Friday, 29 January 2010

Fun films for dull days ~ or nights

An enjoyable movie, like a good book, provides a gateway to another world for a time.  Here are four lightweight movies I enjoyed this summer:

"Intolerable cruelty" (2003) starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones:
This is a farce about divorce, a subject which will not be to everyone's taste but is nonetheless rich in dramatic scenarios, and if we can laugh at this usually painful subject, I say so much the better.
    Older viewers may remember Zeta-Jones as the seductive Mariette in the television series "The Darling Buds of May".  In this movie she is more beautiful and seductive than ever and an alluring match in looks and temperament to Clooney.  Her character, Marilyn Rexroth, is diligently working her way to financial independence by way of serial divorce.
    Clooney's character, Miles Massey, is the divorce lawyer acting for her husband.  They each have some marvellous lines!  Mr Rexroth confides to Miles that his wife has him between a rock and a hard place, to which Miles responds crisply "That's her job - you should respect that," which is, shall we say, refreshingly unexpected!  He's the man in charge and no one is likely to forget it.  I'm not easily impressed by good-looking men but was very much entertained by Clooney's interpretation of this quick-witted, dental-hygiene-obsessed and somewhat supercilious character.  Clooney clearly enjoyed the role and sends it up just enough to make Miles funny rather than aggravating. And I must confess that the sight of him in green and red tartan took even my breath away. Must be my Scottish ancestry getting the better of me!
    During the course of the story Miles and Marilyn take turns at stalking each other like a pair of wary yet designing felines, with the predictable drawing of claws and flying of fur.
    One disappointment was that the movie was not longer and more complex but I found it fun all the same, and was pleased to be able to watch portions of it several times over.

Note: I've seen Clooney in two other movies, "Burn after reading" which was supposed to be funny but which I found so dull I watched only about a third of it, and "Up in the air", which I thought started with brilliant opening credits, footage and music and went downhill all the way from there.  Clooney didn't seem to have much to do in either movie, a waste of his talent.
    The biography of George Clooney in Wikipedia is an interesting read, especially his comments about the Iraq war which you can read under the heading Politics and Advocacy.

"Mad dogs and Englishmen" also known as "How to kill your neighbours dog" (2000) starring Kenneth Branagh and Robin Wright Penn:
I liked Branagh in this movie.  His character, Peter McGowan, is a playwright in the doldrums, and at this point in his career he doesn't seem to be able to write, sleep or satisfy his wife, and then the neighbour gets a dog - which barks at night.  I think most of us can identify with at least one of these problems, possibly more.  As an Englishman domiciled in the leafy suburbs of Los Angeles, our thwarted playwright vents his frustrations in a blisteringly un-American manner very much at odds with those around him.  Clearly he has a sufficiently substantial reputation and wealth not to be inconvenienced by those he might offend!  The scene in which he is interviewed on television is one to treasure!  Coming the other way, his chance meeting with a dis-affected screenplay writer shows the boot on the other foot.  McGowan, while surprised and taken a-back, takes it in his stride.
    There are interesting theatrical devices used, such as the doppelgänger character who stalks him, and is fittingly believable.
    The sub-plot about the little girl who comes to live next door added a softer touch without becoming mushy.
    What I particularly liked about this movie was that Branagh and Penn portray a couple who clearly love each other and want to be together despite their difficulties, which you don't often see in movies - usually the storyline is either entirely given over to the chase, or it's all on - or all off.  This is a very nicely crafted movie and of these four seemed the closest to real life.

"Something's gotta give" (2003) starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton:
I should think that any fan of either of these actors would enjoy this movie: Nicholson, as Harry Sanborn, is his flamboyantly womanising and satirical self, and Keaton, as Erica Barry,  is as nervy, engaging and ambiguous as ever - edging awkwardly between laughter and anger, stormy tears and enchantment.  Harry sets her all on end, and visa versa, and yet...
    By chance I watched this movie after the one above, and it is also about a languishing playwright! This time that role goes to the woman.  While I enjoyed watching these two great actors I never forgot I was watching a movie made up about two fictional characters, so it lacked the realism of the Branagh movie.  Good entertainment though.

"Whatever works" (2009) written and directed by Woody Allen; starring Larry David (of "Curb your Enthusiasm" fame) and Evan Rachel Wood, supported by Patricia Clarkson:
I loved this movie - it's so Jewish, so Woody Allen.  He's scathingly intelligent, determinedly depressed, tied up in anguished knots about the meaningless randomness of life, yet still possessing an off-beat generosity - if of a morose variety!  Woody expresses himself through the character of Boris, played by Larry David, a man of advanced middle age and decidedly knobbly knees, who invariably sings Happy Birthday as he washes his hands, an eccentric.
    An essential feature of any Woody Allen movie is the innocent and as yet unformed young woman, in this case played by Evan Rachel Wood, who is the perfect foil for this disaffected older man.  She carries off the role with an ingenuousness as convincing as it is delightful.  By slow degrees she invades his world, and then, surprise, surprise, his heart.  All goes well until the entrance on the scene of her mother, splendidly portrayed by Patricia Clarkson, at which point upsets occur in many directions one after another.
    As with the Branagh movie I enjoyed the use of theatrical devices such as the repeated use of the opening chords of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony which heralds especially dramatic moments. The deliberately stagy quality of some of the acting is another case in point, as in Boris' recollection of a row he had with his first wife, which is precisely the manner in which we mentally re-enact our memories of difficult situations, time after time after time - like set pieces.
    Woody Allen has a lot to say, and he is determined not to leave anything out, so this is a movie packed with his particular style of intellectual content and leaves the viewer in no doubt as to how he has reached the conclusion that the best way to live is to do "whatever works".  His characters as lined up at the end are so far removed in disposition and circumstance from where they started out that I laughingly agreed! 

Book shop links for interested NZ viewers:
"Mad dogs and Englishmen": also entitled: "How to kill your neighbours dog"
Fishpond.co.nz
The locally available version is entitled: "Mad dogs and Englishmen" - much more civilised!
 Mad Dogs and Englishmen

"Something's gotta give"
Fishpond.co.nz
 Somethings Gotta Give

"Whatever works"
Fishpond.co.nz
Whatever Works