Saturday, February 04, 2012

Seen in January

Pina, image via YAM Mag

I think I saw more films in the first week of January than I did over the entire month of December and I still missed ones I wanted to see (Hugo, Tintin, Shame etc.) I watched movies from Video on Demand, on a plane and in a hotel so I think a lot of these titles were seen as much by convenience than by choice. Whatever the reasons here is what I saw.

I'd seen this film so long ago that I only had a vague memory of enjoying it. This is another of those Woody Allen films for fans only. Mia Farrow plays an unhappy New York socialite. Her days are full of spa visits and shopping while her nanny attends to her children and her wealthy husband works long hours lawyering. One day while dropping off her son to nursery school she becomes intrigued with the father of another child. At the same time she is given the name of a popular practitioner of Chinese medicine not once but three times on the advice that it might help her ailing back. Upon visiting the doctor he diagnoses her as not having a back problem but a problem with her mind and heart. His prescription of hypnosis and herbs trigger the magic realism of the tale and the beginning of Alice's journey to self-discovery.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I've only read bits and pieces of le Carré but the general mood is more Graham Greene than Ian Flemming. More bureaucrat than James Bond. Which is to say that the excellent cast headed by Gary Oldham turns in a pretty subtle and restrained performance. Oldham plays George Smiley who has been brought out retirement to find a high level Soviet mole in a British secret intelligence unit. This world of spying is as Freddy Lyon of The Hour said is full of dull people and tedious work. It's interesting to see this film in contrast to the high powered gadgetry pageantry of Mission Impossible and being more similar to BBC's The Hour where spying in post-war & cold war Britain was so much more about setting traps and false information to catch other spies than to really do anything useful. I like spy dramas shaken not stirred but once in awhile the tension of tedium can be pretty satisfying. (See Army of Shadows to see tension of tedium at its best)

The Brothers Grimm
Another absolute chaotic mess from Terry Gillingham. I'm starting to think he's a really terrible director. His movies have the feeling of someone being on crack while editing.

A Jane Austen adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma Woodhouse who likes to play matchmaker in this English tale set in the 1800s. Way back when, a woman was defined solely by her relation to men – wife, daughter or mother – so you could see the importance of finding a husband. It's easy see Austen's stories as the prototype of Sex in the City which ultimately makes them less palatable to men folk. Still Paltrow is easy on the eyes, the language of the dialogue is enticing and it's fun to see Ewan MacGregor with such ridiculous hair.

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, image via Who2

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The American remake of the Swedish film is up to the task and doesn't shy away from the graphic violence or sexuality of the original. All the choices of this Hollywood version mean many of the actors are just a little bit better looking (Daniel Craig is a wee bit sexier as Mikael Blomkvist) and the explosions a little bigger but David Fincher keeps the pace rolling by shortening some things and focusing elsewhere. The explanation of Lisbeth Salander's legal situation and her relationship with Blomkvist is certainly better explained. Less attention is also given to an important subplot which slowed down the Swedish version. The slickness of this version isn't its only asset and even if you've read the book and seen the Swedish version, there's still plenty to see and enjoy by seeing Fincher's intelligent and great looking adaptation. Rooney Mara as Salander is no slouch either and sort of reminds you that a character can be equally well played by two entirely different actors without having to pick a favourite.

A mockumentary of a family of vampires in Belgium. It's a humorous piss take on all the popular myths and lore of vampirism. For extra fun, the family is exiled from Belgium to the icy climes of …Montreal. Unexpected recommendation from someone on Netflix (the Canadian catalogue is so poor it helps to have friends tell you about their finds).

Animated adventure of a pet chameleon who winds up rescuing an outpost Western town populated with birds, rodents and reptiles. Excellent production design and animation driven by a parody of a typical Western hero story. Johnny Depp heads up an incredibly star filled cast in this funny cartoon romp. I can't over emphasize just how great the movie looks with dozens of beautifully rendered scenes and characters.

Boardwalk Empire season 2
Season 1 was about showing how Nucky Thompson placed himself and Atlantic City as America's liquor dispenser during prohibition. Season 2 is all about Nucky hanging on and fighting back from everyone else looking to get in on the action.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Before Twilight, before True Blood, there was Buffy. Josh Whedon's clever and subversive little show about a high school girl destined to be a killer of vampires became an iconic touchstone for its time. The show was such a popular reference it was impossible not to know it yet I was never able to watch it regularly. I aim to make amends by playing catch up. I look forward to watching a pretty blond slay vampires, zombies, and other assorted monsters. I have to admit though that while the style that Whedon was looking for (sitcom, after school special meets action-monster-thriller) is still unique, the actual humour and dialogue feels pretty dated.

