Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Netflix Files: November 21-27

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) dir. Richard Brooks:
A deserving classic if ever there was one, Richard Brooks and James Poe's excellent adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play about southern discontent is still a remarkable achievement, and a great example of how to transfer a dialogue-driven piece to the screen. The main story may be dramatic, but there are little flashes of humor (the way Maggie goes off about May's "no neck" children is priceless) that add the slightest touches of levity. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman are expectedly excellent, though the show ultimately belongs to Burl Ives as Big Daddy (who somehow missed out on an Oscar nomination for the performance). Toward the end the story does feel a tad drawn out, and occasionally dialogue circles around issues too long before getting to the point, but overall, time has been kind to the film, and I suspect it will continue to be kind for many decades.

Grade: A-

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) dir. Mike Nichols:
It's no horror movie, but Mike Nichols' stellar debut has to go down as one of the scariest, most intense depictions of a failing marriage ever committed to the silver screen. Adapted from Edward Albee's play and only featuring four characters (and four Oscar-nominated performances, with two winning), Virginia Woolf is something of a bottle movie, though the emotional fireworks prevent it the settings from ever becoming constricting. The performances from Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and George Segal are uniformly magnificent, even if the 2 plus hours of bile-spewing can get exhausting. The wild card is Sandy Dennis as Segal's young wife. It's likely a love or hate performance, and I'm inclined to lean on the hate side. The character is easily the weakest of the four, and by incapacitating her (she gets hammered pretty fast), she feels like the odd woman out. Granted, Segal and Dennis' characters are meant to be be manipulated by Taylor and Burton, but it's a shame the battle between generations ends up becoming 2 vs 1 instead of 2 vs 2. Now that would have been a match up...

Grade: A-

Brick (2005) dir. Rian Johnson:
Splice a hard-boiled noir with a high school drama, and you have Rian Johnson's debut feature. Filled with teenagers who talk in cryptic codes, it's tempting to label Brick as little more than an overblown student film. Thankfully, Johnson's execution sidesteps this label with snappy (but thoughtful) pacing, intriguing characters, and an offbeat score. Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a strong performance as Brendan, and watching his stoic exterior slowly (but never completely) deteriorate is a marvel, even if Johnson's direction sticks more to the surface. At times the whole thing can feel overheated (Brendan's exchanges with a conniving drama student are among the film's weakest links), even with the occasional flashes of deadpan humor, but on the whole this unique take on the mystery and noir genres is an understated ride worth taking.

Grade: B+

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