Monday, August 31, 2015

Seen in June, July & August 

Halt and Catch Fire. Image via The TV Database

According to the personal data I capture or create when I work out, in the last 30 days I swam 10% less, watched 28% fewer films but ran 62% more. In fact, I’ve exercised everyday in August – this is no #humblebrag, this is an #outrightbrag. I guess that explains why I haven’t posted anything about movies since May. Still it seems like I’ve been going to movies but I guess the reality is I’ve been watching recordings of on my PVR then going to bed. Here’s what I have seen when I wasn’t swimming, biking, running, working or sleeping. 

Halt and Catch Fire Season 1
Set in the tech industry of the so-called Texas Silicone Prairie of the 1980’s, this show had me hooked before the first Gary Numan track played. Like a cross between “Mad Men” and “Silicone Valley” with a touch of “Breaking Bad” cliff hangers thrown in for good measure, it’s the tale of a Steve Jobs-like visionary (wannabe?), and some crazy smart engineers pushing the envelope of entrepreneurism and technology. 80s tech is my jam. I am a product of my age.

The Look of Love
Steve Coogan triumphs again depicting a jerk, but a jerk with a heart (mostly). He portrays English businessman Paul Raymond who made his money in the prudish 60s and sexy 70s from a chain of strip clubs and porno mags. He turned that wealth into even greater real estate wealth, becoming for a time, Britain’s richest man. Yet, the freewheeling life of sex, drugs and rock and roll that he led fractured relationships and family until he eventually lost the greatest love of his life, his daughter. It’s a fairly standard trip to heady heights and lowest lows with some kind of lesson of money can’t buy love mixed in but Coogan stands out for bringing wit, charm and emotion to what could’ve been (and probably was to some people) a stereotypical depiction of the wealthy playboy.

Image by Vivian Maier via The Movie Database

Finding Vivian Maier
By now you may know the story of how a guy who would regularly buy unclaimed or unopened storage lockers found a horde of thousands of beautiful, though undeveloped and unseen photographic negatives. The documentary sets out to discover who the photographer was. What we do discover isn’t always pretty. Vivian Maier made her living as a nanny, but was also a fearless photographer who explored Chicago with her camera. She was American with a French mother, and chose to affect a French accent and tell everyone she was French (though she’d only been to France twice as a child). She was a hoarder and maybe a racist. As she aged she developed dementia and her already anti-social behaviour worsened. What we are left with is mostly the ghost of her as a person but the tremendous talent she was as an artist.

The Inbetweeners 2
Do you enjoy scatological and juvenile humour which is made to seem smarter with a British accent? Did you enjoy The Inbetweeners 1 or the television series? Then you will like this.

Game of Thrones Season 5
Sex, violence, magic and dragons will always be popular amongst a certain kind of viewer like me. Seeing popular characters get killed off is expected by now but still frustrating. You invest time, effort and emotion into a character, their story and their timeline so “offing” them makes you feel like all that came before was just a waste of time or worse, a season long red herring.

Mad Max: Fury Road. Image via The Movie Database

Mad Max: Fury Road
At some point in this update of the Mad Max story you realize Max isn’t going to save a group of damsels in distress, they (said damsels) are going to save him. That, plus a better defined view of this dystopian world, plus an incredibly frenetic pace make this the best of any of the Mad Max films.

The Great Gatsby. Image via The Movie Database

The Great Gatsby (2013)
I’d wanted to see this for awhile but unfortunately I saw a few episodes of the comedy TV series, The Spoils of Babylon first. Spoils of Babylon is a parody of the kind of epic mini-series you’d see in the 80s. The problem is, Toby MaGuire is in both that comedy and Laz Buhrman’s Great Gatsby. At some point the melodrama of Great Gatsby and the over-the-top art direction made it feel like a bloated parody of what a really big over-the-top production of the Great Gatsby would be like. Too bad. Though the end of this film could’ve been the beginning of Sunset Boulevard which made it seem even more like a Hollywood parody.

True Blood Season 7
Why oh why did I stick to this ridiculous tale of Vampires in the modern world? As soon as one of the characters was outed as a Faerie I should’ve quit. But there were four more seasons of repeating the same story line over and over and over again. The weird broodiness and strange Southern voo-doo and sexiness had all worn off and what was left was just blood and boobs. Don’t worry it all works out “justly” and happily in the end. The finale montage of a happy people being happy was really strangely corny and unsatisfying.

Whiplash. Image via The Movie Database

Okay, I know the “Jazz world” doesn’t work this way, but the sweat & blood and betrayal all for a dying art (not that Jazz was ever not dying) is great entertainment and was the foundation for another great art form: acting in a movie about being a Jazz musician. All the accolades of the actors, their performances and the music was well deserved. As Stephen Colbert said, (I’m paraphrasing) "I don’t know anything about boxing either but I still loved Rocky"

Slaying the Badger
The odd thing about the Tour de France will always be how a team of guys on bikes work to get one man glory. Stranger still, given this conceit, is that sometimes a team doesn’t declare a team leader and the managers sort of let the top man declare himself. In theory that could work out in a three week race; someone might go down in a crash or simply crack under pressure. But the strangest case is when a team that has two top riders, has a definite team leader, for whom everyone should be working and it still doesn’t turn out that way. Most recently this happened to Team Sky in the 2012 Tour de France when Chris Froome was supposed to be riding for Bradley Wiggins but kept threatening to take the lead until he was ordered to stand down. More famously, was the 1986 Tour de France when Hinault had promised to ride to support Greg Lemond for the La Vie Clair team. Hinault is a near mythical figure in cycling having won the Tour five times and known not only as the Boss of the Peleton but also as the Badger (perhaps for a headband he used to wear, or as a nickname from his youth or for his aggressive riding style?) As it turns out, Hinault rode very aggressively in 1986 in an effort, he claims, to demoralize others while pushing Lemond faster. That’s not how Lemond saw it, as he was forced to chase the man ostensibly helping him. It’s this difference of opinion and the difference between the two men that fuels this fascinating documentary which reveals the inner workings of pro cycling, on and off the bike.

