Sunday, December 18, 2005

Kong Producers Brokeback Pride and Mrs. Henderson

Last time I went from 'rant to rave.' This time I will 'rave to rant.'

"King Kong" was another example of how much Peter Jackson likes movies. Not just 'movies' but BIG MOVIES!! His latest works are filled with the joy of what makes going to a BIG MOVIE is all about! Yes, 'Kong' is over 3 hours long. So what?! The first hour is the slowest of the three and may test the patience of those waiting to see the Big Ape, but it is a required exposition that will make the third hour all that more emotionally rewarding. The second hour is pretty much an homage to Steven Spielberg, back when Spielberg was FUN! (aka, Indy Jones, Jurassic, etc.) It is almost breathless in it's series of confrontations! The third hour is where Naomi Watts and Andy Serkis (the CGI'ed Kong) really get to shine! I was more emotionally involved in their tragic climax than I was in "Brokeback Mountain" (more on that, later). Visually, Jackson and his production design team and the Weta Workshop have created and re-created some fabulous worlds! I experienced those "is this real?!" gasps that I hadn't had since "Jurassic Park (I)" when the dino ate the man out of the out-house. I LOVED this film!

"The Producers" on the other hand doesn't create a new world as much as re-create the musical stage production, which is FINE with me! I loved the musical on stage, and Susan Stroman adapted to the screen 95% of the production. It doesn't serve so much as a 'cinematic adaptation' as it is an archival of the stage production. She does open it up, but in only two scenes ("You Can Do It!" in Central Park and "Little Old Lady Land" in the streets of New York), yet they still feel 'stage bound.' Now this is where cinema purists/critics and those who 'just like movies' are going to split. I think it mostly has to do with the cinematography. She does not break (or actually photograph) the 4th wall. In one way, it preserves the actors' moments when they DO break the '4th wall' and sing/speak directly to the audience. In another way, it anchors the film into a stage-like setting by not letting us see the entire set. (For instance, I was surprised to learn that Roger De Bris' apartment was not a set, but actually shot at a mansion.) But I think that is quibbling about cinematic aesthetics. What REALLY matters is the production itself, which I loved! There are moments that even improved on the original material as far as I am concerned, i.e. the blue blanket bit, and of course, the pigeons! (I LOVE the pigeons!!) Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beach and Roger Bart blast out their performances as if they had just opened the show! I LOVED them! Will Farrell actually stands his ground and keeps up with this 'family'. His reprise during the final credits is worth the price of the soundtrack CD! My only hesitation is Uma Thurman's 'Ulla.' She is physically perfect, and she acts the part, however she is also obviously over-dubbed in her singing and has a replacement dancer during the more difficult moves. I just don't think she is a big enough box office draw to justify her casting over someone who could fully perform the role. Other than that MINOR hesitation, I LOVED the movie, and up to the VERY END of the credits! (I want to see it again!)

"Brokeback Mountain" (aka 'the gay cowboy movie' aka 'the gay date movie of the year') did not emotionally satisfy me nearly as much as the previous two mentions. Though I LIKED this, I can't say that I loved it, much less fell prey to it's attempt to force me into a 'three hanky' sob fest, unlike many of those around me. Ang Lee is just too tasteful of a director to actually MOVE me into an emotional catharsis. The only exception to that, is "Sense and Sensibility," but I credit those moments to Emma Thompson, who wrote it and was obviously a strong enough performer to transcend Lee's emotional discretion. Heath Ledger, as well as Michelle Williams, prove to be strong enough to transcend Lee's control. However, I did not find Jake Gyllenhaal to be quite as capable. I blame it on his opening shot: Gyllenhaal and Ledger or nearly choreographed to be archetypal cowboys. Ledger is able to break from it, whereas I never thought Gyllenhall did. At that point, I was looking at them, particularly Gyllenhaal as stereotypes: 1) gay cowboys; 2) Jack = pushy bottom (which is maybe why I think Gyllenhaal seemed uncomfortable to me)/Ennis = cold top, who could only express his love through anger; 3) Jack's wife (Anne Hathaway) = long suffering and in denial; etc. There were just too many trite pieces for me to get emotionally involved. And I never felt the 'social pressure' that forbade their love as explicitly as say "Boys Don't Cry." That said, I do think that Ledger and Williams were nearly brilliant! It was their partners (Gyllenhaal and Hathaway) that didn't let it soar for me. The second unit photography is GORGEOUS! The production design is right on, which seems to be an Ang Lee specialty, i.e. "The Ice Storm" "Sense and Sensibility" "Crouching Tiger...". Overall, I LIKED it, however, I would NOT consider it the 'Best Film' of the year (NY, LA, SF and Boston Critics awards, a half dozen Golden Globe noms, etc.)

Finally, "Pride and Prejudice" was another lovely little adaptation. Keira Knightly was surprisingly GOOD as Elizabeth! Dame Judi Dench did her 'steamrolling curmudgeon' with great effectiveness and Donald Sutherland was GREAT as Elizabeth's father. However, Matthew MacFayden as Darcy was a bit... drab, and Brenda Blethyn really needs to find a new character to play, other than an overbearing mother. There were some nearly brilliant cinematic moments: the ballroom scene, overall all was spectacular in it's technical virtuosity! There is an exceptionally LONG take as we drift from room to room in the mansion, eavesdropping on a half dozen conversations; the 'crowd disappearing act' in the middle of Elizabeth's and Darcy's dance; the editing of 'across the room glances.' It was an exceptional 10 minutes out of a fairly routine Jane Austen flick. The last 5 minutes are totally out of period and character for the film and ALMOST ruins it, however.

Speaking of Dame Judi Dench, she gives a near Oscar worthy turn in "Mrs. Henderson Presents..."! The film itself is pretty confectionary, but I LAUGHED a lot and LOVED Dench and Bob Hoskins! That's all I need to say about THAT! ;)


Anonymous said...

But does Jake look good nekkid? That's what's important.


Jay, the Angry Little Man said...

uh, he's ok... though, as I tried to describe, Ang Lee is TOO discrete to show anything TRULY explicit... :\