“Jesus lady, help can’t even help us.” — Shea Whigham as Dennis Farrell in Splinter
|Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010, Canada)
I didn’t know until just now, looking at the reviews, that this documentary movie was released in 3D. I watched it at home in 2D (albeit high def) and was blown away. I’m not sure if it’s the cave art itself or the directorial skill of Werner Herzog that makes me feel such a sense of wonder and discovery, but that sense is almost overwhelming. Religious small-brainers want us to believe human history goes back just 6,000 years, but in fact we go way, way back. Herzog shows us recorded history, in the form of realistic cave paintings done by human beings essentially the same as you and me, dating as far back as 32,000 years ago. The paintings in the recently-discovered Chauvet Cave were created over a 5,000 year span, and depict the animals that roamed what is now France: bison, lions, bears, wooly mammoths, and horses … and part of a human female. You simply can’t not be fascinated by the paintings, and the care with which archeologists and anthropologists study and protect them. This is a must-see movie, every bit as exciting as the latest car-chase thriller.
|Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011, USA)
It’s typically Hollywood, by which I mean unreal, nothing like life as we live it … yet Crazy, Stupid, Love is such an endearing movie that you ignore all that and let it sweep you away. Great fun. I only wish men and women could be this good when they’re being bad. In Steve Carell’s world (keep in mind that he produced this movie) we’d all be much happier. One sour note, and I feel bad even bringing it up, but this movie will set up teenaged children of divorcing parents for crushing disappointment.
|Crash (2004, USA)
I watched Crash again tonight for the first time since it came out on DVD in 2005. My original review: “All the smart people put this movie down, but I thought it was brilliant.” My review now? Still brilliant, but I see now how manipulative it is in leading the audience toward the desired “Okay, I see the error in my ways and promise to quit being so racist” response. Also, it’s hella sad. But still brilliant. I give it four stars today, but when it first came out I gave it five … that’s how much it affected me the first time I saw it.
|The Trip (2010, UK)
What initially appears to be a “mockumentary” is so truthful you have to take it seriously … except how can anything this funny be serious? Two British actors, longstanding friends but also to some extent rivals, travel around the stunning countryside of northern England, staying in country hotels and dining at upscale restaurants. Along the way they bond by comparing lives and careers, while entertaining each other with impressions, song, literature, poetry, and philosophy. It’s all done in a straightforward, subtle manner, but I laughed all the way through. The Trip is a road film, a food fest, a travelogue, a bromance, an exploration of midlife angst … wrapped in a comedy. It’s hilarious, fresh, and charming.
|The Help (2011, USA)
The book is on my shelf and I will be reading it soon. I hope it has more meat on its bones than the movie, which gives off a made-for-TV vibe. It is also a chick flick, a Barbiefied look at the civil rights battles of the 1960s, told as a costume drama, with all the ladies dressed to the nines! The characters are either all good or all bad: all good when it comes to the black maids and their white woman liberator; all bad when it comes to the other whites of Jackson, Mississippi. It doesn’t ring true. Not only that, it seemed to me that The Help puts blacks and whites right back into the same stereotyped roles I hoped we’d grown out of. I enjoyed parts of the movie, but overall it was too fluffy to pass muster as a serious effort.
|Midnight in Paris (2011, Spain/USA)
Another outstanding Woody Allen movie, this one a paean to Paris and the human desire to live in better times. Owen Wilson is Woody Allen, and the best moment to me was when Wilson’s character decides to accept that he really has stepped into the Paris of the 1920s — the look on his face is the look of a man who’s decided to jump and trust the firemen five stories below to catch him. I would be very surprised to learn that the real Hemingway talked the way he wrote, but that’s my one and only quibble. I loved the way Allen expanded on his initial, limited time travel concept, stepping further back into the Belle Epoque (and then, jokingly, back into pre-revolutionary France). And Carla Bruni? She was a pleasant surprise. But Allen is full of surprises, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
|Tabloid (2010, USA)
A documentary by Errol Morris (noted for more serious work like The Fog of War), this film recaps the sensationalistic mid-1970s British tabloid exploitation of Joyce McKinney, the “Sex in Chains” lady, an American woman who flew to England to free her boyfriend from the clutches of the Mormons … or maybe to kidnap him against his will. And maybe she had a sordid past and was barking mad besides. I’m a bit ashamed of myself for enjoying this film so much. I needed a shower after watching the two British tabloid reporters recall their fascination with this story, smirking every time they mention sex … they were the very embodiment of the smarmy and prurient tabloid ethos. Sadly, I feel Errol Morris’ documentary exploits poor crazy Joyce McKinney all over again, and he leaves some serious questions unanswered (like, where the hell did McKinney get the money to pull off her insane capers?). But I have to say … Tabloid is a hoot.
|Another Earth (2011, USA)
An independent production written by the lead actress and the man who directed the film. I wasn’t sure what I’d get with this box of chocolates … something amateurish and dorky, something polished and professional, something in between? I’m happy to say Another Earth is not only polished and professional, it’s also really really good. You have to be willing to go along with Brit Marling and Mike Cahill’s vision, by which I mean you can’t be a stickler for science fiction consistency. View the second earth as a plot device. The real story’s about redemption, recovery, and rebuilding … so worrying about whether the looming earth overhead would or would not create killer tides is rather beside the point. My favorite scene? John and Rhoda beginning to come out of their shells while playing with a Wii (you’ll see what I mean if you watch it, which you should). The last scene will make you wonder … but in a good way. I LOVE THIS MOVIE!
|Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993, USA)
Manhattan Murder Mystery harkens back to what many would call the young Woody Allen. This film is more of a lark than the later Allen films, the ones that address more serious and adult themes. This one is very much in the spirit of those 1930s films featuring cosmopolitan, smart-talking couples, and probably would have been even more fun if Allen had filmed it in black and white. All the actors here were perfect for their roles, but when the characters of Allen, Keaton, and Alda all start talking at once, critical mass is quickly achieved … fortunately, whenever that happens, Allen (in his role as writer and director) throws in a new development to break things up … and some of the plot developments are both surprising and scary. It’s a fun film; I’m glad I watched it. Ultimately, though, I like the “adult” Allen films more.
|Splinter (2008, USA)
During the opening moments, I feared this was going to be a horror film about a rabid porcupine. But it quickly got better, and despite a couple of small inconsistencies, turned out to be a competent little scary movie. Not bad at all, if that’s what you’re in the mood for … and I was.
© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.