Tonight’s movie is A Late Quartet about the members of a string quartet, which, like the lives of its members, is facing a time of transition.
For those who find slow movies boring, you can just tune away now. This is most definitely not for you. For those who find the thought of a deep metaphorical character study interesting, read on.
The Fugue Quartet has been around for 25 years, performed over 3000 shows, and is considered one of the best string quartets in the world. But as their oldest member, the cellist, Peter, faces the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease and decides that he will leave the quartet after its next performance, the remaining members of the group find themselves trying to come to grips with what his decision means for all of them individually, and, more importantly, the group itself.
Daniel, the first chair violin, is a perfectionist. Juliette, the viola, feels that she would be lost without the remainder of the group. And Robert, the second chair violin and Juliette’s husband, is dissatisfied with his life and his role in the quartet, having played backup to Daniel for the entire 25 years.
Mixed in with this is the death the year earlier of Peter’s wife, an opera singer, and the fact that Juliette was raised by Peter and his wife after her mother died in childbirth. Meanwhile, Alexandra, Robert and Juliette’s daughter, is finding her own path as a violinist in the music world, and seeks Daniel’s tutoring, putting them in a romantic relationship.
By the time they deliver what may be their last performance together, everyone except Peter is their lowest personal point. And it’s then that Peter sees his chance to make the quartet and the people in the group whole again.
Sure, the movie is complete allegory, and you know what the point is. But it actually keeps you on edge, not resolving anything until the last couple of minutes of the film. More importantly, even though most of us have no idea what the life of a musician is like, it’s still very easy to relate to the story and characters here, because at one time or another, we’ve all felt nearly everything that one or all of the individuals in the story have felt.
What’s more remarkable is just how the movie is cut to a bare minimum to get the story told: the cast numbers about 15 people, the musical performance revolves around just one piece of music (Opus 131 by Beethoven), and keeps the relationships all intertwined within the group. And nothing about it seems simple or out-of-place or even cheap. Everything has a purpose and a specific role to fill, and everything else is deemed unnecessary, and we don’t miss it.
The acting is wonderful: Christopher Walken as Peter, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Robert, and Catherine Keener as Juliette. Peter is afraid of not only his own personal future, but the future of the group as he decides to leave it. Juliette is terrified of everything she has built her life around for 25 years dissolving away: her marriage, the quartet, and even her daughter. And Robert feels trapped in unappreciated roles in his marriage and in the group–something that he thinks Peter’s departure can finally help resolve for him.
This is another of those simple films that is remarkably powerful without feeling like it’s trying to be. It’s complex enough so that all of the feelings and decisions by the characters are completely plausible and believable. And it does it all without any gimmick or lack of transparency.
Highly recommended for those who like the deep, rich character studies. Four out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.
I was a child of the ’80s, which means that I spent far too much time and far too many quarters than I should have on video games. So along comes the recent Disney flick Wreck-It Ralph, which is practically an homage to those bygone 8-bit gaming masterpieces.
The story is this: Ralph is the bad guy in an old-school video game. In the game, his job is to wreck an apartment building only to have it fixed by the hero and namesake of the game Fix-It Felix, Jr.
But Ralph has been doing this over and over for over 20 years, and is tired of being the bad guy, so he leaves the game in a quest to become a good guy. In the process, he gets mixed up in games he’s not supposed to be a part of, and ends up trying to save a character who is supposedly a “glitch” in a racing game.
Meanwhile, he also needs to fix problems he’s introduced from another game , or else the racing game and Fix-It Felix, Jr. will be shut down forever.
Okay, so it’s a boilerplate Disney storyline: don’t be selfish and mess with things that affect other people/worlds because you don’t know what might happen. And it’s predictable: good guys–including Ralph who is a good guy acting as a bad guy for the sake of his game–win, bad guys lose, and everything is restored to normal and life goes on happily because everyone learned a valuable lesson. But it’s finally a good Disney computer animated film that doesn’t try too hard to be something it’s not, unlike some previous attempts in Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt.
There are plenty of nods to the rest of the video gaming world, a lot of them very funny, either having fun with specific games or with the genres they represent. So in that sense, it’s really well written, since it needed to integrate so many video game characters, styles, and types into an original story like this. Plus, it was amazing to see the how hard the animators worked to make sure the look of the look of the game genres were maintained.
It’s been a few years since Pixar and Disney merged. And while Disney once was the height of storytelling, Pixar has long since taken that title. Now they seem to be bringing it back.
I’m not saying this was a great movie by any means. It didn’t have the emotional depth of the classic Disney films or even of Up, Pixar’s amazing triumph of a few years ago. But it was smart, heartfelt, witty, and well-made. So, overall, I’ll give it Three out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.
Let me first explain some of how I find my movies to watch. I rely very heavily on the ratings provided by Netflix, so if it says that I’d rate it over about a 3.3, I really think about watching it.
I also hit an Apple website a couple of times a month to watch some previews for upcoming movies. And some months ago, I came across this film, which, based purely on the preview, seemed pretty cute. And for once, the preview didn’t give away more of the film than you needed which made the film that much better than the preview was.
The story is this: Frank is an old burglar living by himself in his family house outside of a small-ish town. He’s divorced, and has two kids, the daughter, travelling the world, working for a variety of charitable causes. The son is successful in some way, living hours away from his father’s house. He visits once a week, and decided to buy a robot to care for his father.
The robot is purely a caregiver, designed to cook, clean, be a companion to, and monitor Frank, because Frank is experiencing the early stages of dementia. But old skills are hard to forget or give up, and after discovering that the robot has no programming to prevent it from doing anything illegal, Frank eventually decides to teach the robot lock-picking skills and pull off one more big score. The robot agrees, seeing that the preparation involved will help Frank keep his mind sharp.
This is another of those movies that feels fairly effortless. There were a couple of surprising plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and the film still just kept chugging along and stayed focused on the primary story. It was simple and fun and light and yet still a pretty deep commentary on a family that grew up with deep divides and problems because of Frank’s career and two prison terms.
The cast, as it should be for a movie this simple, is small, but really good: Frank Langella as Frank, his son and daughter played by James Marsden and Liv Tyler, and the local librarian played by Susan Sarandon. No one plays their character too far out of the box they should be in, and really, there isn’t a “bad guy” per se. Though Frank is pursued by the local sheriff when he’s suspected of pulling off a jewelry heist from a nearby house.
The story is really clever. The filmmaking is simple and doesn’t get in the way with anything flashy. And it isn’t any longer than it needs to be. I’ll recommend this indie film for anyone looking for a good study in aging and obselescence. Four out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow for another review.
One of the greatest and most overlooked features of Netflix is it’s ability to recommend movies. Nine years ago or so, when we signed up for the service, that was still a selling point, but since then, somehow that part of the business seems to be rarely used by people who I’ve talked to about it. And I’m not sure why.
It’s an amazing tool, especially for someone like me who doesn’t pay that much attention to upcoming movies and doesn’t hear about a lot of great movies that come and go without even registering a blip on my radar.
Jesus Henry Christ is a movie that, up until a few weeks ago when I put it in my queue, I’d never heard of. It’s an independent film, made with very few stars. And I really wonder if it had any kind of marketing behind it at all.
I’ll be honest: I initially didn’t want this as my movie for now, because there’s another one I want to see more that was actually ahead of it, but not in stock yet. So this was a movie that I just needed to get through to get to the movie that I really wanted. But this was well worth it.
The basic plot is this: Henry is a 10-year-old genius who was conceived via in-vitro fertilization with sperm from an anonymous donor. His mother was left by age 13 to care for her widowed father after bizarre accidents killed her mother and twin brothers. Another brother left for Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft, and the last brother died of AIDS in the 1980s.
And now that he’s 10, Henry has decided to find out who his father is. Thanks to information from his grandfather, Henry discovers that he’s the half-brother of a girl whose father is a local university professor. And then works, ever so subtly to bring some sense of peace and calm to the lives of everyone he’s come to care for in his life–his mother, the professor, and his half-sister.
This is one of those independent movies, kind of like Moonrise Kingdom, or Little Miss Sunshine where the entire world is turned on its ear and is uniformly bizarre enough where everything is funny and still easy to accept. And yet, it’s a remarkably touching story.
