Sunday, May 01, 2016

Odds and Ends

The Bounty

The Bounty tells the story of H.M.S. BOUNTY, Captain Bligh, and the mutiny led by Fletcher Christian.  It features a delightful, Vangelis synth score, magnificent overacting by a young Mel Gibson, and a glacial pace.  If that sounds like your cup of coconut water, have at it.


Ricki and the Flash

Ricki and the Flash tells the story of an aging would-be rock star in a San Fernando Valley cover band, the ex-husband and children she left behind to pursue her dreams, and the year when the chickens come home to roost.  It’s solid material, anchored by a powerhouse Meryl Streep performance, some subtle work from Kevin Kline, and even a solid turn by Rick Springfield in a supporting role as Ricki’s lead guitarist and love interest.

This is the kind of character study that depends utterly on its star, and it will surprise no one to find that Ms. Streep is entirely up to the task.  She makes us want to watch her even when we don’t like her, and want to watch her even more as or perceptions begin to change.  Truly, this actress Can Do No Wrong.

The Salvation

Hey, do you like Westerns?  Do you like Mads Mikkelsen and Jonathan Pryce?  Me too, but I’m sorry to report that not even Mssrs. Mikkelsen & Pryce can save this Western.
The Salvation is your basic revenge tale, with Mikkelsen going after the thugs who do away with a couple of barely sketched out characters named, I think, “Wife” and “Son.”  Things spin out of control, there’s a showdown, blah blah blah.  The movie looks cheap, the villain lacks complexity, and the whole thing is a drag.  If you’re really in the mood for a Western, go watch Open Range again, instead.

Let Me In

Let The Right One In is a brilliant, Swedish take on the modern vampire story.  Let Me In, the American remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz, lacks the beauty and subtlety of the original and exchanges it for ugliness and plodding literalism.  Stay outside.




The Jungle Book


The Jungle Book is a triumph of storytelling and technical filmmaking.  It’s beautiful, engaging, age-appropriately scary, and entirely convincing.  We loved it.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Trouble with the Curve

“Hey, Alex.  Whatcha watchin’?”


Trouble with the Curve.  Clint Eastwood plays a salty old baseball scout whose eyesight is going.  Amy Adams is his daughter.  She works for an uptight law firm, has issues with her dad, and has a boyfriend who is clearly The Wrong Guy.  Justin Timberlake just showed up; he’s going to be her new love interest and win her heart from The Wrong Guy.  I’m not sure whether it’ll be before or after she works things out with Clint and quits her job at the firm.”

“Oh.  How far along are you?”

“About ten minutes.  I know where the movie’s going, but that’s ok.  A movie like this, it’s all in the execution.”

And I’m happy to report that Trouble with the Curve executes very nicely.  Featuring a supporting cast led by John Goodman and some of the best character actors in the business (Ed Lauter, George Wyner, Bob Gunton, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, etc.), this by-the-numbers family drama succeeds on the basis of its unobtrusive direction, solid production values, and excellent performances.  It isn’t flashy, but it looks nice, covers the bases, and gives us an excuse to spend ninety minutes or so with a bunch of good people who are trying to do the right thing.  Heck, it even features a “roadhouse” scene in which Adams and Timberlake try to convince us that they can’t really dance.  

This film played out just as I thought it would, but it did so with satisfying professionalism.  If you’re tired of watching computer animations of demigods punching one another, you can’t go wrong with Trouble with the Curve.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Wild


Wild tells the true-ish story of  Cheryl Strayed, a troubled woman who sets out to through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail and, in a sense, wipe her personal slate clean.  It’s wonderful, not just for the effective and deft way it tells Strayed’s internal story, but for its depiction of the experience of backpacking the PCT.

As it happens, I grew up in town just off the PCT, a trail that runs all the way from California’s Mexican border to Washington’s Canada border.  Every spring, through-hikers would descend on my town, standing in line to pick up packages at the post office, hitching rides to the store, and generally catching their breath before heading on up the trail.  I, personally, have logged more miles than I can remember on the trail, both backpacking and working on maintenance projects as part of various Eagle Scout projects.  In other words, like Wings of the Navy, Wild tells a story about my personal world.

And it nails it.  When she begins her journey, Strayed has no idea what she’s doing.  She makes all the rookie mistakes: she overpacks, she fails to field-test her gear before starting out, she buys the wrong boots, and so on.  As a guy who has also made all of those rookie mistakes, the first act played (for me) like a horror movie: what disaster would this character bring upon herself next?  But slowly, across the miles and with a little help along the way, Strayed figures it out.  She sheds all the crap that isn’t doing her any good.  She learns how to take care of herself.  She finds her strength.  The film goes from horror-show to powerful character study, and before we know it we aren’t watching a movie about a woman walking in the woods, but about a woman walking out of her past.


This is powerful stuff, aided by a keen eye for technical detail, a genuine affection for the PCT and its through-hikers, and sure knowledge of what it’s about.  Wild is worth the trip.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Wings of the Navy; Kung Fu Panda 2

Wings of the Navy

Wings of the Navy is an odd duck.  Narratively, it isn’t particularly interesting: young flight student earns his Wings of Gold.  Historically, however, it’s the best.  Filmed in 1939, Wings of the Navy features extensive sequences shot aboard NAS Pensacola, FL, and NAS North Island, CA.

