[The Works of Danny Boyle]

I haven’t written about the other National Theatre Live broadcasts I’ve seen this year — they may be shown at the cinema, but they aren’t films — but I did want to mention Frankenstein. SIFF Cinema made a weekend of it, showing three days of double features from Danny Boyle as well as both filmed versions of the play.

Starring Jonny Lee Miller & Benedict Cumberbatch, switching the roles of Victor and the Creature from night to night, Frankenstein has been an extremely popular production both at the National and in broadcast around the world. There are plenty of reviews all over the web from people who know far more about theatre than I do, but I will say that I thought the device of telling the story from the point of view of the Creature was quite effective.

The first version I saw had Miller as the Creature and Cumberbatch as Victor. It hadn’t occurred to me until then, but Cumberbatch was quite obvious casting after his success with “Sherlock Holmes”*. Both characters are men who fancy themselves gods. Miller is also a more physical actor, so he was a more natural choice for the Creature.

All the same, it was interesting to see that switched up two days later, with a more poetic Creature & a more physical Victor. I’m glad I got the chance to see both. The rest of the cast was also marvelous, particularly Naomie Harris as Elizabeth.

All of this was a great excuse to have a weekend of Danny Boyle films, and the perfect opportunity use up my last batch of SIFF Cinema vouchers. Win win!

Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Shallow Grave I have all seen before on DVD, but it was great to see them all again on the big screen. 28 Days Later in particular benefited from being shown in the theater; the epic shots of an empty London deserve the big screen.

Sunshine is the only selection I’ve seen in the theater before, and is one of the very few scifi films that I love. I was disappointed that the presentation was on Blu-ray rather on film; the image pixelated in some scenes, which is one of the many ways that digital projection drives me up a wall. All the same, it’s better to see Sunshine on Blu-ray in the theater than at home on my 32 inch TV. So it goes.

Millions is the only feature I hadn’t seen before, though I have read the book. It’s Boyle’s family film and is just ridiculously charming. So is the book 🙂 (Also, it was charming in spite of the fact that I recently saw James Nesbitt in “Jekyll”, and so he makes me a little nervous.)

They also ran two of Boyle’s short films, which was a treat even in low resolution. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise stars Timothy Spall as a vacuum cleaner salesman / force of nature, and Strumpet is a magical, a modern fairy tale starring Christopher Eccleston and Genna G as two talented people who find greater scope for their art in each other, only to clash with the forces of the music industry.

*I didn’t actually like “Sherlock Holmes”, though that is a post for another day and perhaps another blog.

[Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban]

I don’t know if this is happening in other places, or if Seattle is just particularly crazy for Potter this fall, but our local IMAX is showing films 3 through 6 for a week each leading up to the release of HP7 Part 1 (so named because no one can remember the title of the seventh book.)

I was pretty excited to have the chance to see my favorite Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, in the theater again. I love it for a lot of fangirl sorts of reasons, which I will spare you, but also because it was a game-changer in terms of the look and feel of the Potter films.

The previous two, The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, presented audiences with a very candy-colored magical world, a place where magic was a thing to be showcased: we must all stop and be aware that Magic Is Happening. It was Hogwarts as a Disneyland ride.

Cuarón changed all that with Azkaban, working from a more muted palette, with handheld cameras, and letting magic just happen in the background. The magical world is overgrown and dusty and lived-in, moving pictures are not surprising, and housekeeping spells are done with a wave of the hand and hardly a thought. Which is as it should be. Plus, added moments of everyday life at the castle are fantastic: Harry & Seamus complaining about the Fat Lady’s singing, all the Gryffindor boys hanging out in the dormitory eating magical candy, and Ron’s spidery dream when Harry is investigating the map in the middle of the night. This is a Hogwarts people actually live and play and study and work in. This is a Hogwarts where students paint their faces and carry homemade signs at Quidditch matches and where the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher incorporates swing music into lessons. It’s fabulous.

Finally, a bit of heresy in the Potterverse: I firmly believe that Michael Gambon is the superior Dumbledore. There, I said it. He’s darker and more interesting than Richard Harris, and I don’t think that’s solely the result of the directorial change. He’s more restrained, less flippant, and far more in keeping with the Dumbledore of the books.

[DVD highlights (and a lowlight)]

* Lars and the Real Girl. I queued this mostly because Patricia Clarkson & Emily Mortimer are basically always worth watching, and I was curious what drew them to the project. I still don’t know. It required suspension of disbelief that eluded me, and I am, honestly, a pretty credulous viewer. In this case I was constantly irritated by the things I was supposed to believe and the questions I wasn’t supposed to ask… or at least the questions the filmmakers weren’t going to bother to answer. Skip it.

* Night on Earth was a surprise arrival when Netflix decided to pass up the five ‘available now’ discs ahead of it. Which is fine, because it’s a great movie that I should have seen a long time ago. It’s totally my sort of movie, being basically five vignettes of cab rides all starting at the same moment around the (Western) world. Stick with it past Winona Ryder’s overacted LA segment for New York & Helsinki in particular.

* When I was on the east coast, friends made me watch Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. And I laughed. A lot. I feel compelled to admit this to you, the Letterboxed reading audience. Judge me if you must.

* I missed Heavy Metal in Baghdad at the film festival, but that was okay because it just came out on DVD. It tracks Iraq’s only heavy metal band, Acrassicauda. (There’s a heavy metal scene, but holding a band together, as you’ll see in the doc, is nigh on impossible.) It’s about living in Iraq, about being a refugee, about wishing you were home and that home is what it used to be. And it’s about metal. Rock on.

* Grace Is Gone is, so far as I can tell, the first decent movie John Cusack’s been in since High Fidelity. He’s the husband of a soldier killed in Iraq, and the film follows his initial grief as he tries to figure out how to tell their daughters what has happened. It’s a little unavoidably sentimental, but I also bought it enough to tear up a bit, so there you go.

* In preparation for seeing Ann Savage in My Winnipeg next week, I picked up Detour. It was really a terrible transfer, but the movie itself is classic noir — an average Joe getting caught up in a web of troubles to put it lightly — and she’s the ultimate femme fatale, hard and manipulative. Good times!

* While I was at it, I got Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee, which is an essentially silent film. It’s funny and weird (v weird) and includes hockey and a wax museum, which is pretty much win so far as I am concerned. I have to get it out again at a later date so I can watch it with Maddin’s commentary. Delicious!

[Bad Education]

I totally failed at Almodóvar last week, but two of the three I had seen on the big screen before, so I suppose I can forgive myself. Last night I took myself up the hill to catch Bad Education on its last showing, because I hadn’t seen it before and because Gael García Bernal is pretty. I didn’t really know much about the movie itself, and once it started I understood why: it’s twisty and meta and layered and complex, and if you know anything about it you probably know too much.

It is, I think, an atypical Almodóvar film in that it is all about men, but resolutely Almodóvar in color and melodrama and queerness. Bless him for that. Also, Bernal’s performance is just -brilliant-.

(It was particularly nice after the previous day’s Confetti experience to see a film with people who didn’t feel compelled to laugh at gay content. This theater’s only about a 20 minute walk away from the other. Oh, Seattle.)