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Le divorce (2003)
Better than the general opinion allows
I keep trying to figure out why this movie is rated so low. I thought it was very good, and that was before I started reading the book -- well more than halfway through, I think it's a faithful adaptation that delivers the storyline and the theme of the novel very well. I tend now to read the novel a movie is based on after I've seen the film, since my experience has taught me that doing the reverse always leads to disappointment in the movie. This was not an error with this title. I think all the casting, all the acting, and especially the direction, were well done.
It seems to me that somehow viewers were expecting too much from the movie. My philosophy is that expectations are arranged disappointments, and I try not to expect anything going in. I do admit that I had some doubts when it seemed that Merchant-Ivory were doing what looked like a light comedy, but there is much more to the book and film than that, first of all, and secondly, why should accomplished filmmakers not move around the genres? Look at Kubrick and The Archers, just to name two, who did so and did it successfully. I wonder how many people went in expecting "Howards End" and thus were disappointed, not in the film but by their own expectations. It's not fair to the filmmakers. Expecting "Le Divorce" to be on par with "Howards End" was like expecting "Howards End" to have the same effect as "Shakespeare Wallah" -- two completely different experiences. It's entirely possible, in fact, that Merchant-Ivory might not have done as good a job on "Le Divorce" had they not made "Howards End" first. It's a matter of process. My point being, that each film must be judged on its own merits.
I've read a couple of comments and message board posts that complain about how the movie makes French people look -- arrogant, garrulous, etc. I think that's overstating a generalization. The movie makes THESE PARTICULAR French people look arrogant and garrulous, because they are -- and devious and self-centered and boorish. But to leap to the conclusion that the movie is making a statement about all French people is patently ridiculous. "The views expressed by the characters in this movie are entirely their own".
On the other hand, one has to remember that Diane Johnson, who wrote the book and a number of books about the culture since, spends half her time in France. She does't take her subjects lightly; she's an intelligent, thoughtful, and though-provoking writer, and I would urge the people who find the movie too subjective to go to its source and read the book. They will find that the book is written from the point of view of one person, and is about the relations between two families -- not two complete cultures. Just because people say something about a culture does't make it true. Perception itself is subjective. In the book (I can't recall if this occurs in the film, I'll have to see it again) Uncle Edgar, perhaps the most sensible character, himself speaks those words that send a shiver of annoyance up my spine: "You Americans. You think..." As if we all think the same thing (and we all know THAT isn't true!). It shows that subjectivity is a common human trait, that we look at the world with our own particular set of blinders, filter our thought through our cultural stance, although I think that perhaps French thought is more synthesized and common than American thought which is, by nature of the population, more diverse.
In the end I think that the book and the film are VERY objective, and let us look at our own judgmental selves and see how the judgmental and subjective nature of our thought and attitude can be damaging and inhibiting. I think that's the theme, and it comes across very well.
The most affecting film on the Holocaust ever made
This is not your History Channel 1-hour perspective, still images voiced-over with dramatic emphasis from a studio in Burbank, interrupted at 13-minute intervals by Billy Mays and Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials. This is the real deal, the story of the Holocaust as it was drawn out by those both eager and reluctant to talk about it, survivors, witnesses, perpetrators.
Those looking for grisly images of the horrors inflicted by the Nazis on the Jews in the course of World War II should look elsewhere. What is presented is much more devastating. Lanzmann takes you instead to the sites of the perpetration as they stood at the time of the shooting, and the voice-overs are the interviews of people who made it through, who saw it happening, who were on the scene, who saw the flames of bodies burning leap into the skies, who farmed fields within 100 yards of the fence and heard the cries and screams of the victims. You see the crimes of the Holocaust in the sad eyes of those who, against all odds, and even against their own will, lived to tell about it, though it's obvious they would prefer to keep it to themselves and not have to relive what they went through.
Listening to these people as they describe what they went through and saw, it's a wonder to me that any Nazi apologist, that any Holocaust revisionist, can believe their own theories, that anyone could make this stuff up. And the question kept coming back to me, why would these people lie?
Lanzmann stops at nothing to get at the truth. He lies to a sergeant who witnessed the gas vans, he ekes out the story of the barber who lived through it, he takes the boy who at 13 had to sing for the Nazi guard while his countrymen were gassed and burned back to where it all occurred, the locomotive engineer runs down the same tracks and relives the experience of taking Jews to their deaths. There is no way to prepare for the emotions that may arise in the course of watching this film. The humanity of the victims and the human sympathy for them that rises in the breast of anyone with any conscience is a recipe for any kind of reaction. The further one goes, the deeper the reaction is likely to be. Be prepared for anything as you navigate through this most devastating documentary achievement.
Don't expect the book
Since starting to read the book this movie is based on, I'm having mixed feelings about the filmed result. I learned some time ago to see the movie adaptation of a book before I read the book, because I found that if I read the book first I was inevitably disappointed in the film. This would undoubtedly have been true here, whereas in the case of Atonement, which is probably the best filmed adaptation of a book I've ever seen, it would probably not have mattered.
