Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Seen in September 

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, stars of HBO's True Detective
HBO's True Detective, Season 1. Image via The Wire

While the learned hordes were taking in the highest quality films the world could offer at the end of a red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival I was at home watching some of the worst the streaming world had to offer. I don’t know why but I found myself oscillating between absolute crap and really great films. Some of the best movies were ones I had already seen and just wanted to watch again – Inside Llewyn Davis, Moonrise Kingdom, and the Dark Knight Rises. It was a strange month of 1 good one/1 bad one.

Conan the Barbarian (2011)
The dude who plays Conan was the dude from Game of Thrones and next he’ll be the dude playing Aquaman. That’s no reason to see this however or even keep watching once you've asked yourself, "Is this going to get better?" becuase, no, it will not.

Bojack Horseman Season 1
Will Arnett voices the lead in this animated series. The lead happens to be a horse-man hybrid who starred in an incredibly popular sitcom twenty years previously. Since then he’s spent his time wallowing in his faded celebrity until a publisher hires a ghost writer to help him complete his autobiography. This show is full of animal-people hybrids who act as stand-ins for Hollywood stereotypes. There’s the persistent paparazzi birds, the always eager to please golden retriever, the agent cat who hangs around anyone willing to throw some milk her way and so on. This series begins as a typical contemporary sitcom, while mocking a typical 90s sitcom but each show ends just a little darker than the previous one. At some point you realize it has all the laughs, heft and emotion of a live action show. I can’t think of another animated show that could be described as a “dramedy”. Is there one? This is a surprisingly good show.

Anchorman 2
Okay, we’ve had our laughs, ha ha, I get it, moustaches and early 80s fashions were funny etc. etc. For Will Ferrell fans only which I know, for some means all Will Ferrell movies. This is more like a repeat than an extension of the oeuvre.

Ride to Glory / la Grande Boucle
A French Tour de France enthusiast and bicycle salesman has his wife walk out on him due to his over commitment to his job, which he has just been fired from. Yeah, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The moment he's fired he could devote himself to his family but there's no movie there. In a fit of mid-life crisis he decides instead to ride the Tour de France route each day before the pros ride it thereby fulfilling a life long dream to ride the Tour for three weeks. Ok, so it’s not exactly realistic either. Many professionals barely finish it with the support of a team. Could a weekend warrior ride over 3000 km through the French Alps in three weeks? Maybe. Along the way he becomes a celebrity and wins back his wife and the respect of his teen-age son. It’s a simple, corny movie but it satisfies.

A Most Wanted Man
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last lead role is as a curmudgeonly and patient German spy tracking an Islamist money trail in Hamburg. This isn’t James Bond, or Mission Impossible. It’s based on a John le Carré novel so this is much more like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Graham Greene’s A Quiet American. It’s a great film with a very slow boil. The only thing I didn’t like was it's one of those films where English speaking actors affect German accents as if Germans speak to each other in accented English at the office. The turmoil and shock of the last scene hits home with all the frustration that one must feel when trying to fight terrorism or nail jelly to a wall.

Alan Partridge
A feature length film version of Steve Coogan’s British television character, Alan Partridge. Partridge is a second rate TV presenter and DJ stuck on Norwich radio who believes he’s really a first rate talent. Sort of a British version of Anchorman only slightly smarter jabs at pop culture (well, only a slightly smarter). If you liked the show, you’d like the movie.

12 Years a Slave
It took me a while to come around to watching this. Several scenes are as brutal as anything you’ll ever see. There are some moments that I’d seen in promotional clips before watching the film that seemed melodramatic but after you watch Solomon Northup’s journey, his quiet return to his family to meet his grown children is devastating. There are very few missteps in this movie and some of its most dramatic moments are so simple and brief as to be completely jarring.

Dear Mr. Watterson
A devoted fan of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes daily strip cartoon made this documentary to talk to other fans and cartoonists to explore why the imaginative boy Calvin and his sidekick tiger Hobbes, are so beloved. Beautifully crafted art should always be adored as much as this. While it is fun hearing people talk about the comic, it was surprising how little the film maker knew about the comics that came before or even too much about what they are like now. It’s also disappointing to make a film about a cartoonist who is a near recluse and never meet him or learn much more about him.
“This place is like somebody's memory of a town”
True Detective Season 1
HBO’s moody and atmospheric police drama of two detective’s recollection of a 17 year old murder investigation feels a little like Twin Peaks. Though there is something a little cliché about portraying a Louisiana serial killer as a mystical American gothic tale. And there’s more than a little David Fincher or David Lynch influence here so it’s pretty engaging stuff. Matthew McConaughey is great as Rust Cohle, the ex-undercover narcotics officer suffering flashbacks, as is Woody Harrelson as Cohle’s frustrated partner who respects his intelligence but never understands his methods. McConaughey’s Cohle has great and weird lines like “I thought I was main-lining the secret truth of the universe.” or “This place is like somebody's memory of a town, and the memory is fading.” In the first episode his character describes himself in philosophical terms as a Pessimist. After hearing a little known academic talking about his book on Nihilism, “In the Dust of this Planet” you’d have to think the writers of this show spent more than a few days with the book. It’s gloomy, desperate and electric all at once.

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