June 25, 2014 progress: 4 movies
1) Faust (2011)
This is a loose adaptation of the Faust legend by Russian director Alexander Sokurov.
Constantly searching for enlightenment, when Heinrich Faust becomes infatuated with young Gretchen, his friend Mauricius agrees to work his dark magic to help Faust be with Gretchen in exchange for his soul.
There are plenty of better adaptations of the legend, including the 16th century play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
This film can’t decide if Mauricius is the devil, a supernatural being, or just a very talented man. The spiritual ramifications of the film are cheapened by the indecision.
Sokurov’s most famous film is Russian Ark (2002), a continuous tracking shot through the Winter Palace.
This film is a decent attempt at updating the Faust archetype, but misses the mark and diminishes the most vital elements.
2) Autumn Sonata (1977)
A collaboration between Swedish film giants Ingrid Bergman and Ingmar Bergman.
This was the final major theatrical release of Ingrid Bergman’s career, and she went out with a bang. She plays an aging concert pianist, Charlotte, who is called to visit her estranged daughter, Eva (played by Ingmar Bergman regular Liv Ullmann). Charlotte was cold and distant during Eva’s formative years, instead focusing on her musical career. Another daughter, Helena, paralyzed and disabled, comes to live with Eva during this time.
The movie is a tour de force in dysfunctional family relationships. It has all of the family drama of the recent film August: Osage County (2013), but doesn’t resort to cheap stunts such as incest or suicide. The characters involved are relatively normal people who made rational, albeit cold-hearted decisions based on their own self-interest.
This film, masterfully, doesn’t try to sensationalize dysfunction, nor does it falsely promise familial reconciliation. It’s a non-romantic view of families, and in many ways it is the daughter’s insistence on clinging to her romantic notions of family which thwart her from finding fulfillment.
Ullmann is almost always a delight when involved in a Bergman film and this is no different.
Ingmar Bergman’s influence on the twentieth century can hardly be overstated. He was one of the most celebrated artists in the primary artistic medium of the era. His career spanned nearly six decades and included some of the most personal and reflective films of all time. Everyone is familiar with his image of the grim reaper playing chess with his next victim in The Seventh Seal (1957). His other 1957 masterpiece Wild Strawberries is one of the earliest (and still one of the best) films focusing on an elderly man coming to terms with his life in his twilight years. His trilogy of films: Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), and The Silence (1963) are a profound meditation on faith in a postmodern world. Cries and Whispers (1972) is, amongst other things, an unflinching look at the mixed emotions which accompany a loved one’s death following a long illness.
If you’re interested in seeing Ingrid Bergman as something other than Ilsa from Casablanca, I highly recommend this film.
It’s also one of the most accessible of Ingmar Bergman’s films, which are often layered with obscure and dense imagery.
3) Baby Geniuses (1999)
This is not a good movie.
A description of the plot is sufficient to cast a dubious pall over the rest of the film. A scientist, Dr. Kinder (Kathleen Turner), is convinced infants have an innate intellectual ability which is lost when they “cross over” and learn the dumbed down language of their parents. She kidnaps babies from a local orphanage, conducts experiments on them, then uses the information from her experiments to build an empire of children’s educational toys.
That’s a stripped down version of the plot, but more than I care to remember. It’s a poor idea, poorly executed.
How did talented people like Kathleen Turner, Christopher Lloyd, Peter MacNiccol, Kim Catrall, and Ruby Dee get involved in something this asinine? I’m assuming they were blackmailed, or their agents are idiots, or they were all nearing bankruptcy.
The remarkable thing is not that the film got made, but a studio executive watched this and liked it enough to move forward on a sequel.
If you like bad movies, or enjoy wasting time, watch this.
4) Battlefield Earth (2000)
Speaking of wastes of time.
This vanity project by John Travolta effectively ended his comeback. Once a star in the 1970s, his career had fallen apart after a series of misfires in the 1980s, but in 1994 Quentin Tarrantino resurrected his career with Pulp Fiction. This movies proved Travolta’s earlier poor decisions were no fluke.
Based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard and widely seen as a a Scientology apology, this is a stupendously bad movie.
Travolta plays Teri, a Psychlo security chief who for political reasons is condemned to remain on Earth indefinitely. Forrest Whittaker plays his subordinate, Ker. Together, they devise a plan to mine gold on the planet and sell it.
One problem, Psychlos cannot breathe around gold, so they must use native humans to get it.
Barry Pepper plays a human slave recruited to mine the gold who then leads a rebellion against the Psychlo occupation.
The Scientology elements certainly didn’t help the film’s box office, but the main problem is it’s a ridiculous film which never bothers to make us care about its characters. It appears it was forced through production because of Travolta’s considerable clout and will.
He gambled audiences would flock to see it and lost. While he still has name recognition, his career has never recovered from the debacle.
One burning question: what did Travolta have on Forrest Whittaker to convince him to be a part of this film?
It’s as bad as its infamy would suggest.