So what?  Well, the film spoke to me.  As a naval aviator who has spent a significant amount of time both in Pensacola and North Island, I loved seeing how the bases have changed, and how much they’ve remained the same, over the years.  The sea walls?  Still there.  North Island’s blimp hangar?  Still there.  Many of Pensacola’s buildings and hangars?  Yep, still going strong.  Further, Wings of the Navy features many, many scenes of Grumman F3Fs and Consolidated PBY Catalinas in flight.  What a wonderful historical document!


So, is Wings of the Navy a great film qua film?  Nope.  If you’re interested in aviation history, however, it’s a must-see.  I am, it was, and I’m glad I did.

Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2 is every bit as colorful, touching, and exciting as its predecessor.  I loved it.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Catching Up

I've been clobbered at work, so I've been putting blogging on that back burner.  That said, here are a few things I've seen over last several weeks.



Big

It’s funny how time changes one’s perspective.  The first time I saw Big, I was 20.  I sympathized with the Tom Hanks (CDNW) character.  The last time, I was 47.  I sympathized with his mother, traumatized over the loss of her missing son.  And so it goes.



Deadpool

Deadpool won me over in the opening credits, when it named the writers as “The Real Heroes” and the director as “Some Overpaid Jerk.”  The film irreverently kept the laughs coming for 89 more minutes after that, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Spectre

It has been a month or so since I saw Spectre.  I barely remember it.


Ex Machina

Ex Machina is one of the best films of its year.  It does everything good science fiction should do, and it provides rich fodder for conversation.  I want to see it again.


Zootopia


I laughed all the way through Zootopia.  Then again, I’m an easy laugh.  Thing is, my kids loved it, too.  So I’m calling it a winner.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Enough Said

Enough Said is a charming romantic comedy anchored by two engaging leads.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus turns in excellent work as the protagonist, and James Gandolfini makes for a surprisingly effective love interest.  Add to this a supporting cast that includes Toni Collette (CDNW) and Katherine Keener, and you get 90 or so minutes with interesting, complex people whom you’re happy to meet.

Louis-Dreyfus plays a remarkably affluent massage therapist, driving from appointment to appointment in her immaculate little Prius and living in the kind of nice little rancher that’s dotted across Los Angeles and Orange counties, and that goes for roughly $600k as of January, 2016.  Gandolfini plays a remarkably affluent archivist, working in a reconditioned warehouse, driving an Audi, and living in another roughly $600k home.  Keener’s a poet who somehow lives in a million dollar mission-style place in Santa Monica, and Collette’s a therapist who actually lives in the kind of home a therapist to the wealthy could conceivably afford.


But enough about the fact that everyone in this movie, apart from Collette, should be living in dumpy apartments in Torrance.  This is a fantasy – a fantasy in which working people get to live like rich people, and that’s ok.  More importantly, this is a romantic comedy, and both Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini do fine jobs selling both the romance and the comedy.  They play adults – a little damaged, trying to get along – who find one another.  Complications ensue, as they must, and they’re played with just the right touch.  Consequently, Enough Said delivers just what one could want from such a film.  I smiled; I got a little choked up; I didn’t want it to end.  Really, what more could one want?

Friday, February 19, 2016

About Time

About Time is a romantic comedy that poses the question, “Could you find love if you had unlimited do-overs?”  Here’s the setup: Domhnall Gleeson is an insecure young Briton who learns that he has the ability to travel backward in his own timeline and relive any moment.  Say the wrong thing at a dinner party?  No problem.  Go back and try again.  Twist your knee skiing?  No problem.  Go back and take a different rout next time.  And away we go.

It’s a fine setup for a romantic comedy.  As with any endeavor, however, it’s all in the execution.  And it’s in the execution thatAbout Time stumbles in two key areas:  it fails to give us a reason to fall in love with its leading romantic couple, and it actually focuses on the wrong couple 

Let me explain:  for a romantic comedy to work, the audience must fall in love with the couple at its center.  That’s a tall order – it can’t be easy to craft characters who appeal to (potentially) millions of people.  Still, About Time doesn’t give us much to fall in love with.  The protagonist (Gleeson) isn’t a particularly interesting figure.  He has interesting parents, an interesting sister, and an interesting roommate, but he’s just … some guy.  A well-meaning guy, sure, but there isn’t anything about him that particularly captures the imagination.  The object of Gleeson’s affections, played by Rachel McAdams, is little more than an object.  The film doesn’t work to give me the sense that she’s anything greater than your Mk 1, Mod 0 Dream Girl.  She spends the film being manipulated by a Gleeson character with the ability to manage their every moment.  She has no agency of her own, and the film expects me, as the viewer experiencing the film through the eyes of the male protagonist, to fall in love with her simply because she looks like Rachel McAdams and she seems nice. Buddy, that’s not going to do it.

Gleeson’s parents, however – that’s a different story.  The couple, Bill Nighy & Lindsay Duncan, are delightful.  Yes, Nighy also has the ability to travel backward in his timeline and get the little things right, but one gets the sense that he does so more to savor his time with his family than say and do the right things to keep his wife happy.  Lindsay Duncan, for her part, is a mature, together woman who knows how to make things happen.  These are interesting people, played by fine actors, and I wanted to spend more time with them.




Alas.  We don’t always get what we want.  Perhaps someone can give About Time a do-over.