Current Events

Sunday, November 18, 2012

360; Battleship; The Campaign; Casa de Mi Padre; Chico & Rita; First Position; The Five-Year Engagement; The Magic of Belle Isle; Monsieur Lazhar; Moonrise Kingdom; The Raven; and some oldies

 360   2011   113 minutes     This is a remake of the 1950s classic La Ronde.  It was o.k.  Whenever you can watch Anthony Hopkins, it’s probably going to be worth it, even if he’s playing a spent and grieving old man.

Battleship   2012   131 minutes    I never thought I would sit through a two hour plus movie based on a computer game, but it turned out to have some very interesting aliens, a lot of naval action and the USS Missouri underway, firing the big guns and saving the world.  The Missouri is partly manned by some superannuated veterans who usually spend their time explaining the ancient ship to tourists.  One wonders how there happened to be live ammunition on board.

The Black Dahlia   2006   121 minutes   Most of the time I couldn’t follow what was going on.  When actors mumble their lines as they did in this dark picture, subtitles are the only solution.  Unfortunately they weren’t available on Instant View.  This may be a pretty good Tinseltown detective story.  I guess I’ll never know

Broadway Danny Rose   1984   84 minutes    A group of comedians sits around a restaurant table telling stories about Danny (Woody Allen), a theatrical agent whose client list consists of freaks except for an aging crooner, Lou Canova, for whom Danny is trying to arrange a comeback.  To keep Lou in line and sober and to keep him as a client, Danny has to escort Lou’s mistress Tina (Mia Farrow looking really good but a little slutty) to Lou’s club dates.  When the big chance comes with a appearance at the Waldorf, Danny goes out to Long Island to pick up Tina.  After many adventures including being chased by two mafia hit men and crossing back to Manhattan on a tug boat, they get to the Waldorf and find Lou there drunk.  Danny uses his secret formula to sober him up, Lou’s performance is great and, when it’s over, he dumps Danny for another agent.  In a very nice ending, Tina dumps Lou for Danny.

The Campagn   2012   85 minutes    Will Ferrell takes campaign negativity to new and lower levels.  He does make a point: what voters would really like to see is an honest and straightforward campaign that addresses the issues and tells voters where the candidate stands.  The extremes these candidates go to are pretty funny, could never happen, but eerily remind one of what we have just seen.  I think of Tim Kaine’s commercial in which he criticizes George Allen for voting in the US Senate to extend the debt limit.  For Allen to have done otherwise would have been irresponsible, and Kaine knows that.  If he had been in the Senate, he would have cast the same vote.

Casa de Mi Padre   2012   84 minutes    Will Ferrell decided he wanted to make a movie in Spanish and what better theme could there be than Mexican ranches giving way to drug lords.  His character is ridiculously straight arrows but also lethal when aroused by injustice.  It’s a hoot.  If you like Will Ferrell, you’ll like the movie; if you don’t, you won’t.

Chico & Rita   2010   93 minutes     This animated film tells the story of Chico, a Cuban musician who followed a singer named Rita to New York just before the Cuban revolution.    Chico and Rita had been lovers off and on and had had a successful act in Havana.  When she got a contract in New York, it did not include Chico.  “There were plenty of piano players in New York.”  Chico tries to get Rita to recreate their act in New York.  Rita rejects him off and on but he persists and also begins to make his way in his own career.  When it looks like Rita will reject a movie offer in Hollywood and rejoin Chico, their agent frames Chico for drug possession, and he is deported.  When he arrives back in post revolutionary Cuba, his kind of music is no longer wanted, and he makes his living shining shoes.  Forty-seven years later an American who loves jazz is amazed to find Chico still alive and arranges for him to come to New York.  Rita has been waiting for him all that time.  The story is pretty ordinary, but the music plays all through the film.  That was my music in the late fifties and listening again reminded me of why I could never buy into rock ‘n roll.

The  Couple    2004  119 minutes    An ancient Martin Landau plays a Hungarian industrialist who agrees to give all of his holdings to Himmler in return for passage to Israel for him and his extended family.  This works, but at the last moment he learns that the Aryan couple that has been running his household is actually Jewish and that the Nazis know this.   Jewish or not they were to be murdered to cover up the direct transfer to Himmler.  Landau makes some last minute ad hoc arrangements to get them out, and the drama is in their escape to Switzerland with a mad dog of an SS man in pursuit.

