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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Movies: The Adventures of Tintin, The Art of Getting By, The Debt, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, My Week with Marilyn, There Be Dragons, Waiting for Hockney, and Others

The Adventures of Tintin    2011   107 minutes     I didn’t see this in 3-D but it is still great fun, almost as much fun as reading the comics.  I liked the animation but my consultant on all things Japanese did not.

Army of Shadows   1969  145 minutes    This is based on a novel by Joseph Kessel and informed by the experiences of Director Jean-Pierre Melville’s experiences as a member of the French Resistance during WW II.  There are a few tense sequences during operations, but the heart of this movie is the gut-wrenching decisions that the chief of an underground unit had to make to try to keep his operations and his operatives alive.  The only actor I recognized was Simone Signoret, already looking old but you can’t take your eyes off of her.

The Art of Getting By   2011  84 minutes     Freddy Highmore is the right actor to play George, a confused prep school student who is also a gifted artist.  He starts a friendship/romance but she is a bit two adventurous and it takes a while for him to catch and for her to slow down.  Meanwhile he’s dealing with the likelihood of expulsion from school unless he completes almost a year’s worth of unfinished assignments in the remaining three weeks before graduation.  O.K.,  it’s just a high school romance, but I enjoyed watching Highmore.

The Basket.   1999   104 minutes    During WW I, the pastor in a small farming town in the Pacific Northwest adopts two German orphans, a boy and a girl.  The townsfolk do not accept them nor can they stand the flashy new teacher at the one room school who plays German opera for his students and teaches them to play a new and unknown game, basketball.  Unknown to anyone but professional gambler on sports, the teacher was a star professional player back east.  It’s the success of the basket ball team that finally breaks down the town’s prejudices.  It’s worth seeing this just for the dramatization of the basket ball game.

The Debt   2010   114 minutes  Helen Mirren plays Rachel Singer, a former Mossad agent who has enjoyed a life of celebrity based on her unit’s report that she had had to kill “the Surgeon of Birkenau” in Berlin when he tried to escape and avoid rendition to Israel for trial.  Unfortunately, 30 years later it looks like he’s still alive.  I could watch Helen Mirren knitting; this is even better.

La Femme Nikita  1990   After Nikita shoots a cop in the face she is rightfully sentenced to life in prison.  She’s given a drug and when she wakes up she’s told that she is officially dead.  She’s given a choice, be trained as a government assassin or be really dead.  After you recover from this bit of lese majeste, it’s interesting to watch her be converted from street tough to sophisticated female professional killer.  I liked the film and while I haven’t seen the remake or the series, from the reviews I suspect that this is one Hollywood should have left alone.  It’s hard to improve on Luc Besson.

Fiorile  (Wild Flower)   105 minutes   A member of the Benedetti family steals a mule load of gold coins entrusted to a Napoleonic officer while he is having sex in the bushes with Fiorile, the thief’s sister.  The officer is put to death for losing the gold and Fiorile puts a curse on them that says their family will never be happy.  Over the next 200 years the family use to gold to prosper but is never happy.   An old man, the last of his generation still lives on the original farm when he is visited by his son and two grandchildren.  The question is: will the curse continue?

Fireflies in the Garden   2008   89 minutes    Sucked in again by Julia Roberts.  This film is depressing, a family where no one is appealing.  See something else.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo   2011  158 minutes    I preferred the original Swedish version, especially the performances of Michael Nyqvist  who plays journalist Mikael Blomqvist, and Noomi Rapace who plays Lisabeth Salander.  They appear in all three movies in the Swedish trilogy.  That’s not to say that this new version in English isn’t first rate.  Daniel Craig plays Daniel Craig, which is fine but not very Swedish; Rooney Mara is appropriately scary, tough, competent and vulnerable.  There are some differences in the plots, mainly omissions in the newer version.  Overall the Swedish version is more faithful to the novel, while the newer version is slicker and seems more fast paced even though both films are about two and a half hours long and the Swedish version contains much more of the story.  Both Salander and Blomqvist are extremely interesting characters and both are developed more fully in the Swedish version.  If you were going to see only one version, I would recommend the Swedish version, even if normally don’t like to deal with subtitles.  It’s available on Netflix instant view as a stand alone and as part of an expanded trilogy in 6 parts.

 Hugo.   2011  127   I guess I just love movies about kids, this time a 12 year old orphan who takes up residence behind the walls of a Parisian train station and keeps the clocks running.  After he meets the daughter  of an early film maker, the contact brings the old man out of the shell of his disappointment, when film making had moved beyond his way of doing things.

The Last Train Home   2009  87 minutes    A couple who left their children with their grandparents to take work in a city 1000 miles away are trying to make their annual visit home at the same time as 130 million Chinese.  I lasted only a few minutes.  

More Than a Game   2008  100 minutes   This is the story of Lebron James and 3 teammates who were with him starting with peewee basketball on through high school.  A 4th crew member was added in high school.  Their team, which was coached by one of the fathers who coached their peewee team, won a national championship for a small private Ohio school .  Lebron then went straight to the pros.  The others played college ball and two of them went on to play professionally in Europe.  This is worth seeing, if only to understand how seriously some people take high school basketball.

