Monday, June 27, 2011

The Trip

Even us amateur film critics are sometimes done in by a film that it's impossible to be objective about. There are just those movies that are completely in one's wheelhouse. They might not be for everybody but they seem tailor-made for you. This is one of those films. I loved everything about it. It stars Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden, playing themselves, taking a trip to the north of England to review restaurants. They drive to a restaurant, they eat there, and they bicker, or else compete at impersonations. That's about it, and it's very possible that this film might annoy you to no end. But I loved their interactions, and the scenery, and the music by Michael Nyman, and I loved that ultimately their niggling competitiveness revealed both their friendship and their fears, particularly Steve Coogan's hyper-awareness of his fading potential. To me, it was the perfect balance of humor and sentiment (90/10?). My favorite film, so far, of the year.

Poetry Monday

The Garden Party

by Donald Davies

Above a stretch of still unravaged weald
In our Black Country, in a cedar-shade,
I found, shared out in tennis courts, a field
Where children of the local magnates played.

And I grew envious of their moneyed ease
In Scott Fitzgerald’s unembarrassed vein.
Let prigs, I thought, fool others as they please,
I only wish I had my time again.

To crown a situation as contrived
As any in ‘The Beautiful and Damned’,
The phantom of my earliest love arrived;
I shook absurdly as I shook her hand.

As dusk drew in on cultivated cries,
Faces hung pearls upon a cedar-bough;
And gin could blur the glitter of her eyes,
But it’s too late to learn to tango now.

My father, of a more submissive school,
Remarks the rich themselves are always sad.
There is that sort of equalizing rule;
But theirs is all the youth we might have had.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tamara Drewe

Lets say it's a very rainy afternoon and you have a bad cold and the book you're reading isn't particularly good then maybe, just maybe, you might enjoy this movie. I like pastoral comedies but this one isn't very good. Gemma Arterton plays the title character, pictured above, a woman who returns to her childhood village and stirs up trouble. She's a little too blank for the role. The best performance, by far, is Tamsin Greig as a betrayed wife.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chungking Express (1994)

I think I would have been a lot more taken with this film if I'd seen it in 1994 when it was released. Why didn't I see it then? Anyway this is a free-form, new wave experiment about two lovelorn cops and the mysterious women in their lives, and it's the film that put Wong Kar-wai on the map. I didn't dislike it but it somehow didn't really work emotionally for me--it felt self-consciously arty instead of genuinely true in any sense we have of that word. What did I like: the gorgeous cinematography by Christopher Doyle, and any time that Faye Wong danced to "California Dreamin'."

Film Frames Friday

Hint: This is not a reflection on my current marital happiness. Don't worry Charlene.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Talking About Detective Fiction

P. D. James, who was probably born a formidable older woman, penned this short history and critique of the detective novel. She's in her nineties now and her writing is as sharp and flawless as ever. It's a quick read, more informative than opinionated, although she makes it clear the authors and the novels that she finds most indispensable. But the real pleasure in reading the book is in reading an author who has never written an awkward sentence in her life. And she also makes it abundantly apparent how much she loves and reveres the genre she works in.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Captains Courageous (1937)

I'd never seen this before and I was lucky enough that it was playing on the big screen at The Somerville Theatre right in my neighborhood. It's the story of a spoiled rich kid (played flawlessly by Freddie Bartholomew) who tumbles overboard an ocean liner going to Europe and winds up living on a Gloucester fishing schooner in the Grand Banks for three months. It's a Kipling novel and of course the boy, under the influence of the gruff fishermen, becomes a man. He sparks a particularly deep relationship with Manuel, a Portuguese fisherman played by Spencer Tracy.  Tracy uses a bizarre accent and has a bad perm but it doesn't matter because his portrayal is so heartfelt. He forms a genuine fatherly bond with his "little fish." My favorite part of the film was the little details of fishing at that time, plus the shots around Gloucester, particularly by the fisherman's statue. A much better movie than A Perfect Storm.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Poetry Monday

Summer Storm

by Dana Gioia

We stood on the rented patio
While the party went on inside.
You knew the groom from college.
I was a friend of the bride.

We hugged the brownstone wall behind us
To keep our dress clothes dry
And watched the sudden summer storm
Floodlit against the sky.

The rain was like a waterfall
Of brilliant beaded light,
Cool and silent as the stars
The storm hid from the night.

To my surprise you took my arm—
A gesture you didn’t explain—
And we spoke in whispers, as if we two
Might imitate the rain.

