Archive for the '2009 Films in Theater' Category

“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

I took 3yo Guppy with me to see Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated adaptation of Road Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, and we had a fantastic time. It’s a clever fox versus mean farmers, and it turns into all out war. It’s a movie for kids that works for all ages, especially for fans of Wes Anderson, whose style is surprisingly well-suited to animation.

Clooney and Streep are charming in the voice leads, while Jason Schwartzman is hilarious as their sullen, weird son. There’s some violence and guns, so this is not for every kid, but those in the theater with us seemed to enjoy it immensely, and 3yo Guppy had no troubles.

My favorite part was how they substituted the word “cuss” for all other bad words: “What the cuss are you talking about?” “Cuss off!” From imdb’s trivia:

Throughout the film, the word “cuss” is used in place of actual cursing. When asked about its origin in a radio interview on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, Wes Anderson said, “I don’t even remember. It think it was just to use the concept of profanity as a replacement for profanity itself. It turned out to be very versatile.” In keeping with this theme, one of the buildings seen in the film bears “CUSS” written as spray-painted graffiti.

“Where the Wild Things Are” (2009)

Monday, December 7th, 2009

It took me a while to see Where the Wild Things Are, not because I didn’t want to. I did, based mostly on positive reviews from two of my favorite critics, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and A.O. Scott of the NYT, who now host At the Movies. My challenge was trying to find a time to take my 6yo son Drake and leave my 3yo son Guppy at home. Since it finally became a choice of waiting for a good time or seeing it somewhere else besides The Heights, I decided to take both boys.

What I’d heard from other parents was true; the beginning of the movie has tough stuff about kids and families that can be hard to watch. The middle part, where Max journeys to the land of the wild things, though, was supposed to be more entertaining. Sure enough, at the end of the beginning segment, where Max gets into serious trouble with his mom, who is wonderfully and sensitively played by Catherine Keener, Guppy said, “I want to go home now.”

I told him to wait and see, and that it would get better. It did, and he liked the middle and end, as did Drake. I thought this film was wonderful and moving, showing a lot of the fleeting joys and painful truths of childhood as well as the mother/spirited son relationship. It’s authentic to the book:

Carol: Hey King! What’s your first order of business?
Max: Let the wild rumpus start!

yet a work of art unto itself. This is most definitely geared toward older children and adults. It was well worth seeing, especially on the big screen, where director Spike Jonze’s unique vision can get the scope it deserves.

“Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936)

Friday, December 4th, 2009

No, not the Adam Sandler remake. You know me better than that, right? The original, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, is one of those famous old movies that I’d never yet seen, so when Take-Up Productions had a Capra series, I made sure to address that gap in my movie experience. This is an utterly charming, funny movie, and a great example of Capra’s style.

Gary Cooper is Mr. Deeds, a small-town greeting-card writer who inherits millions when a distant relative dies suddenly. He’s a kindly eccentric, and tries to keep his head about him when he’s whisked off to NYC. There he meets Jean Arthur as Babe Bennett, a reporter who poses as an everyday small-town girl.

Louise “Babe” Bennett: That guy is either the dumbest, stupidest, most imbecilic idiot in the world, or else he’s the grandest thing alive. I can’t make him out.

They develop feelings for each other, but just as things might go well, he is sued for insanity in an attempt to seize his money. The suit is based on Arthur’s articles on him, and he finds out her real identity.

Will the bad guys steal his money? Will he be institutionalized? Will he forgive Arthur? Though the outcomes are predictable, the tension is real, and the enjoyment is palpable. This is truly a feel-good movie, though it easily could have been something else. Capra was to have made another movie, Cooper wasn’t available for months, the original female lead backed out, the studio head was against Arthur, yet it all came together. It has a further claim to fame. According to imdb:

This movie marks the entry of the verb doodle (in the sense of absent-minded scribbling) into the English language. The word was coined for the movie by screenwriter Robert Riskin.

