31 March 2013

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
  • Director: Wes Anderson
  • Based on Book: No
  • Cast: Frances MacDormand, Bruce Willis. Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Frances McDormand – Fargo, Burn After Reading, North Country, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Almost Famous, Palookaville, Beyond Rangoon, Barton Fink, Mississippi Is Burning
    • Bruce Willis – Tears of the Sun, Friends, Sixth Sense, Breakfast of Champions, Twelve Monkeys, Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, In Country
    • Edward Norton: The Invention of Lying, Kingdom of Heaven, Frida, Fight Club, American History X
    • Bill Murray – Darjeeling Limited, Broken Flowers, Lost in Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums, Hamlet, Cradle Will Rock, Rushmore, Ed Wood, Groundhog Day, What About Bob?, Ghostbusters
    • Tilda Swinton – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Burn After Reading, Michael Clayton, Broken Flowers, Adaption, The Beach, Orlando
  • Why bought: Rave reviews, sounded good, good cast
  • Seen: December 23, 2012

This movie got rave reviews in Sweden: “magic”, “delightfully goofy”, “fantastic adventure”, “thoroughly charming”…It sounded so good that we were actually at the point of clicking on “buy tickets” but something came up, time passed and we never made it to the movie theater. No matter. We bought the DVD.
After this build-up it will probably come as no surprise that it was a big disappointment.
In the first place I kept falling asleep – not in itself an insult, as often mentioned on this blog I have slept through some of the best movies ever made – but it certainly didn’t help in trying to figure out what was going on. Even when I was awake I had to keep asking Hal to rewind (no, that’s wrong, you don’t rewind DVDs but you know what I mean) because he hadn’t caught it either. They talked so fast, jumped from scene to scene with such jerks that we just couldn’t keep up. This can work sometimes, but it didn’t here.
But the main problem was the dead pan staccato, self-conscious “isn’t this a cute way of making a movie” stylized formula.  It wasn’t a question of telling a good story (which it was) in the best way. It was a question of “I have a cool, goofy idea of how to tell a story.” The form oppressed the content – also not automatically a bad thing.  Clearly my fellow Swedes loved it. It didn’t work for me.
What I did like about it was the fantastic house Bill Murray and Frances McDormand lived in and the use of music. The best part was after the credits when the voice-over of the girl? boy? couldn’t tell which – presented each instrument as it appeared in the orchestral piece.
Maybe if I’d never heard of the movie before so I’d no expectations, maybe next time (I’ll probably watch it again someday) when I know what to expect, my rating would have been/will be higher but right now it’s not the 5* of 5 I’d hope for but

2 * of 5.

Twelfth Night (1988 Branagh)

Twelfth Night (1988)
  • Director of stage production: Kenneth Branagh. Director of film: Paul Kafno.
  • Based on Book: Shakespeare
  • Cast: Frances Barber, Christopher Hollis, Tim Barker, Richard Briers, Caroline Langrishe, Anton Lesser, Abigail McKern, Christopher Ravenscroft, James Saxon, James Simmons, Sean Prendergast
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Frances Barber – Prick Up Your Ears, Friday Night Dinner, Hustle
    • Tim Barker – Jeeves and Wooster
    • Richard Briers: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Hamlet, In the Bleak Midwinter, Frankenstein, Much Ado About Nothing, Peter’s Friends, Henry V
    • Anton Lesser – Pirates of the Caribbean, The Girl in the Café, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida
    • Chritstopher Ravenscroft - Henry V
    • James Simmons – Les Miserables (I haven’t seen it yet but have tickets for this afternoon!), All’s Well That Ends Well, Henry V
    • Sean Prendergast – Henry V, Frankenstein, In the Bleak Midwinter
  • Why bought: Shakespeare and Branagh
  • Seen: Twice: January 5, 2010 and December 22, 2012

