Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Movie recommendations, December 2013

Instead of publishing "best of the year," I'm going to publish month by month.

BEST

12 Years a Slave. I saw this in the theatre a few weeks ago. It's very well done, and consequently hard to watch. I have always found images of hanging (in Capote and Joseph in Egypt, to name a few) difficult to watch and haunting for a long time afterward, so I went prepared and didn't watch all of the scene in which two men are lynched. That night I was relieved that I could sleep, but the next day, other kinds of images were bubbling to the surface all day, and one remains most powerfully with me - the face of the slaveholder, Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender, viciously protesting as Northup is rescued. I can't know for certain what the energy of slaveholders and slaves was like, but this film seems to capture it in a way that seems far more realistic than any other film I've seen about slavery, without any kind of polish or Hollywoodization. From the moment Northup is first beaten after awaking in chains, the energy with which he is brutalized comes through in a palpable way that is hard to forget, and further scenes of brutality are numerous and equally convincing. Another lasting image is the face of a woman slave looking down at the ground as her master berates her for not answering; she is the picture of terrified self-control. I think the film does a powerful job of showing how fragile was the personal security of anyone with dark skin during that time period. As I left the theatre, I was somewhat appalled at my emotional reaction to slaveholders, who seem guilty of cruelty, cowardice, laziness, and denial. It was impossible to find any compassion for them, despite knowing they were raised to believe their way of life was okay, even righteous.

Secrets and Lies. An unbelievable acting job by Brenda Blethyn, playing a woman whose long-ago-abandoned child comes looking for her mother. Directed by Mike Leigh and featuring powerful performances also by Timothy Spall (who it seems to me can play nearly everything), Cynthia Logan (who plays Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste in a difficult understated role requiring taste and restraint. Really well written and directed. One scene in particular is so powerful it's worth the price of admission, in which family members in crisis, seated about a room, support each other in a life-changing way and are subsequently supported in turn, as if the energy of support is traveling around the room. Blethyn deserved every acting award available.

My Piece of the Pie. A surprisingly good film considering its equivocal ending. A working-class mom loses her job due to corporate shenanigans and goes to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy stock trader, only to find out he's the one responsible for her factory closing. I highly recommend it. French, with subtitles.

JUST GOOD

The Informant!  I'm not sure if "good" is the right word for this very strange and often uncomfortable film. I don't want to tell you much about the plot because it might ruin it for you. Matt Damon does a fine job with the main character, Mark Whitacre, who leads the FBI a fine dance, and Scott Bakula (whom I've never seen in a role I liked him in) does a creditable job as an FBI agent. It took me a while to figure out why I recognized Melanie Lynskey, who plays Damon's wife - she was the friendlier of the two "ugly stepsisters" in Ever After.

DIDN'T LIKE

Man of Steel. What a waste of some great ideas and CGI. I liked Russell Crowe as Jorel, liked the actress playing his wife, loved how the robots looked and worked, liked a lot of the visuals including headdresses on the Krypton leaders. From there on, it was mostly downhill. I like Amy Adams, she did well, and __ did a find job of playing Superman, despite them taking away most of what's fun and intriguing about the role of Superman. There's no mystery at all about who he is, which is so much fun. The battles between Superman and General Zod is boring, and when after trying to kill Zod a dozen different ways he finally succeeds in a ridiculously easy way, it was just a waste of time.

Yojimbo. This was a first, a film by Akira Kurosawa that I didn't enjoy. Toshiro Mofune (sp?) does well as a samural in a small town torn between two gambling chieftains, but the (explication?) is done clumsily and there aren't enough sympathetic characters for me to care about the story. The music was terrible, perhaps intended to suggest that the story is a spoof, but it was just silly.

Three Amigos. I'd tried to watch this once years ago, and thought with Paul beside me I might find it funnier, but there are only a few funny moments. I'm really glad Steve Martin turned to playwriting, I think it suits him better than film comedies.

Russian Dolls. A sequel to L'Auberge Espagnole, which we loved, but disappointing for the most part. I enjoyed about the last one-third of the movie, after Xavi stopped being an asshole to the women in his life. A waste of Romain Duris' formidable acting talents.

Election. God-awful film starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon about a high school election for class president. I didn't finish watching.

2 comments:

missann said...

I would suggest The Great Beauty.

Alyce Barry said...

Thanks, Ann, I hadn't heard of it, and it looks interesting. I've "saved" it in my Netflix queue, as it's apparently not out on DVD yet.