Saturday, January 2, 2010

#13 through #22: The 40s, 1940 through 1949

From October through now, I watched the next ten Academy Award Best Picture films, but haven't yet blogged about any of them, so I guess it's time for a round-up on whatever thoughts I had (and can now still remember) on each of them.

#13: Rebecca (1940)

Winner Best Picture, 1940
Watched on: 10/3/2009

Erika and I sat down for a mini-marathon back in October, and Rebecca was first on the agenda. Shockingly, this film was not available on DVD, at least not via Netflix, and if I remember correctly, I couldn't find it on DVD elsewhere either, so I bought it on VHS. So that's completely baffling -- how is it that one of the great Alfred Hitchcock films isn't on DVD? Fairly ridiculous, if you ask me. I'd seen Rebecca before, and I'd also read the original book by Daphne du Maurier a couple times in the past, so I knew that I would enjoy watching it again. It's definitely one of my favorite old movies, and it's such a pleasure when a movie I already love won for Best Picture, because then I get to watch it again as a part of this project. For entirely pleasurable Gothic mystery and suspense, Rebecca can't be beat. I could watch this one again and again. It looks like you can catch it on TCM coming up in early February, and I'd highly recommend doing so, if you've never seen it before - or even if you have.

#14: How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Winner Best Picture, 1941
Watched on: 10/3/2009

Hollywood seemed to really love a sentimental epic in these days, and How Green Was My Valley is certainly that. This is another film that I almost certainly would never have picked up on my own if I hadn't been doing this project, but in the end, I think I'm glad to have seen it. The tale of a family facing the gradual disintegration of life in a Welsh coal-mining town doesn't seem very new to us nowadays, but I suppose it was a fresher story when this came out, and at any rate, exploring the human ramifications of such a decline is a story that people want to hear again and again. I suppose you could easily modernize this tale and transport it from the Welsh hills to the crumbling American car industry on the current streets of Detroit, and it could likely play again with some success. How Green Was My Valley was a decent film overall, but its Best Picture win is historically significant primarily due to the fact that it beat out Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon. Certainly, in hindsight, its win probably wasn't entirely deserved, but I guess that's what makes this project so interesting from a sociological standpoint as well -- Academy Award wins are subject to their times, the political moods, reactions to past ceremonies, the sentiments and emotions of their days. On the heels of the Great Depression and the brink of another World War, when World War I was supposed to have been the War to End All Wars, it's is easy to see why a nostalgic film yearning for the earlier, better days of family, hearth, and home might have taken the prize.

#15: Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Winner Best Picture, 1942
Watched on: 10/3/2009

I did not find Mrs. Miniver particularly memorable. In fact, when I first thought of sitting down to write about it after a three month lag time, I had to look it up to jog my memory on the plot. I wouldn't say that Mrs. Miniver is a terrible movie by any means, it just didn't really stick with me all that much. It's the story of a British family in World War II, and it could probably best be described as propaganda. I think that during World War II, in particular, a number of the Best Picture wins had as much to do with what was going on in the world and the films' places in that context as they did with the quality of the films themselves. Honoring this film was definitely something akin to buying bonds, or starting a victory garden, or turning in one's jewelry to be melted down for the war effort. Again, it's not a bad film by any means, but it just didn't stick in my mind as a great film by any means either. I did like Greer Garson in it, but I think she's just generally a pretty good actress. I'd be interested to hear what Erika remembers or says about it -- it's the last of our mini-marathon films. Perhaps she'll read this and comment. You can catch it on TCM on February 26th and see what you think for yourself.

#16: Casablanca (1943)

Winner Best Picture, 1943
Watched on: 12/27/2009

Well, Mrs. Miniver may not have been all that memorable to me, but Casablanca is one of my most memorable films of all time for the same reason it winds up being on most people's most memorable movies of all time lists -- it is a truly great film. Yes, it too is a product of its times, it too is a movie about World War II and taking a stand for what is right, but it does it all without being propaganda. Incredible writing, fantastic acting, an interesting and unique plot, and great lines, ones you know even if you've never seen the film and you don't know how or why, they've just worked themselves into our collective consciousness -- "Here's looking at you, kid" and "Play it again, Sam" and "We'll always have Paris" and....well, do I need to go on? If you've never seen Casablanca, you need to stop what you're doing, procure a copy, and watch it immediately. And if you have (which I assume is most everyone?), see it again, such a pleasure to revisit. You can also catch it on TCM on February 14th (very fitting) and March 8th.

