Sunday, June 05, 2011

Seen in May

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in Michael Winterbottom's The Trip. The six episode BBC series has been re-cut as a feature film for international distribution

All About My Mother
Almovodar's film about motherhood refers to the film All About Eve and the play A Street Car Named Desire which also has a central role. Maneula sees her son die in a car accident on his 17th birthday just before she's planned to tell him about the father he's never known. She's also never told the father, who lives in Barcelona and is a transvestite named Lola, that he had a son. The rest of the story is Manuela's journey to find Lola and to bring some resolution and acceptance of her own grief and guilt.

Bill Cunningham New York
Bill Cunningham's columns for the New York Times have made him an icon for fashionistas and at The Times. For over 40 years his weekly "On The Street" photo essay has captured every trend and curiosity to be found on the streets of Manhattan. Who is this unassuming fellow who dresses in a nondescript work shirt and rides his Schwinn 3-speed all over New York? He's a gentleman not unlike a Jimmy Stewart or Fred Astaire floating through Gotham, camera in hand catching whatever attracts his eye. What makes the documentary so enjoyable is Cunningham himself, who could approach a queen or a pauper alike with the same joyful smile and openness. His particular talent isn't photography but the ability to spot a trend or a pattern emerging from what New Yorkers are wearing. It would be interesting to watch this with The September Issue to show how the fashion industry works both ways, from the street to the runway and back again.

Source Code
Directed by Duncan Jones who did one of my favorite films, Moon, this sci-fi flick is like 12 Monkeys (or La Jeté) meets The Matrix. An army pilot's mind is transported into the last 8 minutes of another man's life in order to discover the bomber in a disaster that's already happened. I think. The science is the end run to the question "what would you do if you only had a minute to live?" Star Jake Gyllenhall saves millions, resolves his relationship with his father and falls in love in 8 minutes. I might easily fall in love with Michelle Monaghan in 8 minutes or less. I wonder if she tires of constantly being cast as the gal next door with whom we all fall in love? By "we" I mean us Man-folk.

Another story of a highly trained assassin who happens to be a pretty young girl (like "Kick Ass" and "Let Me In" — both played by Chlöe Morentz) but this is a strange film. Was the director trying to make fun of the Bourne films and their editing style or did he just get it wrong? Sometimes it was campy as an old Batman TV episode while other times the movie seemed like there was a slick ironic wink and a nod to the audience. Either way, it was all over the place, literally jumping the viewer from Finland to Morocco to Spain and Germany, all with confusing speed and cuts. Add to that, one scene set in a secret location in Morocco is filmed in a beautiful abandoned testing facility in Berlin. I know this because it was the same location used to spectacular effect in Aeon Flux.

The Adjustmet Bureau
Another film of questionable reality like Inception or Dark City where mysterious agents have the ability to enter one door and exit in an entirely different location re-imagining the shape of the city (and re-defining the Flaneur). In that respect it reminded of the Hernandez brothers comic book series Mr. X. Matt Damon plays David, an up and coming congressman who upsets destiny and discovers the other worldly adjusters (Heavenly Agents?) who affect fate when he meets a beautiful woman, Elise, played by Emily Blunt, who inspires, intrigues and beguiles him. The same is true of Elise but she doesn't have the knowledge of those conspiring to keep them apart. The film is all about the mysterious power of love (or creepy fatalistic Christianity). It moved me but I'm particularly vulnerable to such emotional manipulations and as such you may want to discount anything I've written here.

Unforgivable Blackness: the Rise & Fall of Jack Johnson
The story of Jack Johnson, the first African American Heavyweight boxing champion. The incredible ubiquity of American racism of the early 20th century seems absurd, shocking, maddening and hard to understand. The fact that Jack Johnson smiled and laughed at those who would jeer and taunt him not to appease them but because he knew they feared him makes him seem mythical. Well read, stylish, a lady's man, and a patent holder Johnson seems like a prototypical American athletic hero. Yet the bigger the star the bigger the fall. Drinking, sex scandals, and the excess of his lifestyle caught up with him as white legislators sought to prosecute him for his relationships with white women. Many parallels can be seen with Muhammed Ali and contemporary athletes.

Harry Brown
Harry Brown kicks Gran Torino's ass. Michael Caine is a widower living in the "estates" — the UK version of North America's projects. Violent, bored, drug-using and drug selling youth terrorize locals. A good friend of Harry's is killed by members of a local gang. After being attacked himself, Harry, a former marine who served in Northern Ireland decides to take matters in his own hands. The havoc he wreaks is the physical manifestation of the frustration we all feel when we are made helpless by the world around us.

Old Joy
Sorrow is just worn out joy. Two friends reconnect on an overnight camping trip. One is married and his wife is about to have their child while the other, seemingly alone, moves aimlessly from one place or thing to another. This story is kind of like My Dinner with Andre as a road movie or a minimalist Brokeback Mountain (though the homosexuality is more of a suggested subtext rather than portrayed). Kelly Reichardt, the director, makes these minimal, quiet films that raise more questions than they answer and are generally open ended. Her film Wendy and Lucy is equally simple yet equally profound. The director's dog, Lucy appears both in this film and is the "Lucy" in Wendy and Lucy.

The Trip
A six-part BBC series with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictionalized versions of themselves as they tour six high-end restaurants in the North of England. Expertly directed by Michael Winterbottom and beautifully filmed, the series is a classically British mix of comedy and pathos. Their improvised dialogue and competitive impersonations provide the humour while Coogan's insecurities provide the pathos. Apparently the series has been recut and packaged as a feature film for international distribution. Highly recommended, in any format.

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