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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sixty-Five Movie Reviews

Somehow since the middle of August I haven't been able to do my write-ups as fast as I saw the movies, so here are 65 films, some of which I watched all the way through and some of which were boring or unpleasant or whatever.  Some day I'll fold in my previous posts and turn this one into an archive.

Amazing Grace   2006   111 minutes.   A beautiful film portraying the events that led to the abolition of the slave trade.  See it.
Ararat  2002  115 minutes   This is a film about making a film about the Armenian genocide.  It’s an amazing dramatization of what the Turks did to the Armenians and along with that you get the current Turkish denials that it ever happened, their displeasure that anyone would dare say otherwise, and their efforts to block any publication or dramatization of events of 1915-1918.  It was the equivalent of Rwanda and Bosnia and denying this is unforgivable.  An there’s a lot more here, including Gorky.
Autumn Spring  2001  95 minutes   This is 95 minutes of fun as two Czech pensioners run not-for-profit  scams like pretending to be a rich conductor looking to buy a castle or an estate.  They do try to get a free lunch.  Frantisek is married and drives his wife crazy because some of his schemes end up costing money.  When his bachelor partner in pranks dies, he tries to stay home and do things with his wife.  Eventually she replaces his partner and finds as much reward in pranks as her husband.
Batman: Under the Red Hood   2010  75 minutes   Yes it’s another comic book and animated.  Robin was supposedly dead, but he isn’t and comes back to compete with Batman.  Stay away unless you like comic books.  Obviously I do.  Unfortunately, I’m usually disappointed.  This one was OK.
The Beaver  2011  91 minutes   Sorry, but I really like Mel Gibson.  Throw in Jodie Foster as co-star and director and you’ve got a movie.  Gibson plays a toy company exec suffering from severe depression.  He uses a hand puppet to try to open up to his family.  This was pretty good but dark and sad.
Bella  2006  90 minutes   Nina shows up for work late and Manny, the owner, fires her.  As she leaves, Jose, Manny’s brother and the cook, leaves with her and takes her home to meet the family in their home at the beach.  Nina is pregnant and tells Jose she isn’t ready for a baby and needs someone to go with her to the abortion clinic.  We don’t see what happens the next day but instead see Jose a couple of years later playing with his adopted daughter, Bella.  Nina drives up in a taxi and the three of them, Jose, Nina and Nina’s daughter, Bella, walk away from us along the beach.  See it.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt   2009  105 minutes   Michael Douglas is a corrupt D.A. who falsifies evidence to boost his conviction rate.  To trap Douglas, a young reporter sets himself up as the prime suspect in a murder he didn’t commit.  Douglas gets wind of it and destroys the evidence that would exonerate him.  Read no farther if you like surprises.  It turns out the reporter actually did commit the murder.  I sort of saw that coming.
Bill Cunningham New York   2010  84 minutes   Bill Cunningham was one of several artists who lived in subsidized apartments in Carnegie Hall for many years.  When they eventually had to move, he had the kitchen removed from his new flat to make room for his file cabinets containing god know how many photographs.  His whole life has been spent chronicling Manhattan fashions and the nightlife of the rich and famous and the clothes of ordinary people he saw on the street.  He was 80 when the film was shot and still cruising around New York on his bicycle as he went about his work.  He has never eaten a meal at home and has never had any kind of romantic connection.  When an interviewer asked him if he was gay, he couldn’t answer and it became clear that he couldn’t deal with that kind of question about his personal life.  He has hundreds, maybe thousands of friends but has always lived alone.  His whole existence is wrapped up in recording what New York wears.  His work appears in two photo columns in the Sunday New York Times, “Evening Hours” and “On the Street.”  He’s absolutely charming.
Bridesmaids   2011  125 minutes   I really like Kristen Wiig but….  I lasted about 5 minutes before I put this turkey back in its Netflix envelope and sealed it up
Brothers  (Brodre) 2005  117 minutes   This one will rip your heart out.  A Danish major arrives in Afghanistan for a second tour and is immediately captured.  After some weeks he is forced by his captors to kill another Danish prisoner or be killed himself.  He is eventually liberated and returns to Denmark, but he is unable to deal with his experience and comes apart.  This is PTS syndrome in the pluperfect.
