Things I Saw in January

moonlight2-01. Nocturnal Animals (2016): One of my favorite movies of 2016 to be sure, “Nocturnal Animals”, is a great, darkly funny film from director Tom Ford who hasn’t directed a film since 2009s “A Single Man”. Ford has wonderful look to this film which goes back and forth between the real story of a profoundly sad, empty artist (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript from her writer ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). The other story that unfolds is what Adams is reading in the manuscript which is a southern gothic tale of revenge from a man who wants justice to the men who raped and murdered his wife and daughter. The story acts as a parallel to Adams’ story in a way as it recounts her unhappiness. The film, for the most part is wildly entertaining and original which great performances from everyone, even though I would say Michael Shannon walks away with the film as Southern Marshall who goes beyond the law, it’s weirdly wonderful and one of my favorite performances of the year. 4 stars out of 4

2. Moonlight (2016): A quiet, and riveting film and one that feels purely cinematic. This one stayed with me for a very long time after, not knowing what I thought of it, but thinking back at it, I came to the conclusion that it is a great film, beautiful and poetic. It tells a somewhat simple story following a young black kid through three stages of his life, from boyhood to manhood. We see basically three separate vignettes as he matures and the incidents which make him into the man he is. This is a film of wonderful self discovery as it deals with identity, finding out the type of person you are, and the idea of being lost and disillusioned. Writer/director Barry Jenkins does a masterful job establishing small intimate scenes with a wonderful cinematic flare. The fact that this film is getting awards attention seems sort of unprecedented, not many films this year can touch the type of artistry on display here. Truly a film that deserves the attention it’s getting. 4 stars out of 4

3. The Trouble with Harry (1955): Alfred Hitchcock’s darkly comic tale involving a group of small town eccentrics and their connection with a dead body that keeps popping up isn’t what I would call one of the master’s most essential films. Still this is a fascinatingly weird film that had me chuckling more than once in its complete grim comedy. In a way it hearkens back to Hitchcock’s early british films that had that same dry wit to it. The film is wonderful to look at, and Edmund Gwenn is a standout as a local hunter, still this is all much ado about nothing. 2 and a half stars out of 4

A Monster Calls (2016): For me 2016 has been a great year in movies, but there have been a lot of overlooked gems mostly in the films for children department. Most children’s films this year have dealt with ideas of orphans and coping with loss most prominently in films like “Pete’s Dragon” and “Kubo and the Two Strings”. “A Monster Calls” falls under this same category and had me bawling uncontrollably in its last act. It deals with a lonely young boy whose mother is dying slowly as he watches her. Throughout the film, he is full of anger, sadness, and loneliness, pretty much everything you feel when you are forced to watch a loved one dying. One evening an old tree comes to life in the form of a monster he tells the boy three stories that all relate to what he’s going through in some way or another, and in the end the boy must tell his story. There is so much about “A Monster Calls” that words so well, I’m not sure why it was so overlooked. A children’s film like this which is also a fantasy showed up nowhere in regular theatres where I am and only showed up in cheap theatres, yet this is the type of children’s film that should be getting some traction. If you look at 2016 and notice all the great family films that were overlooked, it’s a real shame. “A Monster Calls” is for me one of the best movies of 2016 and if you get a chance to see it, go see it! 4 stars out of 4

Fences (2016): Another film I’m catching up with based on the broadway play by August Wilson which garnered Tony awards to its stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Washington directs this film and basically follows the play verbatim, so much so that the playwright receives soul screenwriting credit. This is a purely emotional story of Washington who plays a working man in his fifties, disappointed with the way his life turned out after losing out to a promising career in baseball. His actions end up having dire effects on the people around him, namely his sons, and his wife (Davis). The film remains dialogue heavy but it sings coming out of all the actors, this probably rivals “Malcolm X” as Washington’s best screen performance yet, and he directs the film beautifully as a play adaption, it doesn’t feel closed in like some play to screen films do, he uses wide shots effectively, so we can breathe in the world of the story. The acting never seems to be over the top or theatrical, but more nuanced than you would expect. I hope for all of the awards for Washington and Davis, a real achievement. 3.5 stars out of 4

Split (2017): The latest of M. Night Shyamalan is a nice twisted horror thriller, with a tour de force performance by James Mcavoy to boot. Mcavoy plays a man with split personalities who kidnaps three young teenage girls, but it’s slowly revealed that his motives behind the kidnapping may not be what we expect. This is a nice thriller with unexpected results and good performances. Shyamalan gets a lot of flack for his stories, but he shows that he is a very good director when he wants to be. The ending seemed a little far-fetched and silly in some cases, as Shyamalan grasps for a supernatural twist, but it’s eerie enough the keep your interest, all in all a wonderful genre film that is sure to delight fans. 3 stars out of 4

Rear Window

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“I wonder if it’s ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long focus lens. Do you suppose it’s ethical even if you prove that he didn’t commit a crime?” So says L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) the hero of “Rear Window”. Maybe it’s because I’m taking an ethics class right now, or maybe because this movie has just fascinated me since I first viewed it as a teenager, but this remains to me the philosophical quandary in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterfully directed classic, my personal favorite of his, and one of the best comments of film as it applies to the audience.

Alfred Hitchcock was a director who made films for the wide audience, and “Rear Window” plays like a crowd pleasing murder mystery/thriller, with charismatic stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly taking the lead and iconic character actress Thelma Ritter tagging along as the comic relief. But “Rear Window” has depths beneath the surface that I feel Hitchcock wanted to explore, for him, he uses the framing device of a man watching his neighbours out the window whilst wondering if one of them killed his wife as a way to explore how he wants us, the audience to view his own movies.

