A few years back, I endured a particularly bad bout of flu, which I suspect might have been of the swine variety. Since then I have washed my hands obsessively, not quite OCD, but every time I come in from outside, every time I accept a delivery, every time I pick up the mail. If I'm out and about, I slather my hands with that sanitizing gel as often as I can remember to. After washing my hands in a public bathroom, I use a tissue to open the door to get out. I whole-heartedly agree with those epidemiologists who insist that a world-wide flu pandemic is not a matter of if, but when. Furthermore, I adore disaster films. My favorites from when I was a kid were King Kong, Godzilla (and all the sequels), The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, The Andromeda Strain--and I've seen The Day After Tomorrow three times (I'm a sucker for those scenes in the New York Public Libary). As anyone who has come to dinner at my house knows conspiracy theories are staples in my verbal diet. (Favorites: Chinatown, The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, Enemy of the State, the Bourne films...) So there was no way I wasn't running to see Contagion--and with that director and cast--just as soon as I could.
Can you believe I almost fell asleep?
You've got to hand it to Steven Soderbergh that he could make a movie called Contagion seem as if it were shot in slow motion. It was as if the guy had no idea how to tell a story. Strands began that went no where. Characters introduced then forgotten. The whole film was a veritable school of red herrings. And all that "talent" gone to waste. Gwenyth Paltrow is almost immediately killed off, Marion Cotillard is introduced than disappears for most of the movie, Lawrence Fishburne and Elliot Gould reduced to talking head doctors, Jude Law had potential but his aussie conspiracy babble eventually went nowhere. We're left with Matt Damon to hold down the fort! I mean it felt like a cruel inside joke, as if Soderbergh were taking his directorial revenge on movie stars--the movie should have been titled "Revenge." The biggest waste of all was Kate Winslet. In the first half of the film, we kept watching for her--she was going to save the world from disaster as well as this disasterous film--and then Soderbergh KILLS HER OFF. A red nose, a stretcher in a make-shift hospital, body bag, gone. Soon after her demise I was seriously nodding off. Visually, the film had some extraordinary shots--almost worth seeing for this. Otherwise a dud.
(Sorry for all the spoilers but it's my belief that no one should read a film review unless you have already seen the film or have no intention of seeing it. If the review then changes your mind one way or the other, how delightful!)
I didn't fall asleep in Carnage but I couldn't wait for it to be over. A film written and directed by the smug about the smug is just going to be flat no matter how many zippy speeches and drawing-room histrionics. The problem with this movie, besides the complete implausibility--and one dimensionality--of the script, was the casting. Jodie Foster is not a natural screecher, John C. Reilly kept struggling to give his hounded-husband-ready-to-explode routine more depth, Christoph Waltz was actually perfect because he understood the banality of his character and entertainingly stuck to type. But oh, Kate Winslet, what a waste! What was she doing in that room, with those people, with that husband, in that movie? She was too beautiful, too sophisticated, too intelligent for the part, her character so badly conceived as somewhere between trophy wife and kick-ass executive. Poor Winslet was totally at sea, doing the best she could as a dinghy in one scene and an ocean liner in another.
A boy buddy movie about cancer? What was I thinking? Truth is with Joseph Gordon Levitt's million dollar smile really anything is possible. Based on the writer Will Reiser's actual experiences, Adam (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a radio journalist, is diagnosed with a rare cancer in his late 20s and learns from the internet that he has a 50/50 chance of survival. The movie is the unfolding of his life, loves, and friendships post-diagnosis. Levitt's charming ability to make chemo-stry (sorry) happen with just about anyone is what makes this film. Even Seth Rogin becomes somewhat endearing while basking in Levitt's radiant glow. (Okay, I'll stop.) I laughed. I cried. A lot. I still don't know why I, of all people, a paranoid hypochondriac extraordinaire, chose to see this. Was it because of Anjelica Huston (totally great as the cancer stricken boy's suffocating mother)? Was it for Anna Kendrick (just ok as grief-therapist-in-training who falls in love with her patient)? It was probably because at the film festival I try to see things I would never otherwise see. It really is a cute, whacky, perfectly acceptable small film that does succeeds in making cancer funny. Does the world need such a thing? Quite possibly.
