Updated April 24, 2006
WATCHING MOVIES WITH KATHY AND RICK
We both enjoy film as an art form, and for fun. We watch movies almost entirely on DVD, and like being at home. We know the big screen can be more impressive in some ways, but we are just this way. Sometimes we can be convinced to go out. We like movies where we learn something, especially. So we appreciate well researched period films, film from other countries, and we love good comedy. We really have broad interests, but usually don't like very violent, or emotionally painful films, or overly sentimental or trite ones. We have an odd way of watching films, but we are lucky that we are both "odd" in the same way. We watch about twenty minutes, while snacking, and then go back to our projects. Later, we'll do the same again. It is a special compliment to a film when we can't stop watching, but usually we'd rather savor the short tastes of even the best, and often we might watch it all over again the same way, with commentary, or without. We just got Netflix (June, 2005) and it is such a pleasure. We are able to watch movies we could not find before, and at our leisure. It takes us a few days at least, to watch a movie, and sometimes a week if it has good special features. Also we always turn on the English subtitles if they are available, so that we don't miss any of the dialogue.
The Big Chill by Lawrence Kasden
No Direction Home bio of Bob Dylan, focusing on 61 to 67. Lots of clips of contemporaries. Excellent in every way. We were really impressed!!!!
Dark City, by Alex Proyas
Truly, Madly Deeply, by Anthony Minghella (Although we just watched this movie on video cassette, we rented it on dvd from Netflix so we could watch it with subtitles, and also see the interesting interview with the director. This is really a fine movie, and we appreciated it even more this time.
The March of the Penguins, by Luc Jacquet
All the President's Men, by Alan J. Pakula
Star Wars, Episode III
A change from our usual fim watching, we chose this since a friend mathematician made us promise to watch, since he insisted Rick looked just like Yoda.
Melinda and Melinda by Woody Allen
We loved this film! We watched it twice. Anyone who says they like Woody's earlier funnier movie will de foiled by this one... a masterpiece.
Truly, Madly, Deeply by Anthony Minghella
A deeply beautiful psychological progression...this film has personal resonance in our lives that makes it difficult to have perspective on it. However it gives us perspective on other things. We think it is a fine film, with excellent music.
Magnolia by Paul Thomas Incredible movie...we watched this through twice, the special feature disc is on top of our Netflix queue. Again thanks to David Rolfe for bringing this amazing film to our attention.
The Singing Detective(1986) mini-series By Jon Amiel. This is a compelling, intelligent, vital drama, infused with wonderful music, irony humor and detail. The writer of the book that inspires this film, Dennis Potter, was completely involved in this production, and usinghis own experience as a springboard in this complex, muti-layered work, his theme of transendence and self-knowledge, gained through working through difficulty and emotional and mental trauma, is incredible. Thanks to Dave Rolfe, who recommended this series. We watched this for several weeks, including commentaries and a special features disc, as it is so well done, and rich. Not to be missed!
Waking Life (2001) Richard Linklater
This is an wonderful film, in every way. Why the Bleep... would you make "What the Bleep..." when this exists? Excellent animation, showing the potentials of digital technology and the human mind in a very artistic way. We watched and appreciated the commentaries and features. We would never had heard of this film if David Rolfe had not recommended it! We don't know why it is not better known.
Chaplin: The Movie (1992)Richard AttenboroughExcellent, excellent. We learned and appreciated.
Shall We Dance? (1995) Masayuki Suo. This movie is not deep, but the cultural context is firm and it is sensitive and believable. Characters are excellent, and it definitely has charm and believability.
The Hot Rock (1972) Peter Yates After reading the book...(Harry Bower read it aloud to us on a car drive from San Francisco to Pasadena!) the film is a disappointment. We always try to give space for the different art form, but the characters were all wrong, especially the main character. Robert Redford could not possibly translate as the smart, witty, tough gangster. A few interesting things were done, but they could not change our final assessment: read the book for subtle, witty writing, and a very good story!
Shall We Dance? (2004) by Peter Chelsom. The positive underpinnings of the story (dance gives new life) can be lost amidst the lack of believability. We liked the Japanese film much better. While the character development and acting was quite good (Richard Gere) , and the music and dancing fine, the basic cultural pretext did not "fit" the way it does in Japan. Thus the emotional content is more shallow than in the older film.
