Saturday, January 29, 2011

Film Festival - DVD and PVR Category

Mademoiselle Chambon

I used this movie to practice listening to French, breaking it up into three 40-minute segments and then watching each segment first with English subtitles and then without subtitles.  It doesn't have very much dialogue, just a lot of longing looks and meaningful glances, so it didn't work very well for that purpose.   Like French movies in general, it takes an honest look at people caught up in the situations that people get caught up in.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)


Because this movie is six hours long, I had serious reservations about it from the beginning.  It is a fictionalized account, done in documentary style, of the pro-Palestinian revolutionary Carlos the Jackal, who was active in the 1970's.  We get a fairly detailed look at what he does, but don't really get an explanation of why he does it.  Nor do we get an explanation of why men wore such ridiculously long sideburns in the early 1970's.
There's nothing wrong with this movie, but it's not the type of movie I enjoy and that's why I'm giving it a low rating.

My rating:  ** (out of 5)

Winter's Bone

If I were a member of the Academy, Winter's Bone would win my vote for best picture (although I haven't seen The Social Network, Inception, 127 Hours, or Toy Story 3 yet).  It recounts the story of how Ree Dolly, the 17-year old daughter of meth manufacturer Jessup Dolly, goes about keeping her family together after her father, out on bail, disappears.  The music is fantastic and the portrayal of the inter-related families and the "moral" code that ties them together is believable.

My rating: ***** (out of 5)

"The Illusionist"

French actor Jacques Tati wrote the screenplay for this animated film, with the intention of doing it as a live action film.  Roger Ebert argues that it is much more effective as an animated film, and I would have to agree with him.  It tells the story of a magician whose career is in rapid decline because audiences are no longer interested in illusionism.  A young Scottish woman is enchanted by the magician's art, and attaches herself to him.  Although their relationship is chaste, the magician does whatever is necessary to provide her with the material possessions she desires.  She eventually is attracted to a younger, more appropriate man.  Ebert's review reveals an interesting personal story relating to the screenplay.  The animation, most of it hand-drawn, is beautiful and I highly recommend it.

My rating:  ****

"The Good Parents"

It's obvious why older men are attracted to young women.  But why do some young women, who don't seem to have a financial motive or to be looking for a father substitute, allow themselves to get involved with controlling older men? Eighteen year old Maya de Jong has left her small town home to move to Melbourne, where she embarks upon an affair with her much older (and married) boss.  This echoes the experience of Maya's mother, many years earlier.  When Maya's parents come to visit her, she has left town on "a business trip" and in her note to them tells them she's not sure how long she'll be gone.  The frantic parents are forced to reconsider some of the decisions they themselves had made at Maya's age.

My rating:  ****

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"The Cookbook Collector"

We interrupt this film festival for a quick book review.  The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman, is charming, but flawed.  It explores the relationship between Jess, a book loving environmental activist, and her sister Emily, the CEO of a startup tech company.  Each of these characters has romantic problems and each of them is exploring the issue of what is truly valuable in life.  Although the book is very enjoyable, there are several highly unlikely coincidences that get in the way of the reader accepting the book's action.

My rating:  **** (out of 5 - actually 3 1/2, but I don't know how to make half an asterisk)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Film Festival Continues

My personal film festival is continuing with four new entries.  This may become an annual event.

Black Swan

This psychological horror story focuses on Nina, a ballerina striving to win the dual role of white swan and black swan in Swan Lake.  Her drive to perfection leads her to mutilate herself and to become obsessed with the ballerina she perceives as her rival.  The style is so over the top that it's sometimes funny.  Barbara Hershey gives Faye Dunaway a run for her money as the ballerina's evil mother.  The ticket taker at the theater described this movie as "weird, but very good."  I agree.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

The King's Speech

I had no idea that George VI had a stammer.  This movie explores how he deals with this problem when he unexpectedly ascends to the throne due to the abdication of his brother David, the Duke of Windsor.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)

The Fighter

The boxing movie is among my least favorite genres, but I chose to see this one because it has gotten such favorable reviews.  It follows the formula of a determined underdog who achieves victory by dint of hard work.  I still don't like boxing movies, but have to admit that this one was good.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)


Sophia Coppola takes a minimalist approach to this portrayal of a movie star who is dissatisfied with the emptiness of his life.  He has a great relationship with his daughter, who lives with her mother, but most of his time is spent doing publicity for movies and engaging in shallow relationships.  He's  dissatisfied  with everything except the relationship with the daughter but doesn't make much of an effort to spend more time on that and less time on the dissatisfying aspects of his life.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

By Nightfall, by Michael Cunningham

What is the connection between love and beauty? Art dealer Peter Harris finds himself attracted to his wife's much younger troubled brother Mizzy (for "Mistake" - he's some 20 years younger than his youngest sibling). Is it because Mizzy looks like a younger version of his wife? Is it because the art Peter is selling is good enough, but not transcendent? And is the reason Mizzy comes on to him actually a manipulative attempt to prevent Peter from telling his wife that Mizzy is again using drugs?

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Two Movies

I love movies.  There were times in my life when I routinely saw several movies per week - and on several occasions, several movies in a day.  Now, however, it seems to be more difficult to actually get out to a theater.  Because this time of year is best for the types of movies I enjoy, I'm making more of an effort to actually see some.  I saw two very good ones this week.

Blue Valentine is about a mismatched couple who fall  in love, marry, and then grow apart from each other.  It is beautifully acted by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.  Not a feel-good movie, but a very convincing movie.

My rating:  ***** (out of 5)

True Grit is a much more stylized movie, a western.  Again, the actors do superb jobs.  Mattie, a 14-year-old living in 1870's Arkansas and whose father murderer has fled to Indian country, speaks in a Biblical-Shakespearean style.  She's determined  to avenge her father's death and partners with a U.S. marshall to do so.  The music, mostly hymns, enhances the movie.  Once again the Coen brothers have succeeded in giving a fresh look to a familiar genre.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin

I expected to like this book more than I did because it was very favorably reviewed and on many best books lists for 2009.  It describes the experiences of Eilis, who immigrates from Ireland to the United States shortly after World War II.  It does a great job of describing the homesickness and alienation of immigrants, but the characters aren't particularly nuanced.  Toibin's The Master, about Henry James, was quite superior.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)