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life is the documentary by Werner Herzog about a boy, Michael Perry, on death row in Texas. Again, what was I thinking? It seems I was in pursuit of the grim this year and grim this film certainly is. It's really a horror film in the guise of a documentary. Herzog (whose voice we hear, but who we see only in vague reflection in the glass dividing him from the prisoners) interviews a whole cast of characters somehow involved in Perry's fate--from his partner in crime Jason Burkett, to Burkett's father, to the prison chaplin, to the ex-executioner (my favorite of them all), to Jason Burkett's miraculously pregnant mail-bride who provided the audience with some comic relief through her charming penchant for self-deception. Each of them, as we all are, is trapped inside his or her own terrifying reality. A worthy film I am not unhappy to have seen but it falls short of great documentary in the manner of, say, Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line or anything by Chris Marker. At the screening, the producer who introduced the film compared it to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which is not a stretch (the crime is similar) but Herzog is more interested here in sociology than psyche, which helps him cope with the intensity and insanity of his subject, but makes our experience more voyeuristic than empathetic.
Elizabeth King is in a coma after a boating accident and unlikely to live. Matt King, her husband, discovers from his teenage daughter that Elizabeth was having an affair. They hatch a plan to confront her lover, bringing father and daughter into a new intimacy. In the meantime, King and his cousins are about to decide what to do with a huge chunk of pristine land his family owns in Hawaii, handed down through generations from their royal Hawaiian ancestors. Hence the film's title: The Descendants. The whole state is waiting to see what these descendants will do with their legacy while the audience is waiting to see how King will help his children deal with their mother's impending death. Would I run to see that film? No. But it's the film festival AND the director is Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) AND it stars George Clooney. I go because Alexander Payne's celluloid rendering of quirky Americana is always surprising, and not only is Clooney Clooney, he has an inclination these days for trying to stretch himself as an actor. Payne's script hovers between sitcom and surreal, nothing which isn't done extraordinarily well on tv, but Payne includes in the mix extended pathos--something few can pull off convincingly in our age of irony and cynicsm. Dying mother in a hospital bed is a very tricky proposition both despite and because of delivering insta-sadness. Payne's project in this film is to redeem the sentimental to its original favorable sense: "Characterized by or exhibiting refined and elevated feeling"--as opposed to its current sense: "Addicted to indulgence in superficial emotion; apt to be swayed by sentiment." (OED) George Clooney, as Payne's chief means to this end, is a joy to watch even if a lot of the time what we are witnessing is a cinema icon struggling not to bury his very ordinary, flawed and vulnerable character under the weight of his own real life megastardom. This quasi-post modern distraction actually worked in a particulary Paynian way to further the film's mundane message i.e. we're all humans who suffer and love and laugh despite our own particular legacy. In the end, Payne and Clooney manage to pull off this strangely heartfelt movie, but not without a lot of help from the pitch-perfect performances from the supporting cast.
Moving from grim reaper to hyperactive stork, the most innovative and engaging film I saw at the festival was 17 Girls,
from French sororal (great word!) writing and directing team Delphine and Muriel Coulin. Beautifully shot in a small French port city in decline, the story is about 17 high school girls who decide to empower themselves by becoming pregnant. Based on the true incident in Massachusetts in 2008, the Coulin sisters imagine the girls' motivations in an intriguing twist on the tropes of teenage pregnancy. Unfortunately, the end was pat and predictable, deflating what was otherwise a mind-bendingly gorgeous and stunningly acted film.
The worst film I saw was Carnage (will post about this anon).
The most purely enjoyable was Nouka Dubi (Boat Wreck)
from Bengali director Rituparno Ghosh. Great plot, astonishing cinematography, stupendous singing, magic melodrama. Bollywood meets Tagore--need I say more?
