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Tuesday 18 March 2014

23 movies: our scorecard

After Life (Japan). Define yourself  in five seconds. Adult, profound,witty. A bucket movie. (Top pic)

The Lunchbox
(India). Love born and nourished via food and letters. (Middle pic)

Nebraska (US).  Old age terrors; filial duty; unglamorous locations. (Bottom pic)

Rush (UK). Character-driven Formula One rivalry. Unexpectedly good.

The Past (Iran). Relentlessly close-up family agonies; unbearable but persuasive; Paris.

Inside Llewen Davies (US). Folk-music based Odyssey; quirky Coen brothers give it bite.

Philomena (UK). Mother/lost child saga, Irish style. Excellent Dench/Coogan chemistry

Museum Hours (Austria/US). Platonic love; art masterpieces; sort of documentary; Vienna.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (UK). Self-serving DJ manages to be funny in police siege.

Marius/Fanny (France), Two parts of Marseille trilogy; love and sacrifice, lightly done. Daniel Auteuil directs and overwhelms (as actor).

Jeune et Jolie (France). Sex-for-sale fantasy. “Only in France”.

Blue Jasmine (US). Sexual/social parasite gets come-uppance – twice.

Patience Stone
(Afghanistan, France, Germany, UK). Muslim wife/mother tested horribly by surrounding war.

Ilo Ilo (Singapore). Phillipino woman is nanny to disintegrating Chinese family


August: Osage County (US). Banal Gothic family reunion; performances compensate.

Le Week-End (UK). Poorly scripted late-life crisis; Paris. Lindsay Duncan transcends the commonplace.

Gloria (Chile/Spain). Irritating fiftyish optimistic woman drops elderly mendacious businessman.

Monuments Men (US). Surprisingly dull WW2 pursuit of art stolen by Nazis. Irritatingly naïve.

Her (US). Inarticulate man loves bodiless woman. Scarlett Johannsson compensates as “voice”.

Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune (France). Self-centred amoral Parisian woman sketchily punished for her ways. Director: Eric Rohmer, therefore an acquired taste.

All is Lost (US). Not VR’s cuppa.

La Belle et la Bete (France). French classic; not RR’s cuppa.


  1. "After Life" got bumped down in my queue so I could get "Barry Lyndon" on disc and pass to friends. "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is next up (I was lured there by Herzog's wonderful "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga")...Last night I streamed "The Angels Share"...cheap, well wrought, gnarly Brit accents demanded subtitles.

  2. Gnarly British accents, eh? With us its mumbly US voices, but not universally. Women's voices much clearer than men's.

    I've seen Barry Lyndon but many years ago and it left no impression. However I'm pleased to accept your judgment since I'm a great Kubrick fan. Mind you it's got to be good to approach Paths of Glory and/or Doctor Strangelove. I asked VR about Barry and she said she didn't like it, said it was too slow. But admitted it was beautiful. That latter view is shared by people commenting on one of the extracts on YouTube. As I briefly watched some echoes of that beauty started filtering back.

    Ever seen Clouzot's non-fiction movie about Picasso; P painting on to glass, the action then speeded up. I posted about it but some time back. Greatexperience but terrible background music.

  3. Why would 'Blue Jasmine' get such short shrift? I thought Cate B's performance was razor sharp. No hysterical women in your life with which to compare? Nebraska (the movie & the place) haunts me for its perfect portrayals, especially, as you note, of the menacing brothers. I thought June Squib was just slightly less grating than what was required.

  4. Stella: You'll need to be patient here:

    (1) This is Blue Jasmine's rating against the other 22 movies we saw at the Borderlines Film Festival. Not against all movies ever shot. There was no chance it would dislodge any of the first three. Nor The Past nor Philomena. It would have run Inside Llewen Davis pretty close, mainly because we're not folk song enthusiasts, but the Coen Bros did very well despite the folk songs. As to Rush, I happen to be a F1 fan (and VR does watch from time to time) but neither of us has ever expected to see a decent film based on F1 or - for that matter - any other sport. We were surprised by what we regarded as an uphill achievement whereas Woody Allen was playing in a puddle he'd paddled before.

    (2) Cate was remarkably good (as was the boyfriend of her sister) but these ratings attempted to judge each movie as a whole. The whole cast of August: Osage County gave first-class performances but didn't redeem what was an oft-repeated theme. The performances in Le Week-End were even better but the script went nowhere.

