Friday, December 4, 2009

December is movie month


Ah, December. The holiday season is in full swing, and now that you're getting really busy, there are actually some movies you might want to go to in your very scarce free time--everything from quality films seeking award attention to holiday blockbuster wanna-bes to kiddie films. So don't fight it, go to the movies.

An Education
Directed by Lone Sherfig

See this film! It's a coming of age story about Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a young girl in the in early 60's England. Her family is focused on getting her into Oxford (mostly so she can marry well) and she is focused on growing up as quickly as possible. An older man (Peter Sarsgaard), who is appealing to Jenny but pretty obviously bad news, enters the scene. That's not an original situation, but the film has interesting and complex characters who live in a real world and do not behave in predictable ways. The performances are universally good, and the script (by Nick Hornby) and direction by Lone Sherfig are just right.

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Directed by Lee Daniels

Here's another of those movies that falls into the "quality" category. And it is good. There's been a lot of discussion about exactly how good--it has passionate defenders and detractors--but it's definitely worth seeing. Precious (TVOR will dispense with the rest of the title at this point) tells the story of an African American teenaged girl who has about the worst life imaginable, and how a few folks try to help things get better for her. Beyond that, TVOR won't say too much. No matter what your opinion of the film (TVOR thought it was good, not great) you would probably agree that the performances were excellent. Gabourey Sidebe, as Precious, works with an unlikely group of performers in supporting roles, people like Mo'Nique, Lenny Kravitz, and Mariah Carey(!). Mo'Nique, in fact, does Oscar-worthy work. It's tough to watch at times, although considering the subject matter, that's not surprising. It was sad, but not one of those depressing films that you crawl out of in a funk.

The Messenger
Directed and co-written by Oren Moverman

This is a war movie. Not one that takes the viewer into a war zone, but one that deals with some of the aftermath of war. The two central characters, played by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, are soldiers whose job it is to inform the next of kin when their soldier/family members are killed. There are firm rules for doing this. TVOR won't say too much about the film, other than that it's very well done, with excellent performances. Samantha Morton and Steve Buscemi are among the supporting cast. Obviously it's a tough subject--but it's a good film.

Directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich

In case you hadn't heard, the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012. In telling us all about it, corporate Hollywood demonstrates what it does very well (spectacle and devastation) and what is does very badly (credible characters in a credible story uttering credible dialog). But you can't have everything. You'd think, with all the money being spent, that you could, but you can't.

In this film, as noted above, the world is coming to an end. The reasons aren't worth articulating here, even if TVOR could, which she can't. As required by the disaster movie handbook, there is a group of people we're supposed to care about, trying to survive. As also required, some will not survive, although we know they are expendable from the moment we meet them, so it doesn't really matter. Also taken from the handbook, there are gobs of people who won't survive, but we don't know them, so we don't have to be bothered about that either. The movie consists of all of the characters uttering absolutely ridiculous dialog, behaving in idiotic ways (except for the people who don't survive, who tend to be more reasonable) and and things blowing up, falling down, sinking, burning, shaking, or otherwise being destroyed. This movie goes the extra distance by having some decent actors (John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Eljiofor, etc.) uttering the ridiculous dialog and doing the idiotic things.

If you like silly disaster movies, this one is for you. As the genre goes, it's fairly well done, and its excess is part of what works in the film. Billions of people die. Stuff is destroyed. What good fun!

Inglourious Basterds
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

This one may still be floating around in a second-run theater near you, so TVOR will write a bit about it. She has very conflicted thoughts on this one. First of all, she's a stickler for spelling and grammar, so the title makes her cringe. It's an homage to an earlier film, as are many other bits of this movie. Unless you're a real cinephile, you won't pick up on all the references--TVOR certainly didn't. Tarantino has made an absurd, cartoonish, offensive, history-manipulating oddity which is sometimes entertaining in kind of an icky way and just plain weird. The question is, what exactly is this film, other than a strange thing made by a clever and talented bad boy who loves movies? TVOR doesn't insist on films being serious--she likes a good silly flick from time to time--but it does seem that if you're making a World War II film with killing going on, it's not a bad idea to actually have an idea. Maybe it's buried in there somewhere, but if so, she missed it.

Bright Star
Written and directed by Jane Campion

This film may also still be hanging around in the discount theaters, and if you can find it playing somewhere, go see it. It tells the story of the poet John Keats and his love affair with Fanny Brawne, a seamstress. It's very nicely done, with good performances by Ben Whishaw as Keats, and especially Abbie Cornish as Fanny and Paul Schneider as Keats' friend and patron.

The Maid
Written and directed by Sebastian Silva

TVOR saw this Chilean film at SIFF 2009 and is glad to see it's getting released in the U.S. If it comes to a theater near you, it's definitely worth checking out. It tells the story of a maid who has worked for a family for years, and her complicated relationship with them and with her world in general. You don't know where this one is going until you finish the ride, and it's worth it.

Video notes:

Yay! Humpday is out on video! TVOR thought Lynn Shelton's story about two straight guys attempting to make a gay porn video was a hoot. It manages to be very funny and say a lot about friendship at the same time. And, yes, it's safe to watch.

Il Divo
This Italian film was one of TVOR's faves from SIFF 2009. It tells the story of Giulio Andreotti, the Italian prime minister who reached new heights of teflon, and continues to reach them to this day. The movie is a piece of bravura film making--the visuals, the music, everything. If you know something about Italian politics, it would certainly be helpful, but if you don't, just relax and enjoy the ride.

I've Loved You So Long
This French film is one of those movies TVOR kept meaning to see, but just didn't get around to. Her loss. It's really good. Kristin Scott-Thomas (and yes, she's speaking French) plays a woman released from prison after 15 years. She is to stay with her sister and family and attempt to re-integrate into the world. It's very nicely done, and the actors and filmmakers show us real people behaving like humans. Very refreshing.

This strange little indie comedy flew completely under the radar. Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn play an unlikely couple--unlikely partly because the Steve Zahn character is the only one interested in being a couple. It's slight but enjoyable. Woody Harrelson, who seems to make thousands of movies a year, is a lot of fun as Zahn's competition.

Run, Fat Boy, Run
TVOR would just like to warn you about this one. You might think because Simon Pegg, who wrote and starred in the highly enjoyable Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, did the same for this movie, that it would be funny and worth seeing. You would be wrong. It is neither of those things.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Strangers in Strange Lands


People who fit in do not often make it as the protagonists in movies. The character who's just like a bunch of other people (or aliens, or mutants, or cartoon creatures, or whatever) isn't particularly interesting. TVOR was particularly reminded of this when she considered the movies she's going to blurb about in this post.

District 9

Directed and co-written by Neill Blomkamp

Here's a science fiction film that's much less about machinery and more about character than is usual in the genre. In telling the story of a group of aliens who have landed outside Johannesburg, South Africa and spend the next couple of decades held in camps, Neill Blomkamp shows us a lot about humanity--and the lack of it. Sharlto Copley is a mid-level bureaucratic type, totally inadequate for the job, who is charged with relocating the aliens. The movie is produced by Peter Jackson (who made the Lord of the Rings films) so the special effects are very well-done, but not overpowering. They support the story instead of taking it over. Even non sci-fi fans can enjoy this one.

The Informant!
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Usually movies about whistle-blowers are a very serious, often with a little inspiration thrown in. The idealistic protagonist takes on the big bad company, which shows how big and bad it is by wreaking havoc on the lives of the little people in its way. The company is dreadful and sinister as it tries to prevent the good guy from exposing the crime and corruption at its core. And should the audience not be following along closely enough, there's some helpful music and a few supporting characters who help the hero demonstrate his goodness and the bad guys their badness. It's all very nicely laid out. The good guy is very, very good, and the bad guys are very, very bad. You leave the theater knowing that you've seen a film about an important subject.

The Informant! is not at all like this. The film starts out with a very different feel from what you might expect. You might even call it perky. With perky credits and very perky music, the film just doesn't have a serious feel to it. The whistle-blower guy doing the voice over seems to be going off on tangents. And it proceeds to get weirder as it goes along. It would be great to go into this film knowing nothing and just let it unfold, but given that the film has been around a while, it's probably too late for that. Even so, TVOR won't add much else, other than her recommendation. Matt Damon plays the whistle-blower, and Scott Bakula and Joel McHale are his FBI handlers. TVOR loved the narration, the music, and even the perky credits. And about that seriousness. It's not evident as much of the film unfolds, but if you're not pretty angry about corporate bad behavior by the end of the film, you probably haven't been paying attention.

Still Walking
Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

One of TVOR's favorite films of the 2009 Seattle International Film Festival is working its way around the county. This Japanese film is definitely one to catch, in a theater if you can, or if that's not possible, later on video. The film takes place over a 24-hour period, as a family gathers at the parents' home to commemorate the death of the oldest son fifteen years earlier. This dead son is the most important character in the film, certainly to the parents, and in some ways to the second son, who cannot begin to measure up to the dead man, or at least, the idea of him. As the family eats and spends the day together, a whole lot is going on, mostly pretty quietly. It's a wonderful film.

Video notes:

Michael Mann's The Insider is a much more typical example of whistle-blower movie, and it's a good one. Russell Crowe shows us how bad those big tobacco companies are.

Soderbergh's Erin Brockovich, although not a whistle-blower, is an unlikely person to expose the evil that a utility company does. Yet she does, looking about as trashy as Julia Roberts could--which, frankly, is not that trashy. The movie is fun, though, and the good guys win.

Tulpan was another film TVOR enjoyed at SIFF 2009, and now it's available on video. It takes place on the steppes of Kazakhstan, and face it, when have you ever seen what that part of the world looks like? Asa, the central character of the film, is a young shepherd recently returned from serving the the Russian navy. He needs to find a wife in order to get a flock of his own, and make his way in the world. Unfortunately, there is only one bridal candidate around--Tulpan. This is a beautiful film about a harsh way of life.

Also from SIFF 2009 is Kabei, a family saga taking place in 1940's Japan. It's a little sentimental, but not overly manipulatively so, and TVOR liked it.

And for something completely different, yet another film from this year's SIFF is Every Little Step, a documentary about casting a revival of A Chorus Line. It also has film and interviews from the original production. And singing. And tap dancing. It's very nicely done.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Flicks by chicks


TVOR doesn't ordinarily expend much mental energy pondering this sort of thing, but it's interesting that some of the best movies in theaters right now are made by women directors, and are not about what might be considered "girl" subjects--how to land the right guy, relationships, shopping, that sort of thing. Well, maybe they're about relationships, in that the characters in the films are relating in various ways to other characters, but the films are not about "relationships" as defined by popular culture and women's magazines.

The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Iraq war movies have not been very successful artistically or financially so far. Too often they've been full of simplistic politics and stereotypical characters, too obvious and not credible, even if individual performances and situations have been well-presented. Well, here's an Iraq war movie that works, at least artistically, and TVOR hopes, financially. The creators of a film this good should make some decent money.

The makers of The Hurt Locker left politics out altogether. This is a war movie about the people fighting the war, going about their lives, day after day. And since the soldiers in this movie make up a three-man bomb squad, their lives are a series of very tense situations. Bigelow is such a skillful director that the audience feels the tension along with the characters. The performances are excellent, especially that of Jeremy Renner as the squad's leader. TVOR won't say much more, except that the film is engrossing and thought-provoking, allowing the viewer to think his or her own thoughts, instead of being pointed in a certain direction. It's one of the best American films of the year.

Written and directed by Lynn Shelton

If you feel like doing some laughing at the human condition without turning off your brain, Humpday is your movie. You've probably heard the set-up. Two guys, friends in college who have since lost touch, get together when the free-spirited one drops in unannounced on the married-with-a-regular-job one. They go to a party, and during the course of a drunken evening, decide to enter an amateur porn contest by making a gay porn film together. Not surprisingly, this does not seem like a good idea the next day, what with their heterosexuality and all. It is also very difficult to explain to the married guy's wife. The film plays out beautifully, hilariously, and unexpectedly. Shelton and her three principal cast members do a wonderful job in this film about male friendship, our expectations for ourselves, marriage, and probably some other things too. See it.

It's not too late to enter HUMP! 5, this year's edition of the real amateur porn festival sponsored by Seattle's The Stranger, which is happening on October 9-10, 2009. And if you just want to watch, tickets go on sale on September 15.

Cold Souls
Written and directed by Sophie Barthes

This movie has a great premise, that people with troubled souls can have them easily extracted, frozen, and stored. No soul, no worries. This appeals to Paul Giamatti, an actor struggling with the role of Uncle Vanya in a New York production of Chekhov's play. Fortunately for us, the character Paul Giamatti is played by the actor Paul Giamatti, and he does a great job. The movie isn't as good as the premise--things aren't developed the way you'd hope--but the film is worth seeing for Giamatti's performance. You see him rehearse Vanya pre-and post-extraction, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

Julie & Julia
Written and directed by Nora Ephron

Meryl Streep, Meryl Streep, Meryl Streep. And Stanley Tucci, with a soupcon of Jane Lynch. These are the reasons to see Julie & Julia. The parts of the film they're in are interesting and fun, because they play interesting people, people you want to spend time with, and they do and say interesting things. Unfortunately, they're in only half of Julie & Julia. We meet Julia Child (Streep), her husband, and briefly, her sister in 1940's France, and she's casting about for something to do. Those are the fun parts of the film. The rest of the movie takes place in 2002 New York, where a wanna-be writer named Julie (Amy Adams) is also casting about for something to do. She decides to cook and write about every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the cookbook that was the eventual result of what Julia Child decided to do, in one year. It's a tidy idea, but the problem is that Julia and her gang are fun and interesting and Julie is not. This is not Amy Adams' fault. She's a good actress--maybe not Meryl Streep, but nobody's Meryl Streep, except possibly Meryl Streep. Adams also has to do silly, predictable things, which is unfortunate. (Gee, I wonder if that aspic set properly. Hey, let's see what happens when she flips it over on a plate. Oops!)

