Haiku and Review: Inside Out, Inherent Vice, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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The life of Riley
by way of Joy and Sadness.
It’s all in her head.

Without question one of the best Pixar movies, if not the best one.  The one emotion that I think we could’ve done without is Disgust, but really, that’s the tiniest of complaints.  It’s visually arresting, the story moves, and it’s one of these rare movies that may actually help people, too.  Only three animated movies have been nominated for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3) but none have won.  Who knows what Oscar bait will come out in November and December, but at the very least, Inside Out deserves to be nominated.

MV5BMjI2ODQ2NzUwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU3NTE4MjE@._V1._SX94_SY140_Inherent Vice

Looks good, sounds right — but
how little we care about
anything, really.

Comparisons to The Big Lebowski are obvious (and The Dude is the far superior movie in all the major ways — humor, plot, acting).  After watching the film, I wondered why it didn’t jibe.  It felt like the movie thought it was funnier than it actually was (which was very little).  The only thing of note is the actress Katherine Waterston, who seemed like she was channeling circa 1995 Laura Linney.  Her facial expressions, her movement — she reminded me so much of a young Linney.

MV5BMTQ1NDI2MzU2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTExNTU5NDE@._V1._SX90_SY140_Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

She climbs in beauty
up a bruiser, then turns, falls —
a takedown done right.

I don’t think this was as good as the last one, Ghost Protocol, which had more cool gizmos and a higher hit rate for humor (mostly because Jeremy Renner brought the laughs in GP while here, he’s stuck in a suit in DC for too many stretches).  But wow, what a performance by Rebecca Ferguson.  Give her hair an old-fashioned wave, light her softly, and take some B&W shots, and she’d be a modern-day Lauren Bacall (somebody else agrees, too!).  And a big hand to her stunt double, Lucy Cork, who made all those fights look so good.  Ferguson’s character was actually more action-oriented than Cruise’s character.  How cool is that?

I Saw Cinderella…and I Loved It.

cinderella

 

Courage and kindness
brings a girl in a blue gown
to eternal bliss.

On our drive over to the cinema yesterday afternoon, my wife and I tried to recall which movie we last saw on the big screen.  We did catch the Oscar Shorts with friends a few months back, but for regular movies, the film that came to mind was Gravity.  Which was two years ago!  We actually saw at least two movies that year, as we also caught The Great Gatsby, in 3D no less.

So the movies that get us out of the house are spectacles, and boy, did we ever choose the right one yesterday.  We saw Cinderella, and I have to tell you, I saw many little girls with their popcorns and sodas around me, but I guarantee that not one of them loved this movie as much as I did.  I laughed, I cried (really), and I was just stunned by the beauty of it all.  I figure plenty of CGI was utilized to make the backgrounds more than they actually are, but I didn’t care a whit.  To me, this is what CGI is supposed to be used for, not for having giant robots duke it out as if the fate of the planet depended on them (it doesn’t).

This is one of these movies that could’ve gone wrong in so many ways, but by some miracle none did.  Mostly I attribute this to Ken Branagh, whom I’ve always admired since seeing Dead Again.  His Hamlet was a sumptuous affair, so I knew he had the aesthetic chops — and after making Thor, I guess I should’ve realized Branagh can do anything.

Some very light spoilers below, so if you want a virgin experience, stop reading and go to the movies on this very fine Sunday.

The first twenty minutes or so of the movie is the weakest, but something clicks around the half-hour mark.  It might be because this is about when Cate Blanchett enters the narrative.  She is, as always, wonderful, and this part of the stepmother requires for her to be in every kind of mode — evil, fragile, hilarious, oftentimes within the same scene.  Initially I wasn’t sold on Lily James as Cinderella, but as the movie progressed, she won me over.  Of course I knew she would imbue innocence and goodness, but it’s her lack of perfection that really got me.  Let me explain: in the ballroom dancing scene, there’s a slight sense of the amateur in her movements, and that in itself lends a sense of vulnerability.

This movie is a total throwback in every sense of the word, and it’s the reason why it’s so good.  Look at the way Branagh uses closeups the few moments the two leads touch (the prince’s hand on her back during the dance, the glass slipper coming off on the swing).  The central theme of courage and kindness might rub some critics the wrong way, but if you let the movie take you, man, will it ever take you.

Haiku and Review: The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura, and Make Way for Tomorrow

Recently I had the idea to catch up with some old movies, so I looked up the AFI 100 list to see which films I haven’t seen.  Turns out there are plenty, so I picked one out, and it led to another, and then another, and I have a feeling I’ll be seeing more old movies in the future.  I feel foolish for once thinking that I wouldn’t relate to films made before 1950 (All About Eve and Sunset Blvd. seemed like a decent starting point).  How wrong I was!

bestyears

Three World War 2 vets
return home and try to find
family and love.

