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Monday, August 15, 2011

Movies July 21 to August 15, 2011

Fear and Trembling   2003  107 minutes   Amelie (Sylvie Testud) moves from Belgium back to Japan where she had lived until she was five.  She has a university teaching degree and speaks at least French, Japanese and English (The question of Flemish didn’t come up).  She lands a job in a large Japanese trading company but fails to fit into its corporate culture.  Eventually she ends up as the restroom attendant and refuses to let this humiliation make her resign.  She leaves when her one year contract is up, and returns to Belgium, where she becomes a successful novelist, belying the judgment of her Japanese bosses and colleagues that she is stupid.  For us outsiders, there is a lot to be learned here about how different the Japanese can be when they get to the office – I have eight years experience observing this, although never from inside a firm.  The film is based on an autobiographical novel by Amelie Nothomb.  The novel, Fear and Trembling, won France's Grand Prix de l'Academie Francaise and the Prix Internet du Livre, and is available in English
Source Code   2011   93 minutes   Don’t read further if you want to be surprised.  An American helicopter pilot is so badly injured in Afghanistan that he can exist only as a sort of consciousness hooked up to a computer.  He’s dead but he doesn’t know it, and he’s conscious only when he is being prepped for a mission.  The faux science here is that immediately after an event like an explosion there is an aura hanging about which can enable a “consciousness” like the pilot to experience what happened for about 8 minutes.  A commuter train has been destroyed by a bomb and it’s known that there is going to be another bomb, big and dirty.  The pilot is put into the head of a passenger on the train just before the explosion to identify the bomber so that the second bomb can be stopped.  The pilot goes in over and over until he figures it out.  In the reality in which we started, the train does blow up but the authorities are able to intercept the bomber.  But the pilot in his last 8 minute visit to the head of the passenger is able to defuse the bomb on the train, stop the bomber and get himself away with the girl he’s fallen in love with into an alternate reality.  He lives, but in a different body – the one that was blown up with the train.  Got it?
Season of the Witch   2011   113 minutes    What’s going on with Nicholas Cage?  Here we go again with the witchcraft, except this time it’s the devil himself – looking pretty good played by Claire Foy.  Cage is on his way back to Europe after years of swordplay as a crusader in Palestine and get sandbagged into carting a witch through the woods to an abbey for trial and execution.  It all goes downhill from there.  Interesting special effects when Foy shifts to wings, claws and fire breathing.
Unknown    2011   113 minutes    More faux science.  Liam Neeson tries to hold on to his identity as Dr. Martin Harris after a head injury in a serious taxi accident in Germany.  When he gets to his hotel after he gets out of the hospital, his wife is with another Dr. Harris and says she doesn’t recognize Neeson.  It turns out nobody was Dr. Harris or Mrs. Harris.  It was all a nefarious plot.  Neeson as faux Dr. Harris had to be replaced after the accident by another faux Dr. Harris.  The moral of the story is “Don’t mess with Liam Neeson.”
Croupier   1998   91 minutes    It’s always fun to watch the great stone face of Clive Owen.  He’s got writer’s block and takes a job as a croupier so he can watch the faces of the players.  His father tries to use him as an unwitting element in an elaborate scam.  It’s pretty complicated which is exactly what a good thriller should be.
The Turning Point   1977   119 minutes   Shirley McClaine as Dee Dee Rodgers gave up her ballet career to be a mom and a ballet teacher.  Anne Bancroft as Emma was DeeDee’s rival in her ballet company and stayed and became a star.  Now Dee Dee’s daughter Emilia is trying out with the company.  Dee Dee is wondering if she made the right life choice, and Emma is envying what Dee Dee has.  Two great stars playing imperfect but interesting people.
Picnic at Hanging Rock   1975   107 minutes    Teachers at an austere Australian boarding school take a group of students for a Valentine’s Day picnic at the mysterious hanging rock.  Three of the girls climb the rock and disappear.  One of them turns up a week later with almost no memory of what happened.  The other two are never found.  This was a real incident about 1905 and a real mystery.  No clear cut answers are offered.  Curiously, my neighbor was in Warsaw recently and brought back a Polish poster advertising this film.  The poster is gorgeous, as so many Polish posters are..
