Firefly: Unreversable polarization

Over the last couple of days, I’ve watched all 15 episodes of Firefly. Incontravertably, it is something. It’s clearly, and understandably, a series on which there’s considerable difference of opinion. Many people have many things to say both for and against this series. Yeah, it plays its schtick a bit hard, but I don’t think they make it too gimmicky, although there are some visuals which are a bit heavy-handed about the conflation of sci-fi and western elements. Mostly, I like this on the strength of the characters. The characters are, if a bit prototypical, well conceived and well acted, although I simply could not separate Jayne in my mind from The Usual Suspects‘s McManus. Related (and similar-looking) actors, same facial hair, and same basic character and mannerisms. I haven’t seen too many Baldwins in too many different films, so it was very unnerving. I’m disappointed that so many questions were left open-ended, but I guess Joss Whedon expected more time to tie up the loose ends.

I liked it enough that I’ll probably find time to watch Serenity when my life calms down.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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The Man Who Fell to Earth: Sex, sex, capitalism, and sex.

Sci-fi from the 70s is interesting if for no other reason than the increased, or at least more overt, social consciousness. Logan’s Run presented the age-gap and a radical response to the perceived burden of an aging population; Soylent Green described a world revaged by poor environmental policy; Rollerball was about, um, the dangers of megacorporations (I’m making this up as I go along, of course). The Man Who Fell to Earth has at its core, essentially, the destructive nature of human acquisitiveness and fear. Layer that with an awful lot of moderately disturbing sex scenes, and you’ve got this film, more or less, although they don’t exactly spoonfeed it to the audience. It jumps around in time and place, between the real and the envisioned, fluidly if confusingly.

And, of course, there’s David Bowie. He’s a striking choice for the alien: he kind of is alien, with an otherworldly sort of emotive flatness, which fades gradually over the course of the film as Newton himself becomes more humanlike. It’s hard to describe, but he’s an intriguing actor, carrying over a lot of the more inhuman aspects of his glam-rock persona. We don’t see that so much in, say, Labyrinth.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Quiet American ’58: Why the CIA shouldn’t make movies

A surprise addition to the schedule! This was on PBS tonight, and it’s not the well-known recent film with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, but a far older version starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave. Had I seen it in complete ignorance, I might think of it as a half-decent thriller with wooden acting (Audie Murphy, in particular, fails to exude any particular traits; Brendan Fraser captured Pyle’s naïveté and earnestness far better). But I’m not completely ignorant: I’ve read the novel on which it’s based and assess it on those grounds. It’s far more literalist than the 2002 film, lifting most of the dialogue and situations directly from the book instead of utilizing pastiche to compress them, but the literalism is shown to be something they only do when convenient, since about 75 minutes into the film the script deviates alarmingly from the Greene stance. Pyle’s a private citizen involved in absolutely nothing shady, Fowler’s a dupe of the Communists, and the entire fucking theme of the original story goes out the window. This one pissed Graham Greene off mightily, and I can see why.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

用心棒 (Yojimbo): Culture-independent machismo

What fascinates me about this film is how very quasi-Western it is. It’s no wonder Kurosawa’s films kept getting turned into Clint Eastwood westerns; They’ve got that positive vibe already, what with the lawlessness (of a tumultous period of history, rather than a new land), the definitions of honor, and the archetype of the proud, defiant, and righteous fighter. I haven’t seen A Fistful of Dollars, so I have no real basis for comparison, but there are at least a few scenes which I could see transplanted pretty much identically with a change in costumes only. Speaking of costumes, one thing which struck me in this (and did not strike me in previous Kurosawa films, so I don’t know if I’m unobservant or whether this was a peculiarity of the acting here) is ho often, on the verge of action, people’s arms seem to be tucked into their kimonos. Wouldn’t that make sudden movements sort of awkward? Of course, that’s not nearly as weird to my eye as how the gunfighter holds his weapon with his hands coming out of the neckhole/slit. That too seems rather awkward, because it really doesn’t look like he has much range of motion. Is that actually an effective way to hold a pistol?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia

Twelve Angry Men: Get Your Law On

I’m quite fond of courtroom dramas, a fix I usually get from “Law and Order”, but I was glad to get a chance to watch a classic courtroom-drama movie too. I’ve also read the script of this one, or perhaps of the stageplay, but it was years ago in school. I’m fairly favorably impressed by this one, both from an acting perspectiveand a cinematic standpoint. The latter’s particularly meaningful, since from a technical perspective this one works reasonably well as a stageplay: one room, no effects, dialogue rather than body language as the primary vehicle for the characterization. Nonetheless, the cinematic technique is fairly effective, giving both the feel of a “large picture”, with the jury moving around, when necessary, and using close-ups for focus at pivotal speeches. It could have used some work on some of the close-ups, when people were off-center, but overall, it had effective acting (especially by Henry Fonda, although everyone did pretty well with what they were given) well-served by the camera’s eye.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Kiss Me Deadly: The prequel to Repo Man?

My perennial complaint about noir: too many women and too many corpses. At least we know there’s a common source for all the dead bodies. The MacGuffin’s a bit less compelling than, say, the eponymous statuette of The Maltese Falcon, simply because it’s so vaguely described it could be anything. I have an inkling it’ll be retrieved later and end up in the trunk of a 1964 Chevy Malibu, or in a briefcase carried by Samuel L. Jackson. It’s got some compelling acting, characters good and comfortable in their roles, but, my, the plot’s a mess, perhaps almost as much as The Big Sleep.

Oh, two striking visual elements: first, those backwards-scrolling credits are really jarring, since they’re also printed bottom-to-top. And that answering-machine is great. I didn’t know there were machine-type answering services in the fifties.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Münchhausen: How to lose a war in style

This film, apparently, singlehandedly destroyed the Third Reich.

I exaggerate, of course, but there’s no denying that in 1942 it was probably not a good idea for Goebbels to divert money from vital losing-the-war purposes to create a high-fantasy epic. What fascinates me is how little this film has to do, directly or metaphorically, with anything impacting Germany at the time. It’s difficult to divorce films created under extraordinary political circumstances from that context, but this one seems to have a very good prenuptual agreement. It’s a whimsical, sensual, and glamorous adventure. For my generation, the Baron Münchhausen myth is inextricably linked to the Terry Gilliam remake of this film; while less exciting, and wacky, this film presents the story well, and has colorful details missing from Gilliam’s version.

See also: IMDB.