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Movie(s) review - 2007 Oscar shorts & animated shorts

May 18, 2008 3 comments

Two movies in one weekend! On Friday night it was Oscar’s Shorts 2007; five excellent short films.  My favorite was The Tonto Woman; it was also the best Western movie I have ever seen and only 38 minutes long to boot.  Yes, a cattle rustler might be capable of moral outrage.

The other films were about three women in a cancer ward, a crazy “substitute teacher”, an innovative matchmaker, and a pair of Hungarian pickpockets. Of them I only disliked the one about the cancer ward – the others were a hoot.

Tonight it was 2007 Oscar Animated Shorts.  I love animated films, though some of tonight’s selections were seriously weird – on the level of “be more careful who you buy your LSD from” weird. My favorite was Peter & The Wolf – an unusual retelling of Prokofiev’s tale. 

Finally, just because I was knocking around on YouTube looking for a clip from The Tonto Woman, I ran across this mad cool video morphing montage of modern paintings which has nothing whatever to do with the movies we saw…

How’s your art history knowledge?  How many of the paintings do you recognize?  My taste runs more to Vermeer or Homer than Picasso, so I’d like to see a montage of paintings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  Though I do like some 20th century painters around the likes of Edward Hopper.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Movie Review: ‘The Band’s Visit’

May 3, 2008 3 comments

imageI wish MrsDoF hadn’t been too busy rolling balls of yarn to go to the movies with me.  Sometimes a guy just can’t get a date to save his life.

I saw The Band’s Visit this evening at the historic Normal Theater.  It’s a 2007 story about an Egyptian police band travelling to give a concert at an Arab culture center in Israel.  They get on the wrong bus and end up stranded in the wrong town; a town in the middle of nowhere with no hotel.  Locals take them in for the night.

It’s a very different kind of film from the American movies I’m used to. I went because I have never seen a full-length Israeli film, know very little about life in Israel, and have very little context for Arab poetry or music.  There’s no ‘action’, no politics and very little religion. It’s character-driven, quiet, and a quite unadorned look at the lives of people in the Israeli town, and in the Egyptian band.  The characters once had dreams, they’re lonely, grieving, impatient, defeated or self-important, and the story, to the extent there is one, is in how they behave when thrust together.  It has some moments where the whole theater filled with laughter, and at least one moment where you’d best have a hankie.  At least, I needed one when the band leader explains to the beautiful restaurant owner what happened to his wife and son.

Oddly enough the film was rejected for an Oscar in the ‘foreign films’ category because it had ‘too much English’ in it.  Though, if Egyptians and Israelis needed to communicate, that’s the language they have in common…

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

January 12, 2008 5 comments

MrsDoF and I went to the historic Normal Theater this evening to see the comedy movie Lars and the Real Girl (not yet released on DVD).  I am hard-pressed to think of another movie as original as this one.

Lars (played by Ryan Gosling) is a 27-year-old man who lives in his brother’s garage.  He holds down a job, is kind to others, and though he is extremely shy, people do like him.  But they don’t know that he is so badly wounded inside that even the touch of another person, however kind or gentle, causes him pain.  He wears multiple layers of clothing for protection.  He cannot hug.  It is difficult for him even to shake hands or look another person in the eye.

When a porn-addicted office-mate shows Lars a website that sells unusually realistic sex dolls, he secretly orders one.  But not for the usual purpose.  Instead, Lars invests in the lifeless mannequin an emotional reality as his new friend from Brazil.  Her name is “Bianca”.  Her mother died when she was born – just like Lars.  She is very religious, like Lars.  She cannot walk and does not speak much English. 

His brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) are horrified to learn that he actually believes she is alive.  In the months that follow, they and all their friends, and the entire rural community, receive a crash course in delusional mental illnesses, and in compassion.  The psychiatrist (Patricia Clarkson)  advises Lars’ brother and sister-in-law to play along with his delusion, so he can work out what he needs to.  His co-workers, and the rest of his church community also pitch in, reluctantly at first, when it is made clear to them that this may be the only path Lars can take out of his suffering.

And his brother learns that he holds the key to Lars’ pain.

It is a Christian theme that redemption is possible by sharing in the suffering of others.  I have seen this play out in actual rural churches, and it does in Lars’ church.  Their kindness, and that of the community, is the only part of the story that requires any suspension of disbelief, but the effort does not go unrewarded. 

