First Friday Films | Take Eight

First Friday Films | Take Eight

It's been a while since I've written a First Friday Films post. It's not that I haven't seen any movies, it's just that with my travel schedule I haven't seen many and haven't had time to post about the few I have seen. Until now. Here is a handful of opinions, re: the last few months of silver screen offerings.

Die Falscher (The Counterfeiters)
Just when you think all the stories that can possibly be told about WWII Nazi concentration camps have been told (and over-told, in fact, by Hollywood) see The Counterfeiters. What a fascinating story. The movie wasn't blow-you-away awesome, but it's more than solid and it's a compelling story.

Select Jewish prisoners were recruited into an elite cohort assigned to produce the dollar and the pound (a few of the prisoners were criminal counterfeiters before the war). The Nazi's goal was to produce enough money to flood and shut down the US and British economies. They got pretty close, actually, and that's the fascinating part. That and the clinical way the film addressed the minutia of the counterfeiting processes. I learned a lot. I also enjoyed watching the interpersonal dynamics of the Nazi soldiers and the Jewish counterfeiters. Nothing is ever as black and white and people want you to believe. Ultimately the story was very human and I'd recommend checking it out.

Then She Found Me
Indulgent and way too earnest. That criticism out of my system, I didn't hate the film. The acting was top notch, the plot was interesting (39-year old woman working to define herself and her life, recently divorced, wants a baby), and I like watching romantic movies about real adults with real problems. Read also: No more chasing down the taxi cab in a rainstorm to stop her from getting on the plane followed by a gratuitously soft focus sex scene where all is perfectly perfect. Blech. Enough. I detest chick flicks, as it were, and at least Then She Found Me avoids the cliches altogether. Every character is stripped down to their most elemental, lost, struggling reality. It's just that their struggling reality was a bit melodramatic for my taste.

This film is Helen Hunt's directorial debut (she also plays the lead, April Epner). She was working with a script adapted from a book - so I don't entirely blame her for the indulgent earnestness. I left the theatre feeling tired and emotionally beat up, even though - spoiler - all does end well. If all of that rambling turns you off to the film, two words: Colin. Firth. Firth plays Frank, the single father of two slash love interest of April. He delivers an incredible performance. I would watch it all over again just to see him scream at April and put her in her place and in a moment of weakness and clarity, express how hard and undesirable fatherhood can be. Fantastic. He is fan-tas-tic. (No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. Salman Rushdie is Helen Hunt's gyno)

27 Dresses
I know. I know. I just prattled on about my dislike for chick flicks, but there's just something about this movie I can't get over. I think it has a lot to do with the awesome chemistry between Katherine Heigl and James Marsden. When they spend the afternoon together and she tries on all of her dresses, it's painfully cheesy and yet it's so adorable for some reason. I can't stop smiling and I even laugh out loud when they rock the small town bar with a drunken rendition of "Benny and the Jets." The movie is formulaic and predictable, but there's something about it that I relate to and enjoy.

The Jane Austen Book Club
Loved, loved, loved this movie...even though I have really mixed feeling about Jane Austen. My English degree gives me the unique pleasure of, even these many years post-college, spending sleepless nights wrestling with the following dilemma: trailblazing-feminist or mindlessly-narrow-world-view? Both camps of lit critics are equally passionate about their positions and I'm still sitting on the proverbial fence (though both feet are dangling on the side NOT belonging to trailblazing-feminist). My lack of militant fanticism makes cocktail party convos with Austenite girlfriends quite challenging. This is my life. Moving on.

Being a huge fan of ensemble casts, I clearly loved having nine main characters floating in and around each other's lives. The pretense is that a book club forms with the express purpose of reading one Austen novel each month. Of course you called it, the plot of each book resembles the life of the chosen monthly host. It is surprisingly subtle, however, and not at all didactic, as I thought it might be. It's funny and sexy and though the whole ensemble is strong, Emily Blunt and Hugh Dancy definitely steal the show.

I will admit a moment of weakness where I felt the urge to re-read all of Austen's novels. That desire soon passed, as quickly as any nauseous dizzy spell can be expected to, and I settled instead on wanting to read the novel on which this film is based. Or maybe I'll just Redbox the movie again.

Iron Man
Silly boys. Silly, silly boys with silly toys. The metaphors in this film are so phallic I can barely stand it, so I'll instead let you read Andrew's thoughts on the matter. I want to be fair to the movie, but I can't see the forest for the phallus. I will say that I enjoyed it for what it was, a summer blockbuster at it's best (which doesn't set the bar too high in my world, but whatever). I will also say that Robert Downey Jr. is perfection and absolutely no one but him could have pulled this off. I will further say that super hero movies have become way too self-important and the pretentiousness has to stop somewhere. I don't know that future script writers and directors are paying attention, but I hope that somewhere is the precedent Iron Man sent. Just be funny and blow stuff up. You're not actually saving the world. Relax.