“American Madness” (1932)

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I finally made it to a showing at the Trylon microcinema in south Minneapolis. It’s owned and run by Barry Kryshka of Take-Up Productions. With an entry through an art gallery, it’s a sweet little space, and Frank Capra’s American Madness was a sweet little little film to see there.

Walter Huston (director John’s father, and Angelica’s grandfather) is Thomas Dickson, a bank manager who provides loans or withholds them based on hunches and a person’s character. In the financially volatile 1930’s, this drives the bank board nuts, and they try to oust him. The plot takes a guy with a gambling problem, the mob, a neglected wife, and a few nice guys, and mixes it all to good effect. It’s funny, clever and touching with some striking images, particularly of a run on the bank.

The Trylon shows two films, about 7 and 9, on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s near Midori’s Floating World or the Town Talk Diner for dinner, or Glaciers Cafe for frozen custard before or after. The Trylon has good popcorn with real butter, with a good selection of beverages and candy. They just published their winter schedule, December is Powell/Pressburger films (”The Archers“), January is Johnny Depp and February is Godard. They’ll also have a Brit-noir series at the Heights that runs December through March.

“Toy Story 1 and 2 in 3D”

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

This was the last weekend of the Toy Story double feature in 3D, so I risked taking the two kids, 6yo Drake and 3yo Guppy, and figured I’d see how it went. Mostly well. The movies are as wonderful as ever, for both kids and adults: smart, sweet and funny without resorting to cheap gags or pop-culture refs. Toy Story 2 is deservedly famous as one of the few sequels that many think surpasses the original. While I enjoyed the 3D additions, the kids had a hard time keeping the glasses on (they were too big for Guppy) and the movies are blurry without them.

The movie included two previews. One for Toy Story 3–Andy’s in college! (How is that possible? Well, actually if he were six in Toy Story 1 (1992), that would make him 24. Yikes.) Drake’s response: “We have to wait till JUNE?” And one for the animated A Christmas Carol in 3D. Drake and his friend A’s response: “Ew! I NEVER want to see that movie!”

Can’t really blame them. The memory of Scrooge’s beak nose, and its large pores, coming at me in 3D, is unpleasantly seared on my memory.

The Informant! (2009)

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

I found Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, like the exclamation point in its title, to be surprising and funny. It is funny in the way shown in the trailer–Matt Damon plays a pudgy, earnest guy blowing the whistle on his company’s practice of price fixing in the corn industry. It further surprises by casting actors known for comedy, like Joel McHale, Buster from Arrested Development and Biff from Back to the Future, as straight men. Scott Bakula as the befuddled FBI guy is also very good. Damon’s bizarre character is the center the others orbit around, and I liked the effect of having these guys play against type and react to Damon, who was very, very funny. He gained thirty pounds for the role, but what stood out for me were his lacquered hair and his endless array of ugly but expensive ties–I know I bought ones just like them in the early 90’s for my boyfriend and father. It’s Damon’s character, who starts out bumbling and is gradually revealed to be much more complicated, that really made this movie for me. Not high art, but definitely enjoyable and worth paying full price for, especially some of the reveals would be easily spoiled between now and the DVD release.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Note that I saw the original Day the Earth Stood Still (not the recent remake), shown by Take-Up Productions at the Heights Theater. After a space ship lands on the White House lawn, a man claiming to be from space emerges and says he needs to speak to the world leaders.

Klaatu: I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.

When Klaatu is told his request is impossible–how can all the nations agree on anything?–and imprisoned, he escapes to find a way to get his message of peace to the Earth. He stays in a boarding house where he meets a single mother and her son. When Klaatu is threatened, his protector robot, Gort, in turn threatens the Earth. The mother and her son must find a way to prevent this.

This is a great movie, a classic, and one I’m sorry I hadn’t seen till now. The look is impressive, and the tension and threat of the story are palpable. Bernard Hermann, better known for his work with Hitchcock, used theremins to foster uneasiness in the viewer. Additionally, this is a referent for so many science-fiction works that came after it. Gort looks very much like a prototypical Cylon from Battlestar Galactica, and I now understand the reference in Evil Dead to “Klaatu Barada Nikto”.

