Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Monday Night Noir at the Parkway

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Twin Citians, Take-Up Productions presents Monday Night Film Noir at the Parkway theater, at (NB, this has been corrected to) 7:30pm. Tonight is Double Indemnity. The Parkway is a great, old theater and serves delicious popcorn with real butter.

Noir film is a growing interest for me, in response to Ed Brubaker’s excellent ongoing comic book, Criminal. Furthering my interest was a piece from last year, “Rerunning Film Noir” by Richard Schickel at The Wilson Quarterly (link from Arts and Letters Daily), which had some interesting insight into the aims of noir.

Traditional scholarship on this mostly American style of film said that the dark mood was a response to the discomfort of peacetime after WWII. Schickel proposes alternate interpretations that I think have a great deal of merit.

Noir films, with their greatly intensified visual style and their stress on perverse psychology, weren’t reflecting our misery in a peacetime economy….Instead, their aims were quite different (don’t forget, they were meant to entertain). For one, they were trying to give the traditional crime film a new lease on ­life–­particularly in the way it represented the city’s place in the postwar world. Somewhat more originally, they were placing a new stress on the power of the ­past–­something most of us thought we had ­buried–­to reach out and twist our fates when we least expected that to ­happen.

2007 Movie Challenge Recap

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Holy Moly, I watched 81 movies last year! That’s a lot, no? My behavior (making an effort to see movies) matches my priorities (love of movies; desire to learn more about film)–I started the annual challenge after I had my son Drake, and I hardly ever went out to the theater. I feel some lurking guilt that I could have devoted more time to reading, but that’s just because I’m prone to endless second guessing and self recrimination.

I’m not going to list them all. They’re linked to in movies to the right. But I saw about a quarter in the theater, watched a quarter from the home shelves, borrowed 34 from the library, and only watched 7 new purchases. (I’m not sure how many more I purchased and DIDN’T watch, which is one thing I’m trying to cut down on.) But the fact that both theater and shelf sitters got about three times as much attention as new purchases makes me feel again that my priorities are in the right place. So, onto the movies:

Favorite films: Lives of Others, Michael Clayton, Juno

Favorite series: Jason Bourne movies

Favorite dvds: Infernal Affairs, Volver, House of Games

Underrated films: Children of Men, Stranger Than Fiction

Illusionist vs. Prestige: Prestige, definitely

Movie I liked even though it wasn’t that good: Hairspray

Best new-to-me classic: La Regle du Jeu

Critical darlings that I just don’t like: Jonny To’s Triad Election, Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, and all three by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

For 2008, I think I’d like to cut back on the library dvds. Oops, I said that last year. But seriously, they’re so easy to reserve that I’m much less discriminating then I am in choosing DVDs to purchase or films see in theater.

Roman Holiday (1953)

Friday, January 4th, 2008

#81 in my 2007 movie challenge was Roman Holiday, my last movie watched of the year. It was part of the Audrey Hepburn collection that my thoughtful husband G. Grod got me last year. It’s easy to see how Hepburn became a star after her first major role. She’s perfect as Princess Ann, who plays hooky from royal duties while in Rome. Gregory Peck is the opportunistic reporter who pretends to be her friend in order to nab the story. The adventures, and Peck’s change of heart, are entertaining, if a bit slow. Peck’s not quite believable as an unscrupulous reporter. Holden might have been better. Eddie Albert, though, is hilarious as Peck’s photographer friend. The ending, with Ann’s return to royal duty, seemed much more in keeping with the films during and just after the war. Nonetheless, this was a sweet and funny film with which to end the year.

Juno (2007)

Monday, December 31st, 2007

#80 in my 2007 movie challenge was Juno, the indie darling written by former Minnesota stripper and City Pages writer Diablo Cody. At first, critics gushed, then backlash ensued. Naysayers claim the dialogue is precocious, unreal, and that the ending is saccharine. To them, I say “silencio”. Yes, this is not a perfect movie. But it’s a movie I loved. I loved the main character, and her almost unshakable sense of self. I loved Michael Cera as the geeky boy, and love that he’s in a movie that well addresses the female point of view so lacking in Superbad earlier this year. I loved J.K. Simmons as her dad and Alison Janney as her mom. I was impressed by both Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as the potential adoptive parents. The soundtrack by Kimya Dawson was great, and reminiscent of the dreamy interweaving from a Wes Anderson film. This was at times sad, funny, creepy, weird and sweet. Don’t listen to the grinches. Go see it.

