Saturday, March 05, 2016

Seen in February 


Better Call Saul image via The Movie DB

I guess February is always a run up to the Oscars so those films that are in the running and still in theatres are relentlessly marketed and advertised. One evening I went to the theatre at the Manulife Centre at Bloor and Bay and seven of the eight films screening there had an 80% or higher Rotten Tomatoes rating which is kind of bananas. An embarrassment of riches you might say. Given all that I don’t think I watched or saw half of what I wanted to.

Better Call Saul
I oscillated between overdosing on this Breaking Bad spin-off and savouring every last drop. Set before Saul Goodman, every criminal’s favourite lawyer, ever met Walter White, this show is a character study of how Jimmy McGill becomes the Saul we all know and love. What we see, we like and like less. It really goes to show how much you can do by telling the story of rich, complex and fascinating characters.

Lost Soul
It is impossible to not compare Lost Soul, the documentary of Richard Stanley’s attempt to film The Island of Dr. Moreau in an Australian rain forest with Burden of Dreams, the documentary of Werner Herzog’s making of Fitzcarraldo in the jungles of South America and Hearts of Darkness, the documentary of Francis Ford Coppola’s filming of Apocalypse Now in the jungles of the Philippines. Stanley (distant relative of H.M. Stanley, the journalist who discovered the missing Dr. Livingstone) was obsessed with H. G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. And why wouldn’t he be? Wells accused Conrad of stealing his story of Dr. Moreau for his character Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, meanwhile Conrad countered he based Kurtz on the story of Dr. Livingstone as depicted by Richard Stanley’s ancestor, H.M. Stanley. Have you made it to the middle of this onion yet? Richard Stanley began filming Moreau in the rain forest in Australia only to be replaced when he was unable or unprepared to wrangle a troubled production and two stubborn and unhelpful stars, Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. Usurped by the studio, Stanley is ordered to stay away from the production, yet sneaks back on to the film set during a riotous scene disguised as one of his own creations. All of this has so many parallels to the filming of Fitzcarraldo and Apocalypse Now and the book Heart of Darkness that it’s hard to believe no one has programmed an entire film festival around disastrous jungle movies. Interestingly, two notorious muses, Klaus Kinski and Marlon Brando who was a big part of sabotaging at least two of these projects, also play their archetypical parts in these mythical meltdowns.


The Lego Movie image via The Movie DB

The Lego Movie
Sometimes you really want to know everything is awesome. The awesome thing is how this movie can be for fans of all ages, maintain an overall joyful, celebratory tone while recognizing that fitting in and being normal is a one way street to having no fun at all. In the end, the movie both celebrates the toy that is Lego but also the ingenuity of busting apart the planned project to unleash the real power of a plastic brick – that beats in all our hearts… see that? That kind of shlocky sentiment is exactly what the movie loves to send up. Even if you never played with Lego, you will be amazed at the incredible computer animation that looks impossibly like true stop motion animation that inspired this film in the first place.


Hail, Caesar! image via The Movie DB

Hail, Caesar!
What to make of the high critical rating but low, low, low audience rating for this movie? I mean, even if you don’t like George Clooney, he’s not really in the film that much. Josh Brolin is the axle this 1940s era Hollywood caper revolves around and he’s great. My only complaint was that there were so many cameos and characters it was hard to keep up. The cinematography and look of this movie exudes a love for the Technicolor Hollywood of yore and it’s this affection that is the real thread throughout the film. Is this the Cohen Brothers best film? No, but like Hudsucker Proxy it’s a plucky entertainment… you know, for the kids!


Deadpool image via The Movie DB

Deadpool
Perfect Family Day movie. This is an adult comic book with blood, guts, gore, sex, violence and a very crass hero who would make a sailor blush with his sarcastic, ribald, expletive-filled wit. It also does not take itself seriously. All of that attitude, guile and humour are captured accurately in this film version. It’s so crass, violent and dirty that it hardly fits within the Marvel comic book movie adaptation universe. Deadpool used to be a mercenary with a heart of gold who discovers he has terminal cancer just as he’s found his true love and is ready to settle down. In a desperate attempt at a cure he is subjected to incredible stresses until his “mutant gene kicks in” blah blah blah - true science (fiction). His inability to be killed combined with his already effective fighting skills create an unstoppable force of badass sarcasm and a vindictive train wreck of a killing machine. Which of course makes an awesome R-rated movie.


The Revenant image via The Movie DB

The Revenant
This story of an 19th century fur trapper left to die after a bear attack will make you wonder if we are all just struggling through this world, searching for a thing to keep us alive (which is very similar to the 1971 Richard Harris film, Man in the Wilderness; Harris plays guide Zach Bass; DiCaprio plays guide Hugh Glass). At times it felt a little like Leonardo DiCaprio, who clawed and dragged his way through the wilderness straight to an Oscar for best actor, had only that prize as his goal. Why keep fighting only to seek revenge on your tormentor? This film is a long slow burn. Yet it is also highly kinetic with the camera and action is so well choreographed you’ll feel you’re in every minute of it. As to the length, sometimes I think you just need to spend a lot of time with a character to fully appreciate their motives, trials and tribulations. By the end, you’re as exhausted as DiCaprio and Thomas Hardy and are unsure of how much longer you can go on. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful films of the year, filmed only using natural light, much like Days of Heaven, it feels like a movie with a rich legacy built in. The special effects were seamless and if you closed your eyes, the sound mix made you feel as though you were standing alone in a Boreal forest, alone with only your maker as company - and that guy who just had to suck popcorn out his teeth for almost three hours. That man was my Fitzgerald.

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