I think this will be a good movie to watch with my 3 and 6yo kids when they’re a little older, as a discussion starter for things like national violence and racism.

“Julie & Julia” (2009)

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Years ago, I read Julie Powell’s blog The Julie/Julia Project, about cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was good and funny, yet I think I dropped out around the time she worked on aspics. Their meaty quiver, the late hours to cook and consume them, plus the cost of ingredients all combined to make my head hurt. When Julie published her book, I thought it was great. And when the book was slated to become Julie & Julia, the movie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, even better.

I had a great time at this movie. I laughed a lot, and went ooh over some of the shots of food. I thought that the aural analogy between kissing and eating was heavy handed, but certainly appropriate to the subject matter. Adams was engaging as always, though perhaps not quite believable as an every-girl. Streep and Stanley Tucci all but steal the movie, with their stunning performances of a true power couple in love.

A lot of the reviews gripe that the Julia Child part is so much better than the Julie Powell part that they wish it had been all Streep as Child. They argue that Powell is self-involved and just not that interesting. That’s an opinion, but I’d like to remind them:

THIS MOVIE WOULD NOT EXIST IF NOT FOR JULIE POWELL.

Nor would the Julia Child renaissance that the movie, and Streep’s performance particularly, have spurred. Because it was Julie Powell who had an idea for the project to cook her way through a dusty old cookbook. Like Child before her, she brought classic French cooking to a modern American audience. So I think it’s unkind to dismiss Powell’s part in the film. Child inspired Powell, and Powell in turn inspired others to rediscover Child. Child’s teaching and inspiration are key to her legacy, so Powell’s role as disciple in real life and the film are necessary to show that. I was glad to have the two stories, and enjoyed Adams as a young woman struggling to find meaning in spite of a cubicle job and a stalled writing hobby. So go see the movie. It’s good. And if you enjoy it, be grateful to Julie Powell (still blogging, here), even if you like Julia Child more. Julie’s the reason you’re getting to know Julia, whose kitchen wisdom I’ll be thinking of for a long time:

Never apologize! (for food you’ve cooked) No excuses! No explanations!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

At 2 hours and 33 minutes, I want a movie to be worth my time, not just my money (both for the ticket AND the sitter). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was entertaining, but not quite entertaining enough.

There was much in its favor. It was nice to see the familiar actors again, and they all did very well. The visuals were great, and there was even a quidditch match this time. The best part, though, was the banter and interplay among the students as their hormones surged. This had many funny moments and exchanges.

What didn’t work was how tedious the plot became. The film seemed to treat plot as a burden, lavishing time on the scenes with students, then rushing through key points from the book, like the reveal of the half-blood prince. During the penultimate scene, in which Harry and Dumbledore go off alone to battle something serious, I thought, “This is boring. I wish I were napping instead.”

That boredom took some of the power out of the final scene and the death of a major character.

Most critics seem to like it more than I did. I recommend it, but with reservations. Don’t pay full price, though it is worth seeing in theaters for the stunning visuals.

“Up”

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

I saw the new animated feature from Pixar, Up, earlier this week with my nearly 6yo son Drake. I cried three times, he was scared about as many times, but overall we enjoyed it. One of my favorite fleeting moments of parenting is sitting in the dark with Drake, watching a movie and hearing him laugh with delight. I love sharing that moment with him.

In addition to the balloons, old man and pudgy boy featured in the ads, Up has a delightful dog and bird, both of whom often steal their scenes. It’s rated PG for good reason, though. There are some scary chases, both by dogs and up high, and a cruel villain with a gun. In general, I think this is better for school-aged kids (I was glad not to have brought 3yo Guppy) and not for kids afraid of mean dogs, guns and heights. Also, I opted for the 2D, not the 3D, which I think would be better for kids older than Drake.

While it’s no Wall E, which I thought one of the best films of last year, and perhaps Pixar’s best yet, Up is still very good and worth seeing. It’s beautiful to look at, and has stuff to appeal both to kids and to adults, without resorting to the cheap pop-culture references of Pixar’s low-rent imitators.

