November 2009 posts
THE MAID (“LA NANA”) (2009/IN THEATERS) is one to catch, if it comes to a theater near you. Catalina Saavedra’s fabulous portrayal of the family maid, Raquel (affectionately known as Raqu), in an upscale Chilean family won her a Special Jury Prize for Acting at this year’s Sundance. The movie itself (by director Sebastián Silva) won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema—the equivalent of Best Foreign Feature—also at Sundance—and has garnered other awards in its home turf. The movie is funny and poignant at the same time– the main character’s passive-aggressive behavior will definitely make you laugh and shake your head simultaneously. Be sure to stay to the end to see the two Nana’s to whom the film is dedicated. Suggested pairing for a fabulous and also funny contrast: LIVE-IN MAID (“Cama Adentro,” Argentina, 2004)
Grade: A. Highly recommended.
Anticipation ran high for audience members at the SLIFF screening of Munyurangabo, an acclaimed drama shot in Rwanda by an Arkansas filmmaker of Korean descent. I know, what?! But then stuff happens and then other stuff happens. Take note of the following real life drama presented in its original aspect ratio and in electronic mail form.
Subject: MUNYURANGABO screening problems
Date: Mon, 23 Nov 2009 4:02 pm
From: Brian McClelland
I wanted to let you know about some problems at the Munyurangabo SLIFF screening on November 18, 5pm @ Frontenac. The film was digitally projected from a DVD (which is more than fine), but the subtitles were not turned on for the first several minutes of the film. A film in which the dialogue is in Kinyarwanda. Another problem—the digital projector was improperly set, squeezing the full aspect ratio of the film (1:85.1—I checked) into a 4:3 box, ruining what should have been some wonderful photography, and making everything on screen appear distorted. Read more »
THE WRESTLER (2008/DVD) Pitch-bleak auteur Darren Aronofsky, who we last saw Stepping It Up 2 The Streets with his overreaching paean to mindfuck cinema, The Fountain (and that film’s harrowing predecessors: 1998′s madness-via-math puzzle Pi and 2000′s terrifying addiction nightmare Requiem to a Dream) makes his most commercial film yet with The Wrestler, and that’s not saying so terribly much. While The Wrestler is indeed a conventional story—you’ve seen this before, countless times, and thanks to the ill-advised DVD art and trailers, I knew exactly how this story was going to end before it ever began—what those other films did not have was the perfect stars-aligned match of material/director/star. The combination of Aronofsky’s stark worldview, rooting what could have been a ridiculous premise and character in ultra-grim and just plain ugly reality, and the casting of broken down used-to-be-famous movie star Mickey Rourke as broken down used-to-be-famous pro wrestler Randy “the Ram” Robinson was a masterstroke.
A SERIOUS MAN (2009/ IN THEATERS) I’ve now seen it twice. Joel and Ethan Coen’s much admired—and deservedly so—new film which is partly a modern version of the Book of Job, partly a tribute to their suburban Minnesota Jewish up-bringing, and totally a Coen film. It’s funny, dark, well written, beautifully shot, tightly edited and impossible to forget. The acting is superb and the attention to detail is fantastic. The ending has spawned an ongoing discussion over the network–just Google “A Serious Man Ending” and stand back–there are a lot of opinions. Roger Ebert calls this a “wince-wince” comedy. A. O. Scott of the New York Times says “You don’t have to be Jewish to like this movie, but it will hurt more if you are.” Suggested pairing: Crimes and Misdemeaners (1989, Woody Allen)
THE QUEEN AND I (2009/HBO) Engaging documentary by Sweden-based Iranian filmmaker (and exiled revolutionary) Nahid Persson Sarvestani detailing her efforts to make a film about (and eventually, developing a relationship with) Royal Queen Farah, the exiled widow of the deposed Shah of Iran. Now based in Paris and living the life of a celebrity to a degree—fans stop her continuously on the street for photos and autographs—the uber-classy RQF is understandably reluctant when approached by the earnest filmmaker about making a movie delving into her tumultuous past. It says something of her character that, even after Sarvestani confesses that she was a part of the very revolutionary force that deposed the Shah in 1979, the RQF not only permits the filmmaker access to her private life (albeit gradually), but she also lets her personal barriers fall, allowing their polite and reserved interviews to mature into an unlikely friendship. Read more »
The St. Louis International Film Festival takes place this month, so a few of our editors visited the lovely (and, once again, independent) Hi-Pointe Theatre for a showing of Youth in Revolt, scheduled for wide release on January 8, 2010. Please enjoy their spirited and exclamation point–heavy discussion. Feel the love.