For a while now, the silent film accompanied by live music has been making a come back in London and beyond. It is an extraordinary way to spend an evening: watching cinematic history in the making while listening to composers' and musicians' interpretations of the visual. Here are the three I have seen recently:
UNDERGROUND (1928) directed by Anthony Asquith, score by Neil Brand, with Timothy Brock conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra
A stunning romance-comedy-noir-thriller starring above all else the London underground of the late 1920s, this is some extraordinary filmmaking. Light and shadow, German expressionism, Russian montage, Hitchcockian suspense, Chaplinesque humor, and it has one of the best chase sequences ever filmed. So much more entertaining than most films made today. The score was perfection, full of fabulous themes and wonderful surprises, the timing and flexibility of the orchestra conducted by the amazing Timothy Brock quite simply unbelievable. The film, beautifully restored by the BFI, was dismissed by reviewers when first released. If the packed and enthusiastic audience at the Barbican has anything to say about it, this print and score will surely set the record straight.
The screening at the Barbican was followed by a riveting Q&A with Brock, Brand, Robin Baker (Head Curator, BFI National Archive), Matthew Sweet (Writer, Historian and Broadcaster), and chaired by Francine Stock (TV/Radio presenter and novelist.) Wonderful stuff was revealed like how the harmonica sequence had to be played by a melodeon, how Asquith introduced the helicopter shot before the helicopter, and how David Thomson, according to Sweet, very wrongfully dismisses Asquith in his Biographical Dictionary of Film. (I subsequently read the entry--Underground isn't mentioned--and he does seem unreasonably nasty about Asquith, but we love David Thomson precisely because he can be so viciously wrong.) But what I appreciated most was the sheer love of film and music eminating off the Barbican stage from all of the speakers, most especially Neil Brand. I missed his score for Hitchcock's Blackmail which I understand was another triumph. Now in October in New York he will be conducting the New York Philharmonic in his restored score of The Gold Rush. If you happen to be in the big apple then go, go, go.
In the meantime, here's almost two minutes of that chase scene I mentioned from Underground. This is from the rooftop of the Lot's Road Power Station which is still there in romantic semi-ruins right down the road from where I live in London.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920) starring John Barrymore, directed by John Robertson, screenplay by Clara Beranger, live score written and performed by Blue Roses
It was raining, we were late, we were riding Boris bikes across Hyde Park and couldn't find anywhere to return them. We finally arrived at the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill to see Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, myself resembling in look and mood the latter. But settling into the plush red leather seats with a glass of red wine to warm us up, we were fast restored by this wild evening to our better selves. The very creepy, scary, weird film in which John Barrymore very impressively becomes a hideous, hairy, distorted version of himself, was accompanied by an equally macabre and intriguing score played and orchestrated by Blue Roses. There have been too-many-to-count film versions of this Robert Louis Stevenson story about our dark double-nature, but this one is the original and fascinating to watch. It was written by Clara Beranger, who would go on to have a very successful Hollywood career scripting over 70 movies.
This screening of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was part of the wonderful BIRD'S EYE VIEW FILM FESTIVAL's Sound & Silents strand which presents classic silent films by pioneering women filmmakers alongside specially commissioned scores by cutting-edge contemporary female musicians.
Upcoming from Bird's Eye View Sound & Silents: British Composer Mira Calix rescores early animation The Adventures of Prince Ahmed at the Aubin Cinema, Shoreditch, on Sunday 23 October. (www.birds-eye-view.co.uk)
THE LIGHT OF ASIA (1925) directed by Franz Osten & Himansu Rai, written by Niranjan Pal with New Live Score By Pandit Vishwa Prakash
I had seen Franz Osten's amazing A Throw of the Dice at a screening in Trafalgar Square about a year ago so when I heard the BFI was showing The Light of Asia I quickly bought tickets. After an overlong introduction to the film (the occasion was actually a celebration of the filmmaker Niranjan Pal who went on to found with Osten and Rai the movie studio The Bombay Talkies Limited) the movie was finally screened. The film recounts the saga of Prince Siddhartha, who rejects his privileged life to search for Truth and becomes Buddha, or the Enlightened One. The story was just not as compelling as A Throw of the Dice based on the episode from "The Mahabharata" chronicling a harrowing love triangle. Still, they both shared the incredible Rajasthan settings, the erotic and exotic costumes, the jungles and palaces, elephants, camels, and tigers. Orientalism abounds but so does breathtaking beauty and astonishing filmmaking. The meticulous attention to lighting and patterning of Weimar cinema here meets the fantastical tradition of Indian storytelling. And the Prakash score was sublime.
