Blackadder the Third

[Screenshot]Argh, I’ve done it again, I’m afraid, and overwritten a perfectly good entry with a new one. The victim this time is Black Adder the Third, really my favorite so far in the series. I forgot most of the particularly clever things I said the first time I wrote this up, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they were intelligent and well-thought-out. Mostly, I was cheered to see Hugh Laurie, being foppish and foolish and managing to serve as an interesting and not purely villanous source of conflict for Atkinson’s eponymous character, in contrast to the contempt evinced by Brian Blessed’s excellent Duke of York, or the ditzy sadism of Miranda Richardson’s somewhat less excellent Queen Elizabeth. Anyways, certainly my favorite in the series so far, both in construction and in acting, despite being from a period in British history which I’ve only seen in a completely different light, namely, through the lens of Jane Austen novels. We’ll see what the fourth and final installment brings.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Greg the Bunny, episodes 1–6

[Screenshot]Evidently, the DVD lied, and these episodes aren’t in anything resembling sequence. Not a showstopper, though, since GtB doesn’t ahve anything even resembling continuity. Anyways, this is apparently what Seth Green was doing with his life between That ’70s Show and Robot Chicken; based on those two data points, I have to assume this was the high point of his career. When it’s on, it’s really, really good, as in “SK2.0”, which just works the cast and conceit perfectly, but when it’s off, it plays the conceit a bit too heavily, most notably in “Sock Like Me”, which takes what could be a pretty decent part of a larger plot (prejudice and the dreaded “s-word”) and uses it too centrally. The “puppets among us” schtick works best, I think, when it’s taken to flow naturally. As for characters, again, when they work, they work really well. All the actors (and puppeteers!) play their roles excellently and bring out distinctive aspects of their characters. They’re having fun, and it shows, which is why the best episodes are those with characters bouncing off each other, rather than those which engage in too much worldbuilding.

Good series, fun series, but there’s so much worth experiencing on Netflix that I’ll probably only get around to the second disc in a year or so. The lack of any inter-episode continuity doesn’t give me a burning need to see upcoming plot-arc resolutions, alas.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Comedians

[Screenshot]Low expectations can be a fine thing. They save us from disappointment. The Comedians must set some sort of record as the film I’ve been anticipating seeing for the longest time while not expecting it to actually be all that good. Since it’s finally out on DVD, I’ve realized my ambition of watchnig this mediocre movie at last. I’d say it didn’t live up to the hype, except it didn’t have any. It was intriguing mostly because I didn’t know why it was unsuccessful. It had a great, meaty Graham Greene story and a great deal of extraordinary acting talent (every character in the screenshot shown is, as of today, very well known and respected, although one of them was yet to earn his fame at the time). It seemed like there was a lot that could work. Why didn’t it? One problem was that, at 150 minutes, it was rather overlong; many of the events of the original novel were reproduced faithfully and with long establishing and dramatic shots. The far more serious problem was that nobody acted very well. Lots of good actors in this one, but the principals, particularly Elizabeth Burton and Alec Guiness (a personal hero who I’d like to respect more) seemed to be phoning it in. Paul Ford put on a surprisingly effective performance as the earnest Presidential Candidate (although the extent to which his naïvite was played for humor and situational irony was significantly diminished from the novel), but most of the other performances were quite forgettable.

Oh, and they changed the ending. Significantly. In spite of keeping many unnecessary aspects of the novel. Thbbt. Nonetheless, I’m glad I saw this film, because I can finally stop wondering what it was and why it failed, and start clamoring for that hour-and-a-half of my life and Netflix rental back.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

La vita é bella/Life is Beautiful

[Screenshot]Oh, this one was a wonder. Tragicomic, beautifully done, empathically acted, hitting the right emotional note. I may have to watch nothing but Italian films from now on, simply because they seem to be altogether too often head and shoulders above everything else I watch. Once again, of course, I find myself with a paucity of criticism, making for a boring review. I suppose one could read into this a trivialization of the horrors of the Holocaust, but I wouldn’t do so. That being said, it does seem that the conditions at the camp were more permissive than the average Holocaust memoir indicates (but the camps did vary, and most of the impressions are from Auschwitz). Factual quibbles notwithstanding, tackling serious material in a humorous way is not inherantly trivializing, and can be rather powerfully affecting. I can see how it might be viewed as offensive, but I definitely don’t share the sene of offense.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Jesus Camp