This is Branagh’s first film effort, I believe, and he was more in charge of the play than the filming, but even in that he already shows signs of his genius.
The setting is simple – it’s all done in a collection of Roman type ruins and sometimes it’s snowing. Christmas pops up in the form of a decorated tree and the carousers singing parts of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Unnecessary, of course, since Twelfth Night has nothing to do with Twelfth Night, but amusing.
So this is not the cinematic extravaganza that Branagh became so famous for later on.  It is clearly a filmed stage play and that’s fine with me.
The real strength of the film is the casting of Feste (Lesser) and Aguecheek (James Simmons) and the profound expression of sadness both reveal amidst all their goofing around.  Anton Lesser, in his enormous ragged overcoat, dreds and gold earrings, sings beautifully though raspily, pierces through the other characters’ silliness with Shakespeare’s excellent foolish wisdom, and throughout looks so very sad and despairing.  James Simmons too fumbles around like the idiot he is but is so endearing in his melancholy realization that he is, indeed, an idiot.
Richard Briers is also good as the vain and nasty Malvolio and he is truly broken at the end, deepening the pain in this comedy.  Caroline Langrishe’s Olivia is competent and beautiful but nobody can match Helena Bonham-Carter in this role.  Sir Toby (James Saxon) is the least obnoxious version I’ve seen and therefore the best, I liked Fabian (Sean Prendergast) and Ravencroft’s Orsino is fine too – he’s handsome and dumb. Unfortunately I found Abigail McKern’s Maria shrill and unlikeable which is maybe the way Shakespeare meant her to be but not pleasant to watch.
However the movie’s weakness is in the characterization of Viola. Frances Barber just can’t manage it. She has an odd smile that dominates all of her facial expressions, she’s teary and wimpy instead of wry and sharp and she ruins the hilarity of the sword fight by overplaying her girly hysterics.
Wow. It feels really weird to write such nasty stuff about a Branagh production. But, hey, no one is a total genius the first time. That came in his second directing effort, Henry V, the following year.
But here he only gets 8* of 10.

24 March 2013


2012 (2009)
  • Director: Roland Emmerich
  • Based on Book: No
  • Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Woody Harrelson, Danny Glover, Morgan Lily, Beatrice Rosen
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • John Cusack – High Fidelity, Serendipity, 1408, Being John Malkovich, The Cradle Will Rock, The Thin Red Line, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Grosse Point Blank and more
    • Amanda Peet –Something’s Gotta Give, Igby Goes Down, Changing Lanes
    • Chiwetel Ejiofor: Children of Men, Love Actually, Dirty Pretty Things, Amistad
    • Thandie Newton – Crash, Gridlock’d
    • Oliver Platt: Frost/Nixon, Benny and Joon
    • Woody Harrelson – Battle in Seattle, White Men Can’t Jump, No Country for Old Men, Prairie Home Companion, North Country,
    • Danny Glover – Be Kind Rewind, Honeydripper, Dreamgirls, Manderlay, The Royal Tenenbaums, Bopha, Lethal Weapon 1-4, The Color Purple, Silverado
    • Morgan Lily – You’re Just Not That Into Him
    • Beatrice Rosen – The Dark Knight
  • Why bought: Remembered it as quite good
  • Seen: Twice. First time 2010, recommended by and borrowed from student Salah.  Now: December 12, 2012

Wasn’t that cute?  Watching 2012 on the day the world was supposed to end.  I planned that. How dorky can you get?
And it wasn’t at all “quite good”. It was, in fact, quite bad.  My list of objections isn’t long but the examples of each are, let’s say, numerous, of which I’ll give only a few:
  • Never mind the big stuff like solar storms knocking out the earth’s geology and all the successful dodging of falling skyscrapers and exploding mountains. I can accept all that without a problem. But within that framework – not credible!
    • What father would walk into a clearly lethal lake area with his two kids?
    • Hiking or riding in an open truck across the Himalayas in a shirt or with bare legs. Why can’t filmmakers from sunny California learn that cold means cold? People don’t survive, and certainly don’t stroll, in those temperatures.
    • Hello? There’s one minute left before total annihilation and it’s up to you to swim under water and remove the thing blocking the thing and you hang around explaining to your whining son that he has to stay behind to take care of his little sister, then you kiss your ex-wife a bunch of times and then said son follows you anyway and blah blah blah. That minute went by about five minutes ago.
  • Clichés!
    • Sickeningly banal father-daughter, father-son, dad-kid teary scenes. We don’t care, and of all the billions on earth why should you of all people survive?
    • Ho hum, macho dads, macho boys do all the saving.   The women and the little girls stand around screaming and crying.  Have we seen it before?

Still, the movie isn’t a total bust.  If it hadn’t had any people in it, or let’s say “personal stories”, it would have been quite good.  In other words the special effects were absolutely spectacular.
  • Car racing ahead of street splitting earthquake
  • Tsunami pouring over the Himalayas
  • Flying through exploding mountains.

How do they do all these things?
And between all the boring supposed-to-be-tear-jerking nonsense it’s extremely exciting.
I have to ask though. What in the world are good respectable actors like Danny Glover, John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Woody Harrelson doing in a stupid movie like this? They looked embarrassed playing their parts. They should be.
It’s not the worst of the bad films we’ve been watching but it’s not the best wither. Even Independence Day was sort of better. But I really like John Cusack and Danny Glover and the special effects are really truly awesome and don’t tell anybody but I can’t help liking the damn thing. So embarrassingly enough, though it’s on my list of least liked watched movies of 2012 the rating is

2 ½ * of 5.  Isn’t that shameful?

Twelfth Night 1996

Twelfth Night (1996)
  • Director: Trevor Nunn
  • Based on Book: Shakespeare
  • Cast: Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham-Carter, Nicholas Farrell, Ben Kingsley, Nigel Hawthorne, Imelda Staunton, Mel Smith, Toby Stephens, Richard E. Grant
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Imogen Stubbs – Sense and Sensibility
    • Helena Bonham-Carter –I know her films, here are a few favorites: Harry Potter, Sweeney Todd, The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Howards End
    • Nicholas Farrell: Hamlet, In the Bleak Midwinter, Sex Chips and Rock’n’Roll, Driving Lessons
    • Ben Kingsley – Shutter Island, Gandhi, House of Sand and Fog, Schindler’s List, Dave
    • Nigel Hawthorne: Amistad, Richard III, The Madness of King George, Gandhi, The Tempest, Holocaust
    • Imelda Staunton – Harry Potter, Vera Drake, Shakespeare in Love, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Taking Woodstock, Freedom Writers, David Copperfield, Sense and Sensibility, Peter’s Friends
    • Richard E. Grant – Dracula, Withnail and I, Wah-Wah, Me Myself and Kubrick, Gosford Park, Keep the Aspidistras Flying, Cold Lazarus
  • Why bought: Shakespeare
  • Seen: four or five times. Now: December 16, 2012

Trevor Nunn is justifiably known as a Shakespeare expert.  He brings vitality and imagination to his productions generally without sacrificing any of Shakespeare’s genius.  But there are always problems, I’ve found.  So I’ll start with them.
He adds scenes that Shakespeare doesn’t have, once at the beginning with the storm that sank the ship and caused the twins to lose each other. This was accompanied by a fake Shakespeare narration.  In the middle of the film Antonio is shown being chased through town and captured by the soldiers.  Shakespeare didn’t need these scenes. Neither do we.
The movie is set at the turn of the century and though Downton Abbey didn’t yet exist when Nunn made Twelfth Night I can’t help but see butler Carson in Hawthorne’s Malvolio and Staunton’s Maria as Mrs. Hughes.
But the main problem is that they mumble. Especially in the beginning I can’t hear what they say and the camera jumps around from setting to setting and if I didn’t know the story inside and out I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on.
But just when I ask myself why I like this movie so much something happens. The subtlety of expression, the twitch of an eyebrow, the slight lilt of a phrase that only great actors can achieve - are achieved.  The underlying melancholy and deep sadness in the play swirl like a fog into the bright hilarity. The reunion of the lost twins and the confusion of the witnesses is a masterly mix of gripping emotion and comedy.  Helena Bonham-Carter is unequalled in facial expressions and in this scene she is absolutely perfect.  She is, in the best meaning of the word, the star of this play.  Imogen Stubbs manages to carry off the difficult role of Viola/Cesario more convincingly than most. Nigel Hawthorne is a very good Malvolio (it’s not his fault Downton Abbey showed up twenty years later) and Ben Kingsley is a sensitive and kind and funny Feste, just as Shakespeare wrote him.  And dopey Orsino, one of Shakespeare’s many stupid romantic men, is very well done by Maggie Smith’s son Toby Stephens.
In other words, Trevor Nunn does it again.  He pulls it off.

7 ½ * of 10

Rob Roy

Rob Roy (1995)
  • Director: Michael Caton-Jones
  • Based on Book: no. We thought it was based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel of the same name but it isn’t.  At all.
  • Cast: Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, Tim Roth, John Hurt, Eric Stoltz
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Liam Neeson – Seraphim Falls, Batman Begins, Kingdom of Heaven, Love Actually, The Gangs of New York, Les Miserables, Nell, Schindler’s List
    • Jessica Lange – Broken Flowers, Big Fish, Titus, A Thousand Acres, Sweet Dreams, Frances, Tootsie, The Postman Always Rings Twice
    • Tim Roth: Dark Water, The Beautiful Country, To Kill a King, Planet of the Apes, Gridlock’d, Pulp Fiction, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
    • John Hurt – Merlin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter, Melancholia, Brighton Rock, V for Vendetta, Manderlay, Dogville, Dead Man, Elephant Man, Alien, I Claudius
    • Eric Stoltz: Pulp Fiction, Little Women, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Why bought: After our trip to Scotland we started reading books by Sir Walter Scott (and other Scottish writers). We thought the movie was based on the novel and chose it with our read-book-watch-movie friend, YW.
  • Seen: Once, with YW, on December 15, 2012.

