5-Word 365 #222 – Walking Tall

I really can’t think of anything to say here today. Never mind, on with the film…

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5-Word 365 #166 – Moneyball

I still have the flu. This means that I find myself sleeping a lot during the day, and when I’m not sleeping I’m often camped out in the bathroom. This also means that I don’t really have the opportunity to go hunting for films to watch in the depths of the Netflix and Lovefilm libraries, so I just stick to what might already be in the house. Here’s what I found in the pile next to the television. If it’s in your pile, you should watch it too. It really is quite good.

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5-Word 365 #075 – Che

My original intention had been to split these two over two days and discuss them separately, but since I was off work today anyway I figured I should go for a oner. Wish I’d had some rum though. Purely for ambience of course.

Che (Parts One and Two)

The Bolivian Army hates foreigners.

The story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, told across four hours, twelve years, four countries and two wars.

Strictly in terms of what is shown on screen, this film may be one of the smallest “epics” I have ever seen. As befits a guerilla campaign, the fighting is never more than what you’d consider a skirmish, and most of the larger events of the time are merely reported over the radio. I would still class it as an epic though, on sheer ambition alone. Here is a film that purports to tell the real story of a man mostly known to this generation as a face on a t-shirt. Does it succeed? Yes, it does. Is it a masterpiece of cinema? Ask me again in five years.

Aside from the framing device of an interview he had with Lisa Howard in New York in 1964, Part One opens with a dinner party in Mexico City in July 1955, where Guevara and Fidel Castro first met, and where Che agreed to be a part of the Cuban Revolution. This half of the film (by the way, from here on out I’ll be referring to these two parts as one complete film, in two halves – as it was intended by the filmmakers) plays out in this non-linear fashion, jumping between the developing revolution in Cuba and Che’s visit to New York where he was interviewed extensively as well as addressing the UN. Soderbergh differentiates these two time periods stylistically: Cuba is shot in glorious colour with a mix of static long shots and close handheld work, while New York is black and white, seemingly using period-appropriate film stock to create the impression that you could be watching actual documentary footage of Guevara’s real trip to the Big Apple. With most other directors I would have assumed they created that look in post-production, but Soderbergh? He is particular enough to maybe have done it for real, on vintage 16mm cameras and everything.

"Will this look be okay for the t-shirt?"

Part Two on the other hand is fully chronological. Starting in 1967, it shows Che’s departure from Cuba to lead his doomed attempt to bring the revolution to Bolivia, right up to his capture and death at the hands of the army. Sorry, spoilers. This part is visually straight down the middle as well. Other than a gradual shift in the colour palette as the film progresses (things start off well lit and full of colour but get darker and more muted as the days go on) there are no obvious directorial flourishes. Saying that though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an execution filmed from the executee’s POV before.

"Did I tell you I'm going to be on a t-shirt, compadre?"

The time jumps and all that stuff in Part One serve to amplify an optimism in the characters and events being shown. Everything is brighter, and I don’t mean just in the “well-lit” sense. Of course the fact that it ends in victory helps the mood somewhat, even with the frequent hardships that we see. The final battle sequence through the streets of Santa Clara is wonderful, with the same occasional flashes of dark humour that have been dropped in throughout the film just carefully enough to humanise the revolutionaries without diluting the violence inherent in their struggle. In contrast, Part Two is the opposite in almost every way. This is two hours plus of Che being metaphorically kicked in the ass, over and over again. That’s not to say it isn’t a captivating film, because it is. All 257 minutes of it. Confession time: I had planned to watch both parts in one sitting but I had to go out this afternoon, so there was about a five hour break in the middle. It may not have been quite so captivating if I hadn’t stayed late in bed.

"Yeah, I know. A t-shirt. This is a shitty first date, Che."

Falling as it does between the whimsical lark that was Ocean’s Thirteen, and the small-scale experimentation of The Girlfriend Experience, Che is a prime example of Steven Soderbergh’s versatility as a filmmaker even if it hadn’t been such an achievement in it’s own right. Benicio Del Toro just inhabits this role completely, both as a fresh-faced young medic in Mexico, and as a grizzled veteran and leader of men. The entire cast deserve plaudits in fact, in particular the non-native Spanish speakers like Franka Potente and Matt Damon (in his single scene as a German priest).

So, that’s Che Guevara and Butch and Sundance that the Bolivians have knocked off. Not a good record. 

5-Word 365 #073 – The Fighter

Today’s flick is one that has been written about extensively since its release just over a year ago. There isn’t really much more I could add to that, so I’m not even gonna try.

