Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Valerian

Last night I went to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and, despite what many critics have said, I really enjoyed it.  The spectacle opens with a montage of the history of space travel and the establishment of Alpha, the titular city where representatives of a thousand planets live and cooperate with each other, with David Bowie's "Space Oddity" underneath it.  My attention was completely drawn in and it never wavered as one dazzling sequence after another filled the screen (it is one of the rare films I recommend seeing in IMAX 3D).  The narrative focuses on the destruction of a planet which federal agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delivigne) must investigate with the help of a few strange and magical creatures, including Bubble (Rihanna) a shape-shifting performer, and a few wild adventures, in multiple dimensions, before they solve the mystery.  If you have seen the trailers you know that the visual effects are absolutely incredible.  I was most impressed with the world-building and the character design, especially a sequence at a market that takes place in multiple dimensions at the same time (mind blown).  Unlike many, I thought the campy performances of DeHaan and Delivigne really worked and I laughed out loud at Ethan Hawke's turn as a pimp.  I even liked Rihanna who has an unexpectedly poignant scene.  In my opinion this film is funny, quirky, and wildly entertaining.  It never takes itself too seriously so I think it is destined to become a cult classic.  I highly recommend it for a really good time.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Planet of the Apes Triple Feature

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see a triple feature of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and War for the Planet of the Apes.  It was a long afternoon and evening but I definitely enjoyed myself (and bonded with the people around me).  It is one of the best trilogies I've ever seen, one, rather unusually, in which the films get better and better.  All three of them feature compelling and thought-provoking stories, powerful performances, and dazzling special effects.  In Rise, my sympathies are entirely with the apes.  Just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should, especially regarding the ethics of animal testing.  In Dawn, the stakes are considerably higher and the heroes and villains aren't quite as black and white for me.  There are good humans and bad humans just as there are good apes and bad apes.  I was very intrigued by the difficulties involved in diplomacy, how easy it is for an extremist to undermine the work of many.  In War, after fighting for two years, Caesar (Andy Serkis) offers the humans peace if the apes can be left alone in the woods.  However, a mysterious Colonel (Woody Harrelson) arrives and kills Caesar's wife and son prompting him to vow revenge.   As the rest of the apes try to escape, Caesar goes on a journey with a few apes to locate the Colonel at his compound in the North and then learns that his apes have been taken prisoner.  The way that the prisoners are treated is extremely difficult to watch (much like the Jews in concentration camps) but the prison-break scenes provide a bit of levity.  While there is an epic show-down between the apes and humans, the titular war, in my opinion, is within Caesar himself as he battles his hatred.  Of the three, I think this film is the most complex in its storytelling because of the themes of vengeance and redemption.  Andy Serkis is, once again, brilliant in a motion-capture performance that is incredibly powerful.  I have always enjoyed Maurice (Karin Konoval) as a character but I loved his role as Caesar's conscience in this film.  Woody Harrelson is menacing as a military leader gone rogue and I enjoyed the addition of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) for a bit of comic relief to offset the bleakness.  Finally, I was so impressed by the CGI which I thought was incredibly realistic, almost to the point that you forget that you are not watching apes but actors in motion-capture suits.  This is a very fitting end to the trilogy and I loved it.  Actually, I loved watching all three of these films together, so much so, that I spent about forty-five minutes discussing them in the parking lot with my fellow audience members!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Exception

