I have arrived at the end of my first month of weekly mini movie reviews. I’m keeping myself pretty entertained by writing them, so it looks like I’ll keep going with the feature. I watched 29 movies in January, plus one that I won’t count because I didn’t finish it but still intend to. Remember, it’s winter in a small town in Maine so I don’t really have much else to do – but that’s still a lot of movies! Good times. 🙂
Sherlock Holmes – Guy Ritchie – USA – 2009
I realized while watching this film that I’ve finally adopted a fairly reasonable response to book-to-movie adaptations. I don’t come completely unglued anymore when the movie differs from the book. I can generally look at them as separate art forms and rate each on their own merit. That still leaves me plenty of room to complain, though, and question the totally crazy decisions that are made more often than not – decisions like twisting the plot in bizarre and unnecessary directions, inserting new characters or ridiculous love interests, KILLING OFF characters (I am still livid to this day over a certain adaptation of Captains Courageous!!), or just generally mucking about and making a mess of a great story to satisfy Hollywood and the American public… However, getting back to Sherlock Holmes, I found Guy Ritchie’s approach to the iconic and already frequently re-imagined characters of Holmes and Watson to be completely acceptable – even satisfying. The movie was a rip-roaring adventure, complete with strange paranormal twist and plenty of clever dialogue. Guy Ritchie definitely brought some of his own unique flavor to the film, although somewhat toned down I felt (it was missing some of the oomph that propelled films like Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smokin’ Barrels). I LOVED the score by Hans Zimmer. Not an astounding film on any level, but definitely fun, and I didn’t feel like my love for Holmes had been in any way offended. I still think of Jeremy Brett as having given the most accurate portrayal, but Robert Downing Jr.’s version was a fresh look at the character, and one that I couldn’t be bothered to fuss over. While the best Holmes can still be found only in the books, I will admit that I will be getting my grubby paws on this DVD when it comes out and enjoying it again in the future!
Spy Game – Tony Scott – USA – 2001
I love when Brad Pitt gets upstaged by someone old and wrinkly – and it happens quite a lot! Robert Redford does a good job of it, playing a wickedly clever spy who, on his last day of work before retirement, finds himself having to bail out ‘the Boyscout’, a kid he trained and worked with back in the day who seems to have gone rogue. There’s a lot of office spy games to balance out fairly interesting espionage episodes set in Beirut and China. An entertaining, if somewhat light film.
Sahara – Breck Eisner – USA – 2005
This movie is like comfort food. I’ve seen it numerous times every year since it came out on DVD in 2005. I have a weakness for great soundtracks, and this one is full of fun classic rock. Matthew McConaughey is always nice to look at, but it is a show stealing performance from Steve Zahn, and a fun appearance from William H. Macy that makes me put the movie in whenever I need something funny that also has good action and a lively soundtrack. The story is ridiculous – IMDb’s synopsis sums it up well: ‘Master explorer Dirk Pitt goes on the adventure of a lifetime seeking out a lost Civil War battleship known as the “Ship of Death” in the deserts of West Africa while helping a UN doctor being hounded by a ruthless dictator.‘ Hehe.
Excalibur – John Boorman – USA – 1981
I’m mildly surprised that I’ve never seen this before. I used to be WAY into King Arthur. It was totally satisfying to see that world brought to life, and have all the different parts of the story click into place so deftly. Very funny to see early performances by Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Helen Mirren – oh the fabulous, brilliant Helen Mirren in the role of Morgana! Made me want to read both Le Morte D’arthur, finally, and Gerald Morris’ novels again. I can feel a King Arthur phase coming on! (But don’t worry, I won’t be watching Camelot any time soon.)
Kiss of the Dragon – Chris Nohan – USA – 2001
The nice thing about a movie that is built around a martial arts star of Jet Li’s caliber is that, even if the story is lacking, the amazing martial arts sequences will usually make up for it. This movie actually had a fairly interesting story, and I finally liked Bridget Fonda in something, but honestly I watched it for the martial arts. I mean, even though it’s all rehearsed to the max, Jet Li DOES all that stuff. There’s only two spots where CGI is used in this film! Cool.
Kitchen Stories – Bent Hamer – Norway – 2003 (Movie of the Week!)
Another wonderful film from Bent Hamer, who more recently directed O’Horten. I was completely mesmerized by a film where almost nothing happens. Isak is a scientific observer, sent to examine the kitchen habits of a grumpy, single old man. From his seat in a tall chair in the corner, Isak maps Folke’s travels around the kitchen, not allowed to speak to him or interfere in any way. Even though it takes a long time, eventually a friendship grows between the two, which complicates the scientific study, and threatens Folke’s only other friendship with his jealous neighbor Grant. Definitely a film that examines human connection and relationships, it does so in an elegant, unpretentious way that is immensely satisfying, and amazingly entertaining. Absolutely lovely.
Tsotsi – Gavin Hood – South Africa – 2005
In contrast to Invictus (mutter mutter mutter), here’s a film set in South Africa that has authentic (and superb) music. Featuring Kwaito music performed by Zola as well as a score by Mark Kilian and Paul Hepker featuring the voice of South African protest singer/poet Vusi Mahlasela, the soundtrack was only one of the things that I really liked about this movie. The story – 6 days in the violent life of a young man from the slums outside Johannesburg – dealt with questions about redemption and second chances, and was gut-stompingly sad. An amazing, almost silent and powerfully visual performance from Presley Chweneyagae really held the film together. The ending was amazing. Not an easy movie to watch, but a very good one.
Amreeka – Cherien Dabis – USA – 2009
The debut feature from Cherien Dabis, this film takes a look into the life of a Palestinian single mom who is granted a green card and makes the tough choice to leave her home and try to make a new life in America with her teenage son. Whether faced with intimidating West Bank checkpoints, or the harassment of small town American teens, Muna Fara clings to optimism and perseveres. Nisreen Faour plays Muna with irresistible charm – she’s absolutely beautiful. While overall the story is a tough one, the humor of everyday life comes through vividly. A thoroughly charming film.
I definitely feel that I’ve improved my movie selections with this batch, and my only aim for the coming weeks of movie watching is to watch more foreign films. Any great suggestions?