Sunday, September 04, 2011

Way Behind, Catching Up

Using golf parlance, I've been "put on the clock" by Son #2 for getting up to date on the Netflix reviews. So I'm going to give it a shot; however, caveat emptor - admittedly I don't have much to say about a couple of these movies.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I have to confess that I had trouble staying awake for part of this one. I think that had more to do with me being tired than me not liking the movie. But this is not the kind of movie you really want to fall asleep during and then have to write about afterward. Many of the individual scenes were impressive, but overall I found it to be less than the sum of its parts. But that could be my fault.

The Way Back. I have to admit that I'd never even heard of this movie. For that I deserve another demerit, since it was directed by Peter Weir, who was at the helm for three of my all-time favorites - "Witness," "Master and Commander" and "The Truman Show" - as well as several other very distinguished films. This one tells the true story of a group of prisoners who escaped from a Siberian prison camp during World War II, and then embarked on a 4,000 mile walk to India. While I understand there is some difference in opinion as to whether this particular walk actually occurred the way it was written by one of the survivors, that doesn't really matter with respect to considering the merits of the movie. As I would have expected from a Peter Weir film, "The Way Back" tells its story very effectively, and without an excess of sentiment. The cast, which features Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess and Saorise Ronan, is uniformly excellent. I'm not sure I'd place "The Way Back" in the highest echelon of films by Weir, I have no problem recommending it.

Where the Wild Things Are. If you really want to get a handle for what this movie is all about, you should read Sheila O'Malley's terrific review. As always, Sheila does a wonderful job of getting to the heart of the matter, and putting into words thoughts that most people would have difficulty expressing, even out loud. Now, having said that, I have to say that the movie did not connect for me the way it did for Sheila. I really wanted to like it that much, but for whatever reason, that special spark was missing. I also have to admit that I was really distracted by James Gandolfini's vocal performance - because while I agree with Sheila that Gandolfini does a great job voicing Carol, for the life of me I could not separate that voice from Tony Soprano. The movie is a marvelous achievement - it just didn't quite connect with me as it did for others.

127 Hours. On the other hand, 127 Hours connected with me to a degree that caught me by surprise. I was not expected to be moved by the movie, but I was. I think the success of the movie rests on two factors - first, director Danny Boyle does a wonderful job of filling in the blanks in the character of Aron Ralston (Franco) well before the accident that provides the movie with its title. You feel like you know Ralston, and that is what makes what happens after "the rock" so effective and so affecting. You start with a guy who seems like a lot of fun, but perhaps one who would not be accused of having a lot of depth. What makes the story moving once Ralson is trapped is the depth that he finds within himself, a maturity that perhaps was lacking before, that allows him to make the decision that ultimately saves his life. He comes to the conclusion that life is worth living, and not for the reasons one might suspect. James Franco deserved all of the accolades he received for the role, nailing perfectly both the fun-loving and spiritual sides of Ralston.

OK, that's four down, and four to go. Stay tuned!

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