Catching Up… Capsule reviews

I’ve been watching a lot of movies, but haven’t been writing. I promised myself I would, so I’m very disappointed. So I’ve decided to do some capsule reviews! My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009) my_bloody_valentine_3d

It’s 3-D, so it’s at least fun. It’s otherwise a pretty forgettable and unexceptional horror film. It’s a shame because it doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the other American released horrors of the year, though I can’t say I usually expect great things. I want one good horror this year though, it doesn’t even have to be as wonderful as Let the Right One In… just decent.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

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I was not a fan of Don Bluth as a child, perhaps because my exposure to his work was very limited. Though I don’t think this holds up to Disney’s best, I admire it’s darkness and ability to tackle some heavy themes and ideas in a format that is still child-friendly. The animation is very rich in detail, far more accomplished than I could have imagined. The characters are also very interesting and fully developed, though the comic relief crow got on my nerves. Above all else, it’s nice to see a film about a mother trying to make due. It seems we rarely see films about single mothers, at least ones that paint them in a positive light.

The Milky Way (1969)

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I haven’t seen enough Bunuel, and I’m not sure if this was a good one to just jump into. Though it’s clear that I’m fascinated by religion and it’s iconography, this film was often far too dense for me to really appreciate what was being said or done. I appreciated the imagery, and Bunuel’s prodding of hypocrisy and cruelty perpetuated by the church, but the words mostly went over my head. I understand that part of the film is that it’s meant to be surreal, strange and meaningless. Endless squabbling of one Christian sect over another, but I still wish I was able to grasp more of it. The highlights were probably the crazy priest who attacked people who contradicted him, the crucifying nuns and the fornicating sect.

Strangely enough, on my way home today, I was thinking about Belle de Jour. I saw it years ago and though I loved it, I’ve come to realise how much of it must have gone over my head. It was actually the sound of my boots hitting the pavement that evoked the memory, and I almost had a eureka moment in what the film was about or exploring. I might see it very soon, and I’m sure I’ll have something to say.

Lonely Boy (1962)

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I can’t say I’m a huge Paul Anka fan, though there is no denying he’s written some incredible songs over the years. Though criminally under seen, this is one of the most influential music docs out there. It’s especially apparent watching Don’t Look Back that this film had a huge impact. It basically follows Anka’s career over a short period, very candid and very revelatory. It’s amazing how self-aware it is, and unafraid the people seem. I was surprised when Anka’s manager admitted to him having a nose-job, I thought you’d keep that stuff under the rug.

Keep Your Mouth Shut (1944)

Interesting little piece of propaganda designed by Norman McLaren, the great animator. It featured a “Nazi death skull”, that points the finger at Canadians whose gossip and careless speaking causes the death of their fellow country men. It’s very well done, and the stop-motion animation is a wonder.

The Ballad of Crowfoot (1968)

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Though little more than a slide show, the original song coupled with the imagery of Crowfoot is fascinating. It reveals through the story of one Amerindian chief, the history of an oppressed people, offering a very strong voice to a people who have been silenced throughout our history. In film school, our teachers warned us against this very kind of filmmaking, but it’s incredibly effective in this case. The choice of images, and how they’re shot, how long they’re held, etc. works remarkably well.

La Lutte (1961)

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A story of wrestling in Quebec, very gritty, lots of fun. It’s funny how the same criticism now was leveled at it then, you can almost feel the birth of professional WWE wrestling right here. I love how the camera lingers just as much on the audience as it does on the actual fight, watching people react to the action is incredible. The epilogue is probably my favourite part, as you have the two Russian wrestlers who lost, smack talking the Quebecois. It’s so baroque.

The Sweater (1980)

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Apparently all Canadians have already seen this, but not me. I’ve read the book many times in my defence, so I knew the story. It’s a sweet little animation about a young boy growing up in rural Quebec. The center of life was hockey, especially the Montreal Canadiens and Maurice Richard. Roch Carrier recounts the story of him outgrowing his sweater, only to have a new one ordered from Eaton’s… it’s a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. He’s horrified! The animation is primitive and child-like, and it works beautiful in tune with the dripping nostalgia. Very cute and iconic around these here parts.

Silkwood (1983)

silkwood

Mike Nichols is shaping up to be one of my very favourite film directors, add this to Catch-22 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as one of the best post-Golden Age Hollywood film. I had avoided this film for a long time, because I assumed it would be a tired “message” film, and I’m honestly not a fan of Meryl Streep. The film rises far above it’s human rights issues though, and is truly passionate and thought provoking. The rage and the fear is palpable, mostly due to Streep’s stunning performance. This is easily the best I’ve seen her, and I can almost understand why she is one of our most respected actors these days. The filmmaking is mostly understated, but it works remarkably well. It holds it’s distance and allows characters to move through space, in and outside houses and rooms. It’s very interesting to watch.

The Uninvited (2009)

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I haven’t seen A Tale of Two Sisters, and though I imagine it’s quite a bit better than this rather bland horror film, most of my problems stem from the story itself rather than the execution. I found the twist to be predictable, and while I’m actually usually forgiving of this, it also worked to counteract potentially interesting ideas and themes about mental illness and relationships. I saw the film because I was craving horror, and love Banks/Strathairn, but neither of them is particular good here. Banks especially, it feels as if she took the role in the wrong direction, it felt too strange and too sinister. She lacked any kind of naturalism, it seemed like a very weak way to drive the plot. There are some decent scares, and I wasn’t really bored… but it wasn’t very good.

12 responses to “Catching Up… Capsule reviews

  1. Was “The Sweater” really 1980? Wow, I always assumed it was from the early 70s for some reason…But yeah, it’s terrific.

    “A Tale Of Two Sisters” is effective not for its plot twist, but for the atmosphere and subtle buildup of tension. Also the use of colour in the film is great…The horror for me was taken more from thinking about what happened that you didn’t see. I still recommend it even if The Uninvited may have spoiled you on the concept of the story.

  2. Bob: You’re the second person to tell me this about A Tale of Two Sisters, so I’ll give it a shot with an open mind. I was planning on seeing it anyway, but I think I’ll go into it with a different approach. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it.

    Justin: You should, it’s a great film and she’s wonderful. Her performance feels very raw and spontaneous, something that I don’t usually feel in her work.

  3. I totally remember seeing “The Sweater” when I was younger. I think they showed it to us in school but I don’t quite remember. Perhaps my oldest memory of seeing an NFB film.

  4. Yes, Tale of Two Sisters works well because of the tension and atmosphere. I like it, but I’m a bit split regarding the pivotal plot twist. I can’t imagine a Hollywood film taking such an even-handed, tender approach.

    Regarding NIMH, the obvious question is have you read the book? The Bluth film really took it in a different direction, made it more fantasy than science fiction, and focused more attention on the family unit. I still love it and find it very effective. There were a lot of children’s films I grew up on that are less impressive now, but it’s one of those that still works. I would still regard it as one of my favorite animated films.
    Bluth had a few interesting ideas, but the company really fizzled after the 80’s when Disney had their comeback. Now they seem to release mostly substandard straight-to-video fare.

  5. I love NIMH–and Bluth’s short The Small One just kills me every time I see it (perhaps this is because, as a non-Christian, the Christmas catharsis it offers, at the conclusion of one the most harrowing tales of human-and-animal friendship ever put on film, doesn’t relieve any of the immense sadness that accrues during its running time)

  6. I felt the exact same way about The Milky Way. If someone had narrated the tale orally to me I wouldn’t have been able to say anything to him afterward other than, “OK, bye!” I think it just proves how difficult it is to parody religion and especially the idea of ‘Christianity’ as a whole, with all its sects. Taken as a whole, it is comical to begin with, but in a benign, dismal form. It felt the same way as someone sitting at a table with you and another person and pointing out all of their faults that you have already addressed and accepted – it feels more awkward and excessive than anything. This article http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/06/26/1015475.php goes over all of the points of the film, but I don’t feel like any of it escaped me or was something I hadn’t figured out on my own. Maybe it’s better for someone who doesn’t have a fascination with religion.

    As for The Secret of NIMH, we have the same feelings. The crow. Jedi has the same feelings, too, from what I gather.

    I haven’t seen the others, but seeing as we shared such similar sentiments on the previous two films I’m assuming you’ve already written out my future feelings before I’ve even had them. Amazing!

  7. I’m happy you agree with me LEAVES, I need to see more of his work that’s less “thick”. It was one of the few films I can say I’ve seen that I had a hard time with.

    CROW!

    I’m happy we agree.

  8. You’re right when you say that Lonely Boy is criminally underseen and influential on the music doc format. Not a Paul Anka fan either, though I grew to appreciate his music more after having seen the film. There’s a naive sweetnees to his earlier songs, like Puppy Love, and Put Your Head on my Shoulder. And the guy is still kicking around doing his music. Talk about longevity.

    Its good that you finally saw The Sweater. It would make you less Canadian if you hadn’t seen it. 🙂

  9. I saw him recently on the Hour, he’s still out there doing work, it’s amazing how many songs he’s written and continues to write… like you, I’m not a huge fan, but I’m surprised his name doesn’t get thrown around more when it comes to prolific song writers.

    HEh, yea, it took me ages to get to it. You’d think it should be a staple of every young canadian’s childhood, especially here in Montreal Canadiens land.

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