What's not to love about 80-year-olds singing The Ramones and Sonic Youth? Honestly. This movie will make you laugh out loud, cry, sing, cheer, the premiere audience I was in stood up at the end in spontaneous clapping and shouts of joy. For real. You can't help it. It's such a celebration of life and living each day to the cannot stay in your seat.

The Young@Heart Chorus travels around the country (and Europe) performing hit songs from (roughly) the 70s through today, everything from Rolling Stones to Radiohead. The documentary follows them through a series of rehearsals and a handful of performances. I love the entire movie, but I have two favorite moments.

The first moment is when the chorus performs "Forever Young" at a prison and the inmates are moved to tears and a standing ovation. The interactions among the performers and the prisoners are so beautiful. The second moment is the solo performance of "Fix You" (Cold Play). There are no words. Just see the movie...and then join me for their night in The SLC next Tuesday!

My Blueberry Nights
Jude Law. Yum. Norah Jones. Yum. Natalie Portman. Yum. David Strathrairn. Yum. Rachel Weisz. Yum. An amazing cast and one of the most tender movies I've seen in a long time. Norah Jones plays a recently heartbroken waitress who has a short-term-high-charge-albeit-platonic tete a tete with cafe owner Jude Law before she embarks on a year-long road trip to heal and get her mind right. While on the road she befriends Natalie Portman, an out-of-luck gambler and con artist, and David Strathrairn, an alcoholic police officer suffering a difficult separation from his wife who's publicly moving on.

The way the movie is filmed, the colors, the angles, the editing, is all incredibly art house. I love it. Amazing. A charming touch is that the communication between Jude Law and Norah Jones, while she's on her soul-searching road trip and he's working in his New York cafe, is through hand-written post cards. There was something so nostalgic about that, insanely romantic. I sent a bunch of handwritten notes to my friends after watching this movie (...wish I was sending lovely letterpress notes to Jude Law, but whatever).

The Visitor
One of the best films I've seen. Ever. Not like recently, ever. It sneaks up on you and just when you think it's content to be charming and interesting and well made, it blows you out of the water and changes your life. Well, mine, anyway.

Walter is a widower who lives his life day to day, deeply lonely, by the book, no passion, no creative energy (think T.S. Eliot's Prufrock). He owns property in New York, in addition to his home in Connecticut. When he visits his New York property in order to attend a conference in the city, he comes home to find two strangers living there. Tarek (played by the insanely delicious Haaz Sleiman) is from Syria and his girlfriend, Zainab, is from Senegal. Tarek is a drummer and Zainab is an artist who makes jewelry. You probably see where this is going -- these two people, full of passion and creative energy, shake Walter's life to the core and he's never the same. The most magical movie moment of the year: Walter joining a drum circle in New York's Washington Square, full of life, smiling at Tarek, finding is groove, and radically changing his life from that moment on.

The film, in addition to prompting discussion about a life well lived, addresses the highly-charged issue of immigration. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant and really difficult to watch. It's actually quite frustrating and the conclusion of the film still bothers me. It is as realistic as it could possibly be, and that's why it frustrates me: because the current state of our xenophobic policies and practices frustrate me. Whether you care to enter the debate on immigration policies or not, you should see this film and enter a dialogue about your passions and life's purpose. Even if that dialogue is with yourself.

Sex and the City
Yes, there's girly giggling about Manolo Blahnik and Louis Vuitton. Yes, there are stupid sexual puns spouted by Samantha. Yes, Carrie's voiceover narration is still forced and poorly written. Get over it already. This is a good movie and I'm tired of sounding like a tool defending it. SATC debuted with a box office killing of $55.7 million in two days, when Warner Brother's had only estimated $30 million. I'm only going to speak for myself, but I think the success is because we (meaning women (and a handful of gay men)) are excited to see a movie about adult women, with adult problems, who we completely relate to, but who also happen to live in some sort of fantasy fashion land of bi-costal friendships and penthouses on 5th Avenue. I think SATC strikes a good balance.

Driving home from the movie on opening day (that's right...opening day), I heard an awful review on NPR, and I don't mean the reviewer thought the film was awful (though he did), I mean the review itself was awful. Poorly written, narrowly conceived, and judgmental to the point of sounding ridiculous to anyone that had actually seen the movie (which the reviewer, go figure, had not). People harp on the graphic sex scenes. So don't take your 13-year-old neighbor to see it. People harp on the consumption and obsession of brand names. Enjoy the fashion or not, recognize that there's much more to the show. Furthermore, who said SATC had to be Citizen Kane, anyway?

Ultimately, the movie is about being fiercely loyal to your girlfriends. It's also about relationships and sex and life and kids and families and divorce and frivolous fashion, and wanting it all. It doesn't get more quintessentially GenX than that.


On the Road Again | Portland, Oregon