Captain America: The First Avenger   2011  125 minutes   OK, so I watch some of the movies based on comic books.  If they’re all as bad as this one, maybe I’ll stop.
Center Stage   1999  116 minutes  I really like ballet movies and I liked this one.  12 students train for a year with the American Ballet Company for a chance at selection to three permanent positions with the company.  The dancing is pleasant, the story lines are quite good – the girl with the horrible mother doesn’t make the cut and is delighted.
Charlie Chaplin:  The Forgotten Years   2003   This is a documentary about his life in Switzerland after he was forced to leave the US.  Well worth seeing.
Charlotte Gray  2001  121 minutes   Cate Blanchett plays a Scottish woman whose pilot boyfriend gets shot down over France in WW II.  She speaks perfect French and volunteers to be dropped into France to work with the resistance.   She hopes to find her boyfriend while she’s there.  She doesn’t find him but she accidently meets up with him back in England after the war.  He’s been back for a while and hasn’t tried to find her.  She takes off for France to find the resistance leader with whom she almost had a romance.
Client 9:  The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer   2010  117 minutes   It’s an excellent documentary.  I didn’t know much about Spitzer’s time in Albany and this helped fill in a few holes.  What a shame.  All that potential wasted.
The Conspirator   2010   122 minutes   This is pretty serious history and well worth seeing.  James McAvoy plays a young lawyer who tries to get Mary Surratt acquitted of charges of conspiracy to murder Abraham Lincoln.  He does the best he can in a losing battle.  The recreation of Washington in 1865 is reason enough to see this film.  Directed by Robert Redford.
The Cool School   2007  86 minutes  A documentary about two men who created the Los Angeles modern art market.  O.K.
Date Night  2010   102 minutes   If you are ever tempted to take someone else’s reservation while waiting in a crowded restaurant, don’t..  Tina Fey and Steve Carell, a couple from suburban New Jersey, do and are mistaken for a couple in trouble with some very bad people.  They handle it very well and bring down a high official in NYC and the organized crime types he works with.  If only Mark Wahlberg would keep his shirt on.
Doctor Zhivago  2002  Miniseries   This British remake of the 1965 film is almost as engrossing as the original.  After I watched it, I skimmed through the 1965 version.  The story differs in some details.  In the 2002 version Lara is taken by the NKVD at the end.
The Emperor’s Club   2002  109 minutes   Kevin Kline plays a prep school classics teacher who tries to mentor Sedgewick, the troubled son of a Senator.  The boy starts to do excellent work and is runner up in an oral classics competition.  He could have done well honestly but he cheated.  25 years later Sedgewick is rich and successful and wants to rerun the competition.  Kline is retired but agrees to preside and pose the questions.  The now grown up boy cheats again.  Kline smokes it out and gives Sedgewick a question that he is sure neither Sedgewick nor the graduate student in the back of the hall helping him can answer.  Somehow the cynicism of the adult Sedgewick made me think of all those swells on Wall Street giving each other fat bonuses for creating economic disaster.
Fugitive Pieces   2007   106 minutes   A 12 year old Jewish boy sees his parents murdered by the Nazis and his sister abducted.  He escapes into the woods where he is found by a Greek archeologist, who takes him back to Greece and hides him during the Nazi occupation there.  After the war they emigrate to Canada, where the boy eventually has to cope with the horror of what he experienced.  See it.
The Game  1997  128 minutes  Michael Douglas plays an intense San Francisco banker.  For his birthday, his dissolute, no good brother gives him an intro to “the game.”  This is an organization that promises to provide each client with a memorable experience.   Things quickly get out of hand and it becomes clear that the game is a monstrous scam – all his and his clients’ money disappears from his bank accounts.   People shoot at him.  He almost dies being chased when he runs his car into the Bay.  Or is it a scam?
