October 2009 posts
GOD GREW TIRED OF US (2006/DVD) Once in a while we fat Americans should be required to watch (on our awesome and equally fat flat-screen HDTVs) a film that reminds us just how lucky we are. The next time that spoiled-rotten ankle-biter of yours complains about his PS3 not networking online proficiently enough, sit ‘em down (no candy!) for a family viewing of Christopher Dillon Quinn’s devastating 2006 documentary God Grew Tired of Us, a story of inspiring tenacity and amazing personal heartbreak on a global scale. God Grew Tired of Us tells the story of the Lost Boys, a moving city of broken children ranging in age from 3 to 13 (in a marching line stretching over a mile long) that for five long years in the late 1980s fled certain death in war-torn Sudan on foot through over 1,000 miles of jungles and deserts—TWICE, first to Ethiopia and then to Kenya—the group of 27,000 eventually cut down to 12,000. That’s a hell of a subtraction: 15,000 dead kids. And we’re talking kid kids here—Lost Boy John Bul Dau tells a particularly sad story about how, due to his impressive height, as a 13-year-old he had been placed in charge of a group of over 1,200 smaller kids, and how his first lesson as a leader was how to “bury the bodies.” Dau’s heartbreaking story is just one among many—each one as sobering as the next. Read more »
FUNNY PEOPLE (2009/IN THEATERS) On his third directorial effort (following the hilariously vulgar sweetness of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and the very quotable New Comedy Classic Knocked Up), Judd Apatow attempts a full-on dramedy about a dying (and then not dying) Adam Sandler–like famous comedian (played by, uh, Adam Sandler) trying to connect with a younger comedian (Seth Rogan) with mixed, and often disappointing, results. While it portrays the backstabbing world of every-comic-for-himself with a detailed realism—almost to the point of discomfort (the good kind)—for the most part Apatow forgets to actually make the funny characters funny. But, no! This is not a comedy, you say. It is a Drama! Read more »
How many people remember the movie of The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)? It was Robert Redford’s 2nd directing attempt (his first was Ordinary People in 1980) and really highlights at least two of his passions–the spirituality of New Mexico and the people who live there, and his environmental activist side, crusading against real estate and other developers. The movie won an Oscar for original score and was relatively popular. It still has a 59% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was shot on location in Truchas, New Mexico, a gorgeous community along the High Road to Taos—definitely a place worth visiting, especially in the fall for the High Road Art Tour. Don’t miss it, if you’re in the neighborhood.
MONTY PYTHON, ALMOST THE TRUTH (2009/IFC) I hope loads of Monty Python fans (like me) were able to catch IFC’s Six Part Documentary this past week. Episode 4 is devoted to MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, which as it turns out, was shot in Scotland at a privately owned castle—this due to the fact that the troupe was forbidden by the government to shoot in any of the Scottish Heritage sites as their use was deemed “inappropriate.” Listening to Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones discuss being joint directors of the movie, often reversing each other’s directions to the crew, gives me a new respect for the film. Gilliam is credited with the “feel”—art direction, per se, while Jones is credited with using hand-held cameras and taking an almost documentarian approach. Fascinating.
LIFE of BRIAN is the primary topic of Episode 5 of Almost the Truth, complete with reminders of the rocky reception the film received particularly in the U.S. where it was declared to be “un-Christian” (duh) and where Strom Thurmond was able to block all showings of it in North Carolina! Back to directorial issues, though, Terry Jones is in complete control of this film and John Cleese expresses absolute satisfaction with this, as all shooting is completed in 3 hours each day with none of Gilliam’s excessive, artistic re-takes to be tolerated.
Putting these two hours together, you get a good picture of just how crazy Terry Gilliam is on set and why his films often go awry…just in time for the release of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus…another in the series of less than well-received films for Mr. Gilliam.
for Monty Python, Almost the Truth (the Lawyer’s Cut)
Serious Movie Lover welcomes Be, a new contributor with an eye for fashion. Read on….
COCO BEFORE CHANEL (2009/IN THEATERS) I had the privilege of seeing Coco Before Chanel over the weekend and have decided it is one of the best films I’ve seen this past year. The cinematography was beautiful, vivid and intimate. From the nun’s habits framed in the opening sequence to the panoramas of the Parisian countryside, I felt a part of the world being shown on the screen. The costumes were exquisite, notably the race track scene, which was reminiscent of the 1964 film MY FAIR LADY, where every dress, hat and parasol was showcased. Following Coco’s life from the orphanage to the fashion salon was a captivating journey, one which I look forward to seeing again, and then perhaps even again.
