Monday, January 22, 2007

movie of the week: stalag 17

seeing as how i have become quite fascinated with films and see quite a lot of movies (part of the manifestation of this movie fascination i will explain shortly), a good running feature that i've decided to implement is the movie of the week. on occasions where i see more than one that week (or in this case since it's the first feature and i've got a backlog), i might give a short synopsis of multiple pictures in one post, as you'll see below.

ah yes, a manifestation of this movie fascination. so, i've got quite a burned dvd collection that i am building, and i've got a serious Netflix queue and monthly bill; i just had to downgrade to five at a time, as needless to say, they're coming in faster than i can watch them. an rss feed to the top five in my queue is off to the right. anyway, on to the movie(s).

stalag 17
classic flick from the 1950s. Robert Strauss and William Holden star, the latter winning an Oscar for his role as the hard nosed Sgt. Sefton. Set in a Nazi POW camp for Americans in WWII, it's a fantastic mix of comedy and drama, with the ensemble cast of POW characters spanning the broad cross section of the American diaspora.

Billy Wilder, who I'm not extremely familiar with, directed. Some have complained that this didn't gel with Wilder's other work (Sunset Boulevard for example) as far as being too dark, but I don't think that's a legitimate criticism. The film did minimize the atrocities of the Germans a bit, especially considering how recently the war had ended, but American POW camps were, from what I understand, bastions of calm among the chaos and genocide of the other German prisoner operations.

Holden's character is fantastic...never yielding to anyone, and never letting you be sure if he's doing the right thing because of moral or fiduciary considerations. He's a classic anti-hero who provides no moral redemption to his fellow POWs and no easy answers for the audience. The cinematography is pretty decent considering the period, and the traditional overacting of early American movies is considerably muted.

The blend between comedy and drama/tragedy can be uneven at times, with the movie decidedly front weighted with comedy, but during most of the film, as the suspense builds, it strikes a great balance and provides an amazing range of emotions rarely found in concert.

overall, an excellent movie. highly recommended.

I've seen some other movies recently in the theatres, so I'll put a little bit about those as well.

The Painted Veil - Ed Norton is one of my favorite actors, so I was excited for this. I'm not familiar with the book (by W. Somerset Maugham), but from what I understand this version, that Norton has been trying to make since the late 1990s, looks more at the politics of the times and further develops some of the romantic elements. Despite occasional forays into areas of overwrought drama, it was quite a good picture. Some interesting concepts, aside from the obvious story about how people truly come to love one and other, are the idea of games that people play, as well as the readily apparent contradictory sociopolitical conceptions put forth by Norton's character. The few complaints I had revolved around: a) the passage of time, as portrayed, often felt disjointed, and b) the movie was shot on location in China, but the cinematographer chose to shoot mostly very tight shots, not giving a sense of proportion or really allowing the beautiful countryside to affect the movie in any significant way. This overly tight framing also found it's way into much of the rest of the movie, but my aversion in this respect may be more personal preference as far as filmmaking goes. Overall, a very good flick.

Volver - putting aside an pejorative connotations, if any movie deserved the label "chick flick," Volver certainly is it. There are only a handful of male characters, and the only one of any consequence (it spoils nothing to reveal this) makes an early exit. I had my issues with this movie, but it was quite funny and engaging nonetheless. Penelope Cruz is excellent in her role. A primary complaint was the final plot twist, which I just found far too outlandish. But still worth seeing, particularly for Cruz' performance.

Children of Men - despite the fact that it usually seems that Clive Owen is always playing the same character (maybe it's the accent), i always enjoy his performances (see Closer: "why? because i'm a fucking caveman, that's why!"). This was a really interesting movie, and the second half is really thrilling and pulse pounding. Sci-fi always requires a bit of suspension of disbelief surrounding the original premise or situation that led to the particular future condition experienced by the characters, but i still felt that the writers could have provided a bit more information on the background of the time period, rather than asking the viewer to accept it on faith. they dole out information in small doses, but ultimately it's not enough. i also found the documentary style camera work to be annoying in the early stages of the movie, but as the action develops it ceases to become a concern, as there is enough going on on-screen to distract from it. the ending i felt was great, with the sharp cut to the credits and the end score setting a great final tone for the whole feature. good, and worth seeing as well, despite my complaints.

so that's that. happy movie watching. more next week.


risk said...

you're busted as a blogger, big t.

looj said...

busted, like how? like i was trying to hide it...

although i wasn't blowing up the spot cuz i ain't got much up here yet.