#17: Going My Way (1944)

Winner Best Picture, 1944
Watched on: 12/28/2009

It seems fairly well-accepted that Going My Way won the Best Picture award in 1944 because the war-weary nation needed its sentimental and uplifting tale, not to mention the beautiful croonings of Bing Crosby. And I'll tell you what, they were on to something there, at least. What a voice - I could listen to that man sing all day. It's a film people would use words like "heartwarming" to describe, for which other, more cynical people might substitute words like "sappy" -- and they'd both be right. I didn't care, I just went along with it, and when the predictable, heartwarming, sappy, sentimental ending came along, I cried during it just like I was supposed to. Well, why not? Everyone could use a movie like this now and again, and when it's reasonably well-done like Going My Way was, with Bing Crosby numbers on top of that, why not just sit back, take off the critical hat, and just feel good like you're supposed to? Because, heck, we'd all like to swing on a star and carry moonbeams home in a jar too, right?

#18: The Lost Weekend (1945)

Winner Best Picture, 1945
Watched on: 12/29/2009 and 12/31/2009 in two sessions

The contrast of watching Going My Way and The Lost Weekend back-to-back comes as a shock to the system strong enough not to rival but perhaps to prepare you for some of the ones the main character of The Lost Weekend experiences as he spends a long weekend in an out-of-control, alcoholic downward spiral. This was the first film to deal with the subject of alcohol addiction as an illness, and the effects of that illness on those who suffer it and the people in their lives. There's nothing entertaining or uplifting about this film, though the ending does bring hope, though it's a bit of one of those too-easy Hollywood endings, so you just hope it can be true - it would have been more uplifting had it been more realistic. It was certainly an important film, probably one that had to be made and seen in order to shine a light on a social problem that was very little understood at the time. It's worth seeing, knowing that it tackled a taboo subject, and that the alcohol industry actually tried to buy the negatives and prevent its release (though of course it subsequently applauded its success -- a bit of an early precursor to the "Please Drink Responsibly" disclaimers the alcohol industry uses nowadays?)

#19: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Winner Best Picture, 1946
Watched on: 12/31/2009

I liked The Best Years of Our Lives very much. A movie about the struggles and difficulties of three very different men who return to the same hometown at the same time after World War II, I found it to be very straightforward, realistic, and human. No hint of propaganda, no glossing over the difficulties, just a reasonably honest portrayal of the different problems each man (and the people in their lives) faced as they tried to adjust themselves to lives that could never be the same. Each of their stories, along with the ways in which they intertwined, were poignant without being sappy. It follows the bank executive who likes to drink a little too much after his return, and who can't be as ruthless in denying loans to the honest GIs who served with him as his employers would like him to be. The Air Force captain who was a soda jerk before the war finds himself unqualified for anything else afterwards, despite the large salary and respect he earned in wartime -- and stuck with a wife he knew for only 20 days, who'd never seen him out of uniform, and with whom it becomes increasingly obvious that he has nothing in common. And finally, you see the most painful adjustment of the young navy seaman, a former high school athlete, engaged to the faithful girl-next-door, who must find his way after losing both of his hands to an explosion, using two hooks instead. It seems to me that, nowadays, looking back, a lot of people want to believe that WWII veterans came home and just "got on with their lives" - and certainly, they did have to get on with their lives, but I liked the fact that this film portrayed much more nuance than that, and it wasn't so simple. Looks like you can catch The Best Years of Our Lives on TCM on February 2nd.