[Screenshot]Let me get straight to the point. I found Jesus Camp compelling, watchable, and intriguing, but I think, in some ways, it fails as art, and particularly as documentary art. The topic is one people inevitably bring their own prejudices to, and this movie makes a valiant attempt not to disrupt any of the multitudes of prejudices that could be brought to the table, which, while the filmmakers’ perogative, I feel is ultimately pointless. Why bring new information to the table, if you’re not going to shake something up? I know more about the fundamentalist movement than before, but I was terrified of them before and I’m still terrified now. The fundamentalist who watched this movie heard the words of a moderate Christian radio commentator whom he thought was too weak for the army of Christ, and his conviction that moderate Christianity has lost sight of the true goal is likewise confirmed. Moderate Christians who watch Jesus Camp… well, I’d imagine they mostly get frustrated and angry that this is presented as mainstream faith. And maybe getting mainstream Christians angry enough to do something is worthwhile, but I have a feeling a lot of the ones who watch this film are already cognizant of the threat fundamentalism poses both to their faith and American political culture. I jsut get the impression that Jesus Camp is only confirming what people already feel. But that’s caution bordering on cowardice in my mind. Isn’t successful art all about rousting people out of their complacent worldview and giving them a new perspective?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Το Βλέμμα του Οδυσσέα/Ulysses’ Gaze

[Screenshot]This is, I reckon, one of those films a lot of other people got more out of than I did. I’m not sure how it ended up on my rental list, to be honest. I’d like to blame but my logs don’t support me on that. Anyways, never minding how it ended up on my pull list, I, eh, feel like I missed something. I think it’s a film for people who are really into film and Balkan history, sicne it’s all about the Manakis brothers and the 20th century events which made “balkanization” a word spelled with a lowercase ‘B’. There are good bits, such as the New Year’s flashback and dancing in Sarajevo, but they’re all jumbled up into an exceedingly tangled plot which reuses characters (in a way which I’m sure is supposed to be very significant) and goes on perhaps a bit too long for my tastes.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Szerelmem, Elektra

[Screenshot]Miklós Jancsó is apparently one of the great traditional Hungarian directors. I’m outside the culture looking in, so I just saw individual films and only later patched them together. Certain stylitic elements of this film reminded me a bit of his earlier, better-regarded Szegénylegények, and, irrationally, of some of Kurosawa’s cinematic framings. The scenery is sparse; horses and horsemen play a strong part, and this gives a very strong impression of the puszta, or at least of the ideal of what the puszta once was. But get past the backdrop and the window-dressing, and what we have is kind of odd. It’s not quite the Elektra myth, but between the conventions of Greek tragic theatre and a story not wholly unike Elektra, it looks like the right story if you squint at it hard enough. The story, honestly, is not what this one’s about, to put it bluntly. It runs a bit iff of the mark of the original story, and near the end gets bogged down, somewhat political, and really very weird and not in the way encouraging you to puzzle it out.

What you should bring home from this one is ritual and cinematic framing, ultimately. A static landscape becoems a ferment of activity, rituals of peasant men and women akin to a dance, sweeping around our central characters, who go unheeding of the commotion around them. With respect to those main characters, only the title character really stands out: Mari Töröcsik rally stands out from a crowd, defiant, angry, and, in this context at elast, ugly. We get a sense of determined isolation and grief before she even speaks. She emotes well, at least with body language.

So, even though this film gets a bit bogged-down and slow near the end, I recommend it for the visual spectacle. That’s actually a shame, because it gets the usual Hungarian cinema treatment in Region 1: crappy interlace, 4:3 aspect ratio, burned-in subtitles. Yes, I’ve said that before, and, yes, I will continue to bitch about it. Especially when it’s ruining a film so reliant on effective visuals.

See also: IMDB.