01 April 2015

Movie diary for March 2015

Mr X
I appreciate how a film documentary for once uses formal analysis to chart a director’s cinematic development. With someone like Leos Carax, it’s the only way to do it so the director certainly knew her material here. There are quite a few interviews with associates so the talking head approach certainly isn’t neglected. I could have done without Richard Brody, however.

Leave Her To Heaven
Gene Tierney as an evil sister in a Technicolor film noir is pretty much all you need to know.

Mr Turner
A darker look at the creative process than I’m used to seeing! Mike Leigh here heads out to territory trod by Pialat’s film Van Gogh rather than his own earlier film Topsy-Turvy. He goes much farther than Pialat, however. Turner is given his due as a painter of course and also actually shown to be a bad person (or a man of his time as some would more politely say), and just as quickly not denied his humanity. That is, his frailties. It’s not a pretty film, but Turner isn’t a friendly subject. He’s a genius, but not some angel or eccentric. Timothy Spall does a great job being Turner leaving Leigh free to show all of the man’s actions in context. I’m just glad someone once again made a film about an artist just showing how much work and lack of glamor goes into making art. Definitely recommended for history nerds.

Starry Eyes
Another film about how making art isn’t glamorous. In this case: the art of acting. Or breaking into the industry as this film is more about what it takes than just how good you are. Or ruthless as the gruesome murders near the end demonstrate. On the whole, I thought it was quite good. There’s a disturbing audition scene where the lead channels her inner Isabelle Adjani circa Possession warning you that this movie won’t pull its punches. There’s also an especially telling image near the end as the aspiring star looks in the mirror to reveal her new self that’s equal parts newborn, mannequin, and space alien. A new spin on an old Hollywood tale, but I recommend it. The retro score - think Chromatics - is worth it alone so take that into account as well.

The Two Faces of January
Who knew that Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen would make such a good couple? And did anyone expect so much intended sexual tension from a movie where Oscar Isaac and Viggo Mortensen are fleeing the law? The director certainly knew what to give his audience! A lot like A Most Wanted Man, it feels like an excellent TV movie. That is, a modest thriller that delivers.

Notes on Marie Menken
More of an anecdotal rather than analytic approach to her films. It was interesting to learn about the New York scene around Menken, but a more focused view of the women herself would have added better perspective.

Fellini Satyricon
There’s some gorgeous set design in this movie that I very much loved - and I guess that’s all I have to say right now.

The Madness of King George
Also known as the movie that changed my life as a history nerd. I think what’s truly remarkable about this one is how it doesn’t treat mental illness lightly at all. There’s no jokes at all about funny mad men or horny old men or anything that degrades the figure of the mentally ill. Even without the period trappings, mental illness is treated as a sad and horrifying experience that no-one can explain. Least of all in the so-called Age of Reason - another object of the film’s irony. Nigel Hawthorne’s tremendous performance - which lost to Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump at the Academy Awards, ironically - places this thematic ground in dramatic context as well as bringing perfect empathy to George the Third’s predicament as a man, husband, and king. The film’s attention to politics is also quite remarkable - the politics of family as well as state - something that I don’t often see done so well if at all in other historical dramas about royalty. Seldom have I seen a supporting cast given its own set of challenges - in this case the king’s government trying to stay in power while the Prince of Wales and his cronies try to take over - while keeping it integrated within the ongoing plot. (I have a feeling this helped prepare me for the multiple plot lines on Game of Thrones!) It’s got so much going for it and every time I see it I’m satisfied and moved by how it comes together. A perfect movie, I daresay.