“Rear Window” tells the story of L.B. Jefferies or Jeff (Stewart), an adventurous photographer who is recovering from a broken leg after he takes one too many risks while shooting a photo. We see from the beginning the only thing Jeff does to fill his time is look at his neighbours through his window of his Greenwich Village apartment. At first it seems harmless, many of their neighbours are carrying out their days in their usual routine, but one night Jeff hears a woman scream, and notices one of his neighbours a salesman, making curious trips out in the middle of the night. Could it be that this man may have murdered his wife? Pretty soon Jeff is playing detective with the help of his girlfriend Lisa (Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Ritter), all three of them looking out the Jeff’s window wondering what has happened to the wife, speculating where the man may have buried her, or what clues might be found inside his rose garden.

The idea Hitchcock is making with his three protagonists, but mostly Jeff is that they are fill ins for the audience. As Francois Truffaut pointed out in his indelible book of interviews about Hitchcock, entitled “Hitchcock”, he states “We’re all voyeurs to some extent, if only when we see an intimate film. And James Stewart is exactly in the position of a spectator looking at a movie.”

Hitchcock goes on to claim in the book that he believes everyone is a snooper, we simply can’t help it. Hitchcock is quoted in saying to Truffaut “I’ll bet you that nine out of ten people, if they see a woman across the courtyard undress for bed, or even a man puttering around in his room, will stay and look…” That is really the business of cinema, we are all the onlookers going into a world we are unfamiliar with because we want to look into the lives of someone else. Hitchcock sees voyeurism the same way he sees cinema, as a way to escape into another world, it points into this psychological obsession of wanting to be able to view someone else as if they don’t know we are watching them.

The idea of cinema as voyeuristic isn’t just implied by the murder mystery storyline Hitchcock establishes in the film, but the entire world seen outside of Jeff’s window. Outside we are given multiple types of human behaviour happening before Jeff’s eyes, represented by each of his neighbours. There is a musician who is frustrated while working on a new song, a lonely middle-aged woman who only wants to find love in her life,  a young married couple who have just moved in after their honeymoon, and an attractive ballet dancer who is usually seen dancing in tight outfits or having fancy cocktail parties with eligible looking bachelors. This fills in a realistic universe for Jeff to see, an uncanny one to real life if you think about how little is shown of this outside world. Hitchcock creates these little vignettes mostly through ambient sound bites from the actors playing the roles, but their lives are mostly related through us visually as if Jeff’s backyard is populated by a silent movie, Hitchcock of course believed in pure cinema and started out in silent film, so this idea that the world reflects the movie is a rather poignant metaphor within the film.

The other main angle to voyeurism comes from the relationship between Jeff and his girlfriend Lisa. The main dramatic through line in the couple’s relationship comes from the fact that Jeff isn’t sure if he wants to marry Lisa as they come from two different worlds; he’s a guerrila photographer who goes out on dangerous assignments, while she is a social butterfly who spends her time at cocktail parties and wearing fancy dresses around town. It isn’t until Lisa becomes embroiled in the murder mystery and in fact puts her own self in danger that Jeff seems to start admiring her. Take the moment where Lisa goes to deliver an envelope to the salesman’s house. Jeff looks at her through his binoculars, as she just evades meeting the would-be murderer, and when she gets back, Jeff has a look of affection that wasn’t seen since. The suggestion might be interpreted that Jeff begins falling for Lisa once she becomes part of the action he is observing, in what might be considered somewhat of a sexual kink for Jeff, he is turned on by watching Lisa in imminent danger. Take that for what you will, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if that might be what Hitchcock had in mind, considering Hitchcock’s own obsession of putting his own women in danger particularly the blondes which Lisa played by the luminous Grace Kelly very much is.

“Rear Window” of course isn’t the only time Hitchcock became obsessed with voyeurism, like all great auteurs, his themes pop up in many of his films. For Hitchcock, he always seems to see us watching, like in the nine minute long silent sequence of James Stewart (again) following Kim Novak in “Vertigo” or Anthony Perkins peeping through the small crack in the wall seeing Janet Leigh undressing, it’s all around his films, but “Rear Window” is the most explicit example on the subject. Hitchcock was one of the great filmmakers, and he understood cinema perhaps greater than anyone else, which is why his films are still studied perhaps more than anyone save Orson Welles by people who want to make movies. But Hitchcock understood his audience perhaps better than anyone else as well. Movies were like an obsession for him, which is probably why he could put himself in the audience seat more than any other filmmaker. When it came to the movies, Hitchcock knew it was a way to live out our fantasies, to live vicariously through other people’s experience, to peer into a world we don’t know, to see, to look, to watch.

My Favorite movies each year since I was born

  1. raging-bull-2_01980-Raging Bull
  2. 1981-My Dinner with Andre
  3. 1982-E.T. The Extraterrestrial
  4. 1983-Zelig
  5. 1984-Stranger than Paradise
  6. 1985-Witness
  7. 1986-Hannah and her Sisters
  8. 1987-Raising Arizona
  9. 1988-The Last Temptation of Christ
  10. 1989-Do the Right Thing
  11. 1990-Miller’s Crossing
  12. 1991-L.A. Story
  13. 1992-Unforgiven
  14. 1993-Schindler’s List
  15. 1994-Three Colors Red
  16. 1995-Heat
  17. 1996-Fargo
  18. 1997-Boogie Nights
  19. 1998-The Thin Red Line
  20. 1999-South Park:Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
  21. 2000-O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
  22. 2001-Mulholland Drive
  23. 2002-Punch Drunk Love
  24. 2003-Kill Bill Vol. 1
  25. 2004-Kill Bill Vol.2
  26. 2005-Munich
  27. 2006-A Prairie Home Companion
  28. 2007-Once
  29. 2008-In Bruges
  30. 2009-Summer Hours
  31. 2010-True Grit
  32. 2011-Midnight in Paris
  33. 2012-Moonrise Kingdom
  34. 2013-Inside Llewyn Davis
  35. 2014-Under the Skin
  36. 2015-Mad Max:Fury Road
  37. 2016-?