Reviewed by: Be
FINISHING HEAVEN (2008/HBO) This often-compelling and gorgeously put together documentary follows the circa-2007 attempts of one-time almost-filmmaker Robert Feinberg to finally finish his only film, Heaven, a rambling, episodic art project shot in 1970 in an awkwardly framed and slightly out of focus version of New York City and featuring a who’s who of that year’s Max’s Kansas City and Warhol Factory–approved counter culture icons. (Full disclosure: This writer is bored silly by Warhol-related “films” and only recognized one of the “famous” faces appearing in Heaven: the principal from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School! That’s right, er, what’s-her-name.) The real drama here lies in Feinberg’s fractured relationship with his contentious one-time muse and leading lady (on screen and off), Ruby Lynn Reyner, an angry, wire-thin, red-headed wraith who bitterly spits, among several other (often credit-related) charges, that “the great director Antonioni once wanted to use me in a film, until (Feinberg) talked him out of it.” Watching this combustible duo (along with an extremely patient and generous editor who seems to age five years every time he presents a new eight- or nine-hour cut) try to make sense out of what is essentially senseless, random improvisation is a heartbreaker.
Fun fact: “Marty” Scorsese, Feinberg’s then-NYU Film School teacher, was apparently on-board as Heaven’s producer until he spent a weekend with Feinberg’s crew shooting a nude Reyner in a mirrored bubble bath (with no script or direction, really), and apparently ran the other way. Of Scorsese’s involvement, only his name scrawled on the clapper—and famous tommy-gun voice in the background of those outtakes—remains.
The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead (by Max Brooks) & 28 Days Later (directed by Danny Boyle)/28 Weeks Later (directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo) – If you feel like you’ve been getting too much restful sleep, or have fallen behind in stocking your basement with end-of-days supplies (may I suggest loads of bottled water, a machete, and delicious MRE entrees?), take in a back-to-back viewing of these bleak, humorless tales of zombie mayhem. Feel empowered by following up with The Zombie Survival Guide, a straight (yet often hilarious) how-to for those of us who choose to fight the undead menace. I may or may not have a confirmed Zombie Safe Zone, and no, there isn’t any room for you and your noisy grandma. Gluttons for punishment can also check out World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, also by Brooks, and plan on sleeping with a dense, zombie-bashing flashlight by the side of their bed for the rest of their adult lives. Safety first.
The World Without Us (by Alan Weisman) & Children of Men (directed by Alfonso Cuarón) – Up for an optimism-shattering, heartbreaking, yet entirely plausible vision of the world we may have experienced with a McCain/Palin administration? (You know it’s true.) Gorgeously shot and almost unbearably tense, Children of Men is my favorite film that I will never, ever watch again. But not to worry, nervous nellies—Weisman assures us that we can go ahead and blow ourselves to smithereens, but our planet and many types of algae and disgusting insects will survive. Comforting? Uh, only if you’re the type who thinks you’ll be too busy hangin’ in the clouds with Einstein and Bea Arthur to care. You weirdo.
Is it fair to judge a movie you’ve only seen on an airplane? Probably not, but let me comment on “Moon (2009),” the critically applauded sci-fi feature from Zowie Bowie (real name: Duncan Jones), son of David Bowie. I enjoyed the twists and, like everyone else, admired the tour de force acting of Sam Rockwell. What I really wished was that some brilliant person had also programmed a showing of “The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976),” Nicolas Roeg’s less well received but equally fascinating sci-fi twister starring a very androgynous David Bowie. Note to self: Netflix these two when Moon is out on DVD.
(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009/IN THEATERS) The gimmick here—the breezy retelling of an ordinary and ultimately failed 500-day relationship in nonlinear segments, each titled with exactly which day (“Day 256”, etc.) it took place—serves the story well, turning what would be a garden-variety rom-com (albeit of the [very slightly] indie set, meaning that these characters listen to Fleet Foxes on virgin vinyl and probably LOVED that olde movie Empire Records) into somewhat of a bittersweet (yet very digestible) puzzle. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are adorable (duh) as the deconstructed couple, as is the fantasy dance sequence led by Gordon-Levitt through a sunny L.A. park on one of his happier days.
Did everyone love “In Bruges” as much as me?? Traveling there this past week, I met natives who are basically amused at the black humor portrayal of their sleepy medieval city. And…the film has brought more tourists to town, so what can be wrong with that? BTW: Unfortunately, no sightings of Colin Farrell on this trip.