Margaret Perry Movies

Let's Talk Film

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Seven Brits in the twilight of their years fly halfway around the world to Jaipur, India to reside in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. The film’s magnificent title is supported by a magnificent cast of the best of British thespians, including best buds Maggie Smith and Judi Dench (in their first film together since 2004’s Ladies in Lavender), Bill Nighy (Love Actually), Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey), Celia Imrie (Nanny McPheeCalendar Girls), Tom Wilkinson, and Ronald Pickup

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Dark Shadows

Despite a rotten Rotten Tomatoes rating of only 42%, Tim Burton‘s Dark Shadows is still a lot of fun for fans of Burton/Depp collaborations. The film has all the earmarks of a usual Burton/Depp production, though it falls short of being a masterpiece. Tim Burton‘s other half, Helena Bonham Carter makes her appearance as the family’s gin-swilling, gerascophobic psychiatrist. There is also the expected amount of blood, dark eye shadow, and shabby-chic costuming that accompanies a Burton flick. But it is the silky smooth dialogue, and the delivery of same by Johnny Depp, which prevents this movie from slipping into the realms of pure kitsch.

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Avenging Women

My roommate found this infographic online and showed it to me and she and I had a good laugh about it. But then it struck me that it would actually be funnier if it were more true. The top pie chart says women won’t like The Avengers because it has a sexy woman in it, while the bottom chart illustrates how women will like the movie because it has a lot of hot guys in it. Both paint a rather limited, and inaccurate, view of how women view movies. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Avengers

In what Time magazine (May 7, 2012) calls the “first of this summer’s ultra-expensive, apex-predator blockbuster movies,” and the “Travelling Wilberys of super-hero franchises,” six super-heroes assemble to defend earth against an alien invasion. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D calls together Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Rufallo), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to join forces against Thor’s [adopted] brother , Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who has enlisted the evil Chitauri to help him enslave the human race. The film is directed by Joss Whedon, a super-hero among super-hero fans and creator/director of Buffy the Vampire SlayerFirefly, and the most recent The Cabin in the Woods. Read the rest of this entry »

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84th Academy Awards 2012

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Despite the decidedly dark subject of this story, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an amazingly engaging film. Recently disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired by the head of a wealthy Swedish family to discover whatever became of his niece, who went missing forty years ago and was never heard from again. Blomkvist in turn hires Lisbeth Salander, a young goth/punk techie, to help him uncover a decades-old mystery.

The success of the film can be divided fairly equally into three parts: its casting, the cinematography, and the screenplay itself. Rooney Mara‘s Lisbeth is a dark, but undoubtedly multi-dimensional character. By way of her subtle facial expressions one gets a sense of her depth without losing the integrity of her tough-girl façade. Our understanding of Lisbeth’s nature is allowed to unfold throughout the movie, giving audiences a very rich picture of her experience and character. We are at once allied to her success and intimidated by her intense behavior. Mara’s precision and focus as an actor result in this thorough characterisation.

The cinematography of this film beautifully captures the barren starkness of northern Sweden. The snow and wind make one positively shiver with cold. The filming captures the feel  of the geographic location while also paying close attention to the beautiful detail of the faces.

The presentation of the story itself is very well-arranged. Like any good mystery, the clues are presented one by one, not necessarily in order, leading to a climactic discovery near the end of the film. The mystery is such that you can make intelligent guesses as to how you think the thing was done and by whom, but you don’t really know until the very last minute. There was also a legitimate amount of time spent on the development of the individual characters so that the film wasn’t dragged down with too much heady plot thrust. The deft interweaving of both aspects of the story buoyed the tone of the film – knowing about the characters helped us understand the motivations behind the action while the action simultaneously helped us learn more about the characters.

There are two distinct problems this film presents. First of all is the abrupt and ungraceful transition at the end from the resolution of the mystery to the sub-plot about Mikael’s career and the man who ruined it at the start of the film. This section of the movie, toward the end, feels disjointed. I was told that it is actually part of the second book in the series, so maybe this explains why it doesn’t seem to fit well here.

The final scene of the movie was very close to ruining the whole thing. I don’t think it’d be a spoiler if I said what happens. Basically, Lisbeth buys Mikael a present, then when she rides over to give it to him, he leaves his apartment with another woman and Lisbeth dumps the present in a nearby dumpster then rides off. This whole scene smack of the films of old Hollywood when a female character was really strong throughout the film, but in the last scenes is portrayed as weak. This was a way for those filmmakers to mediate films with strong gender messages with a decidedly patriarchal society. The majority of the film would exhibit non-conformist feminism, then the woman would be “tamed” or “put back in her place” by a hasty, often unrealistic ending. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we see a similar scene follow that trend. We have been led to believe that Lisbeth is a girl who can take care of herself, in more ways than one. Why then have the film end on a scene that portrays her as “just a woman.” It’s almost as if the message of the film abruptly becomes, “even though she’s a highly intelligent, self-sufficient woman who can beat up her rapist and trap an international con-man, she still just a woman who feels hurt when jilted by a man.” Now, I think one of this movie’s strong points is that Lisbeth is portrayed in various scenes as very tough, but also human. But the final scene doesn’t need to undermine strength of her humanity in this way (I also don’t care if the book ends this way as well – my point is that it’s a bad ending under any circumstances).

I encourage everyone of age to see this movie. It’s very solidly constructed in almost every way. I think one needs to have a strong stomach for those scenes that are a bit unsavory, but the tempo of the story is satisfying. If I were to see it again, I would just leave before that very last scene. Actually, it would be an awesome place to end, before that very last scene, and that almost makes it worse that they insisted on tacking it on.


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I really don’t know why I should be writing a review about this film. They always say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” But if Thomas Paine had lived up to that adage, where would this country be today? I also believe that this is a very popular movie, everybody likes it, it’s just not my kind of film. But in my defense, I’ve been pretty flexible. I enjoyed suspending belief for Cowboys and Aliens. Even the first Sherlock Holmes (2009) was bearable because of its inventiveness. There aren’t very many film genres which I wholly dislike. Unless you want to start a genre called the “rotten-Hollywood-film-adaptions-of-good-books” genre.

It seemed like, for most of this movie, we were watching a lot of movement, but little action. There was a lot of dialogue, but very little was said. Everything was so fast-paced and flashy that the audience was too lost to even realized it was confused. There would be some fast exchange between Holmes and Watson, and we’re so impressed by the style of their banter that we never stop to ask, “Okay, so what’s the plan again?” The film takes us places when we don’t even know where or why we’re going. There are fight scenes when we don’t know who we’re fighting or why, or even why we care!

The Sherlock Holmes I know is not as out-going as Robert Downing , Jr.’s portrayal. I think even the last Sherlock Holmes captured him a bit more accurately. And, now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure Watson doesn’t get married until much later. And when did Sherlock Holmes ever have anything to do with keeping world order? And who was that chick who was running around with them, and why was she there? And since when are Holmes and Moriarty on speaking terms? And I know Holmes was a boxing champ, but how often did he get into street brawls? Certainly not every other scene. He had so much more class than that. And he was certainly had a lot higher standards of personal hygiene. Why was he unshaven for the whole film? And what time period are we supposed to be in, remind me? They repeated the year a number of times, but I don’t remember Holmes and Watson ever driving around in an automobile. They most definitely never had automatic repeater weapons!  And they keep talking about a huge European conflict, but WWI is ages away. Are they talking about the Franco-Prussian War? Nobody knows anything about what happened then, except the French.

Sometimes, the film would take its sweet time explaining things in the story. They’d explain something and I would think, “Thanks for telling me now why I was supposed to care about ten minutes ago!” The whole first half of the movie, Holmes was being peculiar just for the sake of it, not because any of his peculiarities had anything to do with the thrust of the plot.

So, can I think of anything positive to say about this film? Hm. It looked pretty good for the most part, though the sets, scenery, background, etc. seemed really busy and dirty all the time – but not in an effective way. The scene when they’re running through the woods getting shot at in slow motion was kind of cool, but I don’t know what the point of it was, nor why it was so drawn out.

I did love love LOVE seeing Stephen Fry as Mycroft! He was soooo funny! But I don’t think anybody in the theatre I was in knew that they were supposed to laugh basically every time he came on the screen. I did – nearly gave myself a hernia.

In summation, I think most everybody will go to this movie and love it and think it’s the best thing ever and quote it forever. But I think they’re stupid. This film lacks substance. It is void of any ingenuity, cleverness, innovation beyond what we already saw in the first one. Frankly, I think audiences are getting wise to the muck that Hollywood is turning out. But too many people are willing to pay for that muck, and what I’m learning is that box office numbers literally govern the decision-making process in Hollywood, and that is very discouraging.

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Hugo Cabret

Hugo Cabret is a little boy who lives in the walls of a 1930s-era Paris train station. His job is to keep the many clocks of the station in working order, but in his spare time he works on his late father’s pet project, trying to repair a broken automaton. He is constantly getting into scrapes with a toy-shop owner and with the station’s guard, a lame WWI veteran with a mean doberman. Hugo’s work on the automaton leads him into some unusual friendships, including the unexpected relationship with one of the great pioneers of filmaking, George Melies.

This film, directed by Martin Scorsese, is wonderfully cast, with a couple familair faces from the Harry Potter films; Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour acompany other greats like Christopher Lee, Ben Kignsley, and Sacha Baron Cohen. However, the characters portrayed by these talented actors are not very well folded into the storyline of the film, nor do they have any direct connection with the central character. At a climactic moment of the film, Hugo reaches out to these characters, begging them to help him, and all we get from them are blank looks. The exchange leaves the audience wondering about the purpose of those characters if they are not going to be in any way involved in Hugo’s story. This is one of the many frustrations a viewer experiences when watching this film.

The two young actors who play Hugo (Asa Butterfield) and his friend (Chloe Grace Moretz) display a remarkable amount of control in their movement and facial expression. They are clearly talentated young people, but they did not have the raw, clean, candidness of real children. In many ways, Butterfield and Moretz’s mastery of the technical aspect of acting keeps them from seeming childlike. In many cases, their fear, sadness, and excitement feels forced, calculated.

It cannot be denied that the film is asthetically pleasing. But the drive of the plot is profoundly disjointed. The audience is not always sure about the central theme of this picture. Is it about living in a train staion? Is it about clocks? Is it about film? Filmaking? Books? A Father-son relationship? Magic? In trying to be all of these things, the film fails to be any one of them. There is no glue binding the story together. I could understand how the many sub-plots might have worked very well in book form because it’s easier for a reader to follow the linear pattern of several stories simultaneously. But the film audience is rather different. Either the stories must be distincly separate narratives, as in Love Actualy, or they must be completely coherent.

The film also takes its time in answering many questions which tend to nag the viewer and distract from enjoying the film. For example, we know that Hugo is living alone at the station, but it isn’t until you are a good way into the film that we are told how he got there and even longer until we discover why he’s alone. We never learn how his mother died. And we never know how Isabelle’s parents died.

There are some good points to the film. The designers have done an amazing job capturing the look and feel of 1930s Paris. The costumes are superbe. I don’t remember having heard any egregeous grammatical errors, and that’s always a plus. The film also pays tribute to the earliest pioneer of film-making, the great Georges Melies. It is always nice for film-lovers to stroll down memory lane and experience some of those innovative shots again. If this film had been devoted to the history of film from the start, instead of being constantly distracted by the many random floating themes, it could really have been something.

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Movie Poll

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All About Eve

We discussed several elements of the film afterwards, including the Biblical references and feminist/anti-feminist messages in the film. There are several indications in the movie which allude to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Many of the lines incorporate language such as “venomous,” “poisonous viper,” etc. when describing other characters. We speculated as to whether Eve was supposed to represent her namesake or if she was more like the serpent itself, who is often depicted in religious art as female. The award given Eve could represent the apple. One theory proposed was that having finally made her way to the top, Eve finally is able to partake of the “forbidden fruit” which reveals all the evils of the theatre business.

We spent a great deal of time discussing how this film is really about women, though not necessarily in a very liberal way. Bette Davis‘s character, Margo, expresses her ideals of womanhood to her friend Karen (Celeste Holm) at a low point in the film when she is feeling vulnerable. She says, “in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman” (film clip below).We talked about the tension between career and womanhood as presented in this film. Someone questioned whether the theatre industry itself was being attacked as something that corrupted women or if it was career in general. The point was made that in the era in which this film was made, show business whether it be stage or film, was one of the few industries where a woman could really make a way for herself professionally. Therefore, the Business was often used to represent how any sort of life in public, away from husband, home, and hearth, would/could ruin a woman and her femininity.

Although this type of anti-feminist sentiment pervades All About Eve, there is yet a fairly strong woman in the character played by Celeste Holm, Karen. Though in some ways she represents the perfect supportive wife to her writer husband, she does have some lines which set her apart. First of all, we know that she is Radcliffe-educated, a fact that seems to rankle Margo because she was never given the opportunity of such an education. She also has a great line when her husband claims: “That bitter cynicism of yours is something you’ve acquired since you left Radcliffe!” to which Karen replies: “The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys!” Karen also makes an acute observation about the shackles of “proper” womanhood when she lies in bed suspicious of her husband. I cannot recall the exact quote but she states that she was doing the only thing a woman with nothing else to think about could do – worry about her man.

We talked about how this picture is so much a woman’s picture about women’s relationships but that it is portrayed from a primarily male lens (Laura Mulvey). Margo’s boyfriend/fiancé becomes the hero of the picture, though he doesn’t have as much screen time or lines as the female characters (a typical trend in old Hollywood). Karen’s husband seems a rather indifferent character, easily berated and easily placated by the women in his life and work. Addison, the slick theatre critic becomes a very nasty character, if not as truly evil as Eve herself. But the whole show, the entire plot of the picture, is really following the relationships between the female characters: between Margo and Birdie, Margo and Eve, Karen and Eve, Margo and Karen, and ultimately Eve and Phoebe.

For the most part, our group thoroughly enjoyed the film, especially those of us who were seeing it for a second time. However, one member of our group pointed out something that hadn’t occurred to those of us who have grown used to watching old studio-era films. She commented on the melodrama of the whole picture, in particular the performance given by Bette Davis. Although we on team Bette (as opposed to team Joan) like nothing better than to sit back and enjoy Ms. Davis having a good tantrum, our companions perhaps would have rather a bit more realism. We then discussed the historical trend of melodrama which perhaps originated in the silent flicks when so much had to be expressed physically. Another theory is that it comes from the Vaudeville tradition of desperation trying to get a reaction from the audience. But ideals changes after WWII when Hollywood’s cinematic spectacular no longer impressed a more pragmatic post-war public. Another, less substantial theory put forward by yours truly was that perhaps the political shift in Hollywood from a more conservative group of actors, director’s, etc. in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, to the flaming liberal Hollywood from the ’60s on, led to the cinema of stark realism.

I would enjoy hearing your opinions on any of the theories, comments, observations made in this blog. Feel free to leave your comments!

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