As in 2009, I kept track of the dvds (TV series and movies) and first-run movies I watched this year.
Synecdoche, NY (2009), dir. Charlie Kaufman, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Caden Cotard, a man at the center of his own life, grappling with mortality, relationship, and how to live as he directs a play of enormous proportions. A more mimetic film probably doesn’t exist.
The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), a Wallace and Gromit movie. Re-screening. My favourite part is still the Girardian bit where the town’s gardeners suddenly become the town mob, using their garden implements as weapons.
O’Horten (2007), a Norwegian ‘comedy’ about a just-retired 67-yr-old train engineer, Odd Horten. He’s spent almost 40 years moving trains expertly, he owns a boat he doesn’t use, and his now elderly, silent and institutionalised mother was a daring ski jumper — but Horten seems stuck in place. As the NYT reviewer notes, Horten “has spent most of his life ruled by a timetable and traveling in straight lines. What will happen when he is allowed to stray, to meander, to loaf?” The film includes some surreal scenes, including a man carrying a massive fish home up an icy hill, asking Horten, who’s holding onto a pole on the sidewalk to keep from sliding, whether he likes a particular kind of butter sauce, followed by a man in a suit sliding down the hill on his butt, sitting upright, holding a briefcase. Then there’s his perhaps 12-hour interaction with another older man, Sissener, whom he finds sleeping in the street and helps home, whose claims to be a diplomat with a deceased schizophrenic inventor brother are later called into question after some blindfolded driving. Yeah, I liked it.
Doubt (2008), with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis. I expected this film to be better, to be more, than it was. Meryl Streep’s accent was a weird and distracting blend of rough New York, Boston and southern — she had me confused the whole movie; Amy Adams played the same naive and perky character she always plays; some camera shots are obviously Hitchcockian slant angles, for no apparent reason; and the plot is rather thin: Father Flynn is accused with no evidence of an improper relationship with a student: did he or didn’t he? we don’t know, and neither does anyone else, but Sister Aloysius seems sure that she does and she is determined to get rid of him — he is the mouse and she is the cat, it’s as instinctual as that. She gives lip-service to wanting to protect the children under her care in the school from the priest and yet she doesn’t seem to like or attend to any of the children as individuals. The high point of the film by far is the conversation between Sister Aloysius and Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis), the mother of the child in question. The film is set in 1964 in NYC and besides its focus on doubt and certainty, it also treats issues of bullying, patriarchy, tolerance, exclusivity and racism.
Tea for Two (1950), a musical with Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Gene Nelson, Eve Arden and S.Z. Sakall. One of the worst musicals I’ve seen. The dancing (tap, Charleston) is OK but all of the songs are disappointingly silly (more than usual for musicals), and the plot — a perky singing and dancing heiress has to say No to everything for 48 hours to win a bet of $25,000 — feels tired, disjointed and inevitable. The one bright spot is Eve Arden’s character, Pauline, who’s Nan’s wise-cracking secretary and friend.
Die Architekten (The Architects; 1990), in German with subtitles, is set in East Berlin just before the fall of the Wall. An architect in his late 30s, Daniel, assembles a team of young architects to design a suburban complex (restaurant, cinema, public spaces, etc.). They come at the project with enthusiasm and ideas that are novel, unusual, innovative, and intended to create a space that’s engaging and comforting for people, Unfortunately, these ideas definitely don’t conform to conventional socialist guidelines, which stymie them from the outset. Meanwhile, Daniel’s wife is also feeling restricted, limited and suffocated with her life in an East Berlin suburb and wants to emigrate, along with the couple’s pre-teen daughter. A grim film in plot, theme, and visual imagery — although the stacked high-rises and canvas of unrelenting greys and beiges is strangely calming and conveys a deceptive sense of order and contentment, too.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), an Inspector Clouseau movie with Peter Sellers. Former Chief Inspector Dreyfus of the Surete escapes from the mental asylum where he’s been kept for 3 years for trying to kill Clouseau. His aim: to kill Clouseau. He tries unsuccessfully to do it himself, then recruits criminals to do it (no luck), then kidnaps a scientist to commandeer his ‘doomsday machine’ to threaten the U.S. and other nations with destruction if they don’t find a way to kill Clouseau — which leads to an amusing Oktoberfest scene of 26 international assassins accidentally killing each other one and two at a time. Clouseau tracks down Dreyfus and infiltrates his headquarters to keep him from wreaking utter devastation on the world with the doomsday machine — and this leads to the laughing gas/tooth extraction scene in the castle, and of course to Clouseau’s inevitable vanquishing of Dreyfus. Depictions of the Ford Administration are amusing, as is the film generally, unless you can’t tolerate bumbling idiots who always come out on top.