TVOR never met Julia Child, and hasn't seen much of her TV show, so she can't say whether the portrayal in the film is accurate. It's a lot of fun, though, so she really doesn't care. The film did make her consider buying Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and maybe trying some of the recipes. Like the boeuf bourguignon, or the lamb stew. Not the aspic.

The Girl from Monaco
Directed and co-written by Anne Fontaine

This strange little film looks at first like it might be your standard French romantic comedy, the kind where a regular, middle-aged guy gets together with a pretty young girl. Fortunately, it is not that. The film doesn't entirely work, but it does succeed in being unpredictable, a romantic comedy which turns into a film noir covering issues of class and friendship as well. The always wonderful Fabrice Luchini is the middle-aged guy, Louise Bourgoin is the girl, and Roschdy Zem is the middle-aged guy's driver and bodyguard. TVOR saw the film among a bazillion others at SIFF, and it has stayed in her mind, so that says something. It probably shouldn't be at the top of your list, but it's definitely interesting.

Video notes:

Sita Sings the Blues
Written and directed by Nina Paley

Whoopee! At long last, TVOR's favorite film that couldn't get released is available on video. You may not be able to see it on the big screen in all its animated glory, but you can now experience a TV-sized Sita Sings the Blues over and over in the comfort of your own home. TVOR has written about this film at some length already, but here's the abbreviated version: it's an animated retelling of the Ramayana, with commentary by three Indians trying to remember the details of the story, plus a depiction of the filmmaker's own disintegrating marriage, all set to the music of the forgotten 1920's blues singer Annette Hanshaw. What's really amazing is that the film comes together as a wonderful, entertaining, delightful whole. You have no excuse now. See it. TVOR means it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Life after SIFF


SIFF ended on Sunday, and TVOR, after spending almost a month reveling in an excessive number of films, is coming down from her cinematic high. Apparently movies have continued to be released while she was in film festival land, and she has some catching up to do. But in the meantime, here a few films she's seen and can recommend:

Directed by Duncan Jones

This nicely done science fiction film is all about character and ideas, and not about technology. If you want intergalactic battles, you can go elsewhere. Sam Rockwell plays a corporate employee finishing up a three-year stint operating mines on the moon. It's a one-man operation, and his only companion is a computer with the voice of Kevin Spacey. Interesting stuff happens, but TVOR doesn't want to reveal much because it's fun watching it unfold.

Summer Hours
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas

TVOR wrote a bit about this in earlier posts. She won't rehash things, but it's a wonderful film and you should go see it.

Directed by Yojira Takita

This year's foreign film Oscar winner is a sweet story, guaranteed to please crowds. TVOR has talked about this one previously as well, and recommends it.

Food, Inc.
Directed by Robert Kenner

This comprehensive documentary explores the many ways that multinational corporations determine what we eat. It just ain't pretty, and it's mighty scary. If you're fairly well informed, there won't be much new in it, but it's a well-presented summary that'll get your dander up, if not more.

And for those of us in Seattle, SIFF is having a series of screenings this weekend called "The Best of SIFF '09". The best? Depends on your point of view. But the weekend is full of movies that people enjoyed and/or responded to. Here's TVOR's take on the ones she's seen:

Directed by Lynn Shelton
A hoot, definitely one to see. Old friends decide to enter an amateur porn contest. And no, they're not that kind of friends.

Black Dynamite
Directed by Scott Sanders
This year's Golden Space Needle award-winner for best film, voted on by the audience. It's an hilarious parody of '70's blaxploitation films.

OSS 117: Lost in Rio
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
And speaking of parodies, here's a French take on the spy parody genre, set in the '60. Maxwell Smart and Austin Powers' Gallic counterpart is just plain stupid and appalling in every way, but the movie is pretty darn funny.

Morris: A Life With Bells On
Directed by Lucy Akhurst
OK, here's an original concept--a mockumentary about Morris dancing. TVOR was only dimly aware of actual Morris dancing, and she's not too sure how different the real thing is from the mock thing. In spite of her lack of background knowledge, she had a good time watching this movie. It's also fun to watch wonderful English actors participate in a film of supreme silliness, and do it well.

Directed by Barbara Schroeder Sherman
This true crime documentary about cyber-romance gone bad is fascinating, sad, and a little bit creepy. Who knew people lied about themselves on the internet? (FYI, TVOR, a past winner of both the MacArthur genius grant and the Nobel Peace Prize, is stunningly beautiful and sings opera at La Scala in her spare time.)

Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle
Directed by David Russo
TVOR won't even try to describe the plot of this one, but it's pretty wild and pretty interesting. There's a little animation thrown in (although it's not an animated film), and it's fun to look at and listen to. The soundtrack is by "Awesome", TVOR's favorite Seattle band.

The Cove
Directed by Louie Psihoyos
This documentary on the dolphin trade in Japan is very tough to watch (TVOR had to avert her eyes) but powerful and well put together.

There are more films playing at SIFF this weekend--TVOR is planning to catch the Georgian (the country, not the state) jury prize winner The Other Bank and Peter Greenaway's Rembrandt's J'accuse. And of course, she's very intrigued by Swimsuit Issue. Who can resist a Swedish film about a male synchronized swimming team?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Quick SIFF Update--#5


Mid-August Lunch--TVOR loved this Italian film about a sixty-ish guy living with his ancient and demanding mother, who finds himself dealing with and caring for several other old ladies as well. It's delightful and charming and you will be smiling as you leave the theater.

Rain--this movie is mostly interesting because it was made in the Bahamas and shows us lives being lived there that we would never get to see in person. Unfortunately the story and the acting don't really measure up to the look of the film.

The Market - A Tale of Trade--This is theoretically a British film, but it takes place in Turkey, is in Turkish, and looks and sounds like a Turkish film. It's about a guy who is trying to get himself set up in the cellphone business, and is wheeling and dealing any way he can to raise the money he needs. A nice look at a community, a road movie, and a film about capitalism as it works its way into poor communities. TVOR liked it a lot.

