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From Mary Burgan
I have always wanted to be able to speak French. I’ve told myself that I’ll be ready to converse each of the few times I’ve landed in Paris. Then someone at the counter asks me a question and I panic and say, Parlez-vous anglais, s’il vous plaît?
That may be why I try to go to every French movie that comes out in America. I dream that if I go enough, I’ll master the language.
But mastering French is not the only reason to see French films. The best reason is that they are wonderful. I find French actresses–Deneuve, Huppert, Binoche, Béart, for example–extraordinarily beautiful and dynamic on the screen. (I can’t say the same about beauty for French actors because Montand, Depardieu, and Auteuil seem kind of homely and dull for my American taste. I make an exception for Alain Delon.)
In honor of Bastille Day on the 14th, I thought I would give a quick overview of French cinema — and give you my list of 10 French films that you should see.
I thought I had a great idea for this week’s movie review. I thought I’d write about Larry Crowne and Bad Teacher as samples of movies about teaching — the profession I spent my life pursuing. I knew that these current movies have done relatively well at the box office — they were 5th and 4th, respectively last weekend — even though they got mostly negative reviews. But I thought I could push out from them to a conversation about really good teacher movies.
We can have that conversation here, but first I have to say that my idea rated a D-. It’s not that Larry Crowne is unwatchable, but that it’s so mediocre that it’s only worth watching when it’s all that’s on the Lifetime network and you have insomnia and hope to be lulled to sleep. And then there’s Bad Teacher, which got some positive comments by those who dislike the sentiment of teacher movies like Larry Crowne. But Bad Teacher is so crude, mean, and vindictive that it makes Larry Crowne look like an enactment of Plato’s Symposium.
There has been a lot of controversy about Terrence Malick‘s new film The Tree of Life. Some critics call it “pretentious.” Others use words like “transcendent.” I am not going to use either word, but I will warn you not to go into the theater with a noisy bag of popcorn or a cough.
The opening twenty-some minutes are the quietest I’ve ever experienced, and the most solemn. You don’t want to be rattling paper as a family mourns the death of a son in stricken silence on the screen, or as an eerie flame flickers, signifying the beginning of creation.
My down-to-earth introductory remark will suggest that I am a skeptic about this controversial film, as I am. But if I won’t call it “transcendent,” I won’t dismiss it as “pretentious” either. Malick’s previous work — Badlands and Days of Heaven are my favorites — calls for a little more reverence, after all, and The Tree of Life has intrinsic value not only in its aspirations but in its achievements.
Woody Allen has at last stopped casting himself in the role of the hero of his films, and that makes for a gain — and a loss. He was never all that convincing as the romantic lead, and indeed his effort to be the lover in his earlier movies made some of us uneasy. But Allen’s presence in those movies also gave an ironic undertone to his romanticism. When the narrative took off into meditations on the everlastingness of love, there was always the bespectacled little nerd saying, “Yes, but what about death?” That was the charm of a Woody Allen movie.
Lacking that small nugget of perversity, Midnight in Paris is a light, diverting fantasy, just in time for summer. In the film a gifted writer, Gil Pender, burdened by his own Hollywood success and a beautiful but lame-brained fiancée, finds freedom in associating with the artists of 1920s Paris. They become available to him only if he manages to get free from his girlfriend’s loud and careless experience of Paris every night at midnight. Finding himself in an atelier like Gertrude Stein’s apartment, he meets another enchanted romantic, in the person of Adriana, a Parisian artist’s model played by Marion Cotillard. Of course, he falls into an impossible romance about her.
So I finally broke down and went to a box office hit movie on the last night of Memorial Day weekend. I usually try to see “serious” films so as to direct Borderstan readers to the finer things at the movie houses. But I went to see Bridesmaids.
I worried about the film’s vaunted raunchiness. I usually reject the masculine sexual hi-jinks in comedies about weddings like the Hangover series. I’m never that much amused by them, and I didn’t want to see a feminine version of the usual mayhem.
In a good wedding film, though, love conquers all, and the guests leave happy. That happens, with lots of laughter, for more than one member of the wedding in Bridesmaids.
