Friday, February 01, 2013

Seen in January

Marcello Mastroianni
Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini's 8-1/2 - image via L'Aragosta

I've noticed of late that my descriptions of what I've watched is getting more and more verbose which is curious. In the future I will aim for Twitter-esque, laser-like succinct re-caps, without spoilers, and a minimum of adjudication. Well, less judgement. There will always be judgement.

Life of Pi
It would be hard to imagine a more magical telling of this tale. Profoundly beautiful and at times beguiling, this film directed by Ang Lee from the book by Yann Martel is a real accomplishment and definitely transports you from the everyday. It really was a mini holiday. Did it make me believe in God? No. Yet in a lot of ways it reminded me of Disney's Fantasia. Fantastical, uplifting, incredible and amazing but once it had ended it was over — unlike other movies that get stuck in your head. I've read that green mangoes have a unique perfume while on the branch and once picked the odor dissipates within sixty seconds. It is ephemeral. That's what this movie is like. Like a fresh taste but once it's gone, there's no after taste or memory of it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, played by Bruce Willis. Got it? Time travel. It's so vexing logically and its rules and repercussions so unknown that as a subject it becomes a lively clockwork of experimentation for filmmakers like Rian Johnson. Johnson, who previously made Brick, a Maltese Falcon-esque noir thriller set in a high school, clearly loves setting such heady wheels in motion. Joe is a Looper, a hit man who kills men sent back in time by future crime bosses. To "close the loop", these bosses send their retired loopers back to be killed by their younger selves. Young Joe does the job right the first time, but when it comes time for him to be sent back he sees things differently and old Joe (Willis) decides to right a wrong. Forget everything I just said, it never happened anyway and watch this movie. You'll see what I mean.

Wages of Fear
Classic French film of 4 men transporting a dangerous cargo of nitroglycerin to an oil drill fire via treacherous and dubious rural South American roads. So - a French film set in South America with Americans, Spanish, Germans, British, and French ex-pats all vying for little or no work. This film really reminds me of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Dirt poor hangabouts grab a chance at a big score just to get them out of their current jam. The movie takes a long time to get going but once the two crews are on the road then let the thrill ride begin. I was surprised too by how similar the end of this film is to The Italian Job (the original with Michael Caine) - the serpentining road set to a Viennese waltz.
“[I've] fallen into an inter-generational gap”
The Hunger Games
Like the Twilight Series this film and the books it's based on appear to have fallen into an inter-generational gap. I don't quite understand it. 24 (or is 12) teens are sent to an arena of sorts to fight to the death. The last teen standing wins the Tribute (ancient Roman thing?) and their home district wins the spoils. And here's the kicker, the whole event is orchestrated as a reality show. This is a finely tuned Hollywood action film, which is very entertaining, and I'm happy as the next fella to watch Jennifer Lawerence kick butt for 90 mins. Yet — I still don't get it? The game reserve they are fighting on is computer controlled? Flora and fauna can spring from anywhere at the touch of a holographic interface? What world is this? Blueberries aren't fatal on Earth? She can wear a dress of flames? See - so many questions.

A Richard Linklater film based on a real life story of genteel and magnanimous funeral director Bernie Tiede who befriended a wealthy widow, Marjorie Nugent, and became her close confidant only to kill her in a crime of passion. This is probably one of Jack Black's best roles as the effeminate Bernie who loved everyone and was loved by everyone in the town of Carthage, Texas. He even loved the town's meanest and wealthiest widow played to perfection by Shirley MacLaine. Linklater intersperses the film with staged interviews of actual town people which adds a folky touch to the tale. You see, most people liked ol' Bernie so much they didn't even care if he shot the mean old bitch. Which was why the D.A. had the trial moved, so he could find enough jurors who didn't know Bernie so he could get a conviction. The DA, played by Matthew McConaughey, is the example of a Hollywood actor standing out amongst the cast of non-actors. It's funny but as good as McConaughey is, you just can't give a super fit guy a bad suit and cheap glasses to look "regular". It's the side-by-side comparison of the actors and the non-actors that breaks the story a little bit. Still, it is a funny and well-told telling of what seemed like a heinous crime but it is the inclusion of the Carthage townsfolk that gives the movie its extra charm.