Things I Saw in December

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Girl on a Train (2016): This was inspired by the best-selling book from last year, a lot of hype went into it. Emily Blunt is terrific as the alcoholic woman who was scorned by her husband but is now obsessed with a missing girl, as she tries to remember an encounter she had with her while inebriated. So many talented actors pop up in very small supporting roles, you wonder what was the point in having them, but it does make this rather predictable and shoddily shot film bearable to sit through. Forgettable, but Blunt is a great actress. 2 stars out of 4

Green Room (2016) This film goes along with “Don’t Breath” and “The Invitation” as sort of a 2016 trilogy of claustrophobic small spaced horror/thrillers where someone is trying to kill someone else, and they’re trapped. “Green Room” is probably more thriller and less horror, though it does have that sense of dread that something bad is about to happen. It has a sense of humour about it too. When a scene is set up that is so spine chilling, you don’t want to look, you know they are doing a good job. I’m really enjoying these sub-genres, they remain tightly made with good story telling and great performances. 3 stars out of 4

Star Wars: Rogue One (2016): I nice installment into the “Star Wars” franchise. I know I complain that I grow tired of franchise movies always looking the same, but this one directed by “Godzilla” director Gareth Edwards had its own unique look to it. Unlike J.J. Abrams Spielbergesque/Nostalgic aesthetic in “The Force Awakens”, this one looked less familiar. “Star Wars” is known for their spaceship dog fights, but one hasn’t been filmed quite like this, also the ground battles have a uniqueness of their own as well. The characters remain stock clichés from old war movies most of them, but with a b-movie mentality like this, it didn’t bother me. They also played around with the idea of the Force being the of a kind of faith which really hasn’t been explored in this much depth before. One of the best blockbusters of the year. 3.5 stars out of 4

Loving (2016): The second film of the year by one of my favorite newer directors Jeff Nichols after his sci-fi gem “Midnight Special”. This is a more traditional material based on the true tale of the Lovings, an interracial couple who were arrested for being in a mixed marriage, but during the civil rights era changed that law. Nichols never makes this film into your normal bio pic but realizing the Lovings themselves were very low key, keeps things modest and tender like they were to each other. Joel Edgerton is quite affecting and subtle with his depiction of Richard Loving, while Ruth Negga is a pillar of quiet strength playing the wife Mildred. A loving film in every sense of the word. 3.5 stars out of 4

Detective Story (1951): Sort of a lost classic that isn’t talked about enough, this day in the life of a police detective bureau is an absorbing crime drama, and also an interesting character study. Kirk Douglas stars as a dedicated police detective who only sees crime as black and white, that is until his wife becomes involved with an important case he’s been working on. Pretty soon his flaws and prejudices start to show through. While this main drama is going on, there are plenty of smaller dramas happening throughout. Lee Grant is particularly effective as a purse snatcher who seems fascinated with being in a police station, and William Bendix is the voice of reason as Douglas’ seasoned partner. Famed director William Wyler frames his film realistically showing his actors in their natural environment, and affectively using deep focus cameras that he mastered with his film “The Best Years of our Lives”. This is a great film. 4 stars out of 4

No Way Out (1951): This film couldn’t be more relevant today, in one of his earliest roles, Sidney Poitier plays a black doctor who is accused of murder after the brother of a racist criminal (Richard Widmark) dies in his care. The film doesn’t hold back too much on the effects of racism in the fifties, especially in depicting race riots and their aftermath. Poitier is the perfect everyman trying to clear his name while also trying to stop any hateful violence to occur on account of him, while Widmark who was pretty well typecast as psychopaths back then plays one of the most hateful racists in film history, which is a great testament to his talent when you actually feel a bit of sympathy for him in the end. It doesn’t get above being too preachy here and there, but it still stands above some modern films as a realistic depiction of racism in America. 3.5 stars out of 4

Fourteen Hours (1951) One of those films that follows one incident on a single day. This one depicts a man who is threatening to jump off a building, until the police and everyone gets involved to try to talk him down. Paul Douglas plays the traffic cop who is first on the scene and Richard Basehart is the man on the ledge. The two form a bond as things like that happen in films like these. The action moves from the event on the ledge, to the public watching down below. Director Henry Hathaway keeps the tension moving, and the action rising, plus some great support by Agnes Moorehead who plays the batty mother to Basehart. This was also one of Grace Kelly’s earliest roles, which was interesting to see. 3 stars out of 4

