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Snow Angels (2007)
Superb character/relationships study!
David Gordon Green is, to my mind, the best up-and-coming director we have working in the general realm of realism. This film, based on a Stewart O'Nan novel I've just begun reading, explores the interests, concerns, relationships (family and romantic), and local dramas of believable well-drawn characters. Among movies I've been aware of coming out this season, this was my most-anticipated one; and I felt my trust was very well rewarded.
Not to be pushing realism as against script self-reflexiveness, trickiness, irrealism, surrealism, and so on -- I can get into any of those, too, when well done. But looking within the traditional alternative of character-based stories, convincingly and movingly told, who is more exciting than Green in his first four features? Only Nicky Katt was a bit disappointing among the players in sizable roles. Amy Sedaris, a little to my surprise, was really spot-on as friend/co-worker Barb, admittedly a somewhat comic part, but with dimensions of outrage and sympathy well beyond what I had thought Sedaris capable of.
I've just begun the novel, but can note already that the screenplay (and realized film) completely solves what looks like a narrative problem in the novel -- Artie is a first-person narrator, but allowed to dramatize scenes he did not witness. The screenplay does put him in the center of the narrative, but without any sense of magic or violation when we are shown scenes outside his ken. The young romance between Artie and Lila is handled perfectly in the screen writing, direction, and acting, and is essential to the movie's feeling of full-spectrum life in this small town. (A preliminary scan through the novel suggests that the adaptation has somewhat sexed-up this relationship, but it's all good!)
Physical Pinball (1998)
Accomplished student short
This accomplished short, done as a student project, appears on the Criterion Collection DVD of director Green's first feature, "George Washington".
It's remarkable that this young Southern white boy can make a film with an even younger Southern black girl at its center, and not have it be about race issues, or gender issues either. Probably Green would say it's more about the semi-rural community life.
I didn't understand why the widower father thought he could help his daughter pick out menstrual supplies. Wouldn't his first reaction be to have her talk to the school nurse, or an aunt, or in fact the cousin who does soon enough show up by chance?
A Day with the Boys (1969)
Fine short from a familiar character actor
Clu Gulager is a familiar face as a veteran character actor. I had no idea he had briefly gone in for directing at one time and made this fine short, in the sixties poetic / experimental mode.
Note: this short is on the Criterion Collection DVD of "George Washington", evidently because David Gordon Green felt influenced by it. I'm glad it has been retrieved from the archives and made available to viewers of today's independent cinema. Green comments on the painterly visual effects (cinematography by László Kovács!), but the more obvious similarities are thematic: the world of kids in the semi-rural south, and how the world of adults impinges on them (and vice versa here of course).
People I Know (2002)
Answer to "Reality Check"
The Selma-to-Montgomery march was in 1965. The dialogue says that Victoria was a 12-year-old. So she would have been born in 1953. Checking Kim Basinger's bio, what was her year of birth? Ah, also 1953. So there is no particular oddity about Victoria's age. I can't agree with the sarcastic remark that "The only way she would have been around Selma at the time of the march on that city would have been in the womb of her mother, if that was so!" No, all she need be is 12 at the time of the march.
This is by no means a great movie, but the complaints in the "Reality Check" review are somewhat off base, most pronouncedly in the matter just explicated. (Ahem, IMDB wants 10 lines...)
The People's Choice (1955)
Memorable for inventing the "secret marriage" ploy
Okay, it was the fifties. You couldn't suggest that attractive, favorable characters, you leads, could be having unmarried sex. But wait! Suppose they're *secretly* married! Then it's okay that they sneak off and do things that don't get explained, but provide opportunity for comedy as they perpetually are almost getting caught.
What kind of a director would ...
What kind of a director would take a pretty good actor like Kenneth Branagh and make him sound like an early Woody Allen character?
Really, they could have done the situation and some of the character tendencies, without getting stuck in the precise rhythms of the stammer, hesitations, rewinds of the speaking manner. Those are mannerisms, not something to adopt so wholesale.
