It has not been a movie watching month overall, as my focus has shifted dramatically to reading. I usually find a balance between the two, but this month with such hefty reading choices and things like the reading marathon at Jesup during National Library Week, I’ve been thoroughly occupied. Especially lately, as the end of the month draws closer and my personal deadlines for finishing books are rearing their, um, lovely heads. In fact, the only reason I’m taking this chunk of time to write my silly little movie blurbs, is because I finished The Brothers Karamazov!!
I of course have still seen a few movies this month. I can’t seem to avoid doing so…! I really enjoyed watching all five of the films that we played at the movie theater where I work part time, during The Tournees Festival. This is an event that brings new French films to college campuses. We were the venue for COA’s version of the event. More about those films in a minute. But first:
The Last Station – Michael Hoffman – Germany – 2009
I was eagerly anticipating this movie, and it did not disappoint. It traces the last few months of Leo Tolstoy’s life, as seen by his young idealistic secretary. Overflowing with Tolstoyan beliefs, as they have been laid down by Tolstoy’s friend and confident, Vladimir Chertkov, Valintin arrives in Tolstoy’s home only to discover that most of the things he thought he believed don’t make as much sense when they are brought up against the absolute burst of real life the surrounds the old, ill, but still amazingly vibrant writer. Outstanding performances by Christopher Plummer, and the continually amazing Helen Mirren (playing Sofya Tolstaya, Tolstoy’s nearly estranged but copiously passionate wife) hold together a movie that is visually lovely, and utterly engaging. Now I’ve got to read the book it was based on. And I should probably get around to reading some of Tolstoy’s work too…!
Ninja Assassin – James McTeigue – USA – 2009
A decent kung fu movie, with plenty of non-stop action and wild martial arts, and a moderately plausible storyline. What it lacked in style it made up for in adrenalin. Fun, if somewhat bloody, stuff.
Time Bandits – Terry Gilliam – UK – 1981
I’ve been wanting to watch this movie again for several years now, but it kept slipping back down the Netflix queue. After being thoroughly underwhelmed by The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus recently, I thought it was high time I revisited a Terry Gilliam world that I remembered as being totally awesome! I wasn’t disappointed. Kevin and his encounter with the Time Bandits was just as awesome this time round, and I got a huge kick out of the enormous cast. Ian Holm as Napoleon, Sean Connery as King Agamemnon, Jim Broadbent as the fellow on TV who later shows up in the dread otherworld of David Warner’s Evil Genius! Not to mention all the other great cast of characters. This is a Terry Gilliam movie that I love, that is charming but still has a little something serious to say. And the interesting thing is that while this movie is much older, it is just as wildly creative and uses as many special effects and as large and interesting a cast as Doctor Parnassus. This one has something extra though, an extra dose of awesome. I’m not sure how that works, but whatever, I’ll take it!
It Might Get Loud – Davis Guggenheim – USA – 2008
This was a great documentary about three musicians who get together to talk about music, play some music, and generally dork-out about music. And we get to watch! The musicians are Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. Need I say more? The actual conversation between the three is relatively brief, as the film follows the three of them home, and back through the years. Favorite moments would be seeing Jimmy Page in his musical library playing the air guitar to a record of Link Wray playing Rumble, and Jack White saying, “Who needs to buy a guitar” while building an instrument of sorts out of warped planks and string. Of course there are lots of great clips of music – Jack and Megan White playing a set in a nursing home, really old footage of Jimmy Page playing “skiffle” with an early set of band mates, etc. The movie itself was put together nicely, and offered nothing but the musician’s own words, which I liked. Good stuff.
Sherlock Holmes – Guy Ritchie – USA – 2009
A second viewing of this flick proved that it was still pretty good. Not so thrilling as on the first watch, still fun, still full of Guy Ritchie quirkiness, but while I really enjoyed it, this time round it made me want to pick up the books again, and simultaneously watch Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (my favorite Guy Ritchie movie – and I did watch most of it a day later!)
