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Two Thumbnail Reviews

I've a huge backlog of movie reviews, essays and photoblogs to share, but there isn't enough time in the day. This is my kid's last semester of high school and that alone is enough to fill the days, but there is so much more besides that. I'm grateful that the days are filled with all manner of excitement both good and bad. My sister expressed to me her philosophy of life which I've taken to heart..."Whatever else, just keep moving. And try to make sure its forward." So onward I travel. Can't wait any longer to share some movies so here are a couple thumbnail overviews of some recent films I've seen...

These Amazing Shadows is a documentary profiling the history and function of the National Film Registry which is a division of the National Archives. The Film Registry is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of American films. Its yearly list of films selected for preservation is a snapshot of the incredible diversity and quality of films produced by American film makers. The documentary, through interviews with a variety of professionals in the industry, takes us through the inner workings of the registry and discusses the how's and whys of the various genres of films represented on the list which now contains 525 films singled out for special honor and attention. My initial reaction to this film was envy towards those people chosen to be on the committee to choose the films every year. My second reaction was that I wished I had gone into film restoration when I was a young undergrad trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. This is a very enlightening, engaging and entertaining film about film. At about 90 minutes run time it is both long enough and not long enough. There are parts I wished could have been lingered on just a little more like the origins of the registry and the interviews with the various archivists. However, I enjoyed how about 30 minutes of the doc were given over to talking about the significant films in niche genres that are on the registry. The all to brief discussion about female film directors and the impact they had on the early days of film was worthy of a documentary all on its own. I thought I knew a lot about film history and film in general but this documentary was chock-full of both essential and trivial info that I was glad to receive. These Amazing Shadows should be required watching for any film fan and will pique the interest in those only marginally interested in movies. The National Film Registry is another terrific service provided to the American people by the Library of Congress' National Archives. Preservation of this, the definitive American art form of the 20th century, is important for our heritage and as a gift to the future.
The registry chooses 25 new films to add to the list every year starting with films produced ten years hence. The next slate of films to be eligible amongst the huge output of the past are those produced in 2002. Here are some I think should be considered for the list from that year...
"The Pianist"
"The Two Towers"
"Far From Heaven"
"Gangs of New York"
"24 Hour Party People"
"Bowling for Columbine"
"Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"
"Full Frontal"

It's appropriate that I would watch the above documentary right before watching Woody Allen's latest offering, Midnight in Paris. Woody, like Martin Scorsese, is a serious student of the medium as well as being one of the great American practitioners of the art. I was, as many fans are, a huge fan of Woody's early work but lost touch with him about the time he divorced Mia Farrow in one of the more spectacularly sordid celebrity mid-life crisis ever. Woody's films became thin, lackluster and formulaic; the only redeeming qualities being individual performances by his cadre of actors particularly Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite), Martin Landau (Crimes and Misdemeanors) and Tony Roberts (Hannah and Her Sisters). Woody, evidently looking for some way to shake his artistic ennui and to escape the ever restrictive regulations on filming in Manhattan, left his beloved city to go to England. This seems to have done the trick as the films that followed his move became increasingly better starting with 2005's Match Point then Scoop and Vicky Christina Barcelona culminating in the minor masterpiece which is Midnight in Paris. The old hallmarks of a great Woody Allen film are there; the romantic schmaltz, the screwball comedy, the whip-crack neurotic dialogue combined with beautiful cinematography, and razor-sharp acting. I got the same heart-tugging feeling watching this film I get when I watch the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, Mic-Macs). There is a sweet nostalgic feeling to the film which is charming and irresistible.
Midnight in Paris is a time-travel fantasy which involves the protagonist, Gil, portrayed by Owen Wilson with his usual off beat cheerfulness, being whisked back to the Paris of the 1920's when the streets were awash with expatriate writers and artists. Gil's first encounter after traveling back is being picked up by a chauffeured car containing the Fitzgeralds, Scott and Zelda. The film proceeds to whipsaw Gil between his present day, mundane , unhappy life with his controlling, spoiled fiancé and her know it all, cooler-than-thou friends and his secret night life with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. Gil starts to fall in love with Picasso's current mistress and decides, with some love advice from surrealists Salvidor Dali, Man Ray and Louis Brunel, to take the plunge and tell her how he feels. If this sounds like a fun trope for a film then you'd be right. Anyone who enjoys that 20's era and the Gilded Age before it will find this movie utterly delightful and the city of Paris gets the complete romantic photographic treatment Woody lavished on the city of New York in Manhattan. You literally feel like you want to crawl through the screen and live in the fantasy world Woody has created here. I embraced the joy of this film almost immediately and put it in the category of feel-good jewels of cinema along with likes of Amelie, Big Night, Harold and Maude and Cinema Paradiso. A rare film that lives up to its promise.

Gil with Ernest and Gertrude.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 29th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Huh. I haven't liked anything Woody Allen's done since Annie Hall (and that includes Manhattan.) When Woody Allen decided to become Ingmar Bergman, he lost me entirely.

(And I don't actually care much about the Mia/Soon Yi scandal: If Woody sez he was never Soon Yi's stepfather, that's good enough for me. By all reports, they have a good marriage plus I interviewed Mia Farrow back in the day when I worked for People Mag and I'm here to tell you she's a hystrionic nutjob.)

I went to see Midnight In Paris because I was bored. I didn't dislike it. But I didn't like it either, and this is surprising because Owen Wilson is like my Number 3 boyfriend after George Clooney and Colin Firth. For one reason or another, I happen to know a lot about that historical period, and particularly a lot about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Evidently much more than Woody's historical researchers. That kept throwing me out of it.

Anyway, you can't go to movies until Feb 2. You have FAFSA to finish, remember?
Jan. 30th, 2012 04:54 am (UTC)
Don't bother me...I'm sick...movies are all I have right now.

Can't believe I made it all the way through "The Last Samurai" without puking. What the fuck was Ken Watanabe doing in that dreck? May Kurosawa's ashes coalesce into a Japanese Gollum and hunt that runt Tom Cruise down stabbing him with a super-heated ash magma sword formed from the remains of Toshiro Mifune. That's the last time I take movie recs from THAT particular co-worker. Her love of awful country ballads and Dancing with the Stars should have warned me off. Like I said - I've been ill - she has a nice rack - there ya go. FAFSA's gonna have ta wait till next weekend. I can only concentrate on light house cleaning and chugging Nyquil.

Midnight in Paris wasn't about accuracy - its like a Harlequin romance - sometimes ya just feel like watching Rose and Jack go down with that big boat.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 01:16 am (UTC)
I like someday to see that new Woody Allen film "Midnight in Paris"-I like to visit Paris-peace
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )