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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Django Unchained; Funny Face; Hitchcock; Holy Motors; The Life of Pi; Mirror Mirror; Passione; and World Without End

Django Unchained   2012   165 minutes   Starting with the opening titles of this Quinton Tarantino film you feel  like it’s 1960 and you are seeing a spaghetti western.  There’s even a song by Enzio Morricone in there somewhere.   A German bounty hunter played by Cristoph Waltz buys Django’s freedom from slavery on condition that he help him find three bad guys who have prices on their heads.  Django (Jamie Foxx) is more than willing, but in return he wants the bounty hunter’s help in freeing his wife.  There’s lots of blood, including that of Leonardo DiCaprio who plays a particularly vicious slave owner.  If you like Tarantino, you’ll like this film; if not you’ll hate it. 

Funny Face   1957   103 minutes   Recently I saw a profile of Audrey Hepburn on PBS, and I wanted to have a look at one of her films to check my memory.  The PBS profile was great, but Funny Face was not.  Musicals always require some suspension of belief, but his whole thing felt contrived and artificial.  Fred Astaire did several routines, and they all seemed pale, reworked versions of things I had seen before and enjoyed.  Even Audrey Hepburn didn’t seem as charming as I remember her from other films.

Hitchcock   2012   98 minutes    “Call me ‘Hitch,’ and hold the cock.”   Hitchcock was a real character, just as we always suspected.  This film is the story of the making of Psycho and of Hitchcock’s recognition after 30 years of marriage of the importance of his collaboration with his wife, Alma Reville.  It would be hard to find a stronger pair to play the Hitchcocks, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, and it is their chemistry that makes this film.  Psycho is considered one of the great movies of all time, but it almost didn’t get made.   Paramount refused to finance it, because everyone hated the book, but they agreed to distribute it for 40% of the profits, if Hitchcock could find a way to get it made.  Hitchcock seems to be the only one who could see the possibilities for a great film.  He raised the money, partly by mortgaging his house, and the rest is film history.  And Scarlett Johansson is Janet Leigh. 

Holy Motors   2012  115 minutes    The Netflex notes call this a “surreal drama.  Surreal it is, but if there is drama, it is in the loosest sense.  Over 24 hours a man is driven from place to place in a long white limo.  He has his makeup mirror in the back seat, and he plays 11 different roles before his day is done.  He switches from man to woman, impoverished to affluent, young to old, assassin to family man.  The eleven scenes are mainly meant to shock and they do.  The best scene is the last, when the limo is parked with about a dozen of its own kind in an enormous garage.  When the humans are gone they talk among themselves and flash their tail lights at each other.  Bunuel defined surreal film for me; this film doesn't make the cut . You could read a book.

The Life of Pi    2012   127 minutes    Many reviews describe Pi as a boy, but “teenager” or “young adult” would serve better.  Pi’s family is moving its zoo animals from India to Canada on a Japanese freighter.  The ship encounters a typhoon somewhere east of the Philippines and sinks.  Pi ends up in a lifeboat with a tiger, a hyena, an orangutan, and a zebra with a broken leg.  No other boats are in sight after the storm has passed.  Soon only Pi and the tiger are left.   His efforts to save both himself and the tiger are ingenious.  Pi stays out of the tiger’s reach by building a raft for himself and tethering it to the lifeboat. He manages to feed the tiger by catching fish, but both of them grow weaker and by the time the boat washes up on a beach in Mexico, the tiger is no longer a threat to Pi.  The tiger disappears into the jungle and Pi is taken to a hospital by some people who find him on the beach. When a pair of Japanese investigators comes to interview Pi in the hospital, he tells them his story, and tells them that it was his efforts to save the tiger that gave him the will to live until he was rescued.  They can’t believe it so he tells them another story.  We have seen the story with the tiger and want to accept it.  Maybe what makes this a great film is that we are left in doubt.  

Mirror Mirror   2012  105 minutes    Julia Roberts is perfect as the wicked queen, and no Snow White was ever cuter that Lily Collins.  The script ventures far away from any version of the Grimm fairy tale that I have seen or read and it’s all for the better.  No more Sleepy, Dopey, Doc  et al, and they’re bandits instead of miners.  It’s great fun, and I’ll suggest it to my grand children when they are a little older.  As a bonus you get Nathan Lane as a sycophantic courtier. 

Passione   2010   127 minutes   People stand around in the streets of Naples singing.  I got bored and used the fast forward a lot.  One vignette was interesting.  Street musicians were reenacting a tribute to a saint that has been around since c. 1300.

World Without End   2012   8 episodes   This mini-series is a sequel to Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.   It’s the 14th C, 200 years after the cathedral was built, and life is not very pleasant.  A young avaricious monk gets to be prior of the monastery after his ambitious mother has poisoned the competition.  He does his best to make life unbearable for everyone in town.  King Edward II has been deposed by his wife Isabella and seems to have been murdered in prison.  His son reigns as Edward III, not a bad guy.  He does invade France and launch the Hundred Years War, and when he brings his troops back to England he also brings the rats that carry the plague.  It’s a pretty good series and in the end the two principal commoners around whom the story revolves may live happily ever after, if anyone could be happy in that unfortunate century.

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