Movie Roundup: Pitchers And Catchers Edition

Position players have already begun reporting to Spring Training and this is the best time of year to be a Mariners fan. There’s a new MLB Network this year, which I’m kind of getting into (the ’95 M’s are only the #6 comeback of all-time? Nonsense!). Here’s what I’ve watched over the last couple of weeks:

Hilary Hahn: A Portrait – It’s not really a movie, more like an hour long documentary that appears to have been done by some German TV station (or as a promotion by her record company). There’s a little bit of biographical information (she gives a a nice tour of the music school she spent 15 years growing up at, we see her packing her luggage) but mostly it’s only interesting for her performances: Most of a Korngold Violin Concerto, a rehearsal of a Mozart Sonata for Piano and Violin, a really cool performance at a bar that’s experimenting with classical music concerts in a club setting. Even better was the concert we went to last week (my first real classical concert). She was fantastic playing a program built around folk-influenced classical stuff (Charles Ives, Brahms’s Hungarian Dances, Bartók’s Romanian Dances) mixed with some show-offy virtuoso solo violin pieces by Ysaÿe. the #36 film of 2007.

The Age Of The Medici – Roberto Rossellini’s three-part film for Italian television, it runs about four hours in total and chronicles life in 1400s Florence at the time of Cosimo de Medici (powerful banker) and Leon Batista Alberti (architect and art theorist). It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Imagine Robert Bresson directing those historical recreation TV series for The History Channel, only less flashy. The dialogue (and acting) is entirely without psychology (these are historical figures, not characters) and it’s never less than fascinating. The recreations aren’t particularly realistic (lots of painted backdrops and such) and the dialogue is poorly dubbed regardless of what language you watch it in (I chose English because that’s apparently what the actors were using), but none of that really matters. The film sucks you in with an non-stop onslaught of information: historical facts of political maneuvers, details of life in the Middle Ages, philosophical arguments about art, politics, religion etc. For a history geek like me, it’s irresistible. The #6 film of 1973.

The Black Hole – Watched this a lot as a kid, but didn’t really remember much. Some trippy special effects, goofy (and scary) robots, a killer ending (Maximillian Schell trapped in his evil robot ruling over Hell!, oh yeah) and hey, it’s Robert Forster from Jackie Brown! The #18 film of 1979.

The Black Cauldron – Another one I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, and it wasn’t as good as I remembered. The animation’s pretty cool (looks a lot like a more awesome version of classic 80s arcade game Dragon’s Lair at times), but the characters are pretty bad (a pig? really?). Disney cut a bunch out of it to get it down to a PG rating, which is really weird, but the more violent version probably wouldn’t be any better, just more jarring with the silly kid elements. The #31 film of 1985.

One Million BC – The more I see Victor Mature, the more I think he looks exactly like Chris Noth (the guy from Law & Order and Sex And The City). Anyway, here he’s a caveman who gets kicked out of one warlike tribe and joins another, more pacifist group, which he teaches to fight and romances their hottest woman and ends up unifying the two tribes, or something like that. It’s pretty terrible, but with some cool giant lizard and volcano special effects. The #17 film of 1940.

Friday Night Lights – We’ve been watching the TV series, which is pretty good (we’re about halfway through Season One) and decided to check out the film. The main difference between the two is that the TV show has characters and the film has character types. We do get a lot of pretty shots of West Texas and its football stadiums though, and the ending ranks up there with The Bad News Bears as one of the great sports movie endings of all time. Director Peter Berg’s frenetic style keeps everything constantly moving in the Michael Bay style: fast cuts, lots of camera movements, no real rhyme or reason to any of it beyond the conveyance of mood. And that’s what the film provides: a sense of Texas football and an inkling of what the people who obsess about it (players and fans) are like. Essentially, it’s the opposite of Rossellini’s history films. The #24 film of 2004.

Simon Of The Desert – This was either going to be part of a three-part omnibus film, or the producer just ran out of money before the end (depends on which special feature on the Criterion disc you believe), but it runs only about 40 minutes, which ends up (miraculously enough) being just about the perfect length. It’s Luis Buñuel’s film about a Christian ascetic who lives on a pillar and is tempted by the Devil in the form of Sylvia Pinal (the star of Viridiana). Funny and weird, the length gives it the feel of a really great episode of The Twilight Zone, which is kind of what Buñuel is at his best (and I mean that as a compliment). The #7 film of 1965.

The Time MachineThe Birds‘s Rod Taylor stars as H. G. Wells’s time-traveling hero in this decent enough George Pal film. Fed up with the capitalism of life in the 1900s (his friends are only curious about the commercial possibilities of his invention), Taylor travels far into the future and discovers a post-apocalyptic world where pretty blond and pastel people are feed to underground-dwelling blue monsters. Yvette Mimieux (who was interestingly also in The Black Hole) plays the prettiest blonde, whom Taylor attempts to rescue while teaching her society the merits of Victorian civilization (books, fire, concern for your own life and death, etc). Looking past the camp elements (and Taylor’s always horrific acting) there’s some truly funny and even poignant moments. The #19 film of 1960.

The Taking Of Power By Louis XIV– From the same period and style as his Medici film, but unfortunately only 90 minutes long is this Roberto Rossellini film about, well, how Louis XIV took power (the secret: fashion!). Similarly devoid of psychology, the film is a bit flashier thanks to a few sweeping camera movements. The plot is really simple, but nonetheless it’s a lot of fun for any Dumas fan, noticing characters from The Three Musketeers (D’Artagnan! Louise de Valliere!) that would quite possibly mystify anyone who isn’t familiar with them. The #12 film of 1966.

Voyage To Italy – I’ve been hearing for years about this as Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece, and having finally seen it, it did not disappoint. George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman (both great, as they always are) travel to Naples to settle an uncle’s estate and discover that despite being married for eight years, they really don’t like each other that much. They split up for a few days: she tours museums and ruins (in the film’s most documentary, and also most moving, scenes, perhaps prefiguring the cinematic direction Rossellini would take with his history films fifteen years later) while he tries to hook up with younger women. It’s an incredibly rich film based on an extremely simple premise: raising (and leaving unsettled) issues about art and life, the past and the present, the individual and the community, aging and love, business and family and even the British Protestant versus the Mediterranean Catholic view of work and the world. I can’t wait to watch it again. The #3 film of 1954.

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