La La Land (2016) So much to love in this film that has audiences at an uproar, this feels so close to what we really want from a movie musical, a love story, engaging stars, memorable dance numbers, and that classic Hollywood feel that is so often missed in movies today, often evoked for nostalgia’s sake. My biggest criticism to modern musicals these days is we never really get to see the choreography of the music most of the time; cameras jump around, cutting from the faces to the feet, with no real intention, it becomes maddening. “La La Land” avoids this thanks to Damien Chazelle’s masterful technique, showing bodies in motion, either moving in a traffic jam, or in a magical Hollywood street with two love birds always letting the actors motivate the camera movement, it was just so nice to see, this is from someone who was born to make musicals. I would say the music is more abundant in the first part of the film, and it fades to the background as it becomes a more realistic story of a relationship, but returns in triumph for the finale taking a cue from the famous musicals of Stanley Donen and Vincent Minnelli. The film remains a love letter to Hollywood musicals, but it doesn’t become nostalgic for nostalgic’s sake. It flirts with the idea that the tried and true traditional musical can still have a place in a world that is trying to be modern, but it’s also the tale of two artists who are deeply in love, but also in love with what they do, realizing they can’t have everything. There is so much to admire here, namely the direction and the two leads who are really truly movie stars, yes the hype is real I think so see it already. 4 stars out of 4

Some Favorite Things From 2016

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Favourite Old Movie I had not seen before: Chimes at Midnight- Orson Welles’ tale of Falstaff combining Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V may by the most impressive Shakespeare adaptation I have ever seen. Welles creates vivid imagery, and his Falstaff is full of pathos. For those of you who think “Citizen Kane” is the only great film Welles made, think again, Welles also mentioned this was his personal favourite. Released in Criterion

Honorable Mentions: “L’Avventura”, “Detective Story”, “Le Chienne”, “Lady Snowblood”, “Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance”

Fashion Emmy Nominees

This photo released by AMC shows Jon Hamm as Don Draper in “Mad Men”. (AP Photo/AMC Frank Ockenfels)**NO SALES** ORG XMIT: NYLS202

Favourite Television Show I saw: Mad Men Season 7- Having finally caught up with the final season of my favorite television drama ever, “Mad Men” did not disapoint. Basically I binged through the whole series getting to season seven which was one of their best. All characters had some sort of closure, and all seemed the more fitting. “Mad Men” contains some classic episodes, but this season felt like the most emotional, none more so than the penultimate episode “Milk and Honey Route” which just floored me. Jon Hamm finally received the Emmy he so rightfully deserved so all is right with the world. “Mad Men” may be the most dense television series ever, and is worth repeated viewing, I loved this show, may it reign supreme.

Honorable Mentions: “Archer” season 6-7, “Stranger Things” season 1

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Favorite Book I read: “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin- I read this late September as the Presidential election was heating up, so much so I couldn’t bear watching any of it, and decided to retreat into this wonderful novel on the political life of Abraham Lincoln, how he established his cabinet of people who equally supported and opposed them. Together they would establish a historic political legacy. I had read a biography of Lincoln a few years back, and found so much to admire in him, he is honestly one of my heroes, and it gave me hope to hear about a politician who was kind hearted, thoughtful, and above all patient even with the weight of the Civil War on his shoulders. Goodwin weaves a labyrinth of stories that brought Lincoln to power and established his most historic accomplishments. But this would also go into great detail on the greatness of his Secretary of State William Seward, who started off as Lincoln’s chief rival, and his Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who at first hated Lincoln but grew to love him in the end. A fascinating political history.

Honorable Mentions: “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert, “Emma” By Jane Austin, “TV: The Book” By Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, “Pure Drivel” by Steve Martin,  “My Life and Films” By Jean Renoir

Favorite Song That I Heard for the First Time This year.

“If you Knew My Story” from the “Bright Star” soundtrack: This year I was able to go to New York for the first time. I’m sure “Hamilton” is as great as everyone says it is, and while I hope to see it some day, the one Broadway show I was most excited to see was “Bright Star” mostly on the basis that it’s story was written by Steven Martin and his collaborator Edie Brickell. I fell in love with the laid back tunes of Martin’s banjo and Brickell’s lyrics. Not to mention the wonderful voice of Carmen Cusack who made me fall in love with her. In a lot of ways the music here feels slight and simple, but it was probably the most optimistic music I heard this year, and just made me feel good. The play was pretty good too. I bought the soundtrack as soon as I got home from New York.

Honorable Mentions: “You want it Darker” Leonard Cohen, “Searching for Sugarman” Rodriguez, “When you get to Asheville” Edie Brickell/Steve Martin, “I Wonder” Rodriguez

Professor Moriarty’s Notoriously Nettlesome and Nefarious New Years Day 2017 Movie Quiz

Happy New Year everyone, I’ve been in hibernation for much of December, busy with family, friends, and a whole heck of a lot of other stuff, but I’m hoping to be posting more new stuff soon. In the mean time, I thought I’d start 2017 off with a fun movie quiz!

This quiz comes courtesy of Dennis Cozzalio’s blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule which is a blog I greatly admire, and it’s always a welcome treat to get one of Dennis’ quizzes particularly on a festive time like this. Here’s looking forward to a new movie year.

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1) Best movie of 2016: I am still playing catch up on some of the films I still want to see before my official top ten list but so far I have to say the best/funniest/weirdest/darkest/most delightful movie is “The Lobster”. A deadpan masterpiece of finding a mate in a world where you can only be compatible with someone who you share a certain commonality with. The film touches on so many themes of love, loneliness, and companionship, and what that means to each individual.

2) Worst movie of 2016: For my money, no other film felt more like random pieces put together from a studio Frankenstein monster lab than “Suicide Squad”. Despite good tries by Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and MVP Viola Davis, this film felt overly stuffed, with a plot and character development that made no sense. It introduced its characters at the beginning as if they were players from a video game where we saw snippets of what they were capable of. When these band of misfits get together “Guardians of the Galaxy” style, we are meant to care about them, and then believe that they have quickly become the best of friends who would die for each other. My favorite moment is when Robbie as Harley Quinn plays dead while dangling from a helicopter wire, only to pop back up again smiling and laughing like a live rag doll, the only time this film caught me by surprise, if only that one moment of fun and playfulness would translate for the rest of the film.

