Short reviews for all the other movies (and some TV) I watched last month.
The Babadook (2014). At first I didn’t think this movie was very scary, but it worked and has really stuck with me. Amelia (a riveting Essie Davis) is a fragile bundle of nerves, unable after several years to get over the death of her husband. She works in a stressful job at a nursing home and comes home to a son (Noah Wiseman) who acts out to get her attention. When the boy becomes totally unmanageable and blames his troublemaking on the Babadook, the monster from his creepy pop-up book, it turns out to be the straw that breaks Amelia’s sanity. There’s no safe place for this mother and son; Amelia is judged and shunned by her insensitive sister, friends and coworkers, and she’s misunderstood by social workers, doctors and police. At home the monster terrorizes them relentlessly and promises to kill them, and as the anxiety builds, so do the questions. You wonder if this is truly a twisted fairy tale come to life, or a possession. Is it a potentially deadly figment of the boy’s or the mother’s imagination, and if it’s all in Amelia’s head, that’s far scarier than a monster with impossibly long fingers and a tall hat (as seen in this post’s first pic).
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014). Michael Keaton is amazing as an alternate-universe version of himself, i.e. a movie star mounting an ambitious and arty stage production to make a comeback and get out from under the shadow of his best known superhero role. It’s a sharp backstage comedy about giant egos, crippled by fears of insignificance, always fishing for compliments and rave reviews, confusing love with admiration and endlessly comparing levels of fame. It’s also like The Babadook in its mystery about the lead character’s sanity; Riggan (Keaton) is hounded by his comic book alter-ego Birdman, argues with him about how easy it would be to just put that cape on again and give people what they want, and displays some superpowers of his own. It’s a Hollywood satire that takes shots at the current cycle of shallow comic movies eating up all the “real” actors (who sure don’t mind the paycheck) and shows how quickly social media and critics can build or wreck dreams. The movie looks great too, with some tricky camera work winding through the theater innards and NYC streets.
St. Vincent (2014). Very funny and touching film with Bill Murray as a misunderstood curmudgeon whose good side is discovered by the new kid next door. Stressed-out single mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) thinks Vincent (Murray) is a drunken lowlife but she needs a babysitter and Vincent needs the money. He mentors her son by taking him to the bar, teaching him to gamble and beat up his bullies, which gives the kid much-needed confidence and valuable life lessons, but also provides plenty of ammo in the custody battle with Maggie’s jerky ex. What they don’t know is that underneath the grinchy exterior Vincent’s a generous and caring Vietnam veteran trying to scrape together enough money to keep his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife in a nice facility. He doesn’t brag, whine or even mention his good deeds and burdens, so he’s easy to misjudge, and Murray does a nice job enacting that humble kindness, silent suffering and hurt pride (especially after he suffers a debilitating stroke). Naomi Watts was great in Birdman and fabulous in this as a Russian hooker with what else but a heart of gold.
Lost in Translation (2003). After St. Vincent I wanted to rewatch Bill Murray’s fantastic performance in this sweet modern classic by Sofia Coppola. As in Birdman, the main character is an actor sick of mindless movies and the empty parts of stardom. Bob (Murray) is in Tokyo filming a whisky commercial, totally stumped by cryptic and pompous direction and pestered by annoying fans. He meets with another lonely soul, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), whose photographer husband seems a lot more shallow and neglectful than the man she married. Bob and Charlotte get to know each other, are comfortable sharing their loneliness and in that brief time pull each other out of their respective life ruts, but the beauty of this movie is that they don’t have the affair that you expect. It’s a subtle, smart, funny adult movie and I hope anyone who hasn’t seen it yet will give it a look.
No Country for Old Men (2007) Finally got around to seeing this excellent bleak thriller, Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel. Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a suitcase full of cash from a drug deal gone bad and tries to keep both the money and his life, when a relentless killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is hired to find him and retrieve the money. The two of them are in turn sought by bounty hunter Woody Harrelson and weary Sheriff Tommy Lee Jones, but nobody can stop the inevitable clash of brash cowboy and ruthless killer. This is as noir as it gets, with some dark deadpan humour, a main character who foolishly thinks he can outrun his fate and an unforgettable villain who tells you your life depends, among other strange whims, on the flip of his coin, then asks you to consider the philosophy, cosmic alignments and random events that got you to this unlucky point.
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). Inspired to rewatch this beautiful and complex movie after the Criterion Blogathon. As in Lost in Translation, here are two lonely people sharing a brief encounter in Japan, with very different issues raised about existence, love and memory. Alain Resnais’ groundbreaking movie is “about” a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) who has an affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada). It begins with harrowing documentary footage of the bombing and aftermath, accompanied by this foreign woman’s claim that she’s seen and knows what happened here, while he denies that anyone could ever understand from history or second-hand experience. She later recounts her own trauma in France during the war involving her first love, a German soldier. The lovers’ intense bond in such a short time, their sharing of pain in this place, is about their romance as much as it is about the coming together of countries and cultures, and about the possibility of love and life rising from ashes.
Argo (2012). Affleck’s film about the fake sci-fi movie/CIA mission to Iran to extract American hostages from the Canadian Ambassador’s house was fast and exciting, but for me the best part was the filmmaking satire with Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Their Hollywood scheming and deception has to fool observers arguably sharper and definitely more curious than the Iranian cultural authorities. The Star Wars-type ads and the epic script reading was great and made a nice balance to the serious plight and high tension of the long hostage crisis. The reality not reflected in this film was that Canada had a much bigger role in the mission; a lot is minimized, including that Canadian officials had a plan to get those hostages out earlier along with Canadian embassy staff, and made up all the travel documents for the “film crew.”
Matchstick Men (2003). Ridley Scott picture starring Nicolas Cage as a neurotic con man in the middle of a potentially huge score with his protege Sam Rockwell. Cage’s new shrink advises him to get to know the teen daughter he’s never met (Alison Lohman), in hopes of resolving his worsening OCD and emotional troubles. Turns out that daughter is a chip off the block who assists in his con, inadvertently teaches him about love and responsibility and helps straighten out his messed-up personality. Shocker of a twist ending that makes the movie itself a giant con, softly and sweetly sold to you with great acting, filmmaking technique and cool swinging tunes. Cage characteristically does wonders with his character’s twitches and colourful breakdowns.
A couple of TV shows:
Ash vs Evil Dead. Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead (1981) 30+ years later. Based on that you’ll know if this is for you or not. Lovable buffoon hero, new and improved ghouls and demons, young sidekicks, Lucy Lawless, comedy-horror, some gore, quips and one-liners galore and lots of fun 5 episodes in.
How to Get Away With Murder. Watched through a season and a half, right up to the winter break of a few weeks ago, and really enjoyed it. It’s an addictive crime soap and Viola Davis deserves every bit of her Emmy for expertly playing such a conniving and flawed anti-hero. Simplest way to describe this intricately plotted melodrama: she’s a criminal defense attorney and professor who recruits students to help her cover up a murder and then manages to get them all embroiled in ever uglier messes.
The rest of November, the full review posts:
- Ulzana’s Raid (1972)
- The Driver (1978)
- Bob le flambeur (1956)
- The Rounders (1965)
- In Cold Blood (1967)
- The Florentine Dagger (1935)
- Winner Take All (1932)
- Four Sided Triangle (1953)
- The Wicked Lady (1945)
- The Divorcee (1930)