Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Week in Review

What a quiet week, only two films this week - one at Melbourne Cinémathèque, and one a blockbuster new release. There was a time not that long ago that I'd go out of my way to see every arthouse new release, but I've become more selective nowadays. I wouldn't mind seeing a few such as Death of a President, As It Is In Heaven, Noise and The Number 23 (in spite of mediocre reviews), but nothing about them compels me to rush out and see them, though Death of a President ends on Tuesday at the Kino, so I might make an effort for that.

I would like to see Terry Gilliam's Tideland and am hoping it's doing well enough in Sydney at the Chauvel to get the distributors to release it here in Melbourne. As for Disturbia, Curse of the Golden Flower, Priceless, Tales From Earthsea, The History Boys and The Singer, they all look like little more than time-filler that I simply couldn't be bothered about. I'm happy for someone to convince me otherwise.

FILMS:

  • Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)
  • Spider-Man 3 (Sam Raimi, 2007)
BOOKS I'M READING:
  • Almodóvar on Almodóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)
Thief
This screened at Melbourne Cinémathèque along with Collateral as part of the Michael Mann season. I didn't stay for Collateral; I saw it when it was released, and didn't particularly like it, though I'm not going into that right now. The two films do, however, make good companion pieces. I didn't know it at the time, but Thief is Mann's first feature film, while Collateral is of course much more recent. Yet both have common threads running through them that highlight the style of the director.

Both are set in Los Angeles and both show a keen interest in the urban landscape as a significant element in each film. The opening shot in Thief is terrific. Like all of Mann's films, the protagonist is a loner: in Thief it is a thief (surprise, suprise), in Collateral a contract killer.

Thief, like Manhunter, has dated but can still be appreciated in the specific cultural and chronistic context of its day. Unfortunately the print that was screened had discoloured due to the ravaging effects of time, and hopefully it will be digitally remastered sometime soon. I couldn't help but notice Dennis Farina (who starred in Crime Story) and William Petersen (he appeared only briefly, and starred in Manhunter). I found Thief very enjoyable and the screening illuminating in terms of the body of Mann's work.

Spiderman 3
There's not much to say about this film, not because of its merits or otherwise, but because this is a big blockbuster that is being written about everywhere. Pretty much all I want to say is that I disagree with all the criticisms of this film, except one. At 140 minutes, it is too long.

As far as complaints about too many baddies, or too much CGI or too many contrived coincidences or on an on... I don't buy into that. I grew up on comics in the '70s and Spiderman was my favourite. If these films weren't well made, I'd be the first to jump on them and complain that they'd bastardised my teenage hero.

Tobey Maguire is an excellent actor who I'd admired long before taking on this blockbuster franchise, particularly in Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998) and Ride With the Devil (Ang Lee, 1999). He perfectly depicts Peter Parker and faithfully portrays his pathos, irony and humour. I don't find Kirstin Dunst as convincing, but I think it has more to do with her character than her acting.

The introduction of Thomas Hayden Church as a convincing Sandman was inspired casting. Church was hilarious in Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2005). Along with James Franco as the New Goblin and Topher Grace as Venom, these multiple characters gave the classic comic book face-off that worked well.

Sam Raimi has captured the essence of the Spiderman comics. His characterisations are spot on, the narratives are all pure comic book translations to the big screen and he deserves all accolades for that. This is not high art, this is pure entertainment, and for this Spiderman fan, Raimi is right on the mark.

4 comments:

Abe Pogos said...

I think Noise is a remarkable piece of work. It deserves your attention.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for your comments Abe. I did see Death of a President today at the Kino, and the person at the counter also recommended Noise. I'll probably see it tomorrow.

Phillip Kelly said...

Lots of people disliked Spidey 3, which is unfortunate, because I really enjoyed the heck out of it.

My only complaint about each of the Spidey films has been in the third act. The final battle (while fine in the first one) has been in many ways repeated. Let's string Mary Jane from a high place and lure our hero into a confrontation. By the time the third film repeats this setup it can be a little tiring. The second film's end suffered because the train battle sequence was so absolutely one of the most intense action scenes I've witnessed at the cinema in a while. The problem I found most glaring in the third act of this third film was how easily it decided to let the characters off. Fine, make Sandman the guy that actually shot Uncle Ben. Oh, but wait, it was an accident? What?! Not only does this screw with everything Spider-Man, but it lets Peter off easily...way too easily. I guess I can forgive you if it was an accident. Lame. How much more would that have said about Peter's character if it hadn't been an accident? To overcome that emotional obstacle if Sandman had been caught up in the moment and learned his lesson since then.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this third film and would be okay if they made a fourth at some point.

Paul Martin said...

Phil, while I wouldn't be put off by further installments, I think it would be better for each of the key players' careers to head in a new direction. Maguire in particular had a good resume prior to Spider-man, and I don't think he should be defined by this role.

I find the franchise good fun, but it's not something I'd mind if it didn't continue.