A THROW OF THE DICE (1929) directed by Franz Osten
I know of two more silent film events upcoming in London which I will sadly have to miss but they promise to be great, great evenings.
THE FIRST BORN directed by Miles Mander with a live performance of Stephen Horne's new score at Southbank's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday, Oct 20 at 19:30. (bfi.org.uk/lff)
THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC directed by Carl Dreyer (and one of the all time great silent films) with music from the London Symphony Orchestra on November 6 at 19:30. (Iso.co.uk)
I thought I would hate Bridesmaids--I tend to loath films that pander to women and end up digging them even deeper into the demeaning morass where they are forced to wallow by the prevailing misogynist culture. Instead, I liked it quite a lot--an excellent send up of the cliched wedding story, even if the satire wasn't as razor sharp as it could have been. But I laughed so much more than I thought I would--and much more by a long shot than I did watching The Hangover. The women were just plain consistently funny. I also appreciated that, though the men in the film were by no means front and center, at least two of them got some very strong, even hilarious, lines--a big difference from the male buddy movies in which the women are usually throw aways. And so Bridesmaids managed to be a good bad girl buddy film, full of stark and raunchy truths about us, while maintaining our moral superiority. Perhaps, Margaret, there is a God and she's got a helluva sense of humor. In truth, there was still quite a bit of pander in Bridesmaids (the premise itself, the cupcake business, the iheart moments), but there was quite a bit of surprising writing and acting with refreshingly little concern for the male gaze. I am convinced that contrary to what they preach in Hollywood, and the numbers back me up on this one, that men find the woman's perspective refreshing too (and erotic, and challenging, and intriguing). A little less fear from the powers that be and that green light is going to be getting a whole lot of action for women-centric films. (Don't worry, I'm not holding my breath. That's what everyone said after Thelma and Louise--how many years ago now?) In any case, a film that has a scene of a bride in a white gown taking a shit in the middle of a busy street deserves an Oscar (I know, in some other universe, maybe that one in which God is a woman).
As for The Tree of Life, I thought I was going to love it. I've never loved Malick to the degree others have (the way he's always so obviously reaching for profundity makes me cringe--boy was I in for it), but I have always admired his grand ambition and immense filmmaking skills. When I heard people were walking out of The Tree of Life saying the film was nonsense, my pretentious, antipopulist self decided I would love it. I actually found the film very funny, with all those exploding stars, primoridial muck, dinosaurs, Brad Pitt (of the rainbow brood) with the infant's foot and that final scene which made me yearn for more films like Last Year at Marienbad. But it's never really all that fun to be laughing when you're not supposed to be. And I found so much of it tedious--Malick pretending to be Spielberg trying to be Tarkovsky--brought to mind once again the lyrics from that great "Hair" song: And I'm a genius genius/I believe in God/And I believe that God/Believes in Terence/That's me that's me. Though I would tell no one it was a film that had to be seen (Bridesmaids on the other hand I would just), I never really wanted to walk out as it was on the whole nice to look at, the boys were wonderful, the music so very heavy duty Christian but still great to hear. Best comments from the blogosphere: "This film was complete and utter self-absorbed masturbation. American faux-angst, faux-reflection, emotionally-thin bullshit … The sighs of boredom, fidgeting and deflated expectation culminated in cinemagoers at the Curzon Soho today leaving with barely the will to live." -Socialsurgeon; "I think in his desperate search to make the perfect transcendental film, Malick is using a bigger and bigger canvas and taking longer and longer to say less and less. There is nothing in this film that isn't intimated with greater subtlety, sadness, and a truer sense of the sublime in his first three films." -Jeromenewton. As a female viewer, I felt almost entirely excluded, women really having no place at all in this film except as a male fantasy of the perfect mother. Always irritating. I did have a great thought though as I was leaving the cinema: If only God were a woman Malick might have made the epic he was hoping for.