“Strangers on a Train” (1951)

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

This week’s selection in Take Up Production’s “First, You Need a Crime” series was Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, which I’d never seen. It’s one of his earlier films, in black and white, and before his penchant for tormenting icy blonds turned into a fetish. Farley Granger is Guy Haines, a handsome, famous young tennis player approached by the garrulous Bruno on a train. Haines has marriage trouble; Bruno has some deep and abiding father issues and tells Haines he’d like to swap murders with him. Haines is understandably put off, and politely hurries away. Bruno, though, won’t be dissuaded.

The movie is full of fascinating, funny, creepy and disturbing stuff. Raymond Chandler worked on the screenplay, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia is Barbara, who has some of the best lines and takes on the role of girl detective.

Senator Morton: Poor unfortunate girl.
Barbara Morton: She was a tramp.
Senator Morton: She was a human being. Let me remind you that even the most unworthy of us has a right to life and the pursuit of happiness.
Barbara Morton: From what I hear she pursued it in all directions.

Girls who wear glasses don’t have a good time of it, though. There are several iconic images, such as one of the crowd at a tennis match, a reflection in eyeglasses, and a merry-go-round scene that makes my eyes widen and jaw drop even in memory. There’s subtext on social and political power, and of homosexuality. This is a great Hitchcock film, and one I’m glad I got to see on film in a theater.

IMDB lists a remake slated for 2011, but a Google search turned up paltry evidence, so let’s hope it just goes away.

Bolt (2008)

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

People who talk in movie theaters irritate me. The exception: kids in movies for kids. They talk, and it delights me. I can only hope they’ll unlearn that behavior by the time they’re seeing movies for old people, like me.

5yo Drake and I went to see Bolt at the Riverview Theater with friends. The kids, 5, 4, and 2, were entranced by the show. There were lots of “Dog!” and “Wow!” comments. The story was easy to follow, had cute characters like pigeons and a hamster, and Bolt was endearing, though I found his eyes a little too creepily realistic looking. I like my cartoons to look cartoon-y, thanks.

The plot is a mash up of Toy Story and The Truman Show. Bolt thinks he’s a superdog, but he only plays one on television. When he is accidentally released into the real world, he has to learn to deal with not being super. Along the way, though, he also learns how to be a real dog, which he finds is not a bad trade off.

I doubt the movie would have been so enjoyable with older kids, and it most certainly wouldn’t have been on its own–everything is good, few things are great. But watching it with kids, and experiencing their wonder, along with real-butter popcorn and movie candy, was a delight.

Ironic parallel: Rhino the hamster spends most of his time in a plastic ball. 70’s pop culture mavens may remember one of John Travolta’s, the voice of Bolt, early movies, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

“The Phantom Lady” (1944)

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

The last in the noir series I’ve attended these past weeks, The Phantom Lady was enjoyable for its mood, though not its plot, which made little sense. A depressed man who’s been stood up, Scott meets a sad lady in a bar, asks her to a show, drops her off, returns home to find his wife dead. He’s the main suspect, and when police start questioning his story, no one knows a thing. Enter his cute assistant, played by Ella Raines, nicknamed “Kansas”. Determined to prove him innocent, she goes all girl detective to prove the witnesses are lying. In the midst of this, one of Scott’s friends shows up, and is quickly revealed as the bad guy to the audience, though its not obvious to the others. Franchot Tone plays the comically over-the-top murderer to very entertaining effect. Very good, probably not great, but worth watching for the performances by Raines and Tone, and for a scary-trippy jazz-den scene.

“The Blue Dahlia” (1946) and “The Glass Key” (1942)

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Last night we had the good fortune to find a sitter who could stay late, so my husband G. Grod and I were able to take in Take-Up Productions noir double feature at The Heights of The Blue Dahlia and The Glass Key. Both star Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, with William Bendix in a scene-stealing supporting role.

