Weekend Films for Glenn

I had a very busy weekend a few days ago. I felt kind of rough secondary to my monthly medical treatments, so I found refuge from my nausea in theaters and while watching videos at home.

First out of the gate was Roger’s pick from several weeks ago,
WALK ON WATER (2004), directed by Eytan Fox. This film is in English, Hebrew, and German with subtitles. It starred a dynamic Lior Ashkenazi (a Clive Own look-alike), Knut Berger, and Caroline Peters. This is an excellent dramatic thriller that showcases a modern Israel, taking us from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, from the vast Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, showing off the middle east with tourist’s eyes in a colorful and rich tapestry of images; also rife with Nazi hunting, how even 60 years has not blunted the older Israelis to their hatred and resentment; it is clearly a motif, the Holocaust lingering like a bad dream, still conjuring up behemoth losses, pain beyond measure, and an insatiable need for revenge, to run down those aging dying Nazis and, “bring death to them before God does.” We are introduced to a younger generation of Jews who can say Holocaust within angina, without tears; who can ask simply of modern Germans, “Were anyone in your family Nazis?”, and even if the answer is yes, still work and play with those people, able to forgive and to move on. It, of course, deals with the Palestinian issue, about the almost daily suicide bombings at bus stops, cafes, theaters, and shopping malls, and how a people can still live their lives heroically without debilitating fear. It is about a soldier’s dedication to duty, loyalty, politics, assassinations and such, and what this hardening, this callous approach to life costs him. It is part Simon Wiesenthal and part Spielberg’s
MUNICH (2006), with a touch of Ian Fleming, and a touch of Saul Bellow. It is about family as an essential need, about suicide, about alienation, despair, murder, love, and homosexuality. Thank-you Roger for this very rich and wondrous film that was made without any name Western actors, that almost slipped by us. Watch it –you’ll like it. This is a 4 star feature.

Friday night Melva and I went to the Grand, disappointed that VOLVER (2006) had not opened up yet [I have given more information to members in another note earlier], and so we went to see NOTES ON A SCANDAL (2006), directed by Richard Eyre, starring Dame Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, and Bill Nighy. This is a powerhouse of a dramatic intensity that is not for the faint of heart. Judi Dench has not done better work in years. Her older spinster teacher, with lesbian tendencies, is a bitch on wheels; feared and respected by all, staff and students and the world at large. But her need for both, control and affection, her inability to love nothing more than her old cat, her terrible loneliness that drives her to the brink of decorum and poor judgment –all leave an indelible memory that will not ebb soon. It was a little reminiscent for me of the fine performance given by Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s classic film, THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1968), with then succulent Susannah York.

Cate Blanchett, as a first year art teacher, a mother and wife who has tired of being the homemaker, who wants to share her visions of art with children –comes off as flirty, ex-hippy, ethereal, naïve blond, whom all the male staff want to lust after, or date. This, of course, brings her under the watchful eye of Dench. When she is seduced by a 15 year old male student, there are definite echoes of our homegrown wonder, Mary Kay Latourno, doing the nasty with a 12 year old Villi Faalaau, and having two children with him over the next several years. But Blanchett is soon good, and so deep into this characterization, all I could do was watch her, and think about her plight; with her much older husband (Bill Nighy), her teenage daughter, and her younger son with down’s syndrome. The plot twists and machinations are both logical and inspiring by the closing credits. This is not the homeless lesbianic tragedy of THE CHILDREN’S HOUR (1961), with Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn, based on Lillian Hellman’s play. SCANDALS stands on its own, and it scorches deep into our sensibilities as we watch the female black widow, Dench, begin to weave her web of deceit and pain on her next victim. This is a 4 star film.

On Saturday I went out to watch SMOKIN ACES (2007), directed by Joe Carnahan; best known for crime thriller, NARC (2002). This quadruple slap to the visual cortex stars Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Piven, and Ben Affleck among many others. It has the visceral thrills and kinetic energy of Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL, Volume I, but I think it is much better written, tighter plot, more logical and cohesive even in the midst of carnage and mayhem. It takes us from slow motion to warp speed, from bird songs to fifty caliber canon roar, mixing the feel of MAD MAX (1979), and its sequels, to the crime thriller smarts of WAY OF THE GUN (2000), directed by Christopher McQuarrie, starring James Caan, Benicio Del Toro, and Ryan Phillippe, with Juliet Lewis and Scott Wilson. ACES has the cleverness of GROSSE POINT BLANK (1997), from director George Armitage, with John Cusack, Minnie Driver, and Dan Aykroyd. ACES was brimming with unforgettable characters that will linger in the memory like those in Tarantino’s PULP FICTION (1994), those indelible moments with Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Harvey Keitel, and Tim Roth.