Other films I've seen recentlyish:
Source Code: What a great old-fashioned yet au courant sci-fi thriller that made perfect sense in the end and didn't rely on too much schmalz. Concept brilliant--three cheers for the multiverse theory (did you know that William James coined the term?)--acting by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan adorable. Good chemistry. This was everything that other film with Leonardo di Crappio should have been but wasn't (Inception). Loved Vera Farmiga though the trailer for her new film Higher Ground in which she stars and directs has me worried she wants to be Terence Malick. What's with the God theme these days? Please someone make a film in which it's discovered that God is a lesbian.
Hanna: Opening sequence excellent. All down hill after that though the young actress playing Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) was mega watchable. Action scenes went on too long and blended into each other. First time I've seen Cate Blanchett not totally at the top of her game. Tom Hollander great as evil guy.
Pirates of the Carribean: I love Johnny Depp but even with the excellent decision to get rid of the fey Keira Knightly and bring on my heartthrob Penelope Cruz, this was still so very tired even Jack Sparrow seemed to have trouble keeping his eyes open.
Le Quattro Volte: An Italian version of The Tree of Life. An overdose of pretention. I actually should have walked out of this one it was so unbearable, though the detail of the shepherd ingesting the dust off the church floor to help cure his chronic cough was a nice touch.
I'd never heard of Make Way For Tomorrow, but Leo McCarey had also directed one of my favorite films, The Awful Truth (made the same year, 1937), and I had been meaning to go for some time to one of The National Gallery's Saturday afternoon screenings of classic films. Their flyer billed Make Way For Tomorrow as "one of the great unsung Hollywood masterpieces, an enormously moving Depression-era depiction of the frustrations of family, ageing, and the generation gap." It sounded promising enough, though not a subject I would usually leap at. I had no idea what I was in for.
The story centers on an elderly couple who haven't planned for retirement. He is fired from his job and can't get another. The bank forecloses on the house and the couple finally tell their five adult children what has happened. There is no obvious solution as none of the children is particularly well off so the couple is split up, the mother going to live in New York City with a son, the father to a small country town where he sleeps on his daughter's sofa. The movie plays out the dreadful humiliation of what the aged must endure when entirely dependent on their children, and the heartlessness, frustration, pity, and guilt the children experience when faced with the "burden" of their parents. It is a shockingly real portrait of middle class family life across three generations and more than relevant to today's audiences. It is also an acute and beautiful portrait of a long term marriage.
With magnificent subtlety and artistry, this movie, perhaps more than any other I have ever seen, gets right at the awful truth of the human condition. It is certainly one the most honest and loving portrayals of basic human cruelty ever created. And some of the best acting--with Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi giving extraordinary performances as the old couple--ever captured on screen. The writing was pitch perfect, the screenplay by Viña Delmar, who also wrote the screenplay for The Awful Truth. (She was the author of a series of best-selling novels with titles such as Bad Girl, Kept Woman, and Loose Ladies about the real issues facing the modern woman.)
The film was, of course, a failure at the box office as the subject is simply not one most people want to face, myself included. But it is a subject that we actually do confront every hour of every day and the brutal truth of the film is our own: Ageing and death is the deepest, darkest of sins not only in our society at large but within our very families. Not only do we resent and despise those close to us for committing the sin of getting old, we know our turn is at hand and loathe ourselves for it. The last thing we are prepared to do for ourselves or for others in any meaningful way is to Make Way For Tomorrow. Though the very end of the film is relentlessly bleak, in the stunning denouement when the couple tour New York City during their last hours together before being split up again, this time surely permanently, McCarey gives us a deeply moving vision of old age in the fullness of its elegance and integrity.