Proof (2005), with Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Hope Davis. Paltrow plays Catherine, the gentle, angry, troubled, mathematically brilliant, incisively honest and socially inappropriate daughter of another brilliant mathematician, Robert, (played by Hopkins), who has just died of an aneurysm after years of mental illness, during which time he was taken care of by Catherine. After Robert’s death, one of his students, Hal (Gyllenhaal), searches his 100+ notebooks, hoping to find an earth-shaking proof or other mathematical gem that the once-great mathematician might have left the world. Catherine’s sister, Claire (Davis), swoops in from New York City for the funeral. She plainly sees her sister as damaged and perhaps crazy, and she batters Catherine with questions while very efficiently working to engineer Catherine’s life so that it’s “better” (by Claire’s standards). The crux of the film occurs when Catherine produces a 40-page math proof from her father’s desk for Hal. She says she wrote it; Hal and Claire don’t believe her. This movie reminds me of Doubt, except that here the audience learns the ‘truth.’ There was a line in the movie that made me cry, which was about math and not about human relationships, and I wish I could remember what it was.
Ratatouille (2007), a Pixar movie about a rat who wants to be a great chef and is sorely discriminated against and misunderstood by his family and most humans. Has some amusing moments, especially towards the end.
Alice (1990), dir. Woody Allen, with Mia Farrow, William Hurt, Keye Luke, Joe Mantegna, Blythe Danner, Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin. Re-screening. Woody’s foray into magical realism is the study of a very wealthy, privileged woman at midlife. Alice Tate is a somewhat meek, unprepossessing former Catholic schoolgirl whose hero is Mother Theresa; but she’s living in the lap of luxury as a mother and wife who has a nanny, a cook, masseuses, and all kinds of specialists to make her life easy. When she seeks help from Dr. Yang, she begins to learn more about herself and the people around her, and she makes different choices. I like this better than I did when I watched it 20 years ago; then the magical realism just irritated me (I mean, really, I’m supposed to believe these herbs make her invisible and that she can fly with a dead man?), and now it matches my imagination and experience more closely.
Fishing with John (1991), all 6 episodes, some twice. John Lurie takes some famous people fishing, though they sometimes spend more time playing ping pong, dancing, eating out, and taking transportation to their destination than they do fishing. “Since Lurie has no expert knowledge of fishing, the interest is in the interaction between Lurie and his guests, all of whom are his friends.” Yup. Beware the dangerous and unreliable giant squid.
The History Channel Presents: The Decades: 1900-1909: Murder at the Fair: The Assassination of President McKinley; Modern Marvels: The Panama Canal; Biography: Theodore Roosevelt: Roughrider to Rushmore; Mega Disasters: The San Francisco Earthquake (waaaay over-dramatised!). (Modern Marvels: The Technology of Kitty Hawk didn’t seem to be on the disc and we skipped Automobiles: The Model T)
The History Channel Presents: The Decades: 1910-1919: WWI: The Death of Glory; Foot Soldier: World War I; In Search of History: The Romanovs; Titanic: 90 Years Below; and Einstein.
The History Channel Presents: The Decades: 1920-1929: Rumrunners, Moonshiners and Bootleggers; Ku Klux Klan: A Secret History.
The History Channel Presents: The Decades: 1920-1929: Lucky: The Story of Charles Lindbergh; Biography: Howard Carter: Triumph and Treasure [he found King Tut]; In Search of History: The Monkey Trial; Biography: F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The History Channel Presents: The Decades: 1930-1939: The Great Depression (4 hours); The True Story of Sea Biscuit; Modern Marvels: The Empire State Building; Biography: Al Capone (Scarface).
