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Cinematic Saturday: Movies I’ve Watched in December & January

January 22, 2011

{My favorite movie of the month: The Kids Are All Right. Best mind-bender: Inception. Most disturbing: Trainspotting. For one thing, I needed to be detoxed after watching that movie. :-P}

El Bola (2000), directed by by Achero Mañas, written by Achero Mañas and Veronica Fernandez

This is a heartbreaking Spanish film about the friendship between two twelve-year-old boys: Pablo (Juan José Ballesta) and Alfredo (Pablo Galan). Pablo’s family is weighed down by crippling grief over his brother’s death, and he is terrorized by his abusive, controlling father. Alfredo’s family is quite flawed, and they are also coping with grief. Alfredo’s beloved godfather is dying of AIDS.  Yet there is a lot of love and laughter in their home. When Pablo becomes closer to his friend’s family, his father sees his control over his son slipping and forbids him to spend time with them. This is an outstanding movie, which won the Mejor Película (Best Film) Goya Award in 2001. Please read a full review here.

Me and Orson Welles (2008), directed by Richard Linklater, written by novelist Robert Kaplow & screenwriters Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo, Jr.

This is a colorful, lighthearted period piece. In 1937 New York, Richard (Zac Efron) is mind-numbingly bored in high school. He skips school to join the cast of an off-beat presentation of Julius Caesar directed by a young Orson Welles (Christian McKay).  Welles is a brilliant performer and director, however everyone is at the mercy of his ego and womanizing. Richard bonds with fellow actors Joe Cotten (James Tupper) and Norman Lloyd (Leo Bill) and predictably, Sonja Jones (Claire Danes) becomes a love interest. I thoroughly enjoyed this flick. Please read a full review here.



Canvas (2006), written and directed by Joseph Greco

Mary (Marcia Gay Harden) is a dedicated mom and amateur artist living on the Florida coast. Diagnosed with schizophrenia a year and a half ago, Mary is coping with increasing anxiety and paranoia. When she becomes a danger to her family, hospitalization is the only option. Her devoted husband, John (Joe Pantoliano) copes with her absence by focusing on something positive: his and Mary’s shared passion for sailing. He immerses himself in building a boat, but this makes their 10-year-old son, Chris (Devon Gearhart) more lonely and frustrated.

My daughter has said there are two kinds of movies about mental illness: the sentimental kind and the more artistic, “mind-trippy” variety (think Spider by David Cronenberg). Canvas is definitely the more sentimental sort. It was a labor of love for Joseph Greco, who was inspired by coping with mental illness in his own family. And the movie does have a certain sentimental, predictable quality.

However, this was offset my the fact that the script had tremendous heart and the acting was first rate. The little boy, watching his family fall apart in wide-eyed silence, was heartbreaking. Pantoliano was terrific. His face reflected constantly shifting emotions: love, hope, fear, anger and frustration. And I loved Harden. The movie didn’t fully capture the overwhelming confusion and anguish of mental illness. However, I felt her slowly mounting anxiety, paranoia, and fear as she decompensated, and her love for her family was reflected in every aspect of her performance.

I also liked the fact that the film was ultimately hopeful, yet there were no conclusive answers. A severe mental illness is unpredictable, and it’s financially and emotionally draining for a family. At the end of the movie, we don’t know what will happen, yet we sense this family will pull together to face whatever lies ahead.

Inception (2010), written and directed by Christopher Nolan

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an expert at the newest form of corporate espionage: extraction, invading a target’s dreams and stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious. However, Cobb has secrets of his own, and he’s become an international fugitive and lost his family. Now he’s getting one shot at redemption. If he pulls off this heist, he will win his freedom and be reunited with his children.

He enlists the help of a talented maze-maker: someone who can design the landscape of the target’s dream. His new accomplice (Ellen Page) is aptly named Ariadne. She is as insightful as she is adept at creating dream-mazes, and as they navigate the multiple levels of the target’s dream, she’ll help Cobb find his way out of his own personal labyrinth.

This was an imaginative story and a visually stunning movie. It had sort of a Jungian feel, which I really enjoyed. However I didn’t love this movie as much as I expected to. The beginning captivated me, but the end, which included a shoot-out on a snowy mountainside, felt a bit like a garden-variety thriller. Neverthelesss, I enjoyed it, and I think it merits a second viewing.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009), written and directed by J. Blakeson

Two British criminals (Martin Compston & Eddie Marsan) adapt an abandoned apartment to serve as a prison cell for the young woman they plan to kidnap (Gemma Arterton). Their target is the daughter of a wealthy man. On the surface this movie, which showcases a cast of three, is a typical crime thriller, and we get only a cursory glimpse at the characters’ back story. However it’s much more complex than it appears. The most interesting facet of this film is the dynamics of shifting power among the three characters. At the outset we see three people whose roles seem clear: the older, more ruthless criminal, the younger partner he dominates, and their victim. Yet everything is not exactly as it appears. This is an excellent movie with several twists … and Oh. My. God. look for Martin Compston’s naked martial arts maneuver. Seriously disturbing.

The Kids Are All Right (2010), directed by Lisa Cholodenko and written by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg

It’s not surprising that teen siblings Joni (Mia Wasakowski) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) would be curious about their paternity. Their moms, long-time lesbian couple Nic (Annette Benning) and Jules (Julianne Moore), conceived them using sperm from the same donor. On her eighteenth birthday, Joni wins the right to seek out their biological dad (Mark Ruffalo) and he quickly becomes part of their lives.

The quality of the acting in this quirky comedy-drama really blew me away, and I loved all the interwoven themes, including love, betrayal, the tenuous balance of power in a marriage, coming of age and the search for belonging. I’d enthusiastically recommend this to any movie aficiando, if you don’t mind some naughty language and explicit sex.

