Whenever I see a good movie, I become happy. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. My mood changes … for the better.
I experienced that transformation last night after watching director John Michael McDonagh’s powerful, upsetting film Calvary, which concerns the self-reflection of a priest in Ireland who has been told during confession that he will be killed. There’s a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock mystery in this story, but much more Ingmar Bergman-esque philosophical rumination, and that suited me just fine. I like a picture that can think on Big Ideas without becoming pretentious. Calvary accomplished that. It pondered questions surrounding faith, good deeds and revenge. And it didn’t pull any punches. All while maintaining a good pace and strong dialogue.
Then there were the performances. Led by Brendan Gleeson as the priest, the cast was quite good, presenting a host of unpleasant characters with problems of their own. I think there were some credibility issues that were a bit difficult to believe (that Gleeson’s Father James wouldn’t immediately reveal his situation to the authorities didn’t make a lot of sense to me), but on the whole, Calvary presented an unusual situation realistically … and sympathetically. Perhaps it’s not a movie that I’d want to see again; parts were difficult to watch, and it wasn’t what I’d call cheerful. Still, it had a lot to offer, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it.
After all, it made me happy last night. And that’s not easy from a cinematic perspective.
OMG … I actually liked a movie with Joan Crawford in it!
That film was Humoresque, which I watched for the first time on TV last night. Quite a fun, if melodramatic ride, centering on the love affair an egocentric though brilliant violinist (played by John Garfield) has with a married socialite (Crawford). Normally, I don’t care for pictures with Joan in it, but this one had a good script co-written by Clifford Odets and able direction from Jean Negulesco. Plus, simply glorious violin playing by the incomparable Isaac Stern, who did the virtuoso performances attributed to Garfield’s musician character.
So does that mean, all of a sudden, that I’m a big Crawford fan? Not at all. This film rose above the usual sordid plotlines her flicks so often seemed to encapsulate, making it altogether a more interesting work. I frequently find her acting overdone, but in this case, she kept her portrayal in check. Whether that’s due more to the direction or her own ability, I don’t know.
Certainly, any film that features snippets from Bizet’s Carmen and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde has got to be good, right?
Well … the jury’s still out on that.
Last night marked the first time in my life that I’ve watched the Donald Petrie movie Mystic Pizza.
OK, it’s not a masterpiece. But this charming slice-of-life comedy-drama, which concerns the romantic trials and tribulations of three young women as they shepherd slices and pies to customers in a Mystic, CT, pizzeria, has a lot to offer, including solid performances and slick direction. Though it’s a bit unfocused – there doesn’t seem to be a central character, and the film veers from one relationship to the other without honing in on any single one – the script offers some telling observations, particularly when it comes to prejudice in small-town America. (The three women are of Portuguese heritage, and the strongest personality, played by Julia Roberts, encounters bigotry from her rich boyfriend’s family.)
I liked this picture. I wouldn’t rush to see it again, but it was a pleasant diversion. And I’m going to refrain from calling it a chick flick; in my opinion, if a movie is good, it’s accessible to and enjoyable for everyone. So it is with Mystic Pizza: pretty solid filmmaking, and I’m glad I got to watch it. Frankly, there’s nothing mystic about that.
One day, hopefully, A Confederacy of Dunces will become the movie it’s destined to be.
I’ve felt for a long time that this great John Kennedy Toole novel – which focuses on bizarre character Ignatius Reilly as he fumbles from mishap to mishap in New Orleans – was made for the cinema, as it’s got sweep, humor and a kind of beauty in its comic pages. Apparently, a project for a film of this book has been in the works for a while; its IMDB page notes that a picture is currently in development. This can, of course, take a long time to come to fruition, but I’m sanguine about the prospects. Ultimately, I believe, it’ll happen. It’s too good of a story not to.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair that so many lesser works have appeared onscreen before Dunces. I just have to keep hoping that this movie will become a reality. I also hope that it won’t be ruined like so many adaptations of classic tomes beforehand. It’s hard to know at this stage, though. Staying positive about the prospects is essential.
I think I can do that.
Halloween’s a-comin’ … and you know what that means.
Quality horror movies should be watched. Including Robin Hardy’s 1973 creepy-fest The Wicker Man.
There’s something really satisfying about this eerie film, about a policeman’s encounters with paganism on a remote Scottish isle. It’s not pure horror – there’s very little blood or gore – yet there’s plenty of atmosphere, as well as a disturbing subtext that may lead viewers to ask questions about belief and the acceptance of others’ religions. The picture features terrific performances, including that of Edward Woodward as the cop aghast at the islanders’ practices and rituals, and offers a fine, wistful musical score by Paul Giovanni. Plus, there’s a great script by Anthony Shaffer that transcends the usually ghoulish genre with insightful dialogue and vivid characterizations.
This is a cult film that spawned the awful remake of the same name with Nicholas Cage, but it’s the original that should be seen. I like to watch it every now and then when it’s on, and Halloween seems like a good time to do so … though it’s by no means the only time that’s appropriate. I’ll be looking for it with particular interest this month, however, owing to the festivities of the season, and, of course, because I haven’t seen it in a while. It definitely merits watching multiple times; if you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend it. Be prepared for some unsettling scenes that may have more impact than the graphically violent sequences that seem so prevalent in horror today, as it’s a well-crafted picture that doesn’t rely on blood to keep itself going.
