Thursday, February 26, 2015

Classic Movie Review: Lady and the Tramp

One of the Disney animated classics that I fondly remember from childhood is Lady and the Tramp. It ws re-released to theaters when I was a kid (before widespread home video releases and before Disney put them out on VHS). It felt more monumental to me then than it does now. At only 76 minutes, it is briskly paced and spare. There’s really not much story to tell and the big romance between Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy) and the street mutt Tramp (Larry Roberts) is developed in one brief sequence when Lady is lost away from home and Tramp saves her from some unsavory dogs and takes her on a date to an Italian restaurant for the iconic spaghetti-eating scene, which is now one of the most indelibly romantic moments in cinema history.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

87th Academy Awards: Oscar Predictions

Here we go with my quick rundown of what I think will win tomorrow night. As usual, I expect to get all 24 categories correct.

A genuinely tough call this year. It's a tight race between Boyhood and Birdman, with American Sniper perhaps a not-too-distant third given its popular success. But really it will be one of the first two. I feel almost like it's a toss-up even as to whether they will split Director and Picture or sweep.

My final answer is...

Birdman. (I actually typed Boyhood first and changed my mind, that's how indecisive I am). Ultimately perhaps it comes down to the fact that Birdman is about a tortured actor who sees himself as a true artist looking for critical approval. And actors make up the largest contingent of the Academy.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tangerines Movie Review

Update 21 April 2015: This film was released commercially in the United States on 17 April 2015.

This film has not yet been released commercially in the United States.

Anti-war movies so often fail at being effectively anti-war because any depiction of fighting, violence, brutality, or death inherently glorifies it by making it sensational. One of the best anti-war movies I can recall is Danis Tanovic’s Oscar-winning No Man’s Land which featured virtually no fighting at all but was about two wounded soldiers from opposing sides in the Bosnian War stuck in the tract of land between the lines. It was about the absurdity and ineffectiveness of war and the need for human understanding in conflict. No Man’s Land was the movie I thought of most often during Tangerines, one of this year’s nominees for the award that Tanovic’s film won.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Top Ten of 2014

I guess I'm just about ready to call my best movies of 2014. It's far beyond the end of last year, but I'm only just now in a place where I feel comfortable enough that I've seen most of the movies that would be likely to make my list.
This is one of the strangest top ten lists I've ever made. I don't think I've ever had two documentaries on the list. And as you get into the second half of my list, it's populated by films that I am less enthusiastic about than I am in admiration of. In years past it was a struggle to not leave a movie I really enjoyed off my list. This year it was about struggling to include something worthy. 2014 left me feeling chilly. There wasn't much I really went wild for.

10. The Babadook - directed by Jennifer Kent - Certainly not one of the absolute best of the year and not even one of the greatest scary films or thrillers of all time, but supremely effective and left me chilled to the bone about the psychological horrors of parenting and losing your mind.

We Are the Best! Movie Review

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson went a little dark after his light and free-wheeling feature debut Together, one of my favorite movies from 2001. He came back last year with We Are the Best, another film similar in tone and just as light on its feet. It’s amazing to see a director as comfortable dealing with high energy electrifying characters as he is with moody depression. In his latest he tells an adorable story, adapted from his wife Coco’s comic book about three young girls in Stockholm in the early eighties trying to stand out as punks. The punk movement was on its way out by then and of course girls weren’t supposed to care. But Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and her best friend Klara (Mira Grosin) are the school’s outliers, two kids who spike their short hair and dress alternatively. And they catch hell for it from their peers.

Timbuktu Movie Review

The global fight against implementation of Sharia law and the struggle against Islamofascism is given a very different perspective in Abderrah Sissako’s striking and thoughtful Timbuktu. In 2012, militants took over the city in Mali and laid down new laws regarding dress codes for men and women, music performance, smoking, and adultery. They also make clear what some punishments might be.

