Sunday, November 25, 2012

So I'll freely admit, my attempts to create a long-running Blog have hit a few snags.  Part of the problem is trying to post about events after they've happened.  The rest is

But, the true sign of character is trying again even after stumbling.  So on that note, let's discuss Life of Pi and Sherlock, Jr.

I caught Life of Pi (in THREEEEEEE-DEEEEEE) on Friday, and the most trite thing I could possibly say is "I enjoyed it."  For me to "enjoy" a movie, one of five things needs to happen:

1) It needs to affect me on an emotional level.  This is where movies that range from Marley and Me to Iron Jawed Angels fall.  I leave the movie-watching experience not feeling like the same person anymore.

2) The acting needs to simply blow me away.  This is where you'll find films like On The Waterfront or Mystic River.  These are the ones where an actor just manages to hit every mark dead on and you can see them swinging for the fences with every line.

3) I develop a complete respect for the craftsmen involved.  These movies are a bit trickier.  This can be either a producer or director who I think crafted a very well-made movie (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), or one of the stars has such a gift at something that I can't help but enjoy it (Amy Adams' performance in Enchanted, or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat).

4) It's so bad, it's hilarious.  Yor: The Hunter From The Future resides here, and I suspect the last Twilight movie, from what I've heard, would as well.

5) It's just fun without insulting me.  Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang resides here, as does Maverick and Iron Man.

Life of Pi falls in the third camp with some heavy leanings towards the first and second.  There are a lot of comparisons to it right now as being the next Avatar (which I also enjoyed), but it is not anywhere near as big a visual feast as Avatar.  Of course, I also didn't see it in IMAX, so for all I know, I missed out.  But here's what I do know: 

Life of Pi is better, visually, than Avatar, and the story works on levels Avatar couldn't even manage with double what James Cameron paid into it.  Instead of assaulting the eyes with 3D effects, Ang Lee manages to use 3D to add a layer of depth to the film, making you feel like it naturally belongs, and that it's never being used to assault or surprise the audience in a way that feels cheap.  There are scenes involving water and people moving through water that simply astonish and amaze.

I also have to give the film credit for the tiger.  The movie does not make anything sentimental about the tiger.  This is a wild animal, and not some creature from Disney that we learn does have a human side to it.  This is established early on, and how the human in this movie learns to try to control the beast and how the animal learns that it has to adapt to the person being in its space has as much tension to it as wondering just how the main character could survive in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie more than I did anything else I saw this year...except for Sherlock, Jr.

Sherlock, Jr. is movie starring Buster Keaton filmed in 1924, and this movie falls squarely into third camp as well.  It's freely available to watch online through Vimeo, but I was able to catch a viewing on Turner Classic Movies.  Nobody, and I say nobody had more dedication to their craft than Buster Keaton, pulling stunts and falls in films that had never been done before, and were probably never done again without stuntmen, gimmicks, or CG.   To watch this movie is to see someone who loved movies and would do whatever it took to make them memorable.

For instance, there's a scene in the film where our main character leaps into a movie screen and moves around, even while the movie scenes around him change.  Now, keeping in mind that this isn't done as a close-up of the screen, but is seen from the theater's point of view, it's important to note that when the scene changes (say from the front door of a building to the edge of a cliff or a jungle scene with lions), that Buster Keaton had to remain absolutely motionless while the sets were changed, and fancy equipment was brought in to make sure everything remained perfectly level.  Then, when filming began, you got as near a perfect cut as you could with the actor.  Other visual gags (one involving a pool table that I still cannot figure out) seem almost on par with the CG work done today, and there are times I had to remind myself "Wait...they didn't have computers back the hell did they do that?"  I honestly cannot remember the time before that when a movie made me feel so alive and full of laughter and happiness to watch, and the pratfalls and jokes that happen then still feel fresh to the actors involved.

I'll also tell this small story that's been circulated for years:  There's a scene in the movie where Buster Keaton runs atop a train that's pulling out of a station, and he manages to grab hold of one of the large pipes that fills the steam engine with water.  It slowly and gracefully starts to lower him to the ground, when a huge burst of water suddenly pours out and slams him into the ground.  He gets up, there's one more pratfall sight gag, and he runs off.

Now, as the story goes, he complained for a day of having a severely bad headache, but soon went back to work, falling and jumping and making great films.  Ten years later, at a routine exam, his doctor asked him when he broke his neck.  Buster Keaton had no memory of such an event, but his doctor showed him on an x-ray where he had scar tissue surrounding where there had been a neck fracture.  They realized it must've happened when he was slammed into the ground by a jet of water.

Somehow I don't expect many Hollywood stars would be so able to get back to work after such an injury.  And it's that dedication to the craft that elevates this film up to probably one of the best I've ever seen.

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