All the more reason to enjoy it, right? That’s my opinion, anyway.
Movies that start promisingly yet end up mundane are a pet peeve of mine.
Super, director James Gunn’s pre-Guardians of the Galaxy flick about an ordinary man who dons a homemade superhero outfit in a quest to win back his wife from drug dealers, falls into this category. Featuring a host of satiric elements (including some pointed attacks on organized religion), the film collapses into dull, hyperviolent shoot-’em-up mode toward the end, which negates its previous appeal. The enthusiastic presence of Ellen Page as a sidekick wannabe gives the picture a boost, but even she can’t save it.
That’s too bad. Gunn has a distinct style and carefree sensibility that can be infectious, as proven by the success of GotG. Super, however, ultimately offers little to differentiate it from the average bloody man-with-a-mission actioner. This is strange considering the peculiarity of its protagonist, a withdrawn fellow (played by Rainn Wilson) who has religious visions and may be mistaking them for his heroic calling. The movie should be more interesting or at least comic, right? – especially since the only skill this character seems to have is the ability to cook eggs well. Perhaps something along the lines of The Greatest American Hero, no?
No. I expect better things to come from Gunn and have high hopes. Super was a misfire, but every director has those. I’m assuming Gunn has learned from his mistakes, as all heroes do.
Saw the rest of Cloudburst the other night.
Sadly, it declined toward the end as it ventured into forced sentimentality and easy plot lines, including (spoiler alert) the death of one of the protagonists. I don’t care for this sort of thing; it’s a simple, common cinematic tactic and rarely garners the effect it seeks. There also was a quirky funeral involved which, like some of the content I referred to in my previous post, stretched credibility.
This film started off very nicely, with strong dialogue and sharp characters. But, as is the case with so many movies, it fell apart in an effort to be crowd-pleasing. I was hoping that it would stay on its likable path and refuse to be pegged into a hole that fit. Oh, well. Hopefully, the next film I see will be more rewarding.
I have to write a little about The Lunchbox before I finish it.
It’s really a fine film. I thought I was going to be frustrated with it. Boy, was I wrong.
Watched about a third last night; had to stop it because I was tired. But it was enthralling. Beautiful cinematography. Great sound. And a simple but touching story (two people in Mumbai get their lunchboxes mixed up and start writing notes to each other). I’m hoping to see the rest of it tonight.
It’s further proof that a movie doesn’t have to have a complicated plot or flashy editing to be enjoyable. It can be deliberately paced, like The Lunchbox is. The conflict can be minimal. The characters may be few. And yet, the flick can be as powerful as any one with a cast of thousands.
It only helps that this film, which is tangentially about food, made me hungry. Hopefully, I’ll have at least a bite to eat before I complete it this evening.
I don’t. I can safely say that after seeing it yesterday.
It had little of the wit and charm of the original Iron Man. Lots of confused, slam-bang “action,” though. Not as much heart.
There were some reliably good turns in Iron Man 3: Robert Downey Jr. as the titular superhero, Gwyneth Paltrow as girlfriend Pepper Potts, Ben Kingsley (who nearly steals the show) as an evil terrorist who’s not what he seems. But it all felt like stuff I’ve seen before, and there wasn’t as much of a focus on Downey’s character’s own demons … his alcoholism, for example. So there’s no real growth or arc. He doesn’t really change.
OK, I’m not expecting a kind of Shakespearean transformation here. It is a superhero movie, after all. Still, the strength and smarts of the first Iron Man made me expect something a bit larger-scale, from a psychological perspective, than what Iron Man 3 turned out to be – which was merely modest entertainment. A good superhero flick can transcend its genre. This one didn’t.
I’m assuming this franchise will continue to churn out additional installments. So be it. Do we need them, though? I say: Only if they approach the quality of the original. And I’m not sanguine about the prospects of that.
Sometimes even movies populated with a slew of great actors aren’t all they should be.
Mona Lisa, Neil Jordan’s 1986 crime drama starring Bob Hoskins, Robbie Coltrane and Michael Caine, is one of those movies. In watching it last night, I realized it had the potential to be a great, quirky tale, but it suffered from a sometimes-plodding length despite all the talent involved. Some of it probably could’ve ended up on the cutting room floor, methinks, with no loss to the film … and likely a gain. Also, there was many strange events that weren’t fully explained (the rabbit Hoskins’ character buys for his boss, for example — did I miss something about that?), leaving more questions than answers.
Still, there was much good acting to be enjoyed, from Hoskins’ gritty performance to Caine’s suave menace. I’m not a huge fan of Jordan’s movies — I often feel they leave us feeling like we’ve eaten only part of a meal rather than a complete, satisfying one — but he’s done some good stuff, and Mona Lisa’s eminently watchable. Just not perfect.
Am I expecting too much? Perhaps.