Movies, August 2011

*** Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We watched part 1 and part 2 in August. They were sort of long, and a lot of it seemed pointless and boring, and the whole “deathly hallows” thing seemed like a silly distraction from the horcrux business, and then the ending was kinda eh, and Snape (AKA the only interesting character in the whole series) was kind of short-changed, and the postscript just seemed dumb. But all of that was in the book and isn’t really the movies’ fault. The movies were okay; the first one was pretty meh but the second got going okay and was a decent way to entertain away an evening.
*** Captain America. The best superhero/comic book/action movie I’ve seen in a long time. All around good. Also, memo to Hugo Weaving: keep playing self-important villains and no more elves.

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Movies, July 2011

*** Intelligence. It’s been called “The Canadian Wire” because, like the Wire, it involves criminals and police and surveillance and it’s set (and made) in Canada. It’s not the Wire, but it’s pretty good. Some really good characters and good story arcs over the course of its 26 episodes. I got into that obsessive must-watch-next-episode mode, which can be so disastrous when watching something on Netflix streaming. I first heard of this series on Slate.

Movies, June 2011

*** Source Code was gripping and compelling, but pretty much falls apart as soon as you think about it too carefully. It mostly works while you’re caught up in it though.
**** Easy A. Awesome. If you liked Heathers or Mean Girls (I need to see that again and see if it holds up after all this time), you will like this. It’s very smart and well-written and funny, and Emma Stone is great.
** Teknolust. I like Tilda Swinton, a lot. I wasn’t expecting much out of Teknolust beyond the pleasure of watching Tilda Swinton, and I wasn’t surprised — it was really bad. But even so, I sat through the whole thing. I’m not sure who I’d recommend it to; fans of Tilda Swinton and/or those with a high tolerance for cheese and nonsense.
*** X-Men: First Class was a good time. Not much else to say about it.
*** Kick Ass was a lot of fun. I especially liked the homages to various superhero and action movies and characters (particularly the Matrix lobby scene), though it walked the line between homage and derivative. It’s uh… really violent, with the vast majority of the gore perpetrated by a sweet-faced, sailor-mouthed 14-ish-year-old. This is funny, but also somewhat disturbing. I wonder if the sequel will be any good.

Movies, May 2011

*** The Adjustment Bureau. Entertaining, fun to think about, nice hats.
*** Cranford. Disappointing, actually. We watch a lot of period miniseries around here, and this has a terrific cast etc etc, but it ended up being only pretty good. A lot of it was episodic, without getting us that interested in the characters.
*** Modern Family. Funny, well-written. Completely throwaway but enjoyable.
** Glee. There are some great moments, but overall it’s kind of dumb.
*** Rashomon. Classic, but far from my favorite Kurosawa.

Movies, April 2011

** The Fifth Element
*** The Bourne Identity

People love this movie but I still have no real idea why. Gary Oldman being crazy and trying to make some kind of deal with a giant expanding ball of evil is amusing, but the whole movie is so sort of formulaic and cheezy and Chris Tucker is actively annoying (and let’s not even get into the skin-crawling horror that is that blue cheezy eurotrance/opera singer). I think some people believe the movie is intended to be cheezy and campy and that’s why it’s so good, but eff those people. It still alternates between formulaically entertaining and annoying, which isn’t good enough for me

The Bourne Identity was a nice thriller-type thing, held up okay on second viewing.

Movies, March 2011

*** Little Dorrit
*** Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
*** Nicholas Nickleby

LIttle Dorrit was good, yet another Matthew-Macfadyen-in-period-dress miniseries. Matthew Macfadyen: your sign of quality! There were some really irritating characters that made it annoying to watch, but I’m not sure if that’s Dickens’s fault or the producers’. NIcholas Nickleby did not have Matthew Macfadyen, but it did have Romola Garai, your other sign of quality period entertainment. It was also good. Scott Pilgrim was entertaining too.

It is a truth universally acknowledged…

Elizabeth Bennet: I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than decline them.

Mr. Collins: I am not now to learn, that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.

Elizabeth: Upon my word, Sir, your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration.

[Elizabeth climbs into waiting barouche-landau and drives off. Mr. Collins leaps onto his plunging black charger and gives chase]

Mr. Collins: I say, I shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long!

Elizabeth [urging the horses on]: I am perfectly serious in my refusal! — You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so!

Mr. Collins [leaping over ravine]: I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain that when I have the honour of seeing her again I shall speak in the highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualifications!

Elizabeth [just making it onto a ferry, as Mr. Collins reins in at the shore]: I wish you very happy and very rich, and by refusing your hand, do all in my power to prevent your being otherwise.

Mr. Collins: When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on this subject I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me.

[Mr. Collins expression of steely resolve; dramatic chipmunk music]


Mr. Darcy: You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.

Elizabeth: Yes yes oh yes!

[They kiss]

Mr. Collins [appearing from behind a shrubbery]: I understand that it is common with elegant females to become engaged to another gentleman in order to stir the passions of the man they truly intend to accept, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.