As a student of history I hadn't really thought much about what happened to Kaiser Wilhelm II when he exited the stage after World War I.  After seeing a preview of The Exception, I was intrigued about his post-war life and very eager to see a film about his involvement, albeit fictionalized, in events at the beginning of World War II.  I am a sucker for films about World War I and World War II!  I saw The Exception last night and I wish that it had focused more on Wilhelm (Christopher Plummer) rather than on the romance between a German officer (Jai Courtney) and a Jewish housemaid who may or may not be a British operative (Lily James).  Captain Stefan Brandt (Courtney) is sent to the Netherlands, presumably as punishment for an incident in Poland (there are lots of flashbacks), to be the head of security for the exiled Wilhelm.  In reality, he is sent there to spy on Wilhelm.  He immediately, if abruptly, begins a passionate affair with the new maid Mieke (James), who reveals to him that she is Jewish.  When Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) visits Wilhelm, who hopes for news that the Nazis want to restore the monarchy, Brandt suspects that Mieke might be a spy.  Will he choose love or duty?  I loved Christopher Plummer in this role as a mercurial king-in-exile who longs for the past (he loves showing guests his collection of military uniforms) yet rails against his generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff for losing the war.  He insists on receiving military briefings from his aide de camp (Ben Daniels) in one moment and in the next he chops wood and feeds the ducks.  I also enjoyed Janet McTier's performance as Wilhelm's wife, Hermine, who works behind the scenes to restore the monarchy so she can order new clothes and refuse her sisters entrance at court.  Their story is incredibly compelling;  Brandt and Mieke's is less so.  Lily James does a good job in the scenes where espionage is the focus but I didn't buy the romance at all.  Why on earth does she get involved with a German soldier when she wants revenge against them for killing her father and brother?  Why does she tell him that she is Jewish when she doesn't know him well enough to trust him?  There is no motivation for their affair at all (beyond lust) and I didn't really care for Courtney's stilted performance as Brandt.  There is no tension at the climax because we already know that Brandt is troubled by the brutality of the Nazis so his decision isn't that surprising.  I found Wilhelm's decision to be much more interesting.  Bottom line:  I liked this movie but it would have been better with more Plummer and less Courtney.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Hero

Last night I went to see The Hero, a film I saw at Sundance and really enjoyed.  To be sure, it is a cliched character study about a man with regrets who must come to term with his own mortality but it has an incredible central performance by Sam Elliott which makes it worth watching, even twice.  Lee Hayden (Elliott) is a former Western film star well past his prime who who spends his days drinking, smoking marijuana, and recording ads for a barbecue sauce when he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  At the same time he meets a much younger woman (Laura Prepon) and begins a relationship with her and, after a drug-fueled speech at an awards ceremony goes viral, gets a big movie offer.  In the midst of all of this, he tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) and decide what to do about his diagnosis.  He has recurring dreams about being on the set of his most popular movie, in his current state, where he metaphorically fights his cancer.  Even though Elliott is essentially playing a version of himself, he is absolutely shines in this role (I have heard mention of a possible Academy Award nomination).  He is in almost every shot and I found him to be captivating.  He is able to convey more emotion with just a lift of a bushy eyebrow than most actors working today do with pages of dialogue.  While all of the supporting characters are pretty thinly drawn I found a scene with Nick Offerman, who plays a former cast member who is now Lee's drug dealer, to be hilarious and I enjoyed seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott's real-life wife, as Lee's ex-wife.   This film is a little gem that I recommend, especially if you are a fan of Sam Elliott.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Big Sick

I'm just going to put something out there.  I am not a big fan of romantic comedies (and I despise it when people refer to them as rom-coms).  I rarely see them and I am almost always underwhelmed by the ones I do see.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back.  Blah, blah, blah.  However, I decided to see The Big Sick on Friday night because it generated a lot of buzz at Sundance this year (and receieved one of the biggest distribution deals from the festival) and I saw a preview last week which made me laugh out loud.  It is a true story which adds a bit of a twist to the standard formula: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl is put into a coma, and boy gets girl back.  Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani playing a fictionalized version of himself) is a Pakistani comic who gets heckled one night by a graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan).  They immediately hit it off but eventually break up because Kumail's traditional parents want an arranged marriage for him.  Emily ends up in the emergency room one night and a friend asks Kumail to check up on her.  Her condition worsens so it is decided that she should be put in a medically induced coma and Kumail must inform her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).  As the days go by, he bonds with her parents and realizes how much he loves Emily.  It is so funny!  I laughed out loud through the whole thing!  I almost couldn't breathe in the scene where Terry and Kumail talk about 9/11 because I was laughing so hard.  All of the scenes with Kumail's potential brides, who just happen to drop by, are also hilarious ("The truth is out there!")  There are also some very heartwarming scenes, especially when Kumail tells his parents that they can't kick him out of the family.  Kumail is so endearing and both he and Kazan have great chemistry.  Both Hunter and Romano are also great together and Kumail's fellow comics (Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler) are a lot of fun.  I should mention that there is quite a bit of profanity but I absolutely loved this hilarious movie and I highly recommend it.

