Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Bank Job


Slow start - lots of T&A - was wondering if this was going to be the "strength" of the story, but once it got going, it got going with style and cleverness. The intensity builds slowly, like a well-choreographed tango!

The twists and turns got my attention - a good story well-told; great acting, especially by the lesser characters.

Based upon true events, the film reveals the human drama - always a mixed bag of good and evil, yet making clear that evil exists at both the bottom (the pornographer) and the top (British officials), and woven into the dark fabric, bits and pieces of decency (the British agent seeking to protect a member of the British royalty and the good cop). The interplay here between good and evil, and all of their permutations is philosophically sophisticated.

Intense without going over the top, clever without too many convolutions, a clever fairy-tale ending without sentiment.

Music, I loved it ... high energy.

Cinematography - very good - music: excellent.

I went into the theater looking to waste some time, but came away with a film much better than anticipated.

Is it a guy's movie?

Could be, but raw action and car chases are at a minimum. As noted earlier, a little heavy on the T&A in an extended night-club scene.

Chick Flic, maybe, what with it's unique portrait of a family (the lead robber is married) and the loyalty of love, even when tempted, tested and tried, able to withstand disappointment and failure, with "love covering a multitude of sins."

I think Jason Statham is terrific ... his character took time to develop. At first, just a small-time crook trying to go straight, but as the store unfolds, it becomes obvious that he's no one's dupe and not to be trifled with.

Saffron Burrows was good, but neither slinky enough to throw off the sexual heat called for in the story, nor innocent enough (being forced into this bank heist as a way to beat a drug smuggling charge) to generate sympathy. Perhaps a Mini Driver type would have been more provocative on both counts.

A film worth seeing? Absolutely!

10,000 BC

Story? Hmmm. A little of this and a little of that. With some powerful elements - love is loyal no matter what. Love never gives up in its quest for the beloved! Also elements of father/son quest.

The "ruler" reminded me the Star Wars' emperor; the "Egyptian" type world reminded me of "Star Gate."

Acting? Sorta okay. Nothing stunning, too often lacking personal intensity. Though the bad guys are pretty bad, played with some subtlety, especially by Affif Ben Badra.

Special effects? Good, but rarely spectacular. The "spear tooth" tiger is great; so are the Wooly Mammoths. The "red birds" caught my eye - clever imagery.

Music, cinematography? Good.

Put it all together, a film I enjoyed, but wouldn't likely see again.

Worth seeing?


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Babette's Feast - 1987

A remarkable film adaptation of the Izak Dinesen story - about a French refugee from Paris, the late 1800s, who seeks refuge in Denmark in the employ of two sisters who head a religious community which their father founded years earlier.

Babette works for free, serving the meager food of fish soup and ale bread, grateful for a roof over her head and the love of the sisters.

Her only link, she says, is a friend in Paris who annually renews a lottery ticket for her.

After fourteen years of her new life in Denmark, a letter arrives from Paris. It seems that Babette's won the lottery, 10,000 francs.

She asks the sisters a favor - to prepare the meal for the 100th anniversary of their father's birth - a French dinner, she says. The sisters are skeptical, for such "worldly" things are not a part of their life, yet they agree out of regard for Babette.

Babette orders the food from Paris - everything from quail and turtle to wine and champagne, and everything in between. When the magnitude of Babette's feast becomes apparent, the sisters gather the small community and apologize for what they feel to be a transgression of their values, yet all agree, for the sake of Babette, to eat the meal, but to do so without comment about either food or drink.

As it would happen, the son of a community member, now a general of renown, and once a suitor of one of the sisters, is in town and asks to be invited to the dinner. Of course, and he comes that evening dressed in military finery.

The feast is served ... on a table set with fine china, goblets and glasses of every size and shape, and silverware on fine linen. Course after course. The general is amazed and speaks of one such meal at a famous Paris restaurant where the head chef was a woman.

The community refrains from conversation about the meal, but a pleasant expression comes over all of their faces, and soon a powerful but subtle transformation occurs.

The General stands to make a speech and utters one of the great lines of literature and faith:

"We have all of us been told that grace is to be found in the universe. But in our human foolishness and short-sightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite. For this reason we tremble .... We tremble before making our choice in life, and after having made it again tremble in fear of having chosen wrong. But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty."