Then suddenly the storm receded
As swiftly as it came.
The doors behind us opened up.
The hostess called your name.

I watched you merge into the group,
Aloof and yet polite.
We didn’t speak another word
Except to say goodnight.

Why does that evening’s memory
Return with this night’s storm—
A party twenty years ago,
Its disappointments warm?

There are so many might have beens,
What ifs that won’t stay buried,
Other cities, other jobs,
Strangers we might have married.

And memory insists on pining
For places it never went,
As if life would be happier
Just by being different.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Country Strong

An excellent Sirkian melodrama that celebrates the cheesy Americana that is country music while also satirizing it. It's a fine line and, for the most part, this movie walks it. The scriptwriters were smart enough to know that the story of an aging, alcoholic country singer (Gwyneth Paltrow, always good) was going to get tiresome, so they give us four characters: her slightly Machiavellian husband (Tim McGraw in a non-singing role), an ingenue gunning for big fame (Leighton Meester), and a singer-songwriter trying to stay uncorrupted (Garrett Hedlund). These four jump in and out of bed with one another while on a disastrous tour that is supposed to be Kelly Canter's comeback (she's fresh from rehab). The satire in this film is both specific and subtle. Leighton Meester's character Chiles wants to succeed at country pop, and has written a song called "Summer Girl" that is both catchy, and a pitch perfect parody of the type of country hits coming out of Nashville these days. Kelly Canter is a typical mega-star whose personal life has become a huge part of her mainstream popularity. One of the best shots in the film is her final performance; she sings a song called "Coming Home" while old movies of her as a child run in the back of the giant stage. It's not the money that's corrupted her, it's how much of herself she has made public. While this film is not as immaculately constructed as a Douglas Sirk film, it's in the ballpark. Also, you don't have to like country music to like this but it sure helps. An underrated movie.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Animal Kingdom

This Australian crime film got tons of hype for Jacki Weaver's performance as the mother of a family of psychopathic thugs. She's great but the film, and the other actors, are equally stunning. This is an unpredictable, terrifying and entertaining film. Guy Pearce is in this as well, as a sympathetic homicide detective. It's a solid, solid film, even if I was not always sure what was happening on screen, and I'm still not sure I understood the ending.

Happy Birthday Anna Torv

I just wanted an excuse to post this photograph.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Separate Tables (1958)

A film based on Terrence Rattigan's play of the same name, it's about the permanent residents of a Bournemouth hotel in the off-season. Loaded with big stars but none was better than David Niven as a sad old man living out his remaining days in a perpetual lie. I loved his storyline but was not particularly taken with the stuff involving Burt Lancaster and Rita Hayworth as an alcoholic writer and his on-again off-again wife. They were playing to the back row, as was Deborah Kerr as a smothered child-woman terrified of the world. Also starring Wendy Hiller and Rod Taylor.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Poetry Monday

The Boston Evening Transcript

by T. S. Eliot

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.
When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, "Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Best Woody Allen film in years. A highly entertaining and touching meditation on people who feel they were born in the wrong time period. It's a very personal subject for me because ever since I was a teenager I have felt that I was born in the wrong time. I won't describe the plot of this film because it's best not to know but Owen Wilson was somehow perfect as the Woody-stand-in, I think because he has his own set of tics and nervous habits so that when he delivered the stammering Woody Allen dialogue it sounded very natural. Other good things: Beautifully shot, tons of small funny performances, including a stand-out single scene from Adrien Brody, a perfect ending (you can say what you want about Woody Allen but he has always known how to end a movie). All these good things are only slightly marred by the overly simple and shrill character of Inez, played (very well) by Rachel McAdams. It's a minor fault in a minor masterpiece.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Super 8

J. J. Abram's homage to early Spielberg is like two movies jammed together. One is a heartfelt ode to childhood, about a group of middle schoolers making a zombie movie with a super 8 camera. The second is a monster movie, kind of a more mean-spirited ET. I loved the former and was pretty immune to the latter. They never really meshed, and I never cared about (or was scared by) the monster story. But the kid actors, in particular Elle Fanning as the only girl in the group, and Riley Griffiths as the dedicated zombie movie director ("Production values!") were my standouts. I almost wish the movie had just been about the kids, their dead-end town, and the making of that movie. The monster seemed tacked on. Imagine if at the end of Stand by Me the body that they'd hiked into the woods to see came alive and chased the kids for half an hour. That's what this felt like to me.