2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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McBain Recommends
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Top 20 List
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Top 20 List
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The Blog:
Saturday, July 12, 2003
What I Watched During My Summer Vacation

I don't want shroom to get pissed at me, so I thought I better post something on the various movies and miniseries I've seen over the summer. Given the fact that I've enjoyed a lengthy vacation for much of the summer, I get the sense that he's not buying the "I just don't have time" excuse. So here's a brief round-up, in reverse chronological order.

Roman Holiday -- Watched in honor of my return from Rome (I annoyed my friends by saying "that's the Septimius Severus Arch" during the film) and Gregory Peck's death. Fifties romantic comedies don't get much better than this (although I also loved Pillow Talk). I'm a fan of Audrey Hepburn, but I don't think she ever topped this performance -- she goes from weary princess, to drunk, to wide-eyed ingenue, to woman in love, to mature stateswoman in 24 hours. It's also my favorite Peck performance after To Kill a Mockingbird. Plus, it has the underrated Eddie Albert. Every joke in the film works for me, even the slapstick at the sidewalk cafe and the barge, and I'm not a big fan of physical comedy. And I've seen the Mouth of Truth scene about 100 times, because it's the one clip everyone always shows. Still makes me laugh. And you simply can't ask for a more beautiful backdrop than Rome.

Swimming Pool -- A summer confection, Swimming Pool is a wink of a movie, pure tease, with a "twist," if you can call it that, which is mostly inevitable from the outset and doesn't really accomplish anything. It's a little like the 5th season of the Sopranos. There's a lot of plotting that never goes anywhere, as if the writer forgot about it. None of which is excused or explained by the "twist." (It's far too predictable for me to omit the quotation marks.) Still, there's some fun to be had in the meantime. The film is slyly funny. It's better approached as a comedy than a murder mystery. Rampling and Sagnier are terrific and I enjoyed watching them spar. Ozon puts Sagnier's physical form to good use. And there's a dwarf. Even if the end is a bit of an eye roller, I wasn't bored.

The Legend of Suriyothai -- Definitely sumptuous, but too formal to be completely engaging. An historic epic from Thailand, Suriyothai was heavily edited by Coppola (with the permission of the director, I gather), before its release in the U.S. I don't know how much was lost in the process. Maybe the longer version explained why Prince Thien's name changes after he becomes king. For my part, I would have cut out more of the stuff between the prologue, which established the triangle between Suriyothai, Thien, and Piren, and forwarded really fast to the Lady MacBeth intrigue that leads to Suriyothai's great moment. As near as I can tell, Suriyothai was kind of a one woman Alamo. She makes a completely senseless sacrifice, in furtherance of no strategic advantage, but becomes a rallying cry that spurs her people to victory. Rah. Rah. And, while I'm not familiar with normal Thai vocal inflection, unless it's monotone, the acting is no great shakes. Still, there's some spectacle to behold. And I really dug the elephants.

The Eye aka "I See People in Black Turtlenecks" -- Have you noticed how many brother teams there are in the movies? The Coens, the Hughes, the Wachowskis, the Polishes and the Pangs. I haven't seen any of the other Pang films, but The Eye is only okay. There are definitely some creepy images, nicely done in white light instead of shadows, but not much story linking them together. Which is too bad, because the story of a blind woman adapting to sight is a good starting point. But this is the kind of movie where someone just announces that two characters are in love. There's no way we'd know otherwise, except for anticipation of cliches. Unlike Ringu, the American version of The Eye probably has no where to go but up. Wait, I go too far.

I, Claudius -- Best palace intrigue ever. The sets look kind of cheesy and it feels a bit like a filmed play, but that's never bothered me. As far as decapitations go, there's no better moment in film or television than when Messalina loses her head. Plus, I watched it before and during my trip to Rome, and it helped bring the ruins to life.

The Singing Detective -- Incomparable. While Potter's classic deserves a much longer post than this, I need to see it two or three more times before I'd dare. And at six hours, it's gonna be a while before that happens, now that I'm back at work. It'll be interesting to see the re-make. The miniseries weaves together about four different storylines: Marlow's experiences in the hospital, the Singing Detective story that he rewrites in his mind, the flashback's to his childhood and his fantasy about his wife's infidelity. It takes six hours to do justice to the different threads. There's a fair amount of repetition and the fantasy/flashback stories double back on themselves, but that all seems necessary too. But I like the cast of the remake (though I have my doubts about Mel Gibson as the psychiatrist), so I'll have to wait and see.

Brideshead Revisited -- I really miss the well done miniseries. And I don't really consider a four-hour, made for TV movie, split over two nights, a miniseries, especially if it comes from USA network. The last miniseries I saw that I really loved was A&E's Pride and Prejudice. But it has been a declining format ever since the 80's. And I don't really understand why. VCRs and DVD players should make it easier for people to commit to a miniseries. It saddens me a little that something like Brideshead Revisited couldn't be made today. On the commentary, the director remarks how the series was intended to be six hours and was expanded to thirteen because to capture the book they really needed to dwell upon the details. For example, there's one scene where Ryder orders a drink on a ship, whiskey with tepid water, and the waiter explains that all the water is iced. Although Ryder reconciles himself to a chilled drink, the waiter surprises him with a carafe of ice water and one of boiling water, which he mixes to the "correct" (not perfect or preferred, but correct) temperature. That kind of moment wouldn't make it into most films or TV series today, and it probably sounds kind of boring as I describe it. But it was a lovely and sad incident in the series, a detail that said a great deal and nothing at all about the changing times.

By the way, I've become a great fan of DVD box sets. There is much to commend the concentrated viewing of a miniseries or TV season in a few days.

On a final note, tonight, I'm watching Deep Rising on TV. There was a raft of cheesy monster movies in the late 90s (such as The Relic and Mimic). This overlooked gem was my favorite of the bunch, so I was happy to see Joss Whedon refer to it favorably in a recent interview.