Orson Welles said that the movie "would make a stone cry" but this film is not sentimental. Nor is it a cold-eyed view of man's inhumanity to man. Its devestating power to make us weep is found in how generous and understanding McCarey is to each of his characters, all of whom, even those most apparantly selfish, display the whole gamut of emotions from sheer loving kindness to begruding niceity, to petty meanness, to heartlessness, to sadistic pleasure. No one is innocent, and we're all guilty.
Make Way For Tomorrow was an inspiration for Ozu's Tokyo Story, a fact I find at once surprising and obvious. I always thought that slow, subtle, penetrating depth of vision into family dynamics so uniquely Ozu's, but McCarey's influence on Ozu is indeed perfect.
McCarey claimed Make Way For Tomorrow was the best film he ever made and in 1938 when he won the Oscar for The Awful Truth he held up the golden statue and told the audience, "This is for the other one."
Four More Films I've Seen Recently in Brief:
Silken Skin--directed by François Truffaut, his fourth film, made in 1964, this is a gorgeous movie about a married French intellectual's passionate love affair with a stewardess, exquisitely played by Françoise Dorléac, Catherine Deneuve's older sister who would die tragically in a car accident soon after the making of this film. Wonderfully detailed, delicate and engaging, that is right up until the last scene of the film which is just silly and reminds me of how hard finding the right ending can be.
The Hereafter--directed by Clint Eastwood, entertaining enough but mostly plodding and never soars, except in a very early scene in which Cécile De France is nearly killed by a tsunami. Very beautiful and very eery on many levels. Matt Damon was adequate but Bryce Dallas Howard's brief cameo stole whatever of the movie there was to steal.
Blue Valentine--another portrait of a marriage, though this one was so one-dimensional as to be confusing, causing this viewer to repeatedly wonder: am I missing something here? The script was flat and cliched but Michelle Williams outstanding performace saved the movie from being a complete waste of time. Ryan Gosling also acquitted himself well. Still, I don't understand how this film got made.
Morning Glory--entirely forgettable romcom with Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford, and Rachel McAdams. If only Viña Delmar were still around...
SOMEWHERE I actually saw "Somewhere" long ago at the London Film Festival but disliked it so much I couldn't bring myself to write about it at length. Apparently, neither could Anthony Lane, who gave me the idea for a roundup, and whose assessment of the film very nearly matches my own--"In one prolonged shot, Johnny circles his car fast around a track, but the futility of a noodling movie star is hardly a revelation of the absurdity of the human condition, or whatever this movie is supposed to be about." Indeed, Stephen Dorff's Johnny Marco is the flattest imitiation of a Mastroianni-esque character one could devise. "Somewhere" was as bad as "Nine" in its complete misunderstanding and degradation of Italian cinema, not to mention women. (The only viable female is Johnny's eleven-year-old daughter played by Elle Fanning and an obvious stand-in for Coppola's younger self.) I was a fan of "Lost in Translation" despite my big problems with its gross condescension towards the Japanese. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson were just so incredibly watchable, whereas "Marie Antionette" was entirely unwatchable. "Somewhere" has some nice shots of the Hotel Marmont and Sunset Boulevard but was mostly just plain boring and horribly misguided. But this is blissfully a roundup so I won't go on. Let's just say the highest compliment I can pay this film is that it made me think of the lyric from "Hair": Claude Hooper Bukowski/Finds that it's groovy/To hide in a movie/Pretends he's Fellini/And Antonioni/And also his countryman Roman Polanski/All rolled into one/One Claud Hooper Bukowski. If only Sofia Coppola had a tad more of Claud Hooper Bukowski's ambition.
FORBIDDEN "Forbidden," seen at a Frank Capra retrospective at the National Film Theatre/British Film Institute (one of the great perks of London), was a surprise. Not your usual Capra or Stanwyck fare--the film is about a librarian who has a passionate affair with a married man--an ambitious but very likeable politician (only Capra could pull any of this off)--while on holiday and subsequently gives up everything--including their child--for him. The power of Stanwyck's performance allows the film to investigate love's complexity with a rare depth and maturity. I actually came away from the film empathasizing with her choices. Nevertheless, Capra himself loathed the film calling it "two hours of soggy, 99.44% pure soap opera." During the filming, Stanwyck fell off her horse, injured her back, and had to spend every night of the rest of the filming in the hospital in traction. Capra would blame the film and the equestrian accident for Stanwyck's definitive refusal to marry him.
