Posted by: Sally Ingraham | January 28, 2011

Movie Mayhem: Jan. 9th-28th

The emphasis is definitely on mayhem in this post. There’s a whole pile of things here. The last three weeks have been odd. I spent about 7 days traveling, and the rest of the time on my couch. Illness and lack of ambition kept me there, and Netflix instant play kept my brain cells firing – barely. I watched a random assortment of things, all quite interesting.

Before I left for Atlanta I finally got around to watching Howards End (Dir. James Ivory. Writ. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Based on the novel by E. M. Forster. Stars Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, and Helena Bohnem Carter. UK, 1992.) The story is one of clashing social classes in England at the beginning of the century – well drawn characters from the very wealthy, the enlightened bourgeois, and the working class have encounters that challenge and profoundly change them all. There are tangled romances, attempts at philanthropy, a passionate love for place, failure and quiet success. The performances are all excellent and the filming is lovely. I’ll have to dig up the book someday – to all reports the movie is a fairly close adaptation.

prince achmedThe Adventures of Prince Achmed – Writ. & Dir. Lotte Reiniger. Germany, 1926.
Considered to be the first feature-length animated film, this is one of those incredibly impressive examples of early film making. Drawing from The Arabian Nights, the story is told using a silhouette technique that employs cutouts posed in front of illuminated glass. The detail is wonderful, and the amount of work that must have went into the film is amazing. The story is pretty entertaining, but watch this for the visual delight. Very cool.

On the 5 hour bus ride from the airport back home I watched Get Smart (Dir. Peter Segal. Writ. Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember. Stars Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, and Alan Arkin. USA, 2008.) and Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (Dir. Chris Colombus. Writ. Craig Titley. Based on the novel by Rick Riordan. Stars Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, and Alexandra Daddario. USA, 2010.). Get Smart stood up to a second viewing, although it is pure ridiculousness. And I enjoyed Percy Jackson much more than I had expected to. I’m a sucker for Greek myths, and it was fun to guess which characters and events would show up in a modern adventure. I was a little appalled by Pierce Brosnan as a centaur, but I’ve seen him in worse situations. (Yes, I’m referring to Mamma Mia!) Not a bad way to kill time on a long bus ride!

supermanWaiting for ‘Superman’ (Dir. Davis Guggenheim. Writ. Davis Guggenheim and Billy Kimball. USA, 2010.) was the only movie I watched at the theater. Since ending my employment there (a necessary move, but a very sad one…) I’ve been having trouble contemplating actually paying for a movie. I finally broke the ice because a friend wanted to see this and I needed to get out of the house in a bad way. It’s a documentary about the failure of the public education system in this country, with a focus on the charter schools that a few lucky kids manage to attend. There were a lot of interesting facts and a few pointed fingers. It’s a very tough topic to approach, and I think Guggenheim did a tolerably decent job of presenting his argument. I’m not sure he convinced me though, and I left the film feeling frustrated more than anything else…

North & SouthDir. Brian Percival. Writ. Sandy Welch. Based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. Stars Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. UK, 2004.
After working my way through a couple of seasons of TV shows I turned to TV mini-series. This one was pretty good. It is about Margaret Hale, a middle-class southern Englishwoman who moved with her parents to the northern milling town of Milton. There she struggles to adapt to a new type of life while also trying to understand John Thornton, the owner of a mill and a philosophy student of her father. At first appalled by the conditions in the mill and Thornton’s treatment of his workers, she comes to appreciate the steps he takes to make things as good as they can be. There is a very Pride & Prejudice-like arc to the story, with opinions quickly formed and changed only after trials and tribulation. I liked the bit of romance and enjoyed the story overall.

cousinsCousinsDir. Joel Schumacher. Writ. Stephen Metcalfe. Based on the movie Cousin Cousine writ. Jean-Charles Tacchella. Stars Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini. USA, 1989.
I’ve been on an Isabella Rossellini kick lately (at least theoretically – I think I’ve only seen one other movie with her in it recently – but I intend to watch more!) She’s just so lovely, and can infuse even a boring role with grace and mystery. Not that her role in this movie was boring – she and Ted Danson played distant cousins whose spouses are cheating on them. They know what’s going on and decide to play a trick on their spouses and pretend to have an affair of their own. They end up totally falling for each other though, which complicates matters. The story is funny and sad, and Ted Danson is surprisingly great. It’s a nice little movie about finding that special someone when you’re least expecting to.