Henry’s mother is angry at the world, primarily because she was forced into a role that no teenage girl should be forced into. But at the same time, is a very good parent who wants to encourage, protect, and provide for her son.
The professor is troubled because his marriage fell apart, he’s on drugs of all types for sleeping problems, depression, and other issues; and his soon-to-be 13-year-old daughter hates him–and most of the world–because she was the test-subject of his well-intended, but poorly titled book about raising kids to not have a sexual identity, which was titled “Born Gay or Made That Way?”
This contained a lot of what I like in a movie: it felt effortless in how it told the story, it didn’t try to be too cute or too silly, and it let the plot tell the story without needing to resort to any silly gimmicks. Sure, there are flashbacks, but those are because Henry has a photographic memory, and some images he presents to us are very important to the story.
There’s nothing here that’s fluff. There’s nothing that is unnecessary. And it’s all written and directed to be very straight-forward. And when it gets you to a conclusion that’s predictable but still very satisfying, then the movie did its job to entertain. Sure, everyone seems to end up happy in the film, but that’s the point: Henry’s quest was as much about who his father is as it was about bringing completeness to three other broken lives.
I didn’t expect to like this movie that much, but I really did. It’s well worth the 92 minutes it takes to watch it. Four out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.
This one’s gonna be short.
Downton Abbey’s season finale is tonight–in fourteen minutes, to be precise, and I’m going to watch it live instead of a couple of weeks after it airs. And seeing as how I’m kind of tired today, I won’t come back to regale you all with anything even vaguely interesting.
If you’re watching the show, enjoy it as well. Maybe we’ll catch up later.
See you tomorrow.
Tonight’s movie is one of those films that was very difficult to watch. It’s powerful and emotional and stars a couple Hollywood A-Listers, and all of those other things that seems to put a film into the Best Picture category in the Oscars.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was a 2011 nominee for Best Picture, and I can’t figure out why except that it was those things I listed. It wasn’t really well-written. I don’t think it was really well acted by Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock–heck, Max von Sydow, playing the hidden grandfather who doesn’t speak (I’ll explain later) had a more powerful role and showed better acting. But it is dealing in uncomfortable and powerful territory.
Oskar is a young boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. His father, a New York jeweler, was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Oskar, as with any child of a victim, and even more so as someone with his diagnosis, has a difficult time dealing with his father’s death, especially considering he was closer to his father.
Part of their time together was spent sending Oskar on expeditions to get out into the world–out into New York City–to discover things, find things his father planted using clues he was given, and to experience and adapt to the busy, loud world around him.
So when Oskar discovers a key in an envelope hidden in a vase hidden in his father’s things in a closet, Oskar decides it’s one last quest that his father has sent him on: to find what the key opens. The kid goes on a very rational and well-ordered search, sure that he would find some last piece of his father to hold on to once he found what the key opened.
Except that doing expeditions in the city now are extremely difficult: planes scare him, public transit scares him, noises scare him, elevators scare him, and angry people scare him. During his search, though, he meets a lot of people along the way, discovers the joys and frustrating realities of life, and figures out that the “renter” living in a room in his grandmother’s apartment across the street is actually his grandfather.
In the end, it’s a somewhat uplifting story, as we discover that he and his mother have been on the same quest. And in the process, the two of them have unexpectedly grown closer thanks to their shared loss.
There’s nothing about this film that really stands out, except for the subject matter and really stressful light it casts the story in. The boy is played very well by a young actor, and you really do start to feel his anxiety in dealing with the world and the untold secrets he has about what he knows about his father’s death.
And Max von Sydow is brilliant as the strange, mute “renter” living with Oskar’s grandmother. He hasn’t spoken since he was young, having faced his own trauma, and instead communicates with Oskar through either notes in a pad, or with the “yes” and “no” tattoos on his palms. Since he can’t speak, von Sydow’s character has to communicate all of his feelings through facial expressions, sighs, and even the increasingly frustrated handwriting in the notes to Oskar.