Fear(s) of the Dark – Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre De Sciullo, Marie Caillou, Lorenzo Mattotti, and Richard McGuire – France – 2007
My first of the Tournees Festival films, this was an animated conglomeration of fears. Several stories by several animators and directors were broken apart and then pieced back together again, rearranged so that no whole story was told at once. The whole piece was black and white, but each individual piece was in a distinct style. Some of the stories were milder than others, but all were SCARY! Horrible huge dogs randomly devouring people; something that waits in the swamp to get you; an alien insect taking over a man’s body; a young girl possessed by the spirit of a slain Samurai; a man alone in a dark house with, possible, something… Wow. I was totally blown away and loved the movie, but it was so scary! Delicious scariness. Very strange, very cool.
A Girl Cut in Two – Claude Chabrol – France – 2007
A classic love triangle, somewhat humorous at first, but escalating into despair and tragedy. The pretty poor blonde, desired by the rich playboy (who is more than somewhat unstable) and desirous of the grey-bearded and highly respected author, who desires her himself, now and then when his wife is out of town… Not my favorite storyline, although there was something strangely compelling about this movie. Didn’t love it though – a decided “eh”.
Eldorado – Bouli Lanners – France – 2008
A story about the joys and sorrows of sudden friendships that surface for a day or two in the lives of strangers. Coming home from work one night a man discovers an intruder in his house and spends the night trying to wheedle him out from under the bed. A day later the young man who eventually crawled out is sitting in his car, and he is driving him to a town close to the border so that he can visit his parents. Many amusing and pathetic adventures ensue. I loved the pacing of this movie and the absurd, run-of-the-mill events that filled it. Bouli Lanners, multi-tasking in his role as star and director, gave a wonderful performance. Not a happy movie overall, with it’s questions about human connection and what it means to seek freedom by forsaking relationships, but easily one of the best movies I’ve seen this year – and a great road-trip movie to boot.
The Romance of Astrea & Celadon – Eric Rohmer – France – 2007
Oh my lord. It took two tries for me to watch this movie in its entirety. I had to watch 1/2 one night and 1/2 the next. I’ll readily admit to not particularly liking it, but at the same time being highly amused, or bemused by it. I’ve not seen any of Eric Rohmer’s other movies, but according to a bit of research and conversation with my film fanatic co-worker, it seems that this, his final work, follows his usual style. No soundtrack, no close-ups, a pretty location, long conversations between pretty young people… Seriously, in a tale about two lovers who quarrel, and then have to go through hell and high water to get back together, this film showed little more than people taking long walks in the woods, dressed in minimal flowy robes. Some of the speeches were interesting, but everyone was so dramatic – I was reminded awkwardly of Shakespeare, but not in a good way. At various times I just wanted to shake the character of Celadon, who, since Astrea had said she never wanted to see him again unless she told him she did, had tried to drown himself, and then, ruled by his overwhelming love for Astrea, in spite of the fact that she was distraught over his death, felt that he couldn’t reveal that he was alive because she hadn’t said that she wanted to see him again…!! Gah! Dumb lover. The last 15 minutes, where it all astonishingly gets resolved, make the rest of it almost worth it though. Absolutely squirm worthy escapades. Too funny.
The Beaches of Agnes – Agnes Varda – France – 2008
A documentary/autobiography of Agnes Varda’s journey through and with film, this movie was interesting and inspiring and amusing. Varda is quite a character. I’ve only seen her movie The Gleaners and I, which I liked very much, although I have of course now added a variety of her fictional pieces to my Netflix queue. Varda, thought of as the god-mother of the French New Wave, has had her fingers and toes in the French movie scene for decades. She’s known everybody, worked with everybody, has amazing and obscure footage of everybody. She tells the story of her life through the beaches that she has lived near, and her stories are endlessly entertaining. She herself is so cute to watch too – she’s funny-looking in the best way, and even as an 80 year old woman there is something endearingly girlish about her. A very enjoyable movie, and a very intriguing person.
And I’ve only seen about three other movies since the 15th, which I’ll write about eventually. The rest of this week will be spent rummaging through the rest of Life a Users Manuel and trying to think about what I think about those Brothers Karamazov. Movie watching will return to my life in May.