Monthly Archives: April 2010

69: An Angel at My Table (1990)

This was another one of those movies I got from Netflix and then sat on for ages, mostly because it’s really long (158 minutes) and deals with rather heavy subject matter (the life of the New Zealander poet Janet Frame, who was incarcerated in a mental institution during her twenties and narrowly escaped being lobotomized).  I totally sold you on it, right?  But don’t let the synopsis fool you — the story is lovely and inspiring, and director Jane Campion avoids lots of annoying biopic cliches, possibly because the movie was originally a TV miniseries and therefore doesn’t follow the standard three-act structure.  She tells Frame’s story with humor and respect without making her into a cultural figurehead, and she manages to cover many years of Frame’s life without bogging down the plot in needless detail.  Word to the wise: get the DVD version and watch it with subtitles — the Kiwi accents are impenetrable at times.

68: House of Games (1987)

So I don’t know if I’ve ever had occasion on this blog to talk about my undying love for David Mamet.  I freely admit he’s really weird, definitely one of those directors you either love or hate.  His dialogue often feels like the verbal equivalent of a woman trying to walk in a single high heel, sort of awkward and lopsided.  He also likes his protagonists flawed, more so than most directors, which can be uncomfortable for the viewer.  All that notwithstanding, I think he’s a genius and I found this movie (his first) great fun.  Lindsay Crouse plays an oddly mannish psychiatrist who gets sucked into the world of con artists through one of her patients and eventually gets involved with their leader, played by Joe Mantegna.  I won’t spoil it for you by going into more detail about the plot, except to say that the classic con artist story is one of my favorite plot devices and one that meshes perfectly with Mamet’s twitchy, weird style.  Enjoy, suckers!

67: The Insider (1999)

Aaaaaand we’re back!

Oh man y’all, tax season was such a boot to the keester.  But it’s over and now I’m bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to talk about all the awesome movies I watched in between gritting my teeth and bashing my head on the desk.

So!  The Insider, like all Michael Mann movies, is very very pretty to look at.  The lighting in particular is gorgeous and atmospheric.  Also like his other movies, this one is quite long and takes its sweet time gathering momentum.  But the choice of subject matter is one of the reasons this one succeeds where some of the others flounder a bit.  It’s based on the true story of Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe), a teacher and scientist who became a whistle-blower for Big Tobacco in the mid-nineties.  Mann’s light touch serves him well here and keeps any potential scenery-chewers in check (Al Pacino plays the journalist who brings Wigand’s story to light).  For such a long movie (it clocks in at 157 minutes), it never loses steam or starts to feel didactic or preachy, which is pretty impressive given the controversial subject matter.  Put on a pot of coffee and watch it with someone who won’t talk over it (aka not me).