I’m back! Things might still be slow for the next little bit, as I still haven’t actually defended my thesis, plus I have a lot of stuff going on in the next couple of months, but there will be updates.

Anyway, I kept a list of the movies I did manage to see since I went on hiatus. It is long.

  1. Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978): This is…pretty Bergman. Women get together — a mother and daughter this time — they have strained and polite relations, then they confess things and yell at each other and it’s all very wrenching. I watched it because it’s referenced in High Heels and I thought I should see it. I always feel watching Bergman that I admire him very much but I don’t love him, or even necessarily like him, which is why I haven’t seen a lot of his seminal movies. Ingrid totally killing her daughter with advice

  2. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (Garry Marshall, 2004): What a disappointment! I have in the past shown an incredible amount of patience for Disney movies starring teen girls with even a vaguely proto-feminist message, but this was just not a good movie, even by the standard of it being fun. Also, did you know Shonda Rhimes wrote the script? It still sucks though! The whole story (in which Mia, who found out she was a princess in the first film, has to get married in order to become queen, so then she tries to get married, but she loves this guy who’s trying to steal the throne, and blah blah blah it all ends exactly how you think it will) feels kind of lazy and slapdash and no one seems to be trying very hard except Julie Andrews and Hector Elizondo. It would have maybe worked better if they’d kept her in high school if they were going to still have her act like a teenager?

  3. The Thomas Crown Affair (John McTiernan, 1999): I had forgotten how incredibly gorgeous and badass Renee Russo is in this. Cutting in

  4. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008): Aww. I loved this movie like crazy. When we saw it, I walked out thinking this was an awfully dark, difficult kids’ movie. But mainly I liked it. I really loved the way they used Hello, Dolly as his big love-dream film, and not even any of the parts with any celebrities people still recognize; it’s this charming bit of cultural detritus that gets invested with all this meaning. I am kind of fascinated by American pop cultural nostalgia, and this is an interesting iteration.
    Wall-E
    The love story was very charming, and I will confess to being completely all over it when Eve found the recording of WALL-E taking care of her, but I’m not sure how I feel about the politics of the “future” they envisioned. There were some criticisms with regard to the decision to have the humans be all…fat, but I didn’t think their fatness was really intended as a criticism of fat people, but I can see how equating passive consumerism with being fat might not be cool for actual non-science fiction people who are fat and not responsible for ruining mankind. The first chunk, on Earth, is so impressive though, with the beauty and the near-silent storytelling, I find it hard to dislike — this review’s disjointed, but I don’t totally know what I thought of it yet. I need to see it again. I will say that I loved the design of the closing credits, which show humanity rebuilding in the evolving artistic styles of human history.
    But I think Bubblegum Aesthetics might have a point:

    But look at this place! It’s like a combination of Star Wars, Miami and Tokyo, and I’d be lying if I said its bright plastic surfaces weren’t alluring. Stanton and his crew have used their high-tech tools to create a high-tech playground– and then turned around and criticized us for looking at it. Those passengers are marked as dullards, but their interconnective multitasking is precisely the skill you need to absorb WALL-E’s catch-the-reference weave of silent comedy, Broadway musical, Star Wars and Kubrick (to say nothing of E.T., which the whole narrative can be read as an inversion of). That kind of rhetorical jujitsu can be effective (see Brecht or the Surrealists, among others), but when it lacks true irony or dimension, it’s as thick as the fingers of the passengers the filmmakers make fun of (even as those passengers are mocked for doing what the film wants us to do– stare passively at a screen).

  5. Talk To Her (Almodóvar, 2002)

  6. Bad Education (Almodóvar, 2004)

  7. Volver (Almodóvar, 2006): Sorry no write-ups. I’m done with Almodóvar for a little bit.

  8. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008): So thing one is that this, more than the other Batmans and more than most superhero movies, is a Western. One that states its themes really clearly. Civilization needs violence to survive, but it can’t actually accept violence without not being civilized anymore. So the Western hero shows up, shoots the bad guy, and then rides off into the sunset, leaving everyone to their happy society without making them stare at that foundational violence. I mean, it’s a motorbike in this, but it’s all there.
    Late lamented
    Heath Ledger is phenomenal in this. Just tremendous — I think Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman were very good and Bale was just fine — but Ledger’s is the star turn, it is the one you’ll remember. The other thing I want to mention is the art direction — while Batman Begins maintained a lot of the modern gothic edge of the Burton ones, with the big mansion and those crazy caves in Iceland, The Dark Knight is firmly placed in the postmodern city. It’s all big glass Chicago buildings everywere, Wayne’s apartment is all floor-to-ceiling windows, and the Batcave is just a big empty warehouse. Some people have criticized this coldness, but I loved that aspect. I don’t really think it was like, totally profound, or the best movie ever, but I liked the ways

  9. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007): Oh, Guy Maddin! I love you so much! There’s something so giddy about his work. It’s so referential, but there’s something that feels new and…handmade about everything. There’s no collage about Maddin, he makes everything from scratch.
    This film’s a “docu-fantasia”; in other words, he takes sort of true stuff and then embroiders it all into tall-tale mythology, so Winnipeg suddenly has weird man beauty pageants and ballet seances (a particularly stunning sequence) and a TV show starring Guy Maddin’s mom (played by Ann Savage, who’s not only an actress, but I just realized, was the female lead in Detour!). It’s all kind of magical and messy and amazing.

