Sunday, July 11, 2010

June and July

Notes on a Scandal

Barbara Covett: People like Sheba think they know what it is to be lonely. But of the drip, drip of the long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. What it's like to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor's hand sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. Of this, Sheba and her like have no clue.

Notes on a Scandal is about a spinster Barbara, in her early 60s or so, who's a high school teacher.  Barbara is very lonely; she doesn't really have any friends and seeks to have a female companion.  When Sheba, a new teacher joins her high school staff, Barbara singles out Sheba to be her companion and finds a way to worm into Sheba's life when she finds out Sheba has been having an affair with one of her students.  

The acting in the movie is fantastic.  The characters all feel very real and are portrayed believably.  I think Judi Dench's performance as Barbara is the one I really related to the most b/c I think everyone's felt that lonely before (to a less degree of intensity, certainly) and everyone is afraid that they'll be that lonely someday.  And although I really do feel for Barbara's loneliness and her inability to connect with others (it just ends up being a vicious cycle of her being aloof and unkind), I only end up pitying her in an intellectual sense and not really an emotional sense b/c Barbara is just so disgusting as a human being.  She is manipulative, domineering, and intensely needy and she's so emotionally stunted that even though she does some terribly manipulative things to Sheba in the movie, she just doesn't understand that she's done anything wrong, which is both sad and scary.  Cate Blanchett is also great in this movie, although it certainly is different seeing her playing someone who's less outspoken, weaker even, than many of the strong, independent characters. Loved the scene at the end when Sheba finds the diary and when Barbara realizes that her perception of herself is grossly different from how everyone else sees her. 

The Last Kind of Scotland 

Idi Amin: Look at you. Is there one thing you have done that is good? Did you think this was all a game? 'I will go to Africa and I will play the white man with the natives.' Is that what you thought? We are not a game, Nicholas. We are real. This room here, it is real.

There are few movies that disturb me, and The Last King of Scotland does, especially towards the end when we learn what happens to Kay and what subsequently happens to Nicholas.  The images sit around in my head, and it's immensely disturbing.  The Last King of Scotland follows Nicholas, a young doctor working in Uganda, who becomes personal physician to the president of Uganda, Idi Amin.  Though Nicholas knows that all isn't well with the country, he takes Amin's explanations as to what's happened as the truth, and is a passive observer to many terrible atrocities.  He's not a good or moral man by any means (in his personal life as well, he has no problem with getting into affairs with married women), but when you see Amin's punishment for's-he- no one deserves that kind of punishment...  Forrest Whitaker as Amin is amazing.  Amin is so charismatic, so charming that it's easy to see how Nicholas and all his other associates get drawn in b/c we, as the audience, are so drawn in as well.

Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution takes place when the Japanese have essentially taken over the Chinese government.  A group of students try to assassinate Mr. Yee, a Chinese traitor (in their eyes) who's a high ranking official helping the Japanese.  Lust, Caution was, back when it was first released, first famous for it's NC-17 rating and explicit sex scenes.  I'm a bit late in watching this but I liked it as a whole- liked how understated it is.  It's been a while since I've watched a movie that's made me sit down and think about it for a while- not b/c I'm confused about plot points or what's going on but b/c it raises questions about the characters.  For example, why does she do it and why doesn't she just walk away when she could have- gone to England where her father was.
 I loved the mood of this movie and how it maintains this very subtle, melancholy tone throughout it b/c there is very little hope for any of the characters- it's all a very dire time.  It's also surprisingly hard to watch the movie at times- the characters are brutal to each other, as is the stabbing scene (which I'm surprised so few people have commented on). 

I like Ang Lee's pieces as a director, though maybe his earlier stuff more so than his more recent stuff, and I do greatly admire how truly diverse a lot of his films have been (from a martial arts movie to period dramas).  My personal favorite is still (but I consider that in a category of its own b/c it seemed to lack certain bits of Ang Lee-ishness to it) Sense and Sensibility- it's hilarious and moving, and has fantastic performances, but I've also always really enjoyed "The Wedding Banquet."  I don't think Lust, Caution will be in my top list of Ang Lee movies but it's still a fine movie, worth watching. 

Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me 

Despicable Me 
(possibly my favorite moment from the film)  
Dr. Nefario: Here's the new weapon you ordered.
[Shoots minion with the fart gun]
Gru: No, no, no. I said DART gun.
Dr. Nefario: Oh yes. Cause I was wondering... under what circumstances would we use this? 

I have to say that in terms of recent movies in theaters, (granted I haven't gone to too many movies this year in theaters yet, maybe 4 or 5), but I have been really impressed with animated films.  (As for non-animated films, there haven't been too many movies that have felt original and unique.)  I saw How to Train Your Dragon and liked it a lot.  And recently, I watched Toy Story 3 and Despicable MeDespicable Me is a great summer movie.  It's entertaining and funny and loaded with plenty of more grown up jokes so that it isn't just for kids.  My favorite one of these is probably the movie's jab at the Lehman Brothers.  While Toy Story 3, on the other hand, goes beyond that.  I love how they delved into really dark territory- the day care center and how it's essentially under military rule.  And at the end of the day, I really like how animated films can still be considered serious, good films despite being humorous.  

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