Death at a Funeral   2007  90 minutes    The funeral of the patriarch of a British family is being held in the home of the elder but less successful of two sons.  He and his wife have their own problems, but the funeral brings new ones that are almost unimaginable.  A dwarf shows up claiming to have been the gay lover of the deceased and has pictures to prove it.  He wants money.  And then there’s this bottle of LSD or whatever that’s labeled “Valium.”  It gets misplaced and misdirected with comically disastrous results.  Some of the “valium is forced on the dwarf to shut him up; he jumps around, falls and appears dead, so they hide his body in the father’s coffin.  But he’s not quite dead.   Matthew Macfayden   -- maybe you remember Tom from the early episodes of MI-5 -- plays the elder brother straight laced and poker faced through this whole black comedy and is able to set things right in the end, to everyone’s surprise

Entrapment   1999   113 minutes    Catherine Zeta-Jones plays an insurance investigator who tries to trap a famous thief played by Sean Connery in order to recover a painting.  What she really wants is to partner with Connery to steal $8 billion from a settlement bank in Malaysia.  She has to prove herself to him and vice versa.  They train in his castle for a trial robbery that involves an underwater approach and then nice visuals of Zeta-Jones going through contortions in black tights to get through the laser field guarding a statue they want to steal.  In Kuala Lumpur things don’t go quite as planned; first they succeed, then they don’t and then things work out.  They were fun to watch all the way through.

First Position   2011   94 minutes   I guess this is a documentary.  It follows 6 or 8 young dancers training to compete for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions.   Successful competitors hope to win scholarships to ballet schools or be offered positions in ballet companies.  It’s a nice film to watch for the dancing, and one learns a lot about the difficulty of entering a career in dance and the skills necessary to succeed.  There are several shots of young people putting on their toe shoes over their bandaged feet.   Any young person who aspires to be a professional dancer should see this film, preferably with his or her parents.

The Five-Year Engagement   2012   124 minutes        What is an old guy doing watching a romantic comedy?   Well, I put it in the queue because it has Emily Blunt.  It’s a story about the difficulties that can arise when careers get in the way of love affairs.  It’s clever, imaginative, charming and Emily Blunt is on screen almost all the time.

The Magic of Belle Isle   2012   109 minutes   Morgan Freeman plays a burnt out writer struggling with alcoholism and confinement to a wheel chair, whose editor arranges for him to spend his summer in a friends vacation house.  In his interaction with a girl about ten who lives next door and her mother, who is in the midst of a divorce, he sets the girl on a track to become a writer herself and recovers his own desire to write .  There’s “magic” in the title and a lot more magic in the story.  Can Morgan Freeman do anything wrong?

Monsieur Lazhar   2011  95 minutes    After a young and much loved Canadian teacher, Miss Martine, hangs herself in her classroom, an Algerian man applies for her job.  His credentials seem to be in order and no one else is available, so after some dithering, the principal takes him on.  The kids are about 11 or 12 and one of them, the boy who found Miss Martine before the first class one morning, had a close relationship with her.  She had tutored him and coached him, because he was getting nothing at home.  Students, parents and teachers are all very upset about the suicide and a psychologist is brought in to help.  Monsieur Lazhar takes over the teaching; he seems to be very old school, but the students’ performance is more than satisfactory.  There’s a lot of give and take as he gets used to them and they to him.  The suicide keeps getting in the way.  The principal tells him to let the psychologist handle it, but that doesn’t really work, and he is able to help the student with their sense of loss, especially the boy who found the teacher hanging in the classroom.  At this point the principal checks further on Lazhar and finds that not only is he not a teacher, but he is a political refugee applying for asylum.  He’s allowed to finish one more day in class, during which he is able to bring the students to a point where they can accept the loss of Miss Martine and move on.

Moonrise Kingdom    2012   94 minutes    With a title like this you might be expecting vampires, but instead you get Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton taking small rolls to create a vehicle for the story of two troubled but talented 12 year olds.  It’s amusing, it’s fun, it’s slapstick, it’s surprising and entertaining and serious.  It seems I am always taken with good films about kids.  Kida are a source of endless wonder.

The Raven   2012   111 minutes    Apparently, what Edgar Allen Poe did in the last few days before he died has been lost to history.  This movie “explains.”  A string of bizarre murders in Baltimore seem to be inspired by Poe’s stories.  A Baltimore police detective enlists Poe’s help to catch the murderer.  The screenplay takes us through several of Poe’s scenarios until Poe identifies the murderer and gets shot for his trouble.  It’s great fun as they race around the warehouses, cellars and sewers of Baltimore.

Sunflower   1970   107 minutes    Almost immediately after Giovanna (Sophia Loren) has a whirlwind romance with Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni), he is sent to the Eastern front in Ukraine.  When he doesn’t come back after the war, Giovanna goes to look for him.  And she finds his wife and child.  She leaves without talking to him.  An exhausted Antonio had been left to freeze to death in the snow, when a Ukrainian woman found him, dragged him to her house and nursed him back to physical health, but he had amnesia and had already fallen in love with and married his rescuer before he really remembered who he was.  He comes to Milan to try to visit Giovanna.  At first she refuses to see him, but eventually does.  She too is married and has a child.

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