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.