The feast is a delight for the eyes, and for those who love to cook, a celebration.

Babette is the Lamb whose sacrifice brings the presence of love.

The table comes the Table of the Lord; the feast the Lord's Supper - and all is made new.

At the end, the sisters know that Babette will return to Paris, but when the meal is finished and the guests on their way home, Babette says: There is no one in Paris for me; they're all dead. I will stay here."

"But you have money now," says the sisters.

"No. I spent it all for the feast."

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Shenandoah - 1965

Starring Jimmy Stewart and a bevy of other fine actors, this Civil War era film is a dramatic portrait of a strong family seeking to survive as the war "that's no concern to them" draws to a close.

Beautifully filmed, Netflix describes it as a "four-hankie weeper and one of the best melodramas to come out of Hollywood during the 1960s."

Their description is a little "melodramatic" - it's a powerful film with powerful acting - the music is likely what gives the feel of melodrama - if this were being done today, the music would clearly be moodier and the color not so musical-like bright.

The film reminds me of "Legends of the Fall" and "A River Runs Through It."

Jimmy Stewart is a tough man, widowed 16 years earlier when Martha dies in childbirth. He's not a religious man, but takes the family to church and offers prayer before the meal because Martha made him promise.

His prayer is a celebration of self-reliance:

LORD, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it and harvested, we cooked the harvest, it wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all our selves. We worked dog-boned hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, LORD, for this food we’re about to eat. Amen.”

At the end, having lost two sons and a daughter-in-law, and possibly his youngest, he prays much the same prayer at a meal … but can’t finish it. He leaves the table and goes to the graveyard where his children and wife are buried. While "talking" to Martha, wishing he knew what she was thinking … the church bell rings, and he looks away and says, “You never give up, do you?” Sunday morning, he rings a bell and gathers the family … "thought you’d get away with it … get my carriage," and they all go to church, walking in late as usual. During the service, the youngest boy walks in, having escaped from a Union prison encampment; Charlie gets to his feet to greet and hug the boy; they return to their pew … the pastor invites the congregation to stand and they sing the Doxology, and Charlie Anderson joins in.

I'm utterly blown away by Jimmy Stewart - his fatherly inquiry as to why a young man (Doug McClure) seeks his daughter's hand is nothing less than brilliant - hats off to the writer, and to Stewart for delivering these lines as only a father/husband could. He makes a brilliant distinction between love and like - like is what leads to love; but love without like is deadly.

A bit later, Stewart gives fatherly advice to the young man soon to marry his daughter about the mysteries of a woman; the scene shifts to the bedroom where the bride-to-be is receiving counsel about the mysteries of men from her sister-in-law.

This is a film worth seeing multiple times: the script is powerful, Stewart and everyone else is fully engaged in the story, and for a film that celebrates human endurance in the face of adversity, this is a winner.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Vantage Point

Gripping. Chilling.

An entertaining style - rewinding the story multiple times, starting again from a different perspective, at 3 second after 12 noon, tying it all together in the end. I wondered how many more times they would rewind. But a mostly satisfying method.

I loved it and was thoroughly entertained.

Dennis Quaid skillfully portrays a secret service agent who once took a bullet for the president, and now, back on line, to speak, is doubted by some of his colleagues if he's got what it takes. He's not too sure, either.

The bad guys aren't so bad, just determined, and that's an intelligent and honest way of portraying reality - we like to demonize the enemy, paint them in ugly pictures, and in so doing, over-react, or react as they would have us, playing into their game, as the President suggests when tempted by aids to unleash a little firepower. "We're better than that," he says. Oh to have a President like that!

A varied cast with lots of twist and turns to the plot.

Forrest Whitacker is superb, but then he always is, playing an American tourist taking a break from family troubles, in the right place at the right time.

Great car chases and crashes ... filming that magnifies the intensity of the story. I don't recall the music; I presume there was some. I think that's a good thing for this kind of story.

A hint of politics here and there - a president who wants to build bridges rather than burn them - imagine that?

A top-rated entertainment. See it and have fun! Lots of fireworks!