Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Springtime Worth of New Films

It's been a long time since I have done this, even as basic a thing as a list of films seen - it's ridiculously long, really. The end of March. Time, I suppose, to get back into it. My excuse is gone - I could blame that WWII class - not now. The Euros? maybe, but still...

This is going to be simple - there is one important point about this spring - there is a vast, vast gap between the best films I have seen and the rest. Most of the rest, that is - there are actually some first rate films in this list, that probably deserve more attention than this. But having not done this forever, I think it wise to just plow through it, and try to come back to the more recent films, especially the two that really floored me... off we go!

Chico And Rita - 9/15 - animated film about a pianist who meets a singer, romances her, writes her songs, and so on - they are a hit, they are lovers, but they keep breaking up, over miscellaneous nonsense and jealous Americans. Set in Cuba - features quite magnificent music, and neat looking animation, though the story seems a bit awkward and forced. Lovely to look at and listen to, though.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - 11/15 - half forgot I saw this - it's a good film though - fractured tale of a mother whose son has done something unthinkable (murdered a bunch of classmates - and his father and sister as well). Plays mostly as a nasty comedy about child-rearing as horror movie, like Erasorhead - though it gets more serious t the end (when it also abandons a lot of the jumping around in time...) Quite effective piece of filmmaking, to be honest.

Mirror Mirror - 9/15 - Tarsem does Snow White, with Julia Roberts as the evil stepmother. Starts from the stepmother's perspective, but mostly drops it, for better or worse. snow white - starts fromt he stepmopther's perspective, but Snow White takes over. Falls in with dwarves who teach her to fight so she becomes a rebel. AS one would expect from Tarsem, it is gorgeous looking, and rather witty as well, though some of the dialogue gets a bit forced. An amusing trifle in the end.

Kid With the Bike - 12/15 - Another very fine film I saw and haven't thought about since, really. The Dardennes brothers, doing their usual thing - here following a boy whose in a home after his father disappeared on him. The kid keeps running away - he meets a woman who helps him after a while, but he's still obsessed with his father and hanging out with a bad crowd - things go wrong. But then, they get a little better - or worse - or better... It is very much like their other films, same settings, same types of characters, same tendency to spend the whole film chasing someone who seems to be running for their life. It is a fine career the brothers have mapped out, rich and detailed and precise and always well worth seeing.

The Deep Blue Sea - 11/15 - Terrence Davies melodrama (though not a tragedy, not sophocles) about a married woman who meets a young man and falls hopelessly in love with him - though he only sort of likes her. Looping around through the end and beginning of their affair... An unknown woman story all the way down, with its inadaquate men. And - seeing in the middle of all those WWII films highlights the degree to which it is a post-war story - it's 1950, but Freddy lives in 1941 (in 1950) - and the film is shot through with hints of the lingering devastation of the war. A fantastic closing shot that just nails it - the heroine looks out her window, Davies cuts outside, see her in the window, the landlady bringing in the milk, and the camera tracks along the street and stops on a bombed out house where some kids are playing. The first we've seen of that ruin, but we can guess how much of the misery we have seen is a result of the war. All told, a lush and beautiful movie, anchored by Rachel Weisz' outstanding performance.

Five Year Engagement - 10/15 - nice rom com about a chef and student who get engaged, then she gets a job in Michigan - what will they do? He goes, he sinks, she rises, they break up, but get back together again in the end. It's an interesting story, some neat ideas, and well written and acted, but there is just nothing to look at! Why can't films like this hire fucking directors? The material is good enough if someone with any sense of style tried it, it would come out fine.

This is Not a Film - 12/15 - something made in Jafar Panahi's house while under house arrest, waiting to be sentenced. He calls a friend over, who shoots him, reading from a script he'd written, half acting bits of it out - the story of a girl who is accepted in university but her parents won't let her go. They lock her up - the drama takes place in her house - a grandmother who visits, a sister who can't come in because the door is locked, a boy outside she falls for, but he's not what he seems - he's an "agent" says Panahi. (This is based on Chekhov, he says.) He only gets so far in this - if you could tell a film, why would you make one? he says. So it turns to criticism - how the unpredictablity of actors gives you more than his direction could; how the location, for example, creates emotion as much as the acting or story. Eventually, he starts shooting the cameraman shooting him - when the cameraman leaves, he shoots the man collecting garbage in the apartment - and shoots the fireworks outside through the door... All this, for all its constraints, is a pretty typical Panahi film, does all the things he talks about. The set certainly directs for him; the world impinges on the film - here, the sound of fireworks all day long, though it takes a while for him to tell us what day it is - Iranians probably would understand, though it's not guaranteed. The way he takes off his cast - like the girl in Mirror - is to the point. He does it more than once - addressing the camera directly; giving up on retelling the script; then bringing the cameraman and the man in the elevator into the film. It's pretty close to a great film - or whatever it is, if not a film...

Dark Shadows - 9/15 - somewhere along about the end of April, the world seemed to have run out of films. So since then, I have seen Damsels in Distress (which is going to get its own post) and Moonrise Kingdom (ditto) half a dozen times between them - while looking for other films to see as well. It's not easy - there hasn't been much to catch my eye. A new Tim Burton, though - all right - worth a shot, huh? maybe. Amusing enough, but kind of dopey, and what is there to say about it?

Bernie - 10/15 - Richard Linklater directs Jack Black - a part true-crime, part fake documentary, about a funeral director who murders an old woman. It's Jack Black's film (along with Matthew McConaughey, who steals his scenes) - singing, charming the old ladies, caring for the dead, directing plays... It's good - it's clever - but it's just a film.

The Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists (or, in the USA, land of the god-bothering nitwits, Band of Misfits) - 9/15 - amusing claymation tale, a bit silly and somewhat less than it could have been. A Pirate captain wants to be pirate of the year, but he is a failure - but he has a dodo for a parrot, and Charles Darwin is impressed - so they go to London, win prizes, but he sells his soul - and has to save the day... Plenty of fun, for the jokes, especially the visual jokes (the end credits might be better than the whole film), but I don't think I can say much more for it...

And so? that brought us up to Memorial Day - a good place to stop for the moment...

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