Thursday, November 01, 2012

Seen in October

Famous still from Summer with Monika, 1953, image via

Comedians in Cars Going for Coffee
Jerry Seinfeld no longer needs to work. He doesn't need to create another successful television series. He doesn't need a hit movie. How does he spend his time? He still does stand-up and he's created this series of interviews whereby he drives an incredible car (a different one each episode) and meets a friend — another funny person — for coffee. These friends include Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Colin Quinn, Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks and Alec Baldwin to mention a few. The result, watching funny people "just hanging out", is surprisingly entertaining. I wouldn't normally list a Web series consisting of a half dozen 7-8 minute clips as something I watched in a month but I was so engrossed by this series it consumed the better part of a weeknight. Everyone I know who has watched this has their own favourite clip and it would be a shame if it didn't continue.

UK series about five young offenders sentenced to 200 hours of community service. A "freak" electrical storm somehow transforms this band of societal outsiders with unusual powers; one with invisibility, another with mind reading and another with the ability to see the future. Let the tales of fantasy with various British accents begin.
Update: I've just finished the third season and I have to say I underestimated this show. It's really like 1 part Dr. Who, and 1 part Heroes and 1 part East Enders. If any of those shows appealed to you, you might just like this. Also, this show had great background music. I have no idea how they could afford that on an otherwise low budget production.

The Walking Dead: Season 1
I left this series about survivors coping in a world terrorized by zombies for later viewing and now have returned to it. Why are we so interested in unfortunate souls with freakish powers or vampires, werewolves, fairies, and zombies? Why? I think I get it. In the 1950s, America in particular was obsessed with aliens and UFOs which were understood to be a stand-in for "the Other", the unknown bogeyman — the Red Threat, Communism. Creatures from the Black Lagoon, or werewolves or zombies could also be stand-ins for our base sexual desires of our Id or sexual deviants such as homosexuals. In the late 80s, vampires and their bloodlust again stood in for the danger of the unknown — at the time, AIDS. Today, we fear even more unknowns such as the religious zealotry of terrorists (be they Muslim or otherwise) who may strike without warning or without a reason. Other frightening uncontrollable forces such as international financial crises may take your home and everything you own. Unpredictable natural disasters such as Katrina can level a modern city and send it back to the 18th century in a matter of hours. In these modern times we can't very well depict the scary unknown bogeyman as a person with a real face or religion so why not battle fictional beings who can be fought and rather violently killed without guilt or remorse such as the Undead (zombie, vampire etc)? We can't control mortgage rates but we can kill a zombie by bashing in their heads with a shovel or kill a vampire with a wooden stake to the heart. There is a real fear in the air and a real temporary release by watching someone we are rooting for win one for the home team. Or maybe I'm just over thinking the popularity of spooky things in movies.

Justified, Season 2
U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is back finding trouble wherever he pokes his nose. Timothy Olyphant was born for this role. Either way it's fun to root for the good guy who does bad things to bad people. In some sense this show has it's cake and eats it too. Set in depressed rural Kentucky, the criminals that Givens faces seem unbelievably back country yet cunning. The characters play to their stereotypes only enough to disarm us while they're being clever. Like True Blood, the Deep South is a mysterious and creepy place peopled by the stupid, the smart and the moral, all of whom must spend an inordinate amount of time exercising and honing their sinewy arms and flat stomachs. I guess there's a Reebok Cross-fit centre everywhere nowadays. I think I'd like to see Raylan take on some zombies in The Walking Dead but that's on another network across state lines in Georgia.

The last of Polanski's early canon of required viewing (Knife in the Water and Cul-de-Sac being the others). Catherine Deneuve plays Carol and is stunning (so stunning I can't really think of any description - "makes Grace Kelly look plain" sort of stunning). She also completely unhinged as we witness her mental distress grow deeper and darker. Despite the black and white film and cut away techniques not showing the violence, it somehow seems even more violent. This film has been described as Psycho inside out. Instead of seeing the violence from the victim's point of view, we see it from the killer's. Sounds about right to me. There are some over the top moments of Carol's delirium but the soundscape is at times subtle and particularly creepy; flies buzzing, bells ringing, distant footsteps, muffles voices and the drone of overhead airplanes. Polanski makes no effort to explain Carol's instability with pop psychology, he just shows us her fear and delusion and the repercussions. The ending seems so reminiscent of a later film, Rosemary's Baby, where a gaggle of aging neighbours gather and intrude the darkened apartment, that it almost makes you think Polanski had unfinished business but those confines of a stifling apartment are where the director feels most at home. The film is bookmarked by a close-up of Carol's eyes in the opening credits with a close-up of childhood Carol's eyes in an old family photograph. A haunting and unforgettable image.

Chico & Rita
A love story of a piano player, Chico and singer, Rita set in that dizzying Jazz age of late 40s and early 50s in Havana and New York. This was a tumultuous time to be a Cuban musician at the beginning of what was to become Afro-Cuban Jazz but it turned out to be a bad time to fall in love. There's really no reason for this film to be animated other than capturing the colours and spirit of the time in the gorgeously rich style and designs of Spanish designer Javier Mariscal. One aspect of the animation I didn't care for was the over use of rotoscoping (where a scene is filmed with actors and used as a basis for the animation). At times it's obvious and doesn't really work well with the look of the design. It makes sense in scenes with a roomful of people dancing to Cuban rhythms but elsewhere it looks, I don't know…lazy. For me the combination of setting a story in that time period with the lore of Havana and New York Jazz all designed by Mariscal is a home run but… for anyone else they may just see a clichéd romance in the model of "A Star is Born", set to out of date music that ISN'T computer animated 3D. You can decide for yourself. There were certainly moments of style over substance but I've got room for movies where the formal style of the film is sometimes the point.

Summer With Monika
I'm starting to think the kids who fall in love and run away in Moonrise Kingdom were Bergman fans. This is another Bergman film of two lovers who run off to spend a summer in a Swedish archipelago but unlike Summer Interlude which ends in tragedy this summer of love cools to reality. The vivacious Monika and the dreamer Harry (even similar names to Marie and Henrik in Summer Interlude made two years earlier in 1951) are two young people with lousy jobs doing not much of anything when they fall in love. But when their flight returns to Earth with an unwanted pregnancy, Monika finds this is not the life for her. She's only happy in the days of wine and roses - when she's watching Hollywood escapist fantasies and generally not thinking about her actual life. Fun fact: in part, due to the film's risque nude scene, it was first distributed in the States recut to only an hour with a new jazzy score and marketed as an exploitation film called "Monika, Good Girl Gone Bad" by Kroeger Babbs, a forerunner of Harvey Weinstein.

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