I haven’t talked about movies for a while, and I’ve seen a bunch that are worth mentioning. Which is not to say necessarily mentioning them in a positive way, but there are two I really did like and highly recommend.
Of course, it depends on your taste in movies. Any recommendation has the implicit disclaimer, “If you like that sort of thing.” For instance, one of the films I’ve seen recently is The Raid: Redemption. It’s an extremely brutal Indonesian martial arts film that I found interesting and would recommend if you like that sort of thing. (I’ve never mentioned my love of Asian martial arts films; a topic for another time.)
I might touch on martial arts films today, but mostly I want to talk about a hockey movie, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Martians stealing our moms and a slightly magical film about noodles.
Before I get to those, a special recommendation about a film I’ve mentioned twice in comments on other blogs. The film is Carnage, directed by Roman Polanski, and based on the stage play, God of Carnage, by French playwright Yasmina Reza.
I’d say it’s an if you like that sort of thing piece. It’s a single-location, real-time story involving two married couples. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play the Longstreets, and Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play the Cowans. That makes four acclaimed, accomplished actors and a tasty, acclaimed story (and a controversial, but talented director).
You can pick up the story details from the Wiki links, but it basically involves the two couples meeting over a (supposed) fight between their sons. It’s a tale of social veneers and behaviors breaking down under stress and of shifting alliances (pay attention to the staging) between couples and men/women.
I’d read the blurb about it many times in OnDemand, and here’s the thing: I don’t really like that sort of thing. Usually. I’ve seen, heard and read a lot of stories, and most stories that are just human drama aren’t quite interesting enough anymore. (There’s a big reason Unreality TV doesn’t appeal—it’s just the same human nonsense I deal with every day.) The casting put it on my You Should Watch This list, but a lot of the items on that list… well they’ve been there a while. (I’m still trying to get around to reading Moby Dick.)
But one day I was channel surfing and landed on Carnage a few minutes after it’d started. The cast and acting quickly hooked me enough to watch long enough to get hooked on the story. Enthralled is a better term. I watched in rapt attention. Regardless of my tastes, one thing I always admire is excellence.
It so happened it was being shown again immediately following. I kept watching intending to see the few minutes I’d missed, but ended up watching the whole thing again after having just seen it. (In part I wanted to pay attention to the blocking—the movement of the actors around the set. I thought it reflected the shifting alliances. I never really found out for sure; I got too enthralled again. )
So a huge thumbs up on Carnage! If you like that sort of thing. And maybe even if you don’t.
Some passing mentions before proceeding to the main acts.
As family entertainment goes, I liked Mars Needs Moms much more. That’s another I’d been putting off seeing (love 3D animation, but kind of “eh” on family films). A kid sees Martians abduct his mom and manages to sneak aboard their ship. Once on Mars, he tries to rescue his mom (I won’t give away the ending). There was a lot of stuff I found very delightful, and some of the design and visuals are wonderful!
It also has a bit of social message buried in the story. On Mars, the men are the ones most suited to raising young; the woman are poor parents and powerful leaders and warriors. Long ago the men were banished (for being too silly), and the women use robots to raise the young. But they need a Good Mom Template to program the robots, and therefore the regular kidnappings.
I watched a Wallace & Gromit style (stop motion) animated movie, Pirates: Band of Misfits. I’m not really a fan of the stop motion animation style or of silliness. A definite, “Meh!” from me, but might be fun if you like that sort of thing. It’s a fairly acclaimed film that’s gotten very good critical and public response. It was just a bit on the silly side for me (the content is actually quite worthwhile, though).
And I confess, I’ve never gotten into (or really understood) the whole Pirate thing. Another place where our romantic fantasies are seriously out of tune with the reality. I suppose it all started with that Disney ride. I always thought it was a rather dull ride—more a way to take a cool, dark, moist break on a hot, dry day. The restaurant was outstanding, though. Used to go there on high school dates.
[On the other hand, Cutthroat Island is one of my guilty pleasures (Geena Davis as a pirate captain, I mean, come on), so maybe I shouldn't say anything. I hadn't realized it until now, but Ms Davis stars in three of my guilty pleasure movies! Let's see if anyone can guess the other two.]
I also saw an odd film, called Damsels in Distress, written and directed by Whit Stillman. Perhaps someone could explain to me the point of this film. I kept hoping for the film to open up and turn into something, but it just kind of meandered along a bit like a Wes Anderson film. The film has apparently been received well critically, but I feel like I’m seeing a nude emperor. Maybe I just don’t like that sort of thing.
