Don Siegel’s debut feature, this short film won an Academy Award in 1946 for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel). High on Christmas sentiment, it is a retelling of the nativity story with Mary and Joseph reimagined as Mexican migrants Maria and José Santos. On a cold Christmas Eve they take shelter at desert motel in the Southwestern US, run by Nick Catapoli, a man disillusioned by the selfish behaviour of the people he encounters day in and day out. For him the whole idea of Christmas spirit is a meaningless hypocrisy, with people only smiling because they want something… Well, the arrival of the two migrants and Maria’s sudden labour brings out the good in people as his guests rally round to help the young couple in any way they can and Nick’s belief in the goodness of human nature is restored. It’s a short but sweet retelling of the Christmas tale, with obvious influences from A Christmas Carol, and it works. It certainly jerked the tears out of me tonight. Merry Christmas everyone, and enjoy this one.
Fortunately for you two we’re reviving a cancelled undercover police program from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.
– Deputy Chief Hardy in “21 Jump Street”
The movie itself? Very silly. Lots of fun.
Last night Mewby and I rented this great movie about the 1935 debate team of historically all black Wiley College in Texas. Based on true events it depicts the efforts of educator Melvin B. Tolson to inspire his students through knowledge and training to challenge the discriminatory world of the Jim Crow south they have been brought up in. The movie does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of those times; the social upheavals, the class struggles, as well as the fight for racial equality and the general all-pervasive sense of fear that black people had to endure in the segregated south where lynching was all too common. Many of the characters in the movie are based on historical characters: 14 year-old debate team member James L. Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), later went on to co-found C.O.R.E., the Congress of Racial Equality) and Tolson himself (played by Denzel Washington) was an educator, columnist, social activist and politician. At the end of the movie we are told that he went on to become a world renowned poet. “Why have I never heard of him?” I thought to myself, and promptly stuck this volume on my amazon wishlist.
Altogether, this is a wonderful movie with outstanding performances and a palpable sense of tension and excitement throughout. The movie is also graced by the presence of two Oscar winners in Washington and Forest Whitaker. Very highly recommended!
Some months ago, Mewby and I went to the cinema with the intention of seeing The King’s Speech. When we got there however, I noticed to my excitement that True Grit was playing and persuaded Mewby to watch that instead. I totally made the right decision. Last weekend we rented The King’s Speech on DVD and though it isn’t bad as far as feel-good British propaganda movies go, it isn’t a patch on True Grit. True Grit isn’t a feel-good movie. It’s bleak and beautiful, funny but sad and a true depiction of human strengths and weaknesses. It’s also a great rip-roaring western yarn. Who doesn’t like a good cowboy movie? I’d like to see Colin Firth riding hard at his enemies both guns blazing and his reins between his teeth! Wouldn’t happen, would it? Old Berty didn’t have true grit.
Last night I went to see Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”. It’s the story of a boy growing up in a 1950s all-American family + all of existence & the wonders of creation (with a couple of dinosaurs thrown in for good measure). The heart of the movie, the story of a family, is very good (Brad Pitt and child actors give excellent performances), but the existence/creation/visual poetry stuff is incredibly overblown, pompous and downright dull. I found its preachy, and smug religious message heavy-handed too. Boos from me. Stick to the story next time Mr. Malick! And use your actors more. Sean Penn was totally wasted in this movie. And those dinosaurs? Oddly predictable given the context, but bloody silly all the same.
I watched Kim Jee-Woon‘s Sergio Leone-inspired Korean “Western” last night. An unusual film, but it’s a lot of fun. The setting is the 1930s Manchurian desert. Japan has taken over Korea and Manchuria and made them into puppet states. In this time of lawlessness, when history and ethnic and national identity are all in flux, three Korean desperadoes’ lives intersect. The Good, Do-won (JUNG Woo-sung), is a bounty hunter seeking the The Bad, the bandit Chang-yi (LEE Byung-hun), who in turn is seeking a legendary treasure map. However the map has fallen into the hands of the very Weird Tae-goo (SONG Kang-ho) a petty robber who somehow always lands on his feet. Soon the three are pursuing each other across Manchuria and in turn are pursued by the Japanese army and an assortment of Asian outlaws. Gunfights, battles, and all kinds of excitement ensues. And Song Kang-ho totally steals the show in his comedic role as The Weird Tae-goo. The film gained an 88% fresh rating on rottentomatoes. Well-deserved, but one thing did concern me and that was the horses. No way were those chase sequences filmed humanely. If they make a sequel, they really ought to treat the horses with a little more respect.
