Monday, January 20, 2014

Seen in December 

Martin Freeman as Bilbo, standing above Mirkwood Forest in The Hobbit

December was an odd and unsettling month of ice storms, power outages, polar vortices, snow storms, biting cold, sickness, travel, and far more food than anyone should ever consume. And there were movies. As a kid, it seemed the television was always on in December, running as hot as a holiday hearth. I remember not only the Rankin-Bass Rudolphs but also the Bond marathons and holiday classics and musicals. Fantasy reigned supreme and there seemed to always be a cable provider making a movie channel available for free as a promotion. Now it seems so many obligations means you're lucky if you get to see one or two of all of the films released for Oscar season. This is what I saw.

The World's End
Some people try to recapture their youth while others never leave their past. Gary King is the sort of depressed alcoholic for whom high school was the best time of his life so why move on. When he gets the old gang begrudgingly back together to try and finish an epic pub crawl they all discover their past is best left behind. They also discover that odd feeling that your home time is different but exactly the same. In this case it's because everyone has been replaced with cloned androids. Let end-of-the-world scenario commence.

Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas portrays the showman and piano virtuoso Liberace at a time when he meets a young man, Scott Thorson, played by Matt Damon, with whom he would have a long and secret romantic relationship. The strangeness of the romance includes Liberace first seducing then hiring Thorson, then demanding Thorson have plastic surgery to more resemble Liberace, then Liberace suggesting he wanted to adopt Thorson so that he could legally leave him property and wealth. When Thorson's drug use (a habit enabled by Liberace's plastic surgeon) becomes out of hand and a younger man piques Liberace's interest, Thorson is cast aside. Despite all of the sex and Hollywood themes of love and infidelity and drugs and AIDS it's hard to really see the love the two men obviously shared which is the failing of the film's director Steven Soderbergh. Perhaps there were too many sordid details to work through to get to the one that mattered most.

In a dystopian future where the poor live crappy lives on Earth, the wealthy live on a perfect world called Elysium, in space orbiting the planet like a magical moon where all your dreams can be realized. Matt Damon plays a petty thief who while trying to stay on the straight and narrow is critically wounded in an industrial accident at his crummy factory job. He'll die within days unless he gets medical treatment only available on Elysium. There's more but it involves a lot of hijacking and computer theft and soul searching etc. It's a fine enough action film but the metaphor to our current world of Haves and Have-nots is pretty bang on your head obvious. Elysium is an okay film just not up to expectations set from the director's previous film District 9.

The Wolverine
The increasingly saga-like films of X-Men characters continues with this story finding Logan (aka Wolverine) sulking in some boreal woods when he is discovered by a young Japanese woman bearing the gift of a Samurai sword. The sword is from a dying Japanese industrialist who promises to free Logan of his interminable “condition”. Will Logan accept the offer? Who is this stranger? Who is the attractive expert? Will he learn to love again? Find out in this installment! The film ends with a taste of the next film in the series - like a real old time Saturday matinee movie serial.

Fanny and Alexander (broadcast version)
One of my favourite films is now a made-for-TV mini-series. Oh wait - it's the other way around; this mini-series was originally made for Swedish television and later edited and given a theatrical release. Made by Ingmar Bergman, the film touches on many remembrances of Bergman's youth but is really the story of a pair of siblings who lose their loving and joyful father and are torn from the embrace of his larger than life family when their widowed mother remarries a stern, strict and abusive pastor. Certainly it's a comment on the irony of the overly pious and paucity of kindness of the religious zealot but also a celebration of families that protect and nourish us.

The Royal Tennenbaums
Another of my favourite films depicting a “family of geniuses” and their wayward and self-destructive patriarch, Royal Tennenbaum. Gene Hackman is brilliant as Royal who is trying to thwart his estranged wife's new relationship while also trying to win favour and reconnect with his now grown children. There's plenty of style in this movie and the director's use of brief vignettes as a storytelling technique irks some but endears himself to many others.

Surprisingly entertaining and taut thriller. Just as a young woman's father dies his heretofore unknown but attractive and talented uncle, Charlie appears. Though all is not right in this affluent home - otherwise why would we have a movie at all. The only thing that bothered me was that the actress Nicole Kidman appears, in close-ups, to have lost some of her ability to emote through some (inevitable) cosmetic surgery. I could be wrong.

The Hangover Part II
Salacious, sophomoric, stupid and silly. But also genuinely funny. This crass 2nd edition to The Hangover has our trio of overachieving party goers lost, beaten, besmirched and tattooed in Bangkok. If you liked the first one, you'll probably get a kick out of this one.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Arguing over the value of making a short adventure novel into three 3-hour long epics continues but everyone agrees the dragon was great.

Young Frankenstein
If you are stuck flying on New Year's Eve and this film is available on the video on demand system - watch it. Mel Brooks' and Gene Wilder's version of the Frankenstein tale is full of mayhem, fun and memorable lines such as, “It's pronounced Fr-ahn-ken-steen!”

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