The Revenant

The RevenantI just saw my Oscar pick for 2015: The Revenant.

In short, this film does what I believe great movies should do: it takes us on a journey that transcends the medium.

The starkness of the wilderness, captured in all its timeless beauty by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, is awe-inspiring; I see another Oscar coming.  (It makes me wish there was a release, ala The Hateful Eight, on film rather than digital.)

And the action sequences are both brutal and fascinating in their matter-of-factness.  No punches are pulled, and the camera never blinks.  Yet at the same time, the camera, acting almost as a disinterested third-party, lets the action speak for itself.  And it speaks volumes.  (This film definitely deserves its R rating.)

And the acting

Leonardo DiCaprio, who I’ve liked since I saw him in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, just plain owns this movie.  He actually doesn’t have a lot of dialogue; however, he tells an amazing story just with his facial expressions.  And the chameleon-like Tom Hardy once again shows that the breadth and depth of his acting talent appears to have no limits.  His character was nothing short of bone-chilling.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) adeptly and exquisitely combines all of this to make a tense, gut-wrenching, mind-numbing journey out of a fairly simple, linear story.

If you don’t see any other film this year, see this one.  If for no other reason than to learn what all the Oscars will surely be about!

***

Now why, you might wonder, did I choose a version of the movie poster that you’ve likely never seen – the one featuring Tom Hardy rather than Leonardo DiCaprio?  Because while DiCaprio’s performance was truly outstanding (and he carried the weight of this film squarely on his shoulders), Hardy’s performance was almost otherworldly.  The portrayal he gave is, I believe, one for the ages.

Advertisements

New Year’s Eve 2015

It’s another New Year’s Eve already! Man, they seem to come faster every year.  Perhaps there’s a lesson somewhere in this about cherishing each moment…

When I was quite young, my family would celebrate New Year’s Eve by going out to the movie theater – typically to see the blockbuster of the season (The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno come to mind). Also, for the past more-years-than-I-can-even remember, a small, but decidedly hip and cool (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), group of us have been gathering every New Year’s Eve at my brother’s place to ring in the new year.

This year’s NYE combines both of those traditions.

 

The Hateful Eight – Roadshow Edition

hateful_eightThe “roadshow edition” of The Hateful Eight (2015) harkens back to the days of the mega-movies of the 1950s and 1960s which, in addition to their general release, were shown in a limited number of theaters complete with a musical overture, intermission, and program.

The intention was to make each of these films an event.  In that regard, the roadshow edition that I saw at the specially decked out Music Box Theater in Chicago did not disappoint.

The sight of a movie shot in old-school Panavision – on film (apparently retrofitting the original lenses onto newer cameras) – is special.  The visuals are expansive, and the film takes its time to let us see what’s going on.

The story before the intermission is more of a slow-moving character study, complete with a lot of snappy Quentin Tarantino dialogue.  And it ends with a bang.

After the intermission, the action picks up and, as one might expect in a Tarantino film, things get a little bit crazy.  Not wanting to spoil any of the fun, that’s all I’m going to say about it – other than to provide you with an easy means of checking out a “roadshow” edition of this film wherever you may live by clicking here.

 

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

NYE2015 - The Bachelor and the Bobby-SoxerThe Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), is utterly charming good fun.

It’s something akin to a love triangle (although I expect it’s more of a scalene triangle than an equilateral one) between Judge Margaret Turner [Myrna Loy], her sister (not daughter!) Susan [Shirley Temple], and Dick Nugent [Archibald Leach … er … Cary Grant].

Apparently, Susan has become smitten after seeing the good Mr. Nugent somehow transformed into a knight in shining armor while giving a lecture at her high school about art.

The good judge, on the other hand, after having her own not-so-knighly interaction with said Mr. Nugent in her courtroom, is eager to see her sister’s (not daughter’s!) affections directed more appropriately for a 17-year-old.

However, in the process, one finds that shining armor can be viewed from more than a single perspective.  To find out how – as well as to see the full exchange started by the quote below – check out this fun little flick!

“You remind me of a man…”

 

About Time

NYE2015 - About TimeI reviewed About Time when it first came out back 2013 – and I’ve been suggesting it as one of our NYE films ever since.

In short, this film is truly special.

Writer/director Richard Curtis – who gave the world the wonderful “alternate” Christmas classic, Love Actually, as well as The Black Adder (this guy is versatile!) – offers us with what I consider to be one of his best works.

