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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Artist, Bride Flight, Broken Hill, The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady, Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight, and others

Alexander : Director’s Cut   2004  167 minutes    I don’t know how much research went into the costuming and choreography of the battle scenes but it’s fun to watch.  I don’t think Oliver Stone was able to introduce any conspiracies that we didn’t know about already.  We know the story, we know Alexander  was brilliant but strange, so just sit back and enjoy the spectacle, especially Angelina Jolie.
Army of Crime (L’Armee du Crime)   2009 133 minutes   This is the story of Armenian-born Missak Manouchian, a woodworker and political activist who led an immigrant laborer division of the French Resistance in Paris on 30 operations against the Nazis in 1943.  You will not see a more nitty gritty film about the resistance

The Artist   2011  100 minutes   I wasn’t sure of what to expect other than this was likely to be about the demise of the silent movie era.  The whole thing was just right.  The male superstar had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate the incredible skills that made those wordless films so interesting and the girl who falls in love with him just as she is being discovered as a rising star in talkies demonstrates all those crazy talents that made the films of the 1930s so popular.  And the girl’s rescue of the silent screen star’s career is quick, corny and pure Hollywood, just as it should be.  I loved it.

Black Sun:  The Nanking Massacre   1995   90 minutes   This is a Chinese  propaganda film, which attacks the Japanese for their brutality at Nanking in WW II.  The attack is richly deserved and will be around for as long as Japanese continue to deny the facts and make pilgrimages to Yasukuni Shrine to honor the war criminals inurned there.  This film uses photographs and newsreel footage and then stages reenactments of what may have happened.  It’s 90 minutes that is so brutal that I can’t recommend anyone actually see it.   There are many other films about Nanking that make the same points about Japanese brutality, but focus on the heroic efforts of Jonathan Rabe and others to save as many as they could.

Born to Be Wild   2011   40 minutes  IMAX   An excellent documentary that captures the unique connections that developed between two scientists and the orphans of two species, orangutans in Borneo and elephants in Kenya. 

Bride Flight   2011   129 minutes    In the 1950s three young Dutch women become acquainted on the long flight to Australia where they are to be picture brides.  On the flight all three also meet and sort of bond with an Australian cowboy.  Their marriages do or don’t work out as they get on with their lives, but all three are later affected in some way by contacts with the cowboy.  Maybe it’s a chick flick, but it held my interest.

Broken Hill   2009  102 minutes   Tommy McAlpine, a teenager who dutifully works for his father on his sheep farm and plays on the high school soccer team his father coaches, wants to become a composer.  When an American girl gets him and herself in trouble for a prank, both are sentenced to community service.  He chooses to try to form a music group at the local prison.  The girl is reluctant, even contemptuous, but eventually buys into the idea and turns out to be an excellent piano player.  Few of the convicts have much musical talent, but he writes music that takes advantage of what they can do, wins a competition, the respect of his father and, of course, the girl.  The Australians make nice movies.

The Clowns (I Clowns)   I only got to see a part of this before Netflix pulled it from Instant View, but where could you find a better combination than Federico Fellini, a circus, some famous Italian clowns  and Anita Ekberg buying a panther.  I can hardly wait for it to come back around.

The Flying Scotsman   2006   102 minutes   This is a biopic about Graeme Obree, a Scotsman who won the 1993 and 1995 world bicycling speed championship on a bike of his own design.  For his prototype, dubbed “Old Faithful,” he did actually use some parts from his front loading washing machine.  He was competing against bikes that cost as much a half a million dollars to develop.  The way he did it was to look at the ergonomics and aerodynamics of cycling and adjust accordingly to make the bike fit what the body could do most efficiently.  An arm position that he invented was later used by others to win seven championships before it was outlawed as “dangerous.”

The Hunger Games   2012   142 minutes    This has elements of The Lord of the Flies, The Truman Show, gladiatorial combat in the arenas of ancient Rome and Survivor, the reality TV show, which I have never watched.  In an authoritarian society sometime in the future, the government picks a young man and a young woman from each of its 12 districts each year, trains them as “tributes,” interviews them on live TV to develop patrons for the more attractive tributes and then forces them into a fight to the death in a fenced, wooded preserve.  It’s a game and the game continues until only one of the 24 survives.   The tributes have trackers embedded in their forearms.  The team running the game can follow their every move on live TV, and they broadcast whatever seems most interesting to the public, which laps it up.  The gamers have the capability to interfere to help or hinder individual tributes, and patrons may send help to the tribute they favor.  Our heroine, Katniss, who looks like a younger Ashley Judd and is just as tough, is played by Jennifer Lawrence, a relatively new face.  She gets through to the end without killing anyone except in self defense, i.e., she never initiates combat, and she confounds the authorities in charge to such extent that she manages to save the life of Peeta,the young man from her district.  The smarmy TV host is played by Stanley Tucci – with hair and what hair it is.  Donald Sutherland plays the evil, heartless president (or himself, whatever).

The Iron Lady  2011  105 minutes   The bio starts near the end when Margaret Thatcher is suffering from some dementia and has trouble remembering that her fun-loving and supportive husband has passed away and that she is no longer prime minister.  There are flashbacks to when she first ran for Parliament and was forming herself as a rock ribbed conservative.  She would be comfortable leading the Republican far right in this country today.  Next we see her when she first gets to Parliament and has to overcome the old boys’ network – “the lady doth screech too much.”   Her debate performance is Meryl Streep at her best.  Some MPs recognize her talent and help her to remake herself into a formidable force and to win the party leadership and become prime minister.  When economic troubles loom, she prescribes austerity, even over the reservations of her conservative colleagues, and then, despite Britain’s economic problems, leads the charge into the Falkland Islands war.  All of this is interspersed with Maggie trying to deal with her dementia.  It’s a movie about conservative politics, women’s rights, and Alzheimer’s, and does a fine job of defining just who Margaret Thatcher was.

Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight   2009  73 minutes   Milton Glaser is the designer who came up with “I Love NY” and 100s, maybe even 1000s of other designs that you will recognize.  He is on screen most of the time in this documentary along with his work, all of which truly is delightful and so is he.  I can say this is the best art film I have ever seen, and, among the artists with whom I’ve shared a lifetime, Glaser is the one I most admire.

Much Ado About Nothing    1993   110 minutes    The timing has been shifted to what looks like early to mid 19th C.   Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson star as Benedick and Beatrice and Branaugh directs.  It took me a while to warm up to Thompson’s performance, but eventually I could buy into it.  What can one say about a play that has been delighting audiences for over 400 years.  This one is fine; the banter and puns come off well, as they should with a cast that also includes Kate Beckinsale, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton and the nefarious Keanu Reeves.  Robert Sean Leonardo was someone who looked familiar, but I didn’t know him by name.  He was fine as Claudio, but how hard can that be?

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