Monday, January 10, 2005

A Series of Unfortunate Flying Phantoms

I saw a couple of movies in the last couple of weeks. Surprising dearth of anything interesting to see. I may be reduced to (gasp) renting. Yipes.

I saw the Phantom of the Opera at the Dome here in Hollywood, probably one of the best screens on which to view this overwhelmingly bloated self-important waste of time. What were they thinking? Is the novel this ridiculous? Granted, I never saw the play, and have found it impossible to listen to the entire thing, but I still thought the movie might be entertaining. Well, there were some fun questions that came up, and I enjoyed Minnie Driver. More of her. In fact, is there a movie with Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Ciaran Hinds, and Simon Callow? They are the only interest in this one, and I was thinking how much fun a movie with them might be, as I had a lot of time to think. Although, sadly, when Miranda Richardson’s Madame is telling us what a wonderful theatrical artist the beast, I mean Phantom, is (He designs! He directs!), she reminded me of Chloris Leachman in Young Frankenstien. But here are the other fascinating plot/design wierdnesses:
--If Christine’s Father was such a famous violinist, and had enough money to buy a gigantic tomb, how did she end up apprenticed to a ballet company as a poor orphan? And she still has money for fabulous clothes. Go figure.
--What the hell is happening beneath the theatre? Was it a medieval dungeon/outlet mall? The thing is like 16 stories. At some point, Raul (Patrick Wilson) is submerged in water 5 stories underground and the sun is shining—where is the light coming from? And Presumably, he is still stories above the lagoon. And how would the Phantom manage to get a giant clam shell and piano down there with no one noticing? It just goes on and on. I was told by some people who saw it that he was supposedly an architect. Huh.
--Hey, if there is a dead body hanging from the rafters of your theatre, and you’re trying to get away from the murderer, would you run up? to the roof? To sing? And speaking of that song, could Lloyd Weber not afford a different melody for All I ask of You? Did he have to use the same one as Music of the Night?
--Could anyone buy “Think of Me Fondly” as being from an opera in 1870? I couldn’t. But most of the music takes a healthy suspension of disbelief.
--Was the right side of the Phantom's face that bad? Because the rest of him was not hard on the eyes.
The director starts and ends the film with a candle, an homage to the Red Shoes, and basically steals from Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast with the candlebra arms, etc. Fitting, as the Phantom is just a reahash of the beast, and Svengali Lermontov in the Red Shoes. Do yourself a favor and see either or both of those better movies. And for a big laugh, read Anthony Lane’s review of Phantom in the New Yorker issue of Jan 3. One of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. I laughed out loud.

Another big fan of the Red Shoes, famously, is Martin Scorcese. I saw the Aviator last night. Boy, was it long. Now, I don’t mind long movies. I mean, I sat through La Belle Noiseuse, and am glad I did. But a lot of this seems unnecessary. There are some crackling wonderful things here, including the Senate hearing, dinner at the Hepburns, and some of the flight sequences. But all in all, this movie could have lost 45 minutes and no one would have been sad. Or had numb buttocks.
There are some great technical things—the colorization feel, especially with Hughes and Hepburn’s first golfing, is great. The flying is thrilling at times. But I don’t think Scorcese knows what story he wants to tell. It’s all laid out in front of us, and by the end, it’s a buffet you’re kind of sick of looking at. First it’s about his movie obsession, then his aviation obsession, his relationships, and then his plain obsession. Obviously he was mentally ill, which is shown in great detail, but never really explored in a way we know what's happening, perhaps because it’s rare to have a scene without Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) in it.
I liked the performances. Cate Blanchett is great as Hepburn, summoning her without really looking like her. Di Caprio is very good in an extrememly challenging role. He pulls it off for the most part, though some of the aging was difficult for me to buy. The only bothersome thing to me is Alan Alda. He’s good as Brewster, but in a film with most of the actors trying for transformation, it’s a bit jarring to see Alda as Alda. Was Brewster a New York Jew who happened to be elected to Congress from Maine? Could Alda not have tried to at least make us believe he was from Maine in the forties, instead of New York in the fifties? His manner, mannerisms and speech were all everything we always see from him. Although I liked that part of the story, his performance took me out of it. It just felt like more stunt casting.

And speaking of Stunt Casting—Jim Carrey in Lemony Snicket. Oh, there’s so much wrong with this film from beginning to end. To start with, it’s joy and whimsy free. As dark as the books seem, it’s their sense of humour and whimsy that makes them a hit. Sadly lacking in this incarnation. To begin, the whole film feels in service to Jim Carrey. I’m always on the fence about him. He tries really hard, and can be funny, but it’s so in your face and even angry sometimes I find it difficult to watch.
I suppose the feature I most miss about the books is the language. The play of language, the rhythm, the fun of it, makes the books enjoyable. Not so here. Jude Law is woefully wrong as the narrator. You want to hear Vincent Price, a droll narrator with a clipped resonant, stentorian tone in absolute control. Instead, we get an almost Cockney, laid-back, fully naturalistic narrator who sets the wrong tone. Add to that several actors who are all in different movies, and several who are wasted for no apparent reason (Jane Adams, Jennifer Coolidge, Luis Guzman, Dustin Hoffman [?]), you have one unfortunate adventure. If you’re going to the trouble of casting well-known supporting characters, why not use them? It just seems like some Hollywood in-party that everyone wants to be a part of, and a dreadful party at that. Meryl Streep is probably the most fun, and she has a good moment with Jim Carrey. Billy Connelly is a warm presence as usual, but misused. Ah well, at least I got to see the trailer for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which has Tim Burton, the king of this kind of whimsy, at it’s helm, and Johhny Depp as Willie Wonka. It’s coming out in July.


StinkyLulu said...

halloo o' ye of the numb buttocks...
Still have yet to see The Aviator... I's a smidgey skeered of it...

But I have to add at least one actor to your edited movie of Phantom: Imogen Bain (at least I think she's the one i'm thinking about). Her turn as Carlotta's Drunken Handmaid. She contributed my only real smiles in the whole of the movie...

Oscar said...

If you're hunting for a good rental, check out Amadeus. I saw it this weekend for the first time since I was a kid and it was awesome.

I didn't know that the lead actor won and Oscar for his role, but he certainly deserved it.