    (3) Blue Jasmine was an OK film but its reception was coloured by the relief many felt at seeing a Woody Allen movie that was just about good enough to stand alongside Annie Hall and Manhattan.

  5. The unintelligible english in "The Angels Share" was proffered by adolescents supposedly from Manchester. It has much to do with scotch whiskey, if that adds to your interest. BL is visual magic, hard to believe it was made in '75, hard to imagine that much of the landscape is not CGI. Kubrick is said to have obtained lenses from NASA, originally designed for cameras used on the Moon landings (There's a U.S. achievement!). He took these to Ireland and used them to shoot scenes in genuine candlelight, among other things. Incredible interior shots, though I think the scene with Marisa Berenson on the veranda, outside the game room, struck me as the most beautiful. A stunning period piece, fabulous costuming, and no shortage of comedy or comment on human nature. I will see if I can find the Clouzot.

  6. I watched the Clouzot a couple weeks ago....well, some of it. I didn't make it through the full 20 paintings, though I found the few I did watch quite amazing. I wondered how much the action was speeded up.....perhaps I'll research that. Watched After Life last night...[[SPOILER ALERT!!!] very very interesting and beautifully shot...wish I understood Japanese so I could watch w/o captions...they usually don't bother me (I use whenever possible), but I kept feeling distracted from the beauty of the scenes...did not want to take my eyes away. I found myself baffled a few times in the plot(I questioned how a character could choose a scene from after death). Fortunate to be watching w/ someone quicker on the uptake than myself, who reminded me of the brief "unusual circumstances scene".

  7. PART ONE> MikeM: Let me take both these comments together. As I say I watched a couple of scenes from BL on YouTube and parts of its beauty came back to me. But I wonder if movie beauty is best appreciated afterwards - on reflection. Might our first concern be the narrative?

    I do remember beauty getting in the way of story-telling in certain John Ford movies. Ford loves distance shots with horse and rider coming towards the camera - BUT NEVER DIRECTLY. The path usually zig-zags because this is more visually interesting. It's true, it is. But after a while you're ahead of Ford - you wait for the zig-zag, and I'm not sure this is right.

    Also in Ford's confrontation scenes, both riders mounted. Almost always one of the horses - sometimes both (more bangs for your buck!) - would back away and have to be controlled. It makes sense, of course. One goes to see movement at the movies. But once movement starts to get predictable, dissatisfaction creeps in. Worse - one starts saying to oneself "Ah, the backing horse. It's one of the inescapable features of the genre." Genre movies (Westerns here) must work hard to avoid self-parody.

    After Life and sub-titles. STs are said to be the big bugbear for American viewers, with Brits they're a fact of life. For instance: for four years or more our Saturday evening telly (prime time for the more discening viewer) has been dominated by crime (and even politics) series made in Denmark, Sweden and France served up two gobbets at a time - thus two hours in total; sometimes with 20 separate episodes. But there's more. These series are deliberately written to take advantage of their length, dwelling on story aspects which typically flash by in feature films, notably characterisation and better worked-out sub-plots. After a while you start to feel strangely under-fed with a story that's done and dusted in ninety minutes.

    This all started with a Danish series called The Killing based on a terrific story about an abducted child. But it was the slow but very realistic way in which the parents disintegrated as people, that wrenched at your heart.

    Afterwards followed Borgen (The Castle) about a crisis in Danish politics with many, many complex sub-plots testing to the limit your ability to grasp the complexity. Both the Killing and Borgen made UK stars out of the two women protagonists.

    All these stories (some inordinately detailed) were told in sub-titles. And there's no turning away; if you get irritated, you're dead with the plot. And yes, I know, sometimes the STs are shown against a white background and you just can't read them. Who wants the hassle?

    I think it's at this point that we Anglophones need to stand back and take a deep breath. We're cossetted. The US's influence forces people round the world to speak English and this is not a good thing. Arguably the single most important aspect of any culture is language and if we're genuinely interested in other countries and other cultures we've got to meet people halfway. We have to make sacrifices.

    PART TWO follows.