  10. Swing Time (George Stevens, 1936): This is my top Fred and Ginger movie, and probably one of my favourites of all time. “Never Gonna Dance” = love. I had apparently repressed “Bojangles of Harlem” number, which was intended as a loving tribute, remains a great example Astaire’s technical virtuosity as he matches rear-projected silhouettes of himself dancing, and…involves blackface. Uh. It doesn’t really have much to do with the rest of the movie, which I still do love.

  11. Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935): This is the one where there’s a mix-up, but then they dance and everything’s okay. Oh wait, that’s all of them! This is the one where Fred has the room above Ginger and he does a little softshoe to dance her to sleep and then they go to Art Deco Venice. It’s pretty good, but not my favourite. Has “Cheek to Cheek” though.

  12. V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2005): Why didn’t anyone tell me this was so good? It’s really quite good. I was telling my dad and his theory for it not taking off was that Americans don’t get Guy Fawkes. Mine was that it’s so dark and political that a lot of people who like action/scifi wouldn’t dig it, but it’s so traditional in style and storytelling method, and kind of schmaltzy, that people who like dark and political would not necessarily embrace it. Plus the schmaltz is cut by the very creepy Stockholm syndrome of a love story between Evey and V, who kind of kidnaps her and tricks her into thinking she is about to be executed to “free” her. I liked that they didn’t shy away from the creepy, even having her kiss his mask.
    Although looking now it actually did make some money, though not blockbuster money, and it does have a generally positive Rotten Tomatoes ranking, so I’m not sure why I thought it wasn’t much of a success; I guess it’s just that that success is so modest.

  13. Dodgeball (Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2004): I didn’t expect this to be funny, but I kind of couldn’t stop watching it. Jason Bateman kind of wins the movie for me though.

  14. Bewitched: (Nora Ephron, 2005): Oh man, if someone told you there was a movie with Nicole Kidman, Kristen Chenoweth, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, Jason Schwarzman, Shirley MacLaine, and Michael Caine, wouldn’t you want to see it? What if they then told you that Will Ferrell was also in it, trying to soften up his image by playing a romantic lead, that Nora Ephron directed it, and that it’s based on a TV show, the remaking of which the film itself criticizes as a lame attempt to cash in on nostalgia? The answer is don’t see it.

  15. Something To Talk About (Lasse Hallström, 1995): I’ve seen bits of this on TV about a billion times, but this time I actually caught the beginning, and it is not unfun to watch. Callie Khouri, who wrote Thelma & Louise, wrote it and she does angry Southern women very very well. Kyra Sedgwick is so much fun in this — I remember her getting a lot of attention at the time for the performance — but what I loved was how real the relationship between Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid was. The dinner scene where they have a big fight about how they wound up where they didn’t want to be? Is pretty heartbreaking. I dunno, I don’t have any grand pronouncements or anything, it was just a pretty good movie.

  16. Vicky Cristina Barcelona: I loved this, it was gorgeous to look at. I think working outside NYC has been a boon to Woody Allen’s career; the whole thing just feels different in other ways too — the cinematography and editing are a bit looser, more lush. I do have some…thoughts about his choice to have a detached male narrator explain his female characters like in a Wes Anderson movie. It’s like he can make women the subjects of his films, but apparently not totally give them the story. (I’m sorry, I wrote an ill-fated pseudo-psychoanalytic essay on “the voice” in his films a coupla semesters ago, and I was surprised how suddenly it came rushing back when that dude started narrating Vicky and Cristina out of the airport.) Javier and Rebecca Hall
    Also, it did seem to get some stuff wrong re: Spanish culture. Vicky is supposed to be doing her Masters thesis on “Catalan identity,” which makes it great that they’re in Barcelona studying Gaudi, but makes no sense when she refers to either Javier Bardem’s character or his father as “Catalan.” Explanation: Spain has three main linguistic communities: Catalan, Castilian (aka Spanish), and Basque. Barcelona is in Catalonia, which is a bilingual province where lots of people would speak both and some would only speak one or the other, but Juan Antonio is from Oviedo, which is in Asturias, a northern province where Spanish is the main language, and that is what he and his dad speak to each other. Also, Vicky would presumably be learning Catalan, not Spanish, for her study of Catalan identity. Or at least mentioned it. I wouldn’t really have minded, except that the movie made Catalan identity an actual plot point. So it would have helped if it, you know, seemed to know anything about it. \"just, like pictures of my feet and stuff\"
    But to end on a positive, it was a pretty excellent movie in that Woody Allen way where rich white people have to deal with the conflicts between their theories and their lives. I really think his switch from having his protagonist be a young, Woody Allen-like man to being a young, Woody Allen-like woman has been a positive one. Rebecca Hall has a lot to do here, and she does it really well — intelligent, neurotic, funny, quiet, her performance is lovely. Javier Bardem is really charming in a part that relies almost entirely on his charm. ScarJo is pretty much…ScarJo. She excels at playing women who dabble in photography and seem like they would record a Tom Waits tribute album if given half the chance. I mean that mostly as a compliment.
    Darkroom love
    Penélope Cruz is fantastic though — she’s all crazy hats and smoking and shouting and utterly fascinating.

…Phew.