Unlike Love Actually (which if you haven’t seen it, shame on you!), though, this film turns the volume down quite a bit.

On his 21st birthday, Tim [Domhnall Gleason] learns from his father [the incredible Bill Nighy] that all the male members of their family have the power to travel back in time.

Now life becomes a whole lot more interesting when one learns of this ability…  But – and this is the “be careful what you wish for” thing – one’s decisions in each version of a day (the original one or the revisited one) can have consequences.

Although quite funny (in a chuckle rather than laugh-out-loud way), this film is also incredibly sweet and life-affirming.  And if my initial review didn’t convince you to see it, then perhaps my gentle nudge here will.

At one point (via the magic of narration) Tim informs us that one lesson he learned from his dad was to live each day twice – once as it came naturally followed by the second time, where he was armed with the knowledge and wisdom from having already lived the events of the day.

Since, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has developed the ability to travel in time, in the new year, may all of us find a way to live each day as if we’d already lived it – and in so doing, reap the benefits of fully living each fleeting moment of every precious day.

 

Happy 2016!

Love the Coopers

LoveTheCoopersI went into the theater to see Love the Coopers (2015) hoping only to kill some time before seeing the Beatles tribute band, American English at a very nice Irish pub, Ballydoyle.

What I didn’t realize was that I was in store for a whole lot more…

The film’s trailers didn’t make things look particularly appealing.  And the film came and went pretty quickly through the first-run theaters (I saw it at a local second-run theater, The LaGrange).  And, if its overall IMDB rating of 5.8/10 is any indicator, it didn’t appear to inspire many glowing reviews.

I’m here to change that.

First, a little context is in order.  Even though I’m now on vacation (always a good thing!), I’ve found myself in a decidedly non-Christmas-y mood – sometimes even a little short of temper and irritable lately.  While this is never a recommended outlook, it’s even less so at the most joyous time of year.

So I saw this movie…

As we the audience were getting introduced to the Cooper family, I found that it appeared everyone in the film was in a decidedly non-Christmas-y mood as well as being a little short of temper and irritable.  This, for better or worse, provided a means of instantly connecting with all of them.  Perhaps if I were in a different frame of mind I might have dismissed them as being “unlikable”; but not now.  For the time being, these folks were my peeps.

  • Charlotte just wants to make a “perfect” family gathering at Christmas – no matter what the cost.
  • Sam just wants to go with Charlotte on a long-planned (and delayed) trip so the couple can re-connect.
  • Hank just wants to have a job again. Any job. Please…
  • Charlie just want the girl with whom he’s smitten.
  • Bo just wants to find the perfect Christmas present (but it can’t cost too much).
  • Madison just wants to be, seemingly, a potty-mouth in front of adults at every conceivable opportunity.
  • Aunt Fishy just wants… perhaps, to live happily in her own version of the world.
  • Bucky just wants family – even when one of them isn’t related to him.
  • Emma just wants to get out from under the self-imposed shadow of her sister, Charlotte.
  • Eleanor just wants, ultimately, to feel loved for who she is rather than who people think she should be.

Ok, you’ve met them.

What we witness of the Coopers in this unexpected gem of a movie is a slice of life around Christmas Eve.  Unlike what the trailers would have you believe, there’s not a lot of comedy here.  And, really, there shouldn’t be (leave that to Griswolds in their own classic film). Here, things are much more matter-of-fact – and that’s a good thing.  For some reason, it called to mind an amazing Christmas movie (which wasn’t a Christmas movie) that I saw last year, The Miracle of the Bells.  Nice touch.

And what we experience (or at least, what I experienced) during this slice of life isn’t “heart” or “celebration” or even “inspiration”.  Rather, I – perhaps in part due to the mood I was in – experienced … compassion.

What a wonderful gift at Christmastime!

I suspect this film won’t be for everyone.  Its reviews bear this out.  That, however, doesn’t make it unworthy – just not particularly mainstream.  Give it a try anyway; you might just be touched by it.

***

As Christmas approaches – and it seems to come quicker every year – I find it helpful to get past the trimmings and trappings (although they’re quit nice) and be open, even reaching, for something … Higher.  This, at least in my humble opinion, can apply regardless of one’s religious beliefs (or even lack thereof).  Therefore, I wish for each of you to be touched sometime during this wonderful season, by something – be it the coming of Christ in your heart, a renewed spirituality, the warm embrace of family, an unexpected kindness either bestowed or received, a precious moment of nostalgia (perhaps listening to The Three Little Dwarves) – whatever it is, may it warm your heart.  And with that in mind, may I wish everyone a:

Merry Christmas!

