Monday, December 29, 2008

Rain Shadow

I review films for Library Journal occasionally. This is one they sent me:

In 2007 the mini-series Rain Shadow appeared on Australian TV. The series starred Rachel Ward as a veterinarian in a small Australian farming community and Victoria Thaine as the young vet sent to assist her. In the story, the town, Paringa, has endured a 10-year drought and is facing a disease among the area sheep herds which could destroy the area economically if it became known to the outside world. Into this tense situation the two vets struggle both to build a relationship and to save the community. Filmed entirely on location, the cinematography is outstanding. The stark landscapes are backed by a musical score provided by a South Australian blues/roots band. The special features include a Behind-the-scenes featurette; interviews with cast and crew; notes on the musical score; and a Rachel Ward biography. With the gorgeous landscapes, great acting, interesting and often quirky characters, and the authentic feel of the film, this film is recommended for general audiences.

What I've been watching: Island at War; Traitor; X-Files: I Want to Believe; Ghost Town; Eagle Eye; I've Loved You So Long; Nothing Like the Holidays

Island at War
This 3 vol. mini-series first appeared on Masterpiece Theatre. It is the story of the German occupation of the Channel Isles. Filmed on location on the Isle of Man the story is engaging and entertaining, and the landscapes beautiful to behold.

This is an exciting counter-espionage terrorist film. Don Cheadle gives a great performance in the complex role of the ex-soldier turned terrorist.

X-Files: I Want to Believe
Although I’m not a huge X-files fan I did find this film to be engaging from beginning to end. Interesting story, good pacing and a return of Mulder and Scully: I liked it.

Ghost Town
This romantic comedy is more romance than comedy. It’s cute. If you liked Just like heaven, you’ll like this one, and vice-versa.

Eagle Eye
As long as you don’t mind a lack of originality, this is quite exciting. It holds your interest throughout. As a technological thriller I much prefer Enemy of the State.

I’ve Loved You So Long (French)
I saw this one at the theatre and loved it. Kristin Scott-Thomas stars as a former Doctor imprisoned for murdering her son. The film starts as she is released from prison and goes to live with her estranged younger sister and her family. The story is dealt with very subtly and all characters, including the secondary characters are well-developed and sympathetic. I’ll add this one to my ten best list.

Nothing Like the Holidays
It's hard to find a holiday film that isn't full of clichés and this one is no exception. This is the gathering of the entire Rodriguez family for Christmas. There is the usual bickering among siblings, love lost and gained, humor and pathos. It's all there but this time with a Latin flavor. All performances are lively and sympathetic. It may be clichéd but it is still a warm-hearted family holiday film.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Julie’s TOP TEN of the year, 2008 (in alphabetical order):

1. Burn After Reading (DVD available at the library)
2. Counterfeiters (DVD available at the library)
3. The Fall (DVD available at the library)
4. In Bruges (DVD available at the library)
5. I've Loved You So Much (currently in theaters) (added 12/26/08)
6. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (DVD available at the library)
7. Tell No One (not available in DVD format yet)
8. The Visitor (DVD available at the library)
9. Young @ Heart (DVD available at the library)
10. ?

Roger Ebert has come out with his Top Twenty list: I found the article and his choices to be perplexing. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Ebert in his statement that “A best films list should be a celebration of wonderful films, not a chopping process.” And I applaud his use of alphabetical order rather than “favorite” order. However, I disagree that it was a great year for films. I had difficulty coming up with even 8 films for my list. Of course, I don’t get paid to go to movies (all those who think I should please tell my director!) and therefore I miss a lot of the films that come out. I am frustrated annually by the fact that studios release their best films during Christmas week or after so that they make the deadline for the academy awards. I think that’s cheating. If a film isn’t widely released until January it shouldn’t be counted in this year’s choices. I look at Roger Ebert’s list and many of his films have been released recently or are being released soon. I can’t agree or disagree with them because I haven’t had the opportunity to see them yet. It’s a constant frustration. So, if you’re like me and just can’t get to every movie that comes out but want to see the best, compare Roger’s list and mine, then check the library DVD shelves and the movie listings in your local newspaper and take your pick.

Roger’s list includes several titles that I saw but didn’t put on my list, including The Dark Knight (see blog—8/12), Happy-Go-Lucky (blog—Dec. 3), The Band’s Visit (blog—8/29) and Iron Man (blog—10/30). The two comic book films are great if you are fans of comic book films. The other two are very quiet, thoughtful films—not a lot of action, big emotions, or snappy dialogue. They are good choices if that’s what you are looking for. Mr. Ebert also included one title that was on my list: The Fall (blog—10/25) which was an indescribably unique, amazing and truly wonderful film. This is a film for all ages. Watch it—it’s fantastic! All of the other films on his list I haven’t seen and some of them I haven’t even heard of. Mr. Ebert omitted some great titles from his list. How he could have forgotten The Visitor (blog—5/7) is beyond me! This was a tremendous film about a professor and the illegal aliens he befriends. A great adult film! And Young @ Heart (blog—5/19) should definitely have been on his documentary list. How can you not be uplifted by a group of seniors singing their way through the years! All I can think is that he must have seen them in 2007, before their general release date. Another of my favorites, In Bruges (blog—7/23), I have to admit that it might not be for everyone. It is a crime comedy and I have a particular fondness for dark comedy. The dialogue in this film kept me in stitches. The Counterfeiters (blog—8/6) and Tell No One (blog—8/12) are foreign films (the first German, the second French) and again, many people avoid subtitles although you’re really missing some first class films by limiting yourself that way. The Counterfeiters is a WWII true story about a counterfeiting outfit set up by the Nazis while Tell No One is a thriller based on a novel by Harlan Coben. That leaves Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (blog—8/26), an endearingly funny film, good for all audiences.