Blades of Glory (2007)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

#80 in my 2007 movie challenge was Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory. It had enough laugh-out-loud moments to make it worthwhile, though it often dragged. I think the Will Ferrell spoofs are getting less funny each time around, and I wish he’d abandon the sports-spoof formula for something else. I found Amy Poehler and Will Arnett disappointingly not that funny. Jon Heder really stole the show as the pretty young male skater who teams up with his rival to become the first male-male figure skating pair. Scott Hamilton is quite good as an announcer. In the extras, skip the gag reel but check out the feature on how the stars learned to skate. Everyone but Arnett, who played hockey when he was younger, was a newbie on the ice.

Music in Movies

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

From “Listening to Film” at The Chronicle of Higher Education (link from Arts and Letters Daily)

If the first rule of film criticism is to watch the movie, the second is to listen to it. Prick up your ears to the aural atmospherics and sonic undertones laid down on the soundtrack – dialogue, background noise, and the most bewitching element in the mix, music.

The author reviews books about John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock, and their musical/directorial choices, and the review alone makes me want to watch and listen to their movies right away.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

#78 in my movie challenge for the year was Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited. The reviews have been mixed, but I enjoyed it a lot. I found it quieter and less ostentatiously clever than Anderson’s early films like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. I found a lot of sadness and sweetness in the brothers, played by Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody. There was a tremendous amount of pathos about their relationships with their parents, and with each other. As with Anderson’s other films, the music is deliberately chosen and exquisitely interwoven with the story.

Talk to Her (2002)

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

#79 in my 2007 movie challenge was Talk to Her by Pedro Almodovar. It has been sitting on our Tivo hard drive for two and a half years. It’s an odd, quiet movie. While I expect the former from Almodovar, I was surprised by the latter. The film centers around a friendship that develops between two men, who get to know each other as they’re caring for comatose women they love. It’s a bizarre premise, but it’s handled with amazing empathy, and a great deal of tenderness. This is in spite of the often huge swings in tone the movie takes, from funny to creepy, from ethical to personal. There’s much to appreciate here about love, relationships, and loneliness. The fake silent movie in the middle, though, I found too strange and off-putting.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

#77 in my 2007 movie challenge was Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg’s parody of bad buddy-cop movies. It’s silly, goofy fun, though the blood, gore and violence make it not for the squeamish. While it runs a little long at two hours, it’s really quite good, which is an impressive feat, given the less-than-high-art source material, like Bad Boys II and Point Break. What’s more interesting to contemplate, though, is how studios keep churning out bad buddy-cop movies, whether drama or comedy, that don’t hold a candle to this spoof.

When I brought the DVD home from the library, 4yo Drake asked what it was called. Once I told him Hot Fuzz, he pestered me to watch it constantly, and was crestfallen when I said I’d returned it. It has a very catchy title.

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

#76 in my 2007 movie challenge was How to Marry a Millionaire, a classic good bad movie. Bacall, Grable, and Monroe play models who rent a posh NYC penthouse in order to lure a better class of suitor into marriage. Unsurprisingly, the scheme goes awry. They are forced to sell the furnishings in order to stay, and Grable and Monroe end up marrying for love, not money. Bacall thinks she does the same, but her ostensibly happy ending rang false, and her comeuppance was too slight.

The scheming sexism is a disappointment, as is the predictable story. For a film starring three beautiful actresses, there was a curious dearth of close-ups. And the seven-minute long orchestra intro, followed by long credits over loving shots of NYC, made me wonder if the movie was ever going to start. But there’s a sass and style that overcome the film’s faults. The costumes are by turns beautiful and deliberately outrageous, exemplified in a very funny modeling scene. All three end up renouncing their mercenary plan. And there are several surprisingly post-modern references to the stars’ previous famous work: Monroe wears an outfit named “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”; Grable re-enacts her famous over-the-shoulder pose; and Bacall, defending the attractiveness of older men, remarks, “Look at Roosevelt, look at Churchill, look at that old fella–what’s his name–in The African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him.”

Enjoyable, as long as your expectations aren’t high.