The Peanuts Movie

snoopy_and_charlie_brown_the_peanuts_movie_ver34Happiness is...

Unless you’re a recent visitor from another planet, you’ve likely at least heard of the Peanuts comic strip.  In it, creator Charles M. Schulz created a masterpiece.  However, since Schulz’s death in 2000, the Peanuts gang have lived largely in retrospect.

Until now.

The Peanuts Movie (2015) gives the world a fresh opportunity to spend a little more time with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, and the rest of the kids.

The film has an impressive pedigree.

The script was written by Schulz’s son and grandson, Craig and Bryan.  And those crazy sounds (I hesitate to use the word “voices” were taken from the original recordings made by the original cartoons’ producer, Bill Melendez – which would explain why they sounded so spot-on.

I found this film to be an experience of pure joy.  While giving the look a face-lift for the new millennium, the creators kept the original’s heart and soul intact.

And, happily, the film didn’t bow to any “PC” pressure to sanitize these kids.  The kids in the original comic were, in many regards, downright mean – and failure lurks around every corner.  In 2015, they still are – and it still does.  Now how can this equate to the “pure joy” I alluded to earlier?  It’s because Schulz, as well as the filmmakers, make us so eager to route for these kids – especially good ol’ Charlie Brown – that the experience is both hysterical and touching.

Amazing.

Happiness is… The Peanuts Movie!

Don’t read the following until after you’ve seen the movie:

There is one glaring flaw in this film.  I expect it had Charles M. Schulz rolling over in his grave; however, I actually didn’t mind it.  I won’t go into any details here (just in case anyone failed to heed my warning above).  Instead, I’ll add it as a comment.

Spectre

spectreIt’s been a while, hasn’t it?

That could apply to my blogging as much as the new Bond film, Spectre (2015).

As for my blogging:  Call it getting a little lazy; call it seeing films without having much of any value to say about them; call it…

As for the film:  Well good things come to those who wait!  (Although, I concede there are those – even in my own little movie group – who would strongly disagree.)  I’ll get more into this film, but first a little background.

Being a baby boomer, I grew up with Bond.  The first installment I saw – on television – was perhaps the most iconic of the series, Goldfinger (1964).  Just listen to the amazing theme song – and you know what kind of Bond film you’re in for.  This was the film that also introduced us to uber evil henchman, Oddjob, and the ultimate driving machine (sorry, BMW, you ain’t it) the Aston Martin and all the cool stuff it could do.

 

JBCase

This mint condition JB attache case was listed on eBay for more than $1,400!!!!

After seeing this film I purchased a toy James Bond attache case complete with and exploding lock (it used caps just like a cap gun) and a very cool Bond gun along with other assorted stuff that a budding young Bond fan couldn’t possibly live without.

The first Bond film I saw at the theater was The Spy who Loved Me (1977).  Another fairly iconic Bond film with it’s own  fantastic theme song.  It also introduced us to its own uber evil henchman, Jaws.  We made a special trip downtown (that’s downtown Chicago) to a now defunct movie palace on Randolph street, The Woods, to see it.  The whole experience was pure magic.

Another very special Bond film was Goldeneye (1995).  It was a new Bond, but what truly made it special was that it was the first time our buddy’s son joined us on our Bond journey.  (He’s seen all subsequent Bond films with us, including Spectre.)  I didn’t think it lived up to the best of the past, but I still enjoyed it thoroughly.

By the time Daniel Craig took over the role in Casino Royale (2006) I thought the franchise benefitted from the face-lift it got.  (I also thought it was one of the very best films in the series.)  It was more stripped down, intense, hard-edged, and dramatic – and it worked perfectly.  And what a great heme song!  I seem to be falling into a pattern here on these songs…

Spectre, however, breaks the mold of the Craig-style Bond film.  For me, it was a cool throwback to the older style of Bond film.  Far more tongue-in-cheek than any of the other Craig films (without getting too silly as some of the later Roger Moore films did), Spectre seemed to me very much vintage Bond.  I saw an interview on Charlie Rose with both Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes.  They both seemed to want to lighten things up after doing Skyfall (2012).  And I thought they succeeded admirably.