Movies about men’s honor make me very uneasy.  Yes, we should be true to ourselves and live in dignity and all that but at what cost to others? In this legend Rob Roy was up against bad guys and in this movie John Hurt and especially Tim Roth (one of the best actors around) are excellently evil and fun to watch but Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange are just…too much. Yeah, he’s macho, yeah she’s a submissive but feisty and sexy wife, yeah they love each other a whole lot but come on – “You are so fine to me, wife”? “You are so fine to me, husband”?  One’s gag reflection is not far away.
And really – lipstick on a Scottish peasant woman singing a Gaelic song? A white billowing nightgown, cleverly revealing the form of a sexy torso on a Scottish peasant woman?
OK, so now I’ve trashed the film.  Is it that bad? No. It’s all right. Tim Roth lifts it many notches as does John Hurt. The scenery is, well, Scotland.  It’s beautiful. The historical aspect is interesting.  It’s watchable.
But those who expect a film of Sir Walter Scott’s book will be sadly disappointed. The stories have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The only incident they both used – and which is probably a vital part of the legend, true or not – is the escape from the bridge into the rapids.  If you must choose, read the book. It’s far more interesting and in spite of having been written in the 1800’s it has a far more enlightened view on gender than this altogether Hollywood movie. Sorry, Hollywood, you’ve made some good movies. And Rob Roy was made with the support of the Scottish Film Society (or whatever it’s called) and EU.  It should have been a lot better.
Still, it’s about ten times better than the dreadful Braveheart – on my list, the worst movie ever made – and so it gets 3 ½ * - oh OK – 4 (because Tim Roth alone gets 10) out of ten.

4* out of 10.

17 March 2013

Top 25 movies seen for the first time in 2011

Top 25 movies seen for the first time in 2011 (not including Shakespeare movies), in alphabetical order

  • Band Slam
  • Battle in Seattle
  • Boy A
  • Driving Lessons
  • Fish Tank
  • Flickan som lekte med elden (Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • King’s Speech
  • Låt den rätta komma in (Let the Right One Come In)
  • Leningrad Cowboys Go to America
  • Lookout, The
  • Luftslottet som sprängdes (Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy)
  • Män som hatar kvinnor (Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy)
  • Melancholia
  • Moon
  • Nil by Mouth
  • Norwegian Wood
  • Offside
  • Once
  • Pina
  • Reader, The
  • Road, The
  • Sherry Baby
  • This Is England

Top 20 seen first time 2010

Top 20 movies seen for the first time in 2010 (not including Shakespeare movies), in alphabetical order

  • Boy in the Striped Pajamas
  • Breaking and Entering
  • Cadillac Records
  • Ett öga rött
  • Frozen River
  • Great Debaters
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I
  • Honeydripper
  • Inside I’m Dancing
  • Into the Wild
  • My First Mister
  • Naked
  • Persepolis
  • Proof
  • Raisins in the Sun
  • Serious Man
  • Snow Cake
  • Stranger than Fiction
  • Things We Lost in the Fire
  • Wah-Wah

Top 15 movies seen first time in 2009

Top 15 movies seen for the first time in 2009 (not including Shakespeare movies), in alphabetical order

  • 8 päivää ensi-iltaan (8 Days to Premiére)
  • Across the Universe
  • Banlieu 13
  • Bopha
  • Born Yesterday
  • Burn After Reading
  • Diva
  • Good Night and Good Luck
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Man Who Fell to Earth
  • Prairie Home Companion
  • Running on Empty
  • Slipping Down Life
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Station Agent

Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
  • Director: Terry Gilliam
  • Based on Book: no
  • Cast: Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Andrew Garfield, Tom Waits, Colin Farrell
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Christopher Plummer – Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind, The Lake House, The Twelve Monkeys, Dolores Claiborne, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country
    • Andrew Garfield – The Amazing Spiderman, Never Let Me Go, Boy A
    • Heath Ledger: Brokeback Mountain, Ned Kelly, The Dark Knight, 10 Things I Hate About You
    • Johnny Depp – everything…
    • Jude Law: Cold Mountain, Alfie, Repo Men, Sherlock Holmes, Sleuth, The Holiday, Breaking and Entering, The Aviator, Captain Sky and the World of Tomorrow, Road to Perdition, eXistenZ, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
    • Tom Waits – Down by Law, Dracula, The Twelve Monkeys, The United States of Leland
    • Colin Farrell – In Bruges, Daredevil
  • Why bought: Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Jude Law, Terry Gilliam
  • Seen: Twice. First time February 18, 2011. Now December 14, 2012

