Category Archives: At The Movies

Third Something Movie Day

For two straight months now, I've seen very little in the way of films. I have to seriously make up for that somehow.

I'm finally going through Deadwood season 2, but otherwise it's been a videogame month. Sometimes I think the problem is that I've been looking at the movies in my Netflix queue for so long, I feel like I've already seen them.

Third Monday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: The Escapist (2008, Rupert Wyatt)

So, I loved this movie...I think. It's got a great atmosphere and mood (not happy ones, but effective ones) and the acting is superb - Brian Cox leads, and is supported by Joseph Fiennes, Damian Lewis and Steven Mackintosh, among others. It's an Irish film about a man who decides to break out of prison when he learns his daughter is dying, and the narrative is told in alternating scenes of the breakout and what it took to set the breakout into motion; there are another four characters, all interesting themselves, involved as well.

I figured the dual narrative would annoy me at some point, but it really didn't. Pacing often dies when films go into flashback mode, but this one was effective in giving us pertinent information every time we delved into the past.

The film is tense and the viewer never feels comfortable with the question of whether or not the breakout is going to work, which is what I want out of any movie (this is the reason I don't watch a lot of blockbusters; if I know the good guys will win, a part of me disengages from the film).

Now, the only thing is, it's tough to talk about this film without discussing the ending, which in a way, nullifies the entire film that came before it, or at least half of the narrative. I can't decide if it killed my adoration for what came before, or if tied the film together perfectly. I think, perhaps, it was both. So, if any of you would be so kind as to see this one and talk about it with me, that would be appreciated.

What have you seen?

Third Monday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

The winner of the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film certainly deserved it. Beau's been ragging on me to see this for something like a year, and I had it at home from Netflix for three months (I have a bad habit of putting off foreign movies because I can't look away from the subtitles and my kids distract me a lot).

It was worth the wait. Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) works for the East German secret police, the Stasi, and bugs the houses of artists and writers, documenting their activities to see if they're western sympathizers. At times I forgot I was watching a German movie, since it's easily compared to McCarthyism in America.

Wiesler follows the lives of a playwright and his girlfriend and becomes increasingly sympathetic with them, and is forced to start making some difficult choices.

The playwright, the girlfriend and various other secret police and artistic types all turn in fine performances, but Muhe is the clear star and commands attention any time he's onscreen. According to IMDb, the script particularly resonated with Wiesler, since he as a theater actor was observed by the Stasi, and he later found out that his wife at the time was registered as an informant. Sadly, the film that launched Muhe from a supporting player to a lead actor proved to be one of his last, as he died in 2007 at age 54 of stomach cancer.

The script is near flawless and the whole thing leads to a satisfying and yet utterly believable ending.

I can't recommend this one enough.

Third Tuesday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: Last of the Mohicans (1992, Michael Mann)

I didn't just see this movie. I probably saw it the year it came out, and many times thereafter.

As would be obvious even if you guys didn't know I was an aspiring writer, if a script doesn't capture me, I generally bail. This seemed like an interesting study to me specifically because I greatly enjoy this film despite a script that's just pacing death.

Most of this movie crawls painfully slowly, but every shot is art, the lead acting is beyond reproach (ask me who my favorite actor is, and on many days I'll say Daniel Day-Lewis) and the soundtrack boasts an unforgettable theme that I spin on a regular basis, particularly while writing.

A script is many things, however: I think a lot of laymen (I would never accuse the Citizenry to be among this group) tend to think of a script solely as the words that the characters say - and to be sure, there are some funny ideas out there, such as the one where some folks think that TV writers only write for one character - but of course, Michael Mann can't just produce a good film out of thin air. He's got style in spades, but the script still had to provide goals, motivations and characters worth investing in to work. I desperately think this script needed a rewrite, but I really like the film nonetheless, and use it to remind myself that there are a lot of ways to make a great movie.

What have you seen?

Third Tuesday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (2009, Masazuku Hashimoto)

Now here's something that isn't on your radar. Based on the mystery and puzzle-based videogame series starring the title character, this film was just recently released on DVD in the states, and I have to say the writing was a damn sight better than it is in the games.

In the games, you're propelled forward because of the challenge of the next puzzle - you can pretty much bail on the story, because try as you might to solve the mystery, the answer is going to be some stupid supernatural BS that was never on the table until that point and couldn't possibly be anticipated.

This movie, though, unravels its mysteries with more panache and begins with a Battle Royale-style (without the blood) smackdown between various puzzle solvers. The ending, admittedly, involves some pretty unlikely science, but the movie plays out like a big-budget action popcorn movie, so no harm done.

I once again mostly finished TV shows this month, or at least trudged forward. Battlestar has hit something of a lull, as has Twin Peaks (it's clear the producers were ill-prepared for life after Laura Palmer). I also finished the first season of Louie, which is sometimes awesome, and sometimes too intentionally shocking to be taken seriously, but never dull.

I also finally bit the bullet and watched James Cameron's Avatar. If you liked it, though, you don't want to hear my thoughts on it.

What have you seen?

Third Monday Movie Day

Movie of the Month: The Maltese Falcon (1941, John Huston)

It's a classic, but it moves slowly - a lot of screenwriters were still treating scripts like stageplays; the script is very talky and 90-95% of the movie takes place in just a couple of locations. Bogie blew up after this...apparently the world was ready for a lead character that wasn't all that redeeming (nobody in this film is particularly redeemable, but they're all interesting).

First time director/screenwriter John Huston blew up after this too - he would have a 46-year career until his death, though it was very front-loaded; he'd arguably made his five best films all in the first 15 years, and Bogart was in a few of these.

I don't have much to add to this one, since it's a classic that probably most of you have seen if it's on your radar, but it was a third straight light movie month.