I spent some time this month either keeping up with, or catching up on new and recent movie releases – which left relatively little time for tracking down older and more obscure films. The oldest movie I watched was from 1997, and 12 out of 20 were made either this year or last year. It was a fun month of movie watching, one that included Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, The Green Hornet, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Thor, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole, Toy Story 3, The King’s Speech, Avatar, Faster, Hanna, Cedar Rapids, and The Saint – as well as re-watches of favorites like How to Train Your Dragon, Stardust, The Rundown, Tortilla Soup, and Kick-Ass. I would be happy to tell you what I thought or answer questions about any of these movies in the comments, so please pipe up if you are curious.
While some of the movies listed above were great, or at the very least interesting or entertaining, here are the movies that I actually feel like talking about today:
No Man’s Land (Writ. & Dir. Danis Tanovic. Stars Branko Djuric and Rene Bitorajac. Bosnia/France/others, 2001.) After reading one of Caroline’s excellent reviews I tracked this film down. A darkly funny movie about the day-to-day foolishness of war, it places two Bosnian soldiers and a Serbian soldier in a a foxhole together between enemy lines, and waits to see what happens. How they all got in their predicament is terribly amusing (emphasis on terribly of course), and as the creaking, un-greased wheel of military protocol, as well as UNPROFOR politics and media machinations grinds into gear in an attempt to save them, there is no doubt in the viewer’s mind that all will not end well. The fact that the fellows playing the trapped soldiers can carry the film so well is amazing. I was caught up in their quarrels and moments of near-companionship, and was rooting (rather hopelessly) for all of them. The story is absurd, but then so is life – especially in times of war…
The Concert (Dir. Radu Mihaileanu. Writ. Radu Mihaileanu, Matthew Robbins, and Alain-Michel Blanc. Stars Aleksey Guskov, Melanie Laurent, and Dmitri Nazarov. France/Russia, 2009.) This is another absurd story, but in this case it is REALLY absurd. Andrei is the cleaning man at the Bolshoi orchestra, but 30 years ago he was its renowned conductor. He was fired for refusing to let his Jewish musicians go. He intercepts an invitation from the Châtelet Theater in Paris and decides to gather together his former musicians and secretly go to perform in place of the current Bolshoi orchestra. The aged musicians, plucked from off the street, out of gypsy camps, from retirement homes and death’s door, head to Paris with instruments bought from some obscure source and on passports that were written up at the airport. (What?) Andrei insists that their soloist must be the young violin star Anne-Marie Jacquet, and she mysteriously agrees. Then with only a bit of further ado, they all wind up on stage and without a single rehearsal can suddenly play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major as perfectly as they did 30 years before. (What???) Okay, so there is the magic of destiny at work here, but it’s a rather long stretch. I wanted to believe in it, but couldn’t. Fortunately the concert part of The Concert is splendid. The piece sounds amazing – the violin solo especially – and the only real bit of wonder in the film is that Melanie Laurent looks like she is really and truly playing the violin. I was so impressed that I had to look it up, and it turns out that she petty much really did play, although in the film one of her hands was a stunt hand. In the end I rather liked this movie because of the lovely music – I just wish the story had been more believable.
Uncorked (Writ. & Dir. John Huddles. Stars Rufus Sewell, Minnie Driver, and Nigel Hawthorne. USA, 1998.) And a final absurd movie – I saw this one when I was 13 or so and really liked it. Since then I have tried to track it down again, but there is some confusion about the titles which made this difficult. It appears to have three titles – Uncorked was the VHS title, and the title I eventually came across on Netflix. Higher Love was the cable TV title, and it is listed on IMDb as At Sachem Farm. ??? Anyway, a re-watch proved it to be just as amusing as I remembered. Rufus Sewell plays Ross, the only “responsible” member of a family that includes Uncle Cullen, a would-be philosopher who likes to spends days on top of a giant pedestal, and his brother Paul, who disappeared into the further reaches of the family estate to build an arboretum and reappears only rarely to ask for more expensive trees. Ross wants to sell off the family’s nearly priceless wine collection so that he can purchase a (failed) mine which he believes could make him rich. His girlfriend (Minnie Driver) is growing tired of him and her eyes are drifting back toward their neighbor, a failed Olympic diver who was her first love. As Ross battles the eccentric plotting of his Uncle, who seems determined to foil his plans, and tries to set up his brother with the mysterious and beautiful guest whom his girlfriend brought along for a visit, he begins to sense that there are bigger forces at work around him. In causal, drop-by scenes full of overheard and fragmented conversations, the characters all grope to understand who they are and what they want from life, while the glorious Californian sun throws a warm glow over it all. The story is a bit understated, rather implausible, but in a funny charming way. My only complaint is that I found the music to be a distraction. Not that it was bad, it just didn’t seem to quite fit – although the part where Ross picks up his guitar and plays is awesome. Good stuff overall. I’m glad I found this one again.
Having sufficiently caught up on new and recent releases, I am hoping to watch a more eclectic mix of movies in the next few months. Although given my hefty reading plans for this month I may be cutting back on my movie intake somewhat. We’ll see!