YOUTH IN REVOLT (2010/IN THEATERS)
From: Faulhaber, Kimberly
Sent: Monday, November 16, 2009 10:11 AM
To: Gremillion, Sarah; McClelland, Brian
So, Youth in Revolt! I didn’t think the novel could be condensed into a movie, but this was not bad! In fact, I think I enjoyed the movie more than the novel, possibly because the dearth of doggy death and rape. Good editing choices, Miguel Arteta! Although I rated it 3 out of 5 on my SLIFF ballot, this morning I’d give it a slightly more generous 3.5.
Have you guys watched a lot of Hal Hartley movies? The tone of Youth felt similar to Trust—particularly the deadpan dialogue/acting and the various American grotesqueries…also, the pouty actress who played Sheeni was so reminiscent of the late Adrienne Shelley that I wondered if Arteta was a fan. Anyway, it would have fit in quite nicely with a lot of movies I saw during the early ‘90s indie boom.
Hopefully this will show audiences (and casting directors) that Cera can play more than just a hoodie-wearing teen—his take on Nick Twisp’s alter ego, Francois, was much more subtle than I feared, but still hilarious. Who knew he could look so at ease in white pants that left nothing to the imagination, loafers, and a pinkie ring? When the two characters interacted it really did look like two different actors (Francois being slightly older, even). Carlotta on the other hand… Read more »
THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD (DVD/2009) is for those of us who truly do LOVE John Malkovich. He is marvelous in this film tribute to the Amazing Kreskin, the mentalist who famously appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show more than 60 times. Director and writer Sean McGinley worked as road manager for Kreskin in real life and dedicates this film to him. The trailer for this movie got me totally excited when it was shown in theaters last spring, with Malkovich proclaiming “I LOVE this town” and “Isn’t that wild?” with over the top hilarious enthusiasm. But be warned: the movie itself is sweet, not hilarious, and is centered and therefore limited by Colin Hank’s voice-over narration and “doormat” wooden performance. Hey, his dad produced. We rest our case. As it turned out, the film was shown on only 50 screens last May and then went straight to the airlines and DVD. Worth renting for a light night and to see Malkovich (and Steve Zahn, underutilized but still a favorite). Suggested pairing: My Favorite Year.
ZOMBIELAND (2009/IN THEATERS) As SML’s self-anointed zombie mayhem-thusiast, I ventured out to see Zombieland, despite the sleepless nights and near bedwettings some people often experience after viewing a romp through the apocalypse. What can I say, someone is a glutton for punishment. But color me surprised, Zombieland is a lighthearted dysfunctional family comedy, less goofy and satirical Shaun of the Dead than National Lampoon’s Vacation featuring a virus plague. The dramatic tension in this sucker lasts about 10 minutes, and the remainder is spent with characters gently teasing each other, driving gas guzzlers through vacant cities, and learning lessons about life, love, and family. What the fuck? An end-of-days trifle? Should we be teaching the children that zombies are not to be taken seriously? Lives could be lost!
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (2009/IN THEATERS) is loosely based on a book of the same name written by Jon Ronson (2004). According to Wikipedia, the book accompanied a three-part TV series broadcast on Channel 4 in Britain, Crazy Rulers of the World. The three parts were titled “The Men Who Stare at Goats”, “Funny Torture” and “Psychic Footsoldiers” respectively. The idea of the project was to explore “the apparent madness at the heart of U.S. military intelligence.” The movie is directed by Grant Heslov, who collaborated with George Clooney as co-writer of Good Night and Good Luck (he is also listed as a producer on Leatherheads, one of my least favorite of Clooney’s more recent films).
Reviewers and regular blog commenters either like or actively dislike this film. I liked it, but as one person on IMDB noted, it’s “a great movie if you get it.” Great to see The Dude as a new breed of military man. Manohla Dargis of the NYT sums it up best: “likable, lightweight, absurdist comedy.” Recommended pairing: CATCH 22.
CORALINE (2009/DVD) A fun, creepy, and wholly original delight from former Tim Burton collaborator Henry Selick (director of The Nightmare Before Christmas), Coraline is the rare example of a movie that leaves its source material novel (by the always unpredictable and inventive Neil Gaiman) in its dust, adding characters and plot points that only improve on the already well-crafted, Hugo Award–winning, albeit very slight, book. Don’t bother coughing up the extra 10 bucks for the special 3D edition of the DVD, however—the DVD version of the film uses an altogether different (and mostly unwatchable) 3D technology than the dim-but-gorgeous RealD 3D showcased in theaters.