Sunday, January 15, 2006

The New Version of the Time Machine

I just watched the new version of The Time Machine, based on the 19th century novel by the brilliant HG Wells. There have been several versions of this movie made throughout the years, including one that I think was called "Time After Time" with Malcolm McDowell that was really wonderful. But most versions take great liberties with the storyline, so much so that you almost don't recognize it.
This new version does take some liberties because of the technological advances of the last several decades, so that when he arrives in the future, it's believable. I thoroughly enjoyed Orlando Jones' character, the librarian database that knows all of the past and the future, and is saddened by what has happened to humankind. Guy Pierce is wonderful as the time-traveling professor, and Jeremy Irons is suitably menacing as the evil overlord of the Morelocks. The Eloi village is gorgeous, and the people look rather like a mix of polynesian and African than anything, which is a fascinating extrapolation on what people will look like thousands of years in the future; mainly, they will revert to what we originally were when civilization began, a brown-skinned people.
I was somewhat disapointed with the movie "Too Much" with Antonio Banderas, if only because it was so blatantly obvious where the movie would end up. Banderas is such a dish, though, its hard not to watch his every movement, especially when he's in seduction mode. Darryl Hannah basically phones in her performance, and Melanie Griffith plays a dumb blonde whose ex-husband Danny Aiello won't let her move on with her life. Joan Cusak plays the inevitable sidekick in a rather broad, almost vaudvillian fashion, and the man who plays Banderas' father, whose name I think is Eli somethingorother, does a fine job of being a forgetful old dude.
I read the first of a series of books written as mysteries starring Beatrix Potter, she of the famed children's books, at the turn of the century in England. The writing style was a bit too intricate and fluffy for me, but it fit well with the style of writing that might have been in vogue decades ago, so I suppose it was appropriate, if boring.
Possession was interesting, if not well cast in terms of Americans (British actors are always wonderful...I have no idea why. They seem to be better trained at the very least).
I thought there wasn't any real chemistry between Paltrow and the male lead, who looked like an underwear model for Calvin Klein. There was plenty of chemistry between the British leads, and I liked the fact that they went back and forth between the eras to find out what happened to the poet and his love.
I have six more movies on hold at the library, so I shall have to post my reviews about those eventually.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Even More Movies

I'm still on an extended movie-viewing junket, and I wanted to record my latest viewings here.
I watched "About A Boy" and wasn't surprised at all that the screenplay author had the main characters mother try to commit suicide and be found in a pool of vomit. I imagine that Peter Hedges found his mother that way more than once. I know that my mother, a nurse fo 43 years, was always rescuing his mother and taking her to the hospital to dry out. Mom also used to rescue Mrs Silverstein down the block, and when Mrs Bolton across the street flipped out (her military husband was a complete jerk and walked out on his family) and started thinking she was psychic and in tune with the planets and whatnot, my mother would go over to their home and make sure her youngest, Krissy, was fed and bathed at least 3 times a week. Mrs Bolton decided to breed dogs at one point and then ran a bunch of puppies over with her car. She then shoved their corpses in the freezer. BRRRR. She neglected her children so shamefully that they lived on raw hot dogs and whatever else they could scrounge from the neighbors. West Des Moines at that time was a wealthy neighborhood, yet I've never lived anywhere where the people were more screwed up as a group. Anyway, Peter was a bit older than me, I think, as he played with my older brother Phil. He's become quite the success story, and I read in an article that his mother finally did kill herself with alcohol.
Anyway, the movie was wonderful in a way that only British movies can be...full of the extremes and eccentricities that make them wonderful fun to watch. I am not a fan of Hugh Grant, but the man can certainly act, and the young boy playing opposite him was, as they say, "Champion!"
I also happened to see a delightful movie called "Songcatcher." It stars the formidable Janet McTeer and the gorgeous Aidan Quinn. It was heartwarming, fascinating and had me wanting to sing along with all the folk songs. I found it odd, however, that the people making this movie felt compelled to add a lesbian secondary storyline to the movie. That was just wierd, and a bit too modern for turn of the century Appalacia.
I also watched a movie about 1930s Liverpool, England, called "Liam" and was stunned at the depth of the drama and the fine work by the actors. A very moving film about being poverty-striken and how easy it is to fall into fascism or communism when you have nowhere else for your shame and outrage. The title character was played by an endearing little lad with a lisp, who was by turns tender, funny and mischevious. There was no happy ending to the movie, and it doesn't clean up all the ugly questions it unleashes. In other words, its disturbing, but in a good way.
I also saw a French movie called "The Widow of Saint-Pierre" whose title is a play on words. There are many widows in Saint-Pierre, a fishing village, but there is also a condemned murderer, and the method they want to use to kill him is a guillotine, which is called a "widow" in this movie. Juliette Binoche is one of those women who will always look luminous in front of a camera. I think cameras just love some people, and her flawless skin and dark eyes seem to rivet the viewer. She is against the death penalty, and convinces her husband, the local captain of the guard, to her point of view, and the two spend a great deal of time trying to rehabilitate the criminal and show the townsfolk what a great guy he is when not drunken and murderous. I won't spoil the ending but its a tense and sad movie that was still a feast to watch. Binoches husband is played by a French actor I've seen before who is just marvelous to watch. He's so empassioned and alert, he also rivets the eyes of the viewer.
I've finally gotten ahold of the movie "Posession" and will be watching that tonight.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Plethora of Movies

