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Holiday Movie Report. Posted on 12/26/2002.

I've seen three films in this holiday season.

Adaptation. It was: okay. Too all-over-the-place to even warrant comparison to the brilliant Being John Malkovich. Perhaps the highlight were Nicolas Cage and Chris Cooper's performances. They truly "lose themselves" in the role. Meryl Streep is disappointing, but then, I've never understood the plaudits she's earned. I would have liked more about flowers, but I suspect I'm not a typical filmgoer.

I must say I felt cheated by the final third. It was obvious what they were doing, and I enjoyed just how over-the-top it all was (guns, drugs, sex, sappy singing, triumph in love), but the fact that this had nothing to do with what was set up in the prior two-thirds bugged me. The film spent a while developing a rhythm and emotional honesty, and ends up just chucking it, so that the ending, while superficially engaging, rings hollow.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It was: pretty good. Beautiful to look at, filled with great fight scenes and costumes and scenery and make up, it, too, suffers from a certain emotional hollowness. It doesn't have the humanity (hobbitty?) of the first film, as it's just a bunch of exposition, leading, of course, to the final movie. The whole forest thing irked me--watching trees lumber (ha!) around just looked silly, not uplifting.

Standouts: Gollum/Smeagol. Wow. It took me a while to get into the Gollum groove, but once I did, I was captivated by the imp and his portrayal. Quite probably the single most interesting character in the entire story.
The Battle of Helms Keep. Wow. Big and bold and violent and chaotic. The rain and the ladders and the black armor and the unceasing onslaught are all beautifully portrayed. Niggles: That you can ride horses through the hordes unscathed (as if orcs or whatever they were are unwilling to harm steeds), and, of course, the arrival of Gandalf.

High and Low. There's been a traveling Kurosawa/Mifune film festival, providing the opportunity to see The Emperors films in the only way suitable: on the big big screen. A kidnap crime caper, High and Low is my favorite Kurosawa film, for so many reasons. Mifune's performance as the shoemaker, with such conflict, such intensity, and yet a charming acceptance, too (favorite scene: when he opens up the toolbag to modify the cases). The tableau staging of the first half of the film, a utilization of wide screen such as I'd never seen before. The dichotomy of heaven (the house) and hell (the city) ("Heaven and Hell" is the original Japanese title). The police procedural, thoughtful, complete, and absorbing, as the cops go step-by-step to track down the kidnapper. The "closing-in" on the culprit, incorporating the hurdy-gurdy of the dance hall, the freakish decay of Dope Alley, the deafening silence of the hideout.

Good God, if you get a chance, see this movie.

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I didn't see any of these; they're not here yet (I'm in Hong Kong); didn't _Hero_ get there yet? Zhang Yimou's film....And there's a Miyazaki here too at the mo' (The Cat Returns, it's called)..

I would watch Meryl Streep any day; strangely, she is very good on stage-- perhaps even better. But that comes too from the still-novelty in the US of watching movie stars onstage; the collective breath goes in as they make their entrances, etc., and it enhances their performance.
Posted by BeauPeep @ 12/26/2002 06:29 PM PST [link to this comment]

I agree with your overall response to ADAPTATION, except your opinion of Meryl Streep. In a cast full of good performances, hers is the stellar anchor on which the whole concept - or conceit - of the film is built. Colorful Chris (I never bought him as John) and contortionist Cage (nor did I buy our Nic as either Charlie or Donald but yet another good variation on his lovable shlub character) would be flapping even more in the wind than they are without the believable, but shocking Susie Q to play off.

The movie did leave me with one curious question: if adopt becomes adoption, why doesn't adapt become adaption?

As for HIGH AND LOW, you have said enough. I truly mourn the loss of the making of great films that has ended with the deaths of all the pioneer filmmakers. Some of their replacements are skillful and clever, but neither they nor their audience are interested or able to sustain the measure of richness, artistry and humanity that the medium once reached.
Oh well.
Posted by BJMe @ 12/27/2002 11:29 AM PST [link to this comment]

Charlie Kaufman is really clever (and cute, especially when being played by Nic Cage), except for one thing: The end of "Adaptation" sucked.
Posted by Susan Orlean @ 12/27/2002 08:51 PM PST [link to this comment]

Kurosawa was truly a genius, and the combination of him with Mifune is an iron-clad guarantee of excellence. My fiancee gave me Seven Samurai and Yojimbo on DVD for Christmas this year, and my parents gave me a PBS documentary on the master, all of which I'm looking forward to devouring (of course I've seen the films already, but not in some years). Still, having the opportunity to see some of the movies on screen is not one to be passed lightly. Lucky you. :-)
Posted by ralph @ 12/28/2002 09:53 PM PST [link to this comment]

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