17 March 2013

One Week Off 13 Movies Watched

Have had the past week off. With a big vacation trip in the offing I thought it best to stick around the house this week limiting travel to the gym and movie theaters and other points within Berkeley. Starting with the Friday preceding my vacation week and ending with today -- the day before I return to the salt mines -- I had time to watch 13 movies. That was five days of one film and four days of double features. If it weren't for those other annoying interests and errands I'd have doubled that total.

The films I enjoyed were either from Netflix my own DVD collection seen in theaters or in one case via Amazon Instant. Here are the lucky 13 -- presented in order watched -- followed by brief comments.

Le Havre (2011). Saw this when it first came to theaters and was suitably impressed. It was a surprise birthday gift from the missus. A gorgeous Criterion edition. And a much better film the second time. I imagine it will be even better with repeat viewings. Some movies are like that. The director is my fellow Finn Aki Kaurismaki. Understated subtle ironic touching and real. Him the movie and Finns in general. Kaurismaki eschews broad action big stars zingers sensational sex and dazzling special effects. If there's a fight its likely a case of the hapless hero getting what for. I have not seen a Kaurismaki film I haven't liked. This one is set in the French city of the title with a French cast speaking French. The director speaks very good English (all Finns do) but no French. Of course.

Heaven's Gate (1980). I first saw this film on New Year's Day and immediately wrote about it on this here blog. This was also a birthday gift from the missus though not a surprise as I practically begged for it. Was I as dazzled by the second viewing? Yes. It's a crying shame that the director Michael Cimino was essentially black balled after making Heaven's Gate. Think what else he could have created. See New York Times film critic Manohala Dargis' article on the film in today's Times.

The Thin Red Line (1998). I saw it during its initial run and was not impressed. Fifteen years later I thought it was time to give Terrance Malick's World War II film another look. Especially in light of all the glowing comments about it I've heard and read from fellow cinephiles over the years. There have been a lot of highly regarded films I haven't liked the first time but fell in love with the second time. Then Thin Red Line does not fit into that category. I found the voice over narration variously annoying boring and ridiculous. And I loved Tree of Life and liked New World. Both by Malcik. This one not so much. Happens.

Black Narcisccus (1947) The first of two Powell/Pressuberger films I viewed. I loved Deborah Kerr and co star Kathleen Byron as much as the much ballyhooed scenery. I could also tell this was a film that required repeat viewings to fully appreciate and I'm willing to eventually invest the time. This first look was more about following the basic plot outline and admiring the "look of the film." And what a look!

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935). My first of two Charles Laughton films during the week. Goodness he was a terrific actor. This is not your typical 1930's film. Laughton plays Ruggles a valet lost in a poker game by his British nobleman boss (Roland Young) to a pair of rich hicks from the fictional Red Gap, Washington. This all takes place in Paris. But then the scene shifts to Red Gap where all kind of shenanigans and hijinks end with Ruggles running a restaurant with a love interest played by...Zazu Pitts. Of course! RORG is an absolute delight from beginning to end and Laughton proves that he could do comedy with the best of 'em. Directed by the vastly underrated Leo McCraey.

Amour (2012). This was technically a 2012 release but it didn't get to these part until mid January and not in Berkeley until last week. Had I caught in December it would have topped my top ten films list for the year. I especially appreciate the fact that director Michael Haenke has such great respect for audiences and is willing to allow viewers to make decisions for themselves and think and contemplate and fill in gaps. Production line Hollywood films treat movie goers like small children who need to be told a nice tidy story with a beginning middle and end and no ambiguity.

No (2012) This is the story of the 1988 plebiscite in Chile in which voters were asked to vote YES! for more of Augusto Pinochet -- who seized power in a CIA backed military coup from democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende -- or NO! for a fresh start. The charismatic Gael Garcia Bernal plays the ad executive who handles the No campaign. Its an interesting and important story and a perfectly nice film but not a film I'd bother with a second time. Kind of like Argo only better. Thanks the same and well done lads.

