Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In the Red: Public Enemies, Julie & Julia, Harry Potter 6

Some quick thoughts on what's been going through my q lately.

Public Enemies: Now I am a big Michael Mann fan. I think he belongs right next to, or maybe a foot down from, Scorsese as a great modern American auteur with a deep passion for film. In his latest film he makes a rather bold decision to shoot with a new digital camera and the choice doesn't really work. You can read a lot more about his motivation and the technology in question here. The problem with the digital is that it clashes a bit with the larger than life story that's being told. Despite Mann and his production designer's exquisite (borderline fetishistic) attention to detail, in digital it looks like actors in costumes and never really FEELS like period. Also at fault is the scripting which leaves both protagonist and antagonist in a lurch. Bale is too gruff and one dimensional whereas Depp never cuts loose. The viewer feels there's depth but it stems more from the fact that you're watching a Michael Mann film with Johnny Depp more than actually anything going on on-screen. It never manages to crackle with the cat and mouse dynamics of Heat and that's a real shame.

Julie & Julia: Unlike Public Enemies where the leads don't really work here Streep and to a lesser extent Adams are able to overcome the somewhat needless set-up of Nora Ephron's script. Much as I hate to say it there is absolutely no reason for this movie to not just be Julia. As Julia Child Streep channels the wit, vitality and vigor of the real woman and really holds focus. Adams can't help but look bad in comparison, not because she doesn't perform well, rather it's that her character is such a self-involved whiner with the same cycle of self-doubt and conflict over and over again. She doesn't like her station in life, she panics, she's inspired by Julia, rinse, repeat. It gets tiresome and isn't especially interesting. Streep gets to have more fun and overcome actual hardships. She also has winning chemistry with Stanley Tucci as her husband, Paul. The viewer becomes rather smitten with the two as a couple and refreshingly Ephron both as writer and director allows for Tucci to be more than just a support system for Streep. It's rare to find a movie where characters receive such genuine joy from what they do but on that level the film absolutely succeeds.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: I had doubted claims of a darker, more adult film, but sure enough the latest installment is indeed both darker and dare I say it, sexier, than the previous outings. It's also decidedly not for newcomers. With a bare minimum of exposition the film launches into it's business (primarily to set up the last film). Still, the wonderful performances from Michael Gambon and Jim Broadbent make the proceedings enthralling and I think Daniel Radcliffe has finally stepped up his game where he not only holds the screen but gives some mischievous textured work to the titular wizard. The rogues gallery of returning English greats also pleasingly fill the background (with Alan Rickman as the usual stand-out). David Yates composes the film in such a way that even the familiar grounds of Hogwarts seem darker and more imposing and Steve Kloves must once more be commended for effectively maintaining Rowling's original tone. I've no doubt once all the movies are done this will make for a very enjoyable marathon viewing where the films grew and develop as well as the original books did.

3 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Still though. Cotillard was splendid in Public Enemies.

Julie and Julia said...
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El Gigante said...

She's fine but like most characters in the film woefully undefined. Frankly I liked her better in Nine (not that I'd ever watch that again).