Friday, January 14, 2022

Seen in December ('21) 

The French Dispatch, image via The Movie Db.

December is a month of comforts, be it food, film, family or friends. I generally re-watch old favourites like all of the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series. In between the traditional seasonal fare are the titles described here. Maybe they'll become the comfort food for Christmases of the future or be amongst the shiny discarded wrappers of treats long forgotten.

The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson's pandemically delayed film, The French Dispatch (of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun) is an homage to the best of periodicals like The New Yorker or The Paris Review. The film is even structured like an issue of the New Yorker that begins with a POV essay on the seedier sides of the fictional French town Blasé-sur-Ennui, a profile of an artist, an essay on political upheaval and finally a story, ostensibly about cuisine, but becomes a crime story complete with a "ligne claire" style animated police chase. This was definitely the most Wes Anderson-y film of all the Wes Anderson films. If you do not like Wes Anderson-y films, you will not like this one. On the other hand, if you think there aren't enough Wes Anderson films, you will fall in love all over again.

The Secret of NIMH, image via The Movie Db.

The Secret of NIMH
One of my favourite animated films of my childhood. A widowed mouse seeks help from some suspiciously intelligent rats to move her home and save her sick son. Along the way, she'll meet a wise and ancient owl, clever mice and rats and somehow channel magic to save her home. It's a sweet, heartwarming and beautifully animated movie that everyone can enjoy.

Nicholas Cage plays a man who lives off the grid and subsides on a modest living by selling truffles he finds with the help of his pet pig. When his pig is abducted, he starts what is a sort of less violent, John Wick-like journey of redemption to find his beloved pet. The further he goes, the more we learn about his life before living in a cabin in the woods. Be ready for a surprisingly tender culmination.

A Clüsterfünke Christmas
Have you ever seen a romantic, made for television Hallmark Christmas film? Of course you have. The plot usually involves a big city corporate gal who finds herself in some bucolic, small town during the holidays where she finds love and the true meaning of Christmas. This movie is both that kind of thing and the complete opposite of it. It's a funny, clever parody but as it hopes to still deliver the romantic pay-off of what it mocks, it isn't as sharp a satire as it could be.

Clint Barton has some unfinished business in Hawkeye, image via The Movie Db.

Marvel continues to extend its cinematic universe to the small screen. This limited series introduces a new arrow-wielding hero in the form of Kate Bishop and tries to tie up the loose ends of Clint Barton, also known as Hawkeye, the Avenger who uses a bow and arrow instead of plasma blasts or lightning bolts. The show, set in New York and released for Christmas, finds opportunities to explore an Avengers based Broadway musical, Barton's aging body, his family life and his desire to close a chapter of his life he isn't quite so proud of. The series also connects this New York based story to characters from the Netflix series of street level heroes and hoodlums. Hawkeye is entertaining enough to enjoy without caring about its interconnectedness to several other Marvel stories. For Marvel fans though, these added details are the satisfying gems that makes the show shine.

The creative process is on full display in The Beatles: Get Back. Image via The Movie Db.

The Beatles: Get Back
If you'd asked me if I was interested in watching nine hours of a group of scruffy hippies jamming, joking, arguing and working, I would've laughed it off as nonsense. Yet, this is no joke and here I am, telling you that this Peter Jackson documentary about The Beatles, created from unused footage from another documentary, is very watchable. Certainly, there are clips like Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr just hanging around that could've been axed but for the most part, those moments are just the loose threads on a fantastically detailed quilt. Watching John Lennon and Paul McCartney work and rework songs like Get Back is fascinating. We're seeing classic songs come to life in numerous ways. This may sound like some proto-version of the show Song Exploder but it is so much richer. This is the creative process come to life, in real time, right before our eyes. There are also many revelations about the band such as no one really cared much about Yoko Ono but were happy for John to have found love. I always thought Paul and John brought their own songs to the studio and just recorded them but it really looks more like Paul was very prolific but only came to the group with bits that they moulded, shaped and worked on until it was right. John seems to have written less, but was closer to the finished versions that Paul came with. And what about George Harrison? Again, not as prolific as Paul and John yet was a great songwriter who took input from Paul badly and worked better on his own. At the end of this film is the classic rooftop concert but also a feeling of the band being as close as ever, maybe even more energized from the presence of the insanely talented keyboardist Billy Preston, who lifted the Fab Four out of their funk and breathed new life into their music and process. In the end, you can see that these were just four young men (only 28 or 29 during the filming) who had lived a lot of years in the decade and a half of playing together and they were all ready to do something else that couldn't be found with The Beatles.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Robbins as the jaded and the naive in The Hudsucker Proxy. Image via The Movie Db.

The Hudsucker Proxy
"You know, for kids!" This is the most quoted line from this Coen brothers film about a good guy done wrong as fodder for greedy capitalists. I'm not sure why this film scores so low among critics and audiences. I think it's a delight. From its stylized, flat sets, cinematography and limited colour palette, to its 1940s style pitter patter dialog and magic realism, I don't think there's anything wrong with this picture. Tim Robbins plays Norville Barnes, a new college graduate with big dumb ideas who is promoted from mailroom to boardroom just to be a rube for the chairman's schemes. Headed by Paul Newman, who is excellent as Sidney J. Mussburger, the board aims to tank Hudsucker Industries' common stock so that they can snap it up at a cheap price, take over ownership, then, when the stock returns to its true price, they can sell out and make a bundle. Unfortunately for them, their proxy CEO, Norville, has a perfectly dumb idea that happens to become a nationwide sensation, which throws all their plans awry. It's a lot of fun, you know, for kids!

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