Are You Not Entertained? Four Films

Here are a few recommendations for you. There seemed to be an unconscious theme going on with my viewing when first I watched actor Charlie Plummer in the messy All the Money in the World (The book was better.) and then went to the cinema to find him again in a major role that grabbed my heart and squeezed. British Andrew Haigh directed that tale set in Portland, Oregon and the wilderness landscape of Idaho. Days before by happenstance, I rented his 2015 romantic drama, 45 Years.    

Director Andrew Haigh‘s film adaptation Lean on Pete(2018) from the novel by Willy Vlautin is a heartfelt coming of age story featuring teenager  Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer). Enduring shaky parenting and the dire need for money, Charley finds a job at a racetrack and is heartbroken when the horse Pete is destined for slaughter. They run away in search of a home and his trek to find a distant relative becomes a tale of survival. Thank God for the satisfying ending because the audience must endure Charley’s misfortunes and it’s heavy. During the trek, Pete walks with his horse instead of rides him, and his monologues with Pete soften the film and balance out the harsher episodes of his life. Soulful and tender, Charlie Plummer gives an outstanding performance with solid performances given by the rest of the cast: Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi, and Chloë Sevigny. 4/5

45 Years (2015) It was great to see Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courteney on the screen together as the featured couple. This Andrew Haigh film is utterly different than Lean on Pete. Kate and Geoff Mercer are about to celebrate their 45th anniversary in a week. Geoff receives a mysterious letter regarding an old flame before his marriage to Kate. Vacationing in the Alps in the 1960s, the lover had died. Kate Mercer’s curiosity about their relationship creates a foreboding anticipation as she learns to her dismay that the love of her husband’s life was not her. A long marriage carries with it layers and secrets of the heart and emotional triumphs and pain. As the days creep toward the anniversary party, the fracture in the foundation spreads. Watch how music plays an effective role in the storyline. It’s a quiet film that unfolds gently. 4/5.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story documentary was a captivating revelation of the stunning Hollywood star, Hedy Lamarr. I didn’t know anything about her. A popular theme for me is the concept of beauty and how women respond to that power for better or worse. Place that theme in the 1920-1940s, and I’m a sucker for the story. What was extraordinary about Hedy was her mind. Few knew she was a keen inventor who aided the allies in World War II with her invention. (And she didn’t get paid for it.)  It was the basis of what we take for granted today–WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Learning something new gives my rating for the documentary high marks. I was riveted. 4.5/5.

Dark City (1998) film by Alex Proyas is a science fiction mind bender. A man wakes up with his memory gone but next to a murdered body. The police inspector (William Hurt) and the kooky psychiatrist (Kiefer Sutherland) try their best to capture him (Rufus Sewell). His estranged wife (Jennifer Connelly) can’t decide if she should help him figure out his personal mystery. Meanwhile, menacing bald men in long black coats have special powers and try to kill him. The production design borrows heavily from MetropolisIn the Director’s Cut, Proyas admits he was additionally inspired by the film noir The Maltese Falconand The Twilight Zone. Add to the shadows, buildings that grow and shift (Inception took this and ran with it), a Truman Show-esque punch through reality’s wall, and the Nosferatu baldies, who collectively click their teeth to communicate. I couldn’t help but feel the movie borrowed from so many places there wasn’t anything original about “the masterpiece”. If I had seen it in 1998, I would have loved it. The set pieces, I learned, were sold to the producers and used in The Matrix a year later. Did it wow you back in 1998? 4/5. 

Are you not entertained? A Book and a Movie

Try this pair for satisfying entertainment.  

BOOK 

Helene Wecker‘s debut novel is unique. Her protagonists are mythological creatures existing in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. She weaves the cultural history of Jews (the Golem) and the Arabian Bedouin (the Jinni) and balances the history of the mythology with the vibrancy of the Jewish neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. Part immigrant story and part love story, the Jinni is made from fire and the Golem from earth. They keep their special powers hidden because they want to fit in the human world. That Wecker manages to extend disbelief and you come to care for the Golem and Jinni in their chaotic urban world is a testament to her talent. Gracefully written, it is a fun read, a real page-turner and highly recommended. 4.5/5 

FILM

Wes Anderson‘s stop-animated film is a visual treat with his trademark symmetrical staging and vibrant color schemes. Even the garbage dump island is strangely pretty with perfectly positioned garbage and rats dancing across the stage in unison. Dog and human eyes gloss over and drip throughout the film which became an unexpected detail that created empathy. Close-ups and deadpan expressions are delightful, and the voiceovers by an impressive cast are enjoyable to listen to. Wes Anderson’s production is so mesmerizing, it is easy not to notice that the plot grows tame and the ending all too prettily wrapped up with a bow with an unlikely white savior — a geeky girl from Ohio. Lots of Asian stereotypes in this film. For me, Anderson’s a magician whose sleight of hand seduces. 4/5.

Are You Not Entertained?

BOOKS 

Tom Hanks optioned the rights to Erik Larson’s nonfiction bestseller, In the Garden of Beasts six years ago with intentions of starring in the historical adaptation. Add to that rumors of securing Natalie Portman to the cast with Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) as the director. What’s it all about? Chicago historian William Dodd passes the interview with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and becomes the American ambassador in Berlin in 1932. Dodd thinks it will be a simple job that allows him the time to be with his family and complete his historical research regarding the Old South. Instead, he walks right into the wasp’s nest as Hitler gains momentum and the insipid Nazi agenda poisons Berlin. It’s his beautiful daughter Martha that makes the story fascinating as her sexual promiscuity with Nazi leaders becomes the source of malcontent and disenchantment. I loved Erik Larson‘s The Devil in the White City. This one is just as good, if not better because it focuses on the American family trapped and pawned by leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Highly recommend. 4.5/5.

MOVIES

Other than a bunch of Gene Hackman films for which I’ll get to posting about soon, these recent films entertained me:

The Shape of Water (2017) It’s an adult fantasy film. Don’t take your kids. Who doesn’t like a love story? Even if it’s with an amphibian? If you love Pan’s Labyrinth, you will probably enjoy the latest contribution by Mexican director/writer Guillermo del Toro Gómez. Set in 1962, the mute Eliza works as a cleaning lady at a hush-hush government facility ruled over by the sinister Strickland played perfectly by Michael Shannon. Eliza comes in contact with “the asset” and their friendship grows into love. Octavia Spencer played her character Zelda with snappy one-liners we all love, but the best acting performance goes to character actor Richard Jenkins as Eliza’s neighbor and closet homosexual. The ending may be predictable, but there’s abundant charm that outweighs the incredible scenes that ask the audience to play along. Magical Realism is fun. With the right mindset, you will enjoy the fable. Best detail: Eliza trails water on a bus window and the water takes shape. The poem at the close of the story is beautiful. 4/5.

The Last Jedi (2017) I liked it because they smartly melted enough of IV into the VIII to feel the roots of the saga. For example, it was nice to see Yoda again. I remember having a crush on Luke Skywalker in 1977 when he stood on that rock and looked at the sunset and his face turned orange with his name song in the background. John Williams, you are still the supreme manipulator of emotions! To see Luke do it again, different rock, a sunset, and his song, well, the 13-year-old in me shed a tear. It took me half the film to decide if the character wearing the foxy brown suit with the purple hair played by Laura Dern was a good guy or a bad guy (lady). I usually like contrasts, but my biggest flaw with all the Star Wars movies is “they” include all the cool technology and high vernacular that only an engineer would understand and then follow up that dialogue with a corny one-liner. It never felt right to me. That, and the puppets now have turned CGI, but they were never convincing. Frog nuns. Hmmm. 4/5

 The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) American comedy-drama film directed and written by Noah Baumbach (Francis Ha and Wes Anderson collaborations). The film stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel and Emma Thompson. It’s popular to hate Adam Sandler, but when the man isn’t doing stupid comedy and sticks to dark, he’s very good at it. There’s a lot to love about this movie from Emma Thompson‘s hippy-drunk wife to the perfectly annoying patriarch, Dustin Hoffman, giving a convincing performance and supported by everyone in the cast. Want smart and realistic dysfunctional? You’d like this dark comedy about siblings learning to overcome and tolerate their overbearing father. 4.5/5.

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