I'm not usually the kind of person who goes on "movie jags" and views many movies in a sitting, but recently I've been checking out movies from the library in batches of 7 or more, and watching them in a few days.
Because I'm getting them from the library most are old releases, but I did get the DVD set of "Firefly" the wonderful Science Fiction TV series for Christmas this year, and I have to say that I savored every moment of each episode. What a fascinating world Joss Wedon has created, and what fully-realized, delightful characters! And Ron Glass, a favorite of mine from his Barney Miller days, was there playing the enigmatic Book, the spiritual guide of the wayward group. My husband and I went to see "Serenity" at a local theater several months ago, and I loved the movie, was riveted by the characters from the first frame. My husband felt the movie was very similar to "Blakes 7" an old British science fiction series that he and I had watched over and over during the 80s. I enjoyed the crew of Serenity and the characters created by Wedon much more than the characters aboard the Liberator in Blakes 7. The episodes that were my favorites were inevitably the ones that never aired. I loved "Hearts of Gold" and "The Message" and the other unaired ep, and I hope that I can buy a copy of "Serenity" when it comes out in DVD to complete my collection.
Here's a list of some of the movies I've watched in the past two weeks:

Patch Adams --Robin Williams is hilarious, and I loved this's a three-hankie chick-flick.
Rough Magic--this movie shows us Russell Crow before he became a jerk who loses his temper and throws things at the drop of a hat. This is the young, luscious Crowe, and a gorgeous Bridgit Fonda in a "magic realism" movie that is filled with odd corners and wierd happenstance. The ending is so strange it's unbelievable. There are some stereotypes of Hispanics in the movie that are rather disgusting, and one character is turned into a sausage and eaten by a dog. He is, fortunately, barfed up and returned to manhood later in the movie. Yeah, it's that strange.
Gosford Park--this movie had a stellar cast, including one of my favorite British actors, Steven Fry, whose talents are completely wasted herein. I wanted to like this movie and its "Upstairs Downstairs" sensibilities, but I just couldn't as the plot was turgid and the characters cardboard.
A Beautiful Mind--again, Russell Crowe before he was a complete jerk, playing a brilliant madman. If you are a fan of the gorgeous Jennifer Connolly, you'll be glad to see her here, playing the loving wife to a man with a fractured mind. I found the movie interesting and the acting excellent, but ultimately I left the film unsatisfied, and I am not certain why. Perhaps because the madness was so frightening.
The 7 Faces of Dr Lao--this movie is just delightful and fun, with Tony Randall doing 7 unforgetable characters and barely keeping above censorship. His "Pan" character, who is a satyr, for example, is rather melancholy until he becomes the male lead and tries to seduce Barbara Eden. Then he's all goat-frisky and lustful glances. But my son watched the movie and enjoyed it as a childrens movie, despite the sly bits.
Lionheart--here we have Eric Stolz in all his ginger-haired youth, looking adorable and clomping about on horseback trying to find King Richard and join the Crusades. He ends up finding many orphaned children in need of protection from "the black prince" and starts a childrens crusade, which ends with the death of the bad ol' black prince, played with sinister intensity by Gabriel Byrne. The ending is somewhat inconclusive, as you never find out what happens to the children or the errant young knight Stolz, but considering that history has recorded that most of the children in the real childrens crusades died or were sold into slavery, I can forgive them for that.
