Setter’s ‘Spectives: A Taste of ‘The Lunchbox’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I 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.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Bad Puns and ‘Good Will Hunting’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I have five things to say about Good Will Hunting, which I just saw for the first time a couple of days ago.

I. Did. Not. Like. It.

Part of me knew this would happen. The bad pun in the title gave my future cinema verdict away. I couldn’t appreciate something that didn’t take itself seriously enough to give itself a sharper moniker.

But there were other problems that rubbed me the wrong way. A script that was both sappy and abrasive. An unlikable lead performance. Schmaltzy music. And a plodding pace. All of which undermined several good performances, notably by Robin Williams as a therapist helping the title character.

Direction was also problematic. The film moved so slowly it was unbearable. I’m not a big fan of Gus Van Sant’s other films, including the dreadful To Die For and the frustrating Elephant. GWH is just another movie in his canon that I don’t care for.

I realize GWH is very popular. Once again, I’m in the minority on this. I don’t know why, though. To me, it just didn’t work.

Skip’s Quips: ‘Random Harvest’ and the Art of (De)crying

Blog Sketch 082813Caught Random Harvest on TCM last night.

What a weeper. I mean, wow is it a weeper. Not my cup of tears, either.

Oh, I like Ronald Colman, don’t get me wrong. And Greer Garson, too. I just didn’t care for this story, which has something to do with Colman’s “Uncle” Charles getting amnesia and forgetting about how much everyone, especially Greer Garson’s Paula, loves him.

Yecch. Nausea-inducing. And this is regarded as a classic, ya know?

I’d never seen it all these years until yesterday evening. And now, I feel quite strongly that I don’t have to see it again. I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I feel I have to speak out. Sappy stuff. And I like crying at the movies. Just not this one.

Someone get me a tissue made of stone, please.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Just Say ‘Ewww’ to ‘The V.I.P.s’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Normally, I don’t care for movies with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. So I wasn’t surprised to find that The V.I.P.s, their 1963 film under Anthony Asquith’s direction, was awful. And I mean awful.

Soapy, too. In a bad way, not in an I, Claudius fun way. This was soap without a lot of bubbles. Deadly dull, unperfumed, lather-free soap.

And trashy. The tale of a group of high-end passengers who get stuck in a London airport due to fog, The V.I.P.s went from one dreary relationship to another, from Burton and Taylor’s married-couple-on-the-outs to Rod Taylor’s nice-guy businessman whose secretary, played by Maggie Smith, has fallen in love with him. I didn’t find any of these situations credible, and they just got more tedious as the film rolled along. Plus, the cinematography didn’t help, either. Strange compositions seemed to include lamps or some kind of bizarre light fixture in many shots, leading them to be jarring. And the score by the normally reliable Miklós Rózsa was awfully syrupy. Not good, Miklós. Not good.

So what are the takeaways from this? Well, I still don’t like Burton-Taylor movies. I also don’t like bad movies. And I love I, Claudius.

If you can find meaning in that, you’re a better man (or woman) than I.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Could ‘Philomena’ Have Been Any More Upsetting?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I remember watching the trailers for Philomena and thinking that it seemed like a syrupy, sentimental movie.

We watched it last night. Boy, was it not that at all.

Pretty serious, disturbing flick, with some light touches. But the advertising for it was all wrong. This was an attack on social injustice, centering on a woman whose child was basically taken away from her for adoption in the United States … and it was based on a true story, too. It was not a “feel-good” movie.

Direction, by the reliable Stephen Frears, was expert, getting fine performances from Judi Dench (I know, as usual) and Steve Coogan. And although there was some humor, it focused on memories and the sadness of one who lost something important. I think we’ve all experienced that in some way.

Good movie. Not a “feel-good” one, though.

Skip’s Quips: Hey, There, ‘Georgy Girl’ Still Impresses

Blog Sketch 082813In watching Georgy Girl last night, I was struck by how adult the subject matter was … and how tastefully it was handled.

It’s not just a Swingin’ Sixties trifle. It’s a mature film,  with poignant, realistic situations and complex erotic problems. It’s also got terrific performances, including from Charlotte Rampling, who has an unusual, remarkably upsetting scene in which she rejects her newborn baby that’s one of the disturbing highlights of the film. This portion of the movie upset me greatly when I was younger; I couldn’t fathom how a woman could hate her own child. To this day, it bothers me, and seeing it once more yesterday evening reinforced my opinion.

I’ll tell ya one thing, however: I’m not itching to see Georgy Girl again. It has a great script and crisp cinematography, as well as a catchy theme song, but it’s a bit hard to watch. Perhaps that’s because it feels so realistic; there’s powerful stuff here, despite the movie’s glossy style. Still, I’m glad I watched it, as it’s something to revisit now and then.