Note:  I saw this at the Broadway Theater and there was not an empty seat in sight.  That has only happened for two other movies that I've seen there:  The Grand Budapest Hotel and La La Land.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

On Thursday night I saw an early screening of Spider-Man: Homecoming and I absolutely loved it!  What made it so much fun is that Peter Parker is finally portrayed by an age-appropriate actor as a wisecracking and nerdy high school student dealing with both his superpowers and the everyday problems of a 15-year-old, like who to take to the Homecoming dance.  Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) owns a salvage company tasked with cleaning up after the Battle of New York until Stark Industries and the federal government create the Department of Damage Control and take over.  Bitter about losing so much revenue, Toomes keeps pieces of the Chitauri technology to create weapons to sell on the black market.  Eight years later, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is still on a high after his experiences with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and is finding it hard to settle down to real life in high school.  He wants to be an Avenger but Stark wants him to start slow as a friendly neighborhood superhero (in some really amusing scenes).  Meanwhile, Toomes has become the Vulture with a crew who rob the D.O.D.C. for more alien technology to keep up their supply and Spider-Man attempts to stop him, often needing to be rescued by Iron Man (with some fun action sequences involving Peter's Decathlon team in Washington, D.C. and a fight with the Vulture on the Staten Island ferry).  Tony Stark takes away his Stark Industries-enhanced suit so Spider-Man must go it alone in an epic confrontation with the Vulture.  I thought Michael Keaton's Vulture was a very ordinary villain but I absolutely loved Holland's performance because of his impetuosity and awkwardness.  His interactions with his friends Ned (Jacob Batalon), Flash (Tony Revolori), Michelle (Zendaya), and Liz (Laura Harrier) are incredibly amusing.  I laughed out loud when Peter and Ned talked about building the Death Star out of legos!  I also think the mentor relationships with Tony and Happy (Jon Favreau), who is his minder, are great.  The action sequences are fine (although I wish the final confrontation hadn't been at night because it was so dark that I sometimes had a hard time seeing what was going on) but I had a lot more fun with the character development and dialogue.  It is such a fun and lighthearted movie and I highly recommend it.

Note:  The Captain America (Chris Evans) PSAs used at the school are hilarious.  I also loved it when Peter's Decathlon teacher (Martin Starr) is interviewed after the events in Washington, D.C. and says, "I would hate to lose a student on a school trip.  Not again."  I think I was the only person in the theater who laughed at that.  I once left a student at Kingsbury Hall...

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Beguiled

My friend and I went to a screening of The Beguiled on Friday night and, while she only liked it, I absolutely loved it!  The Beguiled is set on a large and isolated plantation in Virginia which is used as a Ladies Seminary run by Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) at the end of the Civil War.  When one of the girls comes upon a severely wounded Union soldier named John McBurney (Colin Farrell), they decide to shelter him while he recuperates.  He disrupts their quiet and well-ordered life and all of them, even the young girls, begin vying for his affection by wearing their best dresses and jewelry and sneaking into the music room to speak with him.  I particularly loved a scene where all of them try to take credit for an apple pie that John praises.  John takes advantage of the situation by flirting with the no-nonsense headmistress Martha, a repressed teacher named Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and a bored and sullen student named Alicia (Elle Fanning) with the hopes of being allowed to stay on the plantation but this eventually sets them against each other with catastrophic results for him.  There were many times when I wondered who was beguiling whom!  The tension builds very, very slowly and I almost couldn't bear waiting for the resolution (my friend had seen the 1971 original but I hadn't so I think that contributed to my reaction) which just about blew my mind with its subtlety.  All of the actresses give marvelous performances as genteel Southern belles who come undone.  Of course Nicole Kidman is brilliant but I was especially impressed by Kirsten Dunst's portrayal of Edwina's sadness and insecurity and I thought Addison Riecke was adorable as one of the younger girls (especially when she suggests looking for mushrooms).  Finally, this film is beautifully shot with lots of atmospheric scenes of moss-covered trees outside and flickering candles inside.  I highly recommend The Beguiled for it's tension, incredible acting, and gorgeous cinematography.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Baby Driver