My Week with Marilyn   2011  99 minutes   Fortunately, Colin Clark, son of art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, kept a diary while he was working in his first job as third assistant director, i.e., gofer, to Sir Lawrence Olivier during the filming of the Prince and the Showgirl.   And there is Marilyn with all of her quirks, vulnerabilities and ambition.  Eddie Redmayne does a beautiful job of playing Colin Clark, who had a quasi-affair with Marilyn during the filming.  The list of first rate British actors who are not in this film would be a short one.

The New World   2005   135 minutes   I’m glad I saw this because I had forgotten that Pocahontas ended up in England, but it’s not very good.

Nowhere in Afrika   2001  141 minutes   This is the saga of a Jewish couple and their daughter who fled Nazi Germany in the1930s to settle in Kenya.  The husband exchanged his successful career as a lawyer for work as a farm manager.  The wife had great trouble adapting and the daughter embraced everything Kenyan.  When war broke, the British interned the husband, and the wife took over as farm manager.  After the war, they were one of the few Jewish couples who accepted invitations to return to Germany.  He was asked to be a judge and to work on judicial reform, an offer he couldn’t refuse.  I liked this film; it adds another dimension to holocaust history.

The Rum Diary   2011  120 minutes   The more I see of Hunter S. Thompson, the less I like him.  The film is based on one of his early novels.  The compensation here is Johnny Depp, who plays a booze-loving journalist who moves from New York to Puerto Rico to write for the local rag.  He falls for the wife of a shifty developer and gets badly tangled up in his schemes.  You can skip this one.

There Be Dragons  2011  120 minutes   Films about the Spanish civil war can be confusing and at times I found this one hard to follow.  The two main characters are Manolo Torres and Josemaria Escriva, who later founded Opus Dei and attained sainthood after his death in 1975.  The two men knew each other as children and entered the seminary together.  Manolo dropped out after a year.  They came together again during the war.  Every emotion is played upon – love, grief, regret, redemption.  What stuck in my mind were three pistol shots delivered at short range, each time with a surprising result.  The film begins with a request from Manolo that his son, who hates him, come to see him.  The rest is flashback to Manolo’s childhood and the war until it ends with reconciliation between father and son as the aging Monolo dies in a hospital.

Shaolin Soccer   2001   87 minutes   This is a crazy Chinese movie about a group of martial arts guys who take up soccer and apply their kung fu skills to the game to try to win the $1 million China Super Cup tournament.  I’ll spoil the surprise by telling you they do win.  Don’t bother with this one unless you are a martial arts or special effects junkie.

The Skin I Live In   2011  120 minutes   I’m ready to give up on Pedro Almodovar.   The premises around which this film is built are either unbelievable or nauseating. 

Stone of Destiny   2008   96 minutes   it’s a true story from events in 1950.  Who knew that the theft of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey would be the stuff of comedy?  It was fun to watch.

Twisted   2004  97 minutes    Ashley Judd never lets you down as one kick-ass lady, but the premise of this film is hard to accept.  She is making her way as a homicide detective when her casual lovers start to be murdered one after another.  It’s her boss, Samuel L. Jackson, looking after her to prevent her from becoming a dissolute woman like her mother, whom Jackson also killed.  She’s fun to watch in action but….

Waiting for Hockney   2008   Billy Pappas, a Baltimore artist, spent 10 years transferring what he saw in an Avedon photograph of Marilyn Monroe into a graphite portrait, sometimes using glasses with a magnification power of 20 to make sure he didn’t miss a single hair.  He thought he could get validation of his work by showing the portrait to David Hockney, a British artist, and he put incredible effort into getting Hockney to agree to see him.  Hockney would not allow the meeting to be filmed, but Billy came away thinking it went well.  Four months later, Hockney is quoted as saying: “It’s still that fucking photograph.”   I came away thinking that Billy is kind of a doofus, who may have some technical skill, but will never understand what art is all about (not that I ever will).  I googled around and found an excellent article by Ben Davis in Artnet.  Davis raises all kinds of interesting questions as he mulls over the film and what others wrote about it, including this one:  “Isn’t pressing buttons in your head that you didn’t know were there exactly what ‘art’ should do?”

The Warlords   2007  113 minutes  The Chinese do a very good job of showing ancient armies on the march and in battle.  This is an interesting story of a skilled general who dared a bit too much.
Wasteland   2010  93 minutes  “Renowned artist Vik Muiz” tries a collaboration with a group of Brazilian garbage pickers.  I quickly got bored and skimmed through.  They did have a show somewhere, but I moved on to another film. 

The Whistleblower   2010  112 minutes   Egad, another film based on a true story.  An American police woman takes a job with a company providing security for the UN presence in Bosnia.  The security company employees are deeply involved in local corruption, including white slavery.  The police woman blows the whistle and gets nowhere.  An exciting if disheartening film.

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