We return with not only the odd coincidence of current & classic film this week, but all of the current films are a slew of S's: Sleepwalking, The Savages and Starting Out in the Evening. Plus, they are all about drama and family dynamics. Too weird! I was quite impressed with Starting Out in the Evening, and although it has a rockin' score over at Rotten Tomatoes (86% as of March 24/08), I heard little to no buzz on the film after it's release. I believe the trailer had a hint of misguidance pegging it as a subtle thriller but it's a drama, centred on two writers: one emerging and one fading. It's full of emotion and great performances from the lead actors: Frank Langella and Lauren Ambrose as well as a strong supporting cast: Lili Taylor and Adrian Lester (Doomsday). Next up is The Savages, which while watching I went back and forth on how much I enjoyed it. I did finally settle into the film and was amazed by Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman and how they created a understated and believable sibling relationship. Their physicality as well as verbal interplay was bang on, for me that was the highlight of the film.
Next up is Sleepwalking which I wanted to enjoy more than I did. Often it just felt like something was amiss, like I didn't trust what the actors were saying and at times it felt over acted and then there would be a wonderful, touching scene. Overall it did feel uneven, although it has some special moments.
Next I fell into some catch up land seeing some films from recent years. First was Half Nelson, which has been on my list for over a year due to the Oscar nomination for Ryan Gosling. Oh my goodness, did he ever deserve it as his performance was tour de force. I was astonished. Also there was another strong performance by the young actor Shareeka Epps. Although this film dealt with content that may make some people uncomfortable (drug use), I highly recommend it. It's the best film I've seen this month by far. It's watching films like Half Nelson that make movies like the next one I saw pale in comparison. This was The Kingdom, which I ended up turning off after about 30 minutes. It wasn't awful but I didn't feel that it was bringing me anything. Highly violent including to the masses as well as individuals, and it had a torture scene as well. Also, after that first 30 minutes in they were still mucking about on 'how to get past a problem' and the trailers and previews clearly indicate they solve that problem, which left me going "Get on with it!".
Now, it's time for a time warp and working through some classics. First up is 1927 Buster Keaton silent film, The General. This is a film that comes up in a fair amount of film books as well as all time lists and I'd have to say it gets earned the credit for that. Although the story and setting are not something I'd normally be interested in (US Civil War), the intensity of the characters and their drive is so prominnate you can't help but connect to their journey even if you don't feel akin to their task. Also the physicality of Buster Keaton is phenomenal. It is refreshing to see the pure expressionism of silent film. Truth be told it's not the only silent film of the week, I also checked out Guy Maddin's Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary which has been on my list for ages. This is a film performed by a ballet company and although it took me longer to settle into the silent nature of the film I kept reminding myself that I do know the story of Dracula enough to just watch and enjoy, and enjoy I did. The visual style of Guy Maddin is a force to be reckoned with. Intense, expressive and captivating I could not recommend his film more. A thrilling film to say the least.
More classic viewing with Stagecoach, a classic western directed by John Ford and staring John Wayne. I really enjoyed this film and although it is not my favourite western it is sure close. A simple premise but filled with lively characters this film is a fun ride start to finish. Next up is another ground breaking film, but of a different genre: Night of the Living Dead. George A. Romero's directorial debut and first zombie film does not disappoint. It holds up very well over time and is much more than a simple zombie film. I recommend both of these classic films.
The one film that fits none of the categories but was delightful nonetheless is Little Voice. This 1998 UK film which won Michael Caine a Golden Globe is a diamond in the rough. A tale of the blue collar dream to strike it rich and very close to it's very dysfunctional home. Astounding performances from a stellar cast including: Brenda Blethyn, Michael Caine, Jane Horracks, Ewan McGregor and the delightful Jim Broadbent as Mr. Boo. It's a tale of harsh times and hope, as well as the power of music and belief. Well worth watching.
Up next week is All Canadian, All the Time as I'll be living and breathing the Canadian Film Fest (runs from March 25-29/08). Check out my pre-festival impressions here.