The Morning After: Nov. 14, 2011

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post an individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Thief of Bagdad


This enduring fantasy classic follows a young prince overthrown by a ruthless adviser who pines for the beauty of a neighboring king’s daughter, who has already fallen in love with our erstwhile hero. At his side is a faithful peasant thief who directs our hero on his path towards love and success. The success of the film doesn’t lie in the performances of its actors. John Justin as prince Ahmad and June Duprez as the Princess are barely interesting, Justin obviously chosen for his handsome face and hot his acting ability. And although Conrad Veidt as Jaffar, Ahmad’s former adviser; and India-native Sabu as Ahmad’s companion Abu are strong actors in the film, but the visual effects and art direction take center stage. A gorgeous film from a visual perspective, the creative effects drive a fantastical story of flying mechanical horses and massive genies and make them seem quite effectively realistic for that era. Vincent Korda’s set designs are breathtaking from the massive wooden ships from the early scenes of the film to the opulent palaces of the sultans, this is almost more important than the story.

J. Edgar


A meandering biopic of the legendary head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar takes Leonardo DiCaprio’s version of Hoover from ambitious, up-and-coming investigator to secretive, fame-starved celebrity. DiCaprio’s performance is key to the film’s successes and he doesn’t disappoint, but I would challenge that Armie Hammer who plays Hoover’s longtime companion Clyde Tolson is every bit as responsible for it. Like the interplay between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, neither character would work nearly as well without the other. Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay effectively creates a fascinating relationship between the staunchly disciplined Hoover and the handsome, freely emotional Tolson. It’s the most vital element of the film causing much of the historical elements to feel secondary when they are presented as primary. Clint Eastwood’s directorial decisions have been stronger in the past and I’m afraid that the days of Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven are gone, but he can still handle the emotional connection between characters with aplomb even if the film feels listless and unfocused at times.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil


Genre conventions need to be stood on their ear from time to time in order to explore the depths or lack thereof that the genre has fallen to. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil takes the common elements of post-Texas Chainsaw Massacre slasher films and adds a humorous twist. Instead of relying on a bunch of stereotyped crazed killers to pick off attractive and awkward teens on a lake-side adventure, a case of mistaken identity wrongly leads them to believe that a pair of harmless vacationing rednecks are responsible when it’s their own self-inflicted stupidity that’s leading them to their own demise. It’s a charming, self-aware comedy that entertains the audience while challenging its conceptions of appearances. Many horror flicks rely on false leads and stereotypes in an attempt to remain relevant and original when all they really needed to do was give the genre a little tweak and find a new angle to explore it with. While not the greatest self-mocking comedy horror film ever made, it’s a diverting and interesting look at the darker side of human nature: preconceived notions.

Immortals


Tarsem Singh, the director behind the visceral and visually stunning The Cell continues his trend as a stylish storyteller. Unlike M. Night Shyamalan, there’s a bit of substance behind Tarsem’s tantalizing palette of visuals. This story revolves around the ancient Greek myth of Theseus (Henry Cavill), a half-mortal man with vast reserves of strength both physically and emotionally. Here, he must take on the brutal tyrant Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) as he strives to unleash the powerful titans and end the reign of the gods. Upon the advice of a virgin oracle (Freida Pinto), Theseus moves through ancient pre-Athenian Greek civilization on a path to save it. Cavill is a charming presence and will be an interesting actor to watch from here. Rourke plays his villain without much different from his role in Iron Man 2 which suggests a money-hungry, lazy actor content with doing nothing exciting or important for the future. Pinto is pretty, but painfully pointless as an actress. The plot is a bit thin on detail and some of the characters sit on the periphery without much depth (such as Stephen Dorff’s Davros) and the Greek gods are little more than preening, self-interested pretty boys (and girl) who could have made more compelling characters if given more to do.

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