4 Films Worth Watching

Summer is over. A new teaching year has begun. So long international travel, spontaneous naps, extended walks, and the chance to catch up on movies and read books. What about my working manuscript, Inside the Gold Plated Pistol? I made steady progress and am pleased with its evolution. As I acclimate now to bells and loud, teenage voices, today I wanted to squeeze in some thoughts about my favorite summer films I’ve seen:

absurd fun
absurd fun

The Lobster (2016) Knowing it was a farce going in, I let the strange love story unfold. I’ll admit it took a bit for me to warm up to the monotone delivery and set aside logic and realism as the absurd premise worked itself into something plausible and universal. People at an asylum complex must find a mate in 45 days or be turned into an animal. What was the message of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos? Love and loyalty are blind and limited? Society represses the individual and instills herdlike mentalities, or in this case, the crustacean? I loved the ambiguous ending and Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz gave fine performances. 4/5. 


Hail, Caesar! (2016).  Since I adore classic Hollywood, it won’t be a surprise to hear this Coen Brothers dark comedy thoroughly entertained me. Which parody was the best: George Clooney as Charlton Heston in Ben Hur? Channing Tatum as Gene Kelley in On the Town? Alden Ehrenreich with that Ricky Nelson western charm? Scarlett Johansson imitating swimming queen Esther Williams? Ralph Fiennes as fussbudget director Laurence Lorenz had me laughing aloud. So, too, did Frances McDormand in the editing room. Stuff in the communist writers and the art vs. crap argument, the tabloid cover-ups, the Orson Welles camera tip–perhaps that’s the fault of the film. The fragmented salute to all things Hollywood stumbled around and shortchanged a weak storyline. It was still a lot of fun and laughs. It’s a film I could rewatch many times.4/5.

background-twitterMidnight Special (2016The chemistry between Dad (Michael Shannon), Mom (Kirsten Dunst) and their special son (Jaeden Lieberher) was convincing. It’s an X-Files plot delivered with cool authority at the hands of director Jeff Nichols. Can you imagine how different this film would have been if directed by Steven Spielberg? Without a score that spoons out the sap, and believable performances with a very cool ending, Nichols is able to bring out the best of his actors. I can’t wait to see Loving. 4/5 

The Sunset Limited (2011) American writer Cormac McCarthy‘s play adapted into an HBO film, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. Nihilism vs. Religion. I loved the dark dialogue between two opposing men. White, hopeful (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to keep Black, the professor (Tommy Lee Jones) from committing suicide. A tough 90 minutes to film and capture the arguments. Jones delivers his lines with apathetic resolve. Jackson is exuberant and funny. One rules with their head. One rules with their heart. The final chilling rant by Jones still hurts my heart weeks later. Want to be intellectually stimulated? I highly recommend it. 4.5/5 

You’ve probably seen these films before I did. Which ones from this list did you like best–or not? What’s the best film you’ve seen lately? 

Dear Ethan and Joel Coen,

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Those of us who have followed you both through the decades have left the cinema scratching our heads, delighted with the incongruous blending of bizarre characters saying ordinary things (or ordinary characters saying antiquated things) which sound funny at the time.  Within the dark plots, you make the insane situation plausible. When I think about it, you two are modern Minnesota Jewish Greek tragedians.

Coen-Brothers-600x399[1]Joel and Ethan Coen

Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides must surely be smiling down with approval. Greek drama focused on dialogue, contrasts and theatrical effects. Greek drama dramatized conflict. In your films, random events seem to drop from the sky into the lives of the hero who wanders around distressed and muddled. Getting out of life-threatening situations is your primary theme.

Fargo (1996)  Marge Gunderson: Hon? Prowler needs a jump.

Your poor tragic heroes.  They aren’t the Type–A personality. They aren’t gorgeous. They are misfits in their universe, living on the fringes of normalcy, in and out of jobs and relationships.

Inside Llewyn Davis(2013) Roland Turner: Folk singer with a cat. You queer?

They are dreamers who try to stay true to their personal convictions. They aren’t despicable—just heroes driven to desperate acts. Females in their world bring insecurities and irrational impulses and aggravate an already fragile situation.

Raising Arizona(1987) H.I.: Edwina’s insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Ulysses Everett McGill: I am a man of constant sorrow, I’ve seen trouble all my days. I bid farewell to old Kentucky, the place where I was born and raised. For six long years I’ve been in trouble, no pleasure here on Earth I’ve found. For in this world I’m bound to ramble, I have no friends to help me out. Maybe your friends think I’m just a stranger, my face you never will see no more. But there is one promise that is given, I’ll meet you on God’s golden shore.

True Grit (2010)  Mattie Ross: You must pay for everything in this world, one way and another. There is nothing free except the grace of God.

By the way, not only was True Grit probably my favorite film of yours, it’s my favorite Western. Jeff Bridges was as good as The Duke, but it was Hailee Steinfeld who made the film. What a character!

No Country for Old Men (2007) Boy on Bike #2: Mister? You got a bone stickin’ out of your arm.

Your actors have a lot of fun in your films. Actors have the freedom to pursue unusual characters. They explore deep caverns where their hidden talents shine. John Goodman has been in six of your films playing quite funny and scary characters throughout. Javier Bardem was one of the best villains ever. Who knew George Clooney or Brad Pitt could be funny?

Ethan and Joel, your films follow the Greek Tragedy formula perfectly. Your foolish heroes are victims at the whims of the Gods and in perfect harmony, their dark worlds birth dark comedy.


Tragic events are often funny after the fact; when it happens to someone else, we all laugh while crying for them on the inside. You two consistently weave tragedy and comedy together in every film. When other directors seem to lose their touch, you two keep on evolving. Who knows how deep is your creative well? You two abide.


Your Favorite Fan

P.S. Looking forward to the FX series you are executive producers for, Fargo.


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