During my "hiatus" I did have the chance to see some really good films for entertainment and some of my precious off work hours were spent getting lost in a wide variety of films ... titles such as Tout va bien (classic Marxist/Maoist Jean-Luc Godard from the early 70's complete with Jane Fonda and Yves Montand), Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson's classic turn Sunset Boulevard (gloriously remastered for DVD finally!), Network (need I say more about this classic?), Altman's masterpiece (and perhaps my favorite of his) Nashville, And lest you think I've been dwelling in the 'serious film' world too much, we also got lots of laughs from our favorite British comics Simon Pegg and NIck Frost in both Shaun of the Dead and their newest, Hot Fuzz.
And just so you don't think I'm only about those 'British' comedies, I did spend an engrossing time watching Helen Mirren earn every bit of that Oscar for The Queen one night after work last week. Frankly, I could give a sh*t about the British royal family, but Mirren's performance was just so spot on that she had me mesmerized from the start ... if she proved no other point than that she could positively inhabit Queen Elizabeth II (without -- or is it despite? -- making her more interesting than she could possibly be) Mirren demonstrates that she is truly one of the greats of her generation (it's not all Prime Suspect you know, though most of those are really good). Stephen Frears really tapped into the British zeitgeist circa 1997 (e.g. Princess Diana's death) and has created a very smart film chronicling the whole rise to fame of Poodle Boy Tony Blair ... in fact, I more than once wondered if the film were more about him than Elizabeth, despite the titular focus
Add in a couple of Almodóvar films for good measure and just the other night, one of Woody Allen's neglected masterpieces, Zelig. Yes, all that escapism and more, but a lot of times when I'm swamped at work, the best I can do to relax is to lose myself in a well made film ... from which it's difficult to extract me when it's over.
Another title of particular note I'd like to mention because it was only recently released on DVD, (though I'd like to write about it more at some point) was David Lynch's newest cinematic puzzle, Inland Empire. By turns engrossing, confusing and downright infuriatingly abstract, it's likely a masterpiece to behold when all is said and done (I'd say, oh... maybe about twenty viewings later!). Must see viewing for Lynch fans, but it might be a bit too obtuse for the uninitated viewer of Lynch's work.
Late last night I watched the fascinating documentary Inside Deep Throat, (yes, that movie!) that is currently playing sporadically on HBO (check the IMDB link for next showings if you're interested). It's a remarkably light hearted examination of the 'liberating' and 'revolutionary' porno that almost thrust hardcore into the mainstream of cinema, but ultimately failed for almost everyone involved in its making. At times hilarious and at others sobering, it's an eye opening look into the demi monde of the nascent porno industry, nefarious gangland connections, wannabe censors and wingnut reactionaries of the Nixon era, with commentary interspersed from luminaries as diverse as Norman Mailer, Erica Jong, Helen Gurley Brown, Xaviera Hollander, Gloria Steinem, Dick Cavett, John Waters, Bill Maher (who no doubt masturbated to it in his teen years) and even the inimitable Gore Vidal. It made me think of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights more than once, a film that also grounds itself in those freewheeling days when audiences were more adventurous, the fringes more visible and before the so-called 'sexual revolution' stalled in its tracks. Yeah, another one of those films I have to dig out of the archives and spend some time with soon ....
Finally, we got around to watching The Illusionist last week (which I mentioned in a previous post where I referenced The Prestige), and I must say that it was truly impressive, though spinning a very different kind of narrative from that of The Prestige. While they deal with a similar romantic theme (a magician's love thwarted), the two films take an entirely different approach, and I must say that narratively, I think The Illusionist had a much more complex and ultimately surprising and rewarding story arc. (It was, after all based on a short story by Stephen Milhauser, an author I've long enjoyed for his quirky novels.) Both films, however, are well worth the time you could invest viewing them ... if I had to draw the distinguishing comparison, I'd have to say that The Prestige deals heavily with the 'how' of the illusions and the ultimate implications of the act, whereas The Illusionist focuses more on the 'why' of what we see through the protagonist's perspective. I'm not always a fan of 'period' type films, but both these films are remarkable for their recreations of the magical milieu of the late 19th century. I highly recommend them both if you're looking for an intelligent and literate drama you can really get lost in and let it take you where it will.