Thursday, March 02, 2006

Youthful and Serene

THE BEST OF YOUTH (2003, Marco Tullio Giordana)- I can't help but feel like many of the accolades for this film have a lot to do with the fact that it's six hours long and doesn't ever really get boring. And yeah, that's certainly an achievement, but in the end this is a film I admired much more than I enjoyed. Some of the more mainstream critics have celebrated the novelistic feel of the film (it takes place over forty years, for one thing), but storytelling is kind of low on my list of important factors to enjoy a film. I think that viewing the long version of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA just last weekend kind of throws this film into perspective- whereas Leone's work is endlessly cinematic, Tullio Giordana's direction is fairly prosaic, and subservient to the screenplay, which feels like a fastidiously faithful adaptation of a never-published novel. I was pretty enthusiastic after the first hour, which establishes the primary players in the film in a relaxed way, but once the brothers Carati are separated, it's off to the races. The narrative caroms from major event to major event in an attempt to follow the characters over four decades, but there are precious few character vignettes that help us really understand them (nothing on par with, say, the scene with young Patsy and the pastry in ...AMERICA). There are some elements that did register strongly with me (the Giorgia storyline, the New Year's Eve sequence), but just as many that weren't as effective as they might have been (in particular Giulia's Red Brigade experience, which was hurt by the presence of Sonia Bergamasco, easily the film's least expressive performer, as Giulia). I can see why this was a sensation in Italy- many of the country's major events from the past half-century come into play here- but some of this may get lost in translation for American viewers. But I have a feeling that my tempered reaction to the film had less to do with historical context than the uninspired nature of the film itself. Rating: **1/2.

SERENITY (2005, Joss Whedon, seen on DVD)- I'm a newcomer to the "Firefly" universe, but I certainly see the challenge Whedon faced bringing it to the big screen- how to satisfy the intensely fanatical (and vocal) followers of the original series while making it palatable for newcomers? For about an hour, I was totally into the film, which in its first half is chock full of storytelling verve (no fewer than three reveals in the first ten minutes) and sassy, engaging characters (you can't manufacture the kind of chemistry the cast has attained). Alas, once that first hour has passed, the film devolves into a more straight-faced kind of space opera, in which the scrappy rebels discover that they need to fight after all. Frankly, I missed the more irreverent tone in the opening reels (something which no doubt distinguished the series), and although the second half of the film isn't badly done, it's just a tad disappointing in light of what has come before. Still, I'm certainly intrigued (the series is going in the ol'Netflix queue), and the acting is quite good all around- Nathan Fillion makes a charismatic antihero, Adam Baldwin gets most of the good punchlines, and Jewel Staite is the most successful at delivering Whedon's sometimes convoluted dialogue ("goin' on a year now I ain't had nothin' twist my nethers weren't run on batteries!"). And casting Chiwetel Ejiofor as the icy baddie was a pretty genius move, as the film perks up whenever he's onscreen. Rating: **1/2.


Jason_Alley said...

Cool - glad you basically enjoyed "Serenity". I haven't seen "Firefly" yet either, but got it for Christmas so I will.

I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan - if you're up for 7 seasons of viewin' (actually, only the first 5 are really essential), you should really check out "Buffy" sometime - it's pretty much the coolest show EVER.

PhineasBg (Jay) said...

Hey Paul!

This is a good Oscar year, isn't it? I know I'll be watching! Too bad we don't have the old chatroom anymore.

Have you seen the M&M Oscar Bingo card? It's hysterical!

Talk to you soon!