The city of Timbuktu is cosmopolitan. It is made up of people from many different places and cultures, they speak several different languages. The absurdity of foreigners walking into town and trying to create a new uniform culture is certainly on Sissako’s mind. There is no shortage of absurdity in Timbuktu including the hypocrisy of those who are meant to enforce the new laws. Football is not permitted but three soldiers fiercely debate whether Barcelona or Madrid have the better team. And the kids play a gorgeous game of soccer with no ball. They rely on their imaginations and ingenuity to have a good time. It is one of the film’s most sublime moments. Then as if to call to attention to just how ridiculous it is, a donkey wanders across the pitch. This was one of the greatest sequences in a film full of them.

Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films Review

The Oscar-nominated documentary short program is an interesting crop of selections this year. Four of the five nominees are simply documents of a particular subject, be it place, character, or family. Only one has what could be construed as having an agenda, or attempting to call attention to an issue and even that example is a restrained portrait of the subject matter.

In White Earth, Christian Jensen goes to a small town in North Dakota where the population has swollen due to recent oil drilling. People are showing up from all over the country hoping for a better life for their families through more work. Rather than focus on the nefariousness of oil companies, or the blight on the land that the drills cause, Jensen talks to the children of oil workers about how they feel about the work, their town, and their future. It’s only twenty minutes, so it doesn’t go deep. The film presents a snapshot of a town and some of its people. The images are occasionally beautiful, scattered though they are throughout. The result is a simple document of family life, parenting, and the desire to see your children have a better life.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Still Alice Movie Review

For movies about terminally or debilitatingly ill characters, you could do a lot worse than Still Alice. Adapted and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland from the book by Lisa Genova, it’s about a woman diagnosed with and then suffering the consequences of early onset Alzheimer’s. She’s only fifty, still working as a university lecturer, giving talks around the world on linguistics and language development. She’s still physically active as a runner and involved in her children’s lives. They are at that precarious age in between childhood and having families of their own, chronologically adults, but still in need of mother’s care.

Unbroken Movie Review

I was afraid Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s second outing behind the camera, would be tacky, maudlin, and sentimental hokum. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong. The story of Louis Zamperini was bought by Universal many years ago and finally put into production after Laura Hillenbrand’s book on the subject became a best seller. Zamperini was an American Olympic runner who competed in the 5,000 meter run at the 1936 Berlin games and then flew bombing missions over Japan during WWII. He was shot down over the Pacific, survived for an astounding 45 days adrift on a raft with two other crew from his plane, was picked up by a Japanese ship and placed in a prison camp where he endured brutal conditions and regular beatings at the hands of a pettily jealous guard.

CT Governor Malloy has his Jed Bartlett Moment

Governor Dan Malloy went on 95.9 The Fox to announce his new liquor laws. The big one is that there will no longer be a mandatory price minimum on a bottle. As it is now, the liquor stores have to set their prices at a certain level above wholesale. Malloy's new plan calls for liquor stores being permitted to sell a bottle for $5.01 if they pay $5 for it, if they so choose.

You can watch his announcement on the radio here.

I caught the segment right after this video ends, at the point when they take a call. I can't find the transcript, but I'll paraphrase:

A man calls in and complains that this law will only serve to put the "Mom and Pops" out of business because they won't be able to afford to either buy in large enough quantities at lower prices (lack of storage space prohibits smaller stores from this practice) or to mark down their bottles enough to compete with the chain retailers who have more cash flow to do it. The caller works in the business as a liquor delivery driver and said that the new laws would eventually mean fewer liquor stores, which means fewer delivery stops, which means fewer drivers.

The governor's response, again this is a paraphrased quote: "Let me see if I understand your argument correctly. You want people to pay more for alcohol so you can be happy?"

At the moment he said that, I thought, "I want to vote for this man."

And then I instantly thought of this moment from one of my favorite TV shows of all time, "The West Wing"

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Important Anniversaries Marked in 2015

* The Oscar winners noted were released in the previous year, but given the award in the year noted.

10 Years Ago (2005)

Pierce Brosnan resigned at James Bond after four films and later in the year Daniel Craig was named as his successor.