#20: Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

Winner Best Picture, 1947
Watched on: 1/1/2010

For me, Gentleman's Agreement had a few things going for it right off the bat. For one thing, it's main character was played by Gregory Peck who is (little-known fact) my Old Movie Boyfriend. Man, I love that guy. You can keep your Clark Gables and Cary Grants -- I'll take some Gregory Peck over them any day! Secondly, I love any movie (or play or book or song or piece of art) that fights injustice and intolerance. And so what an important movie! It's been noted that there were a lot of socially conscious themes in the post-war years, and of course this is no exception. But more than some of its predecessors, this was an incredibly brave film, one that a lot of people didn't want to see made. A lot of Americans wanted to believe that anti-Semitism was not, could not be, an American problem. After all, Americans fought Hitler, Americans shut down the extermination and concentration camps and freed the Jews in Europe. The film does hit you over the head with its message a bit, but I still love that it ripped the band-aid off and said, "examine yourselves." It is also very interesting within the context of the McCarthy Hearings on Communism in Hollywood in years to come -- the director, Elia Kazan, very famously and controversially named eight people in Hollywood as members of the Communist party; actress Anne Revere refused to testify and was blacklisted for nearly 20 years; and actor John Garfield died of a heart attack, allegedly from the stress of the proceedings, to name a few. It would seem that either being Jewish or being involved in projects that called attention to anti-Semitism made it much easier for one to be labeled as a Communist. My main beef with Gentleman's Agreement was that I didn't really buy the romance. It seemed absurd that two people would become so close (and in fact become engaged) within about sixty seconds of meeting each other, particularly since there was a child involved (the main charatcter was a widower). Of course, their relationship introduced interesting difficulties and twists as the reporter (who is posing as a Jewish man writing an article on anti-Semitism for a couple months) is faced with some of his fiancee's prejudices, or rather crimes of omission, of being a "nice" person who doesn't like anti-Semitism but quietly tolerates it (which is, of course, the gentleman's agreement). That was all fine, but the pat ending in which she sees the error of her ways and reforms lickety-split and they plan to live happily ever after just didn't ring true to me -- I would have much preferred him to realize that the straightforward female friend, with whom he has much in common, and who shares his staunch idealism and refusal to tolerate prejudice, was the gal for him. Ah well, perhaps that's for a different movie about sexism?

#21: Hamlet (1948)

Winner Best Picture, 1948
Watched on: 1/1/2010

I didn't really have great expectations for Hamlet (ha, see what I did there? A Dickens reference in a Shakespeare review -- I slay me!) I've tended to have mixed feelings about film adaptations of Shakespeare plays in general. I like them best on the stage, where I think they really belong, and for me, the film versions that are most successful are those that retain certain play-like qualities. (I loved the Leonardo DiCaprio/Claire Dains Romeo and Juliet precisely because it managed to capture an intangible sense of stage, an other-worldly vibe, representing life in some alternate universe, not realistic life -- but I digress.) I kind of feel like this movie won the Academy Award because the Academy sort of scratched its head and said, "Well, it's Shakespeare, I guess we'd better give it the award?" It did maintain a simple set, and retain a lot of qualities of the stage, which I certainly appreciated, and it's never a bad thing to hear the great words of Shakespeare's Hamlet again (another case of so many lines that have wormed themselves into everyday lingo -- also, if you're familiar with Hamlet, feel free to enjoy my gratuitous "worm" reference here). I did think Olivier was a little old to realistically play Hamlet (but what's new, that happens all the time, sheesh, think of Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility!), and some things were a bit overdone (Ophelia's madness springs to mind). All-in-all, it's an okay adaptation of Hamlet, I just wasn't particularly thrilled. Though I did get a pretty good chuckle at the codpieces in the big sword-fighting scene with Laertes, but I suppose that's because I'm a little juvenile.

