Saturday, December 22, 2007

Movies, Winter 2007-2008

Started my winter viewing with a bang, by watching Evita (1996). I thought Madonna was wonderful as Evita, and Jonathan Pryce was delightful as Juan Perón. Antonio Banderas can sing -- who knew? He plays Che, the voice of the people/narrator. The IMdb board is still busy with debate about this film, contrasting it with the original stage play by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and also comparing the life of Evita as portrayed in the film to the historical Eva Duarte Perón. All in all, an excellent viewing experience. The library CD had no special features, although I would have welcomed historical/biographical background, at least. And the soundtrack CD is on order!

In a slight change of pace, we watched Ratatouille (2007), which is totally delightful and fun.

Oddly, next up is another film set in Paris, with another character voiced by Ian Holm (Jonathan Pryce was another of the bad guys!). Not important, just odd. The futuristic noirish thriller Renaissance (2006),, very dark and abstract. This Paris is not a nice place, and the company (Avalon) trying to gain the very power of life and death are not nice people. Neither is Karas, the world-weary cop voiced by Daniel Craig. But his car is pretty dang cool, and so is this film.

Birth (2004) was beautiful, engaging, and chillingly, deeply creepy. Nichole Kidman gives an absolutely tour-de-force performance, and the kid who plays Sean is amazing -- and deeply creepy, as is Anne Heche as the dead husband's secret lover. Her performance lets you know something is *off* before Sean confronts Anna for the first time.

Dark Victory (1939) is another tour-de-force performance, Bette Davis' favorite of her career. She is in virtually every moment of this film, where she sparkles, vibrates, droops, rides, shines, and finally, dies beautifully. I also loved Geraldine Fitzgerald as Judith's best friend Ann. Humphrey Bogart was mis-cast as the horse trainer, but shone in his one scene.

Another wonderful film set in Paris tonight - Ninotchka (1939), Greta Garbo's first comedy. It's very funny, smart, serious, and touching. Garbo is marvelous, of course, as an automaton brought to life by the love of Léon, Comte d'Agoult (brilliantly played by Melvyn Douglas), whom her entire background has taught her to distrust and disapprove. The other supporting parts are all pitch-perfect, as is the cinematography, writing, and pacing. Wonderful film!

Stardust is a magical Neil Gaiman novel brought to life. We watch Tristan Thorn (played by newcomer Charlie Cox) become a man by learning to love, and thus, displaying courage. Claire Danes was perfect as the fallen star Yvaine, Michelle Pfeiffer was *great* as the witch pursuing Yvaine, and Robert De Niro was mostly great as Captain Shakespeare. I didn't buy his closeted gay man/cross-dresser, but that's a quibble. Even the special effects didn't bother me one iota. Now I want to read the book. :-)

*Complete* change of pace: Repo Man (1984), also completely delightful. Cult favorite, for SO many reasons, two of which are Harry Dean Stanton, in the role of his lifetime, and Emilio Estavez as his punk disciple. Alan Cox and Michael Nesmith created a masterpiece for pennies!

Finally, out to the theater! We saw Sweeney Todd (2007) in all its bloody glory. Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd, Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, and Alan Rickman as the strangely sexy/creepy Judge Turpin were all top-notch. Who knew Johnny Depp could sing? His solos and duets were all wonderful, and his razor oh, so deft. Sacha Baron Cohen was barely recognizable as the swishy Signor Adolfo Pirelli, and wonderful and his boy Toby, played by Ed Sanders, was winsome. The only disappointment was Jayne Wisener as Johanna. She looked the part, but her singing was much too brittle. That's a tiny quibble, however. It was a completely satisfying night at the movies.

The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978) -- funny, heart-warming for Beatles fans. The songs are hilarious -- close, but parody. Eric Idle who dreamed this up, wrote it, and played Dirk McQuickly (Paul McCartney) and the narrator is a genius. Neil Innes, who wrote all the music, was Ron Nasty (John Lennon), and sang lead most convincingly. If you love The Beatles, you'll love this film.

I must have been on a Beatles kick when I was ordering films from the library, because I also view Backbeat (1994), which is a dramatization of the friendship of Stuart Sutcliffe, the original bassist, and John Lennon in Liverpool and then Hamburg. After Stu falls in love with a German artist, he decides to return to his own art, and leave the band. Shortly thereafter, Beatles fans know, he died suddenly. The music is just wonderful, and the boys playing Stuart, John, Paul and George do a great job. Pete Best is the drummer for most of the film, but a sleeping Ringo appears for a couple of minutes too. This is The Beatles before they were famous, and it's GREAT!

