Posted by: Sally Ingraham | May 2, 2011

Movie Mayhem: March & April

Rest assured – I will not be forcing you (or myself!) to slog through all 30 of the movies that I watched in the last few months. Other than a few pieces of run-of-the-Hollywood-mill fare, though, it’s been a rather interesting couple of movie viewing months. I’m have trouble deciding what NOT to talk about. Let’s see…picking and choosing, picking and choosing…

small mountainThe Tournees Festival returned to Reel Pizza Cinerama in March, and I watched three of the films – Around a Small Mountain (Writ. & Dir. Jacques Rivette. Stars Jane Birkin, Sergio Castellito, and Andre Marcon. France, 2009.), Coco Before Chanel (Dir. Anne Fontaine. Writ. Anne Fontaine and Camille Fontaine. Based on books by Edmonde Charles-Roux. Stars Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, and Alessandro Nivola. France, 2009.), and A Town Called Panic (Writ. & Dir. Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar. Stars Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Bruce Ellison. France, 2009.)

Around a Small Mountain is a lovely, quiet movie about a traveling circus show, and an Italian business man who stumbles upon them and tags along for a few weeks. Equally mesmerized by the nostalgic act of the circus clowns and by the heartbroken Kate – a former performer who is attempting to confront demons she left behind 15 years ago – the charming and slightly mysterious Vittorio ambles through the lives of the performers, making little waves and accidentally starting fires – of the metaphorical type. The sunny countryside setting of Southern France makes the viewing light and summery, and the serious undertones are balanced by a playfulness that makes for a very nice film. I will be seeking out other films by Jacques Rivette in the future.

Coco Before Chanel was an excellent overview of the life of Gabrielle Chanel before she became the famous Coco Chanel. From her beginnings in an orphanage, through her adventures as a singer in a bar, to her encounter with Baron Balsan and introduction into French society, and on into her love affair with Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, the film maintains a gentle, straightforward pace. It is Audrey Tautou’s performance as Coco that holds the film together. She is by turns rude, boisterous, shy, and always full of an understated grace. I thought the film was quite fun, partially due to many scenes that show Coco improvising with the materials around her and concocting her bold and utterly personal outfits. Again, the French countryside is used to pretty effect. A very decent biopic.

panicA Town Called Panic is hilariously fun. Using animated toys (a cowboy, an Indian, a horse, etc.) an epic tale unfolds. After a backfiring birthday present destroys Horse’s home, our heroes end up traveling to the center of the earth, crossing an arctic landscape, getting captured by mad scientists, and exploring an underwater world. Surreal and super bizarre by turns, with a lot of French spoken at electric speed, and characters that live in a state of constant high-energy panic, the movie is edge-of-your-seat fantastic. I could not stop laughing – snickers, giggles, all-out belly laughs. Fun, fun, fun. I want to go watch this again right now!

I have been working my way through any and all Tony Jaa movies that I can find. He is an explosive martial artist from Thailand whose more well known films include the Ong Bak trilogy, which I watched, as well as The Protector (Writ. & Dir. Prachya Pinkaew. Stars Tony Jaa. Thailand, 2005.) Jaa’s Muay Thai skills and absolutely astonishing athleticism makes for some exciting visuals, although plot-wise these movies leave one or two things to be desired. Not for the squeamish, and chock-a-block full of fight sequences, Jaa’s films also include interesting cultural details. He does all his own stunts – they’re very clear about this in the special features – which is interesting to know as some of the stuff he does is mind-boggling. Not sure I’m really recommending these so much as gushing indulgently – unless you’re a martial arts fan, in which case check ’em out. There’s an especially fun sequence in The Protector when Tony Jaa pits his Muay Thai against a fearsome Capoeira fighter. Eeeee!!

wild targetWild Target (Dir. Jonathan Lynn. Writ. Lucinda Coxon. Based on the film Cible emouvante writ. Pierre Salvadori. Stars Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, and Rupert Grint. UK, 2010.) This film is a little odd, but with a cast like that how could you not watch it? Bill Nighy plays a professional assassin who can’t quite bring himself to off Emily Blunt, a quick thinking quicker fingered aspiring art thief. Rupert Grint plays an accidental apprentice assassin, and the nutty adventure the three of them live through is funny and sweet and a little ridiculous. This one is definitely headed for a home in my Bill Nighy collection.

