Movies you've seen recently

Since it doesn’t look like there is going to be an Oscars thread (and I’ve seen shockingly few of the major award contenders), I’ll just put this here.

I saw the Animated Short and Live Short nominees. My quick takes:

Animated Short
Meh. The “profound” shorts are a little too on the nose and the “funny” ones are mildly amusing at best. If I was forced to pick…probably Yes-People from Iceland.

Live Short
At least a couple of these moved me a little. But don’t go looking for chuckles. Even the most “humorous” short makes you feel guilty for chuckling. But this category usually goes hard for the feels, so that’s a nit pick. However, it is not a nit pick that just about all the nominees have the same message: “Life’s a bitch, and then you die, if you’re lucky. But we’re going to show you some people who are even deeper in the mire and more hopeless than you. Won’t that be fun?”

Unfortunately, the Hollywoody star studded short from the USA, The Letter Room, is probably the most nuanced (and uplifting, if learning to live with hopelessness can be considered uplifting") and will probably win.

I watch this every year (at least in parts – I’ve seen the first half 20 times, and the end…maybe once). I love the over-the-top corniness, the iconic lines (So let it be written…where’s your deliverer now?..Oh, Moses, Moses…) and the hammy acting. But: the obelisk-raising scene is legit.

By the way: I wondered all my life why this movie was shown every year at Easter, when it has nothing to do with Easter. It took me a while for the light bulb to come on.

Sound of Metal (Amazon) Oscar nominee for Best Picture and Best Actor.

Meh. It’s good, I guess. But it also feels like it was made with an agenda – to set up a conflict between the Deaf Community vs Cochlear Implants, and comes down firmly on the side of the DC. (The title could be a reference to the way everything sounds with implants.)

Check out our earlier, uh, thread on it: A thread for The Phantom Thread. Spoilers after op.

You’re right, there should be - and now there is: The Academy Awards thread for 2021

Chaos Walking

A YA-ish sci-fi thriller. I read the book because I wanted to watch the movie with Tom Holland in it. It was…fine. Some of the creative choices made more sense than the book. It looks like they squished all three books into one movie because I didn’t recognize a lot of the scenes later in the movie. I’m not sure that was a great choice, because the story didn’t have a lot of time to breathe. B-.

I’m impressed by the early scene showing the King and Queen of Ethiopia. It’s such a respectful and positive image of black characters (they’re not now conquered, but allies. They have an impressive civilization and culture, even Nefertiri thinks the Queen in bee-yoo-ti-ful – she’s jealous) that this sectioon can still stand in showings on TV in the 2020s. It shows you how liberal Hollywood can be.

Can you imagine how the audiences reacted to this scene in the South in 1956?

My one complaint about the film is that we’ve become sophisticated, and the defects in the effects show. I’d like to see them touch them up (a la George Lucas’ “Special Editions”) to get rid of the matte bleeding around the edges during the “Raising the Obelisk” scene (you ca especially see the green edges on the flapping signal flag), and removing residual jerkiness in the Parting of the Red Sea shots.

The one thing I’d like to see them completely revamp is the Pillar of Fire. It looks way too cartoony, and did even when the film was new. CGI flames would look infinitely better during both the “delaying Pharaoh’s army” scenes and the Mt. Sinai scenes.

Don’t complain about “hammy acting” – it was appropriate. This film isn’t Historical Drama – it’s Pageant. And should be played that way.

If you ever get a chance, by the way, watch the 1920s silent version of The Ten Commandments – at least the Moses/ Old Testament section. It was directed by the same Cecil B. deMille over thirty years earlier, and he recreated some of the scenes from the silent version in his 1956 one, especially the Gates and the Corridor of Sphinxes through which the liberated Hebrews and, later, Pharaoh’s army pass.

Cal, excellent points, all. “Hammy” was a poor choice of words, but I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it. I’d also like to give props to the costumes and set design (especially the gigantic statuary) - all still spectacular.

The King of Ethiopia was Woody Strode (listed as “Woodrow” in the credits), who is all over the great films of the 50’s and 60’s.

Eye in the Sky - Basically a whole film based around a version of one of those “ethical dilemma” exercises you get in moral philosophy. There are terrorists in a house that are known to be planning suicide bombings on a shopping center. There is a military drone ready to take them out, but it has to be done before they leave the house. However, there is a young girl in the street outside selling bread who will almost certainly be killed by the drone strike as well. Do you order the drone strike and kill the girl now in order to save the potential future victims of the suicide bombings? A great cast and an excellent treatment of the subject, with few punches pulled as it explores the military, political and moral dimensions of the situation.