Intense, and so dark, so very, very dark -- 8MM (1999), staring Nicolas Cage in an amazing role. This film was disturbing on so many levels; I can understand why it wasn't a hit. Still, if you can stand a film about the murder of a young girl for sexual pleasure, then you are in for a dark treat. Joaquin Phoenix as Max California is a black cherry on top.

But, as Max California says, "There are some things that you see, and you can't unsee them. Know what I mean?" Be warned that this is one dark, intense film.

Ha! If you want to see a great rip-off of the cheesy teen films of the Fifties, by John Waters, starring JOHNNY DEPP, with wonderful music, then you have to see Cry Baby (1990). Johnny was trying to escape his 21 Jump Street box, and wow, did this wacky classic do that for him! If you love John Waters, it is well-worth listening to his commentary, and the DVD extras are all great too. This might be worth buying, since no-one seems to have heard of it, and there is a version coming to Broadway in April! Some of the other amazing actors John got to appear in this film: Polly Bergen as Mrs. Vernon-Williams, Iggy Pop as Uncle Belvedere, Ricki Lake as Pepper Walker (Cry Baby's sister), Traci Lords (newly escaped from the porn industry), Troy Donahue and Mink Stole as one hilariously over-the-top set of parents, Joe Dallesandro and Joey Heatherton as another, and David Nelson as Wanda's father and Patricia Hearst (playing her own mother?) as the mom. Cherry on the sundae is a cameo Willem Dafoe as the Hateful Prison Guard, who even spanks our Cry Baby ("That's Mr. Baby to you!")!

Velvet Goldmine (1998) is a dream; a dream about glam rock. The soundtrack is dreamy, and *I want it!* The costumes are over the top, as they were in those days. And the plot, the plot..... amazing, confusing, convoluted. Loosely based on the personas of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, with a lot of references to others of the era, and wonderfully played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ewan McGregor, and Toni Collette. Christian Bale's character is the touchstone, experiencing the liberation and eventual disenchantment of the young rock fan of the time. Warning -- some wonderful nudity and such!

The Argentines sure know how to make a movie, based on Burnt Money (Plata quemada) (2000) and now Glue (2006) a wonderful Alexis Dos Santos picture of small-town teen life in the Patagonian desert. If you are offended by drug use (huffing glue) or intense teen sensuality, this isn't the film for you. I loved this vivid, unscripted look at the lives of these kids. Wonderfully acted by real-life friends Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as Lucas, Inés Efron as Andrea, and Nahuel Viale as Nacho.

Shortbus (2006) finally arrived from the library! What a great film. If sex (LOTS of sex) and nudity bother you, this film isn't for you. Unless you want to get over that? In which case, watch as a guilty pleasure, until you get over the guilt. :-) John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) scores big with me on this one -- both how the film appears on the screen, on the ears (wonderful soundtrack), but also his process. He wanted people comfortable with their sexuality, so he advertised for couples as the "sextras" and sex/sexuality questions were a major part of the interview process for the main character actors. Sook-Yin Lee as "pre-orgasmic" Sofia, Paul Dawson as the depressed James, and Lindsay Beamish as the lonely artist/dominatrix Severin were the main stories, and PJ DeBoy as Jamie, Raphael Barker as Rob, Peter Stickles as Caleb, the Stalker, Jay Brannan as Ceth, and Adam Hardman as Jesse, the John, played the major partners. Ray Rivas as the Shabbos Goy had a brilliant cameo, and Justin Bond as himself, and the conductor of the Shortbus is just wonderful. Shanti Carson as Leah has no lines, but her beautiful, joyous, compassionate gaze is a show-stopper. When she shows up in the final scene, you know that this film has a happy ending. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Seems like everything Neil Gaiman touches is magic. Mirrormask (2005) got a limited US release for some reason, but it is out on DVD, and you should see it. Gaiman wrote it with his graphic novel partner Dave McKean in a more intense collaboration than they usually have, and that intensity shows, I think. The art is wonderful, and there is fine acting, writing, filming, cgi-ing (is that a word?) by a band of beginners at making movies.

Tonight, Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985). William Hurt won the Oscar as Best Actor for this, as well he should have. Raul Julia was also wonderful as the revolutionary who comes to love his gay cell-mate, and Sonia Braga plays a triple role - Leni Lamaison and the Spider Woman, the heroines of the movies acted/told by Luis to help pass the time, and Marta, Valentin's beloved. What a lovely melding of plot elements, direction, acting, and camera work. Perhaps the men were allowed their beautiful, loving kiss because Valentin was "not gay"!

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