But as I said before, everything else is just flat. Tom Hanks’ character is just a series of flashbacks, and almost caricatures at that. And Sandra Bullock’s grieving wife is almost over-the-top in terms of her detachment for almost the entire movie.
And the start of the movie is slow. I mean, really slow. So much so that I stopped watching 40 minutes in because it was going nowhere, and just came back to it tonight to see if it got any better. Strangely enough, it was just a few minutes after that 40 minute mark that it really took off.
I’ve got to hand it to the filmmakers for taking on a really difficult and tender topic. And I applaud them for trying to approach it from a different and unexpected direction. But I think there was more they could have done with this to make it fell less flat: better cinematography, or a more brisk pace, or something.
It’s a good film, and I’m giving it three out of five stars but there’s nothing about it that I saw that makes it a great or potentially award-winning film.
See you tomorrow.
After having a DVD at home from Netflix since July, I figured I’d better finally watch it. And as long as I’m reviewing things, I’ll throw my review of another movie your way, too…
It’s a partial celebration of the art of the silent film, though it also mocks it at the same time–it’s presented in black and white, in a standard 4:3 non-widescreen ratio, with a musical soundtrack, and occasional incidental sounds, used for emphasis and points in the story.
The hero, George Valentin (played by Jean DuJardin) is one of the top actors of the silent film era, who is the star of his studio. But it all comes crashing to an end when he is shown a talkie screen test by the head of the studio. George pridefully proclaims that people don’t need to see him speak, but only at the end of the film do we understand why.
He spends much of his personal wealth on a self-produced, written and directed silent film after leaving the studio, and releases it the same day as the stock market crash of October 1929, all of which leads him to financial ruin. When his wife separates from him and demands a divorce, he is left destitute and on his own in a sparse apartment in Hollywood.
Meanwhile, a young extra on one of his films Peppy Miller, who he became smitten with before his marriage dissolved, has become one of the hottest stars in the talkies. She has been a fan of his since before she was in the movies herself and holds a soft spot for him, and after making a denigrating comment in a radio interview about the quality of acting in silent movies, he stopped respecting her.
In the end, everything works out, she finds him a role in one of her movies, and he becomes a star in a talkie.
This movie is very well done–it’s a crisp, simple story, well acted as a silent film, and it uses sound and title cards surprisingly effectively. Is it a great movie that merited Oscar nominations? I don’t think so, but maybe that was the only way to get it seen by a broader audience who didn’t appreciate some of the history of filmmaking. Four out of Five Stars.
Our second film today is one I watched a couple of weeks ago as I was cuddling with the cat. The film is Albert Nobbs, which is about a woman who has spent nearly her entire life living her life as a man in order to make a decent living.
Albert has been living as Albert almost as long as she can remember, after having been raped or abused as a young teenager. He started working in service as a waiter at restaurants, and has managed to work his way up to being a lead waiter at the dining room in a nice hotel.
Albert is saving up to have enough money to strike out on his own with a tobacconist’s shop, and is fiercely private because of his gender situation, but also because he has hidden a stash of money under the floor of his room. But one night, he is forced to bunk with a painter who has been hired to paint some of the hotel’s rooms. During this night, Albert’s secret is discovered, but the painter turns out to be a woman too, leading Albert into the world of illicit lesbian couples.
I’ll be honest. From there, the story turns into a quasi-farcical story of unrequited love as Albert tries to court a maid at the hotel who has a boyfriend of her own. Though I’m not entirely sure whether Albert loves the maid or is just trying to make them appear as a couple so his life as a man once he gets the shop is convincing to the outside world.
The end of the movie matches the fairly depressing tone of the rest of the movie, and I was left wondering if Albert made an impact on the world, and if the movie was really worth the time it took to watch it.
I’ll say this, though, it was a well-made movie. The acting was good, the period look and feel was very good, and the filmmaking did what it should in a movie like this: stayed out of the way of the story. But the story itself couldn’t quite decide what it was: a period piece that gives the feeling that half of the “male” jobs done in Britain in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s were actually done by disguised women, or some sort of lesbian treatise…Not that either of those are entirely bad on their own, but I just couldn’t figure out what the story was trying to say.
So all that being said, it was an OK movie. So Three out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.