INCEPTION Glad I saw this on a plane and very post hype. But still I was bored. Doesn't even come close to the genius of "Memento" or even "The Matrix." Saw everything coming way before it did and the love story was plain stupid.
THE KING'S SPEECH Oops, wrong King. So what if it's historically inaccurate. So what if it's a feel good story that lacks any subtlety whatsoever. It's entertainment at its best in the sense that it doesn't have any ambition to be anything more than it is so fulfills its promise from start to finish. Besides, I saw it with my mother who loved it because she remembered as a kid listening to the stuttering King on the radio and being embarrassed for him. If Colin Firth doesn't get an Oscar for this I'll eat my hat. And Geoffrey Rush deserves a nod. Without them this film would have been nothing at all.
THE WRESTLER I saw this with my mother too and she repeated throughout the entire film: "Why would anybody ever want to watch this?" I thought Mickey Rourke's performance eerily too good. The film comes nowhere near the brilliance of "Raging Bull" but does have moments of sublime intensity. The love story with Marisa Tomei (always wonderful) and the daughter thread very banal. I was actually relieved at the lack of redemption, but could have been spared the Christ image during the denouement. Finally, I have to agree with my mother here.
THE SHINING Quite simply one of the best films ever made. This should be required viewing for any student of film, really anyone interested in the creative process. It is a veritable primer in perspective. A multi-layered work of genius, my favorite scene, of course, is when the amazing Shelley Duvall peers down at the typewriter Jack has been writing his magnum opus on, while the camera takes precise aim up at her, the typewriter smack in the center of the frame. As she reads the by now infamous line, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," she--and we--are struck dumb by the great and horrifying truth that creation and destruction are one. The film is the enactment of T.S. Eliot's line, "There will be time to murder and create," via the inimitable horror/humor of Stephen King as envisioned by Stanley Kubrick. Unbelievable. I so identified with Jack it was disturbing.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS By far the best of the three versions is the one starring Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum. My mother's verdict: "This should be required watching for all citizens of the United States every six months to ensure we all don't become Republicans."
THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE One of the most deeply feminine and feminist films I have ever seen, albeit made by a man.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK I saw this on the plane home from LA. I had avoided seeing it because I just didn't think I could take one more film telling me how irrelevant women are. But on a plane I can take anything and yes women are entirely irrelevant here but I did enjoy the epic battle between Jew and Gentiles. Ah those Winklevoss twins really got what was coming to them (a 60 million dollar settlement). And what a hero for our times that Zuckerberg, a veritable saviour. He's given us Facebook, a monument for all time, a wonder of the world, a human cultural legacy up there with the pyramids, The Divine Comedy, Star Wars. Where would we be without him?
