We finally set up the home theater system in our new place, complete with a Roku Player for instant streaming, and I must say it is blissful to watch movies again. The first movie I watched this month I found on TV though, and due to the luxury of 3 months of free DVR service, I was able to record it and watch it at my leisure – fast-forwarding through those darn commercials! I revisited some old favorites, indulging in a sci-fi afternoon (to work the quirks out of the speaker setup of course!) and aside from viewing Fantastic Four (Tim Story-USA-2005) I knocked out Iron Man (Jon Favreau-USA-2008), and Star Trek (J. J. Abrams-USA-2009) for the last time this year I hope (dare I admit that I’ve watched Iron Man 3 times and Star Trek 4 times this year, not including the times I watched parts of the movies before falling asleep…?)
Possession (Neil LaBute-USA-2002) was being played on TV during Ovation Channel’s Tall Dark and Steamy marathon a few weeks ago. Having recently read a great review of the book, I was more than curious. The movie, while interesting, seemed a little flat and I had the distinct feeling that a great deal must have been left out. Maybe not plot points, but detail. (I also have to wonder if the movie was parred down to fit a 2 hour TV block…) When I get around to reading the book, I’m sure I will be mesmerized. A historical mystery about an affair between Victorian era poets, with academic detectives and plenty of romance both past and present is certainly something I would enjoy. As for the movie, I did not find either Gwyneth Paltrow or Aaron Eckhart particularly compelling, and their chemistry was definitely off. I was left curious about both of the characters they played, and hope that the details I want are in the book. In fact my strongest reaction (instead of the usual, “This book would make a great movie”) is “This movie is probably an excellent book!”
Following up on my Peter Lorre interest, I watched Think Fast, Mr. Moto (Norman Foster-USA-1937), which is the first of 8 movies in which Lorre played a deceptively quiet and clever Japanese detective. I wouldn’t say I was blown away by it. While some of the action was good, the story was somewhat hard to follow and I didn’t care for Mr. Moto. Perhaps that was partially due to the inherent creepiness I find in Lorre, but I often have trouble believing in Hollywood’s Oriental characters who are played by decisively not Oriental actors. Lorre was Austrian! I’m not sure that I will be watching more in this series, although I still want to explore more of Lorre’s work.
Throw Down Your Heart (Sascha Paladino-USA-2008) is a documentary about banjo playing wizard Bela Fleck’s adventures in Africa. He wanted to bring the banjo back to the land it originated in, and find and record with musicians who still played the instruments that are the ancestors of the modern day banjo. He traveled to Gambia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Mali, meeting master musicians and singers in tiny native villages and in fancy hotel rooms and modern recording studios. What the movie ends up being is a fantastic jam session – the music is incredible, and the chance to see ancient instruments being played with such skill is amazing. I turned my speakers up, rocking my house with the incredible sound of a 9 foot marimba being played by seven people at a time, accompanied by Bela Fleck’s energetic attempt to improvise and keep up. The music ranged from traditional folk songs to songs composed by Bela Fleck on the spot. His skill was evident, but it was also fun to see him watching in awe as D’Gary riped apart a complex string of notes on the acoustic guitar, and Bassekou Kouyate made the ngoni sing. The give and take among musicians is so amazing! I highly recommend this documentary, simply for the listen. I’m definitely buying the soundtrack.
Big Night (Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci-USA-1996) is a great movie. It’s weird and quirky and kind of sad but at the same time so satisfying. Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci play brothers who have immigrated from Italy to open a restaurant in America. Primo (Shalhoub) is an extraordinary chef who isn’t willing to compromise his cooking to please the expectations of his infrequent customers, who are used to mediocre Italian food. Business isn’t so good for the brothers, and with the bank threatening to foreclose on their restaurant, Secondo (Tucci) makes a last ditch effort to save the restaurant and realize his dream of becoming a wealthy businessman like Pascal (Ian Holm), who owns the ridiculously successful restaurant across the street. Pascal (always plotting, but seemingly friendly) convinces Secondo that if the brothers host a big party, he will call up his big-time jazz playing friend and get him to come. The press will do wonders for the failing restaurant. Secondo has his hands full talking Primo into the scheme, keeping his two girlfriends from finding out about each other, and shopping for the Cadillac that represents the successful man he wants to be. Primo’s feast, when served, is the most astonishing meal the guests have ever eaten, but that surprise is only the first of many on the big night. Shalhoub is brilliant in this – shy but fiercely passionate. Tucci also delivers a fine performance, and the fantastic supporting cast (including Minnie Driver and Isabella Rossellini) only adds to the general greatness of the film. The script is really interesting – conversations flow with an odd naturalness, almost as though they were improvised but at the same time there is a studied feel to them. It’s slightly strange, but effective. I was reminded of the bizarre delivery of lines in The Spanish Prisoner, which incidentally stars Campbell Scott, who co-directed and played a small role in Big Night. Anyway, very enjoyable movie – one of my favorites of this year.