The Ghost Writer  2010  128 minutes   Ewan McGregor plays a ghost writer hired to work on the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister.   They are at work in the PM’s borrowed house on an island off the Maine coast when the writer discovers some disturbing secrets about the PM and his wife.  This is a first rate thriller so I won’t say more, except that Roman Polanski always comes through.
Goal! 2: Living the Dream   2007   116 minutes   This is the second in a trilogy about a young Mexican player who gets his chance playing for Newcastle and then moves on to Real Madrid.  I would have liked more soccer and less soap, but still it’s quite good.  The intriguing thing is that the film makers use real footage except when they are showing close-ups of the actors.
The Great Raid   2005  132 minutes   I’m not sure it’s entertainment when the movie documents real events what happened in Japanese prison camps in the Philippines, but this one is well done.  It’s a bit of history we all need to remember.
A Handful of Dust  1988  113 minutes   After almost 60 years, I didn’t remember much about this Evelyn Waugh novel except the ending.  Lord Tony Last invites a suave but destitute socialite for a weekend, which leads to the breakup of his until then idyllic marriage.  He takes off for some exploring in South America, gets deliriously ill in the jungle and is abandoned by his local crew.  He is saved by a good Samaritan, Alec Guinness, only to realize later that he is a prisoner doomed to remain in the jungle and read Dickens to Guinness for the rest of his life.
Hanna  2011   111 minutes   Hanna is a teenager raised in a Finnish forest near the arctic circle and trained by her father to be an assassin.  At 16 she is sent on her first mission.  Things don’t go quite right in North Africa and she escapes by adopting a rather flaky English family.  She has never been exposed to a family before nor to a girl her own age.  It gives the film a second track that is as interesting as the assassin bit.  So she leaves the family finally and heads to Berlin to meet her father there as instructe.  I9n Berlin Hanna and her father are pursued separately by a CIA operative, Cate Blanchett.  It’s about as exciting a chase sequence as can be imagined.  I read a bunch of other reviews, all of them more complete than this note.  Google them.  They were excellent.
Henry’s Crime   2010  108 minutes   Henry, a toll booth worker in Buffalo, (Keanu Reeves) takes the wrap for a bank robbery he didn’t commit to avoid ratting out his “friends.”  When he gets out, he decides to do the robbery and hatches an elaborate scheme to tunnel into the bank from a neighboring theater.  Things get complicated when he meets and falls in love with Vera Farmiga and becomes the leading man in a Chekov play she is rehearsing in the theater.  This one is great fun.
The Hours   2002  114 minutes   I had forgotten I had seen this before.  The director meant for people to see it more than once to get multiple readings from it.  I didn’t like it any better the second time, but who can resist Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep living parallel lives.  In the Bonus Features I learned that Kidman wore a prosthesis on her nose to look more like Virginia Woolf.  Her appearance and the way she carries herself is truly amazing.  The film is a must see.
Howling with Angels   2006   42 minutes  You can skip this one.  Filmaker Jean Bodon tells the story of his father, Jan, a Czechoslovakian Jew who joined the Czech resistance and survived.  Somehow it felt like self-promotion.  There are better films for expanding your knowledge of the horrors of WW II.
Howl’s Moving Castle  (Hauru no ugoku shiro)   2004 119 minutes   A Hayao Miyazaki  animated children’s film from an American or English book, voiced by Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Christian Bale and others.  18 year old Sophie is tuned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste.  She wanders until she finds the moving castle of a wizard named Howl.  Eventually a happy ending.
I Am Dina  2002  122 minutes    The whole film is shot against the stark background of a Norwegian fjord.  It would be hard to imagine more drama.  After a young girl accidentally causes the death of her mother  in boiling whey, her father throws her out.  Dina (Marie Bonnevie) survives, marries an older man and it works out well.  He leaves his business to her instead of his two sons.  And ther is a love affair with a Russian revolutionary.  The Scandinavians seem to make one good film after another.
