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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Anonymous, Midnight in Paris, Summer Hours and Several Others

Anonymous   2011  130 minutes     This settles it.  The plays were written by Edward de Vere,  17th Earl of Oxford, and Shakespeare was an opportunistic doofus of an actor who was willing for a price to put his name on them to help the Earl keep his identity secret.  Shakespeare made the most of it after a real playwright, Ben Johnson, refused to pass the plays off as his own.  Scholars don’t agree, but it makes a good story, especially when you add in all sorts of dynastic machinations involving Elizabeth’s “several children,” including a son by one of her sons and the machinations of the Cecils.  Maybe the more Tudor history you know, the more fun this is.
Another Earth  2011  92 minutes   You can read the synopsis on Wiki for every detail of the plot.  For me this was a film about how difficult it is to deal with guilt and how difficult it is to forgive someone who has done you irreparable harm.  The idea of a parallel earth is so implausible that I almost skipped this one, but I can say it works and held my interest throughout.
Ayn Rand: In Her Own Words  2011  74 minutes   This is a documentary constructed from television interviews of Ayn Rand .  I saw it on Netflix instant view because I had recently watched the new film, “Atlas Shrugged, Part I,” and had sort of thumbed through a library copy of that incredibly long novel to try to figure out exactly what her views were and how she came to them.  I found her views repulsive and her writing style puerile.   How Alan Greenspan and a number of his contemporaries could have been disciples of this vain and selfish woman is beyond me.
Certified Copy   2010  106 minutes   If it’s made in France, there are likely to be ambiguities.  Juliet Binoche got a Best Actress award at Cannes for her role as a French antique dealer.  William Shimell, a British opera singer in his first film role, does a fine job as a British writer.  In the film we are never told if the two are married and estranged, married but living apart because of their careers, or strangers who had never met until the first scenes of the film in theTuscan town where Binoche has her shop.  In the first scene, the writer is giving a lecture in which he says that the concept of a copy is irrelevant in art, because as soon as a copy is made it has its own existence and becomes an original, and so called originals are no different, since ultimately they are copies of something that came before.  As we watch the two go through about 24 hours together, they proceed from being strangers to being very much like a couple that has been married for 15 or more years.  Go figure….but it’s pleasant to watch.  I think I could watch Binoche in a Warhol or Bruce Nauman-like film in which nothing happened for the entire 6 or 8 hours.
City of Life and Death  2009  135 minutes   I have seen  4 or 5 films about the rape of Nanking in 1937, and this is the most chilling of all.  I’m surprised that the Chinese were able to find Japanese actors willing to take part.
Cowboys & Aliens    2011  119 minutes   Well, you’ve got your cowboys and you’ve got your aliens and when they get together all hell breaks loose.  There’s no Blazing Saddles type bean scene, but this is just as funny in its own way.  This film is not based on a true story.
Extreme Measures   1996  118 minutes   Hugh Grant is a brilliant young doctor in his last year of residence at a New York hospital, who tries to follow up on an unexplained and unexplainable death in his emergency room of a seemingly healthy homeless man.  The search leads him below the streets to the underground maze in which many homeless people live, and he discovers that a famous neurologist is using emergency room admissions to identify healthy homeless people, whom he then abducts into an unauthorized research program in search of a cure for paralyzing spinal injuries.  All of the research subjects die, and Hugh Grant narrowly escapes becoming one of them.
The Gods Must Be Crazy 2  1988  97 minutes   This is more fun than the Marx brothers.  It’s the Kalahari Desert and the players include a woman corporate lawyer sent from NY to give a lecture, a naturalist who works in the desert, a pair of ivory smugglers, a Cuban revolutionary who just wants to go home, a local soldier on the side opposed to the Cubans’ and the same aborigine who found the coke bottle in the first movie along with his two children.  Everything goes wrong for everyone.  The aborigine helps everyone by understanding his environment, even as he is trying to find his children who crawled into the back of the poachers truck just before it drove off.  We viewers are the only ones who understand what the aborigine is saying because only we can hear the narrator.  It is both riotously funny to hear his take on what he sees of civilization and a demonstration of the humaneness his society when he tell the naturalist, who’s life he has just saved, that he has to leave because he has been running for two days and a night to try to catch up with his children.
The Libertine  2004  114 minutes   I may have to make an exception to my rule that I will see any movie that has Johnny Depp in it.  He plays 17th C poet John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, who died of the pox after a life of debauchery.  A highlight is what you might call the penis or phallus scene.  The king asks him to create a new play to impress the new French ambassador.  The new play is all about sex, and the ambassador walks out.  Contrary to what Wilmot opines, when a man and a woman who are strangers to each other meet on a Paris street, they are not required to copulate.  Many years ago I visited a Japanese shrine on the day of its annual fertility festival.  There were phallic representations of every imaginable kind including one carved out of a large log, which we American visitors dubbed “Big Red.”  Everyone was in good humor, despite the rain, and we foreigners got an idea of the importance of fertility to a traditional farming community.  There was no such redeeming value in “The Libertine.”
Lies and Whispers  1998  94 minutes   An American psychologist falls in love with a famous Czech writer while she is in Prague for a conference.  His father is a Theresienstadt survivor.  She thinks her grandfather was a Czech patriot, but when his father sees her family picture, he recognizes her grandfather as a brutal Nazi camp guard.  Among other things, when this gets to the press, it creates difficulties for the writer, who has just been named Minister of Culture, and for his political party.  Love triumphs in the end, but the lesson is that there may be no end to the damage done by the Nazis, even generations later.
Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School   2005  104 minutes   Frank Keane is a baker who is despondent over the recent loss of his wife and attends a support group to try to get past it.  He is first on the scene of a single car accident and comforts the driver who will soon die from his injuries.  The driver was on his way to a rendezvous arranged many years before.  Frank decides to go in his place and tell the driver’s loved one why he couldn’t make it.  It’s a dancing class, the same one the driver and his girlfriend had attended as children.  She doesn’t show, but Frank finds hope and redemption and shares it with the members of his support group.  A marvelous little film.
Midnight in Paris   2011   94 minutes    Another Woody Allen fairy tale for adults.  A successful screen writer who aspires to becoming a novelist visits Paris with his fiancé and her affluent parents.  The time is now.  They run into one of her old friends, a young professor and know-it-all who sort of takes over their visit.  The writer opts out one evening and goes for a walk.  He is sitting on some steps on a side street, when a 1920s vintage limo stops and invites him to come along.  Inside are F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda.  When they get to the party, Cole Porter is playing the piano.  They move on to a bar, where he meets Hemingway, who declines to read his manuscript but suggests he have Gertrude Stein look at it.  The next evening, it’s T.S.Eliot in the limo.  He leaves his manuscript with Gertrude Stein, meets Picasso, Dali, Bunuel and others and, most important, Picasso’s girl friend just as he is dumping her.  At the book stalls along the Seine the next morning he finds an old book which happens to be the girl’s memoires.  He finds a passage that names him and notes that he gave her a beautiful pair of earrings.  That night he and she leave the others and go to a club.  It’s 20 years earlier; they see Toulouse Lautrec sitting alone and ask if they can join him.  Soon Degas and Gauguin also join them.  When the writer decides it’s time to leave, the girl declines to go with him and suggests that everyone should have a chance to choose his or her own romantic past.  Stein likes his novel, suggests some revisions, and he decides he wants to stay in Paris, present day Paris that is.  His fiancé isn’t interested and besides she has slept with the professor and now prefers him or at least someone who is not like the dreamy writer.
The Other Woman   2011  102 minutes   I watched this because it has Natalie Portman.  Emilia is a young lawyer who steals away the husband of a very bitchy obstetrician.  Emilia’s husband and his ex have a son about 10.  The ex is very possessive and critical of everything that happens when the boy has his time with his father and Emilia and the boy and Emilia don’t really get along.  Emilia gives birth to a daughter who dies in her arms when she is only three days old.  Emilia fell asleep with the baby in her arms and believes she is responsible for the baby’s death, even though all the evidence points to SIDS.  Eventually everyone is more or less reconciled and I guess the film is about how really affluent people in NYC deal with the problems that they create for themselves.  It’s well done, but maybe I should have read a book.
Real Steel   2011  127 minutes    Believe it or not, this flick about fighting robots is really about how a kid manages to bond with his irresponsible and always absent father.  As far as their robot goes, it’s almost like”Rocky,” but the real story is the kid.  I liked it a lot  --  including the beginning when the dad had his broken down robot fight a rodeo bull.  The bull tore it to pieces and it had to be junked.
Sayonara Itsuka  2010  133 minutes   You would probably have to be Japanese to like this film, although there are some great scenes of Bangkok and ultra modern Tokyo.  Yutaka, a young Japanese airline executive is engaged to Michiko.  Her family is well connected and if he marries her he will be CEO of the airline someday.  Michiko stays in Tokyo while Yutaka is on assignment in Bangkok, and he has a passionate affair with Japanese wife of someone very rich.  When the time comes, he decides to marry Michiko and work his way up to CEO.  Years later he visits Bangkok and finds that all that time his lover has been working as a receptionist at the hotel where they had had their assignations and waiting for him to comeback.  Unfortunately she’s dying of cancer.
Star Trek   2009  131 minutes    This is the prequel or back story.  Jim Kirk’s father dies heroically 12 minutes after he becomes captain of his ship, but saves the crew and his wife who is giving birth to Jim Kirk.  As the story goes along, Kirk collects the characters that we know so well, destroys the rebel Romulan ship and its captain, who killed his father, saves the Federation, and is confirmed as captain of the Enterprise.  There is a bit of time travel so that aging Spock (Leonard Nimoy) gets to meet young Spock (Zachary Quinto).
Summer Hours   2008  102 minutes    I watched this film about two weeks ago.  I remembered that it was about a French family struggling with the problem of how to dispose of a house they had all vacationed in and a valuable art collection.  It was fading from view, so I went looking for a review to jog my memory.  The review in the NYT is so good that all I can do is suggest you read it:
Here’s a sample:  “One of Mr. Assayas’s themes is the way that inanimate things accrue value, sentimental and otherwise – the curious alchemy the transforms certain objects into art.”  One could spend a few hours mulling over that statement.
Ultimate Heist   2009  95 minutes   This is a pretty good but all too familiar story.  Whenever a son wants to leave a crime family and decides to do one more heist to get the money to do it, it’s going to end badly.   The scenery is wonderful but what struck me most was how spare the dialog was and how nothing was wasted in laying out the story.  There’s no happy ending and Vahina  Giocante’s baby is kind of ugly.  She’s not.

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