Ryan Reynolds is the protagonist, sort of, and he is very effective in it. He is best know for playing Wilder in VAN WILDER (2002), and one of the action heroes in BLADE TRINITY (2004). SMOKIN ACES absolutely delivers on the action and thrills that we were promised but gypped out of in Tony Scott’s DOMINO (2005), with Kiera Knightly, and Mickey Rourke, as it “told” the semi-true story of actor Laurence Harvey’s estranged daughter who became a bounty hunter. Rourke, coming off SIN CITY, should have been better –but director Scott presented us with mish-mash pastel blurred cinematography, and fast-cut rock video style of shooting; out of focus jerky hand-held camera moves. This is exactly what he had done the year before, infuriating me then too, with
MAN ON FIRE (2004), with Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken, and Dakota Fanning. Of course, no one seems to remember that this Scott film was a direct rip-off and remake of MAN ON FIRE (1987), a modest Indie thriller with Scott Glenn, Joe Pesci, and Jonathan Pryce. SMOKIN ACES is a solid 3.5 star film.

On Sunday, I went to see VOLVER (2006), and I wrote a short review on it that will appear on the web site and here on the blog after our Club has discussed it.

I rounded out the weekend watching my new widescreen DVD of Hayao Miyazaki’s PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), the English version using the voice talents of Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Gillian Anderson. I marveled at the color, the detail, the symbolism. This is a 4.5 star winner as well.




2 thoughts on “Weekend Films for Glenn

  1. Just wanted to make a quick comment about NOTES ON A SCANDAL (2006). I thought the acting was superb, but I would only give the overall film a rating of about 3.5 out of 5. I had two primary problems with it.

    First was the EXTENSIVE use of voice-over narration. In the original novel (that I have not read), the use of the diaries to allow the reader entry into the psychology of the older teacher (the Judi Dench character in the film) might have been very effective. However, in a film, I always consider such extensive use of voice-over narration to be evidence of a failure (or laziness) on the part of the filmmaker to figure out how to translate psychological states into the language of film.

    The second problem I had with the film was that the director could not quite seem to settle on a single point of view; instead, it seemed to be two films packaged together as one. The first was a kind of “made for TV soap opera about a ‘Mary Kay Latourno’ type character.” The second was a much more disturbing psychological drama about two individuals who were both “predators”, but in distinctly different ways, who became intangled in a psychological web.

    Some of the “over the top” scenes near the end of the film are wonderful, but I did not particularly like the (Hollywood sentimental ?) ending.

  2. Ron:

    When I talked to David about NOTES, he too took umbrage with the “overused” first person narration. I do not know why, maybe it is because it draws the screenplay and the film back to its literary source, but I have always enjoyed first person narration; like the hard-boiled narration that a detective shares when the protagonist is in a Noir film. Sometimes it does become odd and confusing if the director uses several internal monologues, and lets several of the characters “voice” their thoughts. Yes, it is more cinematic to make the choice of just having long shots of Judi Dench soaking in a tub, or staring out a window, or sitting on a park bench, smoking and stroking her old cat, and staring at photos of her past lovers, and just let her spoken dialogue and action clue us in to her inner self and inner motivation, but how delicious for us to hear her inner monologue during those scenes at school, and at the younger teacher’s home. Are you more comfortable when the narrator is omniscient, just this disembodied all-knowing all-seeing voice that sets scenes and explicates delcicate plot lines? We can trace this means of explication from the Greek Chorus to OUR TOWN’s stage manager. War films and Westerns lend themselves well for me to narration too, especially when this inner dialogue is well written, poetic, or philosophic.

    An excellent film does not “demonstrate” its very components; still they must be there to bring in the whole experience. Modern musical composers scoring the emotions and action, novels full of “words” that become screenplays, that become moving pictures, photography that becomes cinematography, dance that becomes choreography; all in the mix, synthasized into a homogenious flash of creative light flickering deep into our psyche. Hell, I still enjoy those filmed session with Spalding Gray, in which he just stared into the camera and told “stories”. Director Richard Linklater never gets too “talky” for me. But hey, there’s the rub; each of us coming to this film with what we can dredge up perceptionally; right?

    In a way, your second point is well taken; sort of. It certainly would have been a different film if the director had just taken one character’s point of view, and the other one just had implied status based on actual interaction within shared scenes. But these days, with ensemble casts and multiple plots that move toward common closure sometimes at the pace of a glacier, it seemed more natural to take us into the older teacher’s home and mind, as well as the younger teacher’s home. It created more empathy for both of them, and it created more dread as we watched so very closely the Judi Dench weave her web of wrinkled seduction and control. An interesting point, sir, that Cate Blanchett, in her way, was a predator too; that she felt life owed her a fling, an erect penus, a delectable secret. She was having a real pity party secondary to having to be a wife and mother to her odd brood. David noted that Bill Nighy did a really excellent job somehow communicating that he was a wonderful father, with very little effort. He just filled the space with his caring and playfulness, and his points were salient and viable when he tearfully confronted Blanchett about her lack of communication relative to her “unhappiness”.


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