Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Fool's Views (12/22 – 12/31)
And ... that’s it, folks!
We’ll be coming at you with the “Best of 2014” wrap-up soon, but it was a jam-packed 10-day finish with more hits than misses. Special thanks to the SAG nominations, the Chicago Public Library, the holiday season, and my pal Tery’s cinematic pirating finesse.
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
The Kindred (1987) d. Carpenter, Stephen / Obrow, Jeffrey (USA) (1st viewing)
I must have passed this one on the VHS shelves of yore a hundred times, but since no one had ever recommended it nor had I ever read anything of note about it, I never bothered to make much effort to track it down. Now I’m wondering why the hell it doesn’t get more love? I mean, you’ve got Oscar winners Rod Steiger and Kim Hunter classing up the joint, some kickass makeup f/x and creatures from Michael J. McCracken (who lent his goo-flinging skills to the equally underrated Ticks), attractive babes like Amanda Pays (Leviathan) and Talia Balsam (Crawlspace), a fun science-gone-awry plotline, and great poster art to top it all off. Not great, and the science is waaaaaaay dodgy, but pretty darn fun.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) d. Iñárritu, Alejandro González (USA) (2nd viewing)
I’ll admit that the overall technical achievement was even more impressive the second time around, realizing that these actors had to pull off full takes in addition to all the other rigamarole, and the ambiguous commentary on personal relevance in an ever self-absorbed world resonated stronger, but the fact remains that I still don’t like and/or care about any of these characters. Everyone does a fine job, but it all feels like much ado about nothing, which admittedly may or may not have been the point.
Black or White (2014) d. Binder, Mike (USA) (1st viewing)
The complex issue of race in modern times is addressed handily through a deeply complex scenario involving the child of a mixed race union, with everyone genuinely concerned with the individual’s best interests while also realizing the symbolism of her ultimate fate in the increasingly tangled custody proceedings. As the child's grandfather, Kevin Costner (who also produced) anchors a strong ensemble of players, including Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie, Andre Holland, and an eye-catching turn from Paula Newsome as the no-nonsense judge.
Chef (2013) d. Favreau, Jon (USA) (1st viewing)
Likeable but lightweight story of a high-end culinary wizard’s “struggles” with integrity, family, and technology. Breezy food porn segments break up the barely dramatic mini-arcs (seriously, nothing bad ever happens to anyone, with insta-happy resolutions every 10 minutes), and the characters are about as deep as a crepe pan, particularly Sophia Vergara as Favreau’s perpetually sunny, smiling, supportive ex-wife.
Coherence (2013) d. Byrkit, James Ward (USA) (1st viewing)
A group of friends meet up for dinner and drinks the night a mysterious comet passes overhead. And. Crazy. Shit. Goes. Down. Smart but accessible no-budget “alternate reality” sci-fi/fantasy in the vein of Timecrimes and Primer that challenges and engages without breaking its internal logic. Here’s hoping this one builds a cult following, because it's one of my faves of the year.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) d. Liman, Doug (USA) (1st viewing)
Fun high-concept time-travel piece that failed to find its summer audience despite the presence of A-list stars (Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton) and Liman in his whiz-bang wheelhouse. Some blamed the title, which was subsequently replaced by its “Live. Die. Repeat.” tagline for home video, but I fear that Cruise’s box office appeal outside of the Mission: Impossible franchise may be fading, despite doing consistently better work than the previous decade. He’s great here, showing off considerable comic timing and vulnerability by playing against his natural supercool, and Blunt matches him step for step. Worth your time.
Flash Gordon (1980) d. Hodges, Mike (USA) (4th viewing)
“Flash!! Ahhhhhh-aaahhhhh!! He’ll save every one of us!” Mike Hodges helms this over-the-top rendering of the comic strip and 30s movie serial hero, with the game cast of Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max Von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, and yummy Ornella Muti giving it their all and Queen’s joyously bombastic musical score carrying the day. It ain’t great art (though it does boast great art direction), but it’s a heck of a good time.
Infernal Affairs (2002) d. Lau, Wai-Keung / Mak, Alan (Hong Kong) (1st viewing)
Also known in Hollywood circles as “the movie that Martin Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan somehow managed to bloat into a 150-minute Oscar-winning Hollywood prestige pic called The Departed,” the original high-concept HK thriller of two moles – one in the criminal underworld, the other in the police force – and the ongoing attempts to flush out their counterpart is terrific popcorn entertainment that never pretends to be anything else.
The Theory of Everything (2014) d. Marsh, James (UK) (1st viewing) Fine biopic of Stephen Hawking, with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones well-paired as the famed scientist and his supportive bride wrestling with the forces of the universe, including love, companionship, and neuromuscular complications.
HOLLY JOLLY HOLIDAY FARE:
The Ref (1994) d. Demme, Ted (USA) (3rd viewing)
While it occasionally succumbs to cheap sitcom gags, there’s a lot to like about Denis Leary’s breakout role as a beleaguered thief who kidnaps bickering couple Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey on Christmas Eve. Snark and snarls prove the perfect counterprogramming to saccharine schmaltz.
Scrooge (1970) d. Neame, Ronald (UK) (3rd viewing)
My personal favorite film iteration of “A Christmas Carol,” with a super game Albert Finney mugging up the joint in the title role, droll Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley, and some mighty catchy musical numbers (“Father Christmas,” “Thank You Very Much”). Side note: I stitched 300 cotton balls together for this year’s Christmas photo while watching.
HOW RED WAS MY REDFORD:
Brubaker (1980) d. Rosenberg, Stuart (USA) (1st viewing)
The Clearing (2004) d. Brugge, Pieter Jan (USA) (1st viewing)
Wrapped up this year’s review of the steely star’s output (16 in all) with a double feature 24 years in the making, both with Bob in flinty, flawed, idealist hero mode. The first is a dramatization of the real-life story of warden Thomas O. Murton, who sought to reform the notorious Arkansas Tucker & Cummins prison farms, butting heads with the prison board, politicians, guards, trustees, prisoners, and pretty much everyone else. Sturdy but uneven (and ultimately unsatisfying) yarn elevated by a terrific ensemble (Jane Alexander, Murray Hamilton, Yaphet Kotto, David Keith, Joe Spinell, Matt Clark, and an early film appearance by Morgan Freeman). The later effort casts Redford as a self-made millionaire taken hostage by white collar failure Willem Dafoe, while loyal wife Helen Mirren waits at home with CIA agent Matt Craven for ransom demands. Doesn’t really add up to a satisfying whole, asking more questions than it answers, but there are a number of intriguing sequences en route, with solid performances all around.
2014 Totals: 399 films, 203 1st time views, 251 horror, 47 cinema