[dramatic chipmunk music]

Elizabeth: Oh for fuck’s sake!


Brutus and the conspirators cluster around Caesar, stabbing him repeatedly with their knives until he lies dead on the ground. Camera pans up to show the large and expanding pool of blood around him. Closeup on Brutus as he turns away, a look of grim achievement on his face. There’s a rustle behind him. Brutus slowly turns to look, and sees Caesar stumbling toward him, holding someone’s blood-soaked knife.

“ET THIS, BRUTE!” snarls Caesar, and plunges the knife into Brutus’s eye. Blood sprays out in slow motion. Caesar throws himself over a nearby parapet into a convenient chariot and gallops off, the surviving conspirators in hot pursuit.

(for this contest)

Movies, February 2011

*** Mushi-shi
*** The Girl who Played with Fire
**** Downton Abbey
*** The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

E and I saw the live-action movie of Mushi-Shi at SIFF a few years back and enjoyed it. This animated series was the original, which explains why the movie is sort of disconnected and episodic. In the series, each episode is largely standalone — a mystery which Ginko the Bugmaster must somehow figure out and solve by applying his knowledge of Mushi, the mysterious supernatural-ish creatures that come in all kinds of forms. It works pretty well in this form, and is exactly like the X-Files or House or any one of a number of TV shows where each episode poses a question that only the hero can solve. The animation is beautiful and some of the stories are interesting, insightful, or touching. That said, the whole thing wasn’t totally captivating; I often did something else halfway while watching the shows, and when my attention took me somewhere else and I didn’t finish the series, I didn’t mind that much. I may even watch some more episodes here and there, if there’s nothing else on.

We watched the first “Girl Who…” movie a while back. I wasn’t crazy about it, thought it was more violence-against-women than I really needed to watch more of. E, however, wanted to check out the other two, and I’m glad we ended up watching them. These two, the third in particular, stepped away from the gratuitous violence of the first movie and were more about Lisbeth’s history and the politics and conspiracies linked to it. The third really got to a long-craved moment of catharsis that was well set up by the whole series, back to the first movie.

Downton Abbey continued our BBC-period-miniseries festival and was outstanding. We liked it a lot. Hugh Bonneville is awesome and the other people too.

Movies, January 2011

*** Crazy Heart
* The Ten
*** The Way We Live Now
*** The Savages
** Leonard Bernstein: the Unanswered Question, six talks at Harvard
*** The Men who Stare at Goats
*** Exit through the Gift Shop

I liked Crazy Heart a lot more than I expected, given my lack of interest in alcoholism or country music, but it just worked and I got sucked in and enjoyed myself. Jeff Bridges as great. The surprise appearance of Colin Farrell as the country superstar helped as well.

I started watching The Ten, couldn’t even get through the first story. It was horrible.

The way we live now was part of our ongoing film series of literary costume dramas in miniseries form produced by the BBC or A&E. Also part of our ongoing Matthew Macfadyen series; he’s been very busy with the costume dramas in the last decade. I wish I could say it was also part of a Shirley Henderson series, because E and I love her, and we really should find some more stuff she’s been in. The BBC costume miniseries is almost the perfect thing for watching at home on DVD or netflix instant: long enough to be complex and sophisticated and keep you occupied for a while, but not so long you get sucked into a months-long commitment like a multi-season HBO series. Anyway, this one was quite good.

The Savages was good and seriously grim. I mean, middle-aged people dealing with their declining father, and also their own screwed-up lives. What could be more fun? Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman were great, and the movie was very good, but depressing as hell.

I wanted to like the Bernstein lectures more. The ones I watched were a little snoozy in places (though it could be that I only found time to watch them late at night, and I was doing it rather than sleeping). The bigger problem for me was his struggle to assemble a theory of music that is based on contemporary (in the 70s when he gave the lectures) theories of linguistics. Clearly, he’d spent some time learning about these linguistic theories, but at the same time the analogy didn’t end up seeming very useful. Aside from a convenient way to explain a few basic concepts, he didn’t seem to use anything from linguistic theory that actually helped make the musical theory more understandable, either to the lay audience or (I’m guessing) to someone deeply knowledgeable about music who wanted a new way to think about why some things are “good” music and some are not. Instead, he just ends up spending a good 1/3-1/2 of each lecture explaining a bunch of linguistics that is mostly irrelevant. I’d like to see more Bernstein lectures where he just tries to explain music on its own terms, or even just talks about what he likes or finds interesting; he didn’t need the linguistics analogy to be interesting or understandable.

The men who stare at goats was really funny but I think I wanted it to just be nuts. And after a while, it wasn’t. By the end it seemed kind of pedestrian. I wanted it to just go over the top and stay over the top and then either end with over the top or end with someone being clearly 100% nuts. Still, it was kind of funny.

I kind of half-watched most of Exit Through the Gift Shop, and it was pretty entertaining. I get the whole thing about how it may or may not be a hoax and how it almost doesn’t matter, since either way it’s pretty much a satire and finger in the eye of the art scene. Or something. So that’s nice.