Independent Lense: Paul Conrad: Drawing Fire   2006  55 minutes  I knew Conrad when I was a 15 year old copy boy at the Denver Post and he was a young cartoonist rapidly gaining national recognition.  A very nice guy.  Tom Brokaw narrates this documentary.  Put him right beside Herblock.
Jane Eyre  2011  121 minutes   The story doesn’t make any better sense this time than in previous versions, but it’s not a bad way to spend two hours.
Letter’s to Juliet  2010   105 minutes  Apparently volunteers in Verona actually do try to answer the letters left at the Capulet house that has been set up to amuse the tourists.  I dropped in when I went there and noticed that the shiniest part of Juliet’s statue was her breast, which seems to get fondled by many visitors.  So in the story, a young woman on a pre-honeymoon finds a letter that had been behind a loose brick for 50 years.  She takes it to the letter writing people and they ask her to answer it.  She does and the woman who wrote the original letter turns up in Verona to look for her lost love of 50 years ago.  It’s a good storey and a chance to tour a lot of Italian countryside.
The Lost Battalion  2001  100 minutes   On Oct. 2, 1918, the men of the U.S. Army’s 77th Division, 308th Battalion, were surrounded by the Germans in the Argonne Forest.  Without food, water or much ammunition they held off the Germans until rescued.  It’s a true story brilliantly recreated.
The Man Who Cried   2000  100 minutes   A Russian Jew leaves his mother and young daughter when he emigrates to America in 1927.  He intends to send for them as soon as he is established but learns that the village was burned in a pogrom and everyone killed.  Almost everyone was, but the little girl survived and ended up a refugee in England.  Like her father, she sings beautifully and when she is grown up enough to be played by Christina Ricci she has a singing job in Paris with a group of English entertainers.  She has a romance with a gypsy leader played by Johnny Depp, but when the Nazi’s arrive in Paris it is time for both of them to leave on their separate paths to survival.  She gets to America and is reunited with her father on his death bed.
Marshall University: Ashes to Glory  2000  118 minutes  Its archival footage and recreations to tell the story of how a young coach and five players built a winning team just one year after the whole Marshall team and its coaches were killed in a plane crash.  It’s a pretty good story.  Football was important not only to the university but also to the towns people.  In the wake of the Penn State debacle, maybe schools should be shifting their emphasis and loyalties toward academics.
The Miracle Match (The Game of their Lives)  2005  101 minutes   The recreation of club soccer c. 1950 in Baltimore and St. Louis, is really well done.  From these two sources and players from Eastern colleges, a world cup team was pulled together on a shoestring and went to Brazil and won, beating both Brazil on the way up and the Brits in the final.
Munich  2005  164 minutes  This was my second time through this long movie.  The Israeli’s manage to kill about half of the terrorists who killed the Israel athletes at the Munich Olympics.  Spielberg’s dramatization of how they did it is fascinating, but the real story is what the operation did to the Israeli team leader and his men.  It ain’t pretty.
Nostalgia for the Light  2010  90 minutes  I thought mixing the story of astronomy in Chile with the aftermath of its brutal political past was a failure.
Open Your Eyes  1997  117 minutes  This is all just too confusing.  There’s a full explanation at   Eduardo Noreiga is Cesar, a rich womanizer who falls in love with Sofia (Penelope Cruz).  Who wouldn’t?  After he spends the night at Sofia’s flat, his wife picks him up and on the way home crashes the car.  She is killed and he is horribly disfigured.  When the director is Alejandro Amenabar, things are bound to be confusing.  I guess I enjoyed this.
The Other Side of Sunday  (Søndagsengler)  1996  103 minutes   A coming of age story for a strict preacher’s daughter in a Norwegian village.  It was o.k.
The Painted Veil  2006  125 minutes   Air headed Naomi Watts marries serious scientist Edward Norton and goes off with him to Shanghai where she has an affair with a stuffy guy from the British Consulate and gets pregnant.  Norton forces her to accompany him to a distant and backward province where he is to fight a cholera epidemic.  She eventually gets with the program, but as they begin to reconcile, he dies of cholera.  It’s not pretty, but the recreation of China before WW II alone would make this worth seeing.
