On about Day 5 of my house arrest, I mustered up the energy for a trip outside the house and to the video store. If you're anything like me, sometimes the movies you pick up are such duds that you regret even having taken the time and fuel to go to the video store to get them. I am happy to report that my selections this time were worth the extra energy required for a trip out of the house and find them worth recommending here. The four films I chose could not be more different, each offering something unique unto itself.
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Ewan MacGregor, Emily Watson
Director: Chris Noonan
Miss Potter is a delightful film adaptation about the life of the creator of the Peter Rabbit books, Beatrix Potter. Thirty years old and single, living in London with social-climbing parents who are frustrated with her refusal of any number of "acceptable" suitors, Beatrix's friends were often ones of her own creation. In the film's opening scenes, you see Beatrix gathering her porfolio of stories and drawings in preparation to visit publishers in London. She speaks to her drawings, urging them to behave and be good for their big trip out. The drawings come alive on screen as they move through her imagination, taking on a life of their own as they must have appeared in her own mind.
Ewan MacGregor portrays Norman Warne, the youngest of the three brothers who run the publishing house that finally agrees to publish her "bunny book". Norman is delighted with the tale and eager to please both the author and prove to his brothers that he can help this little children's book succeed. The ensuing publication and developing relationships with Norman and his sister Millie point Beatrix toward a life of her own, one outside London and beyond the social standards she refuses to adopt as her own.
Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
Director: John Carney
Once has a distinctly documentary-feel about it as it follows the unnamed Guy, who repairs vacuum cleaners with his dad during the day and plays his guitar and sings in the streets of Dublin by night. When paths cross with the also unnamed Czech Girl who holds a variety of odd jobs, takes care of her mother and young daughter, and plays piano and sings when she can, the two get to know one another on the streets of Dublin.
The music that is created over the course of their developing relationship is as much a character in the film as the Guy and Girl are themselves. As they work through past loves and rehearse together in order to put together a professional recording in hopes of securing a music contract in London, a love of their own develops, one that is neither contrived or polished in that Hollywood way.
Some call this film a "musical" and while strictly speaking that designation is correct, it is also a simplification of the role music plays. Raw, passionate, heartrending, and humorous, the music is woven into the narrative organically, such that there would be no story without the songs that tell the story of Once. Of all the films I rented, this one by far moved me the most.
Check out the trailer:
Check out the trailer:
Starring: Claire Danes, Sienna Miller, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Charlie Cox
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stardust playfully vacillates between the realms of fantasy world of Stormhold and a reality set in 19th century England. In the film's opening narration, the voice asks if we gaze at the stars because we are human, or if we're human because we gaze upon the stars. And then the voice wonders alound if the stars gaze back. The film's answer to that question is that yes, they do.
When Tristan (Charlie Cox) crosses the wall that demarcates the line between the village of Wall and the fantastical realm of Stormhold in pursuit of a fallen star to bring back to his beloved Victoria (Sienna Miller), he embarks upon an adventure that has him crossing paths with witches and the sons of the lately deceased king of Stormhold who are also in pursuit of the star. When the star falls in the land of Stormhold, it lands as Yvaine (Claire Danes). Upon finding her, Tristan is determined to return her to Victoria as he promised he would.
The bulk of the film portrays Tristan and Yvaine's journey toward the wall and the obstacles they face upon their return, namely with the witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is after the heart of the star so her youth can be renewed and the sons of the late king who need to secure the star in order to claim the throne of Stormhold. As they make their way home, they are aided by a pirate (Robert DeNiro) whose ship sails in the air; here, Tristan also acquires swordfighting skills that make him a force to reckon with as he strives to keep Yvaine safe.
Stardust is an unabashedly fantastical film, requiring a sense of playfulness to enjoy fully. The story it tells is the classic one of love, adventure, and good versus evil, told with lightness of heart and great imagination.
3:10 to Yuma
Starring: Christian Bale, Russell Crowe
Director: James Mangold
This particular selection was one I knew I would enjoy, given I had seen it in the theater. 3:10 to Yuma is a western in a style that is new, but also familiar in its rendering, a remake of one by the same name initially released in 1957. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a struggling rancher who witnesses the robbery of a bank coach by the infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) with his sons.
When Wade is captured, Dan is promised enough money to save his ranch and support his family by assisting to escort Wade to the train that will take him to the prison in Yuma. The task proves to be a difficult one as Wade's band of outlaws is hot on the trail of the party escorting Wade to the train. Things get more complicated when Dan's eldest son flees home to join his father.
As the party makes their way toward the city where the train is scheduled to pick up the notorious outlaw to take him to prison, Dan Evans and Ben Wade circle each other cautiously, Wade sinister and affable and charming, and Evans tough, idealistic, a man of strong morals. Neither gives the other an inch, neither flinches at the other's strength.
While all markedly different from one another, each of these films offered something to compel and delight, going beyond mere entertainment to powerful storytelling. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time I got started packing my bags for Florida ... :o)