588 Rue Paradis 1992 125 minutes Piere Zakar is a successful French playwright who has kept himself at a distance from his Armenian roots and his humble background as the child of Armenian émigrés who run a shirt shop in Marseille. The parents are played by very pruny versions of Omar Sharif and Claudia Cardinale. His parents come to Paris one at a time to see his new play and he makes the mistake of putting them in a five star hotel instead of inviting them to his home. He realizes and regrets his mistake, but his father dies before he can make amends. He tries and perhaps succeeds with his mother by buying her an elegant house and recreating the home and rose garden the family had to abandon when they left Armenia.
Brazil 1985 142 minutes Brazil: “The Love Conquers All” Version 1985 94 minutes I had seen the long version some years ago, and I knew that there had been some controversy about the film, so when I saw a three disk set at the library, I grabbed it. Jonathan Pryce plays a daydreaming civil servant in a Kafkaesque bureaucracy sometime in the future. When he tries to game the information system a bit to find the girl he has been dreaming about, a series of bureaucratic errors and cover-ups result in his being classified an enemy of the state. Terry Gilliam’s original cut is a strange and beguiling film and not to everyone’s taste, but when the studio refused to release it without drastic cuts to make it more “commercial,” they lost everything of value in the original and released one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I highly recommend the 142 minute version just for itself, but if you really want a film experience, get the three disk set, see both films and watch the bonus material. It’s a great story of the struggle between studios looking to recoup their investments and artists trying to maintain the integrity of their work.
Broken City 2013 109 minutes You can’t go wrong with Mark Wahlberg as a former New York detective who was dismissed for killing a drug dealer and Russell Crowe as a smarmy, crooked mayor planning to sell a housing project for lower income families to a developer of high end condominiums. Wahlberg is working as a PI and the mayor hires him to find out if his wife is having an affair. Wahlberg finds out too much.
Finding Forrester 2000 136 minutes This may be Sean Connery’s best film. He plays William Forrester, a writer who long ago had one phenomenally successful novel and never published another. He became a recluse who never went out of his Bronx apartment. One night, on a dare, an African American teenager sneaks into his apartment to “take something.” When the writer surprises the boy, he splits but leaves his backpack behind with all of his notebooks inside. The next day the boy finds the pack on the street. Everything he had written in the notebooks has been edited and critiqued. Eventually he calls on the writer, fesses up and they talk. Forrester recognizes a writing talent and agrees to mentor him. At school the boy has had mediocre grades, but his achievement test scores are almost off the charts. The principal realizes he has potential and helps him get a scholarship to a Manhattan prep school. His new English teacher, a failed novelist, thinks he is just there to help the school maintain its outstanding record in basketball and refuses to believe that the writing assignments he turns in are his own work. He threatens to have him expelled. Forrester makes his first public appearance in years to save the day.
Flight 2012 138 minutes I thought this was going to be a movie about flying, but it’s about alcoholism. Denzel Washington plays a pilot who makes a miraculous crash landing that saves the lives of all but five of 110 passengers. Other pilots try to duplicate the landing in a flight simulator, but none succeed. It’s clear that Washington’s skills are unparalleled, but unfortunately he is an alcoholic and gradually it becomes clear that he was drunk on the day of the crash. Then the law suits are filed. Eventually the pilot admits to himself and to the world that he is an alcoholic.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 2012 170 minutes It takes a long time to spin a yarn in Middle Earth. At the end of 170 minutes we seem to have gotten to the beginning of the story. One meets some interesting looking monsters along the way and Bilbo Baggins manages to come away from an encounter with Gollum with a gold ring that no doubt has magical powers. I guess it’s all worth it for the special effects.
The Lady Vanishes 1938 96 minutes Once in a while I overcome my reluctance to see old movies – if only they didn’t have that dissonant music during the opening titles. Maybe because it’s Hitchcock, this one was fun. Margaret Lockwood becomes alarmed when an elderly governess, Miss Froy, played by Dame Mae Whitty, disappears from their compartment on a transcontinental train. The other passengers deny ever having seen her and Lockwood starts to think that a bump she got on her head just before boarding may have made her imagine the whole thing. But she gets some help from Michael Redgrave, and they uncover a sinister plot to kidnap and murder Miss Froy, who is not a governess, but a British agent returning from a mission with critical intelligence.
Man of La Mancha 1972 129 minutes I never saw the play and it’s more than 60 years since I read the novel, so I’m not sure how closely the play and the film follow the book, but the film certainly matched my memories of Quixote and Sancho Panza. I liked the idea that the Quixote story was being told by two actors with the help of the prisoners with whom they were sharing a dungeon. Peter O’Toole’s transformation of himself from clever actor to doddering, idealistic old fool is worth the price of admission, and no one could have been a better Aldonza/Dulcinea than Sophia Loren. I can’t understand why they shot this in black and white.
Le Misérable’s 2012 157 minutes I was disappointed. Yes, the cast is first rate and everyone can sing. The sets could hardly be any better. Hugh Jackman might better be cast as the Count of Montecristo, but he is miles ahead of Gerard Depardieu as Jean Valjean (and that’s Depardieu before he got so fat and onery – he was perfect as the ship’s cook in The Life of Pi). ). What really bothered me was that so much of the action is shot in such low light that you can hardly make out what is happening. Maybe this is dramatic, maybe this is art, but this is the movies, and I would like to see what’s going on. I have never seen the stage production of Les Miserables, so I was not prepared for the sung dialog. The songs were great, but I have mixed feelings about singing the lines of ordinary dialog. The best scenes were on the barricades in the streets of Paris, mostly shot in daylight. Anne Hathaway makes a convincing Fantine. I don’t remember Victor Hugo’s novel or earlier film versions of it well enough to recall if Fantine’s shade appeared at the end, but it does in this film and to great effect.
Puppet 2010 74 minutes This is a documentary about the preparation over two years and then the staging in a New York warehouse of a puppet play about a Midwesterner who changed his name from Farmer to Disfarmer and became a photographer because he couldn’t stand farming. The techniques to move the puppets are very much like Japanese bunraku, where the puppet masters are right there in plain sight and moving the puppets with their hands. In the film you get some sense of what the play is about but much more about the process of developing it. The film also lets us hear from puppeteers promoting their genre and critics, who think there is just too much puppet theater and who doubt its value as anything but an amusing novelty.
A Royal Affair 2012 137 minutes The story closely follows the real events of the early years of mad King Christian VII’s reign in Denmark. When he became king at age 17, he married 15 year old Princess Caroline Mathilda of Wales, who bore him a son and a daughter, although the daughter may have been fathered by Johann Friedrich Struensee, Christian’s personal physician and a German. Struensee was so influential with the king that for several years he actually governed Denmark and instituted much needed social reforms. When his affair with the queen became known, Christian had Streunsee executed and divorced the queen. The Danes make good films.
Silver Linings Playbook 2012 122 minutes Bradley Cooper is great in this film as a guy trying to deal with his mental illness and get his life back together, but the real winner here is Jennifer Lawrence, whom many critics are saying is the most promising talent to come along in years. Think Hunger Games and Winters Bone, two films which she carried almost by herself. The film does a creditable job with the question of mental illness and how individuals and families try to deal with it, but see it for the performances of Cooper and Lawrence.
Vincent & Theo 1990 140 minutes I had always thought of Theo as this patient, long suffering brother who dutifully took care of his erratic sibling. The take in this film is a little different. Theo does take care of Vincent, but he has his own troubles and his own demons. I learned quite a bit from the film – I hope it was accurate – but I didn’t like it.
Viva Maria 1965 116 minutes Brigitte Bardot plays a girl who started helping her Irish terrorist father plant bombs when she was only six years old. After she has to blow him up while they are doing their thing in a generic Latin American country, she joins a traveling acting troupe and teams up with Jeanne Moreau to invent striptease. When a local strongman goes too far in oppressing the campesinos and threatens the members of the troupe, Bardot and Moreau lead a revolution. It’s funny. Enjoy.