Trainspotting (1996), directed by Danny Boyle, written by Irvine Welsh (who penned a novel of the same name) and screenwriter John Hodge

This ugly, disturbing, and often darkly funny film focuses on young heroin addicts in 1980s Edinburgh. It opens with Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his friend Spud (Ewen Bremner) running down Princes Street with security guards in hot pursuit. Renton reflects that he’s chosen to reject a traditional life with children and financial stability, and that a heroin high is “1000 times better” than the best orgasm. Renton’s circle of friends is introduced: con artist Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), clean-cut athlete Tommy (Kevin McKidd), good natured Spud, and violent sociopath Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Then a downward spiral begins.

This movie was well acted, with clever dialogue, and it’s a gut-wrenching, off-beat exploration of drug addiction and “outsider” culture. However I can’t say I enjoyed it, largely because one particular scene was too disturbing for me. And I don’t mean the bit with the “Worst Toilet in Scotland,” though I had to close my eyes during that scene.  This is a film that will interest some viewers, but proceed at your own risk. 😉

Have you seen any of these movies. What did you think?

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2011 7:01 pm

    Enjoyed both Kids Are All Right and Inception, which are the only ones of these I’ve seen. Want to check out El Bola and Trainspotting at some point. Nice capsule reviews. Like the comment about the different types of mental illness films. Reminds me of Lodge Kerrigan’s films, like “Keane,” which modify the form of the film to empathize with the character in question.

    • January 22, 2011 7:12 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Nick! I’ve never seen Keane, but Sarah has — it sounds like an unusual film. She said the movie was shot from the character’s perspective. Is that what you mean by “modify the form of the film to empathize with the character in question?”

      • January 22, 2011 7:25 pm

        Yeah. The camera is for much of the film fixed on the schizophrenic main character’s face, as he mutters to himself, and is static when he’s not moving, mobile when he’s moving, etc. Has a sentimental undercurrent that doesn’t quite work for it (Amy Ryan is mediocre to say the least), but Damian Lewis is very good and it’s worth checking out.

  2. January 22, 2011 10:50 pm

    The only one I’ve seen is Trainspotting, back when it first came out. I loved it, but I agree that it would be “disturbing to some viewers”. I have also always wondered how people unfamiliar with thick working-class Scottish accents and dialects actually know what’s going on. Did they subtitle it for you? There was some very colloquial Scots in there.

    I’ve read a more critical (negative) review of The Kids Are All Right that you might find thought provoking: http://tenured-radical.blogspot.com/2010/07/if-you-cant-be-good-be-careful-or-why.html

    • January 22, 2011 11:36 pm

      Thanks for the link, Jo — I enjoyed the review though I disagree with her assessment of the movie. I liked the fact that Jules and Nic weren’t a perfect couple, they made stupid decisions, and each of them was difficult to like at times. The way Jules treated the Mexican gardener made me want to throw something. Real-life couples are flawed and people are hard to like.

      And yes, our copy of Trainspotting is subtitled — that helped a lot.

  3. January 22, 2011 11:29 pm

    I bet I know what scene you’re talking about. The crawling baby? That part? That’s what has stuck with me in the many years since I saw the movie originally.

  4. January 23, 2011 2:06 pm

    I had a similar reaction to Inception, but even so, I will definitely watch it a second time.

  5. January 24, 2011 1:27 am

    I really really want to see “The Kids Are All Right.” I’m so sad I missed it in the theaters … though maybe it will be rereleased for the Oscars or something.

    I’m still haunted by Trainspotting. That is one movie I wish I’d never seen. I’m not sure which scene you are talking about but, for me, the toilet scene was beyond horrible. I couldn’t get over the baby part either. Really horrible stuff.

    • January 24, 2011 1:59 am

      Yes, I was definitely talking about the baby part. I hope you enjoy The Kids Are All Right. We saw it on DVD.

  6. January 24, 2011 2:03 pm

    I know what you mean about Trainspotting but I have to say it’s one of my favorites. yes, it’s disturbing but it also has this wonderful optimism and joie de vivre about it here and there. And i LOVE the soundtrack, and Ewan, and all the actors. Begby is a riot, too. But yeah, it’s a tough one in many respects. I want to see The Kids Are All Right soon, as soon as I can get the DVD. Great roundup!

    • January 24, 2011 4:39 pm

      Begby was a riot in a way … scary as hell, but a riot. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Marie. I love your new movie blog!

  7. January 24, 2011 6:43 pm

    Haven’t seen Trainspotting – but heard about it:) Inception was the best movie I saw in 2010 in the theaters. Mindbending is a pretty accurate description. Collective gasp from the entire audience at the last scene.

  8. January 25, 2011 12:15 am

    I watched Kids are Alright and Inception this month too and enjoyed them both. It’s funny, I didn’t think I would ‘get’ inception but, wow, was it ever good!

  9. January 25, 2011 12:19 am

    I agree with you that Inception warrants a second viewing. I saw it in the theater and really want to watch it again since I’m sure there were things I missed. Also, loved The Kids Are Alright — charming and funny and thoughtful.

  10. January 28, 2011 2:29 pm

    It’s been years since I watched Trainspotting–would be interesting to watch now that I’m a bit older. I really enjoyed Inception but you’re right about the snowy-mountain shoot-out. This sounds really bizarre, but I tend to zone out during action scenes like that. Car chases as well. I just don’t care. But the rest was great!

    • January 28, 2011 2:53 pm

      I zone out during action scenes and car chases too! It seems like the opposite of what a “normal” person would do. 🙂

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