Capsule reviews

I have actually managed to watch some movies recently, but I’ve been slow in getting reviews up. So, I went for capsules, and now I’m all caught up! What about you? Have you seen anything good lately?

Kinsey (2004)

Normally, I don’t have a lot of interest in biopics: there’s a lot of talking and not much action. In their defense, though, they do usually showcase superior acting, and Kinsey is definitely no exception. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney (seriously, why doesn’t this woman have an Oscar yet?) and Peter Sarsgaard all inhabit their characters brilliantly. Kinsey is the story of Albert Kinsey, a scientist who turns to sex research upon realizing that Americans are woefully ignorant on the subject, and ultimately turns notions of sexuality on their heads. Neeson is powerful and touching as the titular character, who is brilliant and driven, but also at times extremely socially awkward. Linney, as Kinsey’s wife, is the heart of the film. She is a strong and “progressive” woman who supports her husband’s research, even when it affects their own relationship and lifestyle. As Clyde, one of Kinsey’s assistants, Sarsgard is an eager youngster who shifts effortlessly between sly worldliness and charming naivete. The crux of the film, really, is the way in which Kinsey’s research shapes and changes all three of these characters. It’s a really interesting story, funny at times, touching at others, and surprisingly enjoyable to watch. Great supporting performances by John Lithgow, Oliver Platt, and Tim Curry, along with a cameo by the late Lynn Redgrave make this a truly A-list piece of work.

Lost in Translation (2003)

Speaking of all talk and no action, I’m late in seeing Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Again, it was not a movie that appealed to me, but I decided I should see it, since it seemed to be kind of a big deal. I have to say that I was surprised in some areas and disappointed in others. Overall, I thought it was an interesting film, but not the brilliant work that it is often characterized as.
Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a fading movie star who is in Tokyo to endorse Suntory whiskey. He’s possibly the most world-weary character you will ever see on screen: he’s completely jaded about his career, his marriage, and life in general. His saving grace is that he loves his children, but work keeps him from seeing them often. During his week in Japan, he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a newlywed without any idea of who she wants to be. She’s come to Japan to tag along with her husband (Giovanni Ribisi), a photographer, but she’s left on her own to aimlessly spend her time. Bob and Charlotte strike up an unlikely friendship, and spend the week indulging in harmless fun. Naturally, they do some soul-searching, and maybe learn a few things about themselves as well.
I really liked some of the themes of this movie. I found it fascinating that the two main characters could be so very different in terms of age and experience, and still find common ground. Bill Murray does an excellent job here; Scarlett Johansson, not so much. A better actress might’ve given the character a little more depth, but instead of meaningful thought coming through, one mostly got the impression that ScarJo was merely trying to “look thoughtful” much of the time. The direction and cinematography are attractive, but ultimately I think that the film doesn’t have the depth it strives for. Still, if you’re interested in Bill Murray as an actor, Lost in Translation is a must-see.

Father of the Bride (1950)

I was a huge fan of the 1991 remake of the Father of the Bride. Steven Martin was great as the put-upon dad, and Kimberly Williams was an absolutely charming ingénue. However, as you might expect, neither of them can really hold a candle to Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in the original.
Stanley Banks (Tracy) is a typical middle-class father whose world is turned upside-down with the news that his adored daughter, Kay (Taylor) plans to marry. What starts out as a “small” wedding turns into a major production, with a price tag to match. Stanley tries to go with the flow, but his attempts to be a part of the process beyond just footing the bill are all comedically flawed in some way. In the end, it’s really the story of a loving father letting his daughter go, and acknowledging that she’s grown.
Spencer Tracy is absolutely perfect as the long-suffering Stanley. He’s got more expression in one lifted eyebrow than most actors can manage in an entire monologue, and he’s just a fabulous straight man. Even though he’s the problem at times, you feel nothing but sympathy for him as he’s steam-rolled through the entire wedding process. Taylor is, of course, luminous as young Kay, but she’s got a bit of a spine, too. It’s necessary in order to prove to Stanley (as well as the audience) that she really is becoming her own woman, and that it’s time for him to let her go.
All in all, there’s nothing really special or outstanding about the original Father of the Bride; it’s just a really cute little movie with first-class stars. It sets out to entertain, and it does so. There are moments of hilarity, moments of poignancy, and it’s enjoyable throughout. A must-see for classic movie fans, especially if you’re into Tracy or Taylor.

2 responses to “Capsule reviews

  1. Nice reviews, Sam. I’ve only seen two of the three, not too interested in Kinsey. But totally agree w/ you that Lost in Translation is sooo worthwhile because of Bill Murray. And I didn’t find Scarlet annoying back then.

  2. Neeson did a great job in Kinsey, too. I loved his body language where he casually checked his watch while the man he was interviewing, um, demonstrated his speed.

    Count me as another person who didn’t get what the big deal was with Lost in Translation. I thought it was a decent movie, but nothing special. I thought Johannson was better in the other movie she did that year – Girl with a Pearl Earring.

    I’ve seen both versions of Father of the Bride and didn’t like either one. It’s a depressing movie for a guy because of all the bad stuff he has to go through and then doesn’t even get to do the one thing he wants to do with his daughter on her wedding day.

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