Up in the Air (2009), with George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick, about a man who fires people for a living and does it very well because he is not the slightest bit emotionally involved. Then, through work, family and romance, he begins to attach, but the results are less predictable than they could be. I liked it.
Doc Martin (2006), Season 2, Episode 9: On the Edge. 2-hour special. Louisa’s father Terry arrives unannounced and unwelcomed in Portwenn with his manic-depressive friend.
Cranford (2007), a Masterpiece Theatre production (based on 3 novels by Elizabeth Gaskell) featuring Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Julia Sawalha, Lisa Dillon. It’s about life in a small Cheshire village in the 1840s, where older women rule. Episodes 1,2
Cranford (2007), a Masterpiece Theatre production (based on 3 novels by Elizabeth Gaskell) featuring Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Julia Sawalha, Lisa Dillon. It’s about life in a small Cheshire village in the 1840s, where older women rule. Episodes 3-5
Babette’s Feast (1987), re-screening of the Danish film about the the earthly and perhaps spiritual pleasures of generously lavished and exquisitely prepared and served food and drink as a sacramental communion. Always good.
Automobiles: The Austin-Healey (1994), the story of Donald Healey and his cars. Required viewing in my house.
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), a re-screening. Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Tony Roberts, Mary Steenburgen, Julie Haggerty, et al. Fun.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), dir. by Ang Lee, re-screening. Three daughters in their 20s live with their father, who’s a widower and a very traditional and accomplished Chinese chef. The middle daughter, Jia-Chien, finds her life suddenly affected by the unexpected events and choices of the others in the family.
The Young Victoria (2009), about Queen Victoria in her 20s, with Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, and Miranda Richardson. Saw this on the commuter bus. Nice for the costumes; story is a bit slow. I hadn’t realised Albert died in his 40s, or that they had 9 children.
Leap Year (2010), romantic comedy set mostly in Ireland, with Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. Saw this on the commuter bus, too. Premise is that Amy Adams’ character is going to Ireland on 29 Feb. to propose to her entirely unromantic cardiologist boyfriend-of-4-years, following an Irish tradition. I’ve seen 3 or 4 films starring Amy Adams now and she’s always exactly the same; that can’t be construed as acting, can it? This film is entirely predictable (plot is just like a couple of Meg Ryan flicks where she eventually dumps the successful but boring guy for the one who makes her heart throb unsettlingly), with many errors in geography and seasonality — but some nice scenery.
Doc Martin (2007), season 3: Ep. 1The Apple Doesn’t Fall (Ritalin and diet pill); Ep 2 Movement (Bert opens restaurant); Ep 3: City Slickers (nutty parents from away who roast a badger); Ep 4: The Admirer (hypochondriac likes the Doc); Ep 5: The Holly Bears a Prickle (Louisa’s friend Holly is laid up in Portwenn with a back injury).
Wives and Daughters (2001): A Masterpiece Theatre production based on “Elizabeth Gaskell’s enchanting tale of romance, scandal, and intrigue in a gossipy English town” in the 1800s. The focus is is Molly Gibson, the 17-year-old daughter of the local doctor, and her marriage prospects, and her relationships with her new mother-in-law and stepsister. Molly’s unerring moral compass and romanticism tired me; I much preferred her fickle stepsister.
Extraordinary Measures (2010), with Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, and Keri Russell. Saw it on the commuter bus. It’s based on a true story about a father (Fraser) whose kids have a rare form of cerebral palsy (Pompe’s disease) and an eccentric and irascible scientist (Ford), working together to create an FDA-approved drug to treat the illness. Predictable. Ford makes a great prickly yet ultimately compassionate researcher. (In real life, Genzyme produces the drug, Myozyme).
All Passion Spent (1986), BBC TV production in 3 episodes. A woman in her mid-80s is widowed and decides to live the life of repose that she wants, which unsettles her domineering and avaricious children. Really lovely. I could watch it again and again, especially parts 2&3, after Lady Slaine (Wendy Hiller) moves to Hampstead.