So. On to the next picture.

Skip’s Quips: Picking Apart ‘The Oranges’

Blog Sketch 082813There’s a lot of good stuff in The Oranges – so much that I wonder why it got such a low rating on IMDb.

This tale of adultery with your New Jersey neighbor has a pretty tight script, some good direction by Julian Farino and fine casting that results in sparkling turns by the likes of Hugh Laurie, Oliver Platt, Alia Shawkat, Catherine Keener and Allison Janney. The plot features some not-so-credible points, and I feel everything wrapped up in an all-too-pat manner, but there’s humor and drama in hefty amounts along the way, plus sensitive treatment of a familiar subject.

And no, I didn’t turn it off halfway through. That’s something in itself.

OK, it’s not a great film. I don’t think it tries to be, though. Surprisingly, it’s quite unpretentious; I think that’s partly why I enjoyed much of it.

Director Farino has done a lot of TV work in the past. Perhaps that’s one reason why it felt so crisp. Maybe the ending was a little TV-esque, too, but there’s potential here.

Good show.

Skip’s Quips: Why ‘Mona Lisa’ Wasn’t Picture-Perfect

Blog Sketch 082813Sometimes 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.

Skip’s Quips: Why ’12 Years a Slave’ Should Be Shown in Schools

Blog Sketch 082813I usually look at period movies from a cinematic perspective — justifying and condemning celluloid decisions more with an eye toward aesthetics than accuracy. So it’s rare for me to recommend a film based on its historical content and the manner in which it’s conveyed.

I’m going to do just that, however, with Steve McQueen’s masterpiece 12 Years a Slave.

This picture — the story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man in 19th-century Saratoga, NY, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery — is up there with Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as one of the great silver screen documents of human villainy … and therefore should be shown alongside the latter film in schools to give students an idea of what the extent of our species’ cruelty to each other was like. These movies would probably be most suitable for high school; I’m speaking from experience here, as I was given but a cursory education in those days regarding the lives of slaves in Northrup’s era, and my understanding wants as a result.

I hope students today will not go through the same experience that I did.

Central to 12 Years a Slave is the performance of the great Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northrup; he is absolutely brilliant and provides some of the most moving moments in the entire film, as does Lupita Nyong’o as the terribly abused slave Patsey, who is treated so horribly by slaveowner Edwin Epps (a superb portrayal by Michael Fassbender) that you’ll want to scream in anger at the screen. Editing and cinematography are expert, and there’s a simple, mournful score by Hans Zimmer that’s very effective. Of course, sharp direction that takes its time but never becomes plodding is crucial, and that’s provided by McQueen. It’s a major film, and there are many things to learn from it.

That’s why I suggest it be shown in schools as part of students’ history curricula. This is part of American history; it shouldn’t be glossed over, and it was in my education. Certainly, only a small part of the slavery experience was documented in the film, but when you see the torture inflicted upon Northrup — a harrowing scene in which he is left to hang from a tree for what seems like an eternity is one example of this — you’ll get an idea of the pain people went through … and why it should never happen again. Adding to the power of the film is the fact that it’s masterfully crafted, so there’s really no reason to avoid it.

We need to treat movies responsibly as parts of our culture. They should share accountability for their effects on viewers. And we should be accountable for not showing what’s necessary to people who need to see it.

12 Years a Slave is necessary.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Musical Lines, Non-Parallel

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613We’re allowed to like great scores to mediocre movies, right?

I’m thinking about this as I ruminate on The Red Pony, Lewis Milestone’s 1949 film of John Steinbeck’s sad tale concerning a boy and his steed. The music, by Aaron Copland, is one of the American composer’s greatest compositions, yet it accompanies a picture that’s unfortunately just so-so.

I wish it were better.

Usually, it seems that the quality of a score reflects that of its film, but in The Red Pony‘s case, it doesn’t hold true. Frankly, I have no desire to see the film again … yet I often find myself humming the glorious, playful melodies and mulling the vibrant orchestration. Am I allowed to do this? I ask myself, half-serious. Am I able to like only one component of a full movie?

I have to answer yes, though I’m hesitant to do so. The cinema runs alongside music, and they’re often inextricable. Great directors generally know how to apply great scores by composers to celluloid, and many great composers have written for the screen. So what happened with The Red Pony? With a cast including Robert Mitchum and Myrna Loy, as well as Steinbeck’s writing chops, plus Copland’s lovely tunes, it should be a masterpiece.

It’s plodding, however, and the music is basically what saves it. Maybe this is one of the exceptions in the world of film: a picture that isn’t very good when all of the parts are added, despite one component being transcendent. At any rate, I’m glad we have this anomaly. I just hope I don’t encounter too many more.