Whirlwind Weekend of Movies

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)

USA, Callie Khouri

Well, I didn’t dislike it as much as I did the book.

Yeah, I know, it’s not much of a rousing review when that’s the best you can say.  By the time I’d read the book this film is based on, I was one of only five people in Chicagoland who hadn’t read it yet. And with all that had been written and praised about it, and with as many people as I’d had personally recommending it to me, this book was doomed to disappoint.  So, I figured the movie couldn’t be any worse.  Well, yeah, it could’ve…it stars Sandra Bullock after all.

While it was fun to see veteran actresses Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan and the always amazing Maggie Smith acting together, the film as a whole was very ho-hum.  If you want to see a better film in the same vein, I’d suggest Fried Green Tomatoes (enduring friendships of strong Southern women),  Terms of Endearment (difficult mother-daughter relationship) or Postcards From the Edge (overcoming a life-scarring mother-daughter relationship with a heavy dose of pills and alcohol.)

Double feature this film with Requiem For a Dream to get an idea of what a talented actress Ellen Burstyn is–two radically different portrayals of motherhood.

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The Last Letter (2002)

France, Frederick Wiseman

A Russian Jew recites her final correspondence to her son from inside a Nazi ghetto, on the eve of her death.  The entire film is a one-woman performance piece, with dramatic points and transitions made through light changes, shadowplay and camera movements. While the content was heavy, I didn’t find the movie as an emotionally moving as I thought I would.  Somewhat repetitive and therefore it felt much longer than its 61 minute running time.

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The Hooligans (1956)

Germany, Georg Tressler

The Siskel Film Center is wrapping up a great series of films from post-WWII Germany.  Many of the films are set during the war and deal directly with Nazism, the Party and the atrocities of war. Others, like this one, are set in the decade after the war, and show the effects of WWII on society and the generation that followed.

Hooligans is really a German Rebel Without a Cause.  A gang of disaffected teenagers hang out, smoke, drink and lead a life of petty crime.  Not the strongest film in the series, but interesting none-the-less to see this sort of story told from a German perspective.  The film was slickly done, but the fact that the teenagers’ attitude stems from their parents’ Nazi pasts, a fact I learned afterward from reading the film schedule, didn’t really come through.

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Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

France, Jean-Pierre Melville

Stylish ’70s gangster film that has been a touchpoint for contemporary filmmakers.  Unemotional guys in trench coats and fedoras plot an elaborate jewelry heist.  The majority of the film traces how these four men initially cross paths, and then carry out the plan.  Throughout the film, they’re pursued by a veteran police inspector who has a personal stake in the job–the film opens with a great sequence where one of the crooks escapes the inspector’s custody while being transported on a train through the French countryside.  Despite its slow pace, the film is riveting throughout; however, it suffers from a big letdown at the end.

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Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

USA, Frank Tashlin

I was so pleasantly surprised by this film.  completely fun and entertaining from beginning to end.  Tony Randall is great as Rockwell Hunter, an advertising man who dreams of being an Executive, with all the perks that come with the job (the coveted key to the Executive Washroom!)  On the verge of losing his job, Rock saves the company its biggest account (Stay Put lipstick) when he comes up with the brilliant idea to have movie star bombshell Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield) endorse the product.  She agrees to do it, but only if Rock will help make her hunky TV star boyfriend (“the Jungleman”) jealous.  Great kitschy fun that pokes fun at advertising and big business.

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Love For All Seasons (2003)

Hong Kong, Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai

Really fun.  A Hong Kong martial arts comedy about a notorious millionaire womanizer named Tiger who comes to a remote temple to seek a cure from a clan of female martial artists.  The acting headmistress of the clan, May, must battle the former leader of the clan who has been pushed over the edge by a broken heart.  In order to defeat the first sister, May requires the skill of a certain set of moves, known as the Broken Heart stance, which she will not master until she suffers a broken heart.  May travels to the city and enlists the help of Tiger, who is more than willing to help, and so begins the fun.  Part quest for knowledge, part Pretty Woman, part Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and all entertaining.

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Big Shot’s Funeral (2001)

Hong Kong, Xiaogang Feng

Donald Sutherland is Don Tyler, the world’s most famous director, in China to shoot a remake of The Last Emperor; all the while, he’s followed by Yo Yo, a cameraman shooting a documentary.  Lamenting the loss of his muse, Tyler suffers a breakdown, falls into a coma and is assumed to be on his way to the great soundstage in the sky.  His Chinese-American assistant enlists Yo Yo to grant Tyler’s last wish, to create an elaborate funeral send off.  As a way to finance the production, Yo Yo and his promoter friend begin selling advertising and product placements galore.  Unfortunately the last reel of the film didn’t have any English subtitles, so we missed the subtleties of an important plot twist, but enough of it was in English to catch the ending.  A clever, entertaining satire.

4 thoughts on “Whirlwind Weekend of Movies

  1. If money (and time) were no object, would you want to see as many plays as you do movies? What makes one more appealing than the the other?

  2. Hmmm. Good question. No, I think not. While live performance can be a great experience, I’d still prefer to see more movies than plays. Movies are a more transporting experience (different times, places, cultures etc.) and I get more involved with them. Actors on a stage always seem like actors, where in a movie, I more often forget they’re acting and are really the people they’re portraying. Plus, when you see films from a different time period, it’s like a mini-time capsule, which I enjoy.

  3. Couldn’t agree with you more, especially about the time capsule part. It’s also fun to see movies set in different countries/different states.
    Isn’t it odd how something that’s essentially not real–film shown on a flat screen–can seem more real than actors moving in 3-dimensional space in front of you? I think part of it has to do with the quality of light that can be captured in a movie. Light and shadow transport us in ways that few things can, and even the best stage lighting rarely feels like more than that–stage lighting. I think that’s also why people respond so strongly to certain Impressionist painters. It’s not just because they’re crammed down our throats by the media and the Art Institute–it’s because we can all identify with the type of light Monet creates in his haystack pictures, for eg., even if we have never seen a haystack in our own citified lives.

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