Saturday, December 17, 2022

Seen in November 

Inside the New York Public library. 

Does it seem late to say what I saw in November, mid-way through Decemeber? Pish posh, hang it all, old chaps, this is what I saw in that dreary dark month and there may be something for you to find here.

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Despite its three-hour plus runtime this fly-on-the-wall documentary is a fascinating reminder of the scope and scale of the New York City Library. This film may appeal city-builder urbanists and book nerds but the American filmmaker Frederick Wiseman is a master of letting a scene tell its own story. The feeling of immersion, of really being in the room, may lead yourself to excusing your own coughs or sneezes for fear of interrupting whoever is speaking in the scene.

Across & Down

Word nerd alert. If you do a lot of crossword puzzles, especially ones from American or British sources, you quickly see how important culture is to solving the puzzle. The same is true of creating a puzzle. This documentary shifts from the creation of puzzles to the creators and why wider, more diverse representation counts. While talking about representation of people of colour, or diverse genders or sexuality in the creation of crosswords sounds like the ultimate example of "political correctness", it's really more about the inclusivity of language and popular culture in general. When you think of it that way, why would word games be exempt?

See How They Run

What to say. It's a murder mystery set around a long running production of the play Mousetrap. Yet, it's one of those plays, inside a play inside movie type of things. It has a wonderful cast of terribly miscast actors. Sam Rockwell has never been so unbelievable as a tired, jaded London detective. His accent is neither here, there or anywhere. I'm not familiar with the director but more often than not it looks as though they are mining the well-dug soil of Wes Anderson. So many scenes have the Anderson pastiche that it feels close to parody. The murder mystery trope is ripe for comedy and there are plenty of good throwaway lines here but despite a pretty production, it's mostly throwaway.

California. 1970s.

Licorice Pizza
Amazon Prime

This is a perhaps not entirely appropriate love story set in 1970s California, between a fifteen-year-old actor and a twenty-five-year-old who still hasn't figured out her life. What she has figured out is that she should not be falling for a teen-ager. Yet, there she is, drawn to this kid's indisputable charms. Imagine the gender roles were reversed and just how icky it would all be if say, a brightly mature 15-year-old Natalie Portman were trying to catch the eye of an adrift a 30-something Timothy Hutton (as was the case in Beautiful Girls) and you can see the weirdness. The difference was in Beautiful Girls, Hutton's character sees the teen-age Portman as a fascination who is far too young to thinking about someone such as himself, and tries to navigate her interest thoughtfully and carefully whereas in this film, love, despite its roadblocks, eventually blooms. This is the latest film by American P.T. Anderson and it has a very Punch Drunk Love feel to it but also touches on a kind of nostalgia Anderson holds for California of the 1970s where he grew up. I'm not sure what the film is about really. Celebrity? Fads? Opportunity? In the end, it's mostly about, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Fantastical and magical with a bit of menace - just like Italian folklore should be.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)

In this retelling of the classic tale, the old man, Geppetto, who fashions himself a puppet as a son, the story is set in Fascist era Italy between the Great War and the WWII when the world was at times, full of loss and despair. It’s a darker retelling as you might guess from the director Guillermo del Toro, who often works in horror and fantasy, but the beautiful stop-motion animation brings a kind of magical quality that is rarely seen these days. The detail and tone are grittier than say a Disney version, but at the same time, I think it respects the imagination of children and taps into their deeper emotional intelligence that we don’t often give kids credit for.

Worth every penny and every penny shines in this serial adaptation.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Amazon Prime

Whether you know The Lord of the Rings by the books of J.R.R. Tolkien or the film adaptations of Peter Jackson you won’t be disappointed by this lush production. If you were already familiar with the pacing of the Game of Thrones early seasons, the progression of this first season probably won’t seem slow. There’s a lot to digest and unpack in this epic set some 2000 years before Bilbo Baggins finds a magic ring. From the visuals, to the score to the quality cast, there is little to complain about so sit back and enjoy.

Apple TV+

How many versions of Dickens' A Christmas Carol have there been? 300? More? Yet, I haven't seen a fully musical version that made me laugh the way this Ryan Reynolds, Will Ferrell comedy/musical did. Maybe I'm a sucker for Christmas stories but I am not a sucker for a musical. I have been quoted saying that I do not care for musicals. Have you every seen Fred Astaire in Easter Parade? Terrible. At least Oklahoma has some foot stompers. Musicals are completely absurd fantasies. This is where musicals do make sense for me, and what more absurd fantasy is there than a man being haunted by three ghosts on Christmas Eve?

A much more grown-up version of the Star Wars Universe where the stakes feel higher.

Star Wars: Andor S01

This is a prequel to a prequel. The series is set in the years before the Star Wars film Rogue One, which told the story of those who died getting the plans of the immense weapon, The Death Star, to the rebel army. In that film, Cassian Andor was one of those rebels, but what was his story? Andor tells just that. Created and written by Tony Gilroy, who might be best known for the Jason Bourne films, Andor feels like the first Star Wars series on Disney+ that is for "grown-ups". There are no Jedis, no laser swords, no Wookies and only one cute robot. To some, without the mysticism of the Jedi, or mentions of "The Force", the spiritual connective tissue of this world, you might ask is this a Star Wars story at all. In fact, with its many characters (with all their flaws and quandaries), its heist and jailbreak storylines, you might wonder why it is even set in the Star Wars universe at all? Fear not, for it matters not. For the first few episodes I wondered what was this show all about, but at some point, I found myself caring and worrying that the prime character, Cassian Andor, was in a very perilous place and forgot all my skepticism. Gilroy's exploration of every character is probing and explores the deep dark grey of our personalities and our choices. In Gilroy's version of the Star Wars Universe, even the most stereotypical, evil Empire minion has his reasons for being who he is and what he does. Neither hero nor villain is left unexamined and it's that investment in characters that sets this show apart and what makes it worth the watch.

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