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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Film Capsules

I haven’t had time to go to the movies this week, so I decided to write these short reviews of films I’ve watched on DVD lately.

One Eyed Jacks — This fantastic western is the only film ever directed by Marlon Brando, who also stars as a bank-robbing outlaw named Rio. In the opening scenes, Rio is betrayed by his longtime partner, Dad (Karl Malden, who co-starred with Brando in “On the Waterfront”), and spends five years in prison; when he gets out, he discovers that Dad has reinvented himself, and is now the married sheriff of Monterey, Calif. With revenge on his mind, Rio heads to Monterey. “One Eyed Jacks” has a fairly simple premise, as most westerns do, but it makes the most of it, drawing out the psychological tension and battle of wills between Rio and Dad. The characterizations are strong, the dialogue is sharp, and the Pacific Coast scenery is amazing. Based on this film, I’d say it’s too bad Brando never directed again.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: “One Eyed Jacks” was one of the first revisionist westerns, helping lay the groundwork for darker, more violent westerns such as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Other Guys — I finally got around to watching this 2010 Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg cop comedy, which features two scenes filmed in downtown Albany. However, this is not a film like “Salt,” where the Albany scenes are obvious and recognizable — in “The Other Guys,” the Albany scenes are woven pretty seamlessly into the rest of the film, which is set in New York City. So if you’re looking for a big screen glimpse of Albany, “The Other Guys” is fairly disappointing. But the film overall is pretty enjoyable — sort of an absurdist take on the cop-buddy genre, directed by Adam McKay, who helmed the Ferrell hits “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers.” Some of the gags don’t really work, but the ones that do are pretty funny, and Ferrell and Wahlberg have a nice rapport.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: 21 Jump Street, released earlier this year, is a very funny cop-buddy comedy, as is the 2007 British film Hot Fuzz.

Agora — This 2009 historical epic focuses on the Roman Empire near the end of the fourth century, as Christianity is on the ascent and the worship of pagan gods is on the decline. Rachel Weisz stars as Hypatia, a philosopher and teacher who is trying to understand how the solar system works; in the film’s early scenes, she is seen instructing admiring male students in the ways of the universe. Religious conflict eventually results in the destruction of much of the library and the second half of the film depicts the increasing intolerance of the Christian leadership, although the Jews and the pagans don’t come off particularly well either. “Agora” is engrossing take on an interesting chapter of history, and also a beautiful film to behold — director Alejandro Amenabar clearly has a passion for the material and an interest in religious history. Ultimately, the film is a tragedy, suggesting that reason and intellect are in increasingly short supply.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: Weisz is great in “Agora,” but at times her character felt a little too modern, given the film’s setting. I felt similarly about the protagonist of the recent film Hysteria, which features Maggie Gyllenhaal as a young feminist who sometimes sounds like she was beamed into the film from the year 2012.

Jason and the Argonauts — I watched this 1963 film mainly because I was interested in seeing the special-effects by Ray Harryhausen, whose stop-motion animation is legendary. And the special-effects do not disappoint. The mythical creatures and objects are fun to look at and give the film a lively and cheerful personality; the set pieces involving the god Triton, the statue of Talos, and the skeleton warriors are exciting and involving. The human actors are not nearly as distinguished as the special effects, but “Jason and the Argonauts” is such a good time that it doesn’t matter.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: I really like the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans, which provides an even better showcase for Harryhausen’s special effects.

Bad Taste — I recently expressed some disappointment in director Peter Jackson for turning “The Hobbit” into a three-part movie. Jackson is a gifted director, and I often wish he would take a break from adapting books like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Lovely Bones” and make a film more like his earlier works — something genuinely creative and weird, and rooted in his own mischievous imagination, rather than the imagination of others. In that spirit, I watched Jackson’s first feature film, 1988’s “Bad Taste,” about aliens who come to Earth to harvest human beings and turn them into hamburger meat for an intergalactic fast food chain. And I think it’s safe to say that we really don’t need any more films like “Bad Taste,” and that perhaps Jackson was right to leave the splatter-horror genre behind. Which isn’t to say that “Bad Taste” is a bad film — I actually enjoyed it, for the most part, and it has one thing that Jackson’s more recent films lack — a good sense of humor. But it’s amateurish and gross (it was made over the course of several years, on a very low budget) and Jackson has clearly become a much better and wiser filmmaker in the years since.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: Jackson’s 1992 New Zealand-set zombie film Dead Alive is a superior example of his splatter-gore filmmaking skills.

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