#22: All the King's Men (1949)

Winner Best Picture, 1949
Watched on: 1/2/2010

Here's another film I almost certainly wouldn't have selected if left to my own devices, though it is an interesting political drama about a Louisiana politician who starts out as an naive "hick" (as he refers to himself) seeking honesty and justice, and then rises to power and the governorship of Louisiana through increasingly unscrupulous means, with corruption, browbeating, cover-ups, and possibly even murder on his hands along the way. I guess that All the King's Men is based loosely on the real-life story of Louisiana governor and then Senator Huey Pierce Long. It's a little weird, I guess, but even though I watched All the King's Men only today, I don't really have all that much I can think of to say about it. I guess you could watch it on February 19th or March 14th on TCM and form your own opinions. The only thing I take away from a film like this is my own possibly naive hope that there isn't this much corruption and dishonesty in all of politics. Well, that, and I'm interested in watching the 2006 Sean Penn film, I think it would be interesting to contrast the two.

WHEW. Well, that's it! A decade of Best Picture films! Perhaps next time I shouldn't wait so long to write about them all, as this has taken me a few hours to put together. But at least I've picked up some steam in my viewing -- perhaps it won't take me the rest of my life to get through all these films!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

#12: Gone With The Wind (1939)

Gone With the Wind 1

Winner Best Picture at the 1939 Academy Awards

After a very long hiatus, I'm finally returning to watching Academy Award Best Picture winners. Gone With The Wind has been on deck for a very long time, partly because it has been difficult to find the time to fit a four-hour film into my schedule. (Here is my husband's complete review of the film after we watched it last night: "That was a long-ass movie. What a comedy of errors!")

Gosh, what can I say about Gone With The Wind that hasn't already been said before? It's such an enduringly popular film, and yet, for me, it's also such a problematic film. Here's a film that in some ways really glorifies the Old South and slavery, right from the very beginning, referring to it as a land of knights and their ladies fair, and yet at the same time, even within the film, it's not so simple, and even more confusingly, the whole movie really struck a blow for equal rights when Hattie McDaniel became not only the first African American to receive an Academy Award, with her win for Best Supporting Actress, but also became the first African American to EVER TO ATTEND THE AWARD CEREMONY AS A GUEST, for crying out loud. So I would definitely class it as problematic.

And maybe problematic is the point. Life is, after all, often problematic and conflicting, just like Scarlet O'Hara - a spoiled, petulant brat who also happens to be unbelievably stronger and more independent than she realizes. I think I would have to say that my favorite element of the movie is the relationship between Scarlet and Melanie - I love the way that Scarlet views Melanie as a rival and an obstacle to her affections for the tedious, whiny, spineless Ashley (seriously, what does she see in that guy? What do either of them see?), but in the end, the person whom she really loves and who loves her is Melanie. Melanie has her back, time and again, whether she likes it or not. There's a definite undercurrent of female solidarity that is very nice, and which runs through many of the female relationships in the movie.

Anyway, as I said, there's little for me to say about this movie that hasn't already been said, I suppose. I'd seen it before, and I was glad to see it again, but there are definitely too many things wrong with it for me to say it's a favorite.

Okay, I'm going to wrap it up, since I watched the movie on June 5th, and it has taken me to today (July 16th!) to finish up the post about it. Time to go on to the next film.

Gone With the Wind 2

Sunday, March 1, 2009

#7 through #11: Round-Up of 1934 through 1938

I'm so entirely behind on blogging the Best Picture films that I've watched that I think I'll just do a little omnibus entry for all of the ones I've watched so that I can catch up. I've stopped watching films, because I didn't want to get any further behind on the blogging, and it seems silly to let a thing like blogging interfere with what I want to do in my life. So here goes:

#7: It Happened One Night (1934):

It Happened One Night

Winner, Best Picture, 1934
Watched on: 11/7/2008

This was the first year that the Academy Awards switched to a calendar-year time period, and coincidentally, this was the first of the Academy Award winning Best Picture films that I'd actually seen before. It Happened One Night is simply put a delightful, lovely film -- I thought that the first time I saw it, and I think that still. And I'm not alone in that opinion -- as Filmsite points out, it was the first film to win all of the top five awards, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adaptation, a feat not repeated until 1975 with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and I think they also very rightly describe it as one of the best romantic comedies ever. Since I'm writing about a lot of films here, I'm going to keep it short and sweet and just give my general impressions. I love It Happened One Night. If you haven't seen it, you should. I could watch it over and over again. Because of its enduring popularity, it's really easy to catch it on TV as well -- I see from that last link that it's scheduled to play on TCM at least three times in the near future.

