Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Seen in August 

12 Angry Men - mostly white, mostly preturbed and definitely men.

Summertime is for blockbusters right? I mean this summer we had The Flash, a new Indiana Jones flick, another Fast and the Furious thing, a Spider-man movie and this summer's magnus opus portmanteau Barbenheimer. But going to a theatre seems like such a hassle these days, plus we were travelling and you don't waste travel time in a movie theatre - you can do that another time, right? This August's viewing seemed more about catchups and old favourites.

In 1968, broke and without any acting prospects or film career to turn to, Judy Garland (played to much acclaim by Renée Zellweger) undertook a series of sold-out shows in London. Her plan was to make enough money to settle down in the States and be reunited with her two youngest children who were living with her ex-husband, Hollywood producer Sidney Luft. Throughout the 50's and 60's Garland had made a number of come backs on television or on stage but never with any lasting success. By 1968, her London performances were a mix of masterful and missteps. Here was a performer who grew up on studio lots, skipping school, meals and sleep at the behest of the studio system and when they were done with her, they moved on and left her, like other performers, near the trash outside the door. During her last London shows she married her fifth husband, and continued to struggle with alcohol and substance use. Garland died in 1969 at the age of 47 and it hardly matters whether it was from her diet, substance use, alcoholism or complications from ill health from years before, the truth was, as Ray Bolger said, she was simply worn out. Zellweger not only acts but sings in this film that is concise and padded a bit with musical numbers. The film itself leaves a lot out by focusing on this last brief stage of Garland's life, but Zellweger deservedly won praise and the Academy Award for best actress in this role. Zellweger really does disappear into the role of a performing someone who couldn't stop performing, to her fans, to her family and maybe even to herself.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmy in The Bear.

The Bear S02
A neighbourhood sandwich shop is the setting for this intense and engaging drama (that is somehow nominated for an Emmy in the comedy category). Carmine Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) is an accomplished chef who, in season one, returned to Chicago to take over the family restaurant after his brother's suicide. Having found money that his brother borrowed and owed was ingeniously stashed, season two opens with the Berzatto family and sandwich shop crew struggling to re-open the restaurant as a highly aspirational, top notch eatery. Through the transformation, many members of the restaurant formerly known as The Original Beef, go on their own journeys of self-discovery and finding purpose. It's great entertainment even if it is anxiety inducing at times.

Kubrick by Candlelight
A short film with the storied Irish set of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon as its backdrop. Kubrick wanted to film his period drama using only available light appropriate to the time which meant thousands of candles were used on set for the interior shots and so part of this short is about how the locals hired for filming procured so many candles. The primary story though is of an imagined on-set romance between an Irish extra and a pretty production assistant.

Griffin Dunne in Scorsese's After Hours. This graffiti was probably an omen.

After Hours
For reasons unknown, I really wanted to see this 1985 Martin Scorsese comedy about an office worker named Paul (Griffin Dunne) who finds himself bored at work and open to what he thinks might be a little adventure. After work one night, Paul starts a conversation with a young woman named Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) at a diner and somehow finds himself invited to her New York City loft which she shares with her artist roommate (Linda Fiorentino). Through a series of unfortunate events, Paul loses his cab fare, winds up walking lost in NYC in a heavy downpour, misses his date (who oddly dies from an overdose?), finds himself mistaken as a thief and/or a murder and is chased by an angry mob, a Mr. Softee ice cream truck, and the police, then finally gets trapped inside a plaster of Paris sculpture which is stolen and eventually falls off a truck, right in front of his office, just in time for work. It's an eccentric sort of film that has more humour in theory than in practice (like it's funnier to think back on than to watch, if you know what I mean). In some ways it feels a little like Scorsese's take on James Joyce's Ulysses or maybe he just wanted to give us a tour of New York's weird and lively nightlife.

12 Angry Men
This classic 1950s movie directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda (and a host of other recognizable actors) feels very much like a play, being set in a simple room where a jury debate the outcome of a murder trial that at the beginning feels like an open and shut case until one of the jurors, unconvinced of the Spanish-American teen's guilt, starts asking questions. In many ways, despite this being a jury consisting of only white men, this film feels like a class on American civics, ethics and law. Yet it does so without judgement or piety but by simply asking questions. I wondered if you could recreate this film in a contemporary setting around the divide between the American far-right and everybody else but this film is best examined like a bug in amber, with wonder and curiosity.

Rocket Raccoon gets his moment.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3
While I'm a fan of these Marvel super-hero flicks, recent iterations have fallen flat. This film however, surprised me by successfully sticking to its formula of relationships, jokes, action sequences and a killer soundtrack. At its core, the film is primarily the origin story of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the cybernetic and genetically-enhanced/modified raccoon and the villain, The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) who created him. As with the other "Guardians" films, much of the resolution of the story focusses on the family that we choose to love rather than the one we have been born to.

London: The Modern Babylon
As I've been reading the historical book London: a Biography, it mentions many times how throughout history, visitors and Londoners alike have referred to the city as a modern day Babylon. The actual Babylon of southern Mesopotamia was considered the birthplace of civilisation and for over a hundred years, the largest city on Earth. As London's prominence and size grew, it became such an important centre of commerce and knowledge that it was often referred to as a new Babylon. The size and influence of the city is tackled in this widely encompassing documentary that focusses on the London of the 20th century (though it's important to note that London may have been a continual settlement of a variety of peoples for over a thousand years).

This is a very funny film starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as two British Sci-fi nerds who embark on a road trip of the US only to stumble across an alien escapee voiced by Seth Rogen. Basically it's like someone said, what if E.T. was Seth Rogen and the film E.T. was made for adult audiences.

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as Elwood and Jake Blues. They were on a mission from God.

The Blues Brothers
The 80s were a very good decade for director John Landis who successfully directed Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in this action-music-comedy written by novice screenwriter Dan Aykroyd based on the Saturday Night Live characters of Jake and Elwood Blues. The plot is simple enough. Jake and Elwood work to get their blues band back together for a show to raise enough money to save the Catholic orphanage where they were raised. Meanwhile the Blues Brothers are chased by Chicago and Illinois state police, a murderous and spurned ex, a country and western band and of course, by a group of Illinois nazis. There are too many cameos by the likes of James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin to count (though it is fun to try). Filmed 43 years ago, it still holds up today. Billed as one of the most expensive comedies ever made, it has more than made back its budget, if not after its theatrical release than by its second life in video rentals.

The Lost City
In what is basically a lift or homage to Romancing the Stone, The Lost City centres on a writer of romance fiction, Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), and a popular romance cover model (Channing Tatum) winding up on a tropical island adventure as a egomaniacal billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) is convinced the keys to a long lost archeological treasure lie in Loretta's writing. It's a simple, goofy flick with some predictable chuckles but few thrills. Think of it like a sugary drink you only allow yourself on a holiday.

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