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

#75 in my 2007 movie challenge was Noah Baumbach’s Squid and the Whale. I’d avoided watching this. While I heard it was good, I also was rarely in the mood for a depressing divorce movie. But it’s been mentioned so many times recently, since Baumbach has a new film out soon, that I felt it was time to check it out. I’m glad I did. This is a dry, darkly funny and very moving film. The acting is across-the-board outstanding, and the characters complex. It was hard to watch the toll the divorce took on the two young sons without squirming, though. The quirky script and well-chosen music reminded me of Wes Anderson, so I wasn’t surprised to see his name in the credits as a producer.

Triad Election (2006)

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

#74 in my 2007 movie challenge was Johnny To’s Triad Election. I borrowed this from the library after I read the glowing piece on his films at Salon by Stephanie Zacharek, who called it a Hong Kong movie for people who don’t think they like Hong Kong movies.

The 96-minute Asian gangster film was well acted, well shot, well directed, and had a fabulous musical score. But it wasn’t for me. There was a great deal of violence, and it’s hard to follow a subtitled movie when my face is turned away from the screen. And to me it felt like yet another “I tried to get out and they keep pulling me back in!” mob movies. Yet I loved Infernal Affairs, so I can appreciate Hong Kong mob films.

So if well-made Hong Kong action mob movies are your thing, you’ll probably like it. If torture violence bugs you, or if you’ve developed mob-film ennui, skip it.

A Winning Gamble

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Today I took 4yo Drake to the theater to see The Sound of Music. I had realistic expectations. He started to cry minutes into the last movie I tried, Ratatouille. He loves music, though, so I a nearby showing would a reasonable gamble. Things started off well, since there was an old-time organ concert of the movie music beforehand. I hadn’t known that the showing was a benefit, though, so there were several long speeches after the music but before the film. Drake began to get antsy, but then the movie began. In the olden days when this movie was made (1965) the credits were at the beginning of the film. The considerable list of names ran on, and Drake asked, “Is the movie over, Mom?” I didn’t think that boded well for the 2 hour 54 minute movie. But when the credits finished and the movie began with the panning shots over the mountains, Drake was enthralled. He stayed mostly still for almost two hours, nodding when I asked if he liked it, and shaking his head no when I asked if he wanted to go. Eventually, though, he said he wanted to go home. This happened at a good break in the movie–right after the kids go to bed at the party.

I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve seen the movie. Probably not since I was a kid myself. But the welcome familiarity of the story, music, and lyrics was a comfort, and sharing it with Drake was a joy. I even found my grinchy old self tearing up, incongruously during “Do-Re-Mi.” Drake says he wants to get both the CD and the DVD.

So, to borrow a trope:

Movie tickets: $13
Popcorn with real butter, plus drink: $5
Introducing childhood classic to my music-loving child: incalculable.

Michael Clayton (2007)

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

#73 in my 2007 movie challenge was Michael Clayton. In spite of hype, the fall films this year have received mostly mixed reviews. MC is one of the few I strongly wanted to see, and I wasn’t disappointed. Clooney plays the title character, and is believable as a tired, disappointed, struggling man. Tom Wilkinson tears up the screen as his manic-depressive colleague, though I think Tilda Swinton may steal the show as a falling-apart corporate lawyer. Though things are a bit confusing at the start, the movie ably fills in the details as it goes, and the end pulls it all together. The story, about subterfuge by a huge agri-corporation, has been done many times before. See Erin Brockovich and The Constant Gardener for two strong examples. But the solidity of the plot is cemented with able direction, and elevated by the strong performances of the entire cast, not just the leads. I thought this film was both enjoyable to see, and good to think about.

Ace in the Hole (1951)

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

#72 in my 2007 movie challenge was Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, supposedly a lost classic resurrected by the Criterion Collection. I can easily see why the movie bombed when it came out. It has Wilder’s hallmarks of dark humor and sarcasm, but in the end it’s too bitter. Kirk Douglas is a sleazy reporter who thinks he’s found his ticket out of small-town exile when he comes across a human interest story about a trapped treasure hunter. He and the other characters are almost beyond redemption, and their manipulation is queasy to watch. Smart and sharp, but too heartless for me to enjoy.