The first time we watched this DVD I slept through most of it. This is not an insult to the film. I have slept through Dr. Strangelove and How I Won the War and may other great movies too. Sometimes I’m just very tired and movies soothe me (Dr. Strangelove?! Soothing?! Well…I slept, didn’t I?)
The second time, though again a Friday evening at the end of a stressful end-of-term week, I stayed awake almost the whole time. So did I like it? For one, it’s Terry Gilliam. For two, Johnny Depp is in it. For three, the cast is great. For four, it’s colorful, lively, imaginative and fun to watch.
The story: Dr. Parnassus, who is thousands of years old, has made a deal with the devil (an appropriately sleazy Tom Waits) in order to become young again and woo and marry a lovely young chick. The price: his daughter when she turns sixteen.  We’ve heard it before. Now, in modern times, in London of the early 21st century, these two plus a guy (a perfect Andrew Garfield) and a dwarf run a sort of a magic show. Only it really is magic – on the other side of a mirror one enters the world of one’s desires.
And so upon the scene comes a handsome mysterious Heath Ledger, also perfect for the role. Sadly, he died while making the film – a real shock and loss to the film world - but evidently everything in the real world had been filmed by then so it worked very well that Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell replaced him in different sequences of the behind-the-mirror world.
Lily Cole plays the daughter and she’s a feisty, big mouth, typical modern teenager but she’s also as cute as a button and sexy and that in fact is what’s wrong with the movie. As so often, though there is a lot of creativity in the film, the gender stereotypes prompt a weary ho-hum.  It’s fine that in the end she ends up with devoted loving Garfield but do they have to be so cloyingly bourgeois, rich daddy-mummy-baby girl at the end? I know, I know, kids growing up in weird families tend to long for the “normal” but they could have chosen an interesting kind of normal.
How to rate it? Hmmm. The plusses and the minuses about average out to
5 * out of 10.

Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
  • Director: Scott Derrickson
  • Based on Book: no
  • Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, Jon Hamm
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Keanu Reeves – many. Here are a few favorites: Much Ado About Nothing, Speed, Feeling Minnesota, Matrix (and the other two, though less so), A Scanner Darkly, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, My Own Private Idaho, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures
    • Jennifer Connelly: A Beautiful Mind, Creation, He’s Just Not That Into You, House of Sand and Fog, Pollack, Requiem for a Dream
    • Kathy Bates: Six Feet Under, About Schmidt, Titanic, Dolores Claiborne, Fried Green Tomatoes, Misery
    • John Cleese – Monty Python, Harry Potter, A Fish Called Wanda, Clockwise, The Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life, Fawlty Towers, The Taming of a Shrew
    • Jon Hamm: Madmen
  • Why bought: included in Doomsday box with The Day after Tomorrow. I probably would have bought it anyway eventually.
  • Seen: Twice. First time in 2008. Now December 7, 2012

The original from 1951 with Michael Rennie is generally considered a much better film and I might agree if I watched both one after the other.  It’s been several years since I saw the ’51 version and I remember liking it very much but I think the 2008 version is better than its reputation.  It is a serious attempt to update the story.  Of course the Earth is in no way free from the threat of nuclear distruction either through war or power plant/waste storage disasters but the threat to the environment through overconsumption is dire enough to warrant a visit from an extraterrestrial rescue mission.  I hope they come soon!
The film is bogged down by platitudes and simplifications – when Klaatu sees Dr. Benson grieving with her beloved stepson by the father’s grave he realizes humans aren’t all bad and he decided to help them – a little too pathetic and don’t aliens love each other too?! – but good acting carries the film. Keanu Reeves is always Keanu Reeves and fits the role of the super intelligent detached ambassador very well. Jennifer Connelly is always good and it’s always a pleasure to see John Cleese and Kathy Bates. Since seeing it the first time I’ve made Jon Hamm’s acquaintance through Mad Men and had a hard time separating him from Don Draper but it was fun to see him in a different role.
Generally it’s a well done film with believable special effects.  It’s exciting from start to finish.  And I like the kid.

3* of 5.

