My Week in Movies: July 29 – Aug. 4

Another light week of movies thanks to the Olympics. *shakes fist at the Fab Five*

Dracula (1931) I hadn’t bothered to watch the “new Philip Glass score” reworking of Dracula since it was first released back in 1999. At the time, I was underwhelmed and rather annoyed by the musical addition and felt I was better off sticking to the original. Thirteen years later, I figured, as I often do when curiosity strikes, a reevaluation was in order. Turns out I was right the first time. Part of the original film’s effectiveness lay in its deafening silence – the eeriness of the tale, especially in its early scenes, is tripled by the unsettling quiet that joins it. That impact is lessened by Glass’ music, which dilutes the tension and often distracts. As standalone music, separate from the film, the score is a solid work, but it’s useless as part of the movie, especially since I get the impression Glass was not writing to the image itself. Few musical beats match the rhythm of the action – it’s like he just threw in some melodies at random, a lazy man’s effort to score a picture. I’m sure I’ll be just fine sticking with the original for another thirteen years. (As for the movie itself: it’s as classic as ever.)

Roberta (1935) An early Fred and Ginger trifle, the kind where the duo take a side seat to marquee-friendly Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. (The latter, mercifully, does not sing here.) The plot – involving a novelty jazz band’s trip to Paris, an American showgirl posing as an heiress, a transatlantic love triangle, behind-the-scenes goings-on at an upscale fashion house – manages to be both a bit of a clutter and too inconsequential, and that’s not even counting the numerous fashion shows sprinkled throughout. Meanwhile, the Dunne/Scott relationship, while endearing in spots, never quite grabs our interest as much as the Astaire/Rogers one. Plenty of dazzling musical numbers and some impressive set and costume design do their best to make up the difference, though, leaving things interesting enough to make for passable afternoon entertainment.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) I wish I knew more about magical realism so I could give this strange, wondrous, at times difficult film the reading it deserves. This is a movie full of challenges, thanks to a deliberate pace and an intentionally unclear plot – which is different from “slow” and “confusing,” because those are adjectives given to bad films, and this is, while not a great film, a very good one. Its mystifying aspects are part of its strategy (which is why I’m going to be just as vague about the film, which deserves to be seen with fresh, unexpecting eyes). Here we have a movie told entirely from the point of view of six-year-old Hushpuppy (played by newcomer Quvenzhan√© Wallis, whose performance is every bit as phenomenal as you may have heard), and it’s up to us to decipher the reality behind the fantasy; the impending destruction of the girl’s tiny island home may only be the result of, say, Hurricane Katrina and not the capital-a Apocalypse, but the movie reminds us that to her, the end of her home is the end of the world. The screenplay, by rookies Benh Zeitlin (who also directed) and Lucy Alibar (who wrote the play on which this is based), meanders a bit too much, especially in the third act, which includes one odd left turn that plays too much like a dead end to have the same sort of poetic impact as its other tangents. But such missteps are far outweighed by the tone of the piece; Zeitlin and his exceptional cast (oh, man, Dwight Henry floored me as Hushpuppy’s dad) work overtime to immerse us in an otherworldly setting. As seen through Hushpuppy’s eyes, her island is more than just a poverty-stricken village, it’s the complete universe as she knows it. And yet, despite the fantastical, the film maintains a personal approach, studying its characters at their worst and their best. It all melds together into what is, simply, a movie unlike any I’ve ever seen, haunting and strange, tender and disturbing, mysterious and welcoming.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) Look, I know the Olympics are on, but sometimes I just want to see the Gillman smack some people around.

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