What the #$*! Do We Know!? (2004) by William Arntz As far as we are concerned, this film was terrible. You'd think we would like it, with our scientific bent, our open-minded, unorthordox views, but that is exactly why we did not. Rick from skeptical just from the title, and did not expect it to have substance. Kathy had heard good things about it, but was immediately disenchanted. It tells you nothing about quantum physics, just throws the words around, introduces scientists and others who comment on the uncertainties of life in a superficial way (perhaps the scientists comments were edited?) In any case this is not worth your time. We've seen TV documentaries where you can learn something. And as a film, it has negligible plot and the main character is mainly empty-headed throughout the film.
"Strictly Ballroom" by Baz Luhrmann (1992) We decided to watch this because of ballroom dancing classes at Caltech. It was definitely charming. The main characters were well played. The flamenco element was rich and attractive, and the father of the young woman was played by a famous flamenco expert who used only his own costumes in the film.
"Bright Leaves" by Ross McElwee (2003) Fantastic and unusual. (Harry Bower told us that we would like this one even more than Sherman's March (see below), with it's even finer filming resources, and he was right.)
"Sherman's March" by Ross McElwee (1986) This movie surprised us, (even with the great recommendation from our friend Harry Bower. He had not given away what kind of movie this is.) The longer we watched, the more we were won over by the technique and quality of this fine film. Recommended!
Desk Set (1957)by Walter Lang
Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Rick thinks everybody looks too old for the parts they play in this film. Interesting 50's atmosphere... but don't watch the commentary. The worst unrelated rambling.
Princess Caraboo (1994) by Michael Austin This movie was charming in some ways. Rick said the most interesting thing about it was that Caraboo was spelled with two oo's, unlike the animal (caribou). We try to understand why we watched this film. Ah, it was because Kevin Kline was in it, and we always think that makes any film good. Alas, his part was small, and didn't really use his talents and expertise. Well, maybe that was the best thing in the film. We giggled occasionally.
"Chicago" (2002) by Rob Marshall
We expected this one to be pretty good but it is great. We love the back and forth from fantasy to reality. It was done really well, and creates an unusual and graceful form to hold the musical transitions. We like the satire. The cast is perfect. We enjoyed the music, costumes and choreography very much and watched it again, with commentary. We would not mind owning this movie.
"Merci Pour Le Chocolat" (2000) by Claude Chabrol
Oh my gosh what a good movie. Lots of suspense, interesting camera work, subtle relationship study, and one very odd character. Lots of piano music.
"Another Woman" (1988) by Woody Allen
So this is what people are talking about when they say "I liked his earlier funny movies?" Well, yes. Still interesting. Not meant to be funny, but a character and life, relationship study. We'd say Woody's usual style is more unusual, and appealing. Lots of reflections and seeing oneself through another's predicament. No Woody in this one either. Not a favorite, but we are glad we saw it.
"Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990) by Merchant Ivory
A fascinating character study. Subtle, good casting, and period piece. More comments in order.
"Scenes from A Mall(1991) by Woody Allen
We've been wanting to see this since friend Lisa mentioned it a few years ago. An unusual, almost all-mall setting during the holidays...Woody and Meryl Streep make an odd but successful (?) pair, and while enjoyable, still not our favorite Woody Allen. However we appreciated it anyway.
"Quartet" (1981) by Merchant-Ivory
As you may have noticed, we have been having a "Merchant-Ivory festival" That's because few of their films are available in rental shops, and having discovered Netflix we are watching all the ones we missed. A very interesting film, but not our favorite. The quartet of characters is well cast, and it is hard to imagine them otherwise. (Always a good sign.) But the dynamics are strange and painful.
"Savages" by Merchant-Ivory(1972)
This film is based on an idea by James Ivory. Inspired by an abandoned mansion he came upon in England, he imagined that a primitive tribe, in fantastic masks, would come upon it, and be transformed gradually into 1930's elegant aristocracy. What an amazing concept! However we were disappointed with the realization. Where was the usual "period" research? The 1930's were done well, but the savages were oversimplified, childlike and unbelievable. To get the idea of savages, the first section, the primitives in the forest, is filmed in black and white. They find their way to the mansion, fascinated by a croquet ball that has landed in the forest, change into found clothing, and begin to transform. By the time they sit down to the dinner party followed by after-dinner activities and strolls by the pool, etc. the film has turned to color. There are several sections of untranslated German narration that achieve nothing positive. Soon the aristocrats revert back to savages and retreat into the forest. We think Merchant-Ivory failed to bring this off. It was their first American release. Only the dinner party gives away that it could be a Merchant-Ivory film. If we were supposed to recognize continuous personalities in the savages in their transformed state, we failed to do so. There's a short feature on the DVD which gives not much insight. It is a weird film. Luis Bunuel successfully realized similar bizarre concepts in minutes rather than hours!
