Ondine

[Screenshot]Ondine is, I fear, less than the sum of its parts. There’s a lot here that could or should be good, thematically, since we’ve got a dying girl and a redeemed alcoholic and a possible mythological figure bouncing off of each other and it seems like a storyline that should go to excellent places. But there are two problems, one of which might be me. The part that might be me is enunciation. Everyone (but especially Colin Farrell) affects a thick Irish accent and mumbles, with the result that almost all the dialogue was completely unintelligible. If I spoke Spanish I might have been able to work with this, since for some incomprehensible reason the DVD only had Spanish subtities (I thought English subtitles or captions were a pretty standard feature on any work with a half-decent budget), but as things stood I actually missed most of the dialogue and ended up kludging the plot together from events. The other problem is that none of these plot elements actually receives any sort of dramatic fulfillment. Syracuse isn’t tempted to return to his boozing ways, and Annie doesn’t appear to be even inconvenienced by her illness, much less dying of it. And the mysterious woman from the sea, while eventually driving the plot forwards, seems to be steadily driving in into less interesting places than where it started until all the magic is drained out of the film’s mood. Maybe those elements work better with the dialogue’s assistance, but as it actually transpired on my viewing, it was more than a little disappointing.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Hyènes

[Screenshot]I, like a lot of college students of German, read Dürrenmatt’s Der Besuch der Alten Dame, and found it reasonably interesting. There are surprisingly few films based on this work, and Hyènes is both the highest-profile and in many ways the most intriguing. It actually hews quite close to the source material but manages to take on new themes: A little Senegalese desert village is a different matter, both culturally and economically, from even the most decrepit Swiss town, and the prospect of even comparatively modest wealth having as profound an effect as Ramatou’s does is somewhat more believeable in this context. This adaptation also drops some of the more overtly farcical aspects of the Dürrenmatt work, such as Clare’s ludicrously large and purely comic entourage. The resulting work is more grounded in reality and more chilling. It’s still shot through with dark comedy, because the story fundamentally has an element of the absurd, but it feels a lot meatier and sharper in this less fantastic setting.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Princess and the Frog

[Screenshot]I haven’t actually taken in a Disney original feature animated film in a while, and got the impression I wasn’t missing much, with increasing tokenization and worsening art and being pitched at Kids Today, from whom I am increasingly remote. But I got the impression this one was actually pretty good, so I decided to give it a go. I wasn’t disappointed! There’s actually some refreshing willingness to step outside of a lot of the boundaries which have bound Disney of late. It doesn’t have that trying-too-hard-to-be-hip vibe that characterizes far too much children’s entertainment today, and the animation is reminiscent of a less-stylized naturalistic design from Disney’s glory days. But it still seems to have basically modern sensibilities, and encompasses a number of good progressive ideals (strong women and large minority roles) without becoming oppressively tokenistic. The art is organic, the characters and voice-acting appealing, and the music pleasantly appropriate. It works quite well. I wasn’t blown away, but I was satisfied and entertained.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Cyrano de Bergerac

[Screenshot]I rather like the text of Cyrano de Bergerac, although I’ve never seen a stage performance of it, so this will have to do. It even uses the same translation I read (Brian Hooker’s). There are bits, particularly wordplay-intensive bits, whose omission I missed, but that’s ever the curse of an adaptation. Mostly this worked; there’s significant hamminess in a lot of the scenes, but, hey, it’s a hammy play, and Jose Ferrer is particularly well-placed, full of swagger and bravado and just the right amount of tragedy. Mala Powers’s Roxanne is a bit indifferent and unconvincing, but they can’t all be winners.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Internet Archive (free download).

Alice in Wonderland

[Screenshot]I am starting to think the temptation to do horrible things to the source material is such that pretty much nobody can do a good Alice in Wonderland film. The only ones I’ll give the time of day to any more are the faithful Richard Burton 1983 adaptation and Švankmajer’s completely insane but artistically fascinating Něco z Alenky. Suffice to say, Tim Burton is not really impressing me here. I already felt like we were treading some awfully well-turned-over ground when we were introduced to our proto-feminist in Victorian society, an overdone premise which seems to have the dual purpose of making the protagonist simultaneously sympathetic and wholly unrealistic. Pretty much everybody in the frame story is an absurd Victorian stereotype or deconstruction thereof, so it’s a relief to escape from caricature-world into the comparatively realistic structure of Wonderland.

Then again, maybe not. Like the Sci-Fi channel’s Alice, this film labors under the delusion that the surreal satirical fantasy world of Wonderland is a good setting for a high-fantasy epic, so everyone goes on about prophecies and swords and missions and rules, all of which is rather severely undercut that the Big Epic Battle is apparently between a bobblehead and Galadriel in black lipstick.

There are all sorts of weird mechanical mistakes I could take exception to, some of which are depressingly common in free adaptations: the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts are hopelessly muddled (the pastiche of the two different books is fine, but these are actually fairly distinct characters), and the “Jabberwocky” is actually a poem about a creature called a “Jabberwock”, but in the end my biggest problem is one of tone. Alice in Wonderland is a fundamentally whimsical work, and these high-fantasy trappings are very hard to take seriously.

On cinematic and computer technology it’s pretty solid, but these days nobody expects otherwise from Tim Burton. He’s working with several from his usual stable of actors, and they’re delivering mostly the kind of performances they usually do: in my estimation, Helena Bonham Carter’s usual actually works pretty well as the Red Queen, but somehow Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter doesn’t quite work, because he can’t seem to decide whether to be the antagonistic and sneering Hatter of the original work, or the Captain Exposition which this reworking demands.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Memed my Hawk

[Screenshot]Seduced by the lead role of Peter Ustinov, I decided to take a look at this late-career work of his. I’m afraid it is not one of his strongest films. In fairness, he puts on a good show, playing his role with an expansive wit, but every moment he’s not on the screen drags painfully. It doesn’t help, mind, that there are no actual Turks in the production, and it’s seriously undermined by technical issues, as the DVD transfer is fairly low-quality. But mostly, it fails to really appeal thanks to long scenes of fairly static plot, where the rebels or the authorities exposit at length but not very interestingly. In the end, it didn’t leave much of an impression, although Ustinov deserves credit for his delightful (and more than a little hammy) tyranny.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

California Dreamin’ (Nesfârșit)

[Screenshot]I kind of expected this Romanian film to be a black comedy about Kosovo, based on the summary descriptions I read; but it’s actually a story during but incidental to the Kosovo crisis. It’s also based on a true story, but very loosely: the actual event inspiring this film was undramatic, so the causes of and the local reaction to the stranding of the unit had to be tweaked considrably.

It’s a cute slice-of-life story, which doesn’t seem to be particularly in pursuit of a particular theme, and falling into the fairly standard plot of a technoglogically and economically superior force descending upon a quiet little town and sending it into an uproar. It’s a competent play on that particular plot construction, and pleasingly non-idealistic. There are lots and lots of characters and most of them are well-enoguh characterized to feel like Real People. The acting and technical aspects are no great shakes, but they’re working with a firm story-structure foundation.

However, ultimately, slice-of-life is a bit colorless no matter how interesting the events are, which combines dangerously with the film’s ridiculous 2.5-hour length: after a while, it gets badly bogged down and it feels like too much movie for its actual plot. There is much that is good and enjoyable in this work, but I think it would actually be more enjoyable if there were considerably less of it.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.