The Blue Dahlia, from a screenplay by Raymond Chandler, has an excellent tagline: “Tamed by a brunette–framed by a blond–wanted by the police!” Ladd is a navy veteran who returns to an unfaithful wife. When she turns up dead, the police have many suspects, Ladd, Bendix and Lake among them. See the film’s trivia at imdb for the entertaining legend of Chandler’s writing process, and the connection between this film and the “Black Dahlia” scandal, later made into a book by James Ellroy and a film by Brian De Palma.

The Glass Key is based on a Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name. Ladd is the childhood friend of a powerful character with political aspirations. It wavers interestingly between their “bromance” and the triangle they have with Lake. Bendix plays an eager goon and an extended fight scene that’s simultaneously disturbing and entertaining. The film pulls its punch at the end with an incongruous happy ending, though one with some funny lines.

The Coen Brothers used Hammett’s Glass Key and Red Harvest as the basis for their excellent 1990 film Miller’s Crossing. Earlier, Red Harvest was the basis for Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which was later remade as For a Fistful of Dollars, the first famous spaghetti western.

There’s one more film in this noir series, The Phantom Lady, on Monday 16 March 2009 at 7:30 p.m. at the Heights Theater. A Hitchcock series starts in April, and will be shown both at the Heights and The Riverview.

“Criss Cross” and “The Killers”

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The noir double feature I saw this week of Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross and The Killers deserves a bit more than the passing mention in yesterday’s post about a week of movies.

The City Pages is being difficult and not providing Rob Nelson’s succinct review of Criss Cross online, so I’ll reprint it:

As an impossibly convoluted thriller stuffed with flashbacks and nihilistic voiceovers, this 1949 film noir from director Robert Siodmak isn’t quite on a par with The Killers, Siodmak’s first collaboration with tough-guy cum patsy Burt Lancaster. But it’s a skillful, brooding, highly entertaining movie nonetheless–and far more potent than Steven Soderbergh’s arty remake The Underneath. In fact, what seemed to be Soderbergh’s most innovative scene–a protracted hospital-room dialogue between the helpless protagonist and his potential assassin–actually pales in comparison to Siodmak’s more straightforwardly intense staging, in which the intersecting bars of the hero’s death bed visually represent both title and plot. Plus, the narration delivered by Lancaster, playing a wayward loser who returns to his duplicitous ex-wife (Yvonne De Carlo) works as a perfect articulation of the genre’s gender-oriented despair: “From the start, it all went one way. It was in the cards, or it was fate, or it was a jinx, or whatever you want to call it.” I’d call it a postwar metaphor for the trauma of vets who, coming home, found that their wives weren’t the compliant homemakers they were before.

Julie Caniglia recommended The Killers over Criss Cross as well. Former acrobat Burt Lancaster is The Swede, a role that made him a star. He’s handsome and tragic in a tank top, a look Siodmak repeated in the later Criss Cross.

This 1946 adaptation of a Hemingway story, which one film critic dubbed the “Citizen Kane of noirs,” is indeed a deft example of Hollywood studio tradition cast with a pall of brooding German Expressionism (director Robert Siodmak began and ended his movie career in Germany). Like Kane, it begins with a death—the murder of the Swede, a small-town gas station attendant (Burt Lancaster, looking hot in a career-launching role)—and then unfolds the increasingly complex “double-cross to end all double-crosses” that led up to it. Basically, the Swede’s $2,500 life insurance payment leads one Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) to uncover the details of a $250,000 caper years earlier. Yes, words like “caper” and “sing” are used freely here; there are also boxing matches, poker games, boarding houses, and small-time cons named Blinky and Dum-Dum. The big-time con Big Jim Colfax asks for a cigarette with his dying breath, and his dame Kitty (Ava Gardner) croons an impromptu, piano-side torch song—making smitten that lovable lug, the Swede. Such elements have long since been chewed into mealy clichés, but in The Killers they’re evergreen.

These worked well as a double feature, and were both well worth renting if you’re a fan of film noir.

Seven Movies in Seven Days

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I’d like to thank the Academy for a shorter, more entertaining Oscar show this year. I’d also like to thank my husband G. Grod for enabling my pre-Oscar movie-watching compulsion. I saw SEVEN movies. In SEVEN days. Talk about indulgence.

