Trevor at The Mookse and the Gripes has a great review of Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest Coen brothers movie now available for viewing at home. I would say I'm one of the few moderate fans of the Coen brothers…some of their works I love, some I'm not so wild about…and this one was a winner for me. The "WTF is that supposed to mean" symbolism that the Coens include in their movies is still there but seems dialed down quite a bit, letting the story naturally unfold. It also includes some of the most rounded characters they've ever presented, even if they are on the screen for a few seconds. Like Trevor I watched the film again soon after finishing it to pick up on things I missed the first time. Read Trevor's review. It's a movie I'm sure I'll watch again soon.
I had been meaning to watch Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game and was finally able to do so. While it's now considered a masterpiece, I found it much darker than any review I've read. The plot is simple—a week-long retreat at a country estate provides plenty of opportunities for tangled relationships of French society's upper crust (and of their servants) to play out to a disastrous end. Renoir liked to say it mirrored the "moral callousness" of the time, but I don't think that's quite right, as reflected by the title. Most of the characters are only callous toward anything that is outside their code of ethics. It's OK to cheat on your wife as long as you follow certain rules, for example. But there is a double-edged sword at play here. While simultaneously criticizing the mores of the time and showing his characters sympathetically, Renoir seems to reinforce the importance of what *should* underlie the rules. For example, the estate gamekeeper Schumacher demonstrates a cartoonish view of honor that reveals no underlying basis other than his feeling that he has been offended. How he reacts to the offense demonstrates he doesn't understand why she should feel that way. He's adrift and the two options reflected in other situations is a nihilistic approach, not caring about what happens, and the exaggerated responses he delivers. It's a brutal reflection of society at the time and I now understand the violent reaction at its release—no one likes seeing such an ugly reflection in the mirror. Very highly recommended. Watch it and you'll see the basis for many other films. I'm looking forward to going back and rediscovering some of the influences on the movie, such as Musset's Les Caprices de Marianne and Beaumarchais' Le Mariage de Figaro.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it the "Dumas summer of the musketeers" for us. Our timing is great since BBC America has just started airing The Musketeers series and (based on the first episode) it's a hit with the boys. The credits are clear that the series is based on the characters from Dumas' novels, so expect a lot of invention and liberty taken with the original. Which is fine with me, especially if the episodes continue to be done as well as the first one. I'm never quite sure why some changes are made from book to screen…why 1630 was chosen instead of the novel's opening in 1626, for example…but as countless other filmmakers have discovered the stories and the characters provide so much opportunity for fun. A few snippets of dialogue:
King Louis XIII (while shooting birds): "There's something about shooting that makes a man feel fully alive."
Queen Anne: "Unlike the birds, I suppose."
King Louis: "They're born to be shot like rabbits…and poets."
Guard: "What do you want?"
Constance: "Fifty sous and I'll take you to heaven."
Guard: "Are you one of those religious nut cases?"
Check your local listings and enjoy.
One of the 'goals' I had this summer was to take the boys to a play, so I took them to see a local performance of City of Angels by Larry Gelbart (book), Cy Coleman (music), and David Zippel (lyrics). The storyline follows an author as he attempts to turn a successful novel into a screenplay. Author and story intertwine as his creation takes on a life of its own, which leads me to reflect once again that everything comes back to Cervantes (with a healthy dose of Unamuno). While the youngest boy was bored by the intermission the oldest enjoyed the whole thing. I thought it a very well done performance of a complicated (staging-wise) production by a local troupe. Who knows…I may even convince them to go to another play this summer!