Posted by: Sally Ingraham | December 14, 2011

Movie Mayhem: Autumn 2011

I had trouble narrowing down the movies I wanted to focus on for this post. It was a particularly eclectic season of movie watching, and while I did knock out some of the summer and fall blockbusters (Contagion, X-Men: First Class, Bridesmaids, Green Lantern, Captain America: The First Avenger, Puss in Boots, Limitless) I also got to see a lot of lesser-known/foreign movies. As usual, Reel Pizza Cinerama had a great autumn lineup, and twas the season of MIFF-by-the-Sea, so in late September I had access to a particularly good batch of international/independent films. (For past MIFF-by-the-Sea movie reviews see here and here.)

Out of 38 titles, detailed below are the movies that I found to be the most interesting in one way or another – but I’ll at least point you in the direction of a couple more that are worth checking out: In Good Time: The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland, Falling Overnight, Sarah’s Key, The Woodlanders, and The Good The Bad The Weird (see L’s review of that last one here).

uncle boonmeeUncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Writ. & Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Stars Thanapat Saisaymer, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, and Natthakarn Aphaiwonk. Thailand, 2010)
This movie defies explanation. It is a jumble of long, long, slooooowwwww scenes that sketch in the events surrounding Uncle Boonmee’s death, and his memories of his past lives. What it is about, really, is elusive. Easily the strangest movie I have seen or probably will see this year. Combining dream sequences, more or less fanciful, with elements of the real and the spirit world, the story creeps. A friend of mine saw it first and came to me in almost wrathful frustration, insisting that I watch it so that I could share her disquiet. Almost guiltily, I found myself utterly captivated by it. While some of the sequences left me with a quizzical eyebrow raised, others brought tears to my eyes, or something close to laughter. There was something wondrous about the matter-of-fact interactions of the living characters with the ghosts of dead loved ones and spirits of nature, and the gentle, beekeeping Uncle Boonmee seemed enviably in tune with his surroundings and with his past lives. The scenery of Northern Thailand is a lush and beautiful bonus. The greatest difficulty the film presents is really just sitting through it and giving in to its non-linear bizarreness. Having arrived at a suitably contemplative attitude, I believe this film can stir the strangeness within you. This NYT review strikes me as spot on, so do give it a scan through. On a completely non-serious note, the glowing-red-eyed ape men in the movie instantly reminded me of the Rat Creatures from Jeff Smith’s Boneville comics – which is completely unfair, but continued to crack me up as the movie progressed. So maybe my moments of laughter had more to do with that than the actual movie – but I’m pretty sure the scene with amorous catfish was hilarious without any help from:

I kind of want to go read Bone now instead of finishing this post...

route132Route 132 (Dir. Louis Belanger. Writ. Louis Belanger and Alexis Martin. Stars Francois Papineau and Alexis Martin. Canada, 2010)
This was my favorite of this year’s MIFF-by-the-Sea movies. Immediately following the accidental death of his young son, unable to cope or face his ex-wife, Gilles embarks on a spontaneous crime-spree with his old friend Bob. Spiraling into a sort of roadtrip movie, the story is a series of encounters with people and places along the south shore of the St. Laurence river in Quebec. Robbing small town ATMs and churches in order to get by, the pair both end up examining their lives and the string of actions that have brought them to the present moment, ultimately making decisions that will abruptly change the course of their futures. Although it lacks anything really unexpected and presents no especially new perspectives on grief or the choices that end up defining a person, the movie contains some strikingly beautiful moments that I have daydreamed about frequently since seeing it. A rather lovely, sad film.

the tripThe Trip (Dir. Michael Winterbottom. Stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. UK, 2010)
The line between fact and fiction blurs in this movie about a trip that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon took together, touring round the north of England at the request of The Observer, sampling food at some of the country’s finest restaurants. Originally Coogan had arranged to go with his girlfriend, but when that fell through he was “forced” to take his best friend and source of constant headache, Brydon. The story is very likely entirely a work of fiction, but these two brilliant comic actors are completely natural and sound unscripted and unrehearsed. The running joke between them of who can mimic Michael Caine the best doesn’t even get old (although it is endless), since their constant bickering never seems forced. The movie touches on the realities of the life of working entertainers, interspersing details from the actors’ (fabricated?) personal lives and gently prodding the various types of sacrifices and self-indulgences they endure. Charming and bawdy and serious by turns, ridiculous at times, and always, always returning to the underlying humor in life. Over hill and over dale, laughing (or at least chuckling) all the way.