"Roseland" (1977) by Merchant-Ivory
If you love dancing this movie is a must. It all takes place in a famous Manhattan ballroom where older dancers still socialize and participate in competitions. The film has three vignettes, and each is a psycological study. While certainly not our favorite Merchant-Ivory film, it is fascinating in many ways. This ballroom still exists in NYC, was used as a dance hall from the 30's to 90's and now is a concert venue.
"Ray" (2004) o by Taylor Hackford
This is an outstanding film. We learned a lot about Ray Charles, his life, his music, his problems, and his approach to business. This is our favorite kind of movie, which, though it certainly dramatizes and fictionalizes many events, teaches us historical things well worth knowing. We get a real sense of the difficulty and power of this unusual and musical life, and are reminded of how things were in the 50s and early 60s. Ray Charles (1930-2004) was involved in every step of the production, which covers his life from 1948 through 1965 with flashbacks to his youth and one vignette from 1979. Jamie Foxx is truly amazing as Ray (and won the latter's approval). From the commentaries we learn that after Foxx was chosen for the role, Hackford met with him and brought up the issue of how they would imitate/feign the manifold piano playing, only to be shocked when Foxx said that wouldn't be necessary, as he played the piano, had worked in clubs, and went to college on a piano scholarship! Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles' voice, playing, and mannerisms is a tour-de-force; one forgets that it is not RC himself. There are exceptionally fine performances by the dozen in this film, too many to mention here.
"The Wild Party" (1975) by Merchant-Ivory
This is a very unusual movie, worth seeing for many reasons, even though it has another main character that we were very annoyed with. (The acting was fine, but character of Jolly Grimm (James Coco) was abominable.) The movie is based on a poem written in 1926 by Joseph Moncure, an unusual pretext to start with! There are invented "old movie" clips, lots of fine music and dance. The broad psychologial, sociological and sensual experimentation and variation in this film make it fascinating, especially through the meticulous Ivory eye. Raquel Welch plays "Queenie" and sings and dances appropriately and in fine style.
"French Kiss" (1995) by Lawrence Kasden
with Kevin Kline
This is a light-hearted and silly film. We sought it out because it was time for a comedy, and it starred Kevin Kline (as Luc). We don't know what the French would think, but we were captivated (Kathy speaks ands understands some French) by Kline's 'French' mannerisms and accent when speaking English or French. He even sang in French as the ending credits rolled by. His talent makes the film a pleasure, and worth watching. Luc is a disreputable character, but neither we nor Kate (Meg Ryan) can dislike him for long.
"Five Easy Pieces" (1970) by Bob Rafelson
with Jack Nicolson
We found it very hard to like the main character in this movie, but that does not make it a bad movie. Of course Jack Nicolson does a fine job of making you dislike him. There are some classic, unforgettable moments. And real music.
"Humoresque" (1946) by Jean Negulescor
We have mixed feelings about this movie. We found it hard to like the main character, Paul Boran (played by James Garfield), who is a young virtuoso violinist—one who is driven and impatient, and who is a real grouch with a mean streak. We feel Paul's character was not particularly well developed. Neither his love for music, nor his love for Helen Wright (played by Joan Crawford) is really convincing. We loved the fact that this film is about classical music, albeit heavy romantic works with piano or orchestra (except for a a few fine Cole Porter songs in the bar scenes). Even Dvorak's Humoresque is played in a serious manner. What is truly amazing are the numerous extended scenes of virtuso fiddling. James Garfield does not play the violin, but these shots could fool anyone. We understand that it is Isaac Stern's fingers we see on the fingerboard, with his arm through a hole in Garfield's jacket, or something. It is Isaac Stern's prerecorded playing that we hear. Joan Crawford is in her element, giving an intense and melodramatic performance. We thought Sid (played by Oscar Levant, a fine pianist) was great. A wise guy (bordering on brilliantly insightful) he (almost) never says anything straight in the whole movie. (It's worth watching just for that.)
"A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" (1980) by Woody Allen
Ah, Woody Allen is (thankfully) excessive enough to make this an all-Mendelssohn score! ('Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night's Dream' and much more.) The lovers gambling through the woods are just right, and no one is left out. The birds and bees, bunnies, skunks and sprites are all there scampering along to the music. More than sufficiently funny, intellectually sexy, and of course, insightful. Since Woody's movies are "all commentary" he is the only one we don't blame for not having extras!
"Dave" (1993) by Ivan Reitman, with Kevin Kline
Kevin Kline is the only one who could make this film work, we think. All the casting is perfect, and we both found it refreshing and hilarious. (We'd both seen it before, but it had been a long time.) Would have loved commentary and more insight into the making, but the DVD does not have that.