Number of films I've seen: 87
My average rating: 6.89 / 10
My best of the year: Cache dir. Michael Haneke
My worst of the year: Fantastic Four dir. Tim Story

directing debuts 
Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin)
Lee Daniels+ (Shadowboxer)
Rian Johnson (Brick)
Joss Whedon* (Serenity)

* past Oscar nominee NOT for directing +future Oscar nominee

notable deaths
Playwright and screenwriter Arthur Miller (89)
Director Robert Wise (91)
Actor and comedian Richard Pryor (65)

Top grossing film for the year (domestic): Revenge of the Sith ($380.3  million)
(worldwide): Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($896.9 million)

Academy Award Best Picture winner*: Million Dollar Baby dir. Clint Eastwood
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner: L'Enfant dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Movies from my collection
The 40-Year Old Virgin
Brokeback Mountain
A History of Violence
Match Point
Wedding Crashers

Non-movie related
- Iraq had its first free Parliamentary elections since 1958 on 30 January
- Pope John Paul II died on 2 April
- Pope Benedict XVI elected 265th Pope on 19 April
- Variety revealed the identity of Deep Throat to be FBI Associate Director Mark Felt on 31 May
- Four coordinated bombing attacks in London killed 52 people on 7 July, the day after the city was announced as host of the 2012 Summer Olympics
- Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast on 29 August

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Movie Review

For the third and final installment in Peter Jackson’s bloated trilogy, The Hobbit, I couldn’t bear to sit through An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug to refresh my memory before trudging through the morass of The Battle of the Five Armies. The predictable result is that I had completely forgotten who some secondary characters were, what they had done previously, and why I should care about them at all.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Love Is Strange Movie Review

What a beautiful little movie Ira Sachs made with Love Is Strange. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow play George and Ben, a same sex couple who get married (thanks to a change in New York law) after almost forty years together as partners. George, who works as a music educator in a private Catholic school, is fired for not upholding the values of the Church. Essentially, his marriage stands in conflict with the public image of the Church. The decision is not unlike any company firing someone for publicly engaging in a behavior that reflects poorly on company values. However, his colleagues and most of his students and their parents knew he was gay and lived with Ben.

Last Days in Vietnam Movie Review

Though it’s not the most exciting or ground-breaking documentary you’ll see, Rory Kennedy has made one of the more solid, interesting, and important entries in the 2014 crop of award-winning documentaries. Last Days in Vietnam focuses on the final days of the war between North and South Vietnam, long after the U.S. had pulled all troops off the ground and the Paris Peace Accords had been signed. After President Nixon resigned, the North Vietnamese army began advancing in violation of the agreement. This documentary is about the effort to evacuate the American Embassy in Saigon including all Americans on the ground. A lot of Americans also had Vietnamese wives and children to evacuate. Then a simple evacuation turned into a massive humanitarian effort to extract tens of thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who might end up imprisoned or executed if left behind.

Virunga Movie Review

Orlando von Einsiedel’s documentary Virunga has a special way of pulling you into one story and then ripping the rug right from under you and slamming you with a story you weren’t expecting. He begins with a prologue detailing, very briefly, the torrid history of the Congo, its struggles to free itself from colonialism, and then to embrace democracy. The next half hour or so introduces the UNESCO World Heritage site Virunga National Park, a stunning paradise and bio-diverse nature preserve that is home to the last remaining mountain gorillas, which happen to be the emotional lynchpin of the film.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Most Violent Year Movie Review

Abel Morales is a Latin American immigrant in New York City in 1981. He owns and operates his own heating oil business amid a social and business landscape that is in decay. Corruption in his industry is rampant to the point that the Assistant D.A. (David Oyelowo) is lumping him in with all oil companies in an investigation. The city itself is witnessing its most violent time ever. The radio news is constantly recounting the previous day’s tally of violent crimes, a heavy load weighing the city down along with the cold wintry mood set by director J.C. Chandor and his production designer John Goldsmith and cinematographer Bradford Young.