Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three films you normally would not group together

Still on my movie kick, here are three more, two of which are pretty old. Sometimes, it takes me a year or 10 to watch some of these ...

Basic Instinct: The epitome of trashy cinema that's so bad, it's good. Famous for the interrogation scene where Sharon Stone, sans underwear, crosses her legs and seduces the hell out of the cops, Basic Instinct makes no bones about it. This movie is about ragged, manly men and sexy, vapid woman who screw each other, yell at each other and kill each other. There's one weird scene where Michael Douglas' character has a violent, somewhat consensual sex scene with his counselor. It's one of those awkward movie scenes you see a lot from the old days where the man aggressively stakes his claim, the female resists at first but ultimately relents. They are scenes that would not fly today, and rightfully so.

This movie is a very well done soft-core porno. Not that I would know how well soft-core pornos are made. Basic Instinct kept me on my toes a little with its zig-zag story, but I saw the ending coming a light year away.

Rating: ** 1/2

Up: I'm not much for children's movies, but I heard enough good things about this one so I gave it a chance. It has all the Pixar qualities: Great animation, a journey fraught with adventure, inanimate objects/animals acting like people and most importantly, a heart. Not too many kids' movies center around an old man grieving the loss of his wife. A very sweet movie, with a few funny parts (I liked Kevin) and the requisite amazing animation. All that is well and good, but a great kids' movie appeals to both children and adults. While kids can marvel at the animation and the talking dogs, an adult can empathize with an old man trying to fulfil his wife's dreams after she has died.

(That old man sure was strong, pulling an entire house with a hose.)

Loved the final image of the movie, too. Absolutely perfect.

Rating: ****

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Yeah, I'm a little late on this one. Almost 50 years. But you can only blame me for about 10-15 of those years. I do, from time to time, like to catch up on classic films. This certainly qualifies. The image of Audrey Hepburn in that black dress with the long cigarette lighter is one of the most iconic film images of the 20th century. Besides, I'd never seen an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Let me get this out of the way, though. This movie has perhaps the most offensive character I've ever seen. I'm not kidding. Many movies have characters that are racist, but that's part of the plot. Some just have plain stupid, mildly offensive characters, like those Jive-talking Transformers in the Rise of the Fallen. This movie ... my God. I was cringing. It was painful. Mickey Rooney plays a Japanese landlord, with the buck teeth and everything. It's so blatantly racist, even for 1961, that it heavily detracts from the film.

It's a tough subject. Gone with the Wind, one of the best movies of all time, had slave characters who seemed just happy with their situation. It's bad, but you kind of expect it. Times have changed and while the portrayal of African-Americans in old films is many times eye-rollingly stupid, it's not a major detractor. But this movie did not need a bumbling Japanese landlord. They were going for slapstick comedy and it's just a gigantic failure. Again, it's really bad. You have to see the movie to fully understand what I'm talking about.

Anyway, about the movie. If this had been done in the 1990s, Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman borrowed heavily from this movie) would have played Holly Golightly, but she wouldn't have pulled it off. Those old men who wax poetic about Audrey Hepburn weren't kidding. She was obviously ridiculously, unfairly beautiful, but she also captured every second of every scene she was in. She's an illuminating presence and gives the movie every inch of life it needs. She's a carefree gold-digger, afraid to tie herself down while haphazardly looking for a rich man to marry. A writer moves in upstairs and falls for her live-and-let-live philosophy. The fact that she looks like a Disney movie princess certainly doesn't hurt.

I'm going to spoil a 50-year-old movie here ... The movie follows the usual romantic film formula. Man meets woman. Opposites attract. They fence around with their sexual chemistry until finally acting on it in the middle of the movie. But, in this case, the woman rejects her actual feelings for the writer and plans to move to Brazil to marry a powerful politician. The man angrily calls her a gold-digging whore (in so many words). By the way, in the book, Holly is a prostitute. The movie never really says she is, but hints at it in subtle ways. Remember, it came out in Mad Men time.

Then a big event happens, the man comes through and professes his true love. But she rejects it. In disgust, the writer throws her the crackerjack ring they had engraved while enjoying a (wait for it) breakfast at Tiffany's jewelry store. She puts the ring on and realizes that she should finally stop running and they kiss in the rain. The end.

Now, if you know me well, you know I have an affinity for ambiguous or bad endings. See 24 or American Beauty or Chinatown for examples. It's not that I like when character dies at the end or see their dreams crushed. It depends on the movie. A comedy should end well. A light, brainless movie should end well. But complicated or classic movies should stay true to the material and characters. Like life, happy endings are hard to come by and that should be reflected in film. The problem with the ending to Breakfast at Tiffany's is Holly's decision to stay with the writer. Her character's choice to end a lifetime of non-commitment came too lightly (Ha!) and too fast. If it were real life, Holly would have hopped on that plane, realized her mistake in a few months and then perhaps return to the writer. The writer would resist at first, still bitter and hurt, but then he'd realize "She looks like Audrey Hepburn. I don't care if there's a 75% chance she will stomp my heart out in five years. Let's do this!" The happy ending did not ring true.

Nonetheless, I'm glad I saw it, just for Audrey Hepburn alone.

If only they could go back and erase all of Mickey Rooney's scenes.

Rating: *** 1/2

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