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?

Here resumes a monthly recap of better music, books, films, and television that entertained me. 

MUSIC

We’ve had a lot of visiting relatives this past month, and Neil Young seemed to be the background noise for much of it. At one point, I actually got tired of listening to him. But he is a staple in our home, and with healthy intermissions, I enjoy listening to his albums. He’s a fun one to mimic with those notes delivered at the back of the throat. He is a mood-setter. In my world, there’s nothing better than sitting by a fire outdoors or in, with wine and Neil singing in the background. How do you pick a favorite? This love ballad released in 1992 never grows old.

BOOKS 

 

Who was the first woman to obtain a glider pilot’s license? Anne Morrow Lindbergh. That’s understandably overshadowed by her husband’s accolades. The most famous man in the world in 1927, Charles Lindbergh landed his Spirit of St. Louis near Paris and completed the first solo airplane flight across the Atlantic. She was his co-pilot literally and figuratively throughout their 45-year marriage. Author Melanie Benjamin‘s historical fiction account is a refreshing twist showcasing the complicated life of the couple from Anne’s perspective. It is a novel full of intrigue, adventure, and scandal without sounding like a soap opera. Melanie Benjamin keeps the narrative cool enough to avoid melodrama, but close enough for the reader to feel like they’re privy to the introverted couple, and it is easy to care for Anne in her unique position. The Aviator’s Wife is gracefully written, entertaining novel. 4/5.

Edward Rutherford’s books are fun history. New York follows the chronological format as the other novel of his I read, The Princes of Ireland. Rutherford created an epic by placing fictional characters that represented a class or social group and placed them into historical events. My favorite section in New York was the July 1863 New York City draft riots. A husband tried to find his abolitionist wife who faced a mob who wanted to kill the African American orphans at her school. I kept thinking about Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York when I read this part of the novel; not too surprised to realize I liked the book version more. 4/5. 

TELEVISION

I didn’t like it–I loved every episode including the cool intro music and artwork. Why? I’m a fan of 20th Century social history especially of film. Plus, I think it’s peculiar–America’s obsession with movie stars and the interworkings of making a movie. Although Susan Sarandon portrayed Bette Davis and Jessica Lange depicted Joan Crawford with admirable effort, the most convincing performances went to the entire supporting cast notably Stanley Tucci as Jack L. Warner, Alfred Molina as Robert Aldrich, and Jackie Hoffman as Mamasita. The 8 episode series juggled two stories–the actual feud between Davis and Crawford (I love Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? so the drama behind the film attracted me.) The other story was the Hollywood climate surrounding the casting couch and the manipulative power of male movie moguls. By the end of the series, I had an itch to explore director Robert Aldrich’s filmography.

Movies 

I’ve seen a lot of films lately, especially starring Gene Hackman, but for this post, I picked a pair that had me thinking and feeling.

Predestination(2015). This is a mind-bending, science fiction thriller film written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig with screenplay help by Robert A. Heinlein.  Time travel is an easier concept to play out in books than in films because the price asked for the suspension of disbelief is high. In books, your imagination fills in the holes while not so at the movies. In this story, agent (Ethan Hawke) embarks on a final time-traveling assignment to prevent an elusive criminal from launching an attack that kills thousands of people. A fine performance by Hawke, but the show goes to the creative performance by Sarah Snook. It’s one I’d watch again. 4/5.

Wind River (2017).  It’s a mystery, crime thriller that personifies the cold, spring of Wyoming on an American Indian reservation. A daughter is raped and runs six miles in her bare feet across the winter landscape. A pretty FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives to investigate, ill-suited but determined to solve the mystery, and teams up with wildlife officer Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Despite the somber premise, the movie is moving because the theme of loss permeates all the characters and is allowed to surface in a way that is harmonic with the whispering wind and frozen landscape and a satisfying resolution. It is a strangely beautiful film. Plus, if you want to see a pair from Dances with Wolves, Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal were a sight for sore eyes. Actor Gil Birmingham returns from Hell or High Water (2016) to give the best performance of the film as the grieving father. Director and writer Taylor Sheridan is fast becoming a favorite with Sicario (2015), and Hell or High Water (2016) to his credit. He seems to be carrying a freshly-lit torch as writer and director of the post-modern Western. Taylor Sheridan’s ability to make the natural setting an integral part of the plot and his willingness to let an ensemble cast have lines and scenes that foster true characterization are reminiscent of the Coen Brothers. 4.2/5.

