Sunday, September 20, 2015

Eponymous

Annie: based on the characters created by Harold Gray; adapted from the Thomas Meehan/Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin musical by Carol Sobieski; directed by John Huston; starring Albert Finney (Daddy Warbucks), Aileen Quinn (Annie), Carol Burnett (Miss Hannigan), Ann Reinking (Grace), Tim Curry (Rooster Hannigan), Bernadette Peters (Lily St. Regis), Geoffrey Holder (Punjab), Roger Minami (Asp), Edward Herrmann (FDR), and Lois De Banzie (Eleanor Roosevelt) (1982): There's something bizarre about John Huston directing this musical. I assume the paycheck was good and that it allowed Huston to check 'Direct Musical' off his Career 'To-Do' List. But he does a solid job. We can actually see people's feet during the dance sequences. He gets solid performances out of both children and adults. Even the dog does solid work. 

It's all both better and grittier than the 2014 remake/rewrite. It could also use about 15 minutes of cuts. The budget for this thing approached that for the first three Star Wars films combined, so it's no surprise that it looks good. The singing is also good throughout, as are the songs. Aileen Quinn performs Annie about as well as a child actor performs anything. Hey, Punjab and the Asp are here too! And Albert Finney, while solid as Daddy Warbucks, is a little short for the role -- 5'9". So it goes. Recommended.



JFK: adapted from Jim Garrison's On the Trail of the Assassins and Jim Marrs' Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy by Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar; directed by Oliver Stone; starring Kevin Costner (DA Jim Garrison), Gary Oldman (Lee Harvey Oswald), Brian Doyle-Murray (Jack Ruby), Sissy Spacek (Liz Garrison), Joe Pesci (David Ferrie), Tommy Lee Jones (Clay Shaw), and Donald Sutherland (X) (1991): Oliver Stone's epic conspiracy film still plays out as his most interesting and ambitious film. Visually, it's a stunner, with both scope and rapid-fire editing, often among different film stocks and aspect ratios, making it one of the most visually complex American films ever made. Stone's use of audio follows suit, acting as commentary and counterpoint to the score and to the strictly diegetic sounds of the movie. Indeed, the blur of sound between diegetic and non-diegetic coupled with the blur between film stocks and, sometimes, between recreations and the real photographs and filmed sequences from the assassination of JFK... well, style makes the point of content. 

The truth in this case is a very wide quantum smear of possibilities. The narrative makes the case for a singular true story, but that's endlessly hedged by the difficulties the film shows in discovering anything concrete and unassailable other than the simple fact of the President's death. Lee Harvey Oswald remains the virtual particle at the heart of the narrative, his locations and trajectories throughout the investigation's focus seemingly multitudinous, unfixed by an actual observer.

The actors are a Who's Who of American film, from Kevin Costner doing his best Jimmy Stewart as the real-life Louisiana District Attorney who tried a New Orleans resident for being a secret CIA operative involved in a conspiracy to kill JFK to Donald Sutherland delivering a dead-pan 18-minute soliloquy linking together a vast array of disparate elements. Only the relationship troubles between Costner and Sissy Spacek as Jim Garrison's wife seem rote and stereotypical. As fact, JFK may be laughable. As film, it's terrific -- and its central point about a secret U.S. ruling elite that wants the U.S. population to live in a state of endless fear and endless war seems even more plausible now than it did when JFK came out in 1991. Highly recommended.



I Am Chris Farley: written by Steve Burgess; directed by Brent Hodge and Derik Murray; featuring interviews with Adam Sandler, Christina Applegate, Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, Bob Odenkirk, Bo Derek, David Spade, Bob Saget, and many others (2015): Somewhat hagiographic biography of Chris Farley nonetheless supplies both insights and context for the deceased comic actor's life and work. There's some fascinating footage of Farley from his days at Chicago's Second City and from his even-earlier stage work. The interviews throughout from family members and colleagues that include Mike Myers, Bob Odenkirk, Dan Aykroyd, and David Spade illuminate the fascination Farley held for those closest to him. Apparently, like John Belushi before him, Farley was actually funnier live than on camera. Recommended.

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