Carla's Song (1996)
(SPOILER) Resolution of Carla's situation is too PC
(SPOILER) So Carla will stay there, with her disfigured, mute ex-lover. This was not a surprise, and was not interesting. When I say not a surprise, I don't mean it in a praising way or to call it organic or inevitable given the rest of the story. It's inevitable and predictable only from the viewpoint of the script's very dutiful political consciousness. It wouldn't be noble, uplifting, inspiring, etc. etc., for Carla to opt out of the struggle and go back to Scotland with George.
Please let me be clear, I am not objecting to the script's sympathy and engagement with the Sandinistas. I am not objecting to a film having a political outlook, nor do I object to that outlook being on the Left (which is my own standpoint anyway). What I do object to is conditioning the characters' choices according to an imposed external view of what is okay, rather than what has been developing in the story.
Fait Accompli (1998)
A disappointment from a promising package
As previous comments have noted, this has hints that it could have been a serious, superior thriller, what with the talented cast and some quite good writing in-the-small. But the story lines never really cohere and it finally makes no real impact.
Henry & June (1990)
Refreshing reminder, and a club to beat on Moulin Rouge
I saw this in theatrical release when it came out, and just recently on home video. As others have commented here, seeing it now can clarify some of what changed in the assumptions of filmmaking during the 90s. This film isn't apologetic about taking its subjects fairly seriously, even while not getting too solemn or "taking *itself* too seriously" in the bad sense. What I'm trying to say is that it isn't flip, and doesn't feel that it has to elevate cool to the ultimate virtue.
If my code words there haven't made it clear, what I was objecting to was how Tarentino has influenced attitudes. But there's an entirely different kind of crummy moviemaking that actually came to mind as a contrast to Henry and June while I was watching this, and that was Moulin Rouge. Please excuse me for using one movie as a club to bash another, but while watching H & J I really felt this connection and contrast.
Even though the 30s (H&J) was a quite different era from the 1900s (Moulin), they're both distant enough from us to raise similar questions about how to handle that sort of milieu. And they have in common being set among artists and aspirants. "Moulin Rouge" presents Erik Satie and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as characters on the fringe of the story, tossed in for spice perhaps, but gives us not a hint about what Satie's music sounds like, nor a glimpse at any Toulouse-Lautrec canvas (though I credit the production design with getting something of his feel into how the film looks.) We are told the hero is an aspiring artist but have no idea what his work is like, what he thinks, what the artistic times were like -- except a vague profession of "all for love".
"Henry & June" makes pretty clear what Miller's and Nin's aims were in their writing, and even some of the flavor. It also fills in the artistic surroundings, with for instance some of Brassai's photographs as well as using him as a minor character, and a clip from Le Chien Andalou. The score (with the filmmakers realizing the not everything is of-the-moment, and the avant garde of the 30s would still be "processing" the avant garde of the 20s, teens, and before) gives us snippets of Le Sacre du Printemps and some of Satie's piano pieces. (It was hearing the Satie that triggered the comparison for me, since -- as above -- I've been using the absence of his music from Moulin Rouge as an indicator of the shallowness of its approach to its setting.)
The makers of Henry & June figured out that the best way to show us exteriors for Paris of the 30s is to selectively show us Paris of today. This would have worked also for Moulin Rouge, better than the gratuitous and grating special effects. True, some landmarks of the (18)90s and 1900s are gone, but that doesn't call for wholesale resort to animation.
Perceval le Gallois (1978)
The best film made in the Twelfth Century
I've been on a long Rohmer kick this year, and while I greatly enjoy almost all his work I have to admit there are ways they're all rather alike. With two tremendous exceptions: "The Marquise de O." and "Perceval".
I'm glad I read the earlier-placed IMDb comments, it's very helpful to think of this, as someone suggests, as what Chretien would have produced had he had access to filmmaking rather than narrative poetry. 20th Century narrative manners had not yet developed, and what would be quirky (or downright incompetent) structuring in a late 20th Century film are entirely normal in this 12th Century film.