Life Above All

Life Above All (2010)

This is a difficult movie to watch.  In the first place, my total ignorance of the language they’re speaking makes me depend completely on the subtitles which sometimes flash by too quickly.  When watching French or German movies I can always catch a few words that help me along but here – nothing.
What’s more difficult of course is the subject matter – AIDS in South Africa.  The parents of schoolgirl Chandra (played by Khomotso Manyaka) have AIDS and are dying.  In a slow- moving, contemplative story that started gripping me about half-way through, we see how Chandra is forced to give up her studies to take care of her little brother and sister.  Her step-father disappears, her mother leaves to protect the family from the shame but Chandra goes to get her.  The image of this scrawny little girl trudging across the dry South African landscape to find her mother lying under a tree in the middle of nowhere will be hard to forget.
Even stronger is her friendship with Esther – played by a fantastic young actress Keaobaka Makanyane, who has already lost her parents to AIDS and is forced into prostitution to support herself.  The consequences are inevitable.  She is beaten and has probably contracted AIDS herself.
The title of the movie says it all.  Somehow these girls survive.  They shoulder the responsibilities of the adults who are no longer there.
The film is dedicated to the Chandras of the world.
How could it be anything but 5*? -  though it is insultingly banal to rate a movie like this.  See it.

Day after Tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
  • Director: Roland Emmerich
  • Based on Book: no
  • Cast: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenthal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Jay O. Sanders, Sela Ward, Arjay Smith, Tamlyn Tomita, Ian Holm, Adrian Lester
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Dennis Quaid: Smart People, American Dreamz, Caveman, Far from Heaven, Great Balls of Fire
    • Jake Gyllenthal: Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, Proof, Moonlight Mile, The Good Girl, October Sky
    • Emmy Rossum: Phantom of the Opera, Mystic River
    • Dash Mihok: I Am Legend, The Guru, The Perfect Storm, The Thin Red Line, Romeo and Juliet
    • Jay O. Sanders: Cadillac Records, Half Nelson, Music of the Heart, V I Warshowski
    • Sela Ward: Runaway Bride, The Fugitive
    • Arjay Smith: Be Kind Rewind, NYPD Blue
    • Ian Holm: lots of Shakespeare, Lord of the Rings, Alien, From Hell and more
    • Adrian Lester: Hustle, Hamlet, As You Like It, Born Romantic
  • Why bought: Liked it the first time
  • Seen: Twice. This time: November 30, 2012

It was snowing yesterday so we chose this for our Friday evening fun.
I had been surprised the first time we saw it by how good it is.  I was surprised again, thinking maybe I’d just been in a disaster-movie mood the first time. If so, I was in the same mood this time.
It’s exciting from start to finish.  The special effects are incredible and totally convincing.  How do they do this stuff?  The concept is frighteningly plausible.  The characters are well enough developed to be believable and likable. The acting is solid. Jake Gyllenthal is always good and Adrian Lester is one of my favorite actors.
So why not 5* out of 5? Oh, I don’t know.  It’s exciting, it has some political points to make, I like it. But I don’t love it. Not like I love Billy Elliot, The Commitments, Hamlet (both Branagh’s version and Adrian Lester’s) or Cabaret. I’m sure I’ll watch it again but not ten or more times like the above mentioned.
Oh come on, I like the film!

3.98 * out of 5, let’s say.

PS We looked out the window after watching the film.  It was still snowing.  I love snow but it was…a bit chilling. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.

Prick Up Your Ears

Prick Up Your Ears (1987)
  • Director: Stephen Frears
  • Based on Book: by Allan Bennett and John Lahr
  • Cast: Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, Vanessa Redgrave, Frances Barber, Julie Walters
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Gary Oldman: Harry Potter, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Sid and Nancy, Léon, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Bok of Eli, The Dark Knight, The Scarlet Letter, Immortal Beloved, Romeo Is Bleeding, True Romance, Dracula, Nil by Mouth (director)
    • Alfred Molina: An Education, Chocolat, Frida, As You Like It
    • Vanessa Redgrave: Atonement, Girl Interrupted, The Cradle Will Rock, Lulu on the Bridge, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Howards End, The Ballad of the Sad Café, Playing for Time, Oh What a Lovely War, Isadora, Camelot
    • Frances Barber: Friday Night Dinner, Hustle, Twelfth Night
    • Julie Walters: Billy Elliot, Educating Rita, Mamma Mia, Harry Potter, Driving Lessons, Wah-Wah, Titanic Town
  • Why bought: Julie Walters and Gary Oldman
  • Seen: November 25, 2012

This was a totally unknown film for me.  I searched for Julie Walters which I do now and then to see what’s available. If I had found it through Gary Oldman I would have taken it too.
I had no idea what to expect and it took awhile to get into it.  Goldman is always perfect, Julie Walters was there all of two minutes buy also perfect, also as always. In fact the whole cast was excellent and after getting to know the characters – especially the leads, Oldman and Molina – in their attempts to make it in the theater world while dealing with the sordidness of a society that makes their relationship illegal – the movie deepened.  Oldman played the cheeky rebellious working class boy turned celebrated playwright Joe Osten (of whom I had never heard) and Molina, his lover and muse and a total failure, jealous of Osten’s success.  The tragic end comes as a shock and hours later I was still saddened by the fate of these two men.
An odd but compelling movie.