3) Best actress of 2016: 

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Again playing catch up on a lot of films, but certainly my favorite performance from this year came from Kate Beckinsale in “Love and Friendship”. Backinsale with the help of Whit Stillman, and Jane Austin created my favorite character of this past year. Her Lady Susan is a wry manipulator and cunning conniver in her pursuit for wealth as she exploits her own in-laws in order to stave off poverty. Beckinsale is more than capable to pull off the script’s witty dialogue and had me in stitches through most of the film, Lubitsch would’ve loved her in this.

4) Best actor of 2016: I have not seen the big awards contenders yet, but again I have to go with Colin Farrell from “The Lobster”. As Farrell has shown with his work with Martin McDonough, if he gets the right role, he can be dynamite, and his sad-sack, yet selfish, lonely heart won me over. Farrell is the hero of the film, but he’s not afraid to become unlikable, even cowardly on some occasions, so much so we’re really not sure what his big decision will be at the end, whether he’ll sacrifice it all for love, or take the coward’s way out, Farrell creates a wonderful comic creation.

5) What movie from 2016 would you prefer not hearing another word about? Why? I would appreciate never hearing the merits or demerits of any super hero movie that was released this year ever again. Super hero movies can return to the comic book pages from whence they came for awhile, I don’t feel all that inspired one way or another by them.

6) Second-favorite Olivier Assayas movie “The Clouds of Sils Maria”, my first being “Summer Hours” which to me is one of the best films I’ve seen in the last ten years.

7) Miriam Hopkins or Kay Francis? Oh Hopkins of course, you’ll always end up with her in the end.

8) What’s the story of your first R-rated movie?

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 It was at the big North Hill cinema in Calgary which is no longer with us, and “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” had come out. I was 14, I went with my brother and friend. I loved the theatre, I had been there before for the release of “Jurassic Park”, and “Back to the Future Part 2” in my younger years, but “Die Hard: With a Vengeance” was going to be my first R rated movie. I was a fan of the first two films, and I remember liking this one quite a bit, but I was a little disappointed that unlike the first two films, this one didn’t take place at Christmas. I was also upset to see that John McLean was once again separated from his wife (Did he not learn a thing from the first film?) Also I enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson who was somewhat of a new face back then after breaking out in “Pulp Fiction” but I was also upset not to see McLean with his real soul mate Al Powel (Reginal Veljohnson) from the first two, I thought it would’ve been fun to finally have those guys team up for real and not just be on the other end of a walkie talkie or telephone. All in all it was good, and I really liked Jeremy Irons as the villain.

9) What movie from any era that you haven’t yet seen would you be willing to resolve to see before this day next year? So many to choose from, but since I am such a huge Buster Keaton fan, I would love to finally see “The Cameraman” which is a film by him that has eluded me all this time.

10) Second-favorite Pedro Almodovar movie: Can you believe I have not seen an Almodovar movie? Don’t shame me.

11) What movie do you think comes closest to summing up or otherwise addressing the qualities of 2016? One movie can’t do it alone, I don’t think one has been made. “Idiocracy” is the one that comes to mind, but I don’t like thinking of it.

12) Chris Pine or Chris Pratt? Pine please.

13) Your favorite movie theater, presently or from the past: The Princess Theatre in Edmonton

14) Favorite movie involving a family celebration: 

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I’ll go with my New Year’s movie of choice George Cukor’s “Holiday” with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. There is a big family celebration on new years as Grant announces his engagement to Hepburn’s sister. However he feels more at home with Hepburn’s black sheep and her drunken brother in the family play room. The more I think of what this movie says, the more I love it.

15) Second-favorite Paul Schrader movie: “Affliction”, if I could count “Taxi Driver” as number one.

16) Ruth Negga or Hayley Atwell? Ruth Negga

17) Last three movies you saw, in any format: “La La Land (2016)”, “Fourteen Hours(1951”, “No Way Out (1951)

18) Your first X-rated, or porn movie? “Midnight Cowboy”

19) Richard Boone or Charles McGraw? Charles McGraw

20) Second-favorite Chan-wook Park movie I have only seen “Oldboy” I know, I know, don’t shame me.

21) Movie that best encompasses or expresses loneliness: 

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I’m cheating a little with this but I would say the films of Yasujiro Ozu in my opinion best express the idea of loneliness in the world. When a character is alone in an Ozu film, that’s all the is needed, he perfectly encapsulates this in “Tokyo Story”, “Late Spring”, “Late Autumn”, and “An Autumn Afternoon” the best. If I were to pick probably the father in “An Autumn Afternoon” who is full of nostalgia of the past, but with his daughter married off, he is left with nothing, and probably the saddest image in any Ozu film for me (although there is so many) is the father returning home at the end of the film, drunk and alone. It’s a fitting, sad conclusion in what would be the great director’s final film, and it tears my heart out each time I view it.

22) What’s your favorite movie to watch with your best friend? Gosh, well I have a lot of best friends, and I wouldn’t say I watch a lot of movies with them. My movie watching is kept mostly in a solitary pursuit, but a good comedy is always nice. Recently I had a great time watching “The Hudsucker Proxy” with a friend, also a nice “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or “The Jerk” has always been great to watch with friends alike.