Now let’s start watching out for the other critics’ Top Ten lists plus the Golden Globe and Oscar nominees. Oh, aren’t lists fun!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New this week

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
With Brendan Fraser and Jet Li.
In the Far East, trouble-seeking father-and-son duo Rick and Alex O'Connell unearth the mummy of the first Emperor of Qin -- a shape-shifting entity who was cursed by a wizard centuries ago.

With Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce.
When straight arrow FBI agent Roy Clayton heads up the investigation into a dangerous international conspiracy, all clues seem to lead back to former U.S. Special Operations officer, Samir Horn.

When Did You Last See Your Father?
With Colin Firth and Jim Broadbent.
This film is based on the life of Blake Morrison. When he returns to the Yorkshire town where he was born, and where his father is dying he realizes too late that he was blinded by anger, and never really saw his father for who he was.

On the new book truck

American Blackout NR
This documentary looks at the career of U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney from Georgia and the historical suppression of black voters in the United States.

Dark Knight PG13
Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent are forced to deal with the chaos unleashed by an anarchist mastermind known only as the Joker, as it drives each of them to their limits. Heath Ledger’s final performance.

Get Smart PG13
Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 for CONTROL, battles the forces of KAOS with the more-competent Agent 99 at his side. Starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway.

High Risk (1981) R
Four American friends, badly needing money, decide to make a commando-like raid into a South American country and steal $5 million from the hacienda of an American-born drug dealer.

Man on Wire PG13
A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974, what some consider, "the artistic crime of the century."

Sisterhood of the traveling pants 2 PG13
The further adventures of the sisterhood and their traveling pants.

Step Brothers R
Two spoiled guys become competitive stepbrothers after their single parents get hitched. Starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.

Transsiberian R
A Trans-Siberian train journey from China to Moscow becomes a thrilling chase of deception and murder when an American couple encounters a mysterious pair of fellow travelers. (See Judie Harren's review from Nov. 6, 2008 posting).

Tropic Thunder R
Through a series of freak occurrences, a group of actors shooting a big-budget war movie are forced to become the soldiers they are portraying.

Wanted R
A frustrated office worker learns that he is the son of a professional assassin, and that he shares his father's superhuman killing abilities.

X files: I want to believe PG13
Mulder and Scully are called back to duty by the FBI when a former priest claims to be receiving psychic visions pertaining to a kidnapped agent.

Big Easy to Big Empty: the untold story of the drowning of New Orleans

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I’ve been uninspired lately. I have seen a few movies but not many. I went to the theater to see Happy-Go-Lucky, Mike Leigh’s new film. I have loved his films in the past. He is the master of heart wrenching (see Secrets & Lies, High Hopes, All or Nothing). But this movie was a disappointment. He had a great character but no story. I kept waiting for a conflict but if there was one it was little, it was dealt with quickly, and we were back to having nothing but a character to keep us going. So I decided to watch Vera Drake, his well-received last film. Vera is a nice lady who helps young girls who get into trouble by giving them illegal abortions (circa 1950 Britain). That’s the story, that’s the movie. She gets caught, tried and jailed. End of story. This is a watch-and-see-what-happens film. No big conflict, no big social commentary. Just watch and see what happens to Vera. Mike Leigh can create some wonderful characters but I hope that he’ll go back to telling stories. Stories are much more affecting than an interesting character with no story to tell.

Then I watched a movie on TV—Go Now, a 1995 British drama. (It’s not available in the UHLS system). It was directed by Michael Winterbottom and was about the relationship between a soccer player diagnosed with MS and his girlfriend. It was pretty good. The best thing about the movie was the theme song though—“Go Now” by the Moody Blues. I hadn’t heard the song in ages so had to get a CD with it right away. I’m enjoying it now.

Then on Thanksgiving I had my family sit down together to watch Still Crazy, an old favorite of mine. I laughed all the way through it but my family, who much prefer films like Dude, where’s my car or any of the Saturday morning Samurai movies (did you even know there are Saturday morning samurai movies?), were not so amused. Nevertheless, I still highly recommend Still Crazy, particularly if you are a person with good taste like me (nose up in air). It’s about a 70’s rock group that decides to get back together 20 years later. Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing for me, maybe it’s that I love the British actors in it (Steven Rea, Billy Connolly and Bill Nighy), but whatever it is, I think its loads of fun.