31 December 2013

The Seven Film Itch

As we count down the last hours of 2013, I have a short list of films I have seen and so far failed to review — or whatever that thing is that I do when I write about the films I have seen. I set myself the challenge of writing about each and every film I saw this year in a cinema (no counting the airline films or the ones I might have caught on TV or on the internet), and with these seven we are up to 35 for the year, which is not a bad score, I must say. So let’s just get these last seven out of the way, shall we? And I’m sure we’ll do it with our usual attention to detail and comprehensiveness.

A lovely story of a faithful and humourless woman who recruits a jaded and sarcastically funny journalist to help her track down the son she had to give up for adoption as a young unmarried girl. The contrast between the characters couldn’t have been more striking, and the journalist’s coming to care about the story and his subject couldn’t have been more moving. They almost dragged a whole other movie into the mix when we found out what the son had done and what had happened to him.

Out in the Dark
I saw this at Image et nation, our LGBT film festival. An Israeli production, I was a bit worried about possible pinkwashing in this boy-boy version of the old Romeo and Juliette tale. I needn’t have worried about that. Yes, the Palestinian family (and the community around them) are rather homophobic, but there is a kind of sinister “use and discard” approach taken by shadowy Israeli intelligence operators with respect to the gay Palestinians they run into that is itself deeply homophobic. And just like real life, nobody’s really happy at the end.

Freier Fall
A second film at Image et nation! (I’m so bad at getting myself out the door to see films in this festival that it is well worth underlining my success in doing that this year.) This time around, these police trainees are indeed from the same ethnic background, but we are seized with the complicating factor of a pregnant wife who finds herself in the middle. Nobody ends up happy here, either, but some of the characters were so little developed that we don’t really understand why or what motivated them.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I’m as geeky as the next guy (only because the next guy is the friend with whom I go to most of these movies), but I have to say that when I heard that The Hobbit was being turned into no fewer than three films, I thought it was just the extreme manifestation of Hollywood trying to milk what they could from the fans of the story. I, and probably most of the other Tolkein fans, would be happy to sit and watch the whole thing in one giant movie, but we shall have to content ourselves with playing them back to back when they’re all out on DVD or Blu-Ray. As it is, I loved the depictions of those creatures that remain familiar, despite the fact of my last having read the books in my youth, the scenery is fabulous and there is just enough humour — even a little sex appeal — to fire one up on all cylinders. But even after more than two and a half hours, I still felt that this segment of the story was only half told. Four films, maybe?

I’m afraid I did my best in the viewing of this film to emulate the habits of the father character, falling asleep with great and unpredictable regularity! Don’t blame it on the film, though, but on my exhausted state just before the holiday sleeping in time. What I did see (I kid…I saw much of it!) was quite a touching account of an elderly man bamboozled by promotional materials into believing that he is the winner of a big prize (you know the kind: you have won…a chance to win) and the decision of his son to accompany him on the trip to claim his prize. Spectacular views of dying communities and people with long and convoluted memories of each other, plus the strange state of the children who have left all that and come back as visitor-strangers, something I find rather familiar to my own experiences visiting my old hometown. You will love what the son does for his father after the unsuccessful prize claiming and leave smiling.

Inside Llewyn Davis
The friend I went with to this film kidded me at the beginning that it was before I was born…but she was wrong! Must be my youthful looks, right? And speaking of youthful looks…Oscar Isaac should drop everything and come marry me. Or I’ll go marry him because it’s now legal there, too. This has nothing to do with the movie, but maybe everything to do with how I could have warm feelings toward a character who is chronically unsuccessful in his folk music career (hey, it was the early sixties, not such an oxymoron back then), couch surfs well before the term is invented, leaves behind a series of unwanted pregnancies and can’t even abandon his music career well. Still kinda liked him at the end, and that folk music can be catchy if it’s sung right… Also of note, some big name small parts, including John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver (Adam in HBO’s Girls, in case the image didn’t spring right into your mind).

12 Years a Slave
I needed to see this, although my usual movie buddies were not hot on prioritizing it in the run up to the holidays. I will not fall into that awful mess of what some noted commentators have been saying in the US — that now they understand why slavery was bad. Really? I think I knew that already. The violence and the attitudes of the slave owners are all there in their disturbing reality, but there were two things that really haunt me from this film (saw it earlier today, so it’s fresh): the passivity of the acceptance of the situation by most of the white characters, and the feeling of guilt that I got on behalf of the main character as he was being rescued from his slavery by the sheriff and a friend from the north, leaving behind all the others, who would probably pay for his freedom with their own pain and blood. “How could he do that?” I wanted to ask, knowing that the answer was “How could he not?”

So that’s my year in cinema. Thirty-five films in fifty-two weeks. Not bad for an amateur.

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