Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!


Rumor has it that many families (or parts of them, at any rate) gather around the television and watch football on Thanksgiving Day. This is not TVOR's thing. As far as she's concerned, there's only one reason to gather around the tube (other than the moon landing, or the last episode of Seinfeld), and that's to watch movies. Here are a few Thanksgiving treats--stories of families having a worse time than you are:

Hannah and Her Sisters
Written and directed by Woody Allen

This probably isn't the movie to watch if you're in too much of a turkey-induced stupor, but if you have any brain cells left, this excellent film is a great way to give them a little exercise and keep yourself well entertained. Hannah and her Sisters is the kind of Woody Allen film that people complain he doesn't make any more. The film begins and ends with Thanksgiving dinners, in keeping with our theme.

The Ice Storm
Directed by Ang Lee

This is another one that should not be watched if you're too comatose. It's a little more demanding, but well worth it if you're able to focus. The film is set during Thanksgiving 1973 in suburban Connecticut and you will spend much of the film being really glad you're not there. Neither the adults (including Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, and Joan Allen) nor the kids (Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, and Elijah Wood) are doing well. This is a powerful, well-done portrait of a place and an era.

Pieces of April
Written and directed by Peter Hedges

TVOR particularly likes this sweet yet not goopy film, which goes down a little easier than the first two. Katie Holmes, in her pre-Tom days, played the black sheep of a family who decides to host her estranged and dysfunctional family, complete with dying mother, ancient, senile grandmother, marginally coping father, and a couple of siblings, for Thanksgiving. Patricia Clarkson is particularly good as the mother, who is definitely not going gently into that good night.

Home for the Holidays
Directed by Jodie Foster

This film isn't the most original ever made, but a wonderful cast led by Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, and Charles Durning make it worth watching. Especially Robert Downey Jr.

All of the selections above are easy to prepare and have no calories.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Now in theaters!


There are some pretty good movies out there now, some a little difficult to watch, some a little difficult to find.

No Country for Old Men
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

Let's start with some basic math. Cormac McCarthy + Joel and Ethan Coen = a beautifully crafted view of a grim, apocalyptic world, with amazing amounts of violence, plus some humor.

If you're considering seeing No Country for Old Men, you need to ask yourself a few questions, such as: What is my capacity to view violence? Am I a fan of the Coen brothers? What do I think of Cormac McCarthy's novels? Because this is a beautifully made film, technically superb, with memorable characters and excellent performances by Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and others. It's also a movie that is very violent. Life is cheap and the blood flows. The world it portrays is not one that most of us would like to be a part of, but the film showing us this world is a work of art.

So enter at your own risk. TVOR is glad she did, but she spent much of the time hunched over in her seat, with her eyes half covered.

Wristcutters: A Love Story
Written and directed by Goran Dukic
Based on a story by Etgar Keret

Now on to something more upbeat, something more about a movie about suicide? Yes, Wristcutters: A Love Story is, not surprisingly, a movie about suicide. Or more accurately, what happens after suicide. And it is a love story. That is, a love story happening after suicide. It is also life-affirming and sweet and funny and definitely worth seeking out. Although it probably won't be easy to find. A film called Wristcutters: A Love Story has got to be tough to market. Especially when it's by a first-time director nobody has ever heard of. Patrick Fugit plays Zia, a young man who, as you may have guessed, commits suicide, and the film is the story of what happens to him when he ends up in the place where all suicides go--a place that's pretty much like the here and now, only worse. TVOR won't go into too much detail as she wants you to enjoy experiencing the world created for the film without too much prior knowledge. And she does want you to experience it. If you can't find the film in a theater, catch it on DVD in a few months.

Directed by Anton Corbijn

Here's another one that can't be easy to sell. Control is a rock biopic about a guy in a British band that many of us are only dimly aware of (if at all), by a first-time Dutch director who had previously done only done music videos, with a largely unknown cast (Samantha Morton is the biggest name in it). Oh, and the guy kills himself at the age of 23. Doesn't that sound like a great movie? Well, actually, it's quite good. The film tells the story of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), the lead singer of Joy Division, a British band which had its rise and fall in the late 70's. You don't have to have paid much if any attention to the band at the time to appreciate Control. And maybe it's even better if you haven't. TVOR wasn't bothered by any knowledge of the real Joy Division, so could appreciate the version on screen without reservation. And in spite of the story's sad end, the film is lovely to behold. It's beautifully shot in gorgeous black and white (to the extent that black and white footage of grim northern England towns can be gorgeous). The acting is excellent, and the cast even performs the songs themselves.

Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten
Directed by Julien Temple

And speaking of rock bios, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, is a rock documentary not to be missed. Even for those who weren't big Clash fans, the film can stand on its own. Julien Temple gathered together friends, fans, family, and band mates and mixed the talking with all sorts of images, film clips, and an audio track by Strummer done initially for radio. It's not just about Joe Strummer, it's about a time in history. Check it out.

Video Notes:

Joel and Ethan Coen have made many fine movies. TVOR particularly likes Fargo and The Big Lebowski. And she has a special place in her heart for O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Patrick Fugit first got noticed in Cameron Crowe's 2000 film Almost Famous, playing a Cameron Crowe-like character, a high school kid hired to write an article for Rolling Stone. He tours with a band and has experiences most fifteen-year olds can't even imagine. Although they'd like to. In 2004's Saved!, he plays the pastor's kid in a send-up of teen flicks taking place in a Christian high school.

Joy Division figured in another recent film, Michael Winterbottom's wonderful 24 Hour Party People. The film is based on the life of impresario Tony Wilson, who signed Joy Division to his Manchester-based label. Wilson, played by Steve Coogan, narrates the film and like any larger than life individual, bends it to suit his own ends. The film is wild and very funny and requires no prior knowledge of the subject.