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Old August 6 2011, 06:52 PM   #613
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Location: Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Re: Movies Seen in 2011

I got a new job about a month ago, thankfully, so that's behind me (it hasn't greatly slowed my movie-watching either).

100. Bonnie and Clyde (A-)
101. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (B+)

If you had asked me a month ago whether I was going to see this movie, I would have said no. However, the movie generated great advance word, so I did, and it is indeed one of the summer's better films (I find I rarely go to see non-superhero action films anymore). In particular, it's a triumph for WETA and Andy Serkis, on par with their realization of Gollum (in some ways, more impressive, since Caesar is based on a real animal that audiences have expectations regarding). Caesar's character arc is amazingly well-done (and some of the other apes are given fairly effective bits of characterization). The main flaw of the movie is that the human characters aren't nearly as interesting (if they had been, this might have been the summer's absolute best). James Franco is serviceable as the lead, but nobody's going to walk away talking about him; Freida Pinto's role is so slim she almost shouldn't have bothered showing up; John Lithgow is easily the most successful actor, bringing some real pathos to the part.

Discussed more in the SF/F review thread.

102. Elmer Gantry (B+)

1960 Sinclair Lewis adaptation starring Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, and Shirley Jones. Lewis was the first American author to win the Nobel Prize, but his importance in the canon has declined since 1930, largely because his satires of American society, edgy at the time, have seen become terminally rote (Babbitt, for instance, is 400 pages of "hey, the American upper middle class is narrowminded and hypocrital!"; incidentally, the protagonist of that novel, George F. Babbitt, has a supporting role in this story). The film of Elmer Gantry, based on a 1926 novel, doubles this effect by including an actual disclaimer about why they feel it's okay to satirize revival preaching at the start of the film - something no film today would ever bother with.

Lancaster's performance (which won him the Oscar) initially I thought was a bit offputting, but once you get used to the rhythms of it it's actually very good. That's true of a lot of the aspects of this rural American Protestant revival culture, which from the vantage of an urban Canadian Catholic feels vaguely unbelievable (but it still exists today). I like the film's balanced handle on Gantry, who, despite his obvious failings, is never dismissed as a simple charlatan, which I think would be substantially more likely to happen in a modern take on this story. Shirley Jones also won the Oscar as a prostitute who had previously been seduced into becoming a fallen woman by Gantry; I didn't realize who she was at first, but she starred in a bunch of Rodgers and Hammerstein films films earlier in the 1950s; I imagine this would have been a big change of pace for audiences. Jones delivers one of the hottest performances I've seen in a film from the era.

At two-and-a-half hours, the film is a bit sprawling, and there are a couple of points where I was sure the film was about to end, but it kept going (there's one point, in particular, where I think they might have been better to leave things), ending somewhat weirdly. Still a strong and interesting film.
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