Watching "Amour"
Published on February 19, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the new Michael Haneke movie "Amour."

Here's an excerpt:

"The Austrian director Michael Haneke specializes in wrenching experiences. Movies are not fun and games for him — they are opportunities to disturb, provoke, question and accuse, to expose the dark underbelly of society and strip away the thin veneer of civilization that tricks us into thinking we’re any better or different from animals.

At first blush, Haneke’s latest film, best picture nominee 'Amour,' seems to represent a new direction for the director. Most of his films are chilly deconstructions of violence, voyeurism and cruelty, but 'Amour' tells a simple, seemingly warm story, of aging, illness, love and death. It focuses on an octogenarian Parisian couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (best actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva), retired music teachers who live in an elegant and art-filled apartment, where they are occasionally visited by their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert). One day Anne becomes catatonic and unresponsive at breakfast; she undergoes surgery for a blocked carotid artery, but the surgery is not a success, and she returns home paralyzed on her right side. She makes Georges promise never to bring her back to the hospital, and expresses a desire to die before things get worse, and she becomes a burden.

As usual, Haneke’s directorial gaze is unflinching: We watch as Anne’s condition deteriorates due to a second stroke that leaves her speaking gibberish and moaning in pain. Georges struggles to get her to eat and drink, and becomes more and more isolated: He stops returning his daughter’s phone calls, and fires the visiting nurse. Because the opening scenes of 'Amour' showed firefighters breaking into the apartment and discovering Anne’s corpse on the bed, we have some idea where all this is headed, but there are a few surprises along the way: One especially powerful scene shows Georges losing patience with Anne’s reluctance to eat, slapping her, and then immediately asking for her forgiveness."

In the post, I also rant about a man who thought it was acceptable to check his phone and let it ring multiple times during the movie. The whole experience actually reminded me of this post from movie blogger Dennis Cozzalio, in which he writes about an idiotic woman who thought it was OK to text through a screening of "Frankenweenie."

Anyway, click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on February 17, 2013 by Sara Foss

Eyes Without A Face (1959) ****

Mama (2013) ***

Raise the Red Lantern (1991) ****

Watching "Mama"
Published on February 14, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new horror movie "Mama."

Here's an excerpt:

“'Mama' is billed as a horror movie, but it’s more of a ghost story/fairy tale that derives its tension from vague fears about parenthood (specifically motherhood), rather than a malevolent entity.

Helmed by first-time director Andres Muschietti, 'Mama' bears the clear influence of producer Guillermo del Toro, the auteur behind horror/fantasy hybrids such as 'Pan’s Labyrinth' and 'Cronos.' The film is elegant, dreamlike and often disturbingly beautiful, and takes time to develop its simple story: Two young girls are kidnapped by their father after he kills his co-workers, and end up in a remote forest cabin after he drives off the road in a snow storm. Just as the father raises his gun to shoot the older girl in the back of the head, a shivery supernatural being emerges from the walls and kills him.

The film then jumps ahead five years, to the day when a search team finds the two girls, now feral, dirty and malnourished, living in the cabin. The children are brought back to civilization, where their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), set about integrating into their daily lives. Which isn’t easy, because the kids are really weird, especially the younger girl, named Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse). While the other sister, Victoria (Megan Charpentier), slowly begins to warm up to living in a house with a mother and a father, Lilly continues to feed on cherries (what the girls ate in the wild), runs around on all fours and refuses to be touched or held by Lucas or Annabel. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the girls haven’t entirely left the forest behind: The shivery supernatural being, called Mama, has followed them to the suburbs, and taken up residence.

'Mama' is at its best when it focuses on the children, and how Annabel, who is forced to raise them alone after Luke is hospitalized after a nighttime encounter with Mama, feels about them. Annabel has never wanted children, and she regards Lilly and Victoria with trepidation: She doesn’t know what these strange little kids are thinking, she suspects they might be dangerous and she worries that she is not up to the task of caring for them. (As time goes on, she also begins to suspect that someone is visiting the children during the night.) This preoccupation with children and parenthood places 'Mama' in the subgenre of horror films about “bad seeds” (although Lilly and Victoria are more damaged than bad) such as 'The Omen,' 'Who Can Kill a Child?' and the 2008 British horror film 'The Children.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on February 10, 2013 by Sara Foss

King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963) ***

Gojira (1954) ****

Django (1966) ****

Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (2009) ***

Les Miserables (2012) ***

Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998) ***1/2

Thirst (1979) ***

Watching "Les Miserables"
Published on February 5, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "Les Miserables."