It’s an odd, quirky film, and perhaps it’s telling that there’s no plot described in the Wiki listing. I wouldn’t know where to begin. It’s about some women at an east coast university. And then you have to see it for yourself.
Finally saw Guy Ritchie‘s second Sherlock Holmes film. It was exactly what I expected based on the previous one. It’s a bit like with the Mission: Impossible movies. The first one horrified me (Jim Phelps a traitor?!), because I loved the old show and felt betrayed by the movie. But once you disconnect them from their source (they aren’t really M:I movies), then they’re semi-adequate popcorn movies of no particular account.
I’m a life-long Sherlock Holmes fan, so Ritchie’s update is mildly offensive to me. (Does everything have to be turned into a shallow, stupid action film?) But once you know what to expect and disconnect it from the source, it becomes just another fairly low-brow action movie that misuses two very good actors. (Downey, Jr in the drag getups—what is it with British cross-dressing humour?)
I guess I’m disappointed, because I really loved Ritchie’s first two films, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch. I also thought Revolver was very interesting, although Swept Away shows he can suffer from poor judgement. I think the Sherlock Holmes movies show poor judgement. Make them more Ritchie, or make them more honest. This was just Hollywood fluff. They amount to nothing and will be forgotten soon enough.
On the other hand, Noomi Rapace as Madame Simza Heron; totally something worth baying at the moon over! (And you might recall her in a very different role in Prometheus or in a vaguely similar role in the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.)
I watched Nancy Drew, and about halfway through realized I’d seen it before. What can I say; I had a major crush on Nancy Drew when I was a kid. Never read a Hardy Boys book, but I read every Nancy Drew I got my hands on.
And finally we come to two movies I really enjoyed.
The first, Goon, surprised me, since I’m not usually prone to sports movies, and I have no interest in hockey. I do, however, kind of like Seann William Scott; I’ve usually liked his characters. (Speaking of The Rock, he and Scott have done a film together; can you name it? Two very enjoyable actors, plus Christopher Walken, made it a lot of fun!)
Goon is another one I landed on channel surfing. Hit it just as it started, had read the blurb, was on the fence, thought, “What the hell.” Turned out to be a fairly engaging film, largely due to Scott’s character, Doug.
Doug is a bouncer in a bar—he’s expert in a fight, but low on IQ points. He ends up on a hockey team as an “enforcer” (who can barely skate). It’s a fairly standard sports movie in format: the loser team, the guy who turns it around, the big game at the end. But many stories are told using an old melody. The trick is in how it’s played, and this was played in a way that tells an interesting tale.
Mostly I really liked Scott’s almost zen-like character. Here is a man almost completely in tune with who he is and who is almost fully aligned with his path. Doug exists in a kind of pure simplicity and self-harmony we would all do well to find within ourselves. Scott has created a character I wish I knew and called friend.
Goon doesn’t quite rate a “Wow!” (it is a basic sports movie), but it definitely rates an “Ah!”
[For new readers, my scale is: "Wow!" "Ah!" "Eh!" "Meh!" "Nah!" and "Ugh!"]
The last is, I think, a Wow! but I haven’t actually sat down and watched the film, yet. I’ve had it on twice in the background while I worked, and each time it kept catching my eye. The second time I found myself watching bits of it.
The movie is The Ramen Girl (2008) with Brittany Murphy and Japanese actor Toshiyuki Nishida. The story is about Abby, who follows her boyfriend to Japan and is stranded there when he leaves her. She becomes the student of a master ramen chef.
As with the sports movie, this story follows an old path. It’s the master/student story. There will be struggles, misunderstandings and conflict, but grudging love and respect will grow between them In the end, a final contest of some kind (this movie surprised me nicely on how it played that). And sports movies and master/student movies almost always end happily.
The trick again, is the journey. The Ramen Girl contains magic. Ramen has mystical powers, and only truly accomplished masters can make it properly. But done right a bowl reflects the universe in microcosm. And a bowl of ramen can touch the heart, the soul and the mind.
Life, remember, is a journey where much of the plot is expected and known. All the magic is in the journey itself, not in the destination. And like the ramen, the flourishes and combinations are what make it excellent (or not). Enjoy the journey and look for the magic.
It just might be found in a bowl of soup.