Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Netflix Files: August 22-28

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) dir. Milos Forman
Milos Forman wasn't intending to generate any controversy with his portrait of Hustler founder Larry Flynt, but after initial ecstatic reviews, he found his work at the center of a debate. Was Forman's film too soft on Flynt, or did it do his story justice all while making a statement about censorship? I'm inclined to side with the latter argument, if only because I'm not sure I find Forman and Woody Harrelson's take on Flynt to be as flattering as others. He is the film's protagonist, but the film doesn't treat everything about his lifestyle as admirable (in fact, it barely portrays anything about him as admirable). And thanks to this understanding, Forman and company are able to create a film that is engaging and entertaining, without going too soft on Flynt himself. Harrelson's Flynt may be the protagonist, and his goal may be to fight against censorship, but he's far from being a hero. Bolstered by a character-driven sense of humor and strong performances from Harrelson, Edward Norton, and (of all people) Courtney Love, The People vs. Larry Flynt is yet another strong entry in the filmography of the man behind One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus.

Grade: B+

The Passion of Anna (1969) dir. Ingmar Bergman
I'm not sure if I've ever felt such widely different opinions on the films of a director as I have with Ingmar Bergman. He's made his fair share of difficult-but-brilliant films (Persona, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries), and some that I find to be too obtuse and distant for their own good (Hour of the Wolf). Unfortunately, The Passion of Anna lands in the latter camp. Though it features reliably good work from regular collaborators Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, nothing about this mystery-accented drama that ever grabbed me. Even the famous black and white dream sequence, easily one of the highlights, fell flat. This is, sadly, one of those films that just feels so analytical and cold that it never engaged me with its story or its characters. There is an interesting subplot involving a unknown criminal who goes around harming local farm animals, but it doesn't mesh well enough with Adreas and Anna's relationship breakdown to build to anything remotely memorable.

Grade: C+

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick's final film is not generally considered to be among his finest, but that's not to say that it isn't at least worth a look. Though it features some stiff acting from Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (some of which may be attributable to the writing), it does lure you in. Kubrick's love of long, gliding shots is as prevalent as ever, and helps create the dream-like state the director appears to be going for. Then of course there's the famous (infamous?) masked orgy scene, which in its own is a mesmerizing piece of direction. The problem is that once this 35 minute portion of the film concludes, the film seems to go downhill, even though it does leave you longing for answers. It's not Kubrick's finest work (and sadly, it was his last), but like most films by the revered director, it's worth discussing, and maybe even revisiting someday.

Grade: B-

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