House of Games (1987)

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Recently released by the Criterion Collection, #71 in my 2007 movie challenge was David Mamet’s directorial debut, House of Games. Joe Mantegna is arresting in his first starring role, and it’s easy to see why Lindsay Crouse’s character was drawn to him. (Crouse was married to Mamet at the time. I am more familiar with her as the psych. prof. from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Crouse is a therapist with a patient who says he owes thousands of dollars. Crouse promises to try to help him, and gets drawn to a group of grifters. It’s a twisty, noir movie that turns some of the conventions upside down. Crouse is more the innocent bystander than the femme fatale. That role is filled more by Mantegna. The end is also not typical of noir; Crouse is not crushed by either the city or by crime. The transfer on the Criterion print is lovely. Crouse’s hair and wardrobe, though, are laughably typical of the 80’s, reminding me of Patrick Nagel prints and shoulder-padded power suits.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

#70 in my 2007 movie challenge was Baz Luhrmann’s first film, Strictly Ballroom. Does it seem possible that this is fifteen years old? This movie is a favorite of my husband G. Grod’s and mine. A young ballroom dancer wants to use his own steps. The mousy girl teams up with him, and has a few moves of her own. Like Luhrmann’s other films, the story is no surprise, nor is its ending. It’s a combination of the Cinderella and Young Hero myths. Yet like his other films, its the spectacle that entrances me–the over-the-top characters and costumes, and the brazen musical dance numbers. I like that the girl is believably mousy; she’s not just a model with a pair of glasses and mussed hair. SB is loud, colorful, fun, sweet, and just the thing after a long day.

Wild Strawberries (1957)

Friday, October 19th, 2007

#68 in my 2007 movie challenge was Wild Strawberries, part of a retrospective at the Oak Street Cinema to honor the late Ingmar Bergman (no relation to the actress Ingrid Bergman.) It’s a beautiful black and white film. The main character is an elderly doctor who has to travel to another city to receive an honor for his career. He chooses to drive with his daughter-in-law. Along the way, he has meaningful dreams, poignant reminiscences, and frank conversations. They pick up a group of young hitchhikers and a bickering couple who’ve been in a car accident. There’s no shortage of themes to ponder, in spite of the film’s 91-minute running time–parenthood, aging, marriage, career, and happiness are but a few. I feel fortunate I was able to see this in a theater. I found it a film that was lovely to look at, and engaging to think about.

Once (2007)

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

#67 in my 2007 movie challenge was the sleeper Irish musical, Once. This is a charming, engaging film that never strays over the line into twee. It also doesn’t have the formula of many English/Irish films for American audiences: charming loser/underdog (who usually recruits friends to help) makes good. See, for example, Brassed Off, Waking Ned Devine, Billy Elliott, The Full Monty, that one about the guy swimming the channel, that one with Anthony Hopkins on a motorcycle, etc.

Glen Hansard is a street musician who catches the attention of Marketa Irglova, a Czech immigrant, who is also a musician. They have a good time, make music, then have an authentic ending. The music is great; I admired it all the more when I found out that Hansard and Irglova were performing their own compositions. This was a beautiful, tender, decidedly non-flashy musical, if such a thing isn’t an oxymoron. Loved it.

Little Children (2006)

Friday, October 5th, 2007

#66 in my 2007 movie challenge was Todd Fields’s Little Children, based on the novel by Tom Perotta. This was a dark, well-done film.

Kate Winslet plays a bored stay-at-home mom who falls into an affair with a handsome SAH dad. The suburban and domestic frustrations are squirmingly well depicted. Though I generally dislike voiceover, I thought it worked well here. Jackie Earle Haley was devastating as a convicted pedophile who’s been released from jail. He’s a complex character that could easily have been written or acted too simplistically. There is uneasy tension throughout the movie, especially in regard to the well being of children. I found it interesting that in the end, no children were harmed, though the adults were pretty banged up both physically and emotionally.

I really empathized with a lot of Kate Winslet’s messy-mom tendencies, like not having a healthy snack packed. I also recognized the social tension from the playground moms. A few things didn’t ring true, though. One, all the moms who had 3 to 4 year olds would usually have another child or be pregnant, at least in our neighborhood. Two, I don’t know any mom who can manage to sit on a bench and read a book while her kid plays; I only wish it were that easy to make time to read. And three, Kate Winslet is not believable as a mousy character, even compared to Jennifer Connelly.

These are tiny quibbles, though. The film is quiet but powerful, and has some brute honesty about marriage, children, and societal expectations.