01 January 2016

I've Seen a Lot of Films Recently, My Thoughts on Some of Them Follow -- Also My Annual Top Ten will be Delayed One Week



Tis the season to go to movies and with time off from work to watch some in the comfort of one's home. These things I have done. What follows is thoughts (mine only, I have no access to anyone else's thinking) regarding some of these motion pictures. I also must plead for your patience as my annual top ten list of films -- which normally appears on our near the first of the year -- will be appearing one week later. I know this grieves you enormously, but I trust you to be strong.

Just today I joined trillions of other people in the galaxy and went to see the latest installment of the Star Wars saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This may come as something of a surprise to regular readers of this blog (both of us) as I generally eschew movies in the action/adventure/scifi category. However I've always liked the original three films of the franchise and partially to test that fondness the missus and I watched them all (in order of course) on Thanksgiving last. They held up. As I was given to understand that this latest offering is in the spirit of the originals and was being hailed by critics I had no second thoughts about seeing this iteration of the storied saga.

I was pleased. Charming and witty and full of fun and rife with interesting characters. Good vs. evil with the latter being represented by The First Order, a group that only Dick Cheney could love (he probably does, you know). I was particularly taken by Daisy Ridley, a relative newcomer, who I'm sure literally millions if not tens of millions of men are currently in love with. She's not just a beauty but a damn good actress and perfect as the female heroine. Oscar Isaac further established that he is a big time movie star with his appearance and yes it was nice to see some of the originals in the cast as well namely Carrie Fischer, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and the two robots and the wookiee. I shouldn't forget another newcomer, John Boyega who looks to be destined for stardom. Count me in for the sequel but don't expect me to show up to any of the other garbage that was featured in the previews which was a lot of the action/adventure/scifi  rot that I abhor. Star Wars is the exception that makes the rule for me.

A few days ago I saw Carol, directed by Todd Haynes, and it was sumptuous to behold. A visual feast highlighted by co-stars Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara (another young actress who is easy on the eyes). I'd like to see it again in a theater. While I'm sure I'd enjoy Carol on DVD, its was made for the big screen. The colors, the close ups, the set design the costumes and the magnificent set pieces are breathtaking. Ms. Blanchett is the titular character, a married woman with a small daughter who falls for a shopgirl during the Christmas season. (The story is set in the early Fifties when people didn't even speak of same sex love.)  Love and trouble ensue.

I watched The Furies (1950) for the first time via DVD. Anthony Mann directed and my favorite leading lady Barbara Stanwyck starred and here she was as beautiful a 43 year old as one will ever see. Walter Huston, in his final film, plays her father and Wendell Corey is her on again off again love interest. It's amazing that as much as I know about cinema, the film only recently came to my attention. It is a powerful story of love, family, money and greed set in the New Mexico of the 1870s.
It has to rank among the top 20 or so Westerns I've ever seen. While Carol caused me to put dome Douglas Sirk films (he was an obvious inspiration for Haynes) on my Netflix queue, The Furies had me adding Anthony Mann's work.

It's hard to say much about Tarantino's The Hateful Eight without including spoilers. It is the manner in which the film plays out that is to me the main talking point. As I mentioned in an earlier post I was fortunate enough to see it in the 70mm format and it was gorgeous though later gory to look at. I don't mind violence in films assuming that it's there as party of the story but it wasn't death, blood or gunplay that bothered me. I did feel that after a promising start it seemed that Tarantino ran out of ideas and took the easy way out. It's a shame too because he had a wonderful cast and had created a fascinating world in which a potentially compelling story was taking place.

Love & Mercy and Dope were too films that I'd missed in theaters earlier in the year and just caught up with on DVD. I enjoyed both immensely. The former tells parts of the Brian Wilson story, he having been the driving force behind the Beach Boys and their unique sound. Wilson's story is made for the screen given his mental and emotional struggles and the battle for his soul waged by a greedy man and a loving woman. Paul Dano played the younger Wilson and John Cusack was the older Wilson.

Dope is about three geeky high school seniors -- though one in particular is featured -- two are black one is Indian and one of the trio is a lesbian. They go to an inner city school where a nerd's life is never easy. They have a series of adventures in which they find, drugs, romance, criminals, money, strength and maturity and most of all courage. Rick Famuyiwa directed and Shameik Moore stars. One hopes for even more from them in the future. Zoe Kravitz and Chanel Iman also feature.

Among my Christmas bounty was the Criterion release of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) -- my second favorite Wes Anderson film (Rushmore (1998) is first). Anderson is a storyteller par excellence with a unique visual style. He creates unforgettable characters who take themselves and the mundane quite seriously. Situations are fraught with irony, pathos, wit and subtlety. You never see characters laugh, they just do and do and do and do. No one is terribly competent but everyone is sincere and earnest. It is the consistency of the characters and their methodical approaches to life that let the humor and -- not at all incidentally -- the truth to shine through. My god I love this movie.

Speaking of movies I love, Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987). Here's a film that never gets old. It has become something of a New Year's Eve staple of mine, largely because it ends on a New Year's Eve as 1944 is ushered in. Radio Days is one of the best nostalgia films ever made -- if not the best -- although it is so much more than that. Few films have ever evoked a time as well as this one brings us the early 1940s in America. It is especially good at revealing an era in which radio -- not the TV or internet -- was the technology that ruled the home. Like many timeless films it is rich with great songs that are especially effective in the context in which we see them. Of course Radio Days also boasts a slew of wonderful characters who blend in with the sounds and sights like breathing, talking, laughing parts of the scenery. Sublime.

One other film I wanted to discuss before I let you go (you're still with me aren't you?) is...well I can't decide. Maybe Hitchcock/Truffaut, the wonderful new documentary that ostensibly is about the latter's interviews with the former but is really about the greatness of Hitch but even more so is about film itself. Or I could write about Holiday (1938) the wonderful George Cukor film starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. It's such a strong poke at the pompous upper class and such a great love story. Or I could write about Robert Altman's 3 Women (1977) his Persona (1966) like story of...I believe there are three women highlighted. It might be the best movie in Altman's storied career. I could also say a few words about The Big Short which shows how a very few financial wheeler dealers saw the burst of the housing bubble in 2008 coming and bet against the banks and won big. Or I could write about Polanksi's Chinatown (1974) or I could stop right here and make a cup of tea. Yeah, I think that's what I'll do.

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