23) Who’s the current actor you most look forward to seeing in 2017?

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 Good Question, I am mostly unaware of any actor appearing in anything, but if Michael Shannon were to pop up in anything, I know I would love to see that. Just recently seeing him in a bit part in “Loving” put a smile on my face, that’s when I know this guy must be something special to me.

24) Your New Year’s wish for the movies: I wish for more individual stories in the studio system. I long for some sort of implosion in the blockbuster mentality to happen and to have us revert back to the type of films we got from the 1970s. Especially since there is so much talent out there that hasn’t been given their due. I know it’s wishful thinking with Marvel and DC making a list of movies till 2020, and a new Star Wars coming out every year now, but till then I’ll haunt the art houses whenever I can and appreciate a great studio movie when it happens.

Things I saw in November

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1. Knight of Cups (2016) Is it possible that we had a year where a new film by Terrence Malick can just be released without little fanfare of critical talk back. Well it happened. It’s true compared to his 20 year hiatus between “Days of Heaven”, and “The Thin Red Line”, Terrence Malick seems to be a bit more prolific as of late, however a new film by him is worthy to get excited about. Not many mainstream filmmakers can make deeply personal, poetic films with this scope and this type of cast.”Knight of Cups” was released earlier this year and while people who saw it professed it to be more of the same Malick-meandering, I found it to be a very moving, and spiritual film. Christian Bale stars as a Hollywood screenwriter who seems to have lost his identity in a world depicted of more glamour and less substance. We get a sense of his personal life with his estranged brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Brian Dennehy) who are still coping with the loss of Bale’s other brother who seems to have died. We see his ex-wife (Cate Blanchet) and various women he has relationships with (Natalie Portman being the most prominent as a married woman Bale has an affair with). Malick has foregone any type of classical narration to tell his story. Most of what Bale and the rest of the actors saysis told through voice-over. This story feels like an extension of the Sean Penn scenes in “Tree of Life”. I myself have been greatly affected by Malick’s films, and I consider this one of his best. Whatever you think of Malick, he is a truly unique voice, and I hope he continues his journey on what feels like his own self-discovery. 4 stars out of 4

2. Hacksaw Ridge (2016) Speaking of Hiatuses, can you believe it’s been 10 years since we’ve had a new film directed by Mel Gibson? Despite what your feelings towards him might be, Gibson has proven to be one of the more interesting actor/directors and had he not been sidelined so long with his personal demons, perhaps he would be as busy as Clint Eastwood, who knows. Suffice it to say “Hacksaw Ridge” is Gibson returning in fine form, I just wish I didn’t feel so conflicted about the story. Andrew Garfield is very good as Desmond Doss, a real life war hero who served as a conscientious objector, meaning he never carried a fire arm. Hacksaw Ridge is an infamous battle that saw Doss carry out and rescue over 75 soldiers from enemy fire. In many ways, the film deals with the religious overtones of Doss’ believes on a very surface level, I wish it delved more into his beliefs, it could’ve been more powerful. Gibson’s use of violence is on par with his gory depiction of Jesus being crucified in “The Passion of the Christ”, and it serves as sort of a station of the Cross for Doss, as he’s seen as sort of a Christ figure. Many of the performances are great including Vince Vaughn as Doss’ drill Sergeant who brings an ounce of humor to the mix, and Hugo Weaving as Doss’ father, a war vet who is now an abusive alcoholic. Much of the other performers aren’t given that much depth as Gibson relies on more conventional cliches of platoon life for the soldiers. All in all despite some impressive moments and themes going on in this film, I still had reservations about it as a whole. I am excited that Gibson is back as a director and look forward to what he gives us in the future. 2.5 stars out of 4

3. Dr. Strange (2016) The latest Marvel movie about a brilliant doctor who loses the use of his hands after being in a car accident, then learning how to hone the powers of the mystics has some very good and fun moments, but at this point, Marvel seems more concerned with its world building than making actual movies anymore. Benedict Cumberbatch is fine as Dr. Strange, and he has nice moments with Mads Mikkelson who plays the bad guy. Tilda Swinton can never be uninteresting in a movie, so everyone does their job well. Much has been said about the visuals of this film and they are impressive, but all in all Marvel films are starting to feel a little deja vu to me, it’s all the same stuff. Strange’s cape steals the show. 2.5 stars out of 4

4. Into the Inferno (2016) Werner Herzog’s documentary which is seen exclusively on Netflix is about volcanoes and the people who study them for a living. Herzog along with his friend and collaborator Clive Oppenheimer go all over the world from Ethiopia, to Iceland, and even into North Korea to visit the still active volcanoes on Earth. There they meet villagers who still believe in urban legends about the volcanoes and other scientists who risk their lives to study them. The film is quite interesting and you can tell why these subjects would interest Herzog so much. The visuals of the volcanoes are impressive and they deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. The film sometimes meanders too much, but a lot of it is fascinating, particularly the North Korea section. It’s hard to think of a filmmaker like Herzog to become so mainstream, he now has become a fixture on Netflix, but if his films reach a bigger audience because it that then so be it, you could do a lot worse. 3 stars out of 4

