Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas movies - outside and in

The Christmas holidays are a great time to see movies. And many movies open, almost with a bow tied around them, just in time for Christmas Day. That included films this year like The King’s Speech and True Grit, which opened in Windsor on the Wednesday before Christmas......So far this month I’ve seen three movies in theatres and four on DVD.....Let’s start with what I’ve seen at the local Bijou.....Natalie Portman definitely shines in Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky) in this psychological thriller which brought to mind What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (Robert Aldrich, 1962) the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford classic. The movie has a few turns that are even scarier than regular horror movies. The film garnered an unprecedented 12 Critics’ Choice nominations and if there’s any justice Portman should win for best actress if not for an upcoming Oscar.....Me an Angelina Jolie fan? Not. But with a weak schedule of films at the cineplex I opted for the best (or least bad) showing and saw The Tourist (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others) with Johnny Depp. I actually kind of liked this flic principally because of its stylishness. It was a throwback to the spy/mystery thrillers of the 1960s and brought to mind comedy-dramas like Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963) which in fact has a very similar plot. Hmm. Jolie is the Hepburn character in high fashion sitting at a Paris cafe and then travelling by train to Venice. There are some spectacular overhead shots of the canal city as well as street scenes. The only unfashionable element is Depp, who’s scruffiness looks like something the cat dragged in and makes you wonder what’s so sexy about the guy.....Meanwhile at home I watched a movie that had been sitting on the coffee table since summer, Max Ophüls’s Lola Montès (1955) starring post-war sex kitten Martine Carol (no, I’d never heard of her either) and Peter Ustinov. The story is a tragedy about an ambitious and independent woman who ended as a circus attraction with her adventurous life mocked, a comment on the times. The film, also set among European high society, has a grandeur complete with opera halls and parties packed by stuffy swells. But maybe I’m too much a product of our times because Ophüls’s baroque filmmaking itself seemed stuffy and old-fashioned.....Then I watched Raja (Jacques Doillon, 2003). I discovered Doillon this summer at the Montreal World Film Festival and loved his Le Mariage à Trois, a farce about self-important artists. Since that time I have rented his earlier Petits Frères (1999) and now Raja. Unlike Le Mariage both these films were focussed on delinquent teens and brutality. Raja also focused on the bizarre attraction of a rich French man for a native Moroccan. Both these films seemed without redeeming merit, almost perverse, and I felt kind of dirty after watching them. I came to a conclusion. All Doillon’s films have one thing in common: humiliation.....Then it was back to the Cineplex and The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper) starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. The movie is about England’s King George VI’s famous speech impediment at the time of his royal ascendency just as war was about to break out with Germany. Virtually everything about this movie is excellent – from the close up acting to costumes to period sets. Bring on the Oscars!.....Next was Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009) with Michael Caine and Emily Mortimore. Caine as the namesake character goes vigilante in this crime thriller, a nudge above TV fare and pretty suspenseful despite a few holes in the plot.....Finally, The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella) which won this year’s Oscar for best foreign language film and has had the second biggest box office ever in Argentina, where the film was made. It’s interesting what the Academy gives Oscars to. Academy members probably loved this film because it had the right quotient of what they consider sophistication, a beautiful foreign actress (Soledad Villamil), and a complex enough plot. But while it has some generally good scenes and a few interesting story turns it’s long and plodding and takes itself too seriously.....The holidays continue: next up at the theatre: Jim Carrey as a gay man in the comedy I Love You Phillip Morris, and True Grit, which isn’t a Western, it’s a Coen Brothers!

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