But it is June, and Bridesmaids looked like the best of the many wedding movies around. I’d rather take an over-the-top comedy about ordinary women than the air-brushed agonies of rarified pre-wedding misunderstandings that seem to be the premise for movies like Something Borrowed or Jump the Broom.
Our 9-year-old grandson, Harry, has been visiting us, and since he is a movie lover like his grandma, we went to see two animated movies — Rio one day and Hop the next. We decided that Rio is a really great movie, but that Hop is a disappointment.
Thumbs Down on Hop
I asked Harry why he was so hard on Hop, and he answered that “It wasn’t realistic.” By that he meant a series of things. First, it featured the hero bunny, E.B., playing drums and talking to human beings without any of the humans noticing that he was a bunny!
The human guy in the movie was really a loafer who didn’t want to do anything! They had E.B. speaking with a British accent with no explanation! And where was E.B.’s mother? And why was he delivering baskets from an egg-shaped sleigh-like vehicle drawn by fluttering little peeps? None of this made sense to either of us.
And Grandma added that the whole thing was very boring!
From the popular success of The King’s Speech, it seems that everyone wants to see a feel-good movie in these days of wrath and doom. It’s not that we members of the Borderstan community are threatened with government shutdowns, although we are. It’s more that the threat of shutdown arises from a radical distrust of how institutions work.
That distrust arises from our current experience of failure everywhere — in the environment, in culture, and especially in the relationships among generations. The old have money enough to begin to die on. The young are largely mute about the anxieties they suffer either from over-protective parents or from parents who don’t care at all. And those in the middle, that bridge generation between the two, worry about their responsibilities on either side.
That’s why Win Win (the American movie, not the Dutch Win/Win on view this weekend at the DC Filmfest) attracts a large and happy-to-be-there audience. It is about an ordinary man beset with the problems of supporting a family in contemporary America. He is essentially a good man, trying to run a small law practice, pay the health insurance, and do as well as he can for his clients — who seem mainly to be the elderly who have been left behind. He also coaches high school wrestling on the side.
From Mary Burgan the Borderstan Movie Fan
Don’t miss Washington’s own international film festival, Filmfest DC. The Washington, DC International Film Festival begins this Thursday, April 7, and runs through Sunday, April 17.
A film festival is a wonderful way to sample offerings that may never be shown in commercial theaters. This year’s Filmfest offerings include concentrations on films from South Korea and from the Scandinavian countries. The festival also includes controversial treatments of such issues as Scientology, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and modern slavery.
But, it’s not all tragedy. For example, there are films for children, a number of grown-up comedies and a special film on Flamenco! You can get in for $11 a pop.
Theater locations at the AMC Mazza Gallerie, Avalon Theatre, Goethe-Institut Washington, Landmark’s E Street Cinema, Lincoln Theatre and Regal Cinemas Gallery Place.
From Mary Burgan
A couple of weeks ago, I had to take heavy steroids for an eye condition. They caused me to feel beyond myself; I cleaned my house, fixed broken furniture, wrote my movie reviews for Borderstan, and still got up early in the morning, ready for more.
That experience helped me to appreciate the story of Eddie Morra, played by Bradley Cooper, in Limitless.
The most talked-about science nowadays is neurology, displacing quantum physics in the popular imagination. Limitless shares in this interest as it explores the intellectually propulsive powers of drugs.
I almost skipped this altered-state movie because I was suspicious of its big box-office status. I’m not fond of car chases and explosions, those features that seem to sell movie tickets these days. But Limitless turned out not to have them, though it does have some nifty special effects as the hero morphs from one self to another or dives into New York City traffic. This movie also has some intriguing science-fiction questions about the nature of inner versus outer reality.
From Mary Burgan
Since 1910 there have been 21 versions of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre adapted for film. And so the 2011 version joins a noble cinematic tradition that has tried to commit the longing and passion of the novel’s plain and obscure governess onto film in the span of a little less than two hours. Of course, as a retired English teacher, my advice is that if you want to get it all, read the book!
Otherwise, and for those who have read the book, the current version by the young filmmaker Cary Fukunaga is an excellent introduction. For one thing, it is a beautifully shot film, dwelling on the severe grandeur of the broad and bare landscape on which the Rochester mansion, locus of so much of the action, figures as only a small dot. This landscape also frames the passion and the dignity of the small heroine.