I'm trying to figure out what the cause is, and I suspect that I have to point my finger squarely at Michael Cunningham. Much as I respect him for The Hours (which I have not read but which I saw and was awed by) I cannot escape the feeling that he not so much adapted Susan Minton's book as he did take a few of the characters and the basic premise and write his own movie out of it.
It's not that I dislike the movie. I actually love the movie, which is why, since I started reading the novel, I'm feeling disturbed about the whole thing. I feel disloyal to Ms. Minton for enjoying the movie which was so thooughly a departure from her work. Reading it, I can understand why she had such a struggle adapting it. Unlike what one reviewer of the movie said, it's not so much that some novels don't deserve to be a movie; it's more like some books just can't make the transition. Ms. Minton's novel operates on a level so personal and intimate to her central character, so internally, that it seems impossible to me to place it in a physical realm. Even though a lot of the book is memory of real events, it is memory, and so fragmented and ethereal as to be, I feel, not filmable. I think that Ms. Minton's work is a real work of literature, but cannot make the transition to film, which in no way detracts from its value.
I cannot yet report that Evening, the film, does not represent Evening, the novel, in any more than the most superficial way, since I'm only halfway through, but the original would have to make a tremendous leap to resemble the film that follows at this point. I guess I'm writing this because I feel that if you're going to adapt a novel, adapt it, but don't make it something else that it's not. I'm not sure if Michael Cunningham has done anything wholly original, but from what I can see so far the things he has done are all based on someone else's work. We would not have The Hours if Virginia Woolf had not written Mrs. Dalloway, and we would not have Evening, in its distressed form, if Susan Minton had not had so much trouble doing what probably should not have been attempted in the first place. But it's too much to say that it would be better if Ms. Minton had left well enough alone, because Evening, the film, is a satisfactory and beautiful work of its own.
Thus my confusion, mixed feelings, sense of disloyalty, and ultimate conclusion that, in this case, the novel cannot be the film and vice versa, and my eventual gratitude to both writers for doing what they did, so that we have both works as they are.
Friends with Money (2006)
Underrated and very watchable
I watched this again on DVD, having seen it when it first came out in theaters. I ran to see it, and not just because it had three of my favorite actresses in it. In fact, I had some doubts because it had Jennifer Aniston in it, whom I had never been impressed with (not a fan of Friends at all). But this movie changed my mind about her, and I really enjoyed it.
I do tend to like this kind of film, which some people would probably term a "chick movie". I don't think it is, though. I think it's a people movie. But even that's too much for some people, probably the kind of guy who wouldn't sit right next to another guy in a theater because people might think they're gay. And, no, I'm not gay, just emotional and sensitive.
Still, I liked it more than I expected. Sometimes movies can be a little too girl-y for me, but this one was really about ALL the people involved, although the main connections were between the four women who are the leads. All friends, one of them has not done as well financially as the rest, but it's not only on her story that the plot of the movie turns. All four are going through some sort of issue in their lives, and there is some resolution with all of them, not all of equal import. And none of it is complete; there is no easy wrapping up here of any one story line. You do leave wondering what will happen with each of the characters, with the sense that life is going on beyond the final fadeout. I really liked that about the film.
As a not-too-well-off person living not-too-far-away from the affluent area of Los Angeles this is set in, I usually don't feel comfortable watching movies about people who have a lot of money and don't seem aware of the rest of us. These people share the view that they coexist in the world with a lot of other people who are not as well off; they're sensitive to the dilemmas of others, and are grateful that they (so far) are leading privileged lives. Even the most wealthy of them is a real human being, has issues, is far from perfect. This is a real-life view of Los Angeles people who are living real lives. I highly recommend it to anyone who themselves has a real life.
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Bogart saves the film, but barely
If there's ever been a film that needs to be remade, this is it. Normally I'm not in favor of remaking old movies, but this is an exception. My only reservation is that it would do some dishonor to Boagrt's performance, which was a good one, although not his best. Other than that, the screenplay is stilted and in some cases betrays the book, the tone is overly melodramatic, and most of the acting is wooden -- especially that of Van Johnson, who was a dreadful choice for Steve Maryk. If they'd carved a wooden figure out in his general shape and stood it in the scenes and did voice-overs with his dialogue they would have gotten better performances. Robert Francis was not much better, although he did look the part, and the May Wynn who portrayed May Wynn (???) was a annoying squeaky-voiced little non-entity who either should have had more of a character or should have been left out completely. Fred MacMurray did his best but didn't have any real passion. I would say that Jose Ferrer did a great job as Barney Greenwald but for the fact that Edward Dymytyk's main instruction to all the actors seemed to be to act as stiffly as they possibly could. Someone needs to go back to the original novel and start over again. Meanwhile, this will have to do.