  8. PART TWO. MikeM: I've been watching sub-titled movies since my teens, swallowing my frustration and the difficulties but being entertained, instructed and moved in way that would never happen had the movies been in English. I'm not saying all foreign movies are superior but what's inarguable is that they're different. If we're culturally awake we must prize that difference. And the writing's on the wall. For nearly fifty years, as a result of an annual worldwide poll of movie critics, Citizen Kane has been voted the best movie of all time. Yes, I know the concept's crass, but it's a marker. And Kane's success wasn't undeserved; it's a great movie. But last year (remember we're talking fifty years' it's not some lousy commie plot) it was displaced by Tokyo Story, a b&w Japanese movie made in 1953, in which very little happens. I'd been aware of Tokyo Story for decades but had never had the opportunity to see it. I bought the DVD. My opinion's unimportant - with that kind of verdict how can one step away?

    After Life is characterised by very simple dialogue - it's part of the director's approach to come up with a fantasy and then work it out with believable (even humdrum) settings, characters and talk. All vital. And I fear there's no alternative for us mainly monoglots; we have to work at it. The plot's ingenious but to some purpose. How else could one incorporate the most boring man in the world faced with his life in stacks of VCRs and accepting (with a shrug) that it was worthless.

    I freely admit I didn't get it all and that I, like you, was helped out by VR whose mind is quicker than mine. But I understood enough to say this was a remarkable movie which differentiated between people without turning them into caricatures. That it had its own odd logic (eg, improvising with the plane) and that it announced its intention by showing shadowy out-of-focus, but recognisably different, people crossing that foyer during that first scene, and then showed more of the same at the end. Saying, finally, we are different and thank Whoever for that.

    I'm lucky suppose. There's a greater emphasis here in the UK on seeing foreign movies. And in recent years the boundaries have widened: Korea, Canada (don't laugh - it is, thank Whoever, a different country), Chile, Iran. Iran!!! Who'd have thought Iran? I am condemned to struggle with STs but it's worth the effort. It helps me make better judgments on English-speaking movies like Nebraska (see, I haven't been taken in entirely by the lousy commies). I - that's we - gave Nebraska fife stars. And on reflection (reflection does play a part too) I'm quite happy with that figure.

  9. Having digested the gist of After Life on first viewing, I had notion to try watching it in a visually pure state, perhaps allowing the dialog to act as musical accompaniment. Alas, the captions were "hard"...they could not be "closed" captions. Again, I watch very very little without captions on...they are an invaluable resource, but I thought the "mundane" scenes on AL were unusually well colored and composed, and I'm certainly glad no captions appeared to corrupt the scene of the girl tearing about the roof in the snow.
    As for predictable technique, I doubt any becomes as grating as Kubrick's relentless pull away shots of the Irish scenery in BL. Beautiful countryside, but hurtling to a better vantage point with such regularity was dulling. The dueling, dancing, and interior scenes were anything but dull... "Mr Lyndon...are you prepared to receive fire?"

  10. If you've never seen Pulp Fiction, by all means try it. I mean to watch it again soon (First viewing a week ago), meaning it may interrupt my second trip through Gorgon Times. I've finally cooperated with your front page instruction and left a review at Amazon. Didn't feel all that much like writing post seeing how far down the scale my writing falls. I'm in awe...think there should be a screenplay....who will be cast....? I've never been on a bike, but the Kwacker scenes are tops.

  11. MikeM: I have seen Pulp Fiction; it contains two scenes which have never been surpassed, anywhere. When Bruce Willis and - is it? - Mr Big are freed from their ordeal Mr Big's thoughts turn to punishment ("I am not at all happy... they cannot know how unhappy they will be...") in a monologue that contrives to be chilling and hilarious at the same time.

    But even funnier is the arrival of Mr Wolf faced with the task of getting John Travolta and Samuel Jackson to clean out the blood- and brain-stained car. Here Harvey Keitel's matter-of-fact briskness makes it seem as if the car death occurred on another planet and that today is simply another busy day at the office. Nothing he says is intrinsically funny and yet the distance between the horrific accident and the banal business of wiping up afterwards is so huge that I for one became childlike, giggling helplessly, not really understanding why.

    Thanks for the comment on GT. I notice it hasn't yet appeared. Another comment, by Beth of Toronto, was aso written but didn't appear. Any ideas?

  12. My comment appears on Amazon for me...under a link called customer reviews. You have to click the photoed book link to get to the reviews. If you can't get it I'll copy and paste to you...Beth's and one other if you like. The scene with Keitel is one of the best. I cracked up when, after Harvey's rapid fire litany of instructions he says "let's get to it boys", and Travolta responds with "A please would be nice". Glad you enjoyed it, that solidifies my impression of you.