My film viewing over the past few months has been principally devoted to catching up on critically acclaimed films from last year and continuing my exploration of older films. A few brief notes:
The Producers (1968): I am moderately fond of the Broadway musical on which this film is based, and, knowing that it was one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Films”, I went into it with high hopes. They were crushed. There is actually very little singing in it — it is not a musical as, I suppose, I had expected it to be. More to the point, there is no joy in it. The humour is consistently in bad taste, and from start to finish is remarkably mean-spirited. I didn’t smile, much less laugh, even once.
Lincoln (2012): Watched as a pendant to my current reading project on the American Civil War. It’s a good story, fairly well told, though undermined at a few points by heavy-handed Spielbergianisms and one or two too many endings. The film nonetheless deserves to be seen for the astounding performance by Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. I found him completely convincing, and richly deserving of his Oscar.
Life of Pi (2012): The novel on which this film is based was wildly successful in Canada when in was published a few years back. It had a certain charm, and it flattered Canada’s self-conscious devotion to religious pluralism in just the right way. (Much is made, both in the book and the film, of the title character’s simultaneous commitment to Catholicism, Islam, and Hinduism.) A surprisingly sturdy theme of abandonment of self in the spiritual life is undermined by the ending, which tries to jump tracks to a view of religion as edifying fairy tale. I didn’t think it effective in the book, and it works no better here, leaving only a sour taste in my mouth. But the film is stunningly beautiful to look at.
Les Misérables (2012): It’s a great story, of course, and I will confess to being an enthusiast for the musical on which the film is based. There is much to admire here, but it is all marred by one overriding defect: the singing is bad, and often terrible. The men are especially poor: Hugh Jackman, singing Jean Valjean, does his best with the sometimes high tessitura of his part, but he sounds strained, and Russell Crowe, in the part of Javert, sings without any sense of line and almost no inflection. It’s very hard to sit through without wincing. Still, there is enough good in the characters and the story and the songs (considered apart from the singing) to earn my hesitant applause.
City Lights (1931): This was my first Charlie Chaplin film, and I loved it. In contrast to the other putative comedy on this list, I laughed frequently and heartily throughout. The story, of the tramp’s efforts to help a blind woman out of her money problems, is surprisingly touching, and I had a tear in my eye at the end. I am ready to watch it again (but I think I will try Modern Times instead).