Monday, April 06, 2015


No cats marching through!

You might never have heard of these films, depending on whether you follow the popularity contests and awards.  I like Indies and foreign films.  Netflix is a machine fed criteria based on young urban males who like violence and bare naked sex and trends.  Their idea of family movies is cartoons with silly songs.  Barf.

I like BBC drama but BBC comedy makes me break out in hives.  It’s the gross slapstick or maybe it’s the nasty arrogance.  I don’t like politics, war or crime -- UNLESS there’s content a person can think about.  There are certain actors who cause me to leave suddenly and others who will make me stay up late.  They are generally the opposite of what the general public (meaning adolescent girls) thinks is swoony.  I started to keep a record of what I watched because I kept forgetting until I’d re-watched about ten minutes.  But then I forgot to maintain the list.

I watch a LOT but not until after supper.  I do follow the PBS online movies but don’t always like them that much.   I couldn’t tell you why I don’t like “Call the Midwife” because I’ve never watched it long enough to figure it out. I was puzzled that I liked “Grantchester” more than others did, but then the hero was clergy, right?  But not particularly conventional.  I DID like the dog.  “Downton Abbey” has jumped the shark.  And milked the product spinoffs dry.

Charles Dance "then"

I like the long series that a person can marathon-watch, as though reading an epic novel.  In fact, at the moment I’m watching “The Jewel in the Crown” for maybe the fourth time.  And, yes, I DID read the book.  I watched “Bloodline” but mostly because I’m a big Sam Shepard fan.  “Game of Thrones” has turned out to be such a cultural “text” with so many useful and historically valid references that I’d be a fool not to watch it.  On the other hand, “House of Cards” I watch mostly for the elegance, which is usually missing in real-life politics, partly because maintaining women at that level takes hours a day.  One of the most effective and memorable female politicians in my Portland experience was Mildred Schwab: ugly, overweight, dubiously dressed, and very very shrewd -- something like Golda Meir.

Some films that cut through the confusion:

Sparrows  (No worries -- she's not dead.)

Almost every big wide building like a hangar or a Walmart has a population of sparrows, the mice of the sky.  In this film, someone has edited enough footage of their doings to create a story in which a girl, a room cleaner, turns into a bird.  Elegantly and poetically done, the little bird interacts with a corporation man who has “flown the coop.”  An international rainmaker, he has simply had enough.  A third figure is a young Asian man who uses his room as an art studio where he feeds the vulnerable sparrow, and beautifully captures her soft feathers will his brush.  The film skillfully mixes the predicaments of freedom mixed with living on the margins and leavings of others.

Hugh Laurie and Xzannajah Matsi

New Guinea is a gripping place where indigenous communities are swept by wars that have nothing to do with them.  This film tells the story of an English man who has taken refuge on a small island there, hiding out from his basic incompetence but tenderly sheltering his wife.  When most of the men have been removed, a strong woman leader takes over and assumes that as a Westerner, this man can be a replacement school teacher.  Desperately grasping for a curriculum, he hits upon the idea of reading the children “Great Expectations,” which gains him the nickname of “Mr. Pip.”  The next wave of soldiers that comes through gets the idea that Mr. Pip is a spy and demands that he be produced.  Then things turn shocking.  Mostly the story is told by an adolescent girl who does indeed have “Great Expectations” but at enormous cost.  Remarkably, the part of Mr. Pip is played by Hugh Laurie which would seem a bad casting idea since he’s normally a kind of off-the-wall comedian, but he and Xzannajah Matsi (the girl) are so strong that they keep the viewer from being entirely grossed out by developments.

Photography in violence.

Juliette Binoche has been a favorite of mine since early times, but Coster-Waldau has emerged as an actor very recently as the incestuous warrior in “Game of Thrones.”  In this film, which often reminded me of “The Constant Gardener,” because of the pattern of a husband who tends a vigorous and socially committed wife -- in this case a photographer.  The twist is that the oldest daughter of the couple wants to be just like her mother, who is usually absent on a job, but doesn’t quite realize what that means.  She finds out.  There are also echoes of the film version of “The English Patient”  but only because Binoche is a heroine in both.

So I see that I’ve pointed out three movies about women, esp. if you count the adolescent girls.  I guess that compensates for all the war movies like “Korengal” and “Restrepo”, reality-based films about embattled young men in Afghanistan full of determination and sorrow, living miserable lives for dubious reasons, but always against the background of another of those cultures of marginality, barely scraping out existence with great pride.  In the end, all these movies are demands for justice in an inscrutable world.

I suppose the linked series, “Morse” and “Lewis” plus “Endeavor” which is a prequel to "Morse", are about that same issue.  But I have to admit that I’m a sucker for the setting, Oxford.  In real life I settled for the U of Chicago as “close-enough,” the same as I settled for Blackfeet to be my exotic marginal realm where the people hang on in a mixture of ancient ways and modern ingenuity.  The wars wash over them, too, not directly but in terms of volunteers and veterans.  It’s a way “out” and not everyonel returns, but those who do and manage to re-adjust do great service -- not always without paying a price.  My life, like theirs, has been marked by extremes which often evoked social consciousness.

Just off Malibu

“ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY” was a strange contrast: a minor actress who never quite makes it, but lives in a Malibu apartment overlooking and verging on the Pacific where she merges with dawn on a standing paddle board.  She’s doomed, as is her barely viable life, and so is Malibu given the rising sea level, but somehow in a kind of Buddhist way she manages to find her way into the light.  I don’t recommend it and I wouldn’t be able to achieve it, but as a woman-based script, it’s remarkable.  Jane Adams, the actress, co-wrote the script.

“JUST A SIGH” is sort of similar, with the heroine being Emmanuelle Devos (didn’t know her until this film) and the hero played by Gabriel Byrne. (I always follow Irish actors.)  It’s a “conceit.”  That is, a kind of one-off.  A woman at a crossing in her life encounters a man also in a liminal state, and they spend intimate time in a hotel.  Why, what-of-it, are sort of beside the point.  It just happened.  Forget hearts and thumbs and all that.

1 comment:

Whisky Prajer said...

Good morning, Mary. Juliette Binoche has to be one of the most fascinating women working in contemporary cinema (Tilda Swinton would be another). Somehow these women netted themselves one hell of an agent, who's in tune with their personalities and the possibilities they offer. Here's a piece called The Binoche Effect.