Tuesday night my plans unexpectedly fell through so I had the chance to see an early screening of Baby Driver.  This movie is an adrenaline rush from beginning to end and I absolutely loved it!  Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver for a criminal mastermind named Doc (Kevin Spacey) who has a rotating crew of bank robbers (Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez, Flea, and Lanny Joon).  Baby suffers from tinnitus and listens to music to drown out the ringing in his ears and to energize himself for driving.  All Baby wants to do is to get out of the game so he can go on the road with his girlfriend Debora (Lily James) but Doc wants him to drive for one more heist which eventually goes horribly wrong.  It is a sleek and stylish crime thriller with some of the best car chases I have ever seen and it has an amazing soundtrack, featuring the likes of Queen, Beck, Danger Mouse with Run the Jewels, Golden Earring, the Commodores, Martha and the Vandellas, and Simon & Garfunkel.  The action is exactly choreographed to the music and Baby even rewinds a song when a conversation with the crew runs longer than expected before a heist.  I found the sound design to be absolutely amazing because every sound, from the squealing of tires to the spitting of bullets from a machine gun, corresponds exactly to the beat of the music.  I also loved the scenes of Baby dancing and singing along with the music he is listening to.  I was extremely impressed with Elgort's performance.  Even though Baby is incredibly self-contained, you always know exactly what he is thinking and feeling with just an expression.  I think he is so charismatic, especially in his scenes with Debora.  He and Lily James have great chemistry and I loved their conversation about name songs (since I have a song with my name in it!)  All of the supporting actors are very well suited to their roles.  Jamie Foxx is a hoot and Jon Hamm gives a particularly nuanced performance. There is a fair amount of profanity and violence but I think it is wildly entertaining and I can't remember when I have had so much fun watching a movie.  I highly recommend this intoxicating thrill ride!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

My Neighbor Totoro

I think my friend is trying to turn me into an anime fan because she invited me to see My Neighbor Totoro with her on Monday night (she also recommended Your Name which is quite possibly my favorite movie of the year).  Her plan may be working because I absolutely loved this adorable film, so much so that I am considering seeing the rest of the films in the Studio Ghibli Festival.  My Neighbor Totoro is an imaginative look at the childhood of two sisters who have moved from the city to the country to be nearer to their mother who is recovering in the hospital from a long illness.  The younger sister, Mei, is left to play on her own outside where she meets an otherworldly woodland creature that only she can see.  Eventually both of the girls have fantastical adventures with this creature and it ultimately rescues Mei when she gets lost.  The animation is beautiful with every frame reminding me of a watercolor painting; the characters are endearing and I especially loved the relationship between the sisters and the nanny reminded me of a neighbor I had when I was young; and the story is magical, portraying the innocence of childhood as it once was.  I had a smile on my face during the entire film and I especially loved the scene where the girls give Totoro their umbrella.  I loved literally everything about this film and I definitely recommend it for everyone, especially children.  Go here for more information about the Studio Ghibli Festival.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

47 Meters Down

I have made some great new friends who really love movies.  Last Friday night I met one of them for dinner and a movie.  We had Indian food and then saw 47 Meters Down and it was such a fun night.  Two sisters, Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt), are on vacation in Mexico when they decide to dive in a shark cage.  Lisa is extremely apprehensive because she doesn't have any diving experience, the boat is old and rusty, and the captain (Mathew Modine) illegally chums the water to attract the sharks but she ultimately decides to go because her ex-boyfriend accused her of being boring.  After a great experience interacting with the sharks, the winch on the boat holding the cage breaks and the girls plummet, you guessed it, 47 meters down.  They only have an hour's worth of air in their tanks, they are surrounded by sharks, and they can't ascend quickly or they will get the bends.  Will they survive?  It is a taut thriller filled with suspense and I think I jumped ten feet every time a shark appeared.  My friend had seen it before and even she jumped during certain scenes.  The sharks are all CGI but I, obviously, thought they were extremely realistic.  Mandy Moore and Claire Holt won't win any acting awards and some of the dialogue is a bit cringe-worthy ("Oh my God!  The shark almost got me!") but I think this movie is a lot of fun.  It is the perfect summer movie to see with friends on a Friday night!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cars 3