Buick Riviera--a Bosnian and a Serb meet up in the U.S. in this Croatian movie. Yes, really. And parts of the film do take place in a Buick Riviera. It's interesting but not as engaging as TVOR would have liked. Not bad, not great.

In Your Absence--this Spanish film looks great, and starts off interestingly, but then there are some developments that could make you groan and roll your eyes. This happened to TVOR and she cannot recommend the movie. Really stupid plots are hard to overcome.

Now in theaters, plus SIFF part four


At last Summer Hours, one of TVOR's favorite recent films, is in wider release. This French film about a family dealing with a house full of possessions has real humans in it, who act like humans. It's wonderful.

TVOR also liked Departures, from Japan, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year. It's not the best, but it's still worth seeing. It's a real crowd-pleaser, and somewhat emotionally manipulative, but TVOR went along with it and didn't mind being manipulated. It's also a film that's very audience friendly, even if some in the the audience are dubious about subtitles and foreign films in general.

And if you're in Seattle, Sita Sings the Blues is still playing! This is amazing and wonderful news, and anybody who can make it to the theater should do so.

And now for some brief blurbs on films coming up at SIFF:

Patrik Age 1.5--nice entertaining Swedish film about a gay adoption that does not go as expected.

Passing Strange--Spike Lee's film of the musical. Very nicely done, on beautiful HD video. It sounds great too.

Welcome--TVOR liked this French film about illegal immigrants trying to get across the channel to England very much.

Fear Me Not--TVOR also really liked this Danish film about a man participating in a drug trial.

Kabei--Our Mother--another nice Japanese film, a family saga.

Tahaan--A Boy With a Grenade--don't bother.

Black Dynamite--very silly, very funny parody of a 70's blaxploitation movie.

What's On Your Plate--good documentary targeted at kids about a couple of kids investigating what's in food, and where it comes from.

Il Divo--an Italian film about Prime Minister Andreotti, with wonderful visuals and sound.

Mommy is at the Hairdresser's
--very good French Canadian film about a family under a lot of stress.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies--a French parody of spy movies, free and outside at a park. What could be better?

Hooked--tough Romanian film about a couple and a prostitute who insinuates herself into their relationship.

Gotta Dance--a documentary about a group of senior dancers who do hip-hop at New Jersey Nets games. What's not to like about that?

With a Little Help from Myself--a portrait of an immigrant from Africa trying to survive in Paris and keep her family going. Very good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yet more SIFF--volume 3


Some upcoming films at SIFF--

TVOR particularly liked the Danish film Fear Me Not, which is showing again. She also thought Kathryn Bigelow's Iraqi war film The Hurt Locker was excellent.

The Headless Woman, La Cienaga, Snow, The Firm Land, and Captive were interesting and also good.

Melodrama Habibi and Carmo, Hit the Road are pretty decent as well--not great, but not a bad time at the movies.

You can skip La Mission. It's not terrible, but not particularly interesting either.

She's already warned you off a few others, and won't repeat herself.

Those of you not in Seattle are on your own right now. Just try to make good decisions.

Monday, May 25, 2009

SIFF 2009--part 2


Here are a few more quick comments from the trenches for upcoming SIFF screenings--

TVOR's top choices: Still Walking, Quiet Chaos, Il Divo, Welcome, The Market--A Tale of Trade, OSS-117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, Kabei--Our Mother, The Hurt Locker, Snow

TVOR also thought these were worthwhile: The Headless Woman, La Cienaga, Mommy is at the Hairdresser's, Hooked, Captive, The Cove

Not bad: Terribly Happy, Melodrama Habibi, My Dear Enemy, Carmo, Hit the Road,

Teetering on the edge: My Suicide

And the ones that didn't work for TVOR: Bluebeard, In Your Absence, El General, Tahaan--A Boy With a Grenade

There are more wonderful archival films coming up at SIFF too--like Coppola's The Conversation. Wow.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

SIFF 2009--part 1


The Seattle International Film Festival has just begun, and already TVOR is way, way behind with her comments. First, the non-festival related stuff for non-Seattle people:

If you live in a city where the lovely French film Summer Hours is playing, go see it. It's the best thing TVOR has seen for a while. And if you've already seen that, try Kabei: Our Mother, from Japan. It's not quite the film the first is, more melodramatic, but still worth seeing. If these films haven't come to where you live yet, make a note of them.

Now, for the SIFF notes. Here's what TVOR knows about what's playing the first few days of the festival, all based on her own viewing:

Top choices: Summer Hours, Departures, Quiet Chaos, Still Walking, Treeless Mountain, The Hurt Locker, Snow

Also good: We Live in Public, Captive, Hooked, The Cove, Tulpan

Not bad, but missable: Terribly Happy, My Dear Enemy, Melodrama Habibi, The Higher Force, Carmo, Hit the Road

Flawed, but you probably won't hate yourself...then again, you might: Tahaan-A Boy With a Grenade

TVOR hasn't seen any real stinkers showing in the first few days, although they could be lurking.

And then there are those archival choices, wonderful old films on the big screen during SIFF: Sunset Boulevard, The Third Man, etc. You could always do a lot worse than watch an old classic like one of these.

More later.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sita is singing in Seattle


TVOR is very excited. Her favorite little lost movie, the film that just couldn’t get distributed because of copyright issues, has somehow managed to get a brief run in her very own city. People of Seattle, go to the Central Cinema from May 14th to 20th and watch Sita Sings the Blues! You’ll be glad you did.

TVOR went on at length about this film in her April 4th blog entry. She won’t go through the whole thing again so here’s an abbreviated version: 1) she really liked the film and thinks you should see it and 2) it’s not getting distributed and 3) you need to grab your chances to see it whenever you can.

If you aren’t in Seattle or can’t get to the Central Cinema, you can go to the film’s website and get various links to stream it, download it, or burn it on a DVD. You can even buy a Sita T-shirt. There’s a good chance you’ll want one after seeing Sita Sings the Blues.

Here's the link to the film's website:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Good movie alert!


There are some things worth seeing in theaters! You may have to look a little, but if you're lucky, you'll find them.

Written and directed by Gotz Speilmann
This Austrian movie (and really, how many of those have you seen?) was nominated for an Oscar, but has taken a while to get released in the United States. TVOR liked it a lot. It's sort of a moody thriller and sort of a low-rent heist story, but mostly it's a movie that goes in unexpected directions. TVOR went into the film not knowing much about it, and recommends you do the same. She thinks you'll be glad you did.

