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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We ventured out to see Life of Pi tonight. Boy was I surprised when we were handed 3-D glasses. I suggested to Tuffy P that we see this one, but had I known it was in 3-D, I would have chosen a different film. I don’t like wearing 3-D glasses, at least in part because I have to wear them over my normal glasses. As well, I find the 3-D effects to be strange and artificial, at least some of the time.
In the case of Life of Pi, felt it would have been a better film if the filmmaker had made the commitment to make it without 3-D. It would have been a shorter film, and would not have taken the time to languish in filmic effects, and I would have been fine with that. On the whole, my biggest criticism of the film is that it was too long in any case. I think a full half hour could have been edited out and the film would have been stronger.
Still, it is a beautiful work and a fantastic story and it’s well worth seeing.
Yesterday was a very unusual day for us in that we watched two films. We saw Skyfall at the cinema, and late last night, we watched The Train on television. The train is a 1965 film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. It’s set in France in 1944 and it’s about the attempt by a Nazi Colonel to steal a trainload of paintings – French national art treasures – and transport them to Germany. Scofield is the Colonel and Burt Lancaster is the train man who also happens to be part of the French underground.
Can paintings be worth dying for? What if they’re really really good paintings or really important paintings? Would it matter if the paintings were antiquities or modern? In The Train, the paintings appear to be mostly modern or at least painted within the last century. What if those paintings are symbolic of a world free of fascism? The German Colonel claims to have some special appreciation for the paintings even though he acknowledges that to the Nazis their value is only in their cash value to Germany. Labiche, the Lancaster character, initially is not interested in saving the paintings. He doesn’t know these paintings and they hold no special meaning for him. He’s much more focused on helping the allies blow up a train yard full of armaments. However, along the way he changes his attitude and resolves to save the paintings.
The Train is beautifully shot in black and white. Without all the technical wizardry we saw in Skyfall earlier in the day, Frankenheimer created a film as visually satisfying as it is riveting. Performances are very solid throughout. It’s really a fantastic film. Last night was the first time I watched The Train. In fact, I knew nothing about it going in. We happened to see the teaser for the film earlier in the evening on TVO and resolved to try to stay up for it. It had a late start (for us at least) and I was tired after a long and difficult week. I’d love to watch this one a second time to take in more of the detail. Great film.
We watched the 1980 John Cassavetes film Gloria tonight on television (TV Ontario). I knew nothing about this one going in except that it starred Gena Rowlands and was written and directed by Cassavetes, who was her husband. It is quite an engaging film, and Gena Rowlands gave a terrific performance as a former mob moll who protects a child whose parents were gunned down by the same mob. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact style of this movie, not to mention the surprising shooting scenes. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s well worth watching if you get a chance.
They didn’t eat the steak and eggs. There was a scene in Looper in which the two protagonists, who are the same person but not the same actor (it’s a time travel thing), sit down together at an unlikely diner seemingly in the middle of nowhere. They both order steak and eggs. The waitress brings the steak and eggs. There’s a nice overhead shot of the steak and eggs. And then they don’t bother to eat them. That’s just not right.
Looper is a sci-fi time-travel shoot-em-up Bruce Willis actioner with a hint of bad horror flick (yes Mr. Willis even does the tiresome smirk). There are a few problems, such as writing, acting, characterization, and believability. In a generous mood, I might call Looper an “OK timewaster”. And yet, this film gets 93% on the tomatometer. You go figure. Richard Roper wrote: “Writer-director Rian Johnson establishes himself as an original talent who clearly believes storytelling must prevail.” Clint O’Connor from the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote: “Looper’s super. An action-thriller that bothers to have a brain.” John Wirt from the Baton Rouge Advocate wrote: “A just about brilliant sci-fi crime-drama-thriller mostly set in the years 2044 and 2074. Rian Johnson is a rare director who creates entertainment with depth.” There are lots more. You can take their word for it or you can take mine.
Fortunately there are plenty of other good films at your local cinema to enjoy.
By the way, in the future of this film, they have the technology to drive around in vehicles that resemble motor-bikes but have no wheel and instead fly, like something out of the Jetsons. They also have Ford F150s.
We went out to the local cinema to see Seven Psychopaths tonight. Here’s how IMDb describes the film… A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu. Peculiar? You bet. Goofy? Sometimes. Funny? Sometimes, yes. Violent? Yep. Highlights for me? A brief non-speaking role for Harry Dean Stanton, who is now 86. Also, Tom Waits has a role in the film.
I think I liked this movie, but I’m just not sure exactly why. As I mentioned, it’s peculiar. Do I recommend it? Well, um….yeah sure. I think so.