#8: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935):

Mutiny on the Bounty 2

Winner, Best Picture, 1935
Watched on: 11/7/2008

As much as I loved It Happened One Night and Clark Gable in it, he couldn't save Mutiny on the Bounty for me. My friend Erika and I did a little movie marathon back in November over the course of two days, in which we watched It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Great Ziegfeld, in that order. When Mutiny on the Bounty had ended, we both heaved a sigh of relief, and I turned to her and said, "Whew. We did it." Particularly on the heels of the light, screwball romantic comedy, MotB seemed particularly long, tedious, and painful. It may be, in the words of Filmsite, one of the best nautical adventure films of all time, but I guess I can just say then that nautical adventure films are just not my thing. Since I didn't much like it, I'm not going to spend a lot of time writing much more about it. But it is worth going to those links above to read some more about. It was an expensive film to make, and was interstingly shot on location in the South Seas for authenticity sake, which I thought was an unusual and nice choice for a film of its time.

#9: The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The Great Ziegfeld

Winner, Best Picture, 1936
Watched on: 11/8/2008

What a stunningly different film this was from Mutiny on the Bounty, and how odd to watch them one after another. The Great Ziegfeld can very rightly be described as lavish. It's one of the first words that springs to mind when watching the elaborate stage scenes, and it seems to be one of the most common words found anywhere when describing it. It was even lavish in length -- three hours. There is criticism to be found online about this film winning -- Filmsite indicates that there were at least three far superior films that should have beat out The Great Ziegfeld. But no matter to me, anyway -- it was a heckuva lot of fun checking out the crazy costumes and massive headdresses and the singing and performing, and watching the biopic of Ziegfeld's life along with it. It may not have been the best film, but it's pretty darn entertaining.

#10: The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

The Life of Emile Zola

Winner, Best Picture, 1937
Watched on: 1/10/2009

Well, now here's a film that I probably never would have watched had I not been watching all of these Best Picture films, but which I thoroughly enjoyed all the same. That really is one of the nice side-effects of this project. I end up watching things that I wouldn't choose for myself and thus broadening my horizons a little bit. The Life of Emile Zola is a film about justice, and one man's dedication to it. Yet another biopic (these were so popular in the 30s, who knew?), if follows the life and writing career of Emile Zola, and focuses on the historically important Dreyfus Affair, in which he fought to free the wrongfully imprisoned Captain Dreyfus, a victim of anti-Semitic framing within the French army in the 1800s. I think this film doesn't seem to be very popular any more -- it's not scheduled to be played on TCM anytime soon, for example -- but it was worth seeing. I found it very engaging, and I always do enjoy a film in which justice prevails. Who wouldn't, especially in a world where it doesn't always?

#11: You Can't Take It With You (1938)

You Can't Take It With You

Winner, Best Picture, 1938
Watched on: 1/18/2009

I was quite certain that I had seen You Can't Take it With You before -- and I was also quite wrong. Still, even though it wasn't the film that I thought it was (wonder what that was? who knows...) You Can't Take It With You was a relatively amusing film -- and of course, it's actually somewhat unusual for a comedy to have won Best Picture, as that remains the exception rather than the rule in Oscar history overall. It's the story of a prominent banker's son who falls for his spunky secretary, and the hilarity that ensues when he meets her highly eccentric family, and even worse, his snobbish parents meet her highly eccentric family. Jimmy Stewart gave a particularly enjoyable and rather signature performance as the banker's son. Even if the whole thing gets predictably wrapped up in a shiny bow at the end, I think we can all use a feel-good movie in which everyone learns the lessons they should in the end, and I especially enjoyed the fact that this movie really embraces people's wild diversity.

And with that -- I am caught up. Now I can move on to 1939 - Gone With the Wind -- which happens to be the second of the Best Picture films that I had seen previous to starting this Oscarfest.