Sin Nombre
Written and directed by Cary Fukunaga
This is the first feature-length film by Cary Fukunaga, a young American director. To make things more interesting, he made a film taking place in Mexico and a couple of Central American countries, entirely in Spanish, using nonprofessional actors. This is not a guy who's afraid of a challenge. And the film works. The two central characters are both traveling north through Mexico on the roofs of freight trains--a young woman trying to make it to the United States from her home in Nicaragua, and a Mexican gang member running from his former "homies" who are now out to kill him. Sin Nombre covers a lot of ground, both geographically and thematically, with these characters, and does it really well. The film looks great too. Fukunaga managed to get some money to make it, and it's beautifully shot on 35mm film.

Il Divo
Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino
As is frequently the case, New Yorkers get to see really wonderful foreign films before the rest of us--except, that is, for those of us lucky enough to spend time at film festivals. Il Divo opened there last week, and we can only hope that those of us in smaller cities get to see it before too long. (In the mean time, TVOR recommends that you attend your local film festival.) Il Divo tells the story of Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti who held office off and on in the 1970's and 1980's, and is generally assumed to be corrupt, and responsible for the deaths of many. Naturally, in 1991, he was appointed senator for life. This is no standard biopic, however. The film looks like an American gangster movie, in the tradition of The Godfather or Goodfellas, and is one wonderful piece of cinema. It's very stylized (in a good way), and is wonderful visually and in its use of music. There are many characters--government ministers, victims, bad guys (or combinations of all three). You're unlikely to know who many of these people are, but don't worry, just go with the flow. You'll have a ton of fun.

Sleep Dealer
Directed and co-written by Alex Rivera
This time, filmgoers in Los Angeles as well as New York get a jump on the rest of us (except, of course, for those film festival die-hards). This little under-the-radar film is a Mexican science fiction movie that non-fans can enjoy. No spaceships, no androids, no intergalactic battles. Just a futuristic story with a great idea. It takes the idea of Mexican workers doing the United States' dirty work in fascinating directions. Not everything about this film works (this is the director's first feature), but it's definitely worth checking out. When (or if) it comes to your city, of course. Or, eventually, on video.

Goodbye Solo
Directed and co-written by Ramin Bahrani
This guy is the current big deal in American cinema, which is interesting because most people have never heard of him. TVOR really likes his movies--if someone is going to be anointed the savior of American film, he seems like a good choice. It helps that he's articulate, seems nice, and does good Q&A's--TVOR has seen him in action. He also seems unlikely to sell out to Hollywood any time soon. Now, about Goodbye Solo. It's the story of a charming Senegalese immigrant, working as a cab driver in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the relationship that develops between the cabbie and one of his fares, much to the displeasure of the other man. It's also about the world (and world view) of the cabbie and a bunch of other things too. This really is a lovely film. TVOR doesn't want to say too much more. Just see it.

Written and directed by by Greg Mottola
Here's a film you can probably actually find playing all over the country, but you'd better act fast--it's been out a while and theater operators will probably push it out of the few remaining theaters it's playing in soon, in order to make room for the big summer movies. This story, set in the 80's, follows a recent college graduate who, because of family financial problems, ends up working in a sorry-looking amusement park instead of spending the summer traveling in Europe with his buddy. Needless to say, he is not happy about that development, and only reluctantly gets drawn into the world of the park and the lives of the other employees. It's a sweet (but not icky-sweet), gentle film and you should see it.

The Soloist
Directed by Joe Wright
TVOR has mixed feelings about this one. The movie is based on the true story of the relationship between Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, and Nathaniel Ayers, a schizophrenic living on the streets of LA. Mr. Ayers was once a talented musician, but his disease forced him to drop out of Julliard and give up the cello. This type of movie is just a recipe for disaster--you would expect it to be some sappy thing with a phony, uplifting, feel-good ending. Well, it's not that. It doesn't entirely work, but it's not that. First of all, it has Robert Downey Jr. as Steve Lopez. Thank God. TVOR would watch him do just about anything, and true to form, he elevates his material and is wonderful in the role. Jamie Foxx is good as Mr. Ayers, although not nearly as interesting to watch. A superb actor playing a regular old flawed human is so much more interesting than a good actor playing a disabled character. At least that's what TVOR thinks, although the people who give out awards tend to disagree. Anyway...the film treats people with schizophrenia more realistically that some movies (A Beautiful Mind) but some of its segments trying to show what Mr. Ayers is seeing and/or feeling just don't seem to work. Ultimately, it's not a bad film, but not that great either. See it if you want to. Especially if you're a Robert Downey Jr. fan. But keep your expectations in check.

On video:

Earlier films by Ramin Bahrani are Man Push Cart, about a Pakistani immigrant and Manhattan street vendor, and Chop Shop, about young parent-less Latino immigrants, living and working in Queens. These two movies and Bahrani's new one are all about immigrants, striving to get along and improve their lives, but don't think they follow a pattern. The three films are very different, and each has its pleasures.

Gret Mottola's earlier films include Superbad and The Daytrippers--very different from each other, but both entertaining and well-made. Superbad is the rare adolescent male comedy that even grown up people (including grown-up women) can enjoy. The Daytrippers is a road movie in which an entire family, plus hangers-on, piles in a the family station wagon to investigate suspicions of one daughter's husband's infidelity.

Jesse Eisenberg, very good as the lead in Adventureland, has a couple of earlier films that TVOR really liked. In The Squid and the Whale, he's the older of two sons whose self-absorbed parents' marriage is crumbling, and in Roger Dodger, he's a kid whose absolutely sleazy uncle (Campbell Scott) takes him out, looking for sex. Really.

The Wrestler and Frost/Nixon are out on video now. Both are nicely done films, with wonderful lead performances.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Now in theaters, on DVD, or coming out of your computer


The Class
The Class follows a French high school teacher and one of his high school classes over the course of a school year. It's not a documentary, it's a narrative film based on a memoir by the same man who plays the teacher, a fictionalized version of himself. Oh, and the students in the class play are not played by professional actors, either. This may sound a bit confusing but the result is an engrossing story of a dedicated yet imperfect teacher trying to educate a group of teenagers with various backgrounds, capabilities, and levels of interest.

Two Lovers
This movie is about real people and real emotions and as such is kind of a melodrama. And TVOR doesn't mean that in a bad way. Those of us who are real people take our problems and the decisions we must face in life very seriously, even if they don't involve car chases, extraterrestrial bad guys, or international conspiracies. At least TVOR's don't--so far. Maybe yours do. Joaquin Phoenix is just about perfect as a man who has ended up living with his parents and working in their dry cleaning shop. He's depressed and bi-polar. Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw are the two women he's drawn to (or shoved toward, as the case may be). The acting, especially by Phoenix and Isabella Rossellini as his mother, is wonderful (if Rossellini does not win supporting actress awards for this, there will be some serious injustice going on) and the script and direction by James Gray are excellent. There's an overly convenient incident toward the end that TVOR has a quibble with, but she'll let it go.