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of the Cars franchise and I definitely did not expect to love Cars 3, Pixar's latest installment, but I did.  I loved the story of redemption and the character of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) really resonated with me.  Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) continues racing on the Piston Cup circuit when a younger and more technologically advanced car named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) emerges on the scene and begins beating him.  In the final race of the season, Lightening tries to overtake Storm but he loses control and is involved in a devastating crash.  Many think his career is over and it is even suggested that he start endorsing products for his sponsor, Rust-eze.  But Lightning doesn't want to give up.  He is assigned a trainer, the aforementioned Cruz Ramirez, and uses a state of the art facility to get back in racing form.  When this doesn't help him get any faster, Lightening, along with Cruz, goes back to his roots and seeks out Smokey (Chris Cooper), who mentored Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), for some unconventional training.  I will not give away the ending of Lightning's race but I will say that it is brilliant.  I was not expecting the outcome and it literally had everyone in my screening cheering out loud!  The theme of youth vs. experience, while not especially original, is very well developed and I really loved the message that it is never too late to pursue your dreams.  Cruz is a wonderful role model for girls and I found myself willing to suspend my disbelief in not only an anthropomorphic car world (in a way I couldn't in the first two movies) but also one with gender stereotypes that need to be overcome.  Finally, I loved the dazzling animation, especially during the Piston Cup races.  I'm not often surprised by my response to a movie, but in this case, I was pleasantly surprised.  I enjoyed it and I recommend it!

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Hard Day's Night

I think most of you know by now that I absolutely love the Beatles and I have seen A Hard Day's Night more times than I can count.  However, I have never seen it on the big screen (how I wish that I had been alive in 1964 to see this when it first premiered) until it was screened as part of Salt Lake Film Society's classic musicals series last Tuesday.  To say that I was excited to see it on the big screen would be an understatement and I definitely sang along (I was not alone but I was the youngest person in the audience).  This movie stars the Beatles and it is basically an extended music video featuring their songs with the thinnest of narratives tying them together (they are traveling from Liverpool to London to tape an appearance on a TV show).  But it matters not because it is the Beatles.  The Beatles!  I found it to be quite amusing because it features the witty banter the lads are known for ("Are you a mod or a rocker?" "I'm a mocker.") and there is a running gag with Paul's grandfather getting into trouble and the lads escaping from their managers.  I also thought the cinematography was quite innovative with lots of different angles.  But, of course, what makes this film so much fun is the music including the title track, "I Should Have Known Better," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "All My Loving," "If I Fell," "Can't Buy Me Love," "And I Love Her," "Tell Me Why," and "She Loves You."  I just loved every minute and it is a must see if you are a fan of the Beatles.  Go here for a full schedule of films being screened as part of this series.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