Sundance, Best of Fest: Sin Nombre


To my extreme irritation, I had written a substantial portion of a blog entry on my cell phone, and it is now mysteriously missing. Nothing is left but the header. Ah well. Rest assured, I said any number of deep, profoud things. Okay, maybe not.

At any rate, it's about a month after the fact, so it's time I finish blogging about the last Sundance film that we saw this year, Sin Nombre, which translates roughly to something like Unnamed, or Without Name. This was such an incredible film, one whose images have really stuck with me, even a month later. If you go read the description, it's described as being "in the tradition of American film noir." I had thought that description inaccurate, but reading a little bit about Film Noir here and then here, I suppose that strictly speaking, the film does meet some of the definitions given on those sites of film noir -- the line between good and evil blurred, moral ambiguity, despair prevailing, not necessarily a congenial ending. Still this felt less like film noir to me and more like a tragedy along Shakespearean or even classical lines, though perhaps it also contains too much hope simultaneously to really fit that definition.

At any rate, whatever dramatic genre it falls into, Sin Nombre is a simultaneously dark but at times oddly beautiful film, one that definitely defied my expectations. I found it to be a fascinating look into the incredible dangers people are willing to face for a better life, and I had no idea that people actually rode on the tops of trains to try to get from Central America and Mexico to America. I also found it to be a simultaneously horrific and yet compelling look into gang life in Mexico. I loved that nothing was simple -- in a surreal world in which evil seems commonplace and accepted, little bits of humanity crept through all the same. I thought the gang leader was most brilliantly written and acted -- as you watch a 12-year-old boy who is trying to become an accepted member of the gang, you can envision his future and his likely ending if he continues along his current path as you also look at the leader, his face fully tattooed, barely recognizable as a normal human being, seemingly morally as far gone as a person can be, showing no mercy and no remorse. And yet they don't allow anything to be as simple as that -- the audience watches in horror as he orders a defenseless, begging man be killed, chopped up, and fed to his dogs, but the whole scene made brilliant by the fact that while he's carrying out these gang leader duties, he's also carrying around a tiny baby in a cute little suit of pajamas. Thus, the mundane, everyday things that everyone does are intermixed with horrific acts that hopefully not many can imagine. He had another similar moment, in which he brutally attacks and tries to rape a woman, and as she falls and is killed when her head hits some stones, the briefest moment of normal human fear and remorse flickers through his eyes, before they shut down again.

And so this is the atmosphere and setting in which the action unfolds, one in which nothing is simple, as a girl named Sayra rides on a train top with a father she barely knows because he's spent most of her life living in New Jersey. She encounters a gang member named Casper, who becomes her unlikely travel companion after he somewhat unintentionally (and yet perhaps entirely intentionally) severs his ties with his gang and as a result, must try to escape their very long reach, lest he too become dinner for the dogs. And so, again in a way that is not simple, a story of hope and a dangerous bid for freedom becomes intermixed with a literal attempt at escape -- a perilous chase superimposed upon an already difficult odyssey.

Though this blog is anything but spoiler-free, I'm not going to give away the ending. But I found this film very surprising - I went into it expecting it to be heavy and depressing. It was very heavy indeed, but in a way that was well worth watching and not at all what I expected. I would totally recommend it.

There are some trailers online as well:

One here and another one here. I don't know if it's going to get a wide release, but it looks like it was picked up by Focus Films, and you can check out their site here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sundance, Best of Fest: An Education

An Education

Sundance always does this wonderful thing - every year after the festival is over and the awards have been given, they play a selection of the year's award-winning films at their various venues on the same night, and the tickets are absolutely free. The only catch is that you must go pick up your free tickets in advance of the festival at the designated time. (Though this year in Ogden that didn't seem much to matter, as the crowds were not huge, and they were giving out free tickets at the door as well.)

This year Charlie and I were both free when they were handing out the tickets, so we stopped at the box office and got our max 2 each per show, so we were able to take two friends with us to each showing.