The Golden Bowl--interesting film set at the turn of the last century, and told in a fairly brisk and straightforward manner. Uma Thurman is in this film, highlighting yet again her inability to do anything but chew scenery mercilessly. I have never understood why men find her so alluring...she always seems washed out, bony, haggard and lisping to me. The other actors in the film take up the slack, however, and even Nick Nolte, the old reprobate, does a fairly decent job playing America's first billionare.
The Subject Was Roses--a very young and handsome Martin Sheen shines in his role as the prodigal son coming home from the war to his very unhappy parents. Its obvious from the way this was filmed that it was a successful stage play before they tried filming it, and it comes off as a stage that is being filmed...very claustrophobic. Particia Neal is at her ferocious best here, so it's worth the trip to the library to see the film.
This Happy Feeling--a classic zippy Debbie Reynolds movie that doesn't require much in the way of brains or effort to enjoy. It's got a funny drunken housekeeper, an alluring aging European male lead, and a young and gorgeous John Saxon, who would only become sexier with age. Very enjoyable plot and a great little movie all around.

Now as to the books I've been reading, I finished Sue Monk Kidds "The Mermaid Chair" and fell in love with the plot and the characters, until the total sell-out ending.
The main character is a married woman who undergoes a midlife crisis and must go back to her hometown, a small island in the Carolinas, to care for her nutty mother. While there, she meets a monk with whom she has a lovely affair, and then uncovers the secret that is making her mother crazy. Her husband is an insufferably smug and nasty psychiatrist that she ends up going back to at the end of the book, for no discernable reason. But the majority of the book is quite a delight of oddball characters and interesting happenstance.
I also read Gregory Martins "Mountain City" and was moved to tears by several sparse, yet well-written passages. The book is like a biography of a small dying town in Nevada and the people the author grew up with there. I discovered that I could identify with Martin's collection of oddball characters, as I grew up in several small towns in Iowa, all rife with characters. It was an honest and heartfelt story.
I had a bit more trouble with the popular novel "Bee Season" by Myla Goldberg, but when loaned to my neighbor, who was born into a Jewish family, she explained many of the odd bits I didn't understand. This book is a real study in a disfunctional family and their pushy father who married a woman who turns out to be totally insane.
I also finished a book called "Forbidden Magic" by Cheyene McCray that was a thin fantasy plot woven around a whole lot of soft porn. I generally don't like porn, but I do enjoy SF/Fantasy novels, so I decided to read it all the way through. Heavens! If you are looking for something to raise your blood pressure a bit and make you drool over your spouse, this is the book.
"In Like Flynn" by Rhys Bowen seemed to be a watered-down version of Maisie Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Winspear to me. There was certainly more cheesy romance thrown in than in Winspears excellent novels. You could see the end coming a mile off.
I also just completed Caleb Carr's famed novel, "The Alienist" and though it had some horrific descriptions and frightening moments, it still held my attention long into the night. Obviously Mr Carr knows how to grab a reader and hold them through to the last page. I found one of the main characters dismissal of pediophiles and murderers as people who are just in need of some psychotherapy and understanding to be ridiculous, however, as I believe, as did the reporter in the story, that they deserve nothing less than death.
I'm currently reading "What Love Sees" by Susan Vreeland, as I've read all her other works and enjoyed them tremendously.
I am also planning on watching "About a Boy" tonight, as the screenplay was written by a guy who used to live next door to me in West Des Moines, Iowa, and whose father was a minister and his mother was an alcoholic whom my mother was always rescuing from suicide.