[Weekend Roundup]

Apparently I spent the weekend at the movie theater. Here we go:

A Serious Man is the newest Coen Brothers film, a Job story set in the Minnesota town they grew up in, a Midwest Jewish suburban hell. As it ended, I couldn’t help but think of You, the Living. It has the same sort of grey-blue hope, in one full fable rather than a series of short ones. Michael Stuhlbarg is perfection in the lead (though not the title role), always amazed at what’s happening to him, wondering what he did to deserve it, what he can do to make things change, and what God might have to say about all of this. Ask the rabbi? Good luck with that.

Somehow it seemed to make perfect sense to follow it up with Salesman, a documentary in the 69 series by another set of brothers, David and Albert Maysles, who also filmed Grey Gardens. It follows a group of Bible salesmen as they travel their territories, and as one, Paul Brennan, tries to break his losing streak. Faith is being exploited everywhere — the company exploits the salesmen just as they exploit their customers — with the result that God is nowhere, but audience sympathy is everywhere. Rent & medical bills are due, and $50 for a Bible in the late 60s is an extraordinary amount of money, but as Brennan sucks down cigarettes in cramped hotel rooms and rented cars, you really want the poor guy to make a sale before the company sends him home to Boston and his wife who repeatedly reminds him not to drive too fast.

SIFF Cinema ran a mini Hitchcock festival all weekend, but I only made it over for one double feature: Strangers on a Train & Dial M For Murder which were a lot of fun to see with an audience, Robert Walker & Ray Milland making for a set of delicious villains.


Okay, this is ridiculous. I was doing so well, and then I went to a preview screening of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and had some sort of a meltdown. Do I write about it as a movie person? Do I write about it as a fan? Wah! So I will just say that I enjoyed the experience (Cinerama!), that I need to see how they’ll do the final two films before I can pass judgment on what was cut out, and that it ain’t no Prisoner of Azkaban. (This is where, if I was writing as a fan, I would draw hearts around Alfonso Cuaron. Don’t judge.)

What else since then?

I saw more 69 movies: Downhill Racer (Redford!), Topaz (spy thriller, and most un-Hitchcock Hitchcock since Mr & Mrs Smith), Dillinger is Dead (which was really upsetting — I am losing my edge in my old age — but one hell of a performance from Michel Piccoli), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (which is what you should see, if you see only one of these, and not just because it stars Maggie Smith), and If…. (which was a surreal satire, and an interesting double feature with Brodie).

Then, a few ostensibly kids movies: Up, which I had wanted to see all along (the teaser trailer was a perfectly formed short film), but apparently it took record breaking heat to get me into the theater. I liked it better than Wall-E, I think, because it was good all the way through and in Wall-E I stopped being interested once humans were involved. (And have we talked about the trans character already? Yes, probably.) And I got to see a free screening of Ponyo, which was adorable. More Totoro than Mononoke, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Metro started its classics series again, but I have only made it over there for The Informant! I nearly forgot, which I suppose is probably a sign. It was lower-key than I had expected, but I am quite curious how it’d play on second viewing. Really rewarding, I’d suspect. Another thing I forgot about: the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Hey, maybe it won’t suck this year. There’s a first time for everything.

Not that there’s any shortage of film. I have three-and-a-half more months of 69 movies coming up, SIFF Cinema is back from its summer break (oh, how I missed it!), and buzz from Toronto has me anxious for the big award season releases to start coming out. It was 80 this weekend but I am dreaming of fall, caramel lattes, and plenty of time at the theater.

[SIFF is coming! Look busy!]

I was doing so well for a while there, but I guess when I wasn’t seeing something every other day I forgot to keep this up. But SIFF is coming — the schedule is out next week! — so this is a good time to clean up this file.

* Putney Swope was another one of those 69 series movies I wouldn’t have seen if I didn’t have the full series pass, so I’m glad I did. It was interesting as a cultural artifact, and I did laugh, but I also spent a lot of time thinking “I see what you did there, but I’d be more interested if the writer-directer wasn’t white.” Maybe that’s just me.

* Sullivan’s Travels, however, was unquestionably great. It’s a meta-picture about the Hollywood system & the Depression (timely, that!), though I must admit a large part of why I wanted to see it is that the film Sully wants to make all through it? O Brother, Where Art Thou.

* The Class was fantastic, and yet another movie to make me Very Bitter that I speak about three words of French. You *know* that the subtitles left out about 90% of the material. It’s a year-in-a-classroom film based on the book by François Bégaudeau, who also plays a version of himself. The setting might make it easy to dismiss, but it’s not just Les Minds Dangereuses. I was particularly interested in the immigrant make-up of the class and the tensions that creates, and I loved how complex François was — he makes mistakes & decisions that could turn the audience against him. Finally, it’s interesting that the entire film takes place within the school, within the year. As an audience you experience the same frustration the staff does of only knowing a fraction of a student’s life.

* I haven’t seen Rear Window in years, so I was pleased about the opportunity to see it on the big screen in a full theater. It’s still a great movie. Obviously. And now I will use my icon of Kris Marshall in the Rear Window episode of “My Life in Film.”

In other news, due to total calendar reading fail, I missed Fellini’s Satyricon & The Damned. I am totally bitter about this, which is ridiculous in the grand scheme of things.

[On DVD]

I stopped posting Netflix stuff at some point last year because, really, I saw a lot and it was impossible to keep up with. I do want to still post some things I see on DVD, because they are interesting or lesser-known or just old or perhaps really terrible and you should be warned away. Basically, if I have something to say about it, I’ll post, but you don’t need to know that I watched In Her Shoes for the third time this month. For example. Not that I would do that. Do de do.

* Away From Her was a brilliant directorial debut for the astonishingly talented Sarah Polley. I heard a lot about Julie Christie in the (American) press, but Gordon Pinsent’s performance is what I took away from the film. Beautiful.

* The Lives of Others. Gorgeous. See it.

* Children of Heaven. This was so great! It’s an Iranian film about a brother and sister who have to share a pair of shoes (he lost hers, and they can’t afford a new pair). A lovely small film about a family trying to protect each other.

* Rope. Somehow, I had never seen this before! It was pretty cool to see John Dall again so soon after watching Gun Crazy. What a delicious role. I really loved the interview portion of the special features. It’s rare to watch a behind-the-scenes and have people be critical of a film. The screenwriter (if I recall correctly), thought that the murder should not have been shown (so as to increase tension as to whether or not there was a body), that Jimmy Stewart was miscast (his part should have had a sexual undercurrent with at least one of the murderers), and he also questioned the way it was shot. That point is interesting to me, because I think the illusion of seamlessness increased tension. It’s something that could be done better now, but was an interesting experiment then.

[The Lady Vanishes]

The Lady Vanishes is, I think, the only Hitchcock in the Janus festival. The majority of the film takes place on a moving train, and is surprisingly funny, but that doesn’t make it any less suspenseful. I hadn’t seen it before, and I would be interested in seeing it again, not only because I enjoyed it immensely, but because I’d like to see exactly how tight of a script it is, the significance of other throwaway-looking moments.