Friday, July 16, 2010

Penny Thoughts: July 9-15

Pirate Radio (2009) **
Director/Writer: Richard Curtis
Starring: Tom Sturridge, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Chris O’Dowd, Rhys Darby, Tom Brooke, Will Adamsdale, Ralph Brown, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Davenport, Emma Thompson

I read a blog last week that talked about how movies that are a big party on the set for the cast never end up being good movies. From the looks of “Pirate Radio”, this cast had a blast on set. It looks like they’re having a great time. I’m not sure if anyone was in charge of the script though. Perhaps they were caught up in the free spirited atmosphere that this ‘60s based British comedy takes place in. Perhaps the director just couldn’t be heard over all the partying.

Rolling Stones: Stones in Exile (2010) ***
Director: Stephen Kijak
Starring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Anita Pallenberg, Marshall Chess, Dominique Tarle

Last week, I watched a documentary about The Doors that I found sadly disappointing. “Rolling Stones: Stone In Exile” is like an answer to my despair over the disappointment of last week’s rockumentary. Everything that The Doors movie lacked this one has. The Door doc just felt like a list of events in the band’s career. “Stones in Exile” doesn’t simply state that the Stones weren’t making enough money to pay their taxes, so they decided to move to France and record an album in their basement. No, instead it shows us the experience they had recording their album “Exile on Main St.” through super-8 footage and off screen interviews of the people who were there in the house as they wrote and recorded the album. An eight month long party is described and with years of retrospection behind them, the participants recognize the chaos of what was going on at the time and the miracle that one of the band’s best albums came out of it all.

The Gleaners & I (2000) ****
Director/Writer: Agnès Varda
Starring: Agnès Varda, Bodan Litnanski, François Wertheimer

I don’t know if Roger Ebert ever selected this film to be screened at his film festival, but if not, it should go on next year’s lineup. This is the perfect film for the Roger Ebert Film Festival. It’s so good and so unexpected and so rare in the way films are generally made. Agnès Varda is such a treat. How wonderful that she injects herself as such a prominent feature in her own film. This is a documentary to be treasured as it treasures its subject. I love the sequence where Varda uses her hand in front of the camera lens to “capture” each truck she passes on the highway. Who on this planet that was ever bored on a car trip hasn’t done this? And for those of you who don’t know what gleaning is, this film explains it.

The Wolfman (2010) **
Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self, Curt Siodmak (1941 motion picture screenplay)
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Geraldine Chaplin, Art Malik

If the new version of the classic horror film “The Wolfman” proves anything, it’s that the classic approach no longer works. Audiences are more sophisticated today, and although the themes of the classic Universal monsters are stronger than those of most modern horror films, the notion of watching two men fight each other while wearing werewolf make-up is just a little too goofy to pull off. The film teeters between success and failure throughout its running time. Perhaps this is because director Joe Johnston fills the screen with the shock and gore that modern audiences have become used to, and he dials back on the human duality themes of the story a bit. But ultimately it is the goofy nature of the werewolves themselves running around looking as much like men as wolves and always wearing their torn clothes from their transformations that makes this movie look a little too silly.

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