Passchendaele   2008  114 minutes   Paul Gross is new to me but his name is all over this film and he plays the lead, Michael, who comes home to Canada wounded in WW I.  He falls in love with his nurse and when her asthmatic and wimpy younger brother enlists, Michael enlists under another name to go along with the boy and protect him.  He does protect him but comes home in a box and never sees the infant he left behind in utero.   The recreation of trench warfare is very well done.  That had to be the worst war of all.
The Perfect Game   2009  117 minutes   Another true story.  In 1957 a former towel boy for the St. Louis Cardinals put together a team of impoverished youth in Monterrey, Mexico and brought them to the U.S. to see how far they could get in competition for the Little League World Series.  They became the first foreign to win the series and their pitcher threw a perfect game in the final.  It’s almost unbelievable.
Pirates of the Caribbean:  On Stranger Tides   2011  136 minutes    Can you see Penelope Cruz with a moustache?  She’s impersonating Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).  They go off looking for the fountain of youth, and obviously they found it because they are still around making movies.  Maybe I saw this on grounds that I would see anything with Johnny Depp.  It’s funny enough but a bit long.
Pompeii:  The Last Day  2003  50 minutes   This tells the story of the eruption from the point of view of several people who were known to have been there, including Pliny the Elder.  They didn’t survive, but the film imagines what they experienced.  In Pliny’s case there is a record of what he did just before he sailed into the area of the eruption.  The special effects are pretty good.   Recently I read and reviewed  Robert Harris’s  Pompeii.    Hedre is that review: Marcus Attilius is sent from Rome to Pompei to replace the missing engineer responsible for maintaining the aqueduct originating in Serino to supply water to towns around the Bay of Naples and to Pompeii and Nola through branch lines.  It’s a good story of conspiracy and graft which Attilius unravels as he works to repair a stoppage in the line just before Vesuvius blows its top.  He and Pliny the Elder cooperate to advance knowledge of volcanic eruptions, and he saves the daughter of the bad guy in Pompeii by taking her underground in the empty aqueduct.  Apparently there really was a water stoppage problem caused by the ground heaving a few days before the eruption.   One wonders how many of the other plot details are based on archeological finds.  If you are curious about the aqueduct, there is a long article on it at:
Proof   2005  99 minutes   It doesn’t seems too exciting to say that a film is about the brilliance and madness of a mathematician  and the difficulties his daughter has dealing with it.  I don’t want to go into the plat other than to say that it is ingenious, so let me just say you get what you pay for when you go to see three great actors, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Quintet  1979  118 minutes   I was rubbing my hands in anticipation of seeing Robert Altman directing Paul Newman, Vittorio Gassman, Bibi Anderson and other bright lights.  What a turkey or maybe existential and post-apocalyptic just ain’t for me.  It’s a frozen world in which firewood is the most prized commodity and they play a five sided game in which a player who makes a mistake gets murdered.
Radio  2003  109 minutes   Ed Harris, the high school football coach, befriends a developmentally disabled young guy nicknamed “Radio.” Played by Cuba Gooding Jr.   Radio is barely functional when the coach first approaches him, but gradually opens up.  Letting him help with the football team changes Radio’s life, and he ultimately inspires the townspeople to think differently about being different.  The film is based on the life of James Robert Kennedy who spent his whole adult life as an honorary 11th grader at the local high school.
Red Dragon   2002  124 minutes   A Silence of the Lambs prequel.  Edward  Norton plays the FBI man who put Hannibal Lector away – after Lector nearly killed him.  He has quit the FBI but agrees to come back to advise on evidence of another serial killer.  Despite his supposed isolation, Lector has been advising this new guy played by Ralph Fiennes and seems to be the only one who can help Norton track him down.  This is a scary movie.
