Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Movie: The Terminal (2004)

It’s gotten mixed reviews, and even the critics who liked it went out of their way to call it a lesser effort. I thought that Spielberg’s last ‘light’ movie, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, was overrated. I’m not saying that lowered expectations help. I am saying that I think THE TERMINAL is a treat.

It becomes obvious early on that Spielberg’s model for the film is the work of Charlie Chaplin, specifically MODERN TIMES. He’s making a gentle satire about a little man befuddled by the system, and his odd, small-scaled triumph against it. That might explain the movie’s lukewarm reception; perhaps that comic model doesn’t have much currency with critics and audiences any more.

Tom Hanks certainly gets into the spirit. His waddle in this movie recalls the Tramp. Because his character’s English is a little shaky at first, whole sections of the film play out in near silence. A sequence where Hanks tries to build a bed in an unused section of the terminal would have been every bit as funny eighty years ago. And there’s also Chaplinesque pathos, which Spielberg wisely soft-pedals. Hanks’ character learns of the revolution in his homeland from the airport’s silent TVs. He sprints from one screen to another, desperate to find the volume. When he does locate a TV with sound, it’s in a ‘red carpet lounge’ from which he is quickly ejected. Heartbreaking stuff that again uses little dialogue.

Stanley Tucci plays what passes for the film’s villain, JFK’s officious head of customs. His pettiness is occasionally over the top, but he perfectly captures a bureaucrat’s attitude: he doesn’t want to do anything wrong, but he doesn’t particularly care if anything goes right.

The movie’s opening weekend grosses were disappointing, but it held up fairly well in week two. Maybe it’s gaining traction.

Video: Street of No Return (1989)

It sounds like a perfect combination. B-movie legend Samuel Fuller and novelist David Goodis, whose noir novels are tinged pitch black. Fuller and Goodis had been friends back in the days when the director was a tabloid reporter.

But the movie is what’s known in the trade as “Euro-pudding.” Cast, crew and money from all points of the Continent, with the shooting location (in this case, Lisbon) to be determined by tax breaks and the distance from the producers’ villas. The low budget hobbles the movie. So does the music. Fuller’s customary vigor occasionally shines through. Name another movie where the opening shot is a guy getting smacked in the face with a hammer. And you can never go wrong with a naked chick on a horse. If you’ve always wanted to know what an episode of MIAMI VICE directed by Alain Resnais would look like, this is the movie for you. It’s worth renting for the half-hour making-of doc that largely consists of Fuller pontificating. Nobody talked like Sam Fuller. Nobody made movies like him, either.

Movie: Emperor of the North (1973)

The modern-day miracle that is video-on-demand allowed me to catch up with this seldom-screened Robert Aldrich film set during the Depression. It has a repetitious script, considering the simple story (brutal conductor Ernest Borgnine will kill any hobo who tries to hitch a ride on his train, but Lee Marvin vows to do it anyway), and a grating faux-Copland score by Frank DeVol, who gave us THE BRADY BUNCH theme. But the physical action – particularly the last fight – is matchless. It’s one of those odd ‘70s movies that I know is an allegory for something. I’m just not sure what.