Merry Christmas everyone! I’ve been enjoying loafing around my parents’ house for the past week, so other than a fun family outing to see Star Wars it’s been mostly a week of catching up with some things on streaming, (and filling in some new nominees from the Critics’ Choice nominees.
I’m a sucker for movies about The Movies and (as already discussed this awards season) I think it’s important in today’s, frankly terrifying, political climate to tell stories about what happens when we, as Americans, let our fear run things. So, I was basically the target audience for this biopic of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a screenwriter and Communist, who was blacklisted during the peak of the HUAC craziness. And, I liked it a lot. Cranston is amazing, at this point that almost goes without saying, but he does such a good job of evolving his performance over time and in reaction to what happens around him.
The supporting cast is also great. I was especially moved by Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird, a more radical member of the Hollywood Ten (and a more tragic figure), and Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, an actor who named names for the committee, something the movie handles very sensitively, which I wasn’t expecting. Also, Helen Mirren is deliciously evil as Hedda Hopper, a gossip columnist so over the top she looks like she just walked out of a Capitol scene in The Hunger Games, but she’s Helen Mirren so, of course, by the end even hopper felt like a full, complex (though flawed and fear driven) human.
This can be heavy handed and a bit preachy at times, but so could Trumbo himself.
Another one we discussed on Method to the Madness , Wolf Hall is the epitome of great BBD (Boring British Drama). It’s a slow, lovely literary adaptation, covering the story of Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) and the upheaval of Henry VIII (Damien Lewis)’s reign. I admit that this didn’t stick in my brai as much as other miniseries covering similar subject matter have in the past, but I stand by my last post in praising Rylance. I think he’s probably one of the best living actors today, and I’m glad he’s been getting more film and TV work lately.
Some movies com and go without me even realizing it, even though I’m almost always at the movies or wishing I could be at the movies, and Danny Collins was one of those. But the HFPA will always nominate Al Pacino whenever they can so I got the chance to chat up with this quiet little gem.
The story is simple, Pacino plays a coke head lounge singer who started out as an idealistic folk musician, who receives a letter than John Lennon sent him when he was young. It acts as a wake up call, and Collins snaps out of his over the top party life and travels to New Jersey (much to the chagrin of his manager/best friend played by the always charming Christopher Plummer) to spend time with his estranged son (the always compelling Bobby Cannavale).
It gets dangerously close to schmaltzy at times, but it’s at its heart an interesting take on an addiction story. Danny never hits a true rock bottom, because his success insulate him against that, but his problem does hold him back from true happiness and connection. He’s a good guy, but he’s scares to be as open as that requires. It’s much better than I expected and available on Amazon Prime. Worth a watch.
Confession, I’ve never seen the original Rocky all the way through. I know the whole story, and have seen the sequel where he goes to Russia on TV a bunch of times as a kid. But, I like Michael B. Jordan, and heard interesting things about Sylvester Stallone‘s performance in this (and it got nominations) so I went. If the original Rocky is this kind of mix of inspirational and yet subtle than I think I can safely say that I love it. I saw a review of Creed somewhere that described it as essentially an extended sports montage, and while I don’t think that’s completely fair, I did feel actually uplifted throughout most of this and I hat boxing so that’s a accomplishment. Jordan does a good job of creating his own character and Tessa Thompson (whom I have loved since her days on Veronica Mars) is lovely as his love interest. But Stallone was the most interesting factor to me. He’s an old man in this, it looks like he can barely move in some scenes, and it was a unique take on franchise maintenance to have the central strongman hero, step into the shoes of the comic relief/emotional guide. Also, that score will never stop being epic.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Miró and I discussed this one on our Summer Movie Special. I saw it over the summer and don’t have my old notebook on vacation with me so I don’t have my full notes on what I thought of this. Basically I liked it a lot. I think it managed to avoid cheap sentimentality despite being about a girl with cancer, but also respects the fact that at a certain point you have to let sentiment in. Because otherwise we aren’t human. It’s also a lovely look at being a teenage film nerd, which I, of course, loved.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Look, you already know whether this movie is for you or not, but if it is its magical. The plot is essentially A New Hope redux, with the great addition of a kick ass heroine – Rey, played by the revelation Daisy Ridley. Just as I hoped, the action zips along, the music is stirring and the relationships feel real. There are a couple of moments of real pathos (they there Harrison Ford), but not so many that it feels like they’re trying too hard.
I had forgotten how funny this universe can be, and the one liners here were pretty great. Especially those delivered by John Boyega.
Minor spoilers ahead:
I was also really happy to see that Poe (Oscar IsaacOscar Isaac) didn’t die at the beginning, because you can’t give me ten minutes of Oscar Isaac and then leave me with a jacket. I (maybe naively) have hope for Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)’s redemption. Can’t wait for episode 8.