5. Arrival (2016) A very intelligent and cerebral sci-fi story which stays on a very human scale. Amy Adams gives one of her best performances as a language expert who is recruited to help translate the language of aliens who have just arrived on Earth. The Aliens speak through these circular symbols which Adams must decipher accurately or it could mean all out war on these creatures. This film has a lot of ideas to explore and it does so in a great, economic way. No other science fiction story save for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” has concerned itself so much with the importance of communication and language on the global stage. But this is also a character story on Adams who I must stress is really good here. Much of this is her story about the loss of a child, and Adams never overplays her cards, she carries the film without giving or showing too much. Director Denis Villeneuve, who hasn’t made a bad movie yet remains focused on his story, and keeps it tightly suspenseful but seems to play it loose as well that when the twist comes, it remains believable and heartfelt. I thoroughly enjoyed this. 4 stars out of 4

6. Allied (2016) The latest from Robert Zemeckis is classic movie storytelling at its finest. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star as a pair of spies who after assassinating a German ambassador in world war 2 Casablanca, decide to get married and start a family. It is revealed later that Cotillard may be a covert spy, and Pitt is now under the clock to prove his wife’s innocence or perhaps be forced to execute her. I’m not sure how deep this film is, I suspect it really isn’t, but it works so well as an intriguing yarn that gets you hooked with its intrigue. The film wears its classic movie roots on its sleeve purposely and blatantly evoking romantic melodramas like “Casablanca” and other war torn movies from that era. Pitt and especially Cotillard fit well with their classic movie star statuses. Zemeckis, who has made some pretty interesting and underrated stuff in the last few years, is at the top of his game as a classical filmmaker. He seems to get undervalued since his days of “Forrest Gump”, but he is really one of the best Hollywood directors working today. Box office results show that audiences aren’t really wanting this type of entertainment anymore, and that’s a shame because in so many ways, this film shows the kind of escapism, and intrigue Hollywood use to make that made us want to go to the movies in the first place. 3.5 stars out of 4

7. Archer Seasons 5-7 (2013-15) I haven’t been a fan of a lot of mainstream comedies done in the movies anymore. However I don’t think comedy has been any better than it has on television these recent years. One of funniest shows I’ve seen in recent years has been Archer, an animated show featuring a heavy drinking, mother fixating, sexaholic super spy Sterling Archer, and his gang of misfits. Catching up on the last three seasons, Archer has gotten more innovative in its story telling, starting with season five which sees the gang leaving the spy game to work as drug smugglers, then again in season six back working for the CIA but screwing up every job given to them. Then Season 7 was their most ambitious yet with an ongoing mystery when the group opens up a detective agency with a finale cliffhanger that is very well done and surprising. However knowing Archer, things never get too serious despite Archer coming to grips with becoming a responsible parent and starting a new meaningful relationship with his partner and love of his life Lana. “Archer” continues going strong  and as long as they keep pushing their narrative and character development along with almost as many call back jokes as “Arrested Development” had, it’ll be perhaps a classic that will be quoted for years to come. 3.5 stars out of 4

The 400 Blows

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Re-watching “The 400 Blows” again recently, I felt a connection with the young hero Antoine Doinel I hadn’t felt in the other times I had viewed it. I had always liked “The 400 Blows” well enough as Francois Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical ode to his youth, I could see what made it so revered as a film, there were so many things I admired about it, yet I could never really say I loved it. I took it out of my DVD collection without much enthusiasm to watch it, I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for, but on a whim it seemed fine enough to keep me occupied.

At first it took me awhile to get into the film, but paying closer attention, I was soon enthralled by the look, the joy, and the utter freedom it exhumed. It’s funny how some films have a different effect on you the more you grow, and the more you change as a person, “The 400 Blows” has definitely changed for me in a great way.

On my most recent viewing of the film, I found it to be really about an escape. We follow young Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) a boy who is neglected from his parents, his mother who had him out of wed-lock doesn’t seem to care for him much. His step-father at first treats him fairly and doesn’t seem to mind his company, but he later grows to resent him, after he is caught lying to his class, and stealing from his work.

School for Antoine isn’t much of a refuge either, he is constantly bombarded by his strict teachers. At the beginning of the film he is caught with a picture of scantily clad woman which is being passed around by his classmates, afterwhich, he is forced to stand in the corner and miss recess. Later he is accused of plagiarism for an essay he wrote where he took a passage from a book by Balzac whom he considers his hero, and despite his efforts, he is given a zero grade for the paper. His teachers and his parents represent all the authority figures in Antoine’s life who seem to have given up on him, it’s no wonder he tries every means possible to escape from such a reality.

Truffaut’s film follows Antoine in a series of vignettes which see him in his home life and at school where he suffers, but the film also shows his more joyful moments when he is able to live his life freely from his familial and educational institutions. First Antione is shown one day skipping school with his classmate, as they go to an amusement park and enjoy a ride that spins them around so fast, they are elevated from the ground and pinned to the wall . Later we see Antoine go to the movies, and this happens more than once in the film, in fact the one happy moment he shares with both of his parents is when the three of them all go to the movies together. Truffaut, of course loved movies himself and saw them so much as an escape from his own troubled childhood.

But Antoine gets into more trouble as he sees himself forced to run away from home for good and soon becomes a thief stealing a typewriter from his step father’s work. When he is caught by a security guard, he is sent to jail and later to a youth detention center, but for a young by like Antoine who yearns to be free, nothing can keep him caged up for long.

“The 400 Blows” can be described as a youthful film, not just because of its subject matter, but because of how it broke all the rules that came before it. This was the first film by director Francois Truffaut, who was mentored by the French film critic Andre Bazin who’s memory this film is dedicated to. Bazin became a father figure of what is now known as The French New Wave, this included young French filmmakers like Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, Alain Renais, and Jacques Rivette. They brought a youthful iconoclasm to film that was new and rebellious. These sometimes were thought of as a more personal expressions of filmmaking which sparked a revolution. If this was the case, then Antoine Doinel became the new cinema’s poster child.