The Crucible   1996    123 minutes    I had never seen the play or the movie.  Two things struck me.  First, the austere sets for the movie and its depiction of the near misery that everyone lived in were probably accurate representations of life in late 17th C New England.  Second, the belief in witchcraft and the general hysteria which led to the hanging of 19 people are almost unbelievable.  Somehow this depiction of Salem seems just too black and white. The notes say that Miller meant this to be a parable of the 1950s anti-communist crusade.  There are surely common elements.
Jane Eyre   1996    116 minutes    I watched this so I could compare it with the new version which I will eventually get from Netflix.  No surprises.  We all know what happens.  The Netflix notes say this cemented director Franco Zeffirelli’s reputation as “a faithful custodian of he classics.”
Trainspotting   1996   93 minutes   I lasted about 5 minutes.  Who wants to watch people shooting up?
Seraphine   2008    120 minutes     Who wants to watch a half mad fat laundress parading around for two hours?  I do.  This is a great art film about a real artist, Serphine Louis or Seraphine of Senlis who was discovered and assisted by German art critic Wilhelm Unde, starting in 1913 when he took rooms at a house where she did the cleaning and laundry.  Naturally he lost track of her during WWI but he discovered her again in the 1920s, by which time her work had matured.  Unfortunately her mental problems eventually got the better of her and she died in an asylum in the 1940s.  I didn’t particularly like the artworks that I saw in the film, but I understand why a critic of the time would find them interesting.
Local Color   2006   107   Director George Gallo creates a story based loosely on his own experiences.  An 18 year old artist, John Talia, manages to befriend reclusive, alcoholic  landscape painter Nicoli Seroff who surprising then asks John to join him at his summer house in Pennsylvania.  John learns a lot about life and painting from Nicoli and perhaps Nicoli renews himself by seeing the world through John’s eyes.  The best scene is when Nicoli tricks an art critic and gallery owner into praising some abstract sketches before telling him they were done by the retarded students he sometimes teaches.  When Nicoli is asked to judge the local art show, he shows his contempt for abstract art by awarding first prize to a large standing fan and stomping out.  See this one.
Wall Street  1987   125 minutes   It was interesting to see this again, especially since the misbehavior depicted looks so tame compared to what we have seen lately.
Goal! The Dream Begins    2005   118 minutes    If you like futbol, see this film.  It’s the first of a trilogy. A young Mexican illegal named Santiago Munez is spotted  playing in LA by a British scout, Glen Foy.  The scout persuades him to come to England to try out for Newcastle United.  His father is opposed, but abuela puts up the plane fare and he slips back across the border to get a flight from Mexico to London.  His tryouts are a trial, but he makes it, of course.  The way the action scenes are created is fantastic.  They use real FIFA film and then reshoot bits and pieces with the actors to insert in the final cut..
Potiche  (Trophy Wife)    2010   103 minutes   Gerard Depardieu is so fat he could figure in “your mamma” jokes and Catherine Deneuve out jogging looks, well, dare I say it, ridiculous.  Suzanne Pujol’s domineering, sexist and incompetent husband has a heart attack and she takes over running the umbrella factory which had belonged to her father and grandfather.  She does better than her husband, of course, and clashes with the mayor and Marxist union boss and former lover Depardieu.  Her husband recovers and manages to recapture control of the company, so Suzanne runs against Depardieu for his seat in the National Assembly and wins.
The Company   2003   112 minutes    Robert Altman and Neve Cambell have done the best ballet film you will ever see.  It is a portrait of the Joffrey, but it is not a documentary.  All of the ballet sequences and practice sessions were shot for this film and directed by Altman.  There is a bit of plot as a young dancer tries to become a principal dancer and also have a life.  This is based on Campbell’s experiences at the National Ballet School of Canada.
The Lincoln Lawyer   2011   119 minutes    Matthew McConaughey wasn’t and still isn’t one of my favorite actors, but he makes an excellent sleazy lawyer.  He gets duped into defending a rich kid who is also a serial killer.  He soon finds that he and his ex and his daughter are in danger and he uses a bail bondsman and some biker friends whom he has defended from time to time to bail him out and does a little good at the end by proving that the rich kid killed a girl that one of his clients was doing time for.

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