The Robber  (Der Räuber)  2010  97 minutes   Another movie based on a true story.  An Austrian marathoner tries his hand at robbing banks, gets caught, gets paroled, and then kills his parole officer so he can keep running.  It doesn’t end well for him.
Royal Deceit  (Prince of Jutland)  1994  85 minutes  This is a retelling of Hamlet but with a rougher, more Viking feel.  It has Christian Bale, Helen Mirren and Kate Beckinsale.  It was o.k.
The Sea is Watching  2002  118 minutes   The movie is based on a script by Akira Kurosawa and chronicles the lives of two women at a brothel in ancient Japan.  It’s very well done.
Slapstick Masters: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Monty Banks, Laurel & Hardy   1917 4 episodes  What’s there is funny, but  the episodes are screwed up some how.  I never found Monty Banks or Laurel & Hardy
Smilla’s Sense of Snow   1997  121 minutes   This is exciting and Julia Ormond is wonderful to watch (I first saw her as the young Catherine the Great and was much impressed) but this film has a science fiction twist that just turned me off.
The Snow Walker   2003  105 minutes   Charlie Halliday is a wise ass bush pilot in northern Canada, who does his job well and does a number of things on the side.  During one unauthorized stop, he agrees to transport a critically ill Inuit woman to a hospital.  Before they get back to an area where a search might logically find them, they crash.  At first he leaves her in the hope of finding a settlement quickly.  He doesn’t and almost dies before he gets back to her.  Together, his strength and her knowledge of survival on the tundra, they survive for a time and he learns to respect her world.  Eventually she dies and it is the skills she taught him that enable him to find a settlement and live.
Starz Inside:  Fog City Mavericks   2007  120 minutes  This is a documentary about Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and other filmmakers based in and around San Francisco who chose to buck the Hollywood system and make innovative movies that broke the studios molds – Lucas was told no one would want to see a film like Star Wars.  I came away with a long list of films I want to see or see again.
Touching the Void   2003   106 minutes   This is a re-enactment of a mountain climbing accident in the Andes.  You can skip it.
Tous Les Matins Du Monde   1991  105 minutes    When the wife of a gifted viola player dies, the grief stricken artist retreats to a small house in his garden to keep himself and his two daughters safe from the outside world.  Their solitude is broken when a young musician comes looking for lessons from the master.  Guillaume Depardieu plays the young musician and his father, Gerard, plays him when he’s old and fat.  I enjoyed this but it’s probably not for everyone.
The Town  2010  125 minutes   Ben Affleck directs and stars as a bank robber.  It’s exciting, loaded with action, lots of shooting.  In the end he gets away but leaves the money behind to be used for a worthy cause.
Valmont  1989   An adaptation of the novel Les Liaisons Dangerous about eh sexual machinations of two jaded 18th C French aristocrats.  Annette Bening at her best.
The Widow of St. Pierre   2001  112 minutes   Who knew that there was still a French possession off the coast of Newfoundland in 1849 and in 2011.  It’s the fishing island of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, as sparse a back drop for a movie as you can imagine.  This is about the French wheels of justice grinding to the “correct” conclusion despite the facts on the ground.  An illiterate loser is convicted of a stupid murder and sentenced to be guillotined.  But there’s no guillotine, so one has to be shipped in.  Meanwhile Juliette Binoche, the wife of the captain of the island guard, teaches the loser to garden, to read, and to be a model citizen who performs a heroic act, saving lives and saving the only bar in town from sliding into the sea.  The guillotine finally arrives.  The captain refuses to use it.  The execution goes ahead and the captain is transported to a French possession in the Caribbean, where he is court-martialed and put to death.  Binoche watches as she is made a widow.   By the way, the guillotine didn’t work, and the loser had to be killed with an ax.  That worked.  Too bad Perry couldn’t be there.
With Honors  1994  101 minutes    First of all I’ve never liked Joe Pesci.  He plays a bum who gets a hold of the only draft of a student’s senior thesis and offers to sell it back to him a page at a time.  Who cares.  I quit.

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