Now sometimes going retro has its disadvantages.  When we see certain things in the classic Bond films of the past, we’re seeing things that were of their time.  Things which don’t always translate seamlessly into our present perspective.  That said, for those who were yearning for a more traditional Bond film I think Spectre delivers the goods.  It even gives an evil henchman, Hinx.  And it delivers the goods – doubly – on the Aston Martin!!!  (You’ll have to see the film to see what I mean…)  Alas, though, it had what may be the worst theme song of the series.

Oh well, Spectre was still a ton o’ fun!  Go see it for a healthy dose of pure Bond escapism and a nicely done throwback to the Bonds of the past.

Mr. Holmes

MrHolmesMr. Holmes (2015) is more than just another revisionist Sherlock Holmes story.  It’s also a story about losing oneself to “senility” – and the struggle to maintain one’s identity and self-esteem.

I found this added dimension to be especially poignant since I have aging relatives.  I’ve seen in Holmes’ face (played superbly by Ian McKellan) the same expression I’ve seen in nursing home residents who I’ve passed by while visiting.

A little bit heart-wrenching, to be sure.

However, McKellan’s Holmes never asks us in the audience (or anyone in the film) to feel sorry for him.  He simply goes on about his business – which in this case it trying to remember how he botched his last case to the point that it led to his retirement as a detective.

There are no stereotypes here.

The self-assuredness of Basil Rathbone, the drug-addicted intensity of Jeremy Brett, or even the wing-chun mastery of Robert Downey, Jr. – all go by the wayside.  Holmes, in this case, is, simply, a professional detective – and decidedly not like the “embellishments” his former colleague, John Watson, used in “his stories”.

Here, Holmes is real.  And I liked him.  While true fans of the genre might not like this film, I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It’s a little movie: quiet and understated.  And a fine new look on an old icon of literature.

 

Irreversible

IrreversibleThis week’s movie, Irreversible (2002), is about as far removed from last week’s movie as possible.

It’s downright disturbing … as in genuinely difficult to watch without turning away.  Director Gaspar Noe’s camera doesn’t blink – even when one wishes it would.

The toughest scene was a rape scene, in which Alex (played by the impossibly beautiful Monica Bellucci) is attacked in a tunnel in what was essentially being in precisely the wrong place at precisely the wrong time.  The scene goes on for what seems like an eternity, the camera ever-present to capture every little nuance of anguish.

There were several times when I wanted to turn my Blu-ray player off during this scene; however, something occurred to me:  A depiction of rape should be nearly impossible to watch, shouldn’t it?  Such brutality, such degradation, such … suffering … should choke us a little bit on the way down.

This scene brought to mind what seemed like and endless series of movies on cable television back in the 90s that were hell-bent on portraying a rape/assault/attack on a woman as somehow being erotic.  When one thinks about it, that’s actually a far more disturbing concept that what was portrayed in this movie.  (And I did turn those films off…)

At least this film’s portrayal refuses to allow us any opportunity to be even remotely comfortable with what we’re watching.  And, as a result, I found myself not only shocked and horrified by what I was seeing – I felt such utter sympathy for Alex.  (This was achieved not only by the director’s unwavering camera, but by Bellucci’s astonishing performance.)

In it’s almost unimaginable brutality, this film shows more genuine compassion for rape victims than any other film I’ve seen – and I applaud that.  In fact, I actually have a hard time recalling when a film caused me to develop such a bond of sympathy for a character – and I applaud that, too.

And as if this movie’s all-out assault on the senses weren’t enough, I found that its sole moment of beauty was infused with an overwhelming sadness.  (Man, these folks just can’t catch a break here…)

All in all, the experience was as mesmerizing as it was stupefying.   I definitely recommend seeing it – but with the caveat that you do so with your eyes wide open, because before this film is over they’re likely to be shut at least once.

***

I noticed that the publishing date for this week’s blog is July 4th (even though I’m writing it on the 3rd).  So – even though this has noting whatever to do with the film I talked about – I wish you all a very happy Independence Day!

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

me_and_earl_and_the_dying_girlSome movies make you ache.  This one, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015), simultaneously made me heal…

Central to the story is Greg (the “me” in the movie’s title).  He’s found a way to navigate through the often difficult maze of high school.  Essentially, he makes no real attachments.  Even his life-long friend, Earl (the… ah … “Earl” in the title), is someone he considers more of a business associate.  Then there’s Rachel, who’s developed leukemia (and as you might have guessed, she’s the “dying girl” in the title).

