Queen to Play: A passion discovered late

In the fine French drama Queen to Play, a working class woman discovers a passion for chess  in midlife.  It’s a film about aspiration.  First, she must muster the courage and resourcefulness to learn the game.  When it becomes an obsession, she and her family must adjust.

The excellent actress Sandrine Bonnaire (Intimate Strangers) is the perfect choice to play this laconic and controlled character, who reveals her thoughts and emotions to the audience almost only through her eyes.   A French-speaking Kevin Kline is also very good as the crusty American widower who teaches her chess..

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Movies to See Right Now

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Don’t miss Cave of Forgotten Dreams while it can be seen in 3D;  Werner Herzog explores the amazing 30,000 year old Chauvet cave paintings.  In the fine French drama Queen to Play, a working class woman discovers a passion for chess  in midlife; she and her family, must adjust, along with a French-speaking Kevin Kline.

Source Code is a gripping scifi thriller with intelligence and heart, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan.   In a Better World is an ambitious contemplation on violence by Danish director Susanne Bier (Brothers, After the Wedding)Potiche, a delightful French farce of feminist self-discovery is the funniest movie in over a year, and another showcase for Catherine Deneuve (as if she needs one).

The Princess of Montpensier is an exquisitely beautiful romance about a 16th century French noblewoman who is forced by her father to marry – but not the man she loves; her new husband is unhealthily jealous and for good reason – various members of the Court fall in love with her and she is too immature to handle it well.  Hanna is a rip roaring girl-power thriller starring Saiorse Ronan as a 16-year-old raised in the Arctic Circle to be a master assassin by her rogue secret agent father, and then released upon the CIA.  The Robber is about an emotionless, compulsive bank robber who doesn’t care about the money, and you won’t care about him, either.

For trailers and other choices, see Movies to See Right Now.

I haven’t yet seen Incendies or Meek’s Cutoff  , both promising films that open this weekend. You can see trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

My DVD pick is Hail! The Conquering Hero.

Movies on TV this week include the classic French heist film Rififi and one of my favorite Sam Peckinpah Westerns, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, both on TCM.

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Cave of Forgotten Dreams: 3D for grownups

Come along with Werner Herzog as he explores the 33,000-year-old Chauvet cave paintings in southern France. It’s a great topic for a film – a specially authorized descent into the claustrophobic confines of a prehistoric cave, littered with human footprints and the skulls of extinct cave bears.  Surprisingly, some of the paintings look like they were painted in the Renaissance or later.

And, of course, Herzog (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Grizzly Man) is a great story teller.  Here, he made the wise choice to film in 3D.  The paintings are not on flat canvasses, but on uneven rock faces.  The 3D allows the audience to appreciate how the artists used the curves in the rock to give the illusion of motion in their subjects.

Don’t miss Cave of Forgotten Dreams while it can be seen in 3D.

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DVD of the Week: Hail! The Conquering Hero

Eddie Bracken and his new Marine comrades

This brilliantly funny movie is one of Preston Sturges’ less well known great comedies.  Eddie Bracken plays a would-be soldier discharged for hay fever – but his hometown mistakenly think that he is sent home a war hero.  Hilarity ensues.  All the funnier when you realize that this film was made in 1944 amid our nation’s most culturally patriotic period.

Turner Classic Movies broadcasts Hail! The Conquering Hero several times a year, and a new DVD has been released today.

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Coming up on TV: Lawrence of Arabia

Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia

It’s time to revisit a spectacle.  On May 9, Turner Classic movies is broadcasting Lawrence of Arabia.  For decades, many of us watched this epic squeezed into tinny-sounding TVs.   In 1989, I was fortunate enough to see the director’s cut in an old movie palace.   Now technology has caught up, and modern large screen HD televisions  can do this wide screen classic justice.  Similarly, modern home sound systems can work with the great Maurice Jarre soundtrack.

Nobody has ever created better epics than director David Lean (Bridge Over the River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago).  Peter O’Toole stars at the moment of his greatest physical beauty.  The rest of the cast is unsurpassed: Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, thousands of extras and entire herds of camels.  The vast and severe Arabian desert is a character unto itself.

Settle in and watch the whole thing – and remember what “epic” really means.