I am so enjoying the classic musical series being screened by the Salt Lake Film Society this summer.  The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a film that I have wanted to see for quite a while because I read that Damien Chazelle used it for inspiration for La La Land.  I was able to see it on Tuesday and I absolutely loved it.  The whole movie is sung, much like an opera, and all of the music was vaguely familiar to me (even though the lyrics are in French).  Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve), a 17-year-old girl who works in an umbrella shop in Cherbourg, is in love with Guy (Nico Castelnuovo), a young man who works in a garage.  Her mother (Anne Vernon) disapproves of the romance but they want to get married.  When Guy is conscripted into the army to fight in Algeria, Genevieve is heartbroken but vows to wait for him.  She soon discovers that she is pregnant and, when Guy's letters become less frequent, her mother urges her to marry a wealthy businessman (Marc Michel) which she eventually does.  It turns out that Guy was wounded and when he returns to Cherbourg, he marries someone else and fulfills his dream of opening his own garage.  At the end of the film, Genevieve returns to Cherbourg and she and Guy share a heartbreaking reunion.  I actually liked this film more than La La Land because both Deneuve and Castelnuovo are amazing singers (much better than both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone) and they drew me into their doomed romance with the intensity of their performances.  It was intriguing to see a young Catherine Deneuve, who is such an icon, in one of her first movies.  This movie is beautiful, but so sad, and I absolutely loved it.  I definitely recommend it, especially if you are a fan of La La Land.  Go here for a full schedule of movies in this series.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Fiddler on the Roof

I love Fiddler on the Roof.  I have seen it performed on the stage countless times and I even played Fruma Sarah in a production.  But, for me, the definitive version is the 1971 film.  I even judge every Tevye that I see on stage by Topol's performance in the film.  I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that it was being screened as one of Salt Lake Film Society's classic musicals and I was able to see it on the big screen Monday night.  It tells the well known story of a poor Jewish milkman named Tevye trying to hold onto his traditions in pre-revolutionary Russia.  All of the songs are so familiar and I may or may not have sung along with the actors, especially during "Tevye's Dream."  What I love about the film, as opposed to the stage musical, is the scale.  I really love the big sweeping shots of the vast landscape and I love all of the big production numbers with hundreds of extras.  I especially enjoyed "Tradition" with so many papas, mamas, sons, and daughters, the fun choreography in "To Life," and the wedding scene when all of the townspeople walk to the canopy with candles.  Topol gives such an iconic performance as Tevye and I laughed out loud during his rendition of "If I Was A Rich Man."  I was filled with so much nostalgia watching this film because I remember watching it at my Grandma's house.  It was such a fun crowd at the Broadway and I was definitely not the only one singing out loud.  Go here for a full schedule of films being screened as part of this series.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Like It Hot

Sunday afternoon I got to see Some Like It Hot for the first time on the big screen and it was an absolute hoot!  This makes two Marilyn Monroe comedies this month!  Two musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), go on the run after witnessing a mob hit in Chicago.  They disguise themselves as women, Josephine and Daphne, to join and all-female band engaged for six weeks at a hotel in Miami.  Once they get there, they face a new set of problems:  Joe falls for the vocalist in the band, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), and Jerry becomes the object of affection of millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown).  Chaos ensues, especially when the mobsters they are running from show up in Miami for a convention.  This is a typical Billy Wilder farce with lots of physical comedy and sharp and witty dialogue.  All three lead actors give fabulous performances and I was especially impressed, once again, with Marilyn Monroe.  I laughed out loud so many times and my favorite scenes were when Jerry as Daphne wonders why men like her because she isn't pretty, when Joe impersonates Cary Grant the heir to Shell Oil in order to woo Sugar, when Sugar sings "I Want to Be Loved by You," when Jerry as Daphne tells Joe that she is engaged, and when Jerry as Daphne does the tango with Osgood.  It is just so funny watching Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon try to act like women!  Now I know why it is considered to be one of the best comedies of all time!  You have another chance to see this on the big screen June 14.  Go here for details.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My Cousin Rachel