The Fighter

It really is that good.

I can’t decide if it’s a better movie than Warrior, but it gets bonus points for Amy Adams in her underwear.

5-Word 365 #058 – Julie & Julia

And so we move from one extreme to the other. After yesterday I needed to watch something as light and fluffy as humanly possible. This seemed to fit the bill.

Julie & Julia

Mostly annoying & really funny.

Julie Powell is a frustrated writer working in a cubicle in New York in 2002. Struggling to find something meaningful in her life, her husband suggests she try blogging. Between them, they come up with the idea that she will cook every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s seminal book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she’ll do it in one year*. Meanwhile, we also get to see the story of Julia writing the book itself as she follows her husband Paul through a series of diplomatic postings throughout Europe.

(As any of my Facebook friends will probably jump to attest, today I am technically cheating. I had intended to watch this flick today, but I really needed to get yesterday’s taste out of my mouth as quickly as possible, so my roommate Iida and I watched this on Lovefilm last night. If it helps, I feel bad about it.)

After movies, my next great love is food. Not just eating it though; I love to cook and I’m actually pretty handy in the kitchen as well. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise to hear that films featuring food tend to rate quite high with me. Big Night and Eat Drink Man Woman are old perennials in my top 20 list. This flick won’t be challenging those heavy hitters, but it is a pleasant enough distraction that is completely owned by Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

"Mon dieu! Qu' est que ce le crazy tall American madame!" (I don't even know if that makes sense, but it's about all the French I can come up with besides merde and un biere s'il vous plait.)

Now, I’m 31 years old and from Northern Ireland. Those two facts together mean that I was never really aware of Julia Child until this movie came out. When I was growing up we had Delia Smith as the TV cook (I even missed Fanny Craddock entirely. Praise His Noodley Appendage for classic TV repeats) but of course these days you can’t spit without hitting a chef with his own show. Most of them have the charm of an angry gerbil with a dose of the clap but there are a few that I do like to watch. Where was I? Oh yeah. I’m not the guy to ask how accurate Streep’s recreation of Child is (though knowing her it’s probably a fair to middling effort) but as a character she is wonderful: flighty and fun and delightfully vulgar and wickedly intelligent, but with a sadness inside her. The scene where she receives a letter from her sister bearing the news that there’s a baby on the way is heart-breaking. It’s not stated outright exactly why Julia and Paul don’t have children, but it doesn’t need to be; their reaction to this news is enough.

The original caption for this photo at RopeOfSilicon.com was "Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep: the only two reasons to watch Julie & Julia." Can't argue with that.

If there was an Oscar for Best Husband, Stanley Tucci would have run away with it. Paul Child is almost saintly in his devotion to and tolerance of his strong-willed wife, and matches her quip for quip. It is to Tucci’s credit that he never makes the man seem like a doormat. The two actors were obviously having a blast working with each other again and this chemistry is all over the screen. Their scenes together are by far my favourite part of the movie. I just really want to be hanging out in Paris with these two (and I don’t even like Paris).

The Venn diagram says this film should be awesome. I made this myself, by the way, just in case that wasn't obvious.

What I don’t want to do is hang out in New York with Julie Powell, or at least the Julie Powell of movie-land (although I really quite like New York). Amy Adams does her best despite a shocking haircut, but even my mad crush on her cannot disguise the fact that Julie is really not a very likable person. Her frequent “meltdowns” only serve to point out that she’s taking this shit far too seriously. The project becomes an obsession that takes over her life and almost costs her both her actual job and her marriage. That won’t happen to me though; I’m not married and I don’t have a life.

She even has a photo of Julia and Paul on her desk. Is that the sign of a crazy obsessive, or a dilligent art director?

Nora Ephron’s decision to combine the two women’s stories into one film is I think a good one. Julie herself couldn’t hold up a whole movie, and contrasting Julia with the adventures of her young acolyte only makes you want to see more of Julia, which is exactly what all good movies should do. I don’t score the films I watch, but if I did, this would get 3 stars; 4½ for the Julia and Paul parts minus ½ for the annoying Julie, and minus 1 star for the constant use of the word “blog”. I know it’s what I’m doing here, but I just fucking hate that word. It sounds like the noise a dog makes when it vomits. A bit more screen time for Mary Lynn Rajskub might have got it back up to 3½ though or even 4. Yes, you guessed it: I fancy Chloe.

*Blogging about doing something every day for a year? What kind of dumb idea is that? Oh, wait…