Over the course of about the last week or so, I’ve managed somehow to catch up completely with all of the TV shows I watch–or at least all of the TV shows that I actively pay attention to.
I finished up this past season of Mad Men last weekend, finally seeing what all of the hubbub was over Joan, Jaguar, Lane and Peggy. And if these names mean nothing to you, you don’t watch the show, so don’t worry about it.
Midweek, I finished up watching Doc Martin, which also means I’m caught up there and just have to wait for the next and possibly final season.
And last night (Saturday), Jenni, the girls, and I finally watched the last episode of Downton Abbey‘s second season. Of all three shows, this is the one that I really cannot wait for.
Stupid period soap operas.
But it’s a strange feeling, and I’m a little bit at a loss because I haven’t been completely caught up on everything before.
I sat down and looked over my Netflix queue and found a couple of things that it thinks I should pick up: Forty Something, a Britcom starring Hugh Laurie as a middle-aged doctor who’s cracking up while his family disintegrates around him; and Reggie Perrin, season two, which is about a middle-aged executive who is cracking up while it seems like his world is crumbling around him.
No, really. I don’t see a trend here.
Neither grabbed me right now. But I’m not really sure what I’m looking to watch.
It’s probably a good time to be at this point though…With the trip and all…
T Minus Seven.
See you tomorrow.
We here in Lathropworld are a tech-focused bunch.
Everyone in the house has at least one computer–and for the most part, that computer isn’t a complete relic. All of us have at least one e-mail address. Two of us have websites and blogs. Three of us have Facebook pages. One of us manages more than just her Facebook page.
Oh yes, we’re heavily plugged in to the world. In fact, if utility service were to fail here and the internet were to go out, we’d probably notice that before the lack of electricity. But not heat. Jenni and the girls are chronically cold.
So I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone who knows us, and to probably to people who are acquainted with us in passing, that we’re expanding our reach in cyberspace.
Twitter has been a little bit elusive to me, I’ll have to admit. I’ve had an account for a couple of years, and in that time, I’ve only managed a paltry 133 tweets. Now that I think about it, I should have tweeted during my sleep study, just to see how that screwed with the results. But you’d think it wouldn’t be that hard, coming up with 140 characters to simply pass on a message, or comment on something you thought of or saw or heard at that moment. Sure, there are people who have turned their tweets into a running commentary of their lives, but there are many, many others who have made it an art form. So for the last couple of years I’ve had an account, I’m mainly used @Lathropworld as a means to get news and information quickly and instantly without having to dive through piles of websites.
So I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with Twitter. Jenni got on and embraced it completely and is truly remarkable in what she tweets, retweets, and the like. Of course, she also manages the Twitter and Facebook accounts of Luther Seminary, so she’d better be good at it, I guess. But I do admire what she does there and on Facebook because it isn’t over the top or stupid or irrelevant. It’s smart, and interesting, and funny.
Well, on Friday, she convinced Patrick to jump into the Twitter pool. So y’all can follow his feed. Even if you don’t have an account, you can still hit the link back there and see what he posts. I think he’d be great at this, because he’s incredibly creative, and the stuff that pops up in his brain is mesmerizing, and I think he’d be well served to share some of that with the world…So I’m trying to convince him to do that, and to set up his account to take tweets by text from his phone. (If you want to help the cause, just mention this to him, too…He’d love to have the encouragement.)
Not to be outdone, and having been searching for a while to be a bit more creative in my internet presence, I finally fleshed out my broader plan for using the Twitter to tweet and twit. So the @Lathropworld account will be my primary personal account, but two others, more anonymous (yes, I realize mentioning here that I’m setting them up makes them less than anonymous) are coming: @WiseThingsISay and @UnderRuled. @WiseThingsISay is destined to be a place where I can just post random stuff, mostly oddball thoughts and funny stuff. @UnderRuled will be my political forum.
Oh, and I set up one more site for you to check out. I have the goal to take more pictures (and maybe even recipes) of things I cook. So I set up a Tumblr page (kind of an odd combo of blogging and Twitter–short and easy, but more flexible than Twitter).
I know, I don’t have much of anything (or nothing at all) up at any of those pages, but that’s coming, trust me. Just keep checking. (By the way, I’ve added the Twitter feeds to the sidebar over there on the right).
So sign on to Twitter! Get your own account if you don’t have one! Tweet back to us, retweet us and follow us (really! We’re lonely and pathetic that way…). Of course, if any of that really made no sense to you, maybe it wouldn’t be the best thing for you. Or you could just drop in on those links once in a while to see what we’re all up to.
Thanks for paying attention.
See you tomorrow.
Jenni, just close the page right now. Do not read on, because I may just speak blasphemy here…
Kids, as you know, I’m not a huge consumer of the televised arts. Or rather, I don’t watch much in the way of non-news or documentary or educational or similar programming. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good scripted show–heck, I’d love it if there were more scripted shows that weren’t horribly fast-paced, more crisply written, better acted, and the like. But apparently, I’m fussy about these things, and what most people even consider good or great television, I can just leave along and not be bothered with.
So I’ll give you some brief reviews of some current TV shows that I’m watching or have seen while sitting in front of the TV at home.
Pan Am: I’ve given it four episodes, now, and they’re still plodding along with thin, standalone stories all as a backdrop for the tension that is each week’s character introduction. I don’t need a whole hour to figure out why a character hates Berlin: we could have settled that whole piece in 30 seconds of dialog and tried building a better episode. But no, in their third week, they muddled through an episode that drew out the fact that one of the stewardesses lived in occupied France during WWII and still has a dislike for Germans, and even better, that was set against the backdrop of Kennedy’s speech in West Berlin. But as far as I can tell, advancing her story line was the whole reason the crew was sent to Berlin. You could have done that just as well and given her a red-eye to Cleveland. I went into this show with high hopes, but it’s just been thin and disappointing.
How I Met Your Mother: In my opinion, this is one of the best written shows out there right now, and it’s a 30 minute sitcom. While the show, according to it’s title, is about Ted, he’s really just a part of the 5-member ensemble cast, and writing for five people with level handedness and still staying true to their characters is a difficult thing to do. And the bonus is that it’s very funny.
Person of Interest: I’ve heard that people love this show. I sit down and see it and something about it just strikes me as one of the worst acted shows I’ve ever seen. Now granted, I haven’t seen much that either of the lead actors has been in, but they both speak in wimpy monotones and show little emotion, so I find little reason to care about anyone in the show.
Big Bang Theory: I’ve tried to like this show…I really have. People at work say I should watch it and like it. People online say I should like the show. But I just don’t. I don’t think I’m offended by the stereotypes portrayed in it. Instead, I just don’t find it funny. The nerds do nerdish things and instead of being laughed at and picked on by “normal” people, the normal people are the audience.
Mad Men: This show still surprises me, through the two seasons I’ve watched, and it’s tense, too, mostly because there isn’t a single innocent or really likeable character in the show. The side benefit is that they’ve perfectly nailed the period and you really feel like you’re in whatever year that season is in at the time. The lead character is the only one with a past–and that’s because his is the only past you really need to care about for the show. Everyone else just gives you what you need when you need it, otherwise, they’re window dressing to help tell the story, which is not about advertising, business, or the period, but about Don Draper. He’s the bad guy trying to be good in a world that he almost literally created.
Reggie Perrin: I’ve started watching this show which came on recently on late night on TPT2. It’s a remake of The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, a show from the ’70s about a man who has a nervous breakdown because of his meaningless job for a heartless corporation. The modern version stars Martin Clunes, who plays Reggie Perrin in the midst of his breakdown as he resigns and then is rehired at a personal grooming product manufacturer. His home life is adrift, his job annoys him, and his only answer to it is to do strange, irrational things. It’s very much a modern comedy: up-tempo, a bit crass, but still manages to be fairly original and unique because of some good writing and level acting by Clunes.
I’m waiting anxiously for the return of The IT Crowd and Doc Martin, both of which are due to come back sometime in the next year. It’ll be good to have those back, though word is that those both will be in their last season.
So there you go, some pocket-sized reviews on TV. And don’t even get me started on anything “Reality TV” has to offer…
See you tomorrow.