Just watched Godzilla vs. Kong last night.

See the thread on that for my commentary.

The Foreigner was a pleasant surprize. Sad to say, but when you hear that Jackie Chan is in a movie, you assume you know what the movie will be like. This proved different. His character is essentially “Rambo”. And though he is the main character of the movie, the plot is much more involved than him just seeking vengeance. Yes, there were some fight scenes and stunts, but not long drawn out affairs that are typical of Chan movies. And there is a whole side story involving Pierce Brosnan that is quite involved.

That was a pretty good film and was Alan Rickman’s last.

This is particular true for the movies that he has made for western audiences. He has had some dramatic turns in many of his asian films.

I agree that this was great movie and it was nice having Pierce Brosnan actually playing an irishman instead of some other nationality. It certainly was more complex than expected and makes me want to read the novel it is based on The Chinaman by Stephen Leather.

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Rebecca (1940)

Alfred Hitchcock adaptation starring Laurence Olivier as an aristocratic widow named Maxim de Winter who on a trip to the French Rivera meets a young woman working as a ‘companion’ (assistant) for an elderly society woman he is familiar with but hadn’t seen since his wife Rebecca died after drowning. Joan Fontaine played the young woman as a very wholesome character whose relationship with de Winter leads to marriage. But he is perturbed, distant and even in rage whenever mention of Rebecca or memories of his first marriage are brought up which leads to the new Mrs de Winter to believe his grief for Rebecca is much more powerful than love for her. Her sudden transformation to living in a big mansion with staff and his elite friends in high society also complicate the matters as she feels constantly compared to Rebecca and can never match up no matter how hard she tries. It was a fantastic performance by both leads.

But the real star performer was Judith Anderson who plays Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper. Her performance as a cold, suffocating, mysterious presence was incredible and as the movie unfolds it becomes eerie what she truly represents.

Watched Martin Scorsese’s Casino over the weekend. I don’t know why I missed this when it came out, and I don’t recall ever seeing that it was on TV, but I picked up a DVD copy recently and decided to fill that gap in my cinematic experience.

Robert de Niro and Joe Pesci playing gangsters in the 1970s in a Scorsese film based on a Nicholas Pileggi book, with screenplay by Pileggi and Scorsese – it’s like another Goodfellas. Amazing but depressing film. really re-creates the era, right down to getting celebrities (Franke Avalon, Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows, Jerry Vale) to play younger versions of themselves (as in Goodfellas).(He also got his mother to play the Italian mother of another character, as in Goodfellas).

Definitely worth watching.

News of the World I’m puzzled by the lukewarm critical reaction this received; we thought it was an absolute gem. Highly recommended.

Arrival - I’ve read the original Ted Chiang short story on which this is based (N.B. the anthology Stories of Your Life And Others is highly recommended) and the film is a pretty good adaptation, keeping and expanding upon the main idea of the story while using the medium to good effect. I really enjoyed it.

I read somewhere a while back that the studio execs had tried to get the whole “alien language” thing taken out, which would basically have removed the entire plot of the film. Studio execs can be weird sometimes.

Great movie. I saw it well after it was released and remember feeling outraged that none of my friends told me about it. I mean it’s about giant alien squids and the power of language! If I had known that I would have been first in line at the theater.

Agreed with everything said above about Arrival. I’ve both read the short story and seen the movie; very different but both well worth a look. Here’s our thread about it: Arrival (seen it - open spoilers)

We watched The Octopus Teacher last night. Excellent film.

It’s about a man who decides to explore a kelp forest under the ocean. He is intrigued by an octopus he came across, first because it has found a unique way to camouflage itself, then because he wanted to interact with it. He slowly becomes accepted by the animal and they form a bond. A bit sentimental in spots, but the life of the octopus is fascinating as it deals with finding food and avoiding predators. There’s a long sequence as it tries to escape from a shark by outwitting it.

Fascinating and emotionally affecting.

Watched Border, a strong Swedish-language film that reminded me of Let the Right One In — and it turned out that they were from the same writer. I found it through a recommendation on the Onion’s A.V. Club, which said it’s best to watch the film without knowing much about it. The lead character is a customs agent with the ability to sense fear and shame.

It’s showing on Hulu. It has some intense scenes, including sexual ones, but it doesn’t go for cheap emotions. Recommended.

I’ll also add to the endorsements of My Octopus Teacher.