L13FC: The Purpose of Science Fiction, Blade Runner 2049

Welcome back, everyone. It’s the thirteenth of the month and the Lucky 13 Film Club topic today is the purpose of Sci-Fi films. As a case study, check out this conversation I had with my 29-year-old daughter in the car on the way home from watching Blade Runner 2049 the other day. 

Vanessa: Mom, when you asked me half-way through the film if I was bored, I said “no”. But then I thought about it, and yeah, I was bored. I wondered if never having seen the first Blade Runner would affect my understanding of the sequel.  This movie was so long and loud and I didn’t understand what was going on. It was just Ryan Gosling without expression either staring vacantly at females who wanted to have sex with him or kill him. What about that lackluster chemistry between him and Harrison Ford?”

Cindy: (laughing). Yeah, well, Harrison Ford has given the same performance for decades. I don’t think Deckard was ever a replicant, though. Oddly, he conveys too many emotions. He and K-Joe were father and son. I think.

V: Was the memory-maker his sister? The most intriguing scene for me was when K-Joe shared a memory into a gadget at her bubble cell, and she told him it was real, not fabricated. What the heck was the memory that brought out the only emotion in him in the whole movie? Something more important than sex and the fear of death?”

Cindy: I can only speculate. What did you think of Jared Leto‘s character Niander Wallace? I honestly thought they could have cut out his entire role. It was a ranting philosophical weak sub-plot which set up morality questions about Artificial Intelligence raised in Spielberg’s A.I. Leto was great at being weird, and his scenes added to the overall creepiness, but then, there was plenty of weirdness going on. I admit the futuristic technology was awesome in his scenes. Little black bugs that connect into your brain so the blind can see? Cool.

V: I didn’t understand Luv, the bad replicant, played by Sylvia Hoeks. Other than she was the top angel and terminator for Wallace, her job was to find the child or she’d be a fallen angel. For a while there, I thought Luv and K-Joe were brother and sister.

Cindy: I didn’t like the final showdown between Luv and K-Joe. It was flat and I was tired of the emotionless duel between the two replicants.

V: (wearily) I have never disliked a film more.

Cindy: Really? You hated it?

V: I was so uncomfortable in that film. I was trapped for almost three hours in a gray, treeless world that screeched wave after wave of engine noise and made me want to cry or kill myself if that had been my reality. I was disturbed at how women were portrayed. Either they were giant slutty naked body parts or robotic destroyers. Other than the memory-maker, the only female character who was soft and feminine wasn’t real in the first place. She was a hologram. With a remote click, she disappeared and reappeared at Officer K’s convenience.  It was twice as scary than the horror film It. 

Cindy: That’s why Denis Velleneuve‘s film was so good. Good Science Fiction puts you in a futuristic setting that is often horrifying to remind you in the present to take care that the artist’s prediction for the future doesn’t come true. It was an apocalyptic horror film. The power of technology is frightening. Remember, just because we can create new gadgets and programs doesn’t mean we should. It’s becoming the new religion. Blind faith in technology, to me, is horrifying.

That is, except for the Deckard scenes in Las Vegas. He was stranded with a million bottles of whiskey around him and the hologram shows. If the apocalypse comes, I can’t think of a better place to hang out with me, myself, and I than at The Mirage with Elvis Presley.

V: (rolls eyes) Oh, Mother. Did you like the film?

Cindy: Oh, I loved it. Well worth the 30-odd year wait. I highly recommend it. 4.5/5 

V: I would have rather watched Wonderwoman or Thor: Ragnorak or The Justice League.

Cindy: But that’s not Science Fiction.

V: You mean it’s not Science Fiction if I’m not depressed after watching it? Must it always be so serious and thought-provoking?

Cindy: The good ones usually are.

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What’s the purpose behind Science Fiction? What are the elements of it?

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