Friday, October 11, 2013

Seen in September 

Still from one of the many famous montages in Man with a Movie Camera

It's probably time to start seeing more films of substance which is kind of an Autumn thing to do anyway. It's odd, while Hollywood shakes it moneymakers for summer blockbusters I find I always watch more films in the fall and winter. Yet, my recent trend has been to watch more TV shows. The current long form narrative takes place on high quality screens at home over many weeks. Series such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones hold more interest than going out to a theatre it seems. A theatre may have big screens and big sound and junk food, but most people have better food (and beer) at home, and pretty damn big screens and sound systems. I still enjoy seeing a movie in a theatre but it would have to be pretty good to coax me away from a cold drink and my very comfy couch. Here's what I saw from the cheap seats this month.

Given the horrible failure of the Stallone version (which apparently is its appeal) I didn't hold much hope for this movie. Based on a comic book series, Judge Dredd, we find America in ruins, a dystopian future where the only agents of justice are judges who are peace officers, judges, juries and executioners rolled into one. Ah ye of little faith. This graphically ultraviolent version puts its foot on the gas and doesn't let up for a second. Dredd is as terrifying and indefatigable as he ever was in print. In this film he is assigned a psychic rookie judge as they wander into a massive apartment block controlled by a gang distributing a disturbing new drug. Well worth watching if you're trying to escape reality, even if the ultraviolent reality of our own time includes Syria or East Africa.

A Late Quartet
An aging cellist, Peter, of a renowned quartet has discovered he has Parkinson's and decides it is time he retire. This illness and course of action leads to a tumbling cascade of events which may spell an end to the group. The second violin, Robert and violist, Juliette are a married couple of 25 years and have a daughter, Alexandra who is being tutored by the first violin, Daniel. At some point, egos, regrets, passions and the fear of death threaten to tear the group apart and only out of respect for their cellist and mentor do the others carry on towards his farewell concert. An analogy of family or of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts? I cannot say yet there are lessons of sacrifice and forgiveness in this affecting and simple (more simple than it sounds) story.

Fans of Joss Whedon's fantasy series Firefly didn't get a second season of the beloved show but they did get this humdinger of a movie. Malcolm Reynolds is the captain of his own Firefly class cargo spaceship named Serenity. He and his crew make a living smuggling and thieving. Reynolds is a vet of a sort of interplanetary civil war and the tone of the dialogue, costumes, and music is clearly a space Western. Their most precious cargo is a mysterious young woman of enormous talents, River, who is of interest of "The Alliance". The Alliance are the authoritarian baddies in this tale. Let the fun begin.

Joss Whedon's sci-fi fantasy based on a crew of a smuggling cargo ship set in a post-earth (multiple planets have been "terraformed" so they mimic Earth in one form or another), post-interplanetary war star system. Fun stuff and typical mix of humour, fantasy and action from the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Silver Linings Playbook
Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man who lost his wife, job and house in part due to a bipolar disorder and anger issues. After an 8 month hospital stay he returns to Philadelphia to live with his parents and prepare himself to be a better man in the hopes of winning back his wife. Enter Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence who is an equally damaged soul. There's a lot of well trodden territory here, especially the old chestnut that Love conquers all, even mental illness and stess disorders but that doesn't take anything away from this entertaining and well told tale. Jennifer Lawrence acted the schnizzel out of this role and you kind of forget how young she is. Equally lovely turns by Jackie Weaver and Robert De Niro. David O. Russell has become such a confident and assured director and storyteller that you get the feeling no matter what he does next, you'll want to see it.

I really only wanted to see this because Zoe Saldana slinks around in tight outfits and shoots bad guys. She plays a young woman who has dedicated her life as a professional assassin in order to avenge the deaths of her parents at the command of a Colombian drug lord. It will be no surprise that this is the work of Luc Besson who created similar tales of female assassins in La Femme Nikita and The Professional. In fact, it's rumoured this script was originally intended as the sequel to The Professional but was later changed when that film fell through. As such, it has all the trademark hyperbolic and unnecessary explosions and shoot outs you've come to expect from a Besson story. This includes the incongruous and illogical plot turns that are so shamefully overlooked in order to get a sexy heroine to zip-line down an elevator shaft in her panties. This is something Besson shares with Goddard — both are overrated French directors that make little or no sense to me. "Cliché" is a French word, right? Well, at least that makes sense.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil
A comedic take on the hackneyed plot of a group of college kids on a camping trip being terrorized by a couple o' hill-billies. Though this time the college kids are terrorizing the hill-billies who are just a couple of good ol' boys intent on fixing up a newly purchased cabin in the woods. Just a bit of Gordy fun.

Man With a Movie Camera
This highly influential Soviet Avant Garde silent film from 1929 doesn't really have a narrative or plot or characters or sets. It is more like a documentary film that shows a day in the life of a modern Soviet city. Filmed in Odessa, Moscow, and Kiev over a three-year period it uses many experimental camera techniques and an unconventional editing style to convey Marxist themes. The editing, done by the director's wife seems to more advanced than the filming itself or even the audience watching it, though having said that it is easy to see why film makers would hold this film in high regard. It is also very easy to fall asleep while watching it especially when it starts to feel like a sampler box of camera knowhow. While the overall themes are generally supposed to convey progress and labour, and the spirit of the Soviet people I couldn't help but notice how hard scrabble the cities look. People look hardened, weary and very poor. One scene showed the exterior of a Leninist Hall with a shoddy facade and broken windows. Maybe Hitler saw this and believed the Soviets really were vodka chugging peasants. Yet I was intrigued by the lively city street scapes full of pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and trams. It gave you a sense of what a teeming metropolis was like in the 1920s (maybe not so different from Mumbai of today). One surprising scene shows an actual birth (staring down the barrel of the ladies woo-boo) while another scene films young women at a shooting range where the targets are Nazi swastikas labeled "Father of Facism". This is 1929 remember. Clearly everyone else in the world was aware of the trouble with Germany even if American government preferred to play dumb.

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