Two Men In Manhattan
A gritty nocturne made even more impressive by the location shooting. This was one of the few Jean-Pierre Melville films that I hadn’t seen and I can see why it takes a lower spot in the tier of his work. It’s good in its own way and certainly more laidback than his more noted crime thrillers but I thought this change of pace from his more famous work showed the film’s strengths.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him
James McAvoy walks around a lot trying to figure out what the hell happened. He’s good and you’re also quite keen to learn what happened, but mostly he’s lost and has to deal with it all by himself. He’s got a small circle of friends and a father - Ciaran Hinds, incredibly - with whom he talks but it’s not a whole lot of emotional support. He finds closure at least.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her
I think this one was better due to the interior focus on El. Plus the way she interacted amongst her support system - friends, family, her amazing teacher played by Viola Davis - was more interesting in that her part of the plot moved forward in a more compelling manner with these people on her side. She finds peace with herself at least.

All Cheerleaders Die
Maybe it’s my love of Detention rubbing off here, but I didn’t think this was so bad. It’s a somewhat trashier film with an added slyly feminist commentary, but I think it succeeded in making it’s point. Sorry that it’s not May 2. But seriously: watch this with Detention.

Bitter Moon
The flashback structure, femme fatale, and damaged male lead gives this film a very strong flavor of the film noir. Polanski’s usual interest in corruption and innocence - see also Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Macbeth - is given closer attention and much greater depth than in those earlier films. Peter Coyote as that damaged lead narrates his entire history with his wife Emmanuelle Seigner (who has a far better role in the similar but more ironic later Polanski film Venus In Fur) so it’s quite a long account on how one man is destroyed by his embrace of the erotic. As a novelist, he fancies himself a Henry Miller of sorts - much to captive audience Hugh Grant’s consternation. (And our amusement as the cuts to the present reveal Coyote narrating to Grant in a purple prose that clearly represents our author’s writing talents!) For awhile there, it looks like Hugh Grant will succumb to the same cycle of interest and exploitation. In fact, his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) does so at the end as her jealousy over Grant’s continued attention to Coyote’s story causes her to make a successful pass at the wife. Peter Coyote just about saves it all as he gives life to a movie that almost collapses on its own curdled view of human sexual relations. It’s certainly not the film that will encourage anyone to give s/m a try but fans of Secretary should seek it out.

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death, And Supermarkets 
Since this isn’t a traditional approach to the live concert or the rock band documentary, I found it very helpful to have seen before The Beat Is The Law - Fanfare For The Common People which also used Pulp as a subject to speak on Sheffield. In this documentary, Pulp returns to Sheffield for a farewell concert which is the lens for looking at Sheffield today as well as the band’s continuing fame in their hometown. The whole band is interviewed in various places - such as the soccer field where the drummer, Nick Banks, is a coach. There isn’t a lot to learn about the band as it’s assumed you’re familiar with them already. But for those for liked Pulp or the earlier documentary, this is required viewing.

Guardians of the Galaxy
I still love the visual effects; the deliberate use of casual cruelty less so. I guess that’s a given for a movie about a bunch of mercenaries, but that’s what happens when James Gunn directs.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Required viewing for all fans of Studio Ghibli. There’s a leisurely pace to the film so it really feels like a lovely day-long visit to the famed animation studio. The behind-the-scenes look at film production was very interesting, but hardly the only draw to the documentary.

Dark Touch
I think I’ve found the perfect horror film for people who don’t like too much blood. The sound design while consisting of frequently long silences is amped to provide most of the terror which complements the shadowy sets and dominant palette of blues, grays, and whites perfectly. There’s a distant quality which helps add to the isolated state of the lead. She’s very good especially in such a sensitively observed story about child abuse which locates the terror of violence squarely within the confines of the family. That it becomes a larger look at ptsd only adds to the film’s power. I’m very impressed by how well the film addresses those issues. This is certainly one of the best horror films that I’ve seen this year.

House of Cards (Season Three)
This show is too silly to over-analyze, but it was very satisfying to see Robin Wright step out from Kevin Spacey’s shadow. Her acting in the scenes with the American citizen at the Russian prison were especially excellent. This season was a lot better than season two, but really Wright getting more space is the better development.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season One)
Another show too silly for me to over analyze so I’ll leave it to the experts: Anne Helen Petersen on race in Kimmy Schmidt.

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