Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Much Ado About Nothing" - one of my all-time favorites

For some time, Kenneth Branagh got the "golden calf" treatment. Men and women everywhere worshiped him as the greatest contribution to film in a decade. Many trumpeted him as the person who was single-handedly reviving Shakespeare for the 90s (and uneducated Americans).

Others adored his good looks. And many felt that he was the next Lawrence Olivier, for obvious reasons (great Shakespearean films, good looks, quality acting).

But like the American obsession with Australia in the 1980's, that star has faded. The man is undoubtedly skilled, but some folks confused remarkable talent with perfection, and KB is certainly not perfection. Why do I feel less impressed than before?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A spoiler-free review of "Three O'Clock High," an 80's classic

Ah, "Three O'Clock High" - one of the lesser-known 80's films out there. I haven't met many people who know this film, much less seen it. In fact, it flies so far under the radar, I'll do my best to reveal as little as possible. Normally I'd analyze a bit (or a lot), or discuss the specific moments in a movie that made me love or hate it. But this is a quality comedy, to be enjoyed with little foreknowledge...

The premise of "Three O'Clock High" is simple: Nice boy accidentally offends the new kid - the one with the "psychopath" rep - and an after-school fight is declared. The movie shows everything that occurs up to (and a little bit after) the 3PM bell that signals the end of the school day. Barring a miracle, that bell also signals the end for our nice boy.

I wish youtube clips didn't spoil the best scenes. Enjoy the trailer!

Or try a slightly longer version: A new kid, Buddy Revell, shows up at high school, one who - per the school's freakish rumor mill - is two steps shy of prison. Our protogonist, Jerry Mitchell, is told to interview and welcome him; Jerry's a shy kid - an under-sized, hypoglycemic, nice chap on the school paper. Our hero's awkward effort to make a decent introduction results in offense - it only took a pat on the shoulder! Buddy (they chose the perfect name) slams Jerry against a wall and gives this gem of a speech:
"You and me, we're gonna have a fight. Today. After school. Three o'clock. In the parking lot. You try and run, I'm gonna track you down. You go to a teacher, it's only gonna get worse. You sneak home, I'm gonna be under your bed."
And our Jerry - who'd never fight anybody - has to try to avoid certain doom.

This is the beginning... of the beginning

I should’ve done this years ago, but better late than never. My film reviews (and some tv), for all to read - or few to read, as it may turn out.

I view myself as half a film student… I hung out with them often at NYU - helping with projects, cribbing knowledge from them whenever I could, watching many of the films that they watched. Out of respect for the debt those folks incurred at Tisch School of the Arts (the one Kevin Smith dropped out of), their superior knowledge, and the hard work done by them, I can’t claim to be a real film student. Regardless, I’ve had a life-long love of film, and had many long, analytical, film discussions years before I went to college.

I often sit back and enjoy a movie for what it is, yet at other times am compelled to analyze the camera work, script, or acting. As a writer, the dialogue, character development, and plotting are key to me. Sometimes my critical ear is switched to “On” and simply can’t be shut off - characters doing something only because the plot requires it, bad ad-libs (at times, you can tell), and naked exposition can add a lot of turbulence to an otherwise decent film. For me, at least. On occasion, this makes enjoying a flick very difficult, but I try to judge a movie by fair standards - approaching Bergman and Bay films differently (if at all).

I should also note now that I’m not particularly biased against any genre. I watch documentaries, comedies, drama, “chick flicks,” action, old and new, foreign and domestic. I may see some types less often (e.g., documentaries, for some reason), but I’m not really prejudiced against them. Some genres, like horror and 80’s movies, hold a special place in my heart - this frequently means that I’m more demanding with them, not less. I like quality movies, and a fondness for horror doesn’t mean that I’m happy every time any horror pic gets released. It just means that I’m extra excited when I see an innovative, intelligent, effective, or well-executed horror film.

Most of these will be DVD reviews as I’m painfully behind on trips to the theater in ‘09… All comments, debates, critique and such are welcome. I hope this is fun for you to read - at the very least, it should provide some food for thought and lead you to a film you didn’t know about before. I do have a guest reviewer lined up, who may chime in from time to time - my old NYU pal, Ray Thornton; others may appear.