Category Archives: Film

The Intouchables

Last night we watched a 2011 film called The Intouchables on DVD (French with English subtitles). This is a 2011 film directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. Now, I don’t know French directors – I hardly know North American directors for that matter (and don’t even ask me about actors)- but I mention them because they did a wonderful job on this movie.

The film is about the relationship between an unlikely caregiver, Driss and a rich quadriplegic, Philippe. Driss has a unique qualification – he doesn’t pity Philippe.  The film is charming and funny and irreverent and thoroughly enjoyable. It could have been a much darker film but instead it’s a movie about human possibility in the face of mountains of adversity.

I suppose The Intouchables is really simply a “buddy” movie, but it’s a really well crafted buddy movie and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Pressure Cooker

We watched a delightful documentary tonight called Pressure Cooker. It’s a film by Mark Becker and Jennifer Grausman, and it follows a Philadelphia high school Culinary Arts class as they get ready for a competition for major college scholarships. The kids come from a variety of circumstances and have some difficult family stories. The teacher is a remarkable woman named Wilma Stephenson. She is tough but tremendously generous of spirit toward her students. Watching the film, you get a chance to get to know the kids – before long I was cheering them on. This film is 27th Street recommended.

Muscle Shoals

We watched the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals last night on DVD. The film features FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals Alabama and has appearances from (among others) Gregg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Cliff, Aretha Franklin, Rick Hall, Mick Jagger,  Alicia Keys, Spooner Oldham, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, and Steve Winwood, with lots of commentary by the members of The Swampers, the back-up band on so many hits, who started with FAME Studios and later left to form Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

There is some great historical footage, as well recent commentary by many of the performers who recorded there. An amazing amount of excellent music was recorded in this town over the years and it was fascinating to learn about how FAME was started, the affiliation with Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records and all the performers who traveled to this community in Alabama to get a taste of the funky and soulful Muscle Shoals sound.

If you’re a music lover, I think you’ll like this documentary a lot.

Ain’t in it for my Health

We watched Ain’t in it for my Health tonight, the documentary about Levon Helm, directed by Jacob Hatley. It’s a lovely, intimate look at Levon Helm in the midst of his late career resurgence, spawned by two great recordings, Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt. His voice came back years after radiation therapy for cancer left him whispering, but the film shows it is a voice that is very precarious (it can’t have helped that he appeared to be smoking weed all the time). Levon was a survivor – of drugs, cancer and bankruptcy, making some of the best music of his career in his last years.

Excellent film – recommended!

Inside Llewyn Davis: what’s all the fuss about?

1961 in Greenwich Village, the Great Folk Music Scare has begun, and Llewyn Davis is making the scene. He’s serious about his folksongs and he’s a bit of a crank, and he’s broke and homeless, sleeping on sofas of whatever friends will take him in. Davis has played the Gaslight many times, but he hasn’t been “discovered” and it’s not looking good.

This is a Coen Brothers film. I should like it, right? It’s about a folk singer. Maybe I should like that too. I’m pretty familiar with that bit of American cultural history. I mean, I know all the old Bob Dylan material and Phil Ochs and Eric Anderson and Ramblin’ Jack and Dave van Ronk and Paul Clayton and The Clancy Brothers and so on. Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a guy who makes the scene, has some talent, but doesn’t have whatever kind of spark it took at that place and time to emerge successful from that scene. The problem is that the story just isn’t that interesting.

The film captures what I imagine could be what the historic Greenwich Village atmosphere was like. Justin Timberlake and John Goodman have smallish supporting roles and they do OK. Carey Mulligan does a nice job of Jean, part of a duo with Jim (Justin Timberlake). They remind me somewhat of Ian and Sylvia, or at least Jean reminds me of Sylvia.

There are two cats in the film, and they are as compelling as any of the characters. It seems to me there’s something wrong with that picture.

Inside Llewyn Davis is just OK, worth seeing, but nothing to write home about.

