We saw Get on Up this afternoon – the James Brown movie. This film is a blast to watch, on the strength of a wonderful performance by Chadwick Boseman as JB. In seconds you forget it’s an actor playing Brown.
The story, which seems to be somewhat santitized, takes a back seat to the music. That’s OK with me. I don’t need a studied analysis of James Brown’s life. I need the groove, and Get on Up does offers up plenty of groove.
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.
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.
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.