It’s almost three hours long and I wish I were ten times longer.  It’s not a complicated story, about three different generations of men who return from WWII.  One has emotional scars, what we’d now diagnose as PSTD; another has physical scars, the loss of both hands; and the last struggles to readjust to his family and his job.  When I first saw Harold Russell, who plays the man with hooks for hands, I marveled at his skills with his hooks (lighting a cigarette, opening doors, etc.), thinking he must’ve put a lot of hours to master them for his acting gig.  In reality, he did lose his hands in the war and he wasn’t even a professional actor!  Here’s a bit of trivia that might come in handy one day: Russell is the only actor to have won two Oscars for the same role.  When the awards were given that year, the Academy wanted to honor him and the vets, so they created a special award for him, thinking he had no chance of winning Best Supporting.  He won them both.

There are two highlights in this movie: the scene between Frederic March and Myrna Loy, who play the parents to Theresa Wright.  In their bedroom, the three of them have a conversation about love that just may knock your socks off.  My socks are still knocked out cold.  The other highlight is purely visual, of Dana Andrews walking along the decommissioned airplanes.  I suppose nowadays they’d just CGI it, but here, it’s real, and that makes it even more powerful.

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Laura (1944)
Who killed Laura Hunt?
Her fiancé? Her dandy?
Ask her, detective.

I wanted to see more of Dana Andrews, so Laura was the next film.  Two years older than The Best Years of Our Lives, it is known as one of the best noirs of its time, and the film lives up to that expectation and then some.  Though Andrews plays the hard-boiled detective, the reason to see this movie is for Clifton Webb, who plays a writer and a…I’m having a hard time coming up with an apt description for his relationship with Laura, because it’s just sort of weird.  He’s definitely in love with her, but it never feels like a straight-up man-loves-woman kind of thing.  Not exactly mentor and mentee, either.  You should just see the movie to find out for yourself.

Vincent Price plays Laura’s fiancé, and I never knew what a handsome, strapping lad he was in his youth.  Before Laura, the only Price I knew was the laugher in Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the inventor in Edward Scissorhands.

makeway
Ma and Pa Cooper
must live without the other.
This heartbreak is pure.

This film is almost eighty years old, and yet it is startling how much it applies to our current times.  The story, again, is deceptively simple.  Aged parents lose their house to the bank, but none of the five children want to take them both on, so Pa goes with one daughter while Ma goes with one son.  The actors are naturalistic in their performance with very little melodrama, which is amazing since this is 1937!  In a way, the last twenty-five minutes of this movie reminded me of Richard Linklater’s Sunrise series — two people walking and talking about their lives and viewpoints.  Even though the film is sad and grim, there are plenty of laughs, once again reinforcing my steadfast belief that humor is a vital ingredient of every movie in every genre.  The ending — oh, the ending.  The director, Leo McCarey, lost his job because he wouldn’t change it.  He took one for the team, and we are now forever blessed by his stubbornness.

Haiku and Review: Nothing Lasts Forever, a.k.a., Die Hard

nothing lasts foreverJoe, alone, against
terrorists on Christmas Day.
Pages of darkness.

Like a lot of people, Die Hard is one of my favorite action films.  Each entry in the franchise has gotten worse, but nothing can take away from the brilliance of the original.  It’s been a while since I saw it, but I was curious to watch it again because I just finished the novel from which it is based.

I can’t recall how I was led to the novel, but I was intrigued when folks who have read it said it was both the same and different, in all the right ways.  It’s a slim book, bare over 200 pages, easily readable in a single sitting.  It took me about six sittings, but that’s because I’m just a slow reader.

If you are a fan of the movie, you will like a lot of what’s in this book (originally titled Nothing Lasts Forever, by Roderick Thorpe — what a cool name!).  So much of what John McClane goes through (Joe Leland in the novel, and he’s much older here, I believe in his late fifties) — barefoot on the broken glass, C4 down the elevator shaft, pistol sneakily strapped to his back — are in the novel.  And yet at the same time, so much of it is not there, and I don’t just mean plot mechanics or dropped scenes.   The book is way darker, and because it is told in a limited third person from Joe’s point of view, we are left with a work that spends much of its time inside his head.  So as action filled as this novel is, it’s also intensely introspective.  There’s also a greater sense of moral ambiguity, as the purpose behind the skyscraper takeover is as black and white as it is in the movie.

Seeing Die Hard again after all these years (I can’t remember seeing the film in its entirety in at least ten years) was a study in nostalgia.  Smoking inside the airport!  Car phones!  Cocaine!  One aspect I noticed this time was the omnipresent soundtrack — it’s a bit too pervasive and felt dated.  Was Alan Rickman supposed to be German or English?  His accent was kind of all over the place.  But these are niggling complaints.  The movie holds up in every way — well, maybe except for the ending (do I need to do a spoiler alert here?), when Karl returns from the seeming dead with guns blazing.  The novel handles this in a much more logical manner.