From Mary Burgan
There is a type of movie that I think of as male soap opera. There have to be car chases, fabulous crashes, and explosions in these films. Apocalypse usually has to threaten, and there has to be a girlfriend who doesn’t understand the danger — unless she is secretly in league with the evil forces.
And in recent years all the action has had to involve an alternate reality that the hero is trying to understand or save the world from. That alternate reality labels the film “serious.”
I named this category years ago when I went to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) at a Cineplex in a Midwest campus town and noticed all the guys being fully satisfied when the blond scientist falls into the void, though Harrison Ford has tried to keep hold of her hand. As we walked out, the guys were in a state of ultimate enjoyment while their female dates seemed bemused rather than entertained.
From Mary Burgan
The Academy Award presentations last Sunday evening gave movie viewers just what they expected. Although The King’s Speech didn’t win every award, it took best picture, leading actor, director, and screenplay, as predicted. But the other awards were shared with other good movies like The Fighter and Black Swan and The Social Network. I’ve checked my recent predictions for the big ones, and they were on the mark, mainly. Now, how can we see the nominees we missed?
Check out Mary’s pre-Oscar movie reviews; the list is at the bottom of this post.
Among films that were featured though not winners, Biutiful, is still in theaters around town. And West End has brought back Winter’s Bone. So has Avalon, which is also showing several other of the more famous nominees. E Street Cinema has the top winners as well, plus the heart-breaking Blue Valentine. So you can catch the top films in many places in the city, though you’ll have to get films that have left the theaters, like The Kids Are All Right, on DVD.
From Mary Burgan
The King’s Speech may sweep the Oscars at the 83rd Academy Awards on Sunday night. I think that would be a big shame, and all my may go-to’s reflect that possibility. Please note that I make a conscious distinction below among may, could and should following each of my predictions.
- Picture: The King’s Speech (should go to The Fighter)
- Actress: Natalie Portman for Black Swan (could go to Annette Benning for The Kids Are All Right)
- Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo for The Fighter (may go to Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech)
- Actor: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech (should tie with Javier Bardem for Biutiful)
- Supporting Actor: Christian Bale for The Fighter (may go to Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech )
- Director: David Fincher for The Social Network (may go to Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech)
- Documentary Feature: Restropo (one of the best films of the year!)
- Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
- Foreign Language Film: Biutiful
- Cinematography: True Grit
- Visual Effects: Inception
- Costume Design: I Am Love
Pre-Oscar Movie Reviews from Mary
- Biutiful One of the Best Films of the Year
- The Town, Animal Kingdom: Crime Runs in the Family
- Why You Should See Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole
- Grit and Bone: Oscar Nominates Strong Teen-Aged Girls
- The King’s Speech an Oscar Picture for Colin Firth
- Chasing the Oscar Buzz: Part 2 (The Fighter)
- Chasing the Oscar Buzz: Part 1 (Toy Story and The Kids Are Alright)
From Mary Burgan.
There are two unexpected nominations in the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories in this year’s list of Oscar-nominated actors.
One is for the role of a hothead foster brother to the hero in The Town — Ben Affleck’s film about a crime family in Boston’s Charlestown. The other is for the role of the sentimental matriarch in Animal Kingdom, a film by the new Australian film-maker, David Michôd, about a crime family in Melbourne.
Each offers some ripe roles for actors, but although both make occasional stabs at probing the sources of familial pathology, neither seems very interested in getting beneath the violence of the crime movie genre.
I don’t want to deny any hard-working actor his or her due, and the supporting actors nominated from each film do their jobs very well. However, I am not sure why Jeremy Renner of The Town or Jacki Weaver of Animal Kingdom should be singled out just for doing their bits in two movies that are so seriously flawed.
From Mary Burgan.
Dinner and a movie make a great Valentine’s Day date. But with no movie theaters in easy walking distance on a cold winter’s night in the Borderstan neighborhood, you may want to watch something at home.
Here are 16 movies that would make for good watching on Valentine’s Day. I’ve picked two films from each decade, starting in the 1930s. All can be obtained from Netflix, with four off them available to download.
Some of these love stories have made me laugh, some have made me cry. But despite the tears, all of them make love look like the most important thing that could ever happen to a body. It is… isn’t it?