Here's an excerpt:

"I didn’t want to see 'Les Miserables.' But then I saw the preview for the film, and I remembered something I had long forgotten: I like 'Les Miserables.' Or at least I did when I was 15, and the high school band and chorus traveled to New York City to see it on Broadway. I remember playing my 'Les Miz' tape constantly, and even playing some of the music on the piano. That tape is now buried in a box in the hall closet, and the piano music remains at my parents’ house. But it’s safe to say that I have some lingering affection for 'Les Miserables.'

That lingering affection helped carry me through the film version’s rougher patches. 'Les Miserables' is a long movie, with some misguided stylistic touches, but it’s well-performed, and the novelty of hearing famous actors such as Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe sing almost all of their lines never wears out its welcome.

Adapted from a Victor Hugo novel, 'Les Miserables' tells the epic story of Jean Valjean (Jackman), who is sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, breaks parole, takes on a new name and becomes a respected mayor and factory owner. He is pursued relentlessly by Inspector Javert (Crowe), a humorless law and order type, and his cover is blown when he rescues a prostitute, Fantine (Hathaway), and agrees to care for her young daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen). The story then jumps forward 10 years. Cosette (now played by Amanda Seyfried) and Valjean live under assumed names, trying to keep one step ahead of the dogged Javert. France has also changed, and we meet a group of young men, and a boy named Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone), who are preparing for revolution. One of the young men, Marius (Eddie Redmayne), falls in love with Cosette.

Director Tom Hooper, who won a best directing Oscar for 'The King’s Speech,' takes this material very seriously, and his film is a Big Emotional Experience, designed to make you feel like you want to stand up and sing 'Do You Hear the People Sing?' right along with the cast. I was fine with this, and I thoroughly enjoyed following the story’s twists and turns, and humming along to the music, and having my heart ripped out again and again. Hooper presents 18th century France as a cruel, violent and grimy place, which is the right decision, although I kept wishing Fantine and Cosette had been allowed to take at least one bath, and he has a showman’s knack for staging spectacular set pieces."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on February 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

The Crazies (2010) ***

The Vanishing (1988) ***1/2

The Window (1949) ***1/2

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ***1/2

Louisiana Sky (1948) ***

Thoughts on "The Hobbit"
Published on February 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer my thoughts on "The Hobbit," which I finally got around to watching.

Click here to read them.

Revisiting "Dodgeball"
Published on January 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

The 2004 film "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" is one of my favorite comedies, and I decided to revisit it after Lance Armstrong confessed to doping in an interview with Oprah.

Armstrong, as fans of the film no doubt recall, has a small but pivotal cameo in the film: Peter LeFleur has just taken a bribe from rival gym owner White Goodman and abandoned his dodgeball team, who are getting ready to compete in the championship. He's sitting at a bar when Armstrong introduces himself, and says he's a big fan of LeFleur's dodgeball team; Fleur says he's quitting dodgeball. Here's how the rest of the conversation goes:

Armstrong: Quit? You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I'm sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that's keeping you from the finals?

Peter LeFleur: Right now it feels a little bit like... shame.

Armstrong: Well, I guess if a person never quit when the going got tough, they wouldn't have anything to regret for the rest of their life. But good luck to you Peter. I'm sure this decision won't haunt you forever. 

This exchange is just as hilarious as I remembered. Lance is very funny, and the fact that he's since been exposed as a liar and a cheat doesn't detract from the scene one bit, though it may add a layer or two of subtext. In fact, Lance's participation in this movie actually makes me like him a little bit better. He might have been stripped of his Tour titles, but he'll always have this great scene in "Dodgeball" to be proud of and show his kids.

The rest of the movie also holds up pretty well. After we watched it, my dad proclaimed it "one of the best movies about sports ever," which sounds hyperbolic, but might actually be true. Those scenes where Rip Torn flings wrenches at the dodgeball team and screams, "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!" never stop being funny.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on January 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

Holy Motors (2012) ***1/2

The Impossible (2012) **

Enter the Void (2009) **1/2

I Capture the Castle (2003) ***1/2

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) ***

Watching "The Impossible" and "Holy Motors"
Published on January 22, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movies "The Impossible" and "Holy Motors."

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve always had a soft spot for disaster movies. Take the 1997 movie 'Volcano.' This dumb and schlocky film managed to keep me pinned to my seat simply by filling the streets of L.A. with lava, and depicting terrified citizens attempting to stay out of harm’s way. The 1996 film 'Twister' offered similar thrills. So I was looking forward to 'The Impossible,' about the devastating tsunami of 2004. If nothing else, I figured the film would offer a terrifying glimpse of one of the worst natural disasters of all time.