Upon finding out about Rachel’s condition, Greg’s mom nags him, relentlessly, into paying Rachel a visit.  And upon paying Rachel that visit, Greg finds … not much.

Ah, but we wouldn’t have a movie if things stayed that way, now would we?

What follows is an often complex, very real-feeling journey that never blinks but, happily, never stoops to cliché or asks us to pity anyone.  And as this journey is allowed to unfold in its own good way and in its own good time, these friends experience a lot – often while doing very little.

And therein lies the magic.

Now how does one properly explain such magic?  I found that in its simplicity, in its directness, in its awkwardness, the film allows these high-school students (and I don’t think things would have worked as well if they’d not been high-school students) to experience a depth of love that a romance would have missed.

Even ruined.

For me, it was the characters’ lack of emotion – often underscored with the lack of a score  – that ended up creating such an emotional impact.  (I know that doesn’t make much sense; I’ll simply ask you to trust me on this one.)

Now, does Rachel die at the end?  Those of you who’ve read my blog before (and thank you for that) know I’m not going to tell you.  Instead, I’ll throw you a curve ball…  If she were to die, would she really be dead?

You will, of course, find out the answer to both questions – and perhaps others of a far loftier nature – when you see this touching little film.

Love & Mercy

LoveAndMercyI was never really a fan of The Beach Boys.  But I’m definitely a fan of Love & Mercy (2014) – a film based on the “life, love and genius” of Brian Wilson.

The two actors who played Wilson – John Cusack (modern Brian) and Paul Dano (young Brian) were quite good.  Especially Dano, who was also excellent as a preacher-with-more-than-a-few-screws-loose in There Will be Blood (2007).

Paul Giamatti was his usual self – always knowing just how to contribute, while Elizabeth Banks (one of my favorites) was both luminous and very moving as her character becomes smitten by then, over time (despite some pretty sizable obstacles), falls in love with a man rather than a Beach Boy.

And I found it intriguing to see the early recording studio scenes with “The Wrecking Crew” (a group of top studio musicians who played on countless hit records) after having recently seen The Wrecking Crew (2008), a very entertaining biography of these musicians.  I can’t verify how much of this movie is true, but based on the aforementioned documentary, it looks as though the film strived for authenticity.

The film does have its flaws.  For example, I thought it tried and failed to get “artsy” in a certain sequence.

Nevertheless, it’s virtues are far more important.

Although the life portrayed in this film was difficult, even tormented at times, the film’s overall effect is amazingly uplifting.  I felt really good leaving the theater.

So good, in fact, that I might just go out and buy a Beach Boys record!

 

 

Inside Out

InsideOutWow. Let me just state that again for the record.

WOW!

Based on the coming attractions, I thought I’d be seeing a very funny comedy when I attended this evening’s 3-D screening of Inside Out (2015).

And I did; however, I got so much more…

Not since the utterly amazing film, Up (2009), have I seen such a superbly crafted story.  The characterizations and voices were outstanding and fit the characters perfectly – particularly John Kind (I was trying to place that familiar voice) in an especially poignant portrayal of Bing Bong, an imaginary friend of the main character, Riley.

This is not – I repeat not – a little kid’s movie.  Sure, they’ll love the animation and the fact that much of the film is quite funny.  However, the more subtle (and better) aspects of the film will likely be lost on them.

Without risking spoiling anything for you, I can say that the colorful characters you see in the movie poster are the various emotions of the aforementioned main character, Riley.  Interestingly, I initially felt frustration because I didn’t realize why one of these characters/emotions, Sadness, felt compelled to start touching seemingly everything in sight inside Riley’s control room.  It wasn’t until after the credits ran that understanding came to me, and at that moment I felt compassion.

If that didn’t make any sense to you, I expect you’re not alone.  (It’ll make sense after you’ve seen the film.)

The point is, this film takes on some very big psychological topics by making them digestible via the medium of the cartoon.  And it makes you think – and feel.

Not bad for a cartoooooooooon

This film is funny.  It’s moving.  It’s exciting.  It’s sad.  It’s joyous.  It’s intense.  It’s………….

Special.  

Go see it!  (By the way, the movie was accompanied by the short subject, Lava (2014), which I found utterly charming.)