Hobson's Choice (1954). My second Laughton film of the week was this one which  -- in my most humble opinion -- stunk. Okay you like the film so just ignore what I write here and move on to the next film. Go on you won't miss anything. Laughton plays the unlikeable Hobson who battles his unlikeable oldest daughter who marries an initially likable man who himself is unlikable by the end of the film. David Lean directed some good some very good and some great films and this one. Yuck.

The Red Shoes (1948).  All right if you're one of this film's many admirers you should move on. This was my second Powell/Pressburger film. It is much loved but not by me. The two protagonists were as interesting as yawning accountants. I wish the woman had leapt to her death in the first reel and taken her boyfriend with her. Half way through this insipid silly film I was playing words with friends. Much more engaging.

Lore (2012) Somehow this is an Australian film though it was done by starred Germans and Austrians. World War II has proven to be an endless source of movies including some of the greatest ever made. Of course many of these films explore some of the countless victims of the war. We're familiar with the tragedy visited upon people throughout Europe and Asia especially Jews Russians and other innocents in invaded countries. But citizens of conquering countries also suffered. Imagine the children of Germany even those whose parents were devoted followers of Hitler. Lore does exactly that. Following five young sibling (one a baby) led by the titular character oldest daughter Lore. It might be hard to feel for the progeny of Nazis when so much horror was visited on others but these children are victims too. Lore the character is a remarkable teenager who undergoes a dramatic transformation as a result of her trek. Well worth seeing.

Pulp Fiction (1994). Pulp Fiction is for me like sushi. I love sushi when I'm enjoying it but need to step away for awhile after indulging. What I noticed this time around was the manner in which Jackson Travolta Thurman Kietel and Rhames relished their lines. Director Tarantino benefits greatly from the work of screenwriter Tarantino (two Oscars for it). When you get such juicy dialogue to sink your teeth into your bound to make the most of your screen time. We're nearing Pulp Fiction's 20th anniversary and it is aging well.

The Awful Truth (1937). My second McCray film of the week and this is a real rarity because it is film stolen right from under star Cary Grant -- the grandmaster of the screwball comedy. The thief is his co star Irene Dunne. She accomplishes this feat in the scene in which she drops in Grant's and his fiancé and her family and pretends to be his sister. Grant is of course a delight throughout as he is in so many films. But Dunne walks away it. Let me offer this comment from an IMDb user:
I love classic films but I guess screwball comedy just isn't my bag. I recorded about 45 minutes of it from TCM the other night and just sat down to watch it. It started on the scene where Dunne showed up at Grant's place and kept answering the phone which resulted in him lying to his new lady about Dunne being his sister. It quickly went south from there. I suppose we are supposed to find Dunne's antics cute and endearing because neither character is ready to let the other one go but I just found her annoying. When she showed up at the dinner party as his "sister" and proceeded to ruin any hope he had at being happy with Barbara (and his soon-to-be in-laws), I was annoyed. When they left the party early and she pretended to be drunk and rowdy and nearly got him in trouble with the cops TWICE, I'd had enough. I shut it off and completely deleted it from my DVR. How did movies like this get made? And sadly, with Ben Stiller movies around, they are STILL being made. Does anyone else find this kind of comedy unbearable to watch?
Let me offerYou can't make up stuff like that couldn't if you tried. Priceless.

The White Ribbon (2009)
"A cottage small is all I'm after,Not one that's spacious and wide.A house that rings with joy and laughterand the ones you love inside.
Some like the high road, I like the low road,Free from the care and strife.Sounds corny and seedy, but yes, indeed-y;Give me the simple life." Lyrics by Rube Bloom and Harry Ruby
My second Haenke of the week and my second viewing of this extraordinary film. Whodunit? What was going on in this German village in 1913-1914 that was disturbing the idyllic small town peace? Ghastly crimes. Burning a barn. Mutilating a disabled child. Setting a trip wire for a motorbike. And children seemingly always at the center of events. This is a Haenke film so there are no easy answers and not even many revealing clues. What there is a stunning visual show and loads of imponderable to ponder. In a week that included a few duds and a few masterpieces and a few better than average films it was nice to end on such a strong note.

Twas a week well spent.

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