We’re a movie going family. Ted was a film major, once upon a time, and loved seeing any film, even if just to see what was wrong with it. I’m not quite (or nearly) so forgiving, but I do enjoy plopping down and enjoying a story, seeing what they might have to tell me, figuring out if it worked, all of that. So this last week, on our Thanksgiving break, in addition to seeing ‘Like Crazy‘, we saw three other new films, and one old one.
First, on Wednesday, we went to see ‘The Descendants‘. I’ll admit that when I first saw the previews a few months ago, I was not the least bit interested. Truly, what a horrid story. George Clooney’s wife is in a coma, and here he is, running down the street in a passion, trying to find out who she was having an affair with prior to her accident. Ugh. Oh, and he’s an uninvolved dad (but who was living in the house with his wife and kids) who has no idea of how to cope. I’m so tired of this story line, of dads who don’t know how to change diapers, who don’t know how to talk to their kids, who don’t have any idea of how to get along in the world without their wives to take care of the dirty minutia of day-to-day life. But that’s not this movie at all. The kids are far beyond diaper stage, and you get the feeling that he’s been around, it’s just that he doesn’t know how to deal with his daughters while they’re in the midst of grief and anger at what is going on around them. Well, really, who would? There’s a secondary story, from which the name of the film derives, where we learn that Clooney’s family is a long standing haole tribe in Hawaii, and that they descend (on one side of the family) from King Kamehameha. They have inherited a large piece of pristine land, worth billions to developers, and time is running out for them to decide what to do with it. Some cousins are broke and could really use the money, while others would rather see the land left wild. This story was interesting, but more as a backdrop to the story of Clooney and his family. I thought he did a wonderful job, and brought a lot of depth to his character, as did the actresses who played his daughters. I could have done without the older daughter’s boyfriend, but I guess he served his purpose, thematically. This was probably my favorite of the three films.
Next was Melancholia, which happily was released to OnDemand either before or at the same time as to theaters, so we didn’t have to drive against holiday traffic to see it, but instead could order it up for the bargain price of $6.99 for the three of us. That’s better than a maintee’ or senior discount. Melancholia is the story of two sisters, Justine and Claire (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg), trying to focus and figure out their life and fighting severe depression, all while another planet (named Melancholia) hurls on a collision course with Earth. Justine (Dunst) is a socially inept and extremely depressed bride, and watching her attempt to go through the motions of a happy wedding is like watching a person try to swim through maple syrup, or perhaps more aptly, tar. She’s sinking, fast. Claire (Gainsbourg) is Justine’s sister, and is clearly used to dealing with Justine’s depression, and is trying to get them all through the trials and rituals of a wedding reception, held at her gorgeous country home, which she shares with her extremely wealthy husband, played by Kiefer Sutherland. The cinematography of this film was amazing and gorgeous, but somehow it felt like it missed the mark to me. I’d recommend it, but especially if you liked “The Tree of Life” (it’s not as good as ‘Tree’, but it does have that vibe in certain scenes), and especially if you really like movies for their own sake, and most especially, if you can see it OnDemand for $7.
Then, Ted and I went to see ‘My Week with Marilyn‘. This film has been getting great reviews, especially for Michelle Williams’ portrayal of the glamorous and troubled Marilyn Monroe. The story is that Marilyn is in England filming “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), and she kindles a small romance/friendship with the third assistant director of the film, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). The story is told from Clark’s point of view, as an extremely wealthy young man from a very powerful family, trying to make his own way in the film industry. He is assigned the task of watching over Marilyn, and when her new husband, Arthur Miller, goes back to the U.S. for a stretch, he keeps her company. The reviews make much of Williams’ performance, of how she captured the glamor and light that seemed to emanate from Monroe. Personally, this was my least favorite of the films we saw. The story was very traditional and not in the least bit innovative or interesting, and to me, as much as Williams did a fine job, and as much as the camera work tried to convince you that she was lit from within, captivating and enthralling to all who might see her, it just didn’t happen for me. She did a fine job, but she wasn’t Marilyn. To be fair, I’m not sure that lightening strikes twice. Branagh was his usual amazing self as Sir Laurence Olivier (Larry). To me, his was the performance to beat in the film.
Lastly, we watched an oldie but a goodie on HBO, Fargo. I’ve seen bits of this movie since first seeing it in the theaters back in ’96, but I don’t think we’d sat through the whole thing. At least I hadn’t. What a wonderful film. While the horror aspect of it is indeed grisly, and William H. Macy as the despicable yet somehow almost likable Jerry Lundergaard gives a great performance, I don’t think anyone would deny that the film belongs to Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson. Marge is so sweet and honest and true, she really wants to understand people, and to think the best of them. But she takes shit from no one, and she’s smarter than anyone else in town by a long shot. If you’ve somehow missed this tale, please do yourself a favor and watch. Not really for the little kids, with violence, swearing, and sex, but not too much for a teen if they’re not squeamish. Maya didn’t watch it with us, but I would have let her. I was glad to spend a bit of time back in Marge’s company. “Oh yah?” “Yah.”