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.