Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Three More Observations Towards A 2005 Top Ten Films List

by Tom Bozzo

Between Netflix and an actual trip to the movies last night, I've recently seen the following 2005 releases.

1. The New World. I should probably consider Terence Malick's Pocahontas film part of the '06 viewing proper, mainly because it was only shown on 3 screens in '05 — obviously, none in Madison. I saw this with Colleagues A and B whose '05 lists were posted last week, and I must admit that I hadn't been paying too much attention to the reviews or other promotional material, as I was expecting Colin Firth instead of Colin Farrell. Oh well.

Neither of the colleagues particularly cared for Malick's previous film, The Thin Red Line, which I liked (none of us has seen TRL since the theatrical screening). Malick's visual style, spending lots of time with nature relative to the actual action of the picture, is barely on the right side of pretentious wanking, but since I am (as the saying goes) a pretentious wanker, that didn't bother me so much. The colleagues thought the languorous pace and philosophical voiceovers worked better here than in TRL, where it all seemed incongrous or inauthentic to the Guadalcanal battle experience.

I was moved to read up a bit on the relevant history late last night, which imparted a negative reaction after the fact: Malick seems to have taken some not insubstantial liberties with the available historical evidence, when the fictionalized relationship between Smith and Pocahontas is not obviously as interesting as either an interpolated "truth" or (as the Post's Stephen Hunter notes) a scabrous portrayal such as that in John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor. Bottom line: We (i.e., Anglo America) suck, but we're persistent. What else is new? I doubt it'll stay in the top ten of either '05 or '06, once I'm caught up with my viewing, but it was worth seeing. Did I mention admission was $3?

2. Broken Flowers. Call it the fourth film in a so-far tetralogy in Bill Murray's career of playing middle-aged men who are "morbidly depressed," as Oscar Madison put it in a largely negative blog review. Now, I loved Rushmore and Lost in Translation and was mostly annoyed by The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Here, I thought Jim Jarmusch's portrayal of the anticipatory boredom punctuated with brief terror involved in meeting up with an ex after many years mostly rang true — at least, that's what I remember from the last time I did anything remotely similar, back in the mid-90s. (In contrast, Malick's lyricism in TRL rang distinctly false against my Marine medic grandfather's descriptions of the sights and sounds of narrowly avoiding being blown to bits at Iwo Jima.) Jarmusch could have made what a viewer might presume to have been a livelier past for the Don Johnston character leap to the screen a bit more. At least it made for some discussion with Suzanne as to how much subtext there really was in the film.

3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was actually the first Tim Burton feature I'd seen all the way through since Ed Wood (1994); I'd caught bits of Mars Attacks! on hotel cable sometime in my business travel career, and thought Burton had dropped the ball on an otherwise amusing convept (since resurrected, after a fashion, in the videogame Destroy All Humans!). Burton's production design tics in conjunction with twenty-first century digital effects are well-suited to the material, even if I prefer Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka to Johnny Depp's freakish portrayal. In the end, I just didn't care so much whether or not the Bad Kids got theirs, or whether Charlie got his, for that matter. Then again, I could say the same thing about that kid at wizard school — especially as it becomes obvious that some currently well-compensated child actors should be sure to engage talented financial planners for the long haul — and Tim Burton does have something resembling a coherent visual style. Maybe slots between Revenge of the Sith and Revenge of the Sith ex-all the Anakin and Padmé crap.
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