American Hustle – my kind of movie

Little Georgie, our Newfoundland puppy has been dominating our time since he joined our household last Saturday.  A puppy, as many of you know, takes a serious amount of time and attention. And then there is the job of house-breaking….

We did manage a couple hours to ourselves yesterday to see American Hustle, playing up the street at the Queensway Cineplex. Let me say up front: we both loved this movie.

It’s directed by David O. Russell and stars Christian Bale as small time con artist (and small businessman – he has a modest chain of dry cleaners) Irving Rosenfeld; Amy Adams as his lover and partner in crime; the amazing Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife Rosalyn; Bradley Cooper as FBI agent Richie DiMaso; Jeremy Renner as Mayor Carmine Polito; and even a great cameo by Robert de Niro. I list these actors only because they all did a fantastic job.

I’m not going to get into the story beyond saying it’s a con-man movie. It’s just a very, very good con-man movie. The film has some very funny parts – I found myself laughing out loud a number of times, yet it doesn’t feel like a comedy because there is an underlying darkness and sadness about the characters. It’s very loosely based on the Abscam scandal from the late 70s, but it’s less the plot and more the character relationships that make American Hustle soar.

The film is a period piece that offered the film-makers plenty of opportunity to indulge in some great cars, music, and outfits,  not to mention some tragicomic hair. These props could come across as gimmicks but in this film they work perfectly and I think it’s because the actors are strong enough to carry it off.

American Hustle is fun, stylish, clever and entertaining. It’s apparently not for everyone, though. At the end of the film, a woman behind me loudly exclaimed, “this is so confusing!” I thought it was a great film, and I think you will too.

 

A No. 1

We watched Emperor of the North on DVD the other night, starring Lee Marvin as A No. 1, Ernest Borgnine as Shack and Keith Carradine as Cigaret, directed by Robert Aldrich. This 1973 flick features Marvin as the king of the hobos vs Borgnine as the violent and ruthless railroad bull, who will do anything to ensure nobody rides for free. Keith Carrodine plays a talented young hobo, full of piss and vinegar, who thinks one day he can take over as king. This movie has trains and hobos and Lee Marvin, not to mention a theme song by Marty Robbins, a recipe for success if you ask me. It’s very stylized in parts and the violence in it is quite nasty, but overall both Tuffy P and I enjoyed it. Tuffy remembers seeing it on television years ago, but this was the first time I saw this film.

Songcatcher

We watched the film Songcatcher tonight. It’s a 2001 flick directed by Maggie Greenwald and starring Janet McTeer with cameos by Taj Mahal and Iris Dement. The music is mostly good but still this movie was disappointing. Neither the characters nor the story are very convincing, and I didn’t learn anything interesting about life in Appalachia. No wonder I didn’t even know this one existed when it came out a dozen years ago. Let’s call this one an OK Timewaster.

Computer Chess

This afternoon Tuffy and I and our friend Toni trundled down to the Bell TIFF Lightbox to see a movie called Computer Chess. It’s a film set in the early 80s about a weekend tournament in which computers play one another at chess. It is a very odd film, but not without its moments. I confess I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually liked it and I think it lulled us to a state of collective semi-consciousness at one point. I think it was a comedy (I hope so), and parts were indeed very funny, particularly a strange sub-plot involving a therapy group, as well as a number of unexplained shots of various cats residing in the hotel hosting the tournament. There are some interesting ideas in this film, but it suffers from being too slow and clunky. I know, it tries to be slow and clunky. Don’t you get it, silly? Ya, I get it.  Parts of this oddball film are strangely compelling, but just not enough parts of it.

Tuffy P, me and Toni just before watching Computer Chess
Tuffy P, me and Toni just before watching Computer Chess

Mud

Mud is a coming of age boys adventure story, a tried and true (if possibly tired old) genre. There was plenty of opportunity for this to be a bad movie, but no, no, no, go see this one. Writer/director Jeff Nichols pulls it off. Great story, fine acting, a well-paced atmospheric presentation. If I have any beef with this film at all, I would say it is a little bit longer than it needed to be, but that can easily be forgiven in a movie that has so many positives.