Erika and Krista joined us for the early showing, and we were expecting to see an Irish film called Five Minutes of Heaven, starring Liam Neeson. So we were surprised indeed when they announced that the film we were about to see was An Education. No idea why they made the switch, but I was actually really happy about it. I'd really wanted to see An Education when it played in Ogden in the first place, but it was one of the nights that I hadn't been able to go. Plus, the Irish film seemed really sad and heavy from the description, so honestly, a somewhat less serious film was a relief.

We all totally loved An Education. It just really had everything going for it. Funny at times yet serious, dramatic without getting too carried away, beautifully filmed, impressively acted, excellent writing, an interesting plot. Carey Mulligan easily takes my Best of Fest prize, having starred in two of my favorite films that I saw, An Education and The Greatest.

Rather than regurgitating my own movie synopsis, especially after this long delay in blogging since I actually saw the film, I'll let you read about it through the link above. But this was a fantastic film, and if you get the chance, you should absolutely see it. I will probably buy this one on DVD if I get a chance, because I really loved it, and I'd really like to see it again.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sundance: Pomegranates and Myrrh

I've been taking my time starting this review. Charlie and I saw the movie Pomegranates and Myrrh at Sundance last Thursday night.

Here's the thing. I like to consider myself a thoughtful, intellectual, liberal, educated sort of person who does stuff like listen to NPR for fun. And because of that, I feel like I should appreciate a film that puts a human story into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, right? So, I've been reluctant to say this, but the truth is, I found Pomegranates and Myrrh...well, a little boring. There. The truth is out.

I wanted to like this movie more than I did. It's about a woman who is a dancer with a troupe that specializes in traditional Palestinian dance. She gets married, and then her new husband is wrongfully imprisoned by Israeli soldiers and their land is threatened by "settlers" who pitch a tent and camp out with guns. The story follows how she and her family deal with this, and also how she continues to have dance in her life and refuses to allow herself to be defined by only her husband's imprisonment. It sounds pretty good, right? But in practice, I found my mind wandered, it just wasn't that engaging to me. And I left wondering if I just didn't have enough cultural knowledge to truly understand or appreciate it. Maybe that's true. Or maybe it just wasn't a very engaging movie.

I even felt guilty for not appreciating the dancing more. I often enjoy folk dancing. But the dancing in this movie, I must admit, didn't seem that great to me, and talk about feeling culturally insensitive! But, hey, since this is already a blog confessional, I'll admit that too. I can certainly appreciate the importance of maintaining one's cultural traditions, and that is even more important if you're in a culture under pressure like the one in this film. I get it. I support it...again, in theory. And so I guess overall, I found the movie disappointing, because I wanted it to be so much better than it was, and so I felt a bit let down.

Sundance: Endgame

Charlie and I saw Endgame last Wednesday night(the 21st), and I wasn't sure how I was going to like it. Sometimes films with heavy, serious topics bring me down, depending on the handling. But I was more than pleased to discover that I enjoyed this film a lot. It plays like a thriller, and keeps you on the edge of your seat as everything unfolds, which the director explained was his intent. He was there beforehand and then for the Q&A afterward, and he made the point that he wanted the audience to feel suspense and tension watching a story where they already knew the outcome, and I think he totally succeeded in that. Because as I was watching it, I was swept up in the mood of fear and unease of the time, wondering how it would all turn out okay, even though I KNEW that apartheid was going to end, Nelson Mandela would be released from jail, and the terrorism and violence in South Africa would subside (well, it's all relative, eh? South Africa continues to have a very high violent crime rate, including what the State Department's web page reports as the highest reported rape rate in the world.)

At any rate, the behind-the-scenes events that unfolded in this film, including secret talks held at a posh English manor house, were so interesting. I really had no idea that such things went on - and I knew about apartheid, I was paying attention, I cared that it ended. I had no idea that a company (Consolidated Gold) was so instrumental in bringing an end to apartheid, and that they started out doing so to protect their financial interests. The whole thing was really fascinating, and very well done. If, like me, you're thinking you might not want to deal with a heavy political film, I encourage you to do so. This one is totally worth it.