The Hour season 2
I liked the first season so much I thought I'd come back for another. Peter Capaldi is great as the replacement News Director who's an obsessive tinkerer and perfectionist trying to make the groundbreaking news magazine "The Hour" relevant and better than imitators and competitors.

Fellini's masterly film memoir about a film director struggling to make a film that he can't decide what it's about. Marcello Mastroianni is Fellini's onscreen avatar in a funny and dreamlike journey that switches unexpectedly between the real and the imagination of a director in a funk. It's been said Fellini made this film to break out of his own creative block and in the process created one of his most loved films full of surrealistic non sequiturs and satirical visual fantasies. Or something like that. Does it matter? Mastroianni looks great and is such a style icon here and there's as much fun as there are curiosities.
“Female Witness: …what's the matter? Don't you like sex?
Zen: No,no — I remember it fondly.”
Rufus Sewell plays Aurelio Zen, the only "unscrupulously honest" detective in Rome. I like this version of Rome — everyone speaks with an English accent (it's a British series with British actors but portraying Italian characters). I like this guy, Zen too. He's divorced and lives with his widowed mother, like a good Italian boy (though it drives him nuts) yet he attracts his share of lady attention and he knows how to make a joke:

Female Witness: …what's the matter? Don't you like sex?
Zen: No,no — I remember it fondly.

Effortlessly clothed in fitted Armani, he seems to live on only espresso and cigarettes. Det. Zen never appears too rushed, another Italian trait, and being a good detective knows where to look for clues and allows a case to come to him. But being an honest cop in Italy's embedded corrupt bureaucracy is difficult and everybody wants something. Maybe wisdom is knowing just how honest to be.

Portlandia: Season 2
Absurdist satire. Not for everyone but I'm enjoying it.

Homeland Season 1
Is he or isn't he? That's what CIA analyst Carrie Mathison wants to know about Sgt. Nicholas Brody. Is he the American POW that has been turned by Al Qaeda or not? Can we trust Carrie's instincts? After all, she is taking an anti-psychotic drug for a mood disorder. Stay tuned to your surveillance feed.

God Bless America
I never cared for Bobcat Goldthwaite's stand-up or acting but he has truly found his calling in writing and directing film. This movie is about America's loss of shame. The phrase "The Loss of Shame" pretty much describes Western culture at this point. Politicians lie and cheat on their wives or have children with their mistresses while untalented rich girls use explicit sex tapes to gain a television deal. Joel Murray plays Frank Murdoch, whose ex- wife is about to remarry and whose young daughter is a disaster. He's just been laid off and told he has an inoperable brain tumor. He's about to commit suicide when he decides his last act will be to murder a horrible reality show harpy first. Yet this leads to a killing spree of all the idiots who "deserve to die". That's when the film shifts from social commentary to the darkest of black comedy. Goldthwaite sets up this nihilistic fantasy and where others fear to tread he launches headlong into the breach and sees it through to the bitter end. Unlike someone like Tarantino who has gangsters, Nazis and slave owners offed easily without repercussions, Frank faces all of the incumbent fallout of his actions (even the irony of lax gun laws that allow someone to go on a killing spree). The film doesn't fetishize gun violence as much as it tricks us into rooting for a mass murderer and reflecting back how ludicrous we've become.

1963 romantic comedy thriller starring Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant. I wasn't as charmed by this film as most people are. Romantic? It is set in Paris but… I dunno. Comedy? Flat. Thriller? No thrills. Don't get me wrong. I love films like The Third Man, North by Northwest and Notorious but this film isn't up to those standards. I think those that adore it should rub the stardust of nostalgia from their eyes. Also, it had that one thing I can't stand. The standard Hollywood score punctuated with occasional goofy sound cues.

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