And it does. 'The Impossible' is impeccably crafted, features fine performances and tells a suspenseful, gripping tale. But I found the whole experience of watching it deeply unsettling, and as the film progressed, I found it increasingly offensive. I knew going in to 'The Impossible' that the film focuses on an upper class family vacationing in Thailand, and their efforts to find each other after the tsunami destroys their resort. And I understood that this might be problematic — that by telling the story of the tsunami through the eyes of rich white people, 'The Impossible' would give short shrift to the storm’s real victims. However, I thought it would be possible to overcome my reservations and simply enjoy the film. But I was wrong."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on January 21, 2013 by Sara Foss

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) ****

9 Souls (2003) ***

Consuming Spirits (2012) ***1/2

Django Unchained (2012) ***1/2

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993) ***1/2

Musings on "In the Realm of the Senses"
Published on January 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

The provocative Japanese director Nagisa Oshima died last week at 80.

I've watched several of his films over the past couple years, and I've been amazed by how daring, subversive, violent and explicitly sexual they are. His most notorious film is "In the Realm of the Senses," from 1976, which is based on the bizarre true story of Sada Abe, a Japanese woman who erotically asphyxiated her lover, and then cut off his penis. But his lesser known films are also pretty intense. I watched Oshima's 1967 film "Sing A Song of Sex," in which a group of disaffected teenage schoolboys drink, talk constantly about sex and fantasize about raping a girl from their classes. What distinguishes the film is its no-holds-barred attack on Japanese politics and society, eye-popping visual style and relentless and intellectually stimulating cynicism.

Over at Slate Dana Stevens has written an appreciation of "In the Realm of the Senses" that captures the film's unique power. She describes it as a fusion of art and pornography, which seems pretty accurate, although pornography is mainly intended to turn people on, and "In the Realm of the Senses" made me feel sort of sick and dirty. (But it's a great film, really!)

Anyway, click here to read Stevens' piece.

Watching "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Django Unchained'
Published on January 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about this Oscar season's two big controversial films, "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Django Unchained."

Here's an excerpt:

"Oscar nominations came out last week, and I decided to just go ahead and get the two most controversial nominees out of the way. And boy am I glad I did! 'Zero Dark Thirty' and 'Django Unchained' are both terrific, thought-provoking films that raise interesting and disturbing questions, are incredibly well-crafted and well-acted and approach their stories with creativity and intelligence.

'Zero Dark Thirty' tells the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and I’ll say up front that unless a film is a documentary, I expect the events depicted on screen to deviate from what really happened. So I approached ZDK as a work of fiction, based on a true story. I mentioned this because the film is under fire for its depiction of torture; critics say that director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal wrongly suggest that the torture of detainees played a key role in helping nab Osama in Laden, while others have defended the film, saying it actually suggests that torture was not the most effective tool for tracking the elusive terrorist leader. I mostly fall into the latter camp, and feel that the debate over whether Bigelow and Boal are endorsing torture distracts from some of the more interesting themes and issues contained within 'Zero Dark Thirty.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Recent Viewing: Films
Published on January 13, 2013 by Sara Foss

Azur and Asmar: The Princes' Quest (2006) ***1/2

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) ***1/2

The Beaches of Agnes (2008) ***1/2

Black Death (2011) ***


Watching "Silver Linings Playbook"
Published on January 8, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new David O. Russell movie, "Silver Linings Playbook."

Here's an excerpt:

“'Silver Linings Playbook' is a movie that rings true, even when it’s absolutely absurd. This is a movie that gets the details right, while involving its characters in ridiculous plot twists straight out of a classic screwball comedy. It’s one of those rare movies that manages to be both contrived and utterly genuine. There’s a reason that my friend Hanna’s brother, who has bipolar disorder, called it the best depiction of bipolar disorder that he had ever seen on film.

'Silver Linings Playbook' tells the story of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who has spent the past eight months in a mental health facility after nearly beating his wife’s lover to death. Pat has bipolar disorder, but he refuses to take his medication, saying it makes him foggy; during the film’s opening scenes, we see him spitting a pill onto the floor of the hospital. I think this was when the movie won me over, because I’ve had numerous conversations with mentally ill friends about why they do not want to take their medication.

Pat’s return home does not go smoothly: Despite the restraining order against him, he is determined to get in touch with his wife and show her that he’s changed, and he wakes up his parents, played by Robert De Niro, in his best role in years, and Jacki Weaver, in the middle of the night to rant about Ernest Hemingway. (Pat is deeply disappointed by the ending of A Farewell to Arms.') After visiting the school where he used to work, the local beat cop lets Pat know that he’s got his eye on him."

Click here to read more.

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