Sunday, August 16, 2009

2 Unexpected GREAT Films...

Right now I'm thankful for 3 things:
1. wireless laptop connections (so I can sit in bed and write on a lazy Sunday morning like today)
2. blogs (because I enjoy writing, and it is great to have an easy outlet to write and share)
3. and the last, which segues into this post's topic...I'm grateful for filmmakers who produce high-quality films

As my Mexican-born grandma used to say, "Ay, these times and days!"

That's how I feel when I see the garbage--GARBAGE--that is out there on TV and in the movie theaters. It's a shame, really, because I love movies. I'm always on the look-out for new films to watch. But what I don't like is wasting my time and being disappointed. I'm discerning and happy to be so, and I always like to know a little about the film before I watch it. It lets me know if the film is worth my time and also makes me appreciate it more.

Yesterday, after some time on the computer and an errand, I went to my Instant Viewing queue on Netflix.

I have a ROKU player. A little $100 black box that sits on my TV and wirelessly and instantly streams movies from my Netflix queue to the TV. I don't have cable, I don't want cable, and I think this is the best alternative. The movies available aren't always the newest or the most popular, but there are still really great ones that are there if you look.

Happily, I found 2 GREAT films. Here are my reviews:
A Good Woman, is based on an Oscar Wilde story called "Lady Windemere's Fan." It stars Helen Hunt and Scarlett Johansson, and takes place on Italy's Amalfi coast in 1930.

Visually, this movie is beautiful. The scenery, the buildings, the costumes are just stunning. When I read the Netflix user reviews, this seemed to be the one thing that people could agree on. The reviews were very mixed, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

Because of things people said, I expected to be bored or disappointed. I was neither. The story was riveting and there were twists and turns all the way up to the last scene.

Helen Hunt plays a tainted woman named Stella Erlynne, who, in her own words is "infamous and poor." She circles through high society having affairs with married men, and letting them support her financially. If she can't charge something to one man's account, she'll use another's, and is always on the lookout for more.

Enter newlywed Robert Windemere. He's incredibly rich, devoted to his wife, and very naive. Stella has been luring men for years and has it down to an art form. He's no match for her and can't resist. And it isn't because she is a beautiful woman, but because she has a way of catching people off guard, which she does throughout the film.

Scarlett Johansson is Robert's wife, Meg. She's only 20, never had a mother, and holds herself and others to an impossibly high standard of decorum and propriety.

Around these 3 key players is a nest of gossipy, rich men and women played by great supporting actors. They add the fluff and fun to an intriguing story that keeps you guessing and interested every minute. It reminded me a lot of another film, An Ideal Husband, with Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Northam--also based on a story by Oscar Wilde. But I think I actually liked yesterday's film even better.

Despite the torrid story, it is very good, very sharply written, and worth seeing. A nice surprise! Here's the best trailer I could find. You can watch it full screen too.

The 2nd film I saw was a documentary that I turned on late last night as I was falling asleep. It was of the best documentaries I've seen, mainly because the filmmaker does what every filmmaker should do, which is to make the audience care about who they're watching.
This film is called STOLEN, and it documents the attempted recovery of 13 paintings that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. The most famous of the paintings is one of only 34 Vermeers in the world, entitled The Concert, pictured above.

Even though it is a documentary, there is a cast, and they are fascinating. There is Harold Smith, the art crime detective--75 years old, and slightly shocking to look at because he has advanced skin cancer. There is the newpaper reporter who was secretively taken to view the paintings AFTER they were stolen, and would love to be able to retrace his steps and lead the authorities to them. There is the British police informant, nicknamed "Turbocharger," because of his high-energy demeanor. There is the gallery attendant, who gets weepy thinking about his first experience in the museum as a 13 year old boy, who felt such a connection to it at a young age, that he knew that he was destined to spend his life there. And there is William Youngworth, the unbelievably arrogant art dealer/former con who says he knows how to recover what was stolen, as Harold Smith listens, trying to hide his annoyance and frustration. Then there are the authors--mostly Vermeer biographers, who ache at the thought that there is one less painting by this revered artist available to the general public.

There are also the 2 ghostly voices of the past--those who conceived the idea of having a gallery of beautiful art in Boston in the early 1900's-- a time when no such thing existed there. Isabella Stewart Gardner (below left) and her art agent, Bernard Berenson, voiced by Blythe Danner and Campbell Scott. Letters between these two are read back and forth and you understand the love and care (not to mention the money) that was put into making this collection wonderful and special for all to enjoy. Learning that makes the theft even more offensive, especially because in her will, Mrs. Gardner specified that no paintings should be added or subtracted from the collection. She put it together as a unit that should stay that way after her death. In keeping with her wishes, this means that in place of the stolen paintings hang only empty frames--a constant reminder of the crime.

With a $5 million dollar reward, there are certainly a lot of leads, and Harold Smith needs to sift through them and decide which are worth pursuing. This pursuit starts to involve more and more people, ranging from the IRA to Boston's top mob boss. As the viewer, I felt myself very involved and invested in solving the case too. And you feel the sadness and the loss that these beautiful things were taken, especially when you see the expressions and emotions of those who love them most. They look at prints of the stolen art like they're missing family members, children who cannot cry out on their own behalf.

Do they turn up at the end? I'm not going to tell. But whether they do or not, the journey is incredibly interesting. (You can always go to the museum's website and find out, along with seeing what was taken.) *wink* One of them was this turbulent Rembrandt (I love his work,) thought to be his only seascape. It's gorgeous. You can almost see the boat fighting against the storm, the thunder pounding around it.:
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633

When pieces like this are taken, how can you not care? This film not only makes you feel that way, but also reminds you of the importance and role of masterpieces like these. A great documentary. And, yay! It took some hunting, but I found the trailer...

P.S. An interesting thing--if your name is "Isabella," you are allowed free entry to the museum for your entire life.


Sally said...

Have I told you I love your film reviews? I think you could do it as a second job.

To answer your question on my blog. I'm not in Provo, I'm in Vernal. I'd rather be in Provo, it's bigger and more interesting believe it or not. But I did go to the Vernal temple yesterday and that was really nice. It was built in 1907 (I think) and was originally a tabernacle so it's a really beautiful and historical place.

Kristie said...

Thank you Sally! I can't tell you how much a comment like that means to me. I know I have some devoted readers, but very few actually leave a comment. Thankfully, doing those reviews is a great outlet for me, no matter who reads them, but it sure is nice to be appreciated!

I'm happy to know where you are. Any idea what's next? We don't want you to go MIA again!