This movie scared the crap out of me. Not only do I now never want to travel in Russia, I never want to travel anywhere! Yikes! The atmosphere, from the start is sooo intense – you just know that things are going to get bad, and then worse, and then much worse before it’s all over. Woody Harrelson as sweet naive Roy and Emily Mortimer as his morally ambiguous wife Jessie play their roles perfectly. This thriller had me squirming in my seat and calling things out like “Don’t trust them!”, “Don’t go with him!”, “Tell him the truth!” and “Ah! Stop it!”. Great movie but you might need a spare pair of pants.
Having seen the trailer I wasn’t expecting much of this movie. I was expecting it to be a rather empty-headed action-comedy-caper with quirky old Robert Downey Jr. playing the legendary Baker Street sleuth as pretty much quirky old Robert Downey Jr. But on Saturday Mewby and I went to see it. And do you know, the trailer doesn’t do it justice at all. We really enjoyed Sherlock Holmes. It’s a rollicking adventure, a first-rate piece of entertainment and a very nice retake on the Sherlock Holmes legend! You can still recognize the great detective in Robert Downey Jr.’s performance though his eccentricities are now more obvious and his great genius, so useful for deduction and forensic analysis, proves a source of pain both in his personal relationships and in his encounters with bland society. Given this take on Holme’s nature I think maybe Mr. Downey was the best man for the job. Jude Law’s performance also as the sturdy, loyal, yet irritated companion is a nice foil to Holmes and his invaluable aid and friendship is something Holmes is terrified of losing. And though many have complained about this adaptation – a lot of the details in this movie come direct from the source material you know. There are those who will say “Downey’s not a patch on Jeremy Brett!” but you know back in the 80’s when Brett was on the box my Dad always said he wasn’t a patch on Basil Rathbone! Perhaps because I grew up watching Doctor Who (an obvious Holmes descendant) and have remained a loyal fan through the Timelord’s latest incarnations I don’t mind so much when a new actor explores a much beloved character – in fact I find it refreshing. And let’s not be too precious about the subject matter. Conan Doyle’s original stories are not high literature to be revered and handled like fine china. They are very fine pieces of entertainment at the heart of which lies a legendary friendship. This movie entertains. It’s fun. And in this movie that legendary friendship is given fine expression. I’ve included the trailer here, but you’d be better off just going to see the movie really (some clips in this trailer never actually made it to the finished movie anyway). Mewby and I are both looking forward to the sequel so clearly set up at the end of the film. Who will play Holme’s arch-nemesis I wonder?
Where the Wild Things Are is quite a good movie to watch right after you’ve had a row with someone. Makes you feel very very silly indeed. Quite unlike Maurice Sendak’s original picture book in tone, the movie explores the mood-swings of childhood; the high points of excitement (snowball fights) , the slumps into depression (some big boy smashes your igloo) and then the tears and the rage (tearing up your sister’s bedroom). It’s a familiar pattern and one we all recognize. Becoming an adult is in part learning how to control those moodswings, and learning how to compromise with people when you can’t quite seem to get along. The boy Max becomes leader of the “wild things” and especially friendly with Carol among them. But as children (and monsters) do, soon they are squabbling over petty slights and misunderstandings. Because they are so close – they feel all the more hurt and let down when they argue and the sense of betrayal seems unforgivable. And yet, a simple gesture can suddenly make them forget their argument and remember how important they are to each other again. When the movie was over I asked Mewby what she thought about it. “I’m not a child…” she said smiling, as if to say the movie was too childish for her. But I noticed that there were no children in the audience when we went to see it. And I don’t think this movie is for children really. It’s not particularly “fun”. It is a far more realistic and sombre depiction of childhood experience than one would expect from a popular movie. But it is also a study of those feelings, those moodswings; the hurt, the loneliness, the joy and the rage that we all still have inside us even as adults – whether we choose to express them or acknowledge them or not. Spike Jonze and David Eggers wrote the screenplay for this movie together. It’s interesting what they are trying to do here. I’m not sure it works – but it is interesting.
I rented this one at the weekend. I figured the subject matter and inevitably sad ending would make this movie heavy and depressing but ultimately the story of Harvey Milk is a positive and inspiring story of a life full of meaning and purpose. On his birthday in 1970 Harvey Milk says to his new lover, Scott Smith, “I’m 40 and I’ve done nothing in my life that I’m proud of.” Scott encourages him to come out of the closet, make new friends and find a new scene in California. There Harvey Milk becomes passionately involved in the world of politics, fighting for gay rights, and ultimately becomes the first openly gay man elected to public office in the USA. I knew nothing about this man before watching this movie. I’m really glad I know now. And Sean Penn’s performance – fantastic. Watch this movie first chance you get!