Crimes and Misdemeanors
I seem to have a free preview of a Woody Allen channel? There's always an Allen movie playing on one of the movie channels. I didn't intend to watch this but I got sucked into its drama. Despite being a slow moving heavy story full of melancholy and moral discussions Allen still manages a joke or two ("the last time I was inside a woman was the Statue of Liberty") and reuses some familiar devices such as a character participating in his own flashback. The stellar cast are able deliver the stagey dialogue compellingly because that's how good they are. Martin Landau is the affluent doctor who decides to have his troublesome mistress dealt with in an unsavory manner while Allen plays a depressed filmmaker who falls for a colleague as his own marriage dissipates. Alan Alda is also memorable as Allen's nemesis in life and art as a self-important TV producer. When you see a few Allen films together you recognize not just his habits but just how many of the films end unhappily and his pre-occupation with death & illness, sex, relationships and morality.

A movie of contemporary dance would typically not be my thing. But this was different. This film was to be a collaboration with famed (in the dance world) choreographer Pina Bausch but when she died just as filming began it became an elegy instead. One thing I don't like about dance is the obscure narrative of the pieces and that is true here too but the intricacy and explosiveness of the choreography is exciting and wholly engaging (meaning I only checked my watch once). Another surprising thing was the age of the dancers who would probably be the envy of many a pro athlete.

Another Earth
Brit Marling co-wrote, produced and stars in this thoughtful and thought provoking movie about forgiveness, redemption, second chances and roads not taken. On the night of the discovery of a second planet Earth, a bright young teenager causes a tragic accident. 4 years after a jail term she is paralyzed by guilt and seeks to apologize to the man whose family she killed. But… it's complicated. She finds him even more shattered than herself yet hopes to find some small way to help him or redeem herself. The science fiction of this film is allegorical to the characters' second chance – their second act and of what might have been. Everyday we look in the mirror and ask ourselves "Why?" or "Who are you?" but what if the reflection could answer? What would you say to yourself? Would your mirror self make the same mistakes? Did they turn out better? Did they get it right? It is almost too strange to have seen three different films about immensely different things that use cosmic events to reveal their story but this year has had Tree of Life, Melancholia and Another Earth that have all had planetary involvement in their plots. Like orreries, the precious brass mechanical models of the solar system, these films turn and spin and hopefully give some newfound insight into matters previously unknown. They also make me feel a little stupid for knowing so little about the night sky.

Cedar Rapids
In every cinephile's life, a formulaic and goofy comedy must be seen. Ed Helms stars as the small town guy who goes through a life changing lost weekend but comes out on top. Harmless fun at times but mostly sort of stupid.

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the real life GM of the Oakland A's who, after so many seasons of being unable to compete against more monied teams, decides to fully embrace the idea of building a pro ball club around the central idea that on-base percentage is a more important than all the other collected traditional knowledge about scouting players. Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wing and The Social Network, must be the king of making a script about incredibly dull topics incredibly gripping. I don't care about baseball but I wanted to know how it all turned out.

Ryan Gosling is a part-time mechanic, part-time stunt driver, part-time getaway driver in L.A. who takes a shine to his pretty neighbour and son. When the missing father returns from prison with debts owing, Gosling's character decides to help him out. But the job goes wrong, crosses the Mob and threatens the lives of the innocent. That's when the driver does more than drive. It's fair to say this film has probably the best car chase scenes since The French Connection, Bullet or To Live and Die in L.A. In fact, this movie reminded me a lot of To Live and Die in L.A. It's a very atmospheric film with bursts of shocking and explosive violence. The soundtrack and look of the movie are decidedly retro with an 80s feel which may make it seem dated before its time.

Eastern Promises
David Cronenberg's story of a Russian crime boss trying to hold his organization together which runs a thread through a maternity nurse (Naomi Watts), a new born and the mysterious and brooding Russian driver (Viggo Mortensen at his enigmatic best). I've seen this in the theatre but it holds up to viewing on a dinky hotel tv. In fact, finding this while flipping around is like falling in an oasis in the desert. Violent, dark and always wet, this is a lush and disquieting Film Noire.

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