A strong 3 ½ * of 5, mostly for the acting.

15 March 2013

The Happening

The Happening (2008)
  • Director: M. Night Shayamalan
  • Based on Book: no
  • Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Lequizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, Betty Buckley
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Mark Wahlberg: Planet of the Apes (2001), The Perfect Storm
    • Zooey Deschanel: Almost Famous, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Good Girl
    • John Lequizamo: Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet, Repo Man, Miracle at St. Anna
  • Why bought: Included in box with Day After Tomorrow
  • Seen: November 23, 2012

The film starts with an interesting concept: something is suddenly causing people in cities to get weird and kill themselves.  People start fleeing. The epidemic spreads like wildfire in the northeastern states of the US, our heroes with them.
It’s scary. Just the wind in the treetops is sinister, and it turns out it’s the trees themselves that are sending out toxins to kill the human marauders killing the planet.  Not a bad idea. Nature fights back.
Otherwise it’s a run of the mill flee-the-disaster film in which everyone else dies. This one attempts to put more into it with some appealing oddballs, some likeable kids, (two of whom get killed by humans – that was a shock, they were nice kids), a couple with a shaky marriage taking care of the ten-year-old daughter of their best friends who caught the suicide bug.  The old woman in the house where they seek shelter is a truly spooky person. 
Unfortunately there were too many banalities to make the movie really interesting. One watches it with a touch of ho-hum under the excitement.  Worth watching if you don’t expect a masterpiece.

4 ½ * of 10.


Inception (2010)
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Based on Book: no
  • Cast: Leonardo du Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Pete Postlewaite, Lucas Haas, Michael Caine
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Leonardo di Caprio: You know
    • Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Third Rock from the Sun, The Dark Knight Rises, The Lookout, Miracle at St. Anna, Brick, 10 Things I Hate About You
    • Ellen Page: Smart People, Juno
    • Tom Hardy: The Dark Knight Rises (oops, that’s the one I haven’t seen yet), Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, Sweeney Todd
    • Ken Watanaba: Batman Begins
    • Cillian Murphy: The Dark Knight, 28 Days Later
    • Tom Berenger: The Gingerbread Man, Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon, Eddie and the Cruisers
    • Marion Cotillard: Nine, La vie en rose, Public Enemies, A Good Year
    • Pete Postlewaite – Brassed Off, The Constant Gardener, The Shipping News, Romeo and Juliet, The Last Mohican, Hamlet
    • Lucas Haas: The Darwin Awards, Brick, Breakfast of Champions, Witness
    • Michael Caine: you know
  • Why bought: DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, sounded interesting, good reviews
  • Seen: November 17, 2012

Don’t ask me to tell the story of this film. It was confusing from start to finish. The basic story is that this team goes into people’s dreams to steal or implant ideas and they could go to different levels of dreams within dreams and memories and stuff like that.  To put it mildly it took a lot of concentration to figure out if they were in a dream – and whose dream – or in reality.  After awhile it became sort of clear that if there was a lot of running and shooting it was a dream.
    So I’m glad we didn’t watch this on a Friday night after a glass of whiskey.  I needed all – and I mean all – my wits about me to keep up as much as I did, which was mostly. I think.
It was worth the effort.  The concept is interesting, the different layers of consciousness, subconsciousness, memories, emotions – so much is being learned about how the mind works and this movie makes good use of this new knowledge.  It was really interesting. The acting was good – how could it not be with that cast.  I didn’t buy it for Ellen Page’s sake because I didn’t recognize her name but I recognized her. She’s good! As were they all.  I’ve tried to resist DiCaprio for years because I really don’t see him as the heartthrob he was supposed to be but I can’t deny that his acting is always impeccable. And I’ve loved Joseph G-L since Third Rock.
So even if I never really figured out why they were suddenly running around in the snowy Alps (or wherever) skiing and snowmobiling and shooting etc. – and what really happened to the wife? I mean is she dead so her body is somewhere in the real world, buried? Or is she sleeping somewhere, lost, stuck, in her dream? Even if.
This is a movie that must be seen several times I think.  After this viewing:

3* of 5. Next time probably more.