This corporate espionage caper is also a romance with a bit of screwball comedy thrown in. In other words, it's a little hard to categorize. Tony Gilroy is an established screenwriter whose first directing effort, Michael Clayton, was none too shabby. This is his second effort, and he's two for two. Clive Owen is ex-MI6 and Julia Roberts is ex-CIA (yeah, I know--they're probably prettier than real-life spies, but this is the movies, after all) and they both end up working for large consumer products corporations whose CEOs hate each other's guts. There's wonderful witty dialog, flashbacks, and some plot elements to figure out (do bring your brain to the theater for this one) but it's not so complex as to be a problem. Clive and Julia are very good, and lovely to look at. The supporting cast is good too, although perhaps not as lovely as the leads. Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson play the duelling CEOs--and that is to be taken almost literally. Do not be late for this film, as the opening credits are not to be missed.

Sunshine Cleaning
This film is moderately entertaining, but the acting is better than the plot or the script or much else about it. It's sort of a comedy, sort of an empowerment through cleaning up crime scenes story, sort of a heartwarming recovering-from-what-your-parents-did-to-you story, sort of...well, it's sort of a jumble. But as TVOR said, the acting is good! Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins, Jr., Steve Zahn, even Jason Spevack as the requisite cute kid--all are way better than their material.

Everlasting Moments
Swedish director Jan Troell was kind of a big deal in the U.S. during the early 1970's, when The Emigrants and The New Land were released. They won awards, were nominated for Oscars, and were even pretty popular in theaters, considering that they featured the dreaded subtitles. Now, you can't even get them on DVD.

So it's nice to see that Mr. Troell is still at it, almost 40 years later. His new film, Everlasting Moments, is the story of a woman and her camera in Sweden in the early 1900's. She's a wife (of a guy who is not the ideal husband) and mother (of numerous children) who finds something special when she starts using a camera she won in a raffle. Any way TVOR would describe this film would make it sound corny so she won't say too much. The film works as a portrait of a place and time as well as a story of family relationships and the relationship between life and art. It's probably about some other things, too. And yes, it's beautifully shot. It's about a photographer, after all.

This is a reworking of Twelve Angry Men. It's not like your average Hollywood remake, though. 12 is a Russian take on this story, where the accused is a Chechen teenager on trial for murdering a Russian officer, who is also his adoptive father. Director and co-writer Nikita Mikhalkov (he acts in the film as well) comes up with twelve jurors who are a cross-section of Russia today, and puts them in an old high school gym while they deliberate. Although the word "deliberate" makes the process sound a bit more dignified than it is in the film. A warning--this is a long film (over two and and half hours). It is, however, engrossing and entertaining and worth the time spent.

This film is based on historical facts--facts that were lied about for decades. It's the story of thousands of Polish military officers who were murdered by the Soviet army in 1940. As the icing on the cake, the Soviets later blamed the massacre on the Nazis, pushing the date forward so it would appear to have happened while the Germans occupied Poland. Andrzej Wajda's film Katyn tells this story (in narrative, not documentary form) by following a group of these officers and their families as the horror of what has happened to them is compounded by the official lies and rewriting of history carried out by the post-war Polish government. The movie isn't as wonderful as TVOR would have liked it to have been, given the story it is based on, but parts of it are very effective. She can forgive the rest.

Silent Light
This film takes place in a remote Mennonite farm community in Mexico (apparently this place really exists). One of the farmers is convinced that he has ended up with the wrong woman, a situation complicated by the fact that he has seven children by the wife in question. There's not a whole lot of plot here, but there is a whole lot going on as we settle in and get a feel for life in the community and the crisis that this man and his family are dealing with. Silent Light is gorgeous to look at and listen to, and mostly acted by amateurs from the Mennonite community. The limited dialog is in an obscure Mennonite dialect that sounds sort of Germanic. Except for an occasional stop sign, you'd never know you were in Mexico.

The following movies have been out for a while, but may still be hanging around in theaters:

This Italian film about organized crime in Naples (the real name of the group is the Camorra--the film's title is a play on words) is a good one. It's not a romanticized view, and is about as non-Godfather-like as it could be. This is not a criticism of The Godfather--TVOR loves The Godfather. (At least parts 1 and 2.) It's just that this is a different animal. There are no Shakespearean arcs to the story, no tragedy or nobility. Instead, this film, based on a nonfiction book, is about organized crime that takes over an entire neighborhood and permeates all business activity. The criminals are a pretty unimpressive lot, not given to introspection. The filmmaker, however, takes the story and makes it about more than just a group of crooks in a city in Italy. Life is very cheap in the world of this film, but surprisingly, the amount of violence the audience sees on screen is relatively low. Gomorrah is one to see.

The International

TVOR had hope for this film. The director is Tom Tykwer, who made Run, Lola, Run, The Princess and the Warrior, and Heaven, all of which TVOR really liked. The cast is made up of actors who can act, people like Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. The film isn't terrible, but it's not great either. It's a cerebral thriller that isn't particularly thrilling, and not as cerebral as it would like to be. It's pretty nicely put together, though, and there's an entertaining shoot-out at the Guggenheim Museum (actually, it's a replica, but it's still a cool shoot-out). Just keep your expectations moderate, to minimize disappointment.

Gran Torino
Dirty Harry gets old. That's basically what Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood's latest movie, is about. Clint was good as Dirty Harry and he's good as Old Dirty Harry, too. In fact, the whole movie is not bad. Unfortunately, though, much of the supporting cast just doesn't have the acting chops to pull it off. TVOR understands that there probably aren't large groups of Hmong actors around from which to cast some key roles. But it would seem that perhaps a bit more could have been done to make these important characters more convincing.

Video Notes:

2008 theatrical releases are continuing to be available on video. If you haven't caught them yet, TVOR particularly recommends Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Frozen River, and Let the Right One In, all of which she's talked about in earlier posts. The following are also worth checking out:

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist--a tale of Nick and Norah, two high school students who have only just met, and who spend one night traveling the streets of New York City in search of a band, Norah's misplaced drunken friend, and some other things, too. They do it with a soundtrack of some very cool music in this sweet but not icky sweet little tale. A movie about teenagers that grownups will like too.

Tell No One--this is a tasty French thriller about a man who, eight years after his wife's murder, starts getting strange messages and indications that his wife may still be alive. There are all sorts of interesting characters and mysteries within mysteries, but the complexity doesn't get in the way of the fun. Our hero spends a fair amount of time trying to evade the police, and the whole thing has sort of a Hitchcock feel--in a very French way, of couse.

