Monday, 26 August 2013

Persephone's Summer Film Festival 2013

I mentioned a few posts back that when I'm in Victoria and the circumstances are favourable -- i.e. I have access to DVDs and a device on which to play them in private -- I hold the almost annual Persephone's Summer Film Festival. It seems a shame not to share what other films I got out from the library and Victoria's fabulous Pic A Flic, so here's a baker's dozen:

Stories We Tell - I grabbed this one at first opportunity as I've been attempting to see the film all winter. It kept popping up at various venues at the exact times I was unable to go. Sarah Polley was a Canadian child star before morphing into a serious actor and writer/director/producer. Stories We Tell is a documentary following a series of discoveries she made about her parents, also actors. You don't have to be Canadian, or interested in family history to find it interesting, but these were an added bonuses for me.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Demeter attempted to watch this in the cinema last winter when practically everyone she knew recommended it. She was only able to make out what the older actors said, so I got this out and played it for her with subtitles. I think we both agreed that she hadn't been missing much. A rather formulaic rom-com approach to the challenges of aging.

Harold and Maude (Criterion edition) - I've mentioned this movie before in a list I made four years ago of thirty-five of my favourite films, but I'm a sucker for DVD extras, so I got this out for the commentary, which didn't tell me much that I didn't already know, so I'll be hanging on to my own unadorned copy.

Spies of Warsaw - Yes, I watched it for David Tennant. Other than that, it's your run-of-the-mill spy story. Decent acting.

Shakespeare High - This was a gem I spotted on the shelves at Pic a Flic and grabbed on a whim. It's a documentary about an annual competition put on by the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California. Teams of four from area high schools compete in compact interpretations of various Shakespeare plays. This has been going on for several decades and alumni of the programme include Richard Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, and Val Kilmer, who all make an appearance. The film focuses on a sampling of schools: one from a rough neighbourhood, an all-girls Catholic, the school which has a history of producing famous actors, and the school from a remote small desert town which always seems to win. Good fun.

Angels in America - I saw this when it originally aired on television in 2003, but my children were quite young then and I lost bits to the bedtime routine. This time, I could give it my undivided attention. It's glorious and it's got Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, and Al Pacino (among others) in multiple roles. If you haven't seen it, you really should, and not just for the girl-on-girl action between Thompson and Streep. (Although I'm sure there's a market for that out there somewhere...)

A Merry War - This is an odd film that I hadn't heard of, probably because it came out in 1997 and I was up to my neck in diapers and kindergarten. Also, the British title was Keep the Aspidistra Flying, which makes a helluva lot more sense than "merry war" -- don't know by which title it appeared in Canada, if at all.  It's set in the 1930s and based on a novel by George Orwell. Not quite a drama, sort of an anti-rom-com with Richard E Grant and Helena Bonham Carter heading the usual rather wonderful British cast.

Elaine Stritch at Liberty  - A 2002 performance of her one-woman show, filmed in London. Quite entertaining, of course, with an almost racy anecdote about Marlon Brando.

Insignificance (Criterion edition) - I'm not sure why I don't have this on my list of favourite films; it certainly has one of my favourite quotes: If I say "I know", I stop thinking. I first saw this film when I was taking my Master's and whenever one of my classmates jumped on her/his invisible soapbox, I thought: "S/he knows. S/he has stopped thinking." (To be fair, I do my share of soapbox-clambering.) The story takes place on a fictional night in 1954 when a famous blond sexy actress visits a famous wild-haired physicist while on the run from her famous and estranged baseball player husband. Oh yes, and the scientist is being harassed by a famous Communist-hunting senator. None of the characters is named, but you know who they're supposed to be. Once again, I got this mainly for the DVD extras which reminded me that the Cold War tensions of 1954 had something in common with the Cold War tensions of 1985, the year in which this film was released. In a neat twist, Tony Curtis, who knew Marilyn Monroe, plays the senator.

The Big C - I've been watching the odd episode of this on television complete with editing, bleeps and commercials. Such a relief to watch this black and unsentimental comedy without interruption (and with DVD extras such as deleted scenes and interviews). I adore Laura Linney, here a 42-year-old woman sandbagged with the news that she has Stage Four melanoma. Oliver Platt, another favourite of mine, plays her bewildered husband. All four seasons have aired, and now I've seen the first two seasons and am dying (a bad choice of word, I know) to see the final two. I rather suspect it doesn't end well, as there is no Stage Five.

The Descendants - I don't fancy George Clooney, but I think he appears in a number of rather fine films, and is a perfectly good actor. (O Brother Where Art Thou is on my aforementioned list of favourites.) I think this was up for an Oscar or two, but didn't win. It's a pleasure just the same, another difficult-to-categorize film about loss and family set in a Hawaii the tourists probably don't get to see.

Cradle Will Rock - This was one of my favourites from a past Persephone's Summer Film Festival -- probably in 2005. I wanted to see this again because 1) it isn't available at the Ottawa Public Library (it is in the Greater Victoria Public Library); 2) I had just seen another rather good film involving Orson Welles -- Me and Orson Welles which is available at the OPL; 3) I wanted DVD extras -- and didn't get them. It's a remarkable movie anyway, a huge cast directed by Tim Robbins playing out the historical context of an 1937 theatrical event that rung down the curtain on the Federal Theater Project.

The Mill and the Cross - I watched this at the end of my Victoria stay after having it out of the library for weeks. I was scared, because I had read the reviews and I am squeamish. On the other hand, I love Brueghel. And Michael York. When I finally summoned up the nerve to watch this (mainly because I was running out of time and the DVD was due back at the library), I was mesmerized. We enter the painting The Procession to Calvary three ways: as a living tableau visited by Breugel the Elder (Rutger Hauer) and his patron (York); as a typical day in Flanders in 1564; and finally, a contemporary Crucifixion. I meant to watch only twenty minutes of it, to avoid the violence I was fearing, and ended up watching the whole thing.
The Mill and the Cross

In short? Skip the Marigold Hotel and the spies in Warsaw. See Stories We Tell, Angels in America, The Big C, and The Mill and the Cross.

Oh heck, see the others too.


JoeinVegas said...

Haven't seen any of those except Harold & Maude - an interesting grouping of films there.

Rob said...

I've seen Harold & Maude, Insignificance and Best Exotic etc. I like the sound of your four picks and will see if I can get hold of them. I don't think The Big C has aired over here unless on a pay channel we don't get.

Funnily enough I've been meaning to revisit both H&M and Insignificance (one of my favourites too), so now I really must.

On the topic of films of plays with small casts, the DVD of Betrayal (film of the Harold Pinter play) with Ben Kingsley, Patricia Hodge and Jermey Irons has been unavailable for years. Now I've just found the whole thing online so will be watching that again (another favourite).

Persephone said...

I've seen both the movie and a stage version of Betrayal and was struck by how knowing the consequences drains the thrill right out of the seduction that begins the affair and ends the story.

The movie I'm longing to come out on DVD (not much hope) is Love Among the Ruins, a made-for-TV movie featuring Laurence Olivier and Katherine Hepburn, and directed by George Cukor. There's a rather misty version available on YouTube as well, but it's not the same thing...