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Movies to See Right Now

The Princess of Montpensier

Don’t miss Source Code, a gripping scifi thriller with intelligence and heart, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan.  Poetry is a troubling, uncomfortable and profound film with a great performance by Koran actress Jeong-hie Yun.  In a Better World is an ambitious contemplation on violence by Danish director Susanne Bier (Brothers, After the Wedding)Potiche, a delightful French farce of feminist self-discovery is the funniest movie in over a year, and another showcase for Catherine Deneuve (as if she needs one).

The Princess of Montpensier is an exquisitely beautiful romance about a 16th century French noblewoman who is forced by her father to marry – but not the man she loves; her new husband is unhealthily jealous and for good reason – various members of the Court fall in love with her and she is too immature to handle it well.  Hanna is a rip roaring girl-power thriller starring Saiorse Ronan as a 16-year-old raised in the Arctic Circle to be a master assassin by her rogue secret agent father, and then released upon the CIA.  The Robber is about an emotionless, compulsive bank robber who doesn’t care about the money, and you won’t care about him, either.

For trailers and other choices, see Movies to See Right Now.

I haven’t yet seen Cave of Forgotten DreamsIncendies or Queen to Play, which open this weekend.  You can see trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

My DVD pick is Somewhere.

Movies on TV this week include the epic Lawrence of Arabia on TCM, which will look great on your wide screen HDTV – more on that tomorrow.

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The Princess of Montpensier: a woman who is loved too much

Set in late 16th century France amid the French religious wars, a young noblewoman is forced by her father to marry – but not the man she loves. Her new husband is unhealthily jealous and for good reason – various members of the Court fall in love with her and she is too immature to handle it well.

The 35th film directed by Bertrand Tavernier (Coup de Torchon) is often exquisite. There is brutal 16th century warfare set against the beautiful French countryside, gorgeous costumes, thundering horses, swordplay in the Louvre and heaving bosoms.

It’s a good film that could have been great.  Unfortunately,  Melanie Thierry doesn’t live up to the great role at the center of this romance. Instead, Lambert Wilson steals the picture with an exceptional performance as the husband’s mentor and the Princess’ confidant.

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The Robber: robbing and running, but why? and who cares?

The title character in The Robber/Der Rauber finishes a six-year prison term for bank robbery and immediately and compulsively robs a bank.  He doesn’t care about the money, he is simply driven to rob banks.

He has spent his six years in prison obsessively training, and he wins the Vienna Marathon when he gets out.  Along the way, his running ability helps him make dramatic escapes.  The role of the robber is very physically demanding, and he is well-played by Andreas Lust (Revanche).

It’s a well-acted and at times beautifully shot movie, but the story by writer-director Benjamin Heidenberg lets us down.  Why is the robber so compulsive?  How did he get to be so alienated?  Since he shows no emotion or human connection, why should we care?

There exists an excellent German bank robbery drama with lots of running, plus a great character, so I recommend Run Lola Run on DVD.

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DVD of the Week: Moguls And Movie Stars

Moguls And Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood is a 7-part series from Turner Classic Movies , which originally broadcast the series last fall.  Most histories of cinema emphasize the technical and creative evolutions of film.  Instead, Moguls traces the business story – how mostly Jewish immigrants started with the early peep shows in old Eastern cities and wound up building monopolistic empires in the sun and glamor of Hollywood.  It’s a great story, and this series tells it very well.

The DVD set is now available for purchase for about $28.  Here’s the original TCM promo.

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More Best Bets for May

I need to add some upcoming films to Friday’s post on Best Bets for May.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams opens this week.  Werner Herzog explores the 33,000-year-old cave paintings in Chauvert, France.  Herzog knows what he is doing (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Grizzly Man), and he says that this needed to be shot in 3D, so I believe him.

Also opening this weekend is Queen to Play.  Sandrine Bonnaire plays a hotel maid who is taught chess by chess expert Kevin Kline and learns that she is gifted, which shakes up her family’s life.  Jennifer Beals shows up in the film and, hey, Kevin Kline acts in French!

Midnight in Paris:  In Woody Allen’s latest,  Owen Wilson accompanies wife Rachel McAdams to Paris, where she is intrigued by pretentious Michael Sheen, leaving him to explore midnight Paris and discover his muse (Marion Cotillard, perhaps?).   Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates and French first lady Carla Bruni all pop in.  Releases widely May 27.

You can see trailers and descriptions of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.  Here’s the trailer for Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

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