The Evil Dead (1981)
No need to see this one again
I guess I'm just not into blood-and-guts movies, and it's not because I'm jaded. I haven't seen enough to have become unaffected; they just don't affect me at all to begin with. I have a sort of fascination that compels me to watch for about 20 minutes (that's how long I stuck with Saw when it was on a movie channel) and then I drop out. I think that I'm more attracted to the psychological thriller, having been weaned on Hitchcock. I stayed with "The Evil Dead" to the end, mainly because of all the hype I'd read about it here on IMDb. Overhype, I should say. Most of it seemed just really silly and never came close to getting me frightened...never got the pulse going more than a calm 80, not even close to what the original "Night of the Living Dead" did for me. Sorry, but give me "Dark Water", where I can actually feel for the characters and use my brain, over stuff like this.
Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves (2006)
OK, but I just didn't get it
The best I can say about this film is that it was beautifully shot. I didn't understand what the characters were about, and there were several instances when I wasn't even sure who was speaking. There must be something going on underneath the action that I'm not perceptive enough to understand, so I would like to see it again. But it's like a lot of other independent shorts I've seen, where it seems to be trying to say something without actually saying it. The director said she was considering going to feature length with it; if that's the case perhaps she would be able to better explore the motivations, the characters, the circumstances. As it was, the short format wasn't able to convey any of that to me.
I was privileged to see this at LA Film Festival yesterday and was really impressed. It's both an exploration of how a family survives and recovers in the wake of a loss, and how a teen who's got no choice but to make her own decisions gains her own sensibilities and independence as a human being. Dealing with an apathetic father who appears to have given up and a hostile sister who's not mature enough to be without guidance, she finds a way to come to terms with the family tragedy and her own sense of loss, and finds her strength and, in doing so, provides a focus for healing. The director's creativity was constrained by the industry to produce a film of 50 minutes and did a remarkable job of exploring the circumstances and personalities involved with surprising depth. All the actors did a great job of portraying their characters; they were believable and it was possible to be empathetic even if they weren't the most likable groups of people you could meet. I rated it a 5 out of 5 in the audience survey and look forward to seeing it again.
The Weight of Water (2000)
Not true enough to the source
While I respect the intent of the author of the book this movie was made from, which was to invent another explanation for the manner in which a tragic event unfolded, and while the movie itself was aesthetically pleasing in many respects, I find it disturbing that key facts which were crucial to the outcome were changed for no apparent reason, or for reasons of convenience.
I'm speaking of the absence of one of the main characters, and the ultimate substitution of that character's loss with that of another, whose survival in the book was, I believe, critical to the resolution. Also, the dating of the writing of the document which tells the alternative story of the historical facts as they're recorded to have occurred on the Isles of Shoals in the late 19th century, and its being not only made known to the authorities, but actually dictated to them, and yet suppressed, is ludicrous and a fabrication of the adaptation.
In reading the book I had a very difficult time imagining the terrain and space in which those events occurred, and hoped that, like some other film adaptations, the movie would fill in the spaces in my imagination and complete the story in a physical way. And indeed I did get a better sense of the look and feel of the place and the people. But because of these essential differences in the storyline, I cannot recommend the movie as a companion to the book. It is not true enough to its source material. There are some times when an adapter should leave well enough alone and not tinker with the original story, but portray it as it occurs.
I feel that Kathryn Bigelow did not do a service to Anita Shreve, whose working out of her plot was careful and thoughtful and just plausible enough to give doubt to the historical record...given the set of circumstances which she invented. (One must take the story in its fictional context in order to believe it; therefore though the premise is interesting, in the absence of the document that the alternative history is based on, we must rely on the conviction of the court in the case of the Isles of Shoals murders.) So although the film had many good points from the standpoint of execution, it failed in that it did not truthfully portray the events of the book.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
On my personal top ten list
A long time ago when I was still working in an automotive shop I taped this movie from KTTV at about three o'clock in the morning, bad reception and commercials and all. The whole thing was a revelation to me. Why, in my years of enjoying all sorts of classic movies at revival houses both in New York and here in Southern California, had I never heard of this movie? For the next three weeks I believe I would come home and watch it almost every day. As an adult child of an alcoholic father, this film moved me in a personal way that I don't think I can even fully investigate, it's just too basic for words. But in terms of cinematic quality alone, this film is a masterpiece. No matter what Elia Kazan did since, we have him to thank for this movie. There is not one false note in the whole of this movie; every actor IS the character they play, most especially Francie Nolan, played to absolute perfection by Peggy Ann Garner. The black and white cinematography is used to its best advantage, the sets are perfect, the music -- contemporary tunes playing along in the background by a rickety-sounding little orchestra -- just "there" enough to provide the auditory backdrop that is the soundtrack of the times, and the emotional intensity and pacing is even, never heavy-handed, and consistent from beginning to end. This is probably the most perfect and authentic film of the black and white era. Hopefully the reason 20th Century Fox has delayed the DVD release is that they're enhancing the package with some special features that devotees of this movie like myself will really enjoy. When the movie came out on VHS I ran to buy it. It will be the same with the DVD.