01 March 2010

February Update #3: Trucker/Princess & the Frog and the Animated Feature Oscar/Miracle Fish/Amreeka/Moonfleet/The Cove/Dirty Filthy Love

It's been winter doldrum season so I've sort of been slacking on this thing.
It's been a pretty uneven month, certainly last month was more fulfilling cinematically but I suppose I've filled in some gaps.

Trucker showed up on some end of the year lists and it caught my eye at the video store a while back and I finally got around to watching it a few days ago. Michelle Monaghan is a woman who had been married to Benjamin Bratt, seemingly a great guy, and abandoned him and her child. She works as a semi truck driver now and seems happy with her life of driving, drinking, and no strings sexual encounters. She has what seems like an ill-advised friendship with a married neighbor and after depositing him on his porch she stumbles home to find her ex-husband's wife waiting for her with the discarded son. It seems daddy is in the hospital with cancer and his wife's mother just died so she needs to go away for a few weeks and the mother is reluctantly stuck with her son who is naturally resentful. I guess you can imagine what comes next. The film is likeable. The mother's flight from the definitions the world has imposed upon her is understandable and the characters come across as authentic and compelling for the most part. There's an act of violence toward the end and I'm not really sure it worked for me. I love that it's about working class people, more or less, but it never really soars like Frozen River, as I hoped it might. B/B-

I finally watched The Princess and the Frog so now I've seen all the Oscar nominated animated feature films this year. I feel like this one is probably the weakest even though I think I rated all of them three out of five stars on Netflix, except The Secret of Kells, which I rated four stars. It feels like a Disney movie in sleepwalk mode. It's just a regurgitation onto a standard template with standardly unimpressive music. That said, it's kind of engaging in a slight way. It has the sort of charm I might expect from a well-done direct-to-DVD children's movie. I've never seen All Dogs Got to Heaven 2 but it felt like a sequel to All Dogs Go to Heaven somehow. Maybe the music and the attitude. I feel like it makes sense that their first black princess would find herself in the middle of a sort of bland undertaking and, culturally, it's probably for the best. I'm just glad there wasn't a single rap in the whole movie because that would have been really gross. I liked the touch of bayou flavor in the music and the attempts at local color but it was kind of insipidified during Disneyfication, I think. C

On the subject of the Animated Feature Oscar, I'm not sure if I have a horse in the race. It'll probably go to Up, which I didn't care for all that much, but I'd probably have voted for The Secret of Kells. My second choice would probably be The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I haven't seen Mary and Max and the word I've heard on it has been very splintered but I kind of expected that to get nominated.

Miracle Fish is an Oscar nominated live action short film from what seems to be a much hyped Australian production company. It's about an eight year old boy who gets picked on at school because it's his birthday and all his mom gave him was this lame fortune telling fish thing that looks like it cost one to two dollars. It looks like you can currently buy 12 for five dollars on their website. In any event the rest of the class goes on some field trip or something and he sneaks into this sick room in the nurse's office and wanders out to find an empty school and eventually a gruesome surprise that is neither believable nor interesting. There was something I liked about it but it was generally dull and maudlin and insipid. C-

Amreeka is about a divorced Palestinian woman in the West Bank who works in a bank and lives with her mother and her teenage son. She and her son have to cross through this checkpoint every day and that's fairly miserable and increasingly frightening. They get a permit to emigrate to the USA she had applied for a long time ago and the son convinces her they should go because there is no future for him in Palestine. Things naturally don't go smoothly when they arrive in America but there's none of that forced Lars-von-Trier-esque torture that you might expect from this sort of thing. The kid has troubles at school; they and the cousins they move in with must cope with increasing racism; the mother can find only the most menial of jobs despite her education and her experience. It's a really lovely movie though and it's more bouyant than it sounds. There's something so real and beautiful and human and significant about it. It was mostly all the things I look for in a film. If I had seen it sooner it would likely made my top ten list or at least the honorable mentions. A

Moonfleet is a 1955 Fritz Lang film based on a popular English children's adventure novel from 1898. Similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn it begins with an innocent youth arriving in a sinister English coastal city that seems to make a lot of money off various forms of piracy. The youth naturally finds himself mixed up in the den of thieves and in deep trouble from all sides. I sought it out because it's listed in John Kobal's methodology-challenged book of the Top 100 films of all time but I really don't think it belongs there. It's a decent film but it's not likely that it would even make my top 10 Fritz Lang movies, let alone top 100 of ever. Stewart Granger is kind of dreamy though, Joan Greenwood is appealing as George Sanders's sassy wife, and Viveca Lindfors is kind of electric in her brief, mildly lurid performance as Stewart Granger's gypsy-esque mistress but the story didn't really do it for me. C

I finally got around to watching the Oscar-nominated documentary The Cove last night. The trouble with so many of these well-intentioned things is that they tend to overstep in their stridence. I think this movie escapes that pitfall though and it comes across as pretty veracious throughout. I think that's why it's so effective. It feels like the filmmakers are saying, "We want to level with you hear and we aren't trying to manipulate you except explicitly by showing you this video of a dolphin slaughter and letting you make up your mind." I like that the video is presented with only the sounds of the dolphins and that although the film is set up like a suspense movie it doesn't try to manipulate you with music and they never resort to the sort of hysterics that tend to alienate people from doing the right thing. It was a good and worthy use of time and resources. A

Lastly, the final film I watched in February of 2010: Dirty Filthy Love. It's a 2004 made for British television movie about a man (Michael Sheen) whose latent OCD and comorbid conditions sort of explode when his marriage disintegrates and he loses his job. He meets a plucky nut played by the fabulous Shirley Henderson, whom I've loved ever since I saw her in that Masterpiece Theater presentation of The Way We Live Now (2001). The nut recognizes his OCD and tells him to come to her support group and he does and it's well and then he has a breakdown when his wife gives him a false hope and then moves on. The movie's kind of out there--my boyfriend wasn't really paying attention to the movie and kept remarking that the movie I was watching was really weird--but it's really kind of good. It seemed like a generally honest depiction of a constellation of mental disorders and the acting was pretty good. If only we subsidized the film industry in the United States... It's kind of sad that our nominees for best picture are very often weaker than the average European made-for-TV movie... A-/B+

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