what i watched last week

Some of these are briefer than usual ... lots going on at the moment.

Night Will Fall (André Singer, 2014). It's unfair to complain that movies with footage of the concentration camps have become less effective as time passes. You can watch such footage a thousand times and still find it revolting. But at this point, filmmakers must come up with a new focus or get lost among the many similar films. For Night Will Fall, the angle is a lost film from the 40s, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, that uses footage shot by servicemen, much of which we have never seen before. We also learn about the involvement of Alfred Hitchcock in the making of the film, and how the British government decided it wouldn't do to rile up the German people in the post-war period. Singer does what he can to blend this together, but to some extent, it feels like two films, one of lost footage and another of a lost film. Hitchcock emphasizes to the filmmakers how to use creativity to convince the audience what they are seeing is real, which is an interesting point on its own. 7/10. It's probably too obvious, but a companion film would be Night and Fog.

The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum, 2014). Well-made in a cultured British way, never too stodgy, with an interesting performance by Benedict Cumberbatch at its center. It does a decent job of making code-breaking entertaining, and if it fudges on facts, well, don't all of these movies do that? The one area where the film might be "too cultured" is in its presentation of Alan Turing's homosexuality. We hear a lot about it, but you get the feeling the filmmakers thought it would be too much to show Turing actually having sex. #908 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10. I haven't seen it, but the best matchup would be The Theory of Everything.

Jack Reacher (Christopher McQuarrie, 2012). Tom Cruise in heroic mode. Not as much action as you might expect ... Cruise plays a kind of super detective. But I suppose there is enough action to please most folks; it grossed $218 million worldwide. Top special effect goes to Rosamund Pike's boobs ... apparently she was pregnant during the making of the film, and about halfway through the movie, her character, a lawyer, turns up in a cleavage-baring outfit which is so startling it becomes distracting. 6/10. For a better Tom Cruise action movie, try Minority Report.

The Interrupters (Steve James, 2011). Yet another top-notch documentary located in Chicago from James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself). It sounds like it will be one of those movies that is good for you, but one thing that makes James' movies so strong is that he works hard to give us characters of depth about whom we care a lot. He also effectively balances the bleak with the hopeful, for the most part without seeming too much the Pollyanna. Here, he focuses on three "Violence Interrupters" who intervene in real-time street disputes, hoping (and often succeeding) to prevent murders. We also get to know a few of those street people. We care about them all. #494 on the TSPDT 21st-century list. 9/10. Might as well watch Hoop Dreams again while you're at it.

The Water Diviner (Russell Crowe, 2014). Absent any particular context, this movie, Russell Crowe's directing debut in which he also stars, would be a reasonably enjoyable story of a man looking for his presumably-dead sons after World War I. Crowe the director is kind to Crowe the actor ... the actor doesn't need a lot of help, he's one of our best screen actors, but the director makes sure the actor is featured in lots of heart-warming moments. However, there is context, most fervently stated by Andrew O'Hehir, whose review is titled "What Armenian genocide? 'The Water Diviner,' Russell Crowe’s disgraceful Turkish fantasy". ("If I made a film set in Germany or France or Poland in the 1940s that made no reference to the fate of Europe’s Jewish population in those years – if I appeared unaware that there ever were Jews in Europe, let alone what had become of them – how would that look?") O'Hehir hits the spot by pointing out you could watch The Water Diviner as a plain story of family and war, without considering the Armenians, if you didn't already know about their genocide, because they are absent from the film. You get Australians and Brits and Turks (one of whom is played by Ukrainian Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko), but the Armenians aren't considered important enough to the story being told, so they are left out. (For further reading, look at "Directors Slam Russell Crowe’s ‘Water Diviner’ Over Armenian Genocide Denial (Guest Blog)".) 5/10.


music friday, the podcast

Earlier this week, I took part in a podcast with Scott Woods and Phil Dellio. The topic, at least at the beginning, was Robert Christgau's memoir, Going Into the City. I've listened to a little more than half of it, and so far, I've managed to avoid saying anything too stupid, for which I thank Scott, the host and editor of the podcast. It's fun to hang out with those two, who have been friends for a zillion years. As I said to my son, I was like the visitor from another planet, aka Berkeley. If, after listening to all 120 minutes, you still haven't had enough, Scott included a link at the bottom to an interview he did with me back in 2006, which amazes me ... both that he thought I'd be an interesting interviewee back in the day, and that almost a decade later, he's still kind enough to include me in these things.

Robert Christgau: He Needs Us, We Need Him (podcast)

For this week's video, a couple of versions of a song that is featured in the podcast. First, the "original", The Wild Tchoupitoulas with "Indian Red":

 

And here they are at Mardi Gras 2015: