I saw a few movies this weekend. It’s been a while, actually, since I’ve seen this many in a short amount of time. I had sinus surgery, and needed to get out of the house. Movies are great in that they really only require you to move from sitting one place to sitting another. A friend had tickets for a musical, and I knew I wasn’t up for that, but a few movies, that I could do.
Toy Story 3. It made me cry, and then I couldn’t blow my nose becuase of the sinus surgery - darn you, Pixar! That’s some kind of torture. They just hit this one out of the park. It’s definitely action/adventure caper that you’d expect from a sequel, but underneath is an exploration of childhood, friendship, purpose, and saying goodbye. I really was blindsided, even though I was warned, at how affecting it was. The voice talent and animation are top notch, and it manages to be clever and inventive without ever feeling like it’s reaching for a joke. I can’t remember the last narrative live action film I was this moved by. That’s saying something.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Go. See. This. Film. She’s certainly complicated, and the glimpse I took of the reviews indicate that one’s reception of the film will be colored by one’s opinion of her. I doubt, though, that you will be able to come away from this movie without a healthy dose of respect for her. She does define the term “workaholic”, but you leave the film uncertain if that’s a bad thing. Depending on your view, she might be a tragic figure, unable to enjoy the fruits of her outsize labor; a survivor who has not let a lifetime of pain stop her from her dreams; a unquenchable personification of ambition that ultimately has no satisfaction – a kind of Tantalus. I left with a great respect for her work, her no-holds barred self-assessment, and her big heart. I don’t know if she’s hiding an inner depth, or some deep pain that she’s not in touch with – there is exploration of her husband’s suicide and their relationship as well as with her daughter, but nothing of her formative years that sound like they may have been painful (when a heckler tells her he has a deaf child and she’s not funny, she responds that her mother was deaf and we have to laugh at life to deal with the pain). At several points, you see how she has struggled, and her belief that live is above all hard – after delivering a Thanksgiving meal to a woman in a wheelchair with MS who had been an art photographer she bluntly says, “Life is so…mean!” No matter, though – she doesn’t dwell on it for very long, and doesn’t present herself as a nut to crack. She’s fascinating, though, and funny, funny, funny. I think the filmmakers have taken a little heat for this being too sympathetic, but it doesn't feel puffy to me at all. If there's anything you can say about her, it's that she's certainly ruthless in her own self - assessment. After playing a tribute at the Kennedy Center she is asked how she thought she did and she says "Funnier than some, not as funny as others" and then it's on to the next gig.
Io Sono L'Amore (I Am Love). I will right away say this is not a film for everyone. On some level it feels like a showcase for Tilda Swinton, but what a showcase it is. It’s reminiscent of Sirk, Visconti, heavily visual, even sensual. In fact, it’s probably the closest you’d get to a completely sensual film without reaching out and touching anything. Tilda Swinton plays a Russian woman who has married into a wealthy Italian family, has three children about college age or after, and is having an awakening. I’ll leave it at that. I will say, though, that the scenery (both natural and man-made) is luxurious, luscious and swoon-inducing, as is Edoardo Gabbriellini (managing to be not ridiculously perfect but perfectly what he needs to be), who is part of her awakening. The interiors of the house, the clothes, and then the countryside around Sanremo are just voluptuous. Heavily visual, it nevertheless packs a wallop story wise, and was unexpectedly moving. Swinton is just so fascinating. Her face is mask-like, in that it never seems to betray great emotion, yet is full of it. She’s completely in control of her faculties. It’s a joy to see someone at the top of their game, and even more in a role that’s so delicate. She’s a walled-off character, somewhat reticent, and her bloom reflects that as well. She can be unbelievably ravishing or plain, blend into walls or make you forget there's anyone else in the room. She never is seeming to work hard - it's all effortless. There’s also an amazing, amazing scene with Maria Paiato, who plays her maid, which is almost shocking in how affecting it is. These are my favorite moments in films - when some emotion has been quietly building that you don’t even know is there, and it reveals itself in full force. An incredible supporting cast in this, too. Marisa Berenson turns it out as the family matriarch. Note perfect. A scene when the women close ranks against a beau who has been rejected tells you everything you would need to know about the super-rich, or the super-rich in this world. I love the formalism - how it's just so film-y, for want of a better word, using the medium as an illustrative, impressionistic, emotional tool. I gasped at one point.
Well, I guess between that and Toy Story, it was quite an emotional weekend.
Let the Right One In – Okay, so this is a couple years old. Norwegian film about an unhappy 12 year old boy and the girl vampire that moves in next door. I had heard great things about it and wasn’t disappointed. It’s definitely not an American movie – it takes its time to set up both the suspense and the relationship between the two kids. The violence is disturbing and gruesome, which is kind of a nice change from the current trend of sexy vampires everywhere (that sounds like a movie itself). There is some humor, hapless adults, the true unhappiness and loneliness that can beset a kid of that age – especially an unpopular, bullied kid. Their relationship is wonderful, and allowed to develop at a pace that makes sense while the world is circling closer and closer to her secret. Lina Leandersson plays Eli, the 12 year old vampire with a centuries old soul, and is - I don’t even have the superlatives. Suffice it to say she’s brilliant, and I was floored at her pulling it off. It’s a great story, and both she and the boy were great, but she just blew me away. I was surprised how much I liked it. Kind of a haunting film. I hope they don’t do a crappy American remake. Fingers crossed. I love American movies, but a lot of times they remake a great European movie and miss the point. People should just rent this one. I mean, it won 60 International film awards, so it’s gotta be good, right?
I would highly recommend all four films. That's a great average - been a while since I could say that.