"Maurice" (1987) by Merchant-Ivory
We usually love Merchant-Ivory films. This is a very good, emotionally satisfying film, dealing with attitudes toward homosexuality in pre-WW I England. (It is based on E. M. Forster's 1914 novel. According to Forster's instructions, this novel was not published till after his death in 1970!) Merchant-Ivory made three films based of Forster's novels, the others being "A Room with a View" and "Howard's End". (We have seen both of these, and loved them too.) Praise to Merchant-Ivory for making this fine film. We also watched a separate extra features disc, which gave good information, but one would wish for more.
"Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures" (1978) by Merchant-Ivory
We were looking for this highly recommended film for a long time, and it was one of the joys of Netflix, that all we had to do is click "add" to get it! A most unusual film, worth it for the art alone (Indian miniatures). But being a Merchant-Ivory film it is much more. An interestingly subtle character and personality study. Peggy Ashcroft is convincingly perfect in this film. It is a wonderful mix of Asian nuance, American bluntness, and European style.
"The Taming of the Shrew" (1980) by Jonathan Miller, with John Cleese(!)
We found this listed on Netflix, and could hardly believe our eyes. As one might expect, John Cleese is wonderful playing Petruchio! We were as usual, impressed with Shakespeare's artistry, and especially in contrast to the "translation" in the films below of the musical "Kiss Me Kate".
"Kiss Me Kate" (1953) by George Sidney
The musical score is fantastic, and includes some of Cole Porter's best songs. (We love Cole Porter's music, as can be seen from the listing after this one.) The storyline is silly compared to "The Taming of the Shrew". The dancing is fantastic in this version too! The film is conflicted, as far as we are concerned, and that has more to do with the play itself rather than this production, which is very good. We also saw the BBC revival production of "Kiss Me Kate" (2003) and we liked the 1953 film version much better. We liked the dancing and singing in the earlier film.
"Delovely"(2004) by Irwin Winkler with Kevin Kline(!)
We loved this movie. Kevin Kline does all his own singing, and insisted on doing much of it in real time, while acting. The concept for the film, looking back on a life, is well done, and the singing is wonderful. There are many unlikely (fine) singers from the contemporary music scene who do stunning versions (to our ears) of the Porter songs. We don't know these singers, as we don't follow pop music, but we were open-mindedly very impressed with what they did, singing with real vitality and freshness, while remaining true to the Porter genius. The storyline illustrates openly his interest in men. (As his wife says to him in the film "Let's just say, you like men more than I do.") But the film's focus is on story of his relationship with his wife. To whatever extent there is fiction involved (like reading a novel based upon a person's life) the movie is deeply sensitive, without being (to our hearts) overly sentimental, and made us cry each time we watched it. So it is both emotionally and musically satisfying. This started us on ordering Cole Porter Songbooks, and doing some ourselves (flute and voice), ordering the DeLovely CD of the movie score, and two historical Cole Porter CD's. It is fun to hear Cole Porter singing his own songs! (Kevin Kline listened to them too.) It also inspired us to watch the three films mentioned in the two listings above.
"Night and Day" (1946)
by Michael Curtiz.
Cole Porter saw this musical biography of his own life and was not pleased. (Except for the compliment of having Cary Grant act his part!) The film was so greatly fictionalized, without saving graces, that we were often annoyed. With some research, we find that it WAS Cary Grant singing some of the songs, which is interesting.
"Everybody Says I Love You" (1996) by Woody Allen
Another film that is hard to find, Netflix made it easy. We love Woody Allen films, and we could not believe that this one existed. Kathy found it by looking for musicals we might like! This is, as one might expect, a PARODY of a musical, and it is brilliant! Everyone sings (whether they can or not) including Julia Roberts, Alan Alda and Woody himself (understatedly and offhandedly). Includes some fanciful dancing that has to be seen to be believed (or not). What a gem!
"The Two Jakes" (1990) by Jack Nicholson
A sequel to Polanski's "Chinatown". It is really very good. Even if someone has not seen "Chinatown", it is fine, complex, well acted, and intense. It was a relief to watch this on DVD as with the subtitles we could follow the story and understand all the words.
"The Triplets of Belleville" (2003) by Simon Chomet
Lavishly animated with pure genius, a joy to behold, very French, very musical, wonderful humor, unique and unforgettable. We watched this several times, but not so recently. We don't want you to miss it! [Michelle-Nicole Endress told us about this film and it has been a favorite of ours ever since. We have enjoyed sharing it with friends.]
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