Saturday night I met my friend Rachel to see My Cousin Rachel, the latest film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel of the same name.  It is a psychological thriller which centers on Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), an orphan who has been raised by his cousin Ambrose on a large estate in Cornwall.  After Ambrose dies mysteriously in Italy, his widow Rachel (Rachel Weisz) comes to visit the estate.  Philip blames Rachel for Ambrose's death because of some cryptic letters that Ambrose sent accusing Rachel of poisoning him but he eventually becomes completely infatuated with her.  Philip is impetuous and inexplicably gives away the estate to Rachel despite his earlier suspicions and the warnings of everyone around him.  Meanwhile, the special herbal tea that Rachel brews for Philip makes him tired and it seems obvious that she is poisoning him like she did Ambrose.  But did she poison Ambrose?  Is she poisoning Philip?  The audience is never entirely sure of Rachel's motivations which makes the film compelling right up to the ambiguous ending.  I was often infuriated by Philip as a character but Claflin does a good enough job at portraying his immaturity and naivete. Weisz, on the other hand, gives an absolutely brilliant performance as the enigmatic Rachel because she gives nothing away and always kept me guessing.  I love period dramas, especially ones based on Gothic novels, and this film definitely gets it right when it comes to mood.  The cinematography, production design, and costumes are beautiful!  I loved the sweeping shots of the Cornish coastline as well as the candle-lit scenes between Philip and Rachel.  This film is definitely not as intense or suspenseful as Rebecca, one of my favorite movies based on another du Maurier novel, but I really liked it and I recommend it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Godfather

I have a confession.  Before last Sunday I had never seen The Godfather!  I know!  When I mentioned this to my movie buddies there was a stunned silence as if they couldn't believe it!  It is widely considered to be the greatest film in American cinema so when I found out that it was going to be screened as part of TCM's Big Screen Classics, I knew I had to get a ticket if for no other reason than to be able to say that I had finally seen it.  Now I know what I have been missing.  It is a masterpiece!  The plot centers on the Corleone family, particularly the relationship between Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), the head of the family, and his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino).  Initially, Michael is a disinterested outsider but is drawn in after Vito is gunned down by a rival and eventually becomes the ruthless leader of the family.  I found the story to be utterly compelling and my attention never wavered during its three hour run time.  I was very impressed by the performances of Marlon Brando (who won the Oscar for the role), James Caan as the oldest son Santini, Robert Duvall as the consigliere to the Corleone family, and Diane Keaton as Michael's girlfriend and, later, wife.  However, it was a young (and extremely handsome) Al Pacino who absolutely captivated me by his intense portrayal of a man who becomes more and more hardened by events.  The scene in the restaurant, with a close-up shot on Michael's face as he decides to kill two of the family's rivals, is brilliant.  You can literally see the exact moment when Michael makes the decision.  I also found the christening scene to be fascinating with another close-up on Michael's face as he recites vows in a church while his associates assassinate the leaders of all of the rival crime families.  The juxtaposition is so jarring but effective!  I think what I appreciated most about this film is that, even though it is about organized crime and there are scenes of violence (there is that famous scene with a horse's head), it is not excessively gory and there is very little profanity.  I loved the use of light and shadow to convey a mood and the score is also incredibly atmospheric.  At the end of the film everyone in the packed theater applauaded enthusiastically because it is a masterpiece!  I am so glad that I got to see it on the big screen.

Note:  I found it amusing that Sofia Coppola played the baby being christened!  I am so looking forward to her film The Beguiled.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

The Salt Lake Film Society is screening 18 classic movie musicals during the month of June.  I am really excited about this series because I so enjoy seeing classic films on the big screen as they were meant to be seen.  I won't be able to see them all (go here for the complete lineup if you are local) but I will try to see as many as possible.  Friday night I went to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which I had never seen before, and I had so much fun!  Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) are two glamorous showgirls crossing the Atlantic for a trip to Paris.  On the crossing they get distracted, Lorelei by a rich owner of a diamond mine who may or may not have given her his wife's valuable diamond tiara, and Dorothy by the entire Men's Olympic Team.  Things get interesting when the suspicious father of Lorelei's millionaire fiance sends a private investigator, Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), to spy on her and, instead, he falls in love with Dorothy.  There are some fun musical numbers, including the iconic "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend," and quite a bit of physical comedy.  I especially liked the scene where the girls get Ernie drunk and take his clothes off to locate an incriminating roll of film and the scene where Lorelei gets stuck in a porthole.  The dialogue is sophisticated and just a bit racy and both Monroe and Russell give thoroughly charming performances in fabulous and glamorous costumes.  Like Elizabeth Taylor, I think that the myth of Marilyn Monroe has come to overshadow the fact that she was actually a pretty good actress.  I was pleasantly surprised by her performance.  It was a thoroughly entertaining movie, like they don't make any more, and I am looking forward to seeing more films in this series.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wonder Woman