Every movie asks a somewhat improbable question, such as “What if an empire and the rebellion against it spanned a galaxy?”  The improbable question for Lars might be; “What if people had as much compassion for the mentally ill as they do for the physically ill?”  The movie is billed as a comedy, and the audience laughed a lot.  But I didn’t, and when Lars is convinced that Bianca is dying, and he baptizes her, no one else in the theater did either.

There were a thousand ways for this movie to have gone wrong, but it didn’t.  Instead it is original and funny and touching.  So you needn’t look for it at the Oscars – they just skip over movies like this in favor of something with more explosions.  See it if you get the chance. 

Notes:

  • Movie Website

  • Yes it’s true, I’m a godless heathen.  But from various life experiences, I can speak reasonably fluent ‘Christian’.
  • Other themes in the movie:  Sometimes honesty is not the best policy, Forgiveness, ‘Let he who is without sin…’, Definition of manhood, and more.
Categories: Movies, Reviews

Movie Review: Ratatouille

January 5, 2008 1 comment

MrsDoF and I saw the Disney/Pixar film Ratatouille at the Historic Normal Theater this evening.  You know the story: a rat with a culinary gift becomes the master chef at a French restaurant.  Since I couldn’t figure out how the story was supposed to work, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. 

I was surprised to find that it did work, was funny, and engaging, and very literate, and I liked it.  (I should have known, co-directed by Brad Bird.) If your kids watch it, it might even improve their vocabulary, too.  In the pattern of Incredibles, there was some some inspirational stuff but not too much.  And a bit of romance, but not too much.  Some violence, but not too much. And the animation was not only technically superb but lovingly artistic as one could hope.  Tasty!

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Mr. President?  Is that you?

January 1, 2008 1 comment

It’s a chilly January night and MrsDoF is in the living room watching Disney’s 1991 movie, Beauty And The BeastI like the movie a lot, so I’ve been popping in to watch the cool scenes with her.  I especially like the part where the Beast saves Belle from the wolves.

Then I overheard the obnoxious bully Gaston, use a familiar phrase.  To MrsDoF’s annoyance, I came in and rewound the tape to catch a picture of it (the animation is between-frames but the closed-caption is clear).  Gaston vows to “Kill the beast!” and Belle, who has befriended the misshapen monster, says “I won’t let you!”  To which Gaston replies; “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!

Sound like anyone we know?  I think it’s a pretty good fit.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

2007 manhattan Short Film Festival

September 29, 2007 3 comments

Local theaters are wonderful.  The Historic Normal Theater just showed the 2007 Manhattan Short Film Festival, which was followed by an international voting for the best one.  Our theater was the only one in Illinois hosting the event.

My favorites in order were Lines, Clooney, Boris’ Complete Book Of Rules, and The Prestidigitator.  Lots of people were very impressed by 1/100 of a second but I thought it pushed emotional buttons in a rather clumsy fashion. Feeling Lonely was a very obvious reworking of Rear Window and I Want To Be A Pilot was like the world’s most tedious Christian Children’s Fund commercial.  The others were so-so. 

Lines could be, and should be, made into a series for high-school kids.  You could do an awful lot with the main character they created and I think it would be massively popular. Unfortunately it has not hit YouTube yet.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Movie Review: The 5,000 Fingers Of Doctor T

August 26, 2007 3 comments

I love Theodore Geisel (Doctor Seuss) and recently learned that he did a live-action movie in 1959.  Entitled The 5,000 Fingers Of Doctor T, it told the story of Bart Collins, a young boy tormented by a cultured but evil piano teacher named Robert Terwilliker.

(Waaaait a minute… there’s something awfully familiar about that.  Could there be an inspirational relationship to young Bart Simpson, and his cultured but evil nemesis, (Sideshow) Bob Terwilliger?  Hmmm…)

Bart apparently has some sleep disorder; he falls asleep at inopportune times, dreaming that his piano instructor Doctor T is after him.  In the dream that encompasses most of the movie, his instructor founds the “Terwilliker Institute” to enslave 500 young boys to play the world’s largest piano (and not incidentally run a gigantic and very profitable racket).

