Monday, September 1, 2014

Four Movies in Four Days

I suddenly had the leisure of a four-day weekend with no big commitments, so I decided to catch up on my movie-watching before the next meeting of my film group, The Cinephiles.  I went binge movie-watching.  I am posting this as a travel report because, unlike watching tv series, such as House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, I had to leave home and go to a theater and I couldn't push the pause button!   Oh, the trials of real movies.....but, of course, there are rewards!  No pictures here, but you can always google the trailers.

On Friday I saw Love is Strange.  It is a memorable movie, sweet and yet very sad.  For those who don't know, it begins with a wedding of two gay guys (played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molino) who have been together almost 40 years.  The movie is compelling because it is about a long-term relationship, but not really about sexual preference.  The wedding is joyous, as it should be, but the gay element comes in because Molino's character is fired from his job as a music teacher at a Catholic School.  The scene of the firing is very restrained and factual.  However, that leads to loss of their apartment and they end up temporarily living (with great difficulty) in two separate households while they look for an affordable apartment in New York City.  This movie is hard to watch because it is so sad.  It is very real, though, and the acting was excellent. I read an interview in which Molina credited Director Ira Sachs for letting them just play the roles naturally.  It is very understated.  There are a couple of times when things slow down and seem to drag, but then I realized what was happening was in what would have been real time.  The sound track is perfect....mostly Chopin, and nicely paced, too.  Good movie!

Saturday's movie was Magic in the Moonlight.  Yes, it is a Woody Allen movie, and I usually don't like those much---except for Midnight in Paris.  The plot involves a magician (played by Colin Firth) who is trying to show that a young woman clairvoyant (played by Emma Stone) is a fraud. Predictably, a romance develops.  The Colin Firth character is so boorish, negative and self-centered that I didn't find him credible.   I think we are supposed to find the conflict between the physical and metaphysical to be a central theme, and thought-provoking.  I found it over-worked, and the romance is simply not believable.   However, our young woman was also being vigorously pursued by a ukelele-playing rich kid who could only be described as a joke.  She chooses the Firth character.  These couldn't have been her only choices.   Firth did get in some good lines, and that was amusing.  He dominated the film, though, which I guess is also predictable.  Most of the action takes place in the South of France in between World War I and World War II and the cinematography is are the costumes and interiors.  However, I didn't like this movie very much, and the then, as I was leaving, I heard someone describe it as "cute."  Not cute to me, but cute would not have been what I was looking for anyway.

Get on Up! was my choice for Sunday.  I think this movie, about James Brown, was played pretty straight by lead actor Chadwick Boseman.  Brown had a very difficult childhood and the way out was through his music. The man who got him out of jail and into music was at his side almost all his adult life was Bobbie Byrd (played by Nelsan Ellis).  Byrd recognized Brown's genius.  That genius is demonstrated in the movie, especially in a scene where he instructs his back-up band how to use all the instruments (horns and string, for example) to support the rhythm.  The film seems at times to be hard to follow but it is divided into segments that are beautifully labeled.   I have to admit I don't remember those labels, but they dealt with different times in his life.  It was initially confusing because those segments included flashbacks.  James Brown came to be the "Hardest-Working Man in the Business" and the "Godfather of Soul," but this movie is clear in showing that he "took down" some people along the way.  He was egotistical, greedy, insensitive and abusive to women--even the women he loved.  It is an intense, but I think true, picture of who James Brown was.  I think that is what a biopic is supposed to be.

Today I saw The Hundred Foot Journey.   It is a "foodie" movie, but also a good story.  I think the critics panned it, but it is worth going just to see Helen Mirren.  She plays Madame Mallory, an established French restaurant-owner with a one-star Michelin rating.  Her goal is to get two stars. A family from Mombai buys a restaurant across the street from her and opens to serve Indian food.   "War" ensues between her and the father of the Indian family, played by Om Puri.  She is absolutely determined to get the new restaurant shut down.  Hasam Kadam (played by Manish Dayal), the son of the Indian father, is a gifted cook.  He had been taught by his mother, who died in a fire in a restaurant the family owned in India.  He is good at what he knows, and he wants to learn how to cook French cuisine.  He has coaching "on the sly" from Madame's sous-chef and eventually a romance between them will evolve.  A truce in the restaurant war is reached in which Madame Mallory admits that Hasam Kadam has a gift in the kitchen and hires him to work for her.  She furthers his training, and she also gets her two stars.  There is what I consider a charming relationship that develops between Madame and the Indian father, and so I enjoyed it.  Maybe, as a former mediator, I really liked the way the conflict moved from hatred to friendship.