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February movie roundup

Anyone who pays any attention to the movies widget somewhere on the right-hand sidebar may have noticed that it’s been pretty stale for the last few weeks. Convergence of recently recorded episodes of NCIS, House and ER, the James Bond month on Sky Movies, old Russian variety shows that were long neglected, and a packed football schedule, meant that I only managed to watch two “new” movies in the reportable period.

Charlie Wilson’s War2007
La Vie En Rose2007

I thought that Charlie Wilson’s War was bloody brilliant. I don’t know how historically accurate it is (although what I looked up on the web seems to agree with the narrative), but the direct juxtaposition of a decadent and often clueless existence of a back-bencher congressman with the war that’s going on elsewhere drew me in from the beginning; his at first reluctant and later single-minded pit bull determination to affect the outcome of that war played out rather nicely over the course of the movie. Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts is Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is one actor whom I always find somewhat off-putting in mannerisms and in off-screen appearance and yet a genius performer.

I’d give it five stars if not for some absent-mindedness with which it treats the timeline. The action is clearly marked as starting in 1980 and the next chronological marker we see is in the footage of mujaheddin successes starting in mid-80’s. What happened in between, though, felt as if having taken place over the course of a few months, rather than years. The reference to Wilson being re-elected towards the end of the movie reinforced this confusing feeling – surely he was re-elected several times in the meanwhile.

Also, in spite of my general disdain towards Soviet Union’s past and the fact that I barely started college by the time Afghan War was over, I can’t help but identify with 9-я рота generation. I don’t want to dispute the veracity of Soviet helicopter crews bantering about their love lives as they went on their bombing missions, but that portrayal rubs me the wrong way a bit. It could have been done in an attempt to make enemy appear more human, but it played out as making them more of cold-hearted bastards for me. And it’s hard to see your childhood friends as heartless villains, no matter the magnitude of the depravity of the state that they served.

At least, the movie had the good sense to employ proper Russian speakers for the roles.

The only other not-seen-before movie in the last few weeks was La Vie En Rose. I have a soft spot for French chanson, so I was looking forward very much to watching it, my disapproval of Marion Cotillard’s beliefs notwithstanding. The movie did not disappoint in vividly portraying the tortured soul that Edith Piaf was. Cotillard’s acting was certainly worthy of the Oscar (although, I have to say that a role of this caliber would scream “Oscar potential” regardless of who the actor was).

The scene of Piaf first performing in front of a concert audience, with no audible singing, muted background music and facial expressions of the audience relaying the power of her performance, is one of the best pieces of film-making that I have seen in my life. Plus, of course, the sound of Piaf’s voice throughout the movie was a real treat.

And yet, I did not like the movie as much as I hoped I would. Striving to present a truthful depiction of the hard life that the chanteuse endured in the first half of her life, it was often too gloomy and depressing. More importantly, the non-linear storytelling left me dizzy with trying to piece a coherent narrative together. I don’t mind the flashback-heavy narration when those are intersperced into a progressing timeline. In this particular case, we kept jumpimg here and there in a fashion that could only be called haphazard. The occasional time markers helped a little, but they did not appear with any consistency to be really useful.

That was it for February. And you may be happy to know that I actually enjoyed writing this kind of a post for a change. It must be a function of actually having watched the movies that invite discussion. Or a function of having watched just a couple.

Posted in Movies

8 Comments

  1. Brian Greenberg

    Three thoughts:

    1) I’m glad you enjoyed writing the post.

    2) You said they were movies that invited discussion, and there are no comments, so I felt the need to at least get it started.

    3) I’ve seen a few 5-minute chunks of Charlie Wilson’s War on cable recently and they’ve all fascinated me, but I’ve either not had time to see the movie, or didn’t want to watch it with the kids around (given the adult subject matter and occasional nudity). I will definitely try to make the time, now that I hear from you that it’s as good as I thought it might be…

  2. Ilya

    Brian, you’re certainly my target audience for this, especially since you seem to be the only one to take a hint on “discussion” 😉

  3. Ilya

    I hope I avoided major spoilers, then, Jason.

    I just watched a movie that I saw on your Netflix widget, so there may be an upcoming discussion on that.

  4. jason

    Ah, I just picked that up from today’s entry. I’ve not yet gotten around to watching it — it’s sitting on my entertainment console, mocking me. What did you think of it?

  5. Ilya

    I expect your mileage to vary in direct proportion to how much a Beatles fan you are. I pretty much loved it, if not for the overall selection of songs that left some of my top choices out. But even though there is a loose plot, it is mostly a background for musical numbers – all very nice interpretations, by the way, – so unless you’re a fan of the music, you may find it a bit drawn out and disjointed.

    Hope you’re a fan and I did not spoil it for you.

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