Jul 12 2004

Recent movie roundup

Quick opinions on the following movies I've seen recently:

Spider-man 2, 2004
Anchorman, 2004
All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930
The Bicycle Thief, 1948
The Big Sleep, 1946
Wonder Boys, 2000
The Bells of St. Mary's, 1945

Read on for the reviews.

Spider-man 2 (2004)

Even with the typically blurry projection that I saw, the effects in Spider-man 2 are much more spectacular than the first movie, and that's only one of many improvements in the sequel. Unhindered by the lengthy character introduction of the first film, we get a really great comic book adaptation, with excellent performances from Alfred Molina (Doc Oc) and Toby Maguire. Director Sam Raimi is back, and he eases the viewer through the nonsense explanations and shows us really top-notch action scenes, and the drama (there's a lot of it) is never labored. Good stuff. The only complaints I have are 1. Molina should have had at least 20 minutes more screen time and 2. the film insists on beating us over the head with the point (which is pretty much the same as the previous film's with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility theme).

Anchorman (2004)

Ostensibly a spoof of 70s news anchormen, this is actually an absurdist comedy, falling somewhere between the over-the-line humor of American Pie and the surreal gags of, say, Ben Stiller (who makes a surprise appearance to, what was in the theater I saw it in, great applause). The very funny Will Ferrell is no comedy virtuoso, but something about his delivery is appealing, and Christina Applegate (looking very weathered) puts in a decent performance as the new iconoclastic anchorwoman who becomes the foil to the Ferrell's misogynistic Ron Burgundy. Worth a shot.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

An important landmark in the history of film, this adaptation of Remarque's WW1 drama is in some ways this film is very of its time. The director, Lewis Milestone, was, like Hitchcock, originally a silent film director, and he's preoccupied with the visuals in the film, not relying on (rather tedious) dialog to flesh things out. A lost art, this technique shows us the idea instead of merely telling it to us. Several unforgettable shots pepper a movie that, in some ways, doesn't hold up, and in other ways is every bit as wonderful as when it was conceived (notice, for instance, the opening shot of soldiers marching past an open windows, framed in the frame).

The Bicycle Thief (1948)

Described in texts as a "simple" movie about a man and his son trying to recover a lost bicycle, I would characterize it more as 'simplistic'. The film depicts an economically depressed italian town, wherein a certain man must have his bicycle to post signs or he will have no source of income. His bike is stolen, and he tries for the duration of the film to recover it. The point of "how far he will go" is trite or perhaps the film simply doesn't hold up well.

The Big Sleep (1946)

This is the B-movie adaptation of Hammett's book of the same name, starring Bogart and Bacall in their second appearance together (and just prior to their marriage). The plot thickens to a steamy pea soup by the end, and we mostly only want to keep paying attention because of Bogart and Bacall's repoire. Not bad, but certainly a trifle.

Wonder Boys (2000)

Funny, witty, and well acted, Wonder Boys is an interesting investigation of the upper crust intellectuals and their difficulties coping with life. What more can I say?

The Bells of Saint Mary's (1945)

My initial assumption was that any movie surviving from 1945 must have some merit. Surely an essentially sappy, boring, artistically devoid vat of nonsense would hot survive so many years in critics' memories and be distributed on dvd.

I was sorely mistaken. The Bells of Saint Mary's is perhaps the single most boring film I've actually sat through. It stars Bing Crosby, as the priest and new head of St. Mary's Private School, opposite what is supposed to be a spunky 2nd-in-command nun played by the normally wonderful Ingrid Bergman. This film contains no conflict whatsoever, despite what it tries for, and cannot muster much of anything to get the viewer to care about the events that are transpiring. Worst of all: it clocks in at 126 dreadful minutes.