Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - TV EDITION: Science Fiction

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!


This year, Wanderer has decided that the last Thursday Movie Picks of each month will be a special Television Edition! While I'm excited for the diversity, I'm also kind of annoyed, because I've watched WAY less TV shows than I have movies, and I hate to pick things more than once. This might get difficult when we get to December...

But anyway, let's focus on the here and now, shall we? This week, we're talking Sci-Fi TV shows. I have to admit, the first two shows I immediately thought of I ended up discarding for various reasons, one of which being I'm sure everyone else will pick them. Bonus points if you can guess what they were. The ones I did pick this week are two shows from my childhood that honestly may not have been very good at all, and one SciFi Channel Syfy show that I really love.

Land of the Lost (1991-1992)  I'm SO SORRY. But I remember really loving this Saturday Morning TV Show as a kid. An update of the old Sid & Marty Krofft show from the 70s but with (slightly) better special effects, Land of the Lost is the story of a Dad and his two kids who get accidentally sucked back in time (or something) to a world where dinosaurs and cavemen run rampant, and have to survive or find a way back home. I remember liking the Swiss Family Robinson living-off-the-land survival elements the best, but other than that I really don't remember much. Except that I liked it.

SeaQuest DSV (1993-1996) My grandfather is a seafarer. He came to America from England working on a boat, and jumped ship when they got to New York, and he's been on or near the water ever since. Both of my grandparents volunteered at a local aquarium (my grandmother basically built their education program from the ground up), and they had a boat on Long Island Sound that we would go out on in the summer. So when this show, which is basically Star Trek under water, aired, it was appointment viewing for my family. Again, I don't remember practically anything about it, except that I looked forward to it every week. And that the cast, led by Roy Scheider, is pretty much all REALLY good-looking.

Eureka (2006-2012) The newest and BY FAR best of my picks this week, Eureka is the story of an average cop, who (along with his teenage daughter) stumbles across a city populated entirely by geniuses and, through circumstance, ends up becoming the town Sheriff. Naturally, since the town factory is a high-tech corporation run by the Department of Defense, something life-threatening (or at least, VERY weird) happens on a pretty regular basis, so Sheriff Carter has plenty to keep him busy. And while everyone around him may have a (much) higher IQ, Carter's street smarts and ability to connect with others makes him far better at the job than anyone expected, himself included. What started out as a more serious, mythology-and-mystery-driven show ended up becoming much more lighthearted in its middle-to-later seasons, so much so that even the objectively bad episodes were enjoyable just because the characters were so pleasant to spend time with. It's an incredibly endearing show, and I actually miss it quite a bit.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies Featuring an Actor/Actress that Passed Away in 2016

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them. It's fun... promise!

Well, we all know 2016 was a bit of a downer on the whole "celebrities dying" front. So let's start celebrating them!

I'll be honest, I kind of want to make this just a celebration of mother-daughter duo Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, but that would be somewhat unfair to everyone else who passed away last year. And there were some great talents among them.

The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006) I ask you: Is there an actor better suited to play Nikola Tesla than David Bowie? He has the perfect presence for the enigmatic mad scientist, and he perks up Nolan's dour tale of dueling magicians something fierce. This is probably my favorite Christopher Nolan film, a perfectly realized vision of the male psyche and the way jealousy can consume your life and fester into something ugly. Top of the line performances from Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine in addition to absolutely gorgeous cinematography make this one of the best, most memorable films of the '00s, with one of the most brilliant endings.

Dogma (Kevin Smith, 1999) Honest to God, this may be my favorite Alan Rickman performance. As the sardonic, exasperated, perpetually soused angel Metatron, he is an absolute riot in Smith's assault against all things holy. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are perfectly cast "against type" as bad-boy fallen angels trying to get back into heaven, Chris Rock is a hoot as the forgotten thirteenth apostle, and honestly, Alanis Morissettte gives what is perhaps my favorite portrayal of God ever put on screen. Dogma is a sick dirty joke of a film, but it's one that makes me laugh EVERY TIME.

The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967) One of my All-Time Favorite movies, with one of my favorite performances. That performance being, of course, Gene Wilder's as the unbelievably neurotic accountant Leo Bloom, who offhandedly comes up with the perfect idea to make money on a flop Broadway show, which faded producer Max Bialystock (a brilliant Zero Mostel) takes completely seriously. The problem? Well, in their effort to make all the wrong choices, they inadvertently make all the right choices to create a camp classic: Springtime for Hitler. I just CAN'T with how funny this movie is.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Awards Contenders In Brief - Moonlight

There's been a lot of talk of representation in the movies this year, especially in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite. It initially seemed like Nate Parkers' Birth of a Nation would be the film carrying the flag all the way to the Oscars, but in its place has been Barry Jenkins's Moonlight. Which is fitting given how important LGBTQ issues have been recently.

Moonlight is the story of a young black man growing up in Miami. His mother is a crack addict. He's constantly beat on at school. So one day, when drug dealer Juan finds him hiding out in an abandoned crack house, he doesn't speak much. Juan and his girlfriend Theresa become like surrogate parents as he grows up. Moonlight is told in three parts, each titled for one of our main character's names: Little (his childhood nickname), Chiron (his given name), and Black (the name he adopts as a young adult). The structure is important, as the film is basically about Chiron's search for identity, his quest to become who he is.

Alongside Chiron's story, we get the story of his best friend Kevin, who mirrors Chiron in a lot of ways. Where Chiron has difficulty expressing himself, Kevin is super talkative. Where Chiron is insular, Kevin is outgoing and seemingly friends with everybody. While Chiron is still figuring out who he is, Kevin has, and knows enough to be able to repress it when he has to.

