Star Trek – 6

Much – nay, most – of the fun in this movie came from a recognition of who the characters would become on the TV series of 40 years ago. If it sounds like I’ve got my verb tense confused, it’s only some time travel I borrowed from the film, specifically Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. The story was no better than a TV episode, and the special effects were probably sensational in IMAX, which I tried, but failed, to see. On the downside, there were Indiana Jones-like scenes that were embarrassingly out-of-place – e.g., Kirk running from a deranged dinosaur on an ice planet patently incapable of supporting such a life form. Credit to the actors, even Eric Bana as the villain, for not trying to do too much.

Three Monkeys – 7

I spent much of the film wondering about the title: were the mother, father and son the “three monkeys,” or was this an allusion to a Turkish proverb, like “hear no evil,” etc.? Finding no answer, I was left to admire the acting and the character study: Dostoevsky came to mind. The cinematography contributed to the bleak atmosphere. I had trouble finding a seat in the dark opening scene, and the remainder was filmed in sepia, with never more than one other color as a slight accent on the screen. Each family member did something they shouldn’t have done, all ostensibly to help the family’s situation, but in reality tearing the family apart. And, say the three monkeys, this is life.

The Soloist – 5

Ho-hum. This would’ve been a better series of newspaper columns than it was a movie; and as with all “based-on-a-true-stories,” you wondered what touches a screenwriter starting ab initio would’ve bothered including. The religious fundamentalism of the first cellist? The parlous state of the newspaper? The involvement of the L.A. mayor? None of these added much to the story; nor did the filming on location in Cleveland. Robert Downey Jr. did a credible job – much better than Tropic Thunder, for sure – but Jamie Foxx was too much a tour de force for my taste. As I said, ho-hum.

No One Said It Would Be Easy – 7

A movie I’d never heard of about a band I’d never heard of, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both.  Shown at the Minneapolis Film Festival, this work started as a promotional video that grew, at Cloud Cult’s request, into the whole story of Greg Minowa and his personal quest to make music. It combined home footage with talking heads with one fully filmed concert number and the result was everything I wanted to know about this bunch of Minnesotans who hold down jobs and perform because it’s their mission. In Anvil, we were looking at the band from outside; in this film it felt we were on the inside. And unlike Anvil’s music, Cloud Cult’s is haunting, in a Wilco way, and I went out and bought a record and am glad I did.

Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29 – 8

After a great game – and this was inarguably a great game – what’s more fun than sitting around dissecting the key plays? Now imagine having the chance to do that with all the key players who were involved in that game! Well, that’s only part of the pleasure of this film, which shows the TV replay of the Harvard-Yale game in 1968. An equal pleasure is meeting up with the participants 40 years later, seeing the contrast between the Yalies and the Harvards, seeing how they have come to terms with the event for which they all, except for Tommy Lee Jones, will best be remembered by history. Needless to say, the Crimson alums came across as more diverse, less privileged, less arrogant, and were especially fun to relate to the classmates I had just seen at my 40th reunion. (One also wondered about Mike Bouscaren: was he joking when he described his evil intentions, and if so, does he think anyone other than his close friends will get it?) Kevin Rafferty’s documentary style – one camera, one interviewer, graphics-free credits – also reminded one that characters and the story make the movie, not bells and whistles.


The Class – 8.5

Provocative, haunting and utterly realistic, this movie was like a Gomorrah of the classroom. I walked away not rating the movie so much as judging the individual students, the teachers, the French school system, education in general and even our contemporary society. Unlike Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver or even Half Nelson, there was no plot, no coming together of the student body, or no sign that anyone – student or teacher – was any better off at year-end than they had been nine months before. The teacher, Francois Marin, appeared a saint for putting up with so much crap and trying so hard to bring something to his class. But time and again his pedagogic techniques caused me to squirm. The student who caused the most damage, Souleymane, appeared, for the most part, a good sort. Nothing was black and white in this mess of a world. As I said, it was more life than cinema.

Valentino: The Last Emperor – 3

A shallow movie about a shallow man. There is not much pleasure in watching a movie intended to enshrine a vain, prissy prima donna, and what could compensate – the dresses he designed – is also given short shrift: there is really only one dress we get to see at any length. Air kisses all around leave you longing for something more substantial.