29 April 2010

Flaws, Fractures and Forget-About-Its: Problems I Have With Various American Films

It's not easy to make a good film, let alone a great one. So many elements need to come together that rely on so many different people. Acting. Editing. Costumes. Set design. Script. And much, much more. It is thus a credit to the craftsmanship of numerous individuals that we are blessed with so many wonderful movies to enjoy. (Then again there's one helluva lot of garbage out there to be sifted through as well.)

A perfect film is nearly impossible to make. Even some of my most beloved movies have moments in them or aspects to them that make me cringe -- if just for a second. I now look at ten films with different levels of problems attributable to them. Some could have used a little tweaking (the flawed), some needed some patching up (the fractured) and some were dead on arrival (the forgot-about-its). I could cite many dozens of films in each category. Instead I offer ten as a sampling. I'll re-visit this theme in the future.

Strangers on a Train (1951) Flawed. I love this movie. But the drama of the last scene is predicated upon a police officer firing his gun wildly into a crowded area. I just don't buy it. You a actually see this fairly often in films and say what you will about cops, they're generally fairly conscientious about not shooting where a bystander might get struck. A friend once told me the film was ruined for her by what happened after the gun shot, the whole business about the guy crawling under the merry-go-round. Come to find out that was real and that shooting the scene scared  the bejeezus out of director Alfred Hitchcock.

Crash (2004) Forget-about-it. Where to begin? How about with the total implausibility of the story?  The film was set in modern Los Angeles yet people who seemed otherwise reasonable were walking about hurling racist comments as if in Alabama circa 1960. It was as subtle as a crutch that was being used to hit you over the head. I thought Crash would have been a perfectly good made-for-TV movie in 1980 but upon it's release six years ago it seemed laughably out of date and poorly done. Speaking of laughable, it beat out Brokeback Mountain for best picture Oscar. You can't make this stuff up.

A Night at the Opera (1935) Flawed. This is not alone among later Marx Brothers films in that it is constantly interrupted by pure unadulterated schmaltz. It comes in the form of some of the sappiest most nauseating songs ever produced. As in other Marx Brothers films, the chief perpetrator is one Alan Jones -- yuck! From The Cocoanuts (1929) through Duck Soup (1933) the brothers Marx were able to romp through their films uninterrupted by third rate crooners (course you had to endure Harpo's creepy harp solos but that's a topic for another day).  I single out ANATO  instead of other films because it was otherwise so exceptional.

Dr. Strangelove  (1964) Fractured. It's a great satire that is superbly done from start to finish. Except...except for the title character. Peter Sellers simply went over the top and turned the character of Dr. Strangelove into a silly burlesque that badly detracts from an otherwise excellent film. While Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott and Sellers in his other roles, play it straight and let the insanity of the story speak for itself (no fighting in the war room), Sellers as Strangelove is straight up 3 Stooges.

Million Dollar Baby (2004) Forget-about-it. I'll never understand the critical reverence with which this hokum was met. It was a totally unoriginal story that was riddled with cliches. Gee, I wonder if the young woman can ever talk the crotchety old man into being her trainer. She did?! Hey, the old guy has an African American sidekick (Morgan Freeman who won an Oscar for being inoffensive). And there's more to their relationship than meets the eye!!! Then there was the girl's family. I've seen comic book villains that were more believable than this lot. We're supposed to believe that anyone's family is this callous and stupid? A beautifully shot film. A terrible script.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) Flawed. One of my favorite films of all time but come on George Bailey, you can't figure out you're in a world in which you don't exist? How many frickin' clues do you need? The drama has built and built and then flat lines as we wait for George to figure it out. And wait. And wait.

Spartacus (1960) Flawed. Another all time favorite. It shows how many different elements must come together for a film to succeed. In the case of Spartacus everything works fine except for the score. They used the music from a Douglas Sirk melodrama in telling this epic tale of a slave rebellion. My guess is the studio imposed this on director Stanley Kubrick which is one of the reasons he thereafter sought complete control of his pictures.

Casino (1995) Fractured. Simply put, too much Sharon Stone. Stone is not only essential to the film but excellent in it. The one film in which she truly shines. But director Martin Scorsese over did her role thus turning her relationship with Robert De Niro into a soap opera. Anytime you're watching a film and are tempted to fast forward through some scenes, it's a bad sign.

The Lady from Shanghai (1947) Fractured. Worst dubbing ever. I strongly suspect that there exists within The Lady From Shanghai a film that I would greatly admire. But the dubbing is so poorly done as to be at times a major distraction that totally takes me out of the moment. Director Federico Fellini and Welles himself in other films successfully dubbed in dialogue. It was most unsuccessful in this instance.

Penny Serenade (1941) Forget-about-it. I can't believe I stayed awake. It's hard to imagine a movie starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne being boring. This is. It's hard to imagine a George Stevens film being boring. This is. Worse of all it is a painfully slow, depressing movie that goes nowhere -- slowly. Did I mention it's slow?

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