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.