Rather than retread the story of Hank Pym as Ant-man, Marvel has written a new character and an oddly convoluted way to get him into the suit. Recognizing the inherent silliness of an ant sized super-hero, the film looks to match Guardians of the Galaxy as a thrill filled and funny adventure. Paul Rudd is charming and funny enough but the movie still seems more stilted than swashbuckling. It was OK, just not in the way Guardians of the Galaxy was, which it clearly was modelled on.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
“I don’t like Tom Cruise films”, is what I tell myself. That is until I see one and find it funny, thrilling and entertaining. This M.I. movie doesn’t break the mould and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Jack Reacher
After seeing T.C. do all that Mission: Impossible stuff, I thought I’d see him be slightly more sinister in Jack Reacher, a former military investigator who is the “best in the bizz” or something. Whatever. Tom Cruise kicks ass and takes names (while investigating crimes) and leaves you counting the number of dead men that no one has accounted for. No, really… how many people were killed by Jack Reacher that will not be accounted for? I think that’s the one of the unrealistic things here. In the beginning Reacher is picked up for assault then released because no one presses charges but by the end he’s either assaulted or killed a dozen people. All while in the employ of an attorney. How does that square? Whatever. Did you see that cool thing he did in that car that you can’t really do in a front wheel drive so the movie car must’ve been altered to do that, right? Again, I don’t know how having just seen some movie about man who could shrink and control ants I can have a problem with a stunt car not being street legal.

Mr. Holmes
Ian Mckellen plays the famous detective Sherlock Holmes as both a young man (in his 60s) and as an old man (in his 90s). This is not the Sherlock Holmes of the old films, this is a Holmes struggling with dementia trying to recall his last case. He knows Watson wrote it down with a popular ending but realizes it was much darker than that. McKellen is excellent as a man struggling to find his way in his own head and losing the battle but the real revelation is a young boy played by Milo Parker. It’s odd to say this but McKellen who himself is 76, really knows how to play a 93-year-old. The difference he projects as the 60-something Holmes versus the 93-year-old version is remarkable. The openly disdainful look he gives when he realizes his house keeper has made her unexciting stew is exactly the kind of thing an old fart who no longer gives a crap about people’s “feelings” would do.

Mistress America. Image via The Movie Database

Mistress America
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are hitting 3s with their eyes closed; they’re knocking it out of the park; scoring TDs on every Hail Mary pass. In other words, they are in “the Zone”. Mistress America is yet another fascinating character study from Baumbach and Gerwig, this time of 30-year-old Brooke who is “living the dream” in New York City. What does she do? “She did everything and nothing”. Enter 18-year-old Tracy whose mother is about to marry Brooke’s father. Tracy is studying in New York but only feels like the person at the party who doesn’t know anybody. Everything changes for Tracy over a whirlwind few days as she is swept into Brooke’s chaotic (but not really going anywhere) existence. There may be many parallels to Baumbach’s films and Woody Allen but perhaps only in spirit. Baumbach’s films are tighter little stories that focus more closely on one aspect of modern life. For instance, a throw-away line in a collage of a busy night becomes a device that takes us to the second act crisis (Brooke is photographed kissing a band member and reacts saying “Must we document ourselves all the time? Must we?” Later, her wealthy Greek boyfriend pulls out his financing of her restaurant idea after seeing a photo of her "kissing a guy on the Internet.”) Tracy’s freshman short story based on Brooke becomes the pin that gets pulled in the final act. The characters, the montages, the multiple characters, theatrical-style settings and dialogue all combine to make you feel like you’re witnessing something great and wonderful and have reminded some of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. Some of those more formal scenes remind me of Wes Anderson too. It’s like watching an illusionist and knowing it isn’t magic but that adult sense of knowing it isn't magic only makes the illusion more remarkable. You stop worrying about “how did they do that?” and simply enjoy the wonder of the thing. The movie also has a timeless look, more like a 70s Sidney Lumet film but is so much of this time (the broken smart phone screens, the SoulCycle spin classes will all be tomorrow’s nostalgia). This was one of those kind of films that was so good it made me want to run home and write a screenplay myself. Which I didn’t do because that only happens in the movies.

True Grit (2010)
This was an outdoor screening of the Cohen Bros. remake of the John Wayne western. It was an oddly cold evening on the Harbourfront and at one point, just as Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld ride into a snowy and blustery landscape, a great gust of wind and rain came off the lake, billowing the projection screen and spraying the audience. Everyone laughed realizing we were experiencing an authentically, deeply interactive film experience. I like this version better than the original wherein Robert Duvall is acting in a different, more modern decade than his contemporaries and by such time travel shames them greatly… that would be in the parlance of the Cohen’s wonderful dialogue that often reconnoiters any subject before coming to the point.

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