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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Review Round-Up

Here are some quick thoughts on movies I've seen in the past couple weeks....

The Garden (2009)

This documentary follows a 14-acre community garden in South Central L.A. It was created after the L.A. riots, and was lovingly tended mostly by the Latino community. When the man who sold the land to the city wants it back, a backroom deal occurs which sells him back the land at a ridiculously low price. The movie pits the grassroots farmers and their defenders (who come to include numerous Hollywood celebs) against the shady financial dealings of urban politics. The struggle is moving, and it's a consistently interesting documentary. One flaw (which may not be the filmmakers' fault), is that we never really see or understand the man who got the garden in the first place. The movie also glosses over some of the internal politics of running the garden.

Grade: B

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, who made Old Joy (2006), returns with another minimalist tale of a drifter in the Pacific Northwest. Wendy and Lucy stars Michelle Williams as Wendy, a woman who has left Indiana and is traveling to Alaska with her dog Lucy. We don't get much back story on why she has traveling, but there is definitely the sense that there is more at stake than simply work. Much of the movie concerns Wendy's struggle to find Lucy when she is lost.

When I saw Old Joy, I appreciated the sense of disillusionment with modern America that Reichardt portrayed, but it also was so plotless that it was difficult to fully invest in the film. With Wendy and Lucy, I think Reichardt has really hit her stride as a filmmaker while making her point just as powerfully. The movie definitely won't appeal to those who bore of contemplative movies, but there is a sense of dramatic momentum and character development that I found riveting. Michelle Williams does a superb job in the title role, and all the supporting actors and actresses in small roles portray a true naturalism. The movie also ends with one of the most beautiful scenes I've seen in a long time. This movie was truly a miniature gem, and I can't wait to see what Reichardt will do in the future.

Grade: A-

Howards End (1992)
The last (and best) of my 1992 Supporting Actress screenings. The best movie of the Merchant-Ivory team (A Room With a View, The Remains of the Day). An absolutely superb cast (Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter) plays out E.M. Forster's drama of class conflict in early 20th-century England. The movies follows the intersections of the three families: the upper-class Wilcoxes, the artistic middle-class Schlegels, and the lower-class Basts. Forster's point, I think, is to show the ways that people of disparate ways are or aren't able to connect with one another. Some characters (such as Vanessa Redgrave's Mrs. Wilcox and Emma Thompson's Margaret Schelgel), have a natural sensibility to connection, while others, such as Anthony Hopkins' Henry Wilcox, are unable to see beyond their own circumstances. This movie is pitch-perfect and beautiful in its depiction of a world gone by, and also consistently dramatically compelling. A great film.

The great Vanessa Redgrave was nominated for Supporting Actress in the film. She opens the film in a great wordless title sequence, and appears in several more scenes during the first 45 minutes of the movie. She does a wonderful job at portraying an ethereal woman of great kindness and quiet passion. While she is gone for much of the movie, her presence lives on and continues to play an important role.

Grade: A

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