Movies I’ve Recently Seen: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shoplifters, Green Book, & The Favourite

After all that FilmStruck binge watching, it was time to get back into movie theaters.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1959), BAMPFA

It’s amazing how deeply puppets can emote, even with fixed, painted faces. It takes a great artist to those dolls into life, and the Czech animator Jirí Trnka fits the bill. His work here is just amazing. In this Shakespeare adaptation, he creates an enchanted forest like no other, peopled by characters not quite human, which makes it all the more magical. Trnka’s sly sense of humor builds on Shakespeare’s; for instance, there’s a lovely moment when two slugs get hit by the love potion.

There are different versions of this movie. The last time I saw it – some 30 or 40 years ago – it was in Cinemascope and narrated in English by Richard Burton. This time, it was in the narrow 1.37×1 aspect ratio and narrated by an uncredited British woman who sounded exactly like Jean Simmons.

It was part of the series The Puppet Master: The Films of Jiří Trnka.

B+ Shoplifters (2018), Albany Twin

A seemingly happy and loving family live on the edges of Japanese society. We’re not sure to what extent they really are family; early on they acquire a little girl and make her they’re new daughter. As the title suggests, the father teaches the children shoplifting – the only skill he knows. The film meanders for the first 90 minutes or so, but if you pay attention, you’ll find strong familial love, mixed with something deeply wrong. The last act changes everything. Young Jyo Kairi steals the film as the boy who knows nothing except stealing.

B+ Green Book (2018), California (Berkeley)

I don’t care whether this movie is historically accurate; what’s important is that it’s a good work of fiction that captures the time and the place. You probably already know that it’s a road picture – and a buddy movie. A working-class white guy (Viggo Mortensen) and an aristocratic black man (Mahershala Ali) drive through the South in 1962. They start out hating each other, but they bond and learn and become better people. It’s an obvious formula, but it’s done well and it works. The film left me wondering about the real people it was based on – a sign of a good picture.

The Favourite (2018), California (Berkeley)

There’s a lot to like in this weird, tongue-in-cheek movie about England’s 18th-century Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her very strange court, even though the movie goes way overboard. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone spar to be the sick and crazy Queen’s best friend and lover – with all the power that entails. Everyone in this movie is power-mad and extremely horny, and the two desires seem to blend. Outrageous fun that burns out before the movie is over. The use of wide-angle lenses, especially in panning shots, are weird and annoying.

Landmark’s California Theater desperately needs a comfort update. The chairs feel like torture devices, and there are no drink holders.