Producer Stanley Kramer pulled out all the stops to translate the surreal world of Doctor Suess to 3-dimensional reality.  I imagine that stratospheric costs prevented another live-action Suess flick from being made until special effects could be produced digitally. 

The sets, lighting, choreography, and musical numbers are simply astounding.  The orchestral number (performed in a dungeon with fanciful instruments that only Doctor Suess could possibly invent) is wonderful but impossible to describe.  The movie does run a bit slow for my Die Hard conditioned movie sensibilities but heck, it was made in 1959.

This movie was a lot of fun.  I’m going to have to watch it a couple more times to catch everything.  You can get your own copy on Amazon.

SPOILER ALERT below the fold

It would be difficult to get this story made into a children’s movie today.  Terwilliker offers cigars and tequila as a successful bribe to the other hero, a plumber named Zabladowski.  The one African-American operates the elevator down to a torture chamber.  Bart climbs into lots of dangerous places including the world’s most vertiginous ladder.  Young Bart rebels against authorities and actually uses an atomic weapon against his foe.  And if the movie were being made today, there would be a boring sub-plot about Bart’s sleeping disorder, and he would learn to love the piano instead of running off to play.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

I finally got around to seeing that movie everyone was going on about a couple years ago (Vendetta)

August 12, 2007 5 comments

I like movies, but I don’t watch many of them and I’m seldom in a hurry to see them as they come out. Last night we watched V is for Vendetta and in response to all the people who told me to watch it two years ago, yes it was pretty cool.  It takes place in the “near future,” where Agent Smith from those awful “Matrix” movies plays a masked avenger out to topple a brutal totalitarian regime that has taken over England.

The movie exhibits some parallels to our current world – the government manipulating fear of terrorism, a public swayed by government-connected TV commentators.  It is a very good story with good acting and some twists.

My favorite scene was where V enters the bedchamber of one of the scientists who ran the bioweapons lab where he was created.  Best I can remember:

“You’ve come to kill me?”
“Yes.”
“Thank God.”

The movie raises issues of the value of assassination over warfare; in England, V takes out the real bad guys one at a time while the United States endures another agonizing civil war. 

On a scale of bricks to fruit, I’d rate this movie “pretty darn entertaining”.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

Ingmar Bergman dies

July 30, 2007 Comments off

Ingmar Bergman has died

I still have the movie poster from the first time (of several) I saw The Seventh Seal.  Damn, what a cool movie.  (And I enjoyed the tribute to it in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s   Last Action Hero.)  Of his huge filmography I have only seen TSS, Winter Light, and Wild Strawberries.  But I only saw the others once each and while I remember enjoying them, not much else.

Categories: Movies, Reviews

“What we have here is a failure to communicate”

June 17, 2007 2 comments

MrsDoF and I went to The Normal Theater for a night of big-screen classic cinema.  There are a lot of classic movies I’ve never seen, and sometimes that’s all to the good.  The Maltese Falcon, for example, has a huge reputation but I found it very disappointing.  So I didn’t have extremely high expectations of Cool Hand Luke.  But I was pleasantly surprised; this star-studded movie was definitely worth the time.

Briefly, Luke (Paul Newman) is a post-war ner’ do-well who gets himself sent to prison by a drunken act of vandalism.  But his unique personality earns him the admiration of his fellow prisoners and the enmity of the guards.  It turns out badly for him in the end… depending how you look at it.

I’m not usually good at recognizing literary/religious allegories, but this one was a bit more accessible than most.  The exact sequence is slightly scrambled, but there’s a baptism, disciples, miracles, the Romans, Gethsemane, Judas, Pilate, a crucifixion, and even a sort of resurrection.  The latter is exactly how I envision the resurrection of Jesus taking on the mythic proportions that it did. 

George Kennedy plays an illiterate thug who ends up as one of the disciples – Peter, I suppose, and then combining the role of the big fisherman’s denial with that of Judas, trying to save the messiah from the wrath of the Romans, by betraying him.  And… (this is as literary as you’ll ever see me get here in Decrepitland) I thought the crucifixion was when he was “broken” – and the ascension was when he was shot.  And it took place before the resurrection. 

We walked home talking about the movie, only to find our neighborhood in darkness.  Apparently the heat and rain, plus trees growing around the power lines, brought down our neighborhood. 

Anyone else seen Cool Hand Luke?  What did you think of it?

Categories: Movies, Reviews