Unknown (Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra. Writ. Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell. Stars Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger. USA, 2011.) Here’s a thriller that is actually a bit thrilling, and a bit unpredictable. When a man awakes from a coma to discover that someone else has taken his identity and no one (not even his wife) believes him, that’s just the beginning. Being hunted down by ruthless killers is the least of Dr. Martin Harris’ worries, as he attempts to solve the puzzle and keep his taxi-driving illegal immigrant side-kick Gina alive, while also attempting to prevent the assassination of a famous philanthropist. I was kept guessing longer than normal with this one. Good stuff.

Happythankyoumoreplease (Writ. & Dir. Josh Radnor. Stars Josh Radnor, Malin Akerman, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan, and Michael Algieri. USA, 2010.) Okay, maybe this film is a little too cute and too clever, but I liked it. A batch of young adults trying to figure out life and relationships in NYC – not unlike the story Josh Radnor continues to live through on How I Met Your Mother most weeknights on prime-time television. However, a little similarity is fine and this movie has its own crop of joys and sorrows and major life decisions and revelations of the heart. It is charming and funny and all that too. Warm fuzzies.

janeJane Eyre (Dir. Cary Fukenaga. Writ. Moira Buffini. Based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte. Stars Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. UK, 2011.) I’m still trying to wrap my head around this recent envisioning of one of my favorite books. I can’t decide if I liked it or not. There were things that I LOVED about it – like Mia Wasikowska’s performance as Jane. BRILLIANT. There were things that I liked about Michael Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester. He was certainly distinctive – a bit scary. This is definitely a man whose mind is very unstable, with madness hovering. Which is pretty much as it should be. I liked the feel of the film, and the cinematography was often stunning. The music was lovely too. I think my biggest complaint would be that it seemed choppy. I would almost say rushed, but the pacing of the film was pretty good – there were just bits missing, which I know because I’ve read the book, obviously, but it was more than that. Perhaps the choppiness, the feeling of having arrived too suddenly at the next major plot point, can be excused because the story was told in a series of lengthy flashbacks, instead of linearly. Hmm. Maybe. on the laneAlso, the scary bits all seemed to fizzle. I remember watching the BBC mini-series with Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke as a kid and being absolutely petrified at every part that dealt with the mad woman in the attic. And Mrs. Poole (a nearly non-existent character in Fukenaga’s version) was also spooky. In Fukenaga’s film, the scary bits are extremely understated, which almost makes sense and I almost liked the effect. Being so used to the full-blown epic Gothic romance though, effected my impressions of this version. Which really only means I want to see this one again. There were stellar bits in it too – such as when Jane first encounters Rochester in the eerie twilight lane… Anyway, very interesting film. I’m reserving final judgement on it for the moment.

Something should be said about Twister (Writ. & Dir. Michael Almereyda. Based on the novel Oh by Mary Robison. Stars Harry Dean Stanton, Suzy Amis, Dylan McDermott, and Crispin Glover. USA, 1989.) other than “OMG, it’s the WEIRDEST!” but that’s all you get from me today. If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, Kings of Pastry (Dir. Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker. Stars Jacquy Pfeiffer. Netherlands, UK, USA, France, 2009.) should do the trick – although it’s about a super stressful competition and grown men cry! I watched The Color of Magic (Writ. & Dir. Vadim Jean. Based on the novel by Terry Pratchett. Stars David Jason, Sean Astin, and Tim Curry. UK, 2008.) after L wrote about it this winter. It definitely made me want to read Thief of Time again, my favorite of the Discworld books that I have read thus far. On the animated front, I knocked off Megamind (Dir. Tom McGrath. Writ. Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons. Stars Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill. USA, 2010.) which was amusing, and Rango (Dir. Gore Verbinski. Writ. John Logan. Stars Johnny Depp. USA, 2011.) which was also amusing. And oh my gosh, I nearly forgot!!! THIS MOVIE:

The Illusionist (Dir. Sylvain Chomet. Writ. Jacques Tati and Sylvain Chomet. France, 2010.) I have seen a few Jacques Tati movies and liked them well enough, and of course Sylvain Chomet is the genius who brought The Triplets of Belleville to life, not to mention The Old Lady and the Pigeons, so when I heard about this film (which is a mostly finished script by Tati that Chomet rescued and brought to life) I knew that I had to see it. It fulfilled my expectations – the quirky animation style was the perfect medium for Tati’s nearly wordless tale of a stage magician who is being politely shuffled to the side as rock bands become the new thing. The Illusionist of the tale IS Tati, with his tall, gently stooped form and shambling walk. He meets and is adopted by a young Scottish girl, who follows him to Edinburgh where he works odd jobs to support them while letting her believe that he is still a successful performer. The detail in every scene is incredible – I’m just blown away by the animation. The story is funny and sad, and has a satisfyingly loose end. Another excellent film from Chomet. I can’t wait to see more from him.

And that about does it. What’s a great (or spectacularly bad) movie that you saw in the last few months?


  1. These posts of yours are a shopping list for me; I always look forward to them.

    Been meaning to watch Coco Before Chanel because we adore Audrey.
    can’t wait to see Jane Eyre (need to find a theater budget somewhere).
    I had seen Josh Radnor’s film in passing, the husband is LOVES the show HIMYM, even though I think Radnor is the least of the cast… anywho I am copy pasting your response for Sean.
    I’ve seen the Ong Bak films on Netflix menus, may have to give them and this actor another look.
    I noted The Illusionist’s existence when it was up for awards–it looks so great and your thoughts on it have me even more impatient to see it.

    Sounds like you’ve gotten some good films in. Looking forward to your finds and comments next Movie Mayhem.


    • I know, I’m always saying “You know the main character on HIMYM – no, NOT Jason Segel…the other guy”… Hehe. I think you might find the Ong Bak movies interesting. Perhaps – I’ll be eager to find out actually.

  2. oh, I feel like I am late to the party with the short film 2081 (2009, dir. writer: Charles Tuttle, based on Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron), saw it the other day and loved it. Have you seen it?

    Also, saw True Grit (was pleased) and Chronicles of Narnia, The Dawn Treader with the family and it was meh.

    • Ooo, 2081 has Patricia Clarkson in it? Nice. I’m even later to the party than you, apparently, but I’ll have to track that one down. True Grit is definitely on my TBW list. I want to see The Dawn Treader too, but I’m reluctant to do so. It was my favorite of the books… Hmm.

  3. As a person who does quite a bit of sewing, Coco avant Chanel was basically porn to me. The scene where she cuts out a perfect sleeve cap freehand with just a piece of chalk and some scissors? DROOL. The part where she pretty much invents the Little Black Dress? I learned later that they got pretty creative with the actual timeline of Chanel’s life (for example, she had at least one failed version of her shop before she ever met either of the lovers depicted), but I found it hard to hold factual inaccuracy against it with such pretty people, clothes, and cinematography, and with sewing as a primary character!

    • I KNOW, RIGHT?? Her sewing skills are so rad. Interesting about the timeline thing – like you say though, it was a good film for what it was and I’m happy enough with that.

  4. You certainly were busy.
    I got the Coco before Chanel here to watch, although unlike Emily not a perosn who can sew (envy!!!) I am so fascinated by Coco Chanel. Style, style, style. I had inherited a Coco Chanel dress from my aunt once but silly me didn’t like it as it was yellow. I could slap myself now.
    Let’s see what other goodies did you see, ah, of course, Jane Eyre. I saw one that I found OK (French I seem to remember). I’m not sure about Fassbender but if you say it worked… He has a sicko expression in all of his movies.
    Wild target does have aninteresting cats, I agree. I would like to see A Town called Panic.
    I really like a good thriller and when it is unpredictable, all the better, so Unknow sounds good as well.

    • Ha, Fassbender DOES sport a sour expression a lot. I feel a little squirrelly about him – I’ve kind of find him a little creepy in most things I’ve seen him in. I want to watch some other versions of Jane Eyre to really compare, but I’m not sure I can take the emotional roller-coaster again so soon…

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