The BuccaneersDir. Philip Saville. Writ. Maggie Wadey. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton. Stars Carla Gugino, Laura Testvalley, Greg Wise, and James Frain. UK, 1995.
Another TV mini-series, this time about a quartet of rich American beauties who go to England to find husbands. Havoc and disasters abound, as well as a small amount of success and happiness. I thought the production was lush and the movie well shot, but it was a bit excruciating. I found myself muttering, “Good grief, can’t anything go right?” From the little bit of Wharton I’ve read this seemed entirely fitting though. I’d like to read the book, since I know the quality of her writing would overcome my desire for a happy ending.

beningValmontDir. Milos Forman. Writ. Jean-Claude Carriere. Based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. Stars Colin Firth and Annette Bening. France/USA, 1989.
Mmm, Colin Firth. Except he’s so sleazy in this film! It’s about two jaded French aristocrats who have a long and messy history. The beautiful widow and the flamboyant rascal make a bet regarding the corruption of a pretty and innocent girl who is soon to be married. Transforming her into a puppet that they use to satisfy their every selfish whim, the two find themselves on the slippery slope of love and disaster. Annette Bening is fantastic in her role, and the settings and costumes are gorgeous. I was more than a little horrified by the heartlessness of these two characters, but mesmerized all the same. I guess I should follow this up with watching Dangerous Liaisons?

The Pillars of the EarthDir. Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. Writ. John Pielmeier. Based on the novel by Ken Follett. Stars Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie and Redmayne. Canada, 2010.
I didn’t ever really connect with this story, which is too bad since it was 8 hours long! It more than satisfied my TV mini-series thirst for the moment. A huge, epic tale set in 12th century England, it careens through the political strife that followed the death of Henry I, who left his daughter Maud and nephew Stephen to squabble over the throne for many years. The chess game between lords and bishops aiming to get titles and land for their loyalty to one ruler or the other, is paired with the construction of a radically designed cathedral in Kingsbridge. The cast of characters is immense, ranging from Master Builder Tom, his children, his lover the supposed witch Ellen, and her son the artist, to good Prior Philip and nasty Bishop Waleran, to the utterly awful Lord William and his henchman and scheming mother… The story was essentially interesting, and the piece was decently done, but I wasn’t blown away. Maybe it was all just a bit too much.

social clubThe Buena Vista Social ClubWrit. & Dir. Wim Wenders. USA, 1999.
Exhausted after enduring The Pillars of the Earth, I turned to music. This is a fantastic movie about a group of aging and all but forgotten Cuban musicians who are brought out of obscurity by Ry Cooder. He traveled to Havana to find and bring the musicians together to make a recording, and ended up totally resurrecting their careers. There is such joy in this movie – these are men and women who have experienced life to the fullest, and while some of them are in their 90s, they are still vibrant and brilliant people. The talent and skill they posses is amazing. The music in the film is exciting, and I just felt so GLAD while watching the performances. I highly recommend this one.

In Search of BeethovenWrit. & Dir. Phil Grabsky. UK, 2009.
I was so excited and inspired by The Buena Vista Social Club that I dug my cello out and tuned it and started playing it again. I felt like I needed more music in my life, so I sought out this documentary on Beethoven. It is excellent. It covers his whole life, and features conversations with many contemporary musicians and historians. They offer interesting details and insights into his life and music, and there are a ton of musical performances. It’s especially neat to see pianists sitting at the piano and going through a piece by Beethoven, describing the near-impossibility of some of the things he wrote and marveling at his skill at playing the piano. Grabsky’s main point with the film seemed to be to show that Beethoven wasn’t so much a crazy grouch as he is sometimes represented. The focus is on the immense joy and passion for life that is found in Beethoven’s music. I really enjoyed this one too, and recommend it.

With a few days left in January, I’m sure I’ll cram a few more movies in, including a trip to the theater to watch True Grit. What are you looking forward to watching?


  1. Erin and Kelia did NOT like True Grit.
    Did Dad or I tell you about the BBC Larkrise series we have been watching? Great characters.

    • I haven’t heard of Larkrise – I’ll check it out. I’ll have to chat with the girls about True Grit after I watch it.

  2. Such a lot of great movies and many that I haven’t seen. I’m quite in the mood for mini-series too at the moment but I would like to read North and South first. I think the movie that I would be most interested just now is The Adventures of Prince Achmed. That looks so lovely. I have seen Howards End and read it and loved both. Cousins would tempt me too… Isabella Rossellini is really beautiful. I think I have seen a fair amount of her movies. David Lynch managed to make her look unattarctive in Blue Velvet which was apparently controversially discussed at the time. I have the CD of The Buena Vista Social Club but never got around to watch the movie. Will have to do so.

    • The Adventures of Prince Achmed is really something. The storyline isn’t spectacular but the storytelling is. I hope you enjoy it.

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