I saw My Life Without Me at the Berlin Film Festival. It’s the story of Ann (Sarah Polley), a young, struggling mother, who finds out she is dying. Her husband, Scott Speedman (Felicity) is a good person, but doesn’t know what is happening to Ann so he cannot help her. Ann sets out to find out what life is like beyond her working class trailer life. This is a sad, though not despairing journey. Ann has an extra-marital affair just to see what it would be like, as if this experience of passion would some how help her live more fully while she still can. This is a sad film by Isabel Coixet. Bring a kleenex. Lots to talk about here: life, death, morality, love, family, loss.
If you are looking for a movie to rent for this weekend, check out the German film “Mostly Martha.” It’s a gem. Martha is ia chef who is a perfectionist. Her boss insists that she go to therapy because she is driving everyone in the restaurant kitchen crazy. She lives all alone and when she cooks for herself, she cannot eat. When her sister dies and her young niece comes to live with her, she begins to see that no one can make it alone. This is a touching and funny story with a flavor of romance, love and beautiful food that can change you. Subtitles.
Alfred Molina plays Mr. Plots, a mortician who has been sweet on Betty (Brenda Blethyn) since they were very young. Betty’s husband Robert is a jerk. There is a rival funeral service in the Welsh town headed by Christopher Walken (!). This is a “comedy” of errors where Plots and Betty plot her death so she can go ballroom dancing into the sunset together with the insurance money. A bit contrived but if it’s the last film selection on an international flight, you might as well.
I saw To Kill a King on the plane coming back from South Africa. It’s about the English Civil War, the rise of Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth) and the temorary demise of the monarchy when Charles I (Rupert Everett) was beheaded. Not sure if or when it will be available on video or DVD in the US (if it got theatrical release here I missed it), but if you are into post-Henry VIII England, you will find this well acted, directed and probably interesting. Dougray Scott (Ever After) plays the general who helps Cromwell oust the king, and is caught between his wife who is pro-monarchy and his loyalty to his friend Cromwell. Scott is not just another pretty face, actually.
The Cat in the Hat has always been one of my favorite Dr Seuss books. I wish I could say the same for the film. I thought it was over long and over done and a little crass. As I have heard around, perhaps if you are 8 years old you’ll like it. Dr. Seuss had a way of engaging children’s imaginations but this movie answers all the questions before they are even asked. The Cat reminded me more of the Cowardly Lion. He ought to have figured out which feline species he was before the cameras rolled. I don’t mean to negate a movie that’s fine for everyone. The little kids will watch and the parents will nap.
Russell Crowe is brilliant as the captain of a British war ship in 1805 following orders to sink or capture a French vessel. Napoleon is in the midst of conquoring the world. The French ship engages the British off the coast of Brazil and a gory (very gory) and ferocious battle ensues. Then Captain Jack (Crowe) goes after the French ship and does a kind of “Crazy Ivan” (remember The Hunt for Red October?). More battle scenes and then three weeks of repairs and off around Cape Horn they go looking for the French ship, which they find and subdue. Peter Weir is one of my favorite directors and he has made a good if not great film. It was just too long for me and very thin on character development – you wish you knew more back story for example. It was as if there was so much to tell Weir couldn’t decide to go with story or style. There are themes of leadership and even nature and science and such. I can only imagine that the fans of Patrick O’Brian’s novels will be enthralled. But not me.
Love Actually looked very inviting to me in the previews. After spending 2 1/2 hours watching Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World I was looking for some light Christmas refreshment. Alas, what could have been a montage of about eight love stories turned out to be a hodge-podge of tales that intertwined (more or less) and made this, to me, a less than appealing Christmas film. The one part that made me give this a thumbs down was the soft porn actors falling in love as they went through their scenes – which the audience gets to see. Sure, it’s a comedy. I just didn’t laugh very much. I did like the Liam Neeson and step-son story as well as Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman… Colin Firth and the lovely Portugese housekeeper in France was somewhat puzzling, but with only two hours you have to get in all you can. What was really insightful, though, was Billy Bob Thornton as the Clinton-esque visiting President and Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister showing the US who’s who. There is enough love to go around, but I am not sure this movie does a good job of spreading it.