Sunday, April 17, 2011

Harvey and Year of Living Dangerously

2 More film reviews:
Also reviewed Network and 12 Angry Men here

I watched both of these films in an effort to keep up with supporting actresses in my supporting actress survey (click on supporting actress tag below):

Harvey (1950)
Harvey is a very uplifting and sweet film based around the peculiarly conceived notion that a man, Elmer, imagines himself to be in the presence of a 6-foot bunny rabbit. The film works well because the storyline makes some clever shifts. The film’s first act is about a mix-up in which Elemer’s sister Vetta accidentally gets locked up in a mental institution instead of her crazy brother. The second act centers around the rabid pursuit of Elmer after his sister is freed. In the third act they finally catch him, but convincing the doctors and themselves that he’s crazy is a whole other battle.

Josephine Hull won an Oscar (Supporting Actress) as the fussy sister who's somewhat of a social climber and hopes to marry her daughter off to a respectable man. James Stewart was also nominated as Elmer. The fact that you hardly notice that he keeps inviting people to dinner and that later becomes a significant plot point is what I think is most clever about this film: Elmer's sweetness really sneaks up on you.

The film isn't as much chaotic fun as a comedy like "Arsenic and Old Lace" or "His Girl Friday" but I found it very endearing. It had a great message about how people who are different or "crazy" might really be very valuable to the people around them if we stop to open our eyes.

Year of Living Dangerously:
When some middling reviews came out on “The Way Back,” there was some quote in the press (too lazy to look it up at the moment) that it was a big surprise because people felt that Weir never made a bad film. As far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty accurate. I’ve seen four Peter Weir films to date-Truman Show, Dead Poets’ Society, Witness, and Master and Commander-and they all rank among the best films I’ve ever seen. Weir was hired to direct “Witness” because making a film about the Amish needed to be treated with great cultural sensitivity and it was assumed that as an Australian, he’d approach their way of life as an outsider.

The same can be said for “Year of Living Dangerously” which makes a noble attempt not to look at the 3rd World through Western eyes. The story’s protagonist is Guy (Mel Gibson) an Australian reporter on assignment to cover political tensions in Indonesia. He’s greeted at the airport by an eager local photographer, Billy (played in an Oscar-winning gender-switching performance by Linda Hunt), who strikes up a professional partnership and serves as a local guide. As tensions rise and the country becomes closer towards violent revolution, so does the relationship strain between Billy and Guy. Part of that strain between them is over a complex triangle of affections between the two and an enigmatic attaché at the British Embassy played by Sigourney Weaver. More importantly, Billy questions whether Guy came to the country with intention of helping the people of Indonesia or exploiting them.

The film is beautifully shot, features excellent performances from the three leads, and is very well-paced.

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