor schmoe probably stayed up all night making. And all the camera shaking techniques known to man. Then there's another few hours of things about to break and fall apart on the survivors.
My advice is this: Don't see Earthquake unless you're in a room full of your funniest friends who are all intoxicated.

FINDING NEMO

Here's a happy surprise. My mother bought herself the DVD and, while watching their house while they were hunting over the holiday, I watched it. It reminded me that I don't watch near as many fun films as I should.
Pixar's got all the good writers right now. Disney keeps threatening to quit hand animating if we don't start getting into the theaters. They think that the animation is the reason we're really into Pixar and not so much into hand animation anymore. Granted, the animation is phenominal. I find Pixar's attention to detail thrilling and, frankly, spoiling. Ice Age looked like a turd after I saw Monsters Inc. But the real reason I like Pixar is that they're good story tellers telling stories that we haven't seen our whole lives. They also tell some new jokes. Disney seems to have that epidemic that afflicts those with way too much money. They are too far out of the people's reach to figure out what the people would like. Like when Oprah tells you that you need a PDA like it's something you can buy with the change in the bottom of your pocket.
Oh dear me, I've wandered off topic again. They make the characters so lovably and identifiably withly human. Marlin totally has my smothering-with-love-out-of-fear-of-losing-another-loved-one problem. His is the main lesson of the film and a good one for parents and kids to see. I wish I'd seen it when I was a kid.
Dory. Golly. I can't help but be in love with Ellen DeGeneres. She's so charming. Nissa got me into her standup a while ago and I was surprise to find that she's just a panic to listen to. In Finding Nemo she's the glue that kept me wanting to see the ocean parts (besides the fact that I knew a whale was coming and that Barry Humphries did a voice too.)
So, I had a great time watching this film. I don't have that great a time watching films enough. I mean, I love films so much that I feel the need to do this after I watch them, but I don't usually have this much fun. I thought it was best Pixar work I've seen (and I've seen all their films and many shorts.) Although the extras on the Monsters Inc. DVD are better than the extras on Finding Nemo in my opinion.

DEAD MAN WALKING

Nissa took me to the opera of Dead Man Walking for one of my birthdays. It was one of the better contemporary operas, right up there with Einstein on the Beach for me but different as night and day. So I finally watched the film. I still haven't read the book. Shame.
I was surprised by the differences. The film told the story from a much more spiritual point of view, which surprised me because Tim Robbins has professed his contentment with agnosticism on many occasions. I also liked that the film focused so strongly on the families of the victims. The opera brushed over the families of the victims and focused on why we shouldn't kill a human. In retrospect, that part of it was a little heavy handed. The film makes the issue a much more leveled one and a much less clear cut one, leaving it open for discussion. The film also doesn't shy away from showing the great faults and evils of the convict. That gives Sean Penn the opportunity for a character arch, which he takes like a pit bull.
The one thing I thought was stronger in the opera was the execution (I'm not ruining it for anyone. This is the most famous part of the opera and, in fact, implied by the title of the danged thing.) On stage they are silent for a minute and a half while they mechanically perform the proceedure. Go sit in silence while looking at a clock for a minute and a half and you'll get an idea of how long it really is when it's brought to your attention. The film has flashbacks and music during it which muddied it up for me.
Speaking of music, the score was great. So, sometimes nepotism works!
But the main reason I'm itching to read the book now is that the opera put so much social commentary onto the story. The film put so many spiritual questions onto the story. I wonder what the lady who lived through it put onto the story.
Unfortunately, as a Quaker, they were preaching to the choir. I didn't really need a film to make me opposed to the death penalty. It is a film that I'm glad I now own. I'm glad this message is out there for people to pick up.
Which reminds me of another small detail from the opera. When we were coming out of it they had a stand selling t-shirts and what not. I saw that they actually had "Dead Man Walking" coffee mugs. I looked around the lobby at the richest people in Orange County who had come out to see the show and thought, "What a perfect thing for them to have to look at when they wake up each morning."


Now I'm up to date on the film reviews.

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