Monthly Archive for January, 2007

Mi-5, Series 1

Mi-5, Series 1 (1/25/07) Netflix (2002 ***½) For reasons I don’t recall, my wife and I watched the second series (or season) first. This was a terrific TV show and deserves the fan base it has. It was originally aired on the BBC as Spooks, but apparently that title didn’t translate well for American audiences. The hallmark of the series was how much story the writers were able to pack into each individual 1-hour episode. It felt like watching a short movie or two American episodes instead of one.

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd (1/22/07) DWA Screening (2006 ***¼) Directed by Robert Deniro, starring Matt Damon. At one point about an hour into the movie I thought I was going to give it four-stars. But then it lost its momentum and never recovered it. The subject matter, a close-up look at the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency, was gripping. Where I lost interest was when the film drifted toward Damon’s characters family. Most of the film was told in an extended flashback with a “current day” framing device that wasn’t particularly compelling. One big problem the production suffered from overall had to do with makeup: Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie played characters that aged from 18 to (I guess) 60, but neither really appeared to change physically. It was as though the producers never even made an effort to portray that aging. At one point Ms. Jolie looked really tired and I thought to myself “Oh, she must be dying of some incurable disease.” No, as it turns out, she wasn’t. It was just her playing old.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (1/22/07) Nonfiction (20001 ***) Written by Stephen King. This was a strange book. I’m not sorry I read it, but it was strange all the same. The subject of the book was writing, and in it one of the most popular authors of all time discussed the business of writing. However, this was also the book King was in the middle of working on in late 1999 when he was struck and nearly killed by a van while walking along the side of the road. As a result, the content of the book was an odd combination of elements. It began with a memoir section of recollections from King’s life. This material was tangentially related to the main topic of the book in that it provided an understanding of King’s development as a writer. In the second section, King described the writer’s toolbox and in the third he waxed philosophical about his feelings about writing. Finally, there was a lengthy epilogue in which he wrote about the accident and his slow recovery to being a productive writer again. Unfortunately, probably due to the disjointed collection of related topics, the resulting book was ultimately more lightweight than I had hoped.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (1/21/07) DVD (1993 ***½) Directed by Kenneth Branagh, starring Branagh, Emma Thompson, Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington. I really miss Kenneth Branagh. Where has he gone, anyway? He was truly able to make Will Shakespeare’s words come alive. This movie was so full of joy, a delight for the eye, the ear, and the heart. Nicely done! Now if you see it yourself, beware: I had the “Weep no more, ladies, weep no more” song (the merry note on which the film ends) stuck in my head for several days afterward.

The Queen

The Queen (1/20/07) La Canada Universal (2006 ***½) Directed by Stephen Frears. Helen Mirren is a safe bet for best actress Oscar for her absolutely perfect portrayal of Queen Elizabeth during the week following the death of Lady Diana in Paris on August 31, 1997. The movie provided a rare glimpse into the workings of the royal family and especially the relationship between the queen and newly-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, played with wide-eyed energy by Michael Sheen. I hope the queen herself appreciates the way in which she was portrayed; In my opinion, she came across as an admirable woman who committed veritable public relations suicide by making an unfortunate error of judgment (keeping the family’s grieving private instead of making it public) but still managed to recover from it. Implicitly shown in the film was the dramatic contrast between how England and America treat their respective elected officials. Scenes set inside the Prime Minister’s residence showed a domestic normality that more closely resembled my own household than the West Wing of the White House.

An Affair of Love (Une Liaison Pornographique)

An Affair of Love (Une Liaison Pornographique) (1/19/07) Netflix (1999 ***) Directed by Frederic Fonteyne, written by Philippe Blasband. This was a story about a man and a woman meeting anonymously for fantasy sex in a Parisian hotel room. We never learn their names, just as they never truly learn about each other. There was a framing device in which the two were interviewed years after the affair had ended. Their recollections differed, and so we observe the core of their problem: They had both moved from physical sex to something deeper; they had both fallen in love, but in slightly different ways. When the woman declared her love for the man and he (though he clearly felt it) was unable to respond in kind, they stopped seeing each other and with a kiss went their separate ways. This was a good film but not a great one. At the risk of sounding glib, I may have appreciated it more if I were French. The cynic in me can easily imagine it being remade for an American audience, likely starring Meg Ryan as the woman. Of course in that version the ending would probably be somewhat less… French.

Chasing Amy

Chasing Amy (1/19/07) Netflix (1997 ***) Written and directed by Kevin Smith, starring Ben Affleck, Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams. This was an unconventional love story about a comic book artist named Holden McNeil (Affleck) who falls in love with Allysa (Adams), the “wrinkle” being that Allysa is a lesbian. I’ve been on a Kevin Smith kick lately and it’s been interesting for me to revisit films I haven’t seen this film almost a decade. I remember liking Chasing Amy more the first time around. While it was definitely far superior to the two films that proceeded it (Clerks and Mallrats), it wasn’t nearly as good as last year’s Clerks II. This may be a reflection of Smith’s maturing as both a writer and as a human being. I was taken out of the experience several times by Holden’s insistence on being persistently stupid in a very non-real way. On the other hand, much of the Allysa’s dialogue rang surprisingly true.

Mallrats: 10th Anniversary Extended Edition

Mallrats: 10th Anniversary Extended Edition (1/17/07) Netflix (1995 *½) Written and directed by Kevin Smith, starring Jeremy London and Jason Lee. I remember watching this several years back and liking it a hell of a lot more than I did this time around. Part of my disappointment was because I was watching the extended edition, a cut Smith himself described in the video introduction as “the version no one was ever supposed to see.” This was his first “real budget” picture, so I guess I should be a little forgiving. Having so recently watched Clerks II, it’s obvious Kevin Smith has made tremendous progress over the years, both as a writer and as a director, while still remaining true to his roots.

Le Divorce

Le Divorce (1/14/07) Netflix (2003 ***) Directed by James Ivory. I almost didn’t want to watch this film, but I’m glad I did. I saw it for the first time when it was first released. At that point my own personal experience made me less than receptive to a film centering on a divorce. Kate Hudson (who I fell in love with in Almost Famous) was probably the reason I saw it back then. This was a fine film, nominally about the messy divorce of one sister (Naomi Watts), the affair of the other (Hudson), and the fate of a painting of Saint Ursula. It was also about the cultural differences between French and American families. Matthew Modine played an insanely jealous American husband whose character was completely out of place tonally with the rest of the film, resulting in an ending that felt extremely false.

The Children of Men

The Children of Men (1/14/07) Glendale Mann 10 (2006 ***½) Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. The film opened with the world mourning the loss of Baby Diego who, at age 18, was the youngest person on a dying planet. This was a gut-wrenching, dreary, gray and utterly gripping portrayal of a bleak world, a future we can all to easily identify with. Clive Owen played an alcoholic who proved to be an unlikely hero. The story wasn’t necessarily complicated, though there were several times when I wasn’t quite sure what was motivating the action; I had to have my wife explain a couple of the plot points afterwards. Many of the sequences were filmed in single shots and were amazing tours de force. There was one nine-minute shot in particular in which the viewer was literally immersed in the middle of a battle that felt utterly real. When I first saw the trailer for Children of Men, which accurately portrayed the film’s premise, I thought it was a Twilight Zone rip-off and didn’t plan on seeing it. Then people at work started saying very positive things and I reconsidered. I’m glad I did. Considering how depressing the film was, would I ever want to see it again? Perhaps I would, probably for the same reasons I might re-watch Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List.