Monday, March 08, 2021

Seen in February 

One of those most gloriously beautiful films of the year, Wolfwalkers. Image via The Movie Db 

In the deep, dark days of February, something funny happened. February wasn't that deep, or dark or even that February-ish. Despite working long hours, and a continuing pandemic lockdown, or maybe because of it, I found myself rewatching things I'd seen before, like comfort food for the eyes. Here's what I did see.

Brockmire S01-S02
Have you ever wondered what those tenor, whisky-tinged-voiced sportscasters are like outside of the broadcast booth? Jim Brockmire is such a fellow and his voice is more than "whisky-tinged" but also tinged with bourbon, rye, vodka, beer, cocaine and any other pill he finds in his pockets. Hank Azaria (of The Simpsons fame) portrays  former major league baseball announcer Jim Brockmire, as a talented but self-destructive but still highly functioning alcoholic, who has accepted his fate of being reduced to calling minor league ball in a small, no-luck town. Yet, using alcoholism as an excuse for laughs and misadventure can only go so far and by the end of season 2, we find Brockmire has sobered up long enough to land another opportunity to call a big league game.
After a man's wife passes away, he comes out of the closet he's been in his entire life. Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing Hal, the gay octogenarian who tries to make up for a life half-lived by moving at double speed in his remaining years. Unfortunately, he becomes ill with cancer, leaving his son, played by Ewan McGregor, to learn a life lesson all on his own. That lesson? Express yourself to those you love the most, no matter how vulnerable it makes you feel. Outside of Plummer's performance and a very charming dog, this film is a fairly straightforward story about feelings and stuff. There is however, a slightly unrealistic side story in the film. McGregor plays a graphic designer who is asked by a client to deliver the same style of illustration he's become known for. In an effort to bring something new to his work he pitches something different, not just once, but I think, three times. There is no way that if your creative director has already rejected the first pitch and already told you to do the same thing that you've done before, would you get the chance to pitch two more doomed ideas.
Eastbound and Down S02
Danny McBride is Kenny Powers, the world's greatest washed up pro baseball player who believes without a doubt, that his return to the majors is just one pitch and several life lessons away.

Who's that cute lil' baby? No, really. Who is it? Image via The Movie Db
Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley has a story to tell. This film begins as an almost unremarkable documentary about the filmmaker's mother. As Polley's interviews with her siblings and father grow more and more intimate a story is suggested and begins to unfold from various view points. The story we're building towards is about the identity of Sarah Polley's biological father and it is revealed with incredible skill and deftness. One thing that only struck me as odd, later in the film, was the immense amount of "home footage" Polley was using to tell the story, which it turns out wasn't home footage at all.

The most unnecessary nasal appendage in movie history. Image via The Movie Db
All is True
Kenneth Branagh portrays William Shakespeare after the Globe Theatre fire when he returns home to his family to retire. So little is known about Shakespeare's personal life that what we see is a quilt woven from only a few threads. Shakespeare's wife and daughters find him aloof and distant as he dwells on the death of his only son. His illusions about his son's potential, his delayed grief of the boy's death years earlier and the suggestion of a romantic entanglement with a previous patron all cause a rift that Shakespeare only comes to terms with just before his death. This is a quiet and slow film and if I'm being honest, not that interesting. If it had been a comedy about a revered playwright who returns to his family now in disarray and debt l might have been more interested. For some odd reason, Branagh appears to be wearing a prosthetic nose, which makes no sense whatsoever as no portrait of Shakespeare was ever made during his lifetime and of the ones that do exist only bear a passing likeness to each other.

Is there a reason all movies can't be this delightful? Image via The Movie Db
Wolf Walkers
Apple TV
From Cartoon Saloon, the same small Irish animation studio responsible for The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner has created another beautiful, funny and moving film. Set in 17th century Ireland, we meet Robyn, a young English girl, whose father is a skilled hunter working in the service of a nobleman to rid the local woods of all its wolves. Robyn herself dreams of hunting wolves herself until she meets an Irish girl in the forest named Mebh (pronounced "Maeve") who she discovers is a Wolfwaker (someone who is a person during the waking hours but becomes a wolf while they sleep). I could say this is a story of friendship or of man versus nature or about family, but it's really all of those things and more. This studio and director Tomm Moore, pick difficult and atypical stories and deliver them in the most striking and beautiful way.

Moonbase 8 S01
Not too different from Space Force, this comedy series examines the funny side of space exploration. This time it's a group of three astronaut candidates stationed at a mocked-up moon base in the Arizona desert. Unlike Space Force, this show is funny. Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C. Reilly make up this crew of misfits who battle the mundane boredom and isolation that comes with simulating a moon base.

Have you seen this woman? Or this show? Image via The Movie Db
Search Party S01
Alia Shawkat (of Arrested Development) play Dory, a drifting, unsettled twenty-something with a dead end job who one day notices a flyer for a missing women. The missing person, Chantal, is an old college acquaintance and her disappearance begins to bother Dory. Later, after attending a service in honour of her missing friend, Dory thinks she sees Chantal sitting in a booth at a Chinese restaurant. This sets Dory off on a mission to find the missing woman, maybe as something to do, maybe to prove to her friends she isn't crazy or maybe because she thinks she can do it better than the police. What results is part North by Northwest, part Fargo, part New York City comedy sit-com.

This a movie adapted from a play that feels sort of stagey but therein lies the beauty of it. Image via The Movie Db
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Possibly better known as Chadwick Boseman's last performance, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a film adaptation of the stage play set in the early 1920s about a day in the recording studio with Ma Rainey and her band. Through the trials of trying to record a hit song we see a history of the Blues, a powerful female artist, black musicians plying their trade to white-owned record companies and the black experience in the early part of the 20th century, which obviously still resonates today.

Take it one day at a time in Palm Springs. Image via The Movie Db
Palm Springs
Amazon Prime
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti play Nyles and Sarah in this "typical time loop" romantic comedy. The ever repeating day premise a la Groundhog Day keeps getting updated in slightly different variations. In this version we meet Nyles as a wedding guest of Sarah's sister's wedding. He seems to a strangely knowing and a surprisingly casually dressed sort of fellow who is a friend to all (almost all). It turns out, Nyles has someone become unattached from time and has attended this wedding thousands of times. At some point he has given up trying to figure out why this has happened to him and starts abusing his knowledge of the past, present and future. Then, by accident Sarah joins him in this time trap. They learn to embrace it for the most part, until Sarah realizes she is reliving one of the worst moments of her life. They live, laugh and love until they can't take it anymore. There certainly are a lot of tropes revisited in this film (actually reliving every day over and over again as a metaphor for being trapped in a mundane existence etc etc) but the performances of the two and their particular different approaches to the situation (Nyles had nothing going on his life so is happy with reliving the same day, whereas Sarah realizes she has to escape the day as the only way to move on from her mistakes) make this worth the time (pun intended).

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