Seaside (2002), transl. from French: Vignette of life in a small seaside village in France, who central industry is pebbles. Central characters are three mothers and their grown sons and daughters, plus one young woman, Marie, who interacts with them all. Filmed at Cayeux-sur-Mer, Somme, France.
Sunshine State (2002), dir. John Sayles, with Angela Bassett, Edie Falco, Timothy Hutton, Mary Steenburgen, Ralph Waite, Bill Cobbs, Jane Alexander, Alan King and others. I chose it from the library by reading case blurb and found it’s actually a very good, engaging, darkly funny movie about real estate development in Florida. Characters include a husband and wife now living in Boston who are visiting her mother, who has taken in a troubled teenager; a woman running a motel that her crotchety father started and her drama-teacher mother ignores; and an array of developers, sales people, a town promoter and an architect with their own issues.
Northanger Abbey (2007), based on Jane Austen’s novel. A Granada TV production. Eighteen year-old Catherine Moreland goes to Bath, England, with some well-off friends and hopes for a gothic adventure and romance of the sort she reads about. What she finds is that it’s money that matters to most people. Not bad but reminded me quite a lot of Wives and Daughters, which I had just recently seen.
Babies (2010), documentary that follows four babies from birth to walking: boys in Mongolia and Namibia, and girls in Tokyo and San Francisco. Though it runs only 79 mins, I kept wondering when it would end. Could be more interesting, imo, if they check back with the same kids at age 5, 10, 15, etc. I noticed I was equally disoriented by the Namibia lifestyle and the Tokyo lifestyle, though they seem at opposite ends of the information-overload spectrum. Did make me think about how some cultures don’t seem to have many expectations at all of their kids (or of parenting) while others are obsessed with the social role of parents in forming their kids in particular ways. Also that some babies are headed directly for the responsibilities of being an adult, while others are going to spend a long time in the land of coddled childhood.
Marie and Bruce (2004), screenplay by Wally Shawn, starring Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick . One of the weirder movies I’ve seen. Felt like a staged play, with very stilted yet obscenity-laden dialogue and odd fantasy and voyeurism scenes. Described well at imdb as “a dark but comical glimpse at one day in the breakdown of a marriage,” this film seems to explore hatred that’s expressed either honestly, mockingly, and cruelly (Marie mostly), or hatred that’s suppressed, repressed and denied under ultra-polite terms of endearment and diversions (Bruce) As another reviewer has said, the dog is by far the most likable character. This quote by Groucho Marx comes to mind: “Never trust couples who hold hands: if they won’t let go of each other, it’s because they’re afraid they might kill each other.”
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008) with Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. Pretty bad. Amy Adams, as usual, plays Amy Adams in period (1930s) costume. McDormand’s character is the only reason to watch but the plotting is slow and the dialogue tedious for the most part. If you’re in the mood for a screwball romantic comedy/rags-to-riches story set in the 30s, there are plenty of better ones.
Lots of old Bob Newhart episodes from seasons 1-4.
Night at the Museum (2006) starring Ben Stiller, with Robin Williams, and also Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs in smaller roles. Action film about a newly hired night guard for the Museum of Natural History who finds out that all the creatures in the museum (man and beast) come alive at night, and some are not friendly. Some charming and amusing moments, though slow in places.
Lots of old Bob Newhart episodes from seasons 1-4.
Zelig (1983), dir. Woody Allen, a mockumentary set in the 1960s starring Allen as a human chameleon who mimics everyone around him in order to protect himself from not being liked, and Mia Farrow as his psychiatrist and love interest (as well as real celebrities like Susan Sontag , Saul Bellow, and Bruno Bettelheim playing themselves). This was a re-screening after many years, and now as then I feel that the idea is absolutely brilliant and that the movie, at 79 minutes, is about 78 minutes too long. (And similar in many ways, except the most crucial genius one, to the tedious Forrest Gump.)
Lots more old Bob Newhart episodes from seasons 1-4.