ironcladIronclad (Writ. & Dir. Jonathin English. Stars James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, and Kate Mara. UK, 2011)
So, essentially this is not a great or even a good movie – but it had a couple of elements that I really enjoyed. Slightly based on historical events, it is set in 13th century England, right after the signing of the Magna Carta by vile King John. Having gathered an army and reneged his word, he is attempting to take his kingdom back and take revenge on the barons who quelled him into submission. A mysterious lone Knight Templar and a motley group of mercenaries led by one of the more determined of those original barons try to hold Rochester Castle against King John king john(Paul Giamatti, in one of his more manic and wild-eyed performances). As Caroline pointed out in the review that piqued my interest in the movie, there is a nice Battle of the Hornburg aspect (admittedly, the detail from her review that made me actually watch the movie – what an LOTR sucker I am and will ever be!) to the desperate bravery of the men in the midst of a seemingly hopeless siege. Tolerably good performances from an interesting mix of actors, beefed up with good action sequences involving lots of hacking with swords and shooting of bows, deteriorates into an almighty gore-fest (nabbing Caroline’s phraseology). I have seen nasty things happen to people in movies (Valhalla Rising leaps to mind) but the prize for most gruesome has to be handed over to this movie. A month later, I’m still feeling squeamish about that, um, part. Yikes. However, the other thing that keeps coming back to me about the movie is the rather excellent cinematography. There were some very pretty shots. These, combined with a fairly interesting cast, lift the movie a bit out of the muck. Certainly not for the weak-stomached, and really, there are so many other (more historically accurate) medieval war movies that you could watch. Yet, for some reason, I kind of liked this one. Take what you can from that.

Sadly lacking from Ironclad: elves on skateboards (artwork by skygazer888)

man from nowhereThe Man From Nowhere (Writ. & Dir. Jeong-beom Lee. Stars Bin Won. South Korea, 2010)
Something about the kid next door touches the heart of a cold, mysterious pawnshop keeper. When she gets kidnapped by the drug-trafficking organization that owns her mother, Tae-shik’s wrath is of the Arctic chill type. Cool and calculating, he systematically obliterates everyone in his path on his way to rescuing Somi. While the story is not particularly original (similarities to Leon abound), it is interesting in both its understated and its overblown elements. The action sequences are intense, violent, clever, sometimes oddly beautiful, and the camera takes time to linger on faces so you can see the slow smolder of emotion. Sae-ron Kim is lovely as Somi, wise for her years, with eyes that speak volumes. Bin Won’s performance as the Man from Nowhere was excellent. He had all the flashy moves, but he was also in full command of a character who used hardly any words (and relied for a good portion of the movie on only half of his face to portray his thoughts and feelings!)
man from nowhere 2
There is a little more to this movie than your average martial arts extravaganza. But since I seem to be running out of the words to do it justice, I’ll point you to L’s stellar review. Suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

And there’s my autumn viewing for you. Many thanks once again to L and Caroline for your movie recommendations!


  1. It is gory, isn’t it? It takes a lot to actually make me say a movie is too gory but I had to close my eyes more that once. This one and Far North… Closely followed by Valhalla Rising. But still worth watching, especially the last two, so thanks to you for recommending that.
    I think I’d love to see The Trip and The Man From Nowhere.
    I remembered one movie that I liked a lot Henri de Navarre. I had the opportunity to do a giveaway and get a review copy and liked it a great deal.

    • It was L who reviewed Valhalla Rising and got my attention, so I’d say that the three of us are becoming a great little movie-recommendation team! 🙂

      Yeah, Ironclad was a bit too serious about focusing on the nitty gritty details. Gak! But there were things I liked – as you said, it took a minute to adjust to Giamatti as King John, but I really enjoyed his performance in the end. Found it pretty funny, actually. The casting was super fun – nearly everyone was a familiar face, although lesser known actors. Even the leader of the Viking army was someone I knew – he was in The 13th Warrior. Anyway, what it lacked in historical accuracy was certainly made up for in enthusiasm! 🙂

  2. glad you enjoyed the film’s recommended.
    saw that Iron Clad available on Netflix and we thought, good cast. but more gruesome than Valhalla Rising… now I’m nervous. skateboarding elves would have off-set the dark and bloody for sure.
    We had also considered Uncle Boonmee and shall definitely give it a go now. I find slow films less frustrating when I’ve been warned first. we’ll have to find the right evening…and well, if there are creatures like the rat creatures, I’ll want to see that.

    • I think the fact that my friend had prepped me for Uncle Boonmee made my own experience of it do much better, so I definitely agree that the slow movies can be taken in stride if you know what to expect. And that one is sloooooowww. After you see it, please tell me if you can think of a movie that surpasses it, pacing-wise!

      Ironclad simply doesn’t spare the audience. Unless you cover your own eyes, no convenient soldier’s back will block your view of the descending sword’s actual hit. Squee!! But it’s still worth seeing. Not as worth it as Valhalla Rising was perhaps…

      Speaking of convenience, I believe The Two Towers is the only LOTR movie available on Netflix instant – which is great, ’cause now I want to rewatch it. Skateboarding elves, please!

  3. Did you ever get to watch Far North? Speaking of gruesome. That ending still haunts me…

    • No I haven’t seen it – on the list. I looked it up just now and was surprised to see that Sean Bean is in it. I had forgotten. Might have to push it closer to the top of the pile!

  4. A friend of mine saw it first and came to me in almost wrathful frustration, insisting that I watch it so that I could share her disquiet.

    OK, in addition to chuckling at your turn of phrase here, I actually find this kind of condemnation to be a reliable indicator that I WILL enjoy the film, surprisingly often. Or maybe not that surprising, given how fickle and contrary I am, haha. Seriously, I’m very interested in Uncle Boonmee. Your description kind of reminds me of Kurosawa’s Dreams.

  5. I’ve been meaning to watch Dreams. Thanks for the reminder. I think you would definitely like Uncle Boonmee – and it would be a good addition to your Disgust Project.

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