I am in full summer mode now and it is glorious!  I went to see the movie Wonder Woman in the afternoon on a week day (with my Mom) just because I can!  To say that I was excited to see this movie would be an understatement!  After all, I have been eagerly anticipating its release since I saw Batman v Superman.  I tried to keep my expectations in check, so I wouldn't be too disappointed if it wasn't very good, but I have to admit that I didn't do a very good job of it!  Now that I have seen it I can report that it exceeded my expectations in every way!  In my opinion, it is the best superhero movie, ever!  I absolutely love the character of Diana (Gal Godot) and the story of her journey is told extremely well.  We first meet her on the island of Themyscira as a warrior-in-training.  When a pilot crash lands near the island, Diana saves him and learns of the world war raging all around her.  She believes that the god Ares has returned and it is his influence that has caused mankind to slaughter each other.  She decides to leave with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to kill Ares and stop the conflict.  Even though there are Germans (Danny Huston and Elena Anaya) working to create an even deadlier form of mustard gas, I love the fact that the real villain of this movie is war itself and mankind's inclination to evil.  The ultimate lesson that Diana learns about mankind makes me feel more positive and hopeful than I have felt in a very long time and I love that she learns this lesson through her relationship with Steve Trevor.  I had a tear in my eye during a key moment between them.  In fact, I found this story to be incredibly emotional.  I love the fact that Diana is a strong woman but she needs the help of both Steve and the gang of misfits recruited for the mission in order to succeed.  There is a strong feminist message but it does not put men down in order to deliver it.  I think changing the source material from World War II to World War I was a brilliant decision because this conflict has often been called the war to end all wars and that is what Diana tries to do.  Godot gives a wonderful performance highlighting both Diana's naivete and strength and I also enjoyed her chemistry with Pine.  This movie is very dark in tone, a oft-repeated criticism of the DCEU, and while I liked and even defended Batman v Superman because I feel like the subject matter warranted a dark and gritty treatment, I think Wonder Woman does a better job because there are also moments of levity, particularly Diana's fish-out-of-water scenes while trying on clothes, and moments of tenderness, especially after the group liberates a village from the Germans.  The special effects are amazing.  I could not look away from the screen during an epic battle scene where Diana takes the full brunt of Germany's fire.  I cannot say enough about this movie and how much I loved it.  I am especially thrilled that it is getting such glowing reviews because, in my opinion, it deserves them.  Definitely go see this movie!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea

Last night I met my movie friends for dinner and a movie and it was such a fun night.  We saw My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea, a quirky movie that all three of us really liked.  Dash (Jason Schwartzman) is a nerdy high school sophomore who writes for the school newspaper with his best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) and Verti (Maya Rudolph), the editor.  He decides to write a story about the new addition of an auditorium and finds evidence that the school did not pass a safety inspection because it is located directly on a fault line.  No one listens to his warning but when the school actually begins to sink, he tries to evacuate everyone.  Only Assaf, Verti, a popular girl named Mary (Lena Dunham), and the lunch lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) join him in climbing to the top floor to be rescued.  As they climb each floor, which amusingly correspond to each grade level, they encounter new obstacles to their survival.  There is a great message about unlikely friendships and teamwork but what I loved most about this movie is that it is a spoof of the usual teen high school movie, with the requisite stereotypical characters such as the stoner and the jock (I loved the scene where the sports hero is sitting on a throne with the other athletes and cheerleaders paying homage to him), combined with a disaster movie with all of those usual tropes (my friend described it as if Napoleon Dynamite and The Poseidon Adventure had a baby).  The animation is innovative and psychedelic.  The characters look like they have been drawn with a sharpie but there are lots of wild and trippy colors swirling around everywhere.  This movie is what might happen if Wes Anderson were to drop acid and get his 64 pack of Crayola crayons out (Dash reminds me of Max Fischer and the school is an almost exact copy of the Grand Budapest Hotel).  It is out there but I highly recommend it!
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