Evening (2007), based on Susan Minot’s book, with Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave , Patrick Wilson , Hugh Dancy, Natasha Richardson, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close. I think if I had only read the book, I would have been disappointed and considered it shallow, because this is a story with a decided moral: marrying and having children makes our lives (and us) great. But the story was saved, for me, by the pretty good acting (other than Claire Danes, who unfortunately has a big role) and the pacing, lighting, and visual feel of the film. There were other more palatable (though debatable) morals, too, like don’t waste time regretting what you did or didn’t do — what we view as mistakes are what make our lives what they are. For me, the most interesting aspect was in what information and experience was and was not passed on from one generation to the next.
Doc Martin, season 4. Ready for season 5!
You Will Meet A Tall, Dark Stranger (2010) dir. Woody Allen, with Gemma Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts , Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch (from the first season of Doc Martin!). A film of interlinked vignettes of people making mostly bad choices, as they seek to feel better about themselves by substituting illusions and denials for acceptance of reality. Aging, lack of talent, inability to deal with death, and general unhappiness with one’s lot in life are major themes. I liked it.
Date Night (2010), an action film with a little romance, starring Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg. Pretty bad. I saw it on the commuter bus and only watched bits of it. A couple bored with their marriage goes to the city for dinner, takes someone else’s reservations, and from this case of mistaken identity ensues two hours of shootings, car chases, convoluted plot twists, etc. The book group meeting scene is funny, I put the headphones back on to listen to a few characters (Det. Arroyo, the taxi driver), but overall, very run of the mill, with no chemistry between the leads. The ongoing joke of their creative characterisations of other couples at restaurants was just annoying.
Being There (1979) with Peter Sellars and Shirley McLaine. I’d never seen it! I liked it but would have liked it better had I never seen Forrest Gump, which shares similarities (naive character upon whom others project their own meaning) and which I really don’t like, and had there been more actual gardening and less metaphorical everything else. Also a little hard to know what everyone sees and values in Chance (Sellars); other characters mention that they trust him and that he seems so authentic, but his voice, actions and pronouncements are almost robotic. Is it his slow, measured pace that attracts others, slows them down, and elicits their trust? His lack of expressed judgment of others, coupled with his almost (but not quite) complete lack of emotion, that makes him seem safe? Or just that he’s so blank that they can find any meaning they want in what he says and does?
Morning Glory (2010) with Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford, Jeff Goldblum, Rachel McAdams, and Patrick Wilson. An OK movie about a very eager-beaver morning show producer (McAdams) who takes a job at the #4 morning show and tries to improve it before it’s cancelled, mainly by hiring a serious newsman who hates morning TV and sending the weatherman out on life-threatening stunts. Why does it seem like almost every young female character in movies now is basically playing the same person? Usually Amy Adams plays this role: a perky, over-eager, naive but tenacious, fairly attractive 20-something who starts to lose her energy/belief in herself but then goes on to beat the odds and show everyone she’s made of more than fluff. Some funny moments but mostly not all that funny a movie.
Go For Zucker (2004), an interesting and humane German film about a man in his 50s, Jacky, who gambles, runs a ‘nightclub,’ and plays pool for money (and is in debt), who lies to his his wife, son and daughter (yet they all have soft spots for him even as he enrages and disappoints them), who is estranged for 40 years from his mother and brother (who moved to West Germany when they got the chance), and who now must try to both observe Jewish shiva for a week and reconcile with his Orthodox brother (and his family, another wife, son, and daughter), both in order to inherit money. All in the same week when he’s playing a pool tournament to earn money to pay his debts. Several times Jacky says: “When you don’t have a chance — take it.” That’s pretty much his philosophy. I liked the complexity of the relationships, especially between Jacky and his brother.
Behaving Badly – Season 1, The Tale of the Turbot (1989), British TV miniseries with Judi Dench.
The Karate Kid (2010), remake. Shown on the commuter bus. I never saw the original (1984) but this wasn’t bad at all. I watched it twice (both times without audio) and really enjoyed the scenery and the interaction between the kid and the teacher.