The House Bunny--this film is definitely in the "guilty pleasure" category. Ana Faris plays a Playboy bunny who gets thrown out of the Mansion and has to find her own way in the cold cruel world. Naturally she finds her way to a college campus where she gets a job as a housemother in a sorority house about to be shut down because the remaining few unattractive, loser girls can't get any new pledges. She finds this spot after being rejected by the house full of beautiful, popular girls. What will happen? There aren't many (if any) surprises in this story, although the quality of the script and the acting are pretty surprising, as well as the sweetness of the story. This movie is not great art, but it sure was a lot of fun.

And, coming to a computer near you:

Sita Sings the Blues

TVOR loved writer/director/animator Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues when she saw it at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2008. So did everyone else she knows. Theaters were packed, and some people not given to seeing movies twice in a short period of time actually planted themselves in more than one screening. It was the kind of movie TVOR wanted to recommend to her friends, except she couldn't because it never got released. Why, you may ask? Well, copyright problems. The film is an animated story sort of following the Ramayana and sort of about the break-up of a contemporary marriage, with songs by Annette Hanshaw, a blues singer from the 1920's who basically no one has ever heard of. The problem was the songs by the obscure singer, which were copyright protected. Nina Paley didn't have the money to pay for the use of the songs, and no distributors wanted to pick up the tab either. So that was that, except for film festival screenings, where the film met with much acclaim, and the random PBS showing, as somehow copyright issues do not apply to public TV. If you don't understand this, neither does TVOR. Anyway, this very strange but wonderful little movie has been denied to most of the world.

There has been progress, though. Ms. Paley scraped up some money (partly raised online), paid for the rights, and the film is available for download at For free. Yes, it's amazing but true. You can watch in on your computer screen or burn a DVD for no money whatsoever. TVOR hasn't actually tried this yet, but she hears from competent friends that it works, and she's sure you can figure it out. Given the film's torturous path to digital distribution, though, it would be nice to throw a few bucks Nina Paley's way if you like the movie (which you will). You can also get T-shirts, mugs, and other trinkets with the Sita graphics. Every little bit helps, and we want Nina Paley to keep making original and wonderful films like Sita Sings the Blues.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

More catching up


There's a good documentary coming into our homes this Tuesday, February 10th, as part of the PBS series Independent Lens:

Tulia, Texas, directed by Cassandra Herrman and Kelly Whalen, is worth turning on the TV for. In the late 1990's and early 2000's, the War on Drugs came to Tulia, a small town in the Texas panhandle. An undercover police officer, paid for by DEA funds, came to town and when he was through, 46 people were arrested on drug charges, 39 of them African American. As the cases went through the courts, defendants pleaded guilty or, if they did go to trial, were convicted and given very long prison sentences, some up to 90 years. Then some of the citizens of Tulia started to wonder about things. The filmmakers talk to all the parties, from the undercover cop to the sheriff to the townspeople to the defendants to the attorneys to the press. A fascinating film, about race and justice and drugs and federal policy and probably some other things too.

If you're willing to step away from the television, here are a couple of good things to see in a theater:

Waltz With Bashir
This Israeli film is an animated documentary about the experiences of director Ari Folman and others as young Israeli soldiers during that country's early 1980's war with Lebanon. In other words, it's a strange animal. An animated documentary? A film about a war most Americans are only dimly if at all aware of? And not so much about the war but of young soldiers' memories of it? How does that all work? Beautifully, actually. Folman's (real) interviews with his fellow former soldiers are animated, as are the memories, dreams, and hallucinations of those soldiers. The film is beautiful and difficult to watch.

Cherry Blossoms
German director Doris Doerrie's film Cherry Blossoms: Hanami (which now seems to be called just Cherry Blossoms) was one of TVOR's favorites at SIFF 2008. It's finally getting a bit of a regular run, starting in the big cities on the edges of the country, and then heading into the hinterlands. Wherever you live, don't dilly-dally, because it's unlikely to play for long. It's the story of aging parents from a small town visiting their busy urban-dwelling adult children, who have little time for them. The film is about families, death, grief, Japan, and butoh dancing. And it's not depressing. It's kind of hard to explain but it's definitely worth seeing.

On video:

Tokyo Story--Cherry Blossoms is an homage (or at least makes reference) to Yasujiro Ozu's 1953 film Tokyo Story. This is no secret, but TVOR somehow missed this tidbit of information, and only made the connection a couple of weeks ago when she saw the older film as part of an Ozu kick she is currently on. Older couple from the country, children living in the city who are too busy for them...hmmm...something is familiar here...oh, yeah! Tokyo Story is a wonderful film, and it's interesting to see it paired with the Cherry Blossoms. Ozu has a very particular style-- his camera is still and low to the ground, there are no quick cuts, people walk in and out of scenes, and things unfold as they might in real life.

Other Ozu titles TVOR has really enjoyed are Equinox Flower and Late Autumn, both made late in his career. The subject matter is very human--that of families and friends and relationships, and the move from tradition to modernity. He continues to use a low and still camera, and adds color in these later films. Every shot is a thing of beauty. Although the films are about the stuff of normal life, they are not dull. People are complicated and interesting, and Ozu shows us that. If you're not familiar with him (and most of us aren't) you could do a lot worse than spend some time with his work. TVOR will be doing some more of that herself in the very near future.

Now for some more recent video releases:

Shotgun Stories--this film got some good press at film festivals last year and had a small run in theaters. You had to be in the right place and act quickly, though, or you missed it. First-time filmmaker Jeff Nichols made this story about two groups of half brothers who have very different experiences and relationships with their recently deceased, alcoholic father. After abandoning his first family, he got sober, found God, and started a new one. The film is a beautifully shot, well-acted (especially by Michael Shannon in the central role) story of revenge (the shotgun does get some use, although not as much as TVOR feared) and heroism and nobility. Sort of. It's hard to describe, but worth watching.

Married Life--this film came and went pretty quickly last year, but it's actually a pretty decent dark comedy. The time is 1949, the place, we assume, is New York and environs. Chris Cooper plays a guy who falls for a young lovely and decides that rather than cause his wife pain by leaving her, he'll do the compassionate thing and kill her. Patricia Clarkson is the wife, Pierce Brosnan is the best friend, and Rachel McAdams is the young lovely. None of these people behave exactly the way he (or we) might expect them to.

Burn After Reading--Joel and Ethan Coen lite. It's sort of a comedy, but although it has its moments, it's not consistently funny. Much of this lack of humor is due to the complete idiocy and unlikeability of the vast majority of the characters. It's not funny if a stupid loser creep slips on a banana peel, it's simply appropriate. And these people slip on some major banana peels. Some of the acting is pretty good, especially that of Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt's hair.