Random list of films I've seen but haven't devoted a proper blog to with rating @ to @@@@@
The Vagabond (Directed by Raj Kapoor in 1951 when he was just 27, this steamy melodrama represents the birth of Bollywood. The incredible chemistry between Kapoor and his leading lady Nargis is irresistable. And I saw it at MoMA for free. I love New York.) @@@@@
Margin Call (Nothing new here, didn't get my blood boiling at all and the subject--Wall Street greed and arrogance usually does. Some good acting from a great cast but pretty forgetttable. I imagine the play was better.) @@
Young Adult (I think Charlise Theron might be my favorite actress at the moment. She's got talent plus diva quality. This film is one note but she's so fabulous.) @@@@
Shame (a shame, waste of Michael Fassbinder's considerable talents. Carey Mulligan singing New York, New York excruciating and not in the way intended. Plus is that New York? It occured to me while watching that Steve McQueen should watch Pasolini's opus and take notes.) @@
One Day (Help, the accent! Ugh. Anne Hathaway botched this one.) @
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Ryan Gosling, need I say more? Besides, it was really very funny at times. And the casting is just perfect.) @@@@
Ides of March (George Clooney's future may be as a director. This effort was admirable and entertaining. Plausibility a bit stretched but I didn't care much. Besides, Ryan Gosling, need I say more?) @@@@
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Second best film of 2011 for me. Gary Oldman channels Alec Guinness and I love the change of glasses to mark time. BBC series, however, still the best . If you want to read more about the book/film/series two excellent pieces, both in The New Yorker, are Anthony Lane's "I Spy" http://nyr.kr/uXIWBb and David Denby's "We are all Smiley's People" http://nyr.kr/zzS9vr) @@@@@
The Skin I Live In (Best film of 2011 for me--Almodovar pushes the form like no other director. Here he explores the pygmalion myth as only he can.) @@@@@
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (As a good a rendition of the book you'll get but ah, the book. Doesn't really translate to film. Maggie Smith great.) @@@
The Godfather (Hadn't seen it in years but what a flawless film. The horse head was a stroke of genius as was casting Diane Keaton as Al Pacino's wife. Marlon Brando, as always, was sublime.) @@@@@
Nowhere Boy (directed by artist Sam Taylor-Wood and also surprisingly mediocre. Straightforward biopic without any attempt at innovation. HBO would have done it better. Anne Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas saved it from total irrelevance.) @@
The Ghost Writer (directed by Roman Polanski and surprisingly mediocre. Ewan McGregor saved it from total boredom. Hitchcock touches nice but not enough-Ok plane fare.) @@
Frida (directed by Julie Taymor is gorgeous to look at but the script was not up to the visuals. Salma Hayek superb but not oscar material since though crippled her face remains beautiful.)
La Vie en Rose (Incredibly depressing--didn't want to learn so much about the Diva. Cotillard excellent, obvious oscar for portrayal of yet another fallen, defaced woman.
Notes on A Scandal (Thin but Judi Dench is superb. She totally outshines Cate Blanchett. Equation of repressed lesbian stalker with female statuatory rapist interesting. At least Dench didn't turn out to be a serial killer.)
It's Complicated (Perfect plane fare, especially while trying to avoid volcanic ash cloud. I laughed out loud at least twice. Fun to watch Alec Baldwin completely upstage Steve Martin.)
Bulletproof Monk (Not nearly as good as the phenomenal Kung Fu Hustle, but entertaining nonetheless. My 9 yr. old loved it.)
A Serious Man (Seriously boring but then again maybe I just didn't get it 'cause I'm a goy.) @
2012 (Blah disaster movie in which a novelist who sells only 500 copies is the hero and one of the chosen. LOL.) @
Defiance (Casting excellent-Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell-and story excellent--about class and morality among Eastern European Jews during holocaust--but script very mediocre.) @@
Two Loves (I always wonder how films like this one ever get made. No there there. Though Pheonix plays the icky vulnerable male with panache.) @
Inglourious Basterds (Like the kitchen sink after an inedible feast. Worse than a bad Cohen brothers film. Flaccid and unfunny.) @
Valkyrie (Don't bother. Boring, slow, flat. Such a shame as I really loved Singer's Usual Suspects. Cruise's fault no doubt.) -@
The Departed (Solid later Scorsese fare, lots of blood and plot twists but just barely holds together. DiCaprio surprisingly good and I always love Baldwin.) @@@
Word Play (excellent documentary about the NYTimes crossword puzzle geeks. It gave me serious nerd envy.) @@@@
Rachel Getting Married (cast evenly black/white yet black actors get no lines of any significance. Even Anna Deveare Smith only mumbles. Shameful.) @
District 9 (Sci Fi at its best. Philip K. Dick would approve.) @@@@@
American Graffitti (quite experimental and what a young Harrison Ford) @@@@
My Man Godfrey (Depression era romcom with the sublime William Powell and Carole Lombard. All too relevant.) @@@@@
Julia (unlikely thriller made great by uber actress Tilda Swinton) @@@@
The Eyes of Laura Mars (70s fashion thriller with Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones) @@@@@