Moolight is easily the most beautiful film of the year, and not just visually. Thematically, this is one of the most impactful films of the year, and the screenplay (adapted from an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney) deals with it beautifully. The first time I saw Moonlight, I worried that the character of Juan was a bit too idealized in how he responds to Little, but this recent second time through revealed how fully realized the surrogate father relationship between the two of them is. The screenplay has some beautifully written scenes, but the final scene of the first part, where an outburst from his mother has prompted Little to ask Juan the dreaded "what's a faggot?" is as perfect as it gets.

Moonlight is a perfect three-act play, but it's given gorgeous cinematic life by director Barry Jenkins and his team, especially cinematographer James Laxton, who crafts each image with uncommon care. Seriously, every frame of this could hang on the wall in an art gallery. And the score by Nicholas Britell gives perfect voice to Chiron's character and journey. And I haven't even said anything about the cast, who give the greatest ensemble performance of 2016. Yes, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali have gotten the lion's share of the awards attention, but the performances of the three Chirons and Kevins are just incredible, somehow feeling like one character instead of three. Together, the three actors playing Chiron give the performance of the year.

I don't have enough words in my vocabulary to describe how beautiful this movie is, how meaningful it is, both in general and to me personally. Moonlight is everything the movies should be: In telling the story of people we rarely if ever get to see onscreen, it can mean the world to so many, and give understanding to so many more. It is, no exaggeration, a film that has the power to change and even save lives.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Fashion World

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three films that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

Lights, camera.... FASHION!

Yes, darlings, this week on Thursday Movie Picks we are going to that place where everyone is beautiful on the outside and usually ugly on the inside: The World of Fashion.

Fashion has always played a part in the movies - in the early days, there would often be a fashion show just inserted into the middle of the film for no reason at all other than to offer the audience something beautiful to look at. Since then, there have been many films that have taken place in the world of clothing designers, models, and photographers (and their long-suffering assistants). These are three of my favorites.

Funny Face (Stanley Donen, 1957) Think Pink! Say what you will, but Kay Thompson is the REAL star of the show here, despite my love for headliners Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Thompson is the publisher and editor of a fashion magazine, and Astaire a famous photographer. Wanting new models who can "think as well as they look", they go downtown to Greenwich Village and coerce intellectual Hepburn to model for them, with a trip to Paris as bait. Well, I mean, who WOULDN'T take them up on that offer?!? Audrey's go-go dance in the club is maybe my favorite thing she's ever done, and really all the musical numbers here are superb.

The First Monday in May (Andrew Rossi, 2016) Every year, on the first Monday in May, there is a Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for the new Costume Institute exhibition. The Met Ball, as it has become known, is one of the biggest events of the fashion world, and this is your insider's view into what goes into making it all happen. I'll admit: I had flashes of PTSD watching this, because a large part of my job for five years was planning the Gala for the theater company where I worked. That was stressful enough. THIS is on a WHOLE other level. That the film also sparks conversations on what is "art" and what is controversial, and what is beautiful, is just icing on the cake.

The Dressmaker (Jocelyn Moorhouse, 2016) The Fashion World Meets The Backwoods. Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage was ran out of her backwoods Australian town years ago for something unspeakable. Somehow, she ended up becoming one of the world's foremost designers, and she has finally returned home, ready to win over the townsfolk who drove her out and cast her mother aside... WITH FASHION! So much of The Dressmaker is ridiculous, but it is one of my favorite movies of the year for how purely enjoyable it is. Kate Winslet is just fabulous beyond words as Tilly, Judy Davis is a hoot as her aging crone of a mother, and Liam Hemsworth has never been more swoon-worthy as the town hunk. And, of course, the fashions are just BEYOND.

*                    *                    *

And, just in case you wondering, my picks for last week's Legal Thrillers theme would have been: The tense, forgotten Fracture, starring Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins; and the Laura Linney double feature Primal Fear (with a never-better Richard Gere and tremendous debut from Ed Norton) and The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which is FAR smarter and better than it has any right to be).

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Awards Contenders In Brief - A Monster Calls

Look, a boy's best friend is his mother, so when your movie is about a young boy whose mother is dying of cancer, that's pretty much a guaranteed tear-jerker from my perspective. But even still, J.A. Bayona's A Monster Calls is a film of such uncommon beauty that it deserves praise. I don't even really particularly care how well the film holds together because it does an absolutely tremendous job of earning the tears it so effectively rings in the last fifteen minutes or so.

A large part of that is due to the great performances from Felicity Jones (as said cancer-stricken mother) and Lewis MacDougall. MacDougall in particular is just perfect, getting the frustrated, conflicted heart of this kid who only fully comprehends what is going on (both within and outside of himself) subconsciously. Jones is heartbreaking; her fragile beauty has never been put to better use, and the strength she manages to project from her increasingly weakened body makes it all the more emotional when she finally has to tell her son that she isn't long for this world. It is an absolutely heart-wrenching scene, and couldn't possibly be better written or performed. I was an absolute puddle from that point on.

The basic story is this: Young Conor's mother has cancer. Unable to cope with the constant pain and upheaval (Dad has moved to America, Grandma is cold in that traditional English way, and Mum is constantly sick), he brings to life a monster out of a yew tree situated on a nearby church graveyard. The monster (perfectly voiced by Liam Neeson) says he will tell the boy three stories, and that in exchange, Conor must tell him one - his own. The visual effects work and animated sequences for the monster's stories are some of the most stunningly imagined scenes in recent memory - the raw beauty of this film is just out of this world. Bayona is perfectly attuned to Patrick Ness's story, choosing the best way at every level to film it. Maybe I'm being a bit overly complimentary because of the emotion the film wrung out of me (at the end of my screening, I cried out to no one in particular, tears streaming down my face, "Give it ALL THE AWARDS, dammit!"), but that it managed to do so so effectively and honestly is something worth celebrating.