Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

TOMBOY (1985)
Gender expectations in that painfully earnest and gauze-and-synth-heavy 80s style. I always wanted to see this when I'd pass it at the video store, mainly because I thought the poster was sexy (and I'd already found Betsy Russell on sneaked late night cable in Private School), but I was never old enough and then it just sort of fell by the way and now it's almost thirty years later. Cute, but it wasn't really worth the wait. Very sleazy and predictable (another one of those movies that ends with a race of some kind), but I still adore Betsy Russell. **

CITY OF GOD (2002)
I don't know why this one got away from me for so long, as it's easily one of the best films of the 2000s. There's a great grasp of character here, and it's brimming with a confidence that allows it to take a true story and turn into something that is tragic and real, but also at times witty and funny. A story about crime and poverty in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro, we see kids grow up in this environment and eventually become the criminals who terrorize it, with many caught in a system that offers almost no hope of escape. Guns are commonplace to an almost cartoonish level, and violence and crime become things that are accepted as a part of daily life--even expected in some ways. Through all of this we see stories that are personal and understandable, but the film wisely never resorts to preaching or playing too hard on our sympathies. Lots of energy, really fantastic filmmaking. ****

JANE EYRE (2011)
This is actually the first adaptation of this novel I've ever seen. It's an excellent one, cutting right to the heart of the characters and bringing us close into their world. I find a lot of movies set in this time period seem to be too cool, as if the filmmakers can't relate to the people of the time. Here we see the intellect and the passion beneath the surface of these often-repressed people, and the story of Jane Eyre and Edward Fairfax Rochester becomes as immediate as it is on the page. A great deal of that is due also to the actors, Mia Wasikowska (who I've come to like) and Michael Fassbender (who I've come to love). It's also very sumptuous to look at; another problem too many movies about this time period have is that they drain out all the color, and here the characters live in a world of lush greens and blues. An excellent second feature from Cary Fukunaga, the director of Sin Nombre. ****

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944)
Gorgeous art direction in this wholesome MGM musical about a family in 1903-1904 St. Louis. There's not a lot of narrative meat, but the sets are beautiful, Marjorie Main is funny, and I never pass up the chance to see and hear Judy Garland singing. It's an enjoyable experience, even if the story gets a little windy at times. And it gave us "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," one of my favorite songs. ***1/2

THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE (1958)
Silly, superficial story about an English lord (Rex Harrison) and his American daughter (Sandra Dee) who is making her debut and who falls in love with a drummer who's supposed to be a ne'er-do-well but who is really just boring old John Saxon. Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall are fun and enjoyable as the beleaguered parent and step-parent of Sandra Dee, and Angela Lansbury provides some nice moments for more than one reason (I'm just going to say it once and for all: Angela Lansbury was a sexy bitch), and it's very pretty, but too often it's just long and endless and feels like it's taking place in real time. There are patches where it's so boring and so big for such a flighty movie with a flighty premise. **1/2 for Rex and Kay.

AUTUMN SONATA (1978)
A small but powerful film from Ingmar Bergman about a mother and a daughter and a lifetime of resentment and uncertainty. Liv Ullman plays the daughter of a concert pianist (Ingrid Bergman) who comes for a visit, but feelings of guilt and anger that have been repressed for too long spill forth. Ingmar Bergman wisely doesn't resolve the matter; it simply must be confronted and allowed to be in the open. It would be inhuman to suggest a resolution for something that has lain so long that it's taken on a life of its own. Ingrid Bergman is excellent in this movie, giving one of her finest performances despite, apparently, having problems adjusting to Bergman's style of shooting (long, lingering takes)--although the discomfort does enhance the emotions at play. Beautiful, one of my favorite of Bergman's films. ****

THE STONING OF SORAYA M. (2008)
The most powerful film I've seen in a while; it left me with a sick feeling for hours, but it was an important story to tell and made very well. It tells the true story of a woman in 1986 Iran, the Soraya of the title (played by Mozhan Marno), whose husband is abusive towards her and wants her to consent to a divorce so he can marry the 14 year-old daughter of a rich prisoner; he wants the divorce because he doesn't want to support two families (they have four children), but he also refuses to restore Soraya's dowry. So he and the town mullah (himself a former criminal masquerading as a mullah) develop a campaign to have Soraya accused of adultery and put to death. It's a depressing film, for certain; it highlights the lack of women's rights in Iran by showing us a case the Western world heard about, but warns us that thousands of people have died this way and continue to in places where bullying and sexism have been written into law and put power in the hands of people who have no remorse about abusing it. The film isn't so one-sided, though, giving us different male perspectives and showing us how sharia law also dehumanizes men, either by encouraging them to become animals or letting those animals prey on their sensitivities. Shohreh Aghdashloo is excellent as Soraya's aunt, who makes sure the story is known (and damns the religious hypocrisy that would cover it up). ****

2 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

I was too nervous to watch City of God.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I always get a laugh out of the hairstyles Judy Garland and her sisters wear in Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy didn't want to cut her hair, so they invented a hairstyle that was a compromise between the actual hairstyles of the period in which the film is set and the hairstyles of the period in which the film was made, resulting in a hairstyle no one ever wore, except in this movie.

It was also an important transitional film for Mary Astor, the movie where she began playing Mothers and older ladies and gave up her young leading lady status.

It has one other important point: It's the movie during which Judy and Vincente Minnelli fell in - well "love" isn't the right word, given that Vincente was desperate to prove he wasn't gay even though he was, but it's the movie where Judy and Vincent fell, if not "for," then at least "into" each other. No Meet Me in St. Louis, no Liza Minelli.