G and I watched The Visitor together. It might not have been his pick for the flick to watch on his birthday, but we both enjoyed it. Richard Jenkins is winning in this quiet movie about a lonely man moved into engagement by the people he meets, and the injustice of post-9/11 US immigration laws (or lack thereof). It’s an excellent rental.

Then we did a complete 180, like a U-turn on the Batcycle, and watched The Dark Knight. 5yo Drake and 3yo Guppy were difficult about going to bed. I’d wanted to start watching early, since it’s so long. Oh, well, I thought. We’ll just watch part of it. Ha. As if. Two hours and forty-five minutes later… Dark Knight is loud, scary, provocative, in your face–the antithesis of a quiet movie. Thus, I find it kinda perfect for the times. Great plot, character, actors, etc. This WAS one of the best movies of the year, no matter what Oscar said.

Then I hijacked my kids in my Oscar compulsion and we watched Wall E. And were amazed all over again. Animation? I don’t think so. Science that looks like magic? You betcha. Remember all the critics who wondered if kids would like it since there was no dialogue for most of the movie? Watch it with a kid. The kids GET it. They LOVE it. How can you not? Best movie of the year? For me, yep.

Next was The Reader. Woo. Another movie mash-up whiplash. I saw it at St. Anthony Main, not usually my first pick of theaters, and there was an enormous night-before-Oscars line. But the staff did a great job–moved people through efficiently and with smiles, and delayed the starts of movies so no one missed out. As for the movie, I don’t think the world needs another Holocaust movie. Or another movie that shows that people can do horrible things but still be good people. Ooh, look, it’s complicated. However, Winslet is still living in my head in that role. Even though her turn in Revolutionary Road seemed technically better, her role in The Reader has quietly insinuated itself into my head.

Then, after weeks of attempts, I finally made it to the ONE theater in town showing Rachel Getting Married. It was a lot darker, and less funny, than I expected. It felt exactly like attending an often-uncomfortable but still happy wedding weekend. But the performances, especially Hathaway’s, were more than worth it. Hathaway completely embodied her haunted, selfish, struggling ex-junkie, hatchet-hair, slept-in-my-kohl-liner look. She’s played an ingenue before? Coulda fooled me. Rosemarie DeWitt (Midge from Mad Men) was appropriately loving and exhausted as her long-suffering sister. But Debra Winger was the surprise standout for me–so cold and brittle I felt frost-bitten just watching her.

At which point G. Grod thought, “whew, the Oscars are tonight. She’ll stop going out all the time.” Then he looked at the calendar, and said, “D’oh!” Because last night was Take Up Productions noir double feature at the Heights, with Criss Cross, and The Killers.

I blame my friend Kate for my compulsion to mix Dots and popcorn, but thank her for the guilty deliciousness. As for the films, there weren’t a lot of happy endings for Burt Lancaster and his femme fatales, but their pain was our gain. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite manage 3+ hours of movie, and was nodding off by the end. I’m off to look up the ending to The Killers, and rest up for the next double feature, The Blue Dahlia and The Glass Key, in two weeks. The Big Clock is next week. Other than that I’ll try to give G. a break and switch gears back to reading, and transfer my consumption compulsion to the books for the Morning News 2009 Tournament of Books.

“Australia” (2008)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

The reviews were mixed and the running time long, but I wanted to see Australia anyway. I’ve loved all three of Baz Lurhrmann’s previous films, Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge. Even if the movie was a mess, it would be an interesting one.

Like the other Luhrmann films, Australia isn’t distinguished by an original storyline but by its intent to entertain. Prim Englishwoman Lady Ashley goes to Australia to sell her husband’s farm. She gets caught up in a fight with nefarious cattle rivals. She bickers with a handsome cattle driver, Hugh Jackman, only ever named The Drover. She loosens up, then shows up in a beautiful dress*. Jackman shows up shaved and handsome in a tux. Cue the ending, except then the film goes on for another hour to tell another story.