My Brother is an Only Child--this Italian film tells the story of a working-class family in the 1960's. The two sons of the family are drawn in opposite directions politically, yet toward the same woman. It's entertaining, and full of interesting characters.

Pineapple Express--this product of the Judd Apatow machine is sort of a stoner buddy comedy and sort of an action movie. They should have skipped the second part. (FYI, stoners aren't the most reliable people to have around when action is needed.) Seth Rogen is the stoner, the wonderful James Franco is the sweetest drug dealer ever, and Danny McBride is perfect as a courteous, upwardly mobile middle man. Most of the plot and the rest of the characters are forgettable, but if you're feeling shallow, you can have some fun with this one.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Catching up


TVOR has been away from her blog for a long, long time. First, she spent several weeks in Peru, which was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Then she had rotator cuff surgery which was considerably less fun and hampered her typing for some time. Then she went to the Palm Springs International Film Festival and she was back in fun mode.

Now she has returned to her post, watching movies, typing with two hands, and ready to opine. And there's so much on which she can opine. Here are some thoughts on what's out there right now.

Slumdog Millionaire
TVOR saw this before it became a big deal. And she liked it. Good story, good energy, nice visuals, good music. It was a nice little movie. It's not so little any more but it's still good.

This film about the brief political career of Harvey Milk is one of the better year-end releases. Even though everybody knows what happened at the end of that career, the movie still grabs you, with its compelling story and wonderful performances, especially those of Sean Penn and Josh Brolin. Plus it's painfully reminiscent of the 70's and all those unfortunate fashion and hair choices.

The Wrestler
This is definitely one to see. It's a human scale movie, with a story about humans--including the wrestling kind. Mickey Rourke is back, although you may not recognize him. Marisa Tomei is also very good as the stripper in his life. A warning--TVOR had to look away during some of the wrestling scenes. It may be fake competition, but it's brutal. Bruce Springsteen sings a nice song over the closing credits, too--for which he was not nominated for an Oscar. He was robbed.

There aren't too many surprises in this film, but it's an entertaining story and very well-acted. Frank Langella creates a fascinating and complicated Nixon.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
TVOR was really underwhelmed by this one. It's technically very interesting, with great visuals. The problem for TVOR is that it was two hours and 47 minutes of Brad Pitt playing a not-very-interesting character. Sure, he starts old and gets young, but that doesn't make him any less dull as a person. Maybe a great actor could have done something with this, but Brad Pitt certainly couldn't. TVOR tried to care about whether or not he'd get together with Daisy (played by Cate Blanchett) but unfortunately she did not succeed. Daisy was kind of a bitch for most of the movie and who cares if a bore and a bitch find true love? TVOR did like a lot of the supporting characters, especially those played by Tilda Swinton and Jared Harris. Unfortunately they disappeared way too soon. Did TVOR mention that this movie is two hours and 47 minutes long?

The Reader
This wasn't another one that didn't work very well for TVOR. Kate Winslet is good, as usual, but that wasn't enough for TVOR to buy the premise. It's based on a book that TVOR hasn't read. Maybe the book is more credible.

This is a very Hollywood-ish take on a true story of a group of Eastern European Jews who fought back and survived during World War II. It's an amazing tale, and the movie has a wonderful cast including Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell. It wasn't terrible, but it would have been so much better without the whole Hollywood movie feel.

Wendy and Lucy
No Hollywood feel here. A lovely little movie about a young woman living on the fringe of society, in danger of losing what little she has. The film has an excellent performance by Michelle Williams.

Rachel Getting Married
Sure, this one's been out there for a while, but if you haven't seen it yet, do. Anne Hathaway is amazing as the one-woman wrecking crew who descends on her sister Rachel's wedding. Too bad about that guest from hell--the wedding looks like it would have been really cool otherwise. It's in a great location, with interesting-looking guests, and wonderful music. Actually, it's only too bad for Rachel. It's very lucky for the viewers.

Frozen River
If by some miracle this film has reappeared at a theater near you, check it out. Melissa Leo is excellent as a single mother willing to step outside the law to make the payments on a new mobile home for herself and her two kids. And it's not just her performance. The whole movie is good.

Let the Right One In
This is another one that just might still be floating around in a theater. OK, it's a Swedish vampire movie. Don't dismiss it, though. Even if you think you don't like vampire movies, particularly Swedish ones, there's a good chance you'd like this one. It's lovely, and about all sorts of things other than Swedish vampires. Don't question. Just go.

Video notes:

There are many good reasons to stay home and watch videos right now, if it's just a little too much to think about leaving the house.

The Visitor--Richard Jenkins is wonderful in this film about a widower forced back into the world by some unexpected and unwanted guests, but he's not the only reason to see it. Tom McCarthy, the director of The Station Agent, has done it again.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona--This is the best Woody Allen movie in years. With a great (and beautiful) cast, and a great (and beautiful) location, this funny/sad story is a good antidote to winter. You will probably want to make some travel plans.

Tropic Thunder--This is not a particularly good movie, but it's fun and silly does have its moments (particularly in the opening "trailers") and, of course, it also has Robert Downey Jr.

In Bruges--Ralph Fiennes is Mr. Mopey in The Reader, but he's wonderful in this Martin McDonagh film, as are Brendan Gleesan and Colin Farrell, and pretty much everything else, including the city of Bruges. This film is much more interesting than most of the Oscar nominees. And get ready to make more travel plans.

Man on Wire--While most Americans past kid-hood were paying attention to the final act of the implosion of the Nixon presidency, a crazy French man was planning to walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. This documentary tells the story of that caper, but is about more than just that. One of the best documentaries of the year.

Trouble the Water--This is another must-see documentary. A couple of filmmakers, in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, encountered a woman in the Superdome who had home video of the storm. The film that was developed with her footage is stunning.

Encounters at the End of the World--Werner Herzog. Documentary. Antarctica. See it.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster--You may not think you're interested in a documentary about steroid use, but you actually are. Fascinating and highly entertaining. Another one you really need to see.

Young @ Heart--This is another documentary that you may not think you're interested in, but once again, you are. It's the story of a senior citizen chorus that sings music that might be considered "nontraditional" for their demographic. As in songs by the Clash and the Ramones. TVOR also regards it as a how-to on aging.

Ghost Town--TVOR will be amazed if you saw this in theaters, as she believes only about twelve people did. Maybe a romantic comedy starring Ricky Gervais and Tea Leone was a hard sale. And the trailer was lousy. Amazingly, the film works pretty well. Apparently dead people can be very irritating if they keep hanging around.

So go out or stay home--it's your choice. But do go to the movies.