Independence Day

Independence Day (1996)
  • Director: Roland Emmerich
  • Based on Book: no
  • Cast: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Viveca A. Fox
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Will Smith: I Am Legend, Wild Wild West, Men in Black, Six Degrees of Separation
    • Bill Pullman: Igby Goes Down, While You Were Sleeping, Sleepless in Seattle, A League of Their Own, The Accidental Tourist
    • Jeff Goldblum:  Igby Goes Down, Jurassic Park, The Fly, Silverado
    • Mary McDonnell: Donnie Darko, Dances with Wolves, Matewan
    • Judd Hirsch: A Beautiful Mind,  there must be more I’ve seen but I can’t find any
    • Robert Loggia: The Sopranos, Dharma and Greg, Wide Awake, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Prizzi’s Honor, lots of old TV series
    • Randy Quaid: Brokeback Mountain, Bound for Glory, Paper Moon, The Last Picture Show
    • Viveca A. Fox: Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2, Ella Enchanted, Born on the Fourth of July
  • Why bought: It was in a box of doomsday films of which I wanted only The Day After Tomorrow
  • Seen: November 16, 2012

I have avoided this film for a long time because in the reviews it was described as American patriotic. It certainly is, to the point of being nauseating and ridiculous.  There are other reasons not to like it.  The gender stereotypes are firmly set – macho guys who love their wives and children but go off to war to save the world, tough beautiful chicks who nevertheless hug them good-bye and wave them off, or conveniently die.  The rescue of the world against the overpowering bad-guy aliens who locust like are stripping the planet of all life (what possible evolutionary purpose could such creatures play?) is achieved by a) weapons, b) a computer virus that a second-grade intergalactic power could brush off with a simple Norton virus protection program, c) macho bravado and d) just a touch of Christian and Jewish faith…God just might be out there, right?
So an automatic 0 * of 100, right? Um. No.
I kind of liked it. Stupid, yes. Hokey, yes. A tad unrealistic even within the framework of slimy-vastly-superior-technologically-invaders-out-to-destroy-us sci-fi, yes. Shallow characters, dull personal stories. Yes.
But it’s always fun to watch Will Smith. Jeff Goldblum is kind of likeable as the nerdy genius who figures it all out.  The acting generally is, if not enthralling, at least competent.  The big enormous space ship hanging over all the cities is kind of cool. And there are a lot of spectacular fires, although I did snooze through the bombing.
So not a zero, no.  You don’t have to rush out and see it but for a Friday night? Let’s say 1* out of 5 which puts it way above Caveman and 2012 Ice Age but well below the Alien series, for example.

1* of 5.

Best Exotic Hotel Marigold

Best Exotic Hotel Marigold (2011)
  • Director: John Madden
  • Based on Book: Deborah Moggach
  • Cast: Maggie Smith, Judie Dench, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Tom Wilkinson, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Maggie Smith – no list necessary but here are a few highlights: Harry Potter 1-8 of  course, A Room with a View, Gosford Park, Keeping Mum, David Copperfield, Tea with Mussolini, Richard III, Sister Act, The Prime of Miss Jean Broadie
    • Judi Dench, ditto: Cranford, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Ladies in Lavender, The Shipping News, Chocolat, Tea with Mussolini, Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown, 84 Charing Cross Road, A Room with a View, Macbeth
    • Bill Nighy – Harry Potter, Love Actually, Pirates of the Carribbean, The Girl in the Café, The Boat that Rocked, Shaun of the Dead
    • Penelope Wilton – and this was really a case of oh her! Where??? And it was YW who said: Downton Abbey
    • Dev Patel: Slumdog Millionaire
    • Tom Wilkinson: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Girl with the Pearl Earring, Shakespeare in Love, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
    • Ronald Pickup: Hustle, Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Ivanhoe
    • Celie Imrie: Cranford, Wah-Wah, Daniel Deronda, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Hilary and Jackie, In the Bleak Midwinter, Upstairs Downstairs
  • Why bought: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy.
  • Seen: November 11, 2012 with YW in our read-book-see-movie club

Having just finished reading the book upon which the movie is based – These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach – is not necessarily a fair basis for judging a movie.  I kept waiting for this or that character and this or that piece of background material, and I kept saying, “They changed this,” or “They changed that.”  I liked the book very much.
But gradually the movie took over and started to hold its own.  I was absorbed by the story and the characters on the screen and not caught in the one in the novel.
And a bittersweet story it is with a gang of eccentric old people drawn together by pensioner’s poverty in a struggling hotel in India, owned and run by the enthusiastic, hard-working but rather impractical Sonny.  The characters are – of course – played to perfection by the elite. When have Smith, Dench and Nighy ever been less than superb? Never.  But the rest are wonderful too.  The visual effects and colors are pure delight.
I still would have liked more background to the characters but what was there was done to a T.

4* of 5