I could sense the director’s passion that spurred his reach to exceed his grasp. I missed the more important role of music from his earlier films, but still appreciated the soundtrack. I’m glad I saw it on a big screen; even though it was flawed, it was a big story (or rather, stories) about a big country. I recognized the film’s flaws, like an unnecessary extra hour of a different story and an unfortunate reliance on the plot point of the noble savage/mystical native who teaches the stupid white people about tolerance and love. Yet I thoroughly enjoyed its 2 hour and 45 minutes. It’s for fans of Luhrmann’s films, and those who love sloppy, old-fashioned sweeping, sometimes weepy, movie magic.

*The red dress she wears, as with a pink one that precedes it, is lovely, but not enough, IMO, to deserve the Oscar for Best Costumes for the entire film.

“This Gun for Hire” (1942)

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

This Gun for Hire was the first show in Take-Up Productions‘ new film series, “From The Vaults of Universal: Seven Classic Film Noirs”, on Mondays in February and March 2009 at the Heights Theater in Minneapolis. It starred Veronica Lake, in her famous side-parted -do, and introduced Alad Ladd as hitman Raven, who utterly stole the film.

Willard Gates: Raven… how do you feel when you’re doing [indicates murder headlines]…this?
Philip Raven: I feel fine.

From the screenplay by Graham Greene, Raven is in trouble after he’s paid for a hit in marked bills. Not only are the police after him, but so is the man who double-crossed him. Lake becomes involved in the complicated case that involves chemical weapons, spies, blackmail and murder. The plot is much less important than the look, performances, and atmosphere, which melt into a powerful whole.

The noir formula is turned on its head; Ladd is more of an homme fatale, while Lake is the innocent drawn in by her attraction to him. Ladd is best in the first half of the film, when he is inscrutable and unpredictable. Toward the end, his character explains his history, and I found the end manipulatively redemptive.

Next Monday is a double feature, Criss Cross and The Killers. The shows start at 7:30pm, but get there early. The Heights was nearly filled on Monday night, and the shows might sell out. Also, be sure to leave time and money for the Heights’ excellent popcorn, which you can get with real butter.

“Doubt” (2008)

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

With Doubt, I saw four Oscar-nominated performances in one film: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, the latter two for Best Supporting Actress.

Doubt is a “did he or didn’t he” tale of Hoffman’s priest in 1955, pre-Vatican II Brooklyn. Streep is the righteous nun, Adams a naive new nun, and Davis a student’s mother. The characters are drawn well and all are sympathetic, though some are also suspicious. Hoffman is good, but he never made my heart rend, as both Sean Penn in Milk and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler did. Streep’s performance, though, is blazing. Adams is consistently strong in her many scenes; she’s really the main character, I think. But Davis is so jaw-droppingly powerful (and definitely heart rending) in her brief time on screen that I can see why she’s a favorite.

A good film, with great performances. It poses tough questions, then respects the viewer enough to leave them unanswered.

“Revolutionary Road” (2008)

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

As part of my pre-Oscar movie-watching binge, I saw Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio play a young couple who meet cute in the 50’s, get pregnant, move to the suburbs, and take on the trappings of a conventional life. As they struggle against the constraints of expectations–theirs and everybody else’s–they become ever more desperate and unhappy. This is an emotionally brutal film, but one full of truths about marriage and society that still resonate today.

Winslet is wonderful, DiCaprio slightly less so. Michael Shannon, nominated for a Best-Supporting Actor, is disturbingly sharp as the mentally ill son of a friend. Sometimes, though, I became aware of the swelling music, or the actor’s intensity felt a little too “look at me; I’m acting!” Overall, however, a provocative and well done film, with beautiful images and strong performances.

As per my new movie/book plan (which I noted here), I’ll try to read the Richard Yates novel this year now that I’ve seen the film. Reading books before the film wreaks havoc with my reading schedule, and nearly always spoils the film. I’m interested to see if I agree or not with Nick Schager’s Slant review about the film, which says it’s superficially faithful, but ultimately misses the point.

Trivia: I spotted kid-friendly musician Dan Zanes as part of the swing band in a dive bar.