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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Better to See You With, My Dear 1/2

This week's movies piglets:

The Terror (1963)

The plot: A lost soldier from Napoleon's army (Jack Nicholson) follows a mysterious woman to the dark castle of a morose baron (Boris Karloff) who bears a dark secret.

As the story goes, master of low-budget film Roger Corman had just finished filming a re-make of The Raven with Karloff, and, always a penny-pincher, he filmed this second film on the same set -- even as it was being torn down around them. The sets are impressive, and if I'd paid to have them built, I'd probably want to film a couple movies on them before tearing them down, too. The score is creepy, but a bit heavy-handed (even inappropriate) at times. Nicholson is miscast, but overcomes it with a fierce commitment to the role. (Good ol' Jack. . . er, young Jack.) Suspenseful and eerie, this movie is visually quite stunning. Unfortunately there are some wild and oh-so-convenient plot twists toward the end, and a full-on WTF? ending.
For Nicholson fans and Karloff fans and for film buffs interested in watching these two screen legends together -- one at the beginning of his career and the other one very near the end of his.

Barabbas (1962)

The plot: Barabbas (Anthony Quinn), the criminal released so that Jesus could be crucified, spends the rest of his life haunted by his fate in this fictionalized biography.

Hollywood went crazy for biblical epics in the late 50's and early 60's. They were picturesque costumed melodramas with thunderous scores and pious protagonists.
Barabbas has all of the costumes and sets with very little of the melodrama and preachiness. Quinn is brilliant as the confirmed non-believer wrestling with his demons. Barabbas's story is not a happy one, but it definitely is an interesting one, and there are some great scenes of the gladiator battles in the Roman Coliseum.

The Matador (2006)

The plot: Struggling businessman Danny (Greg Kinnear) meets burnt-out hitman Julian (Pierce Brosnan) in a hotel bar in Mexico. Both men's lives are forever changed.

I'm a big Pierce Brosnan fan, and I've come to appreciate his work not only as an actor but as a producer as well. Mr. Brosnan has proven quite adept at surrounding himself with the proper cast and crew needed to put together a very watch-able film. The Matador is not an exception to this rule, but it is a somewhat lesser film when compared to other recent projects like Evelyn, After the Sunset and Laws of Attraction. Still, it's a fun film to watch, and Brosnan's Julian is cool, vulnerable, focused, and scattered all at once. Greg Kinnear is also quite good as Danny, but his character could have done with a bit more development. (Not Kinnear's fault, though, as I see it.) I wish that the film had been a little longer (it's only 90 minutes!) to flesh out the story a little more, but, for me, it's right up there with Layer Cake and Sexy Beast in the genre of "criminal cool."

Forbidden Zone (1980)

The plot: (from IMDb) A mysterious door in the basement of the Hercules house leads to the Sixth Dimension by way of a gigantic set of intestine. When Frenchy slips through the door, King Fausto {(Herve Villechaize)} falls in love with her. The jealous Queen Doris takes Frenchy prisoner, and it is up to the Hercules family and friend Squeezit Henderson to rescue her.

Before Danny Elfman became the master of scores for superhero movies (Batman, Spiderman, etc.) he was the front man and creative force behind 80's ska/new-wave group, Oingo Boingo. Before that, he was a founding member of a performance art troupe called The Mystic Nights of the Oingo Boingo. Forbidden Zone is Richard Elfman's (Danny's brother) effort to capture the "magic" of the Mystic Nights on-screen.
I do not know how to describe this film. It's weird, but it's not just weird. It's weirder than Shock Treatment. It's weirder than 200 Motels. It's weirder than Head.
But I kinda liked it.

Dreamgirls (2006)

The plot: A black 60's girl group (very much like the Supremes) rises to superstardom with plenty of heartache and sacrifice along the way in the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical.

Wow. I knew that Eddie Murphy would be good. I've felt that he's been a bit under-rated for a while. I knew that Jamie Foxx would be good. I've become a fan of his work. I was reticent about Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce Knowles. Can they sing? Yes, of course they can. Did I think that these two young women would put forward such performances on the screen that they could actually bring a mean ol' varmint to tears? No. No, I didn't. What a surprise.

One last thought:
When you applaud a live performance, you are sending a message to the performer: "I enjoyed your work! I was impressed! You moved me!"
When you applaud in a movie theater, the message you're sending is: "Look at me! Look at me! I'm a bigger fan of this movie than the rest of you!"
But that's just my opinion.

Real final thought: If you're thinking of text messaging during a movie, look behind you first. If I'm sitting anywhere behind you . . . you're going to want to move.

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