But despite being revolutionary, “The 400 Blows” today looks very small and intimate, and if you take away the impact it had on film, the story itself doesn’t lose any of its significance. Truffaut takes us into the world of childhood that isn’t really touched upon in most films. Very often childhood is idealized and sentimentalized in movies, you sometimes lose the sense of isolation, loneliness, and cruelty it can sometimes come with. Antoine Doinel has often been compared to a Dickensian hero like Oliver Twist, or David Copperfield I suppose where their childhood was far from ideal. However despite the realism Truffaut brings to the forefront, he doesn’t forget the joy and the youthful exuberance of being a young man at a certain age. The fact that Antoine never loses his sense of play and adventure makes him such a compelling character and someone to root for. We feel for him every time he is caught either skipping school, or for stealing a typewriter because we know he doesn’t belong in a system ruled by the authoritarian figures that populate this film. Near the end of the film where his mother visits him for the last time and tells him the only future for him is to find a trade, and probably land a job at a mill, for Antoine this would be a death sentence.

The final moments of “The 400 Blows” are probably the most memorable as Antoine makes his escape from his prison and runs towards the ocean. Truffaut gives us one long tracking shot of Antoine just running through the country side with the camera right beside him. There is no music, just the sound of the country and Antoine’s feet as he moves closer and closer to his hopeful freedom. The final freeze frame image of the film has become iconic, it’s of Antoine reaching his destination to the ocean and looking back at what is behind him. Looking at Leaud’s face in this image, it’s rather ghostly as it resembles a time that looks to be long ago, and the face seems to be a mix of defiance but also uncertainty of what’s to come for him, a child who is maybe too lost, or too naive to realize how frightened he may be.

Of course we were not kept in suspense for too long to see what happened to Antoine Doinel as Truffaut and Leaud would return with the character in a series of films “Stolen Kisses”, “Bed and Bored”, and “Love on the Run” as well as a short film “Antoine and Collette” all of them are worth watching. Each film depicts Antoine at a different age, and had Truffaut not died suddenly at 52 from a brain tumour, perhaps we would’ve had more films of him as an older man, wouldn’t that have interesting?

But “The 400 Blows” has that special feeling of youth the other films seem to miss. Truffaut is able to examine the endless possibilities, and the freedoms met in childhood. Growing older, and maybe as we get more complacent, we forget these possibilities sometimes, and we see, or maybe we fear that we have become part of that establishment which would not allow Antoine to enjoy the great discoveries life has to offer. Watching this film again I yearned to feel what Antoine was feeling, he didn’t want to be caged or told what was right or what was wrong, he wanted to find his own way, on his own terms, he was not letting anyone tell him how his life was going to turn out. If we all had the strength of Antoine Doinel, how unlimited life would feel.

 

 

 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

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“Who can turn the world on with her smile?” So says the opening lyrics of one of the most famous theme songs to any television show. Why it’s Mary of course. You can go by her character name Mary Richards, a 30ish single woman living in Minneapolis working in a small, humble newsroom, or you could go by the woman who played her Mary Tyler Moore, who is one of the great icons of the world of television. But Mary was sure to wave that huge million dollar smile at the world every week in her humble yet groundbreaking sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, and people loved her for it, and we still do.

There was nothing ever very big about “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, it began sort of as a quiet revolution. When it was first produced, the creators were tasked to make a big starring vehicle for Moore, who made a name for herself as Laura Petrie  on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” ( another ground breaker in its own right). Moore had pedigree and star appeal, something that the heads at CBS thought would be a safe bet for a hit show, what they got was an ensemble comedy that revolutionized sitcoms.

The show centered on Mary Richards a single woman in her thirties who leaves her home for the big city of Minneapolis after her boyfriend leaves her. (Mary first started as a divorcee but was changed to just single after fears of “Dick Van Dyke Show” fans being confused she could have divorced Dick Van Dyke and that would be horrible since they were the perfect couple). She begins a job as a news assistant for WJM, a small local news show with never enough budget to compete with the big boys. At the helm is Mary’s boss/producer/closest confidant Lou Grant (Ed Asner), a man who can be tough and hard drinking in one minute, but sweet and sincere the in the next. There is also Murray Slaughter (Gavin McCleod), head-writer for the news who shares a desk with Mary, and becomes her best friend at the office. Then there is anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), a dull headed nincompoop who can’t get through one newscast without following it up in one way. Ted could be cheap, insensitive, naive, and childlike, and the butt of people’s jokes, but despite all his flaws, everyone would later love him.

At the beginning of the series, Mary’s life in the newsroom, was often balanced out by her life as a single girl. Many story lines would revolve around the men that Mary would date, and she would often have many adventures in the single life with her best friend/sidekick Rhoda (Valerie Harper). Mary and Rhoda’s friendship created a powerful dynamic that was usually at the heart of many of the early episodes, and the chemistry between Moore and Harper was impeccable, you could really believe they were best friends sharing everything together. But this wasn’t really seen in television before, it was a relationship between two women who were allowed to be women. Earlier you could say this was done as far back as “I Love Lucy” with Lucy and Ethel, but that sitcom dealt more with outrageous situations for those two friends, they never really talked about real world every day problems.

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That was the secret behind “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, it never looked at their stories as if they were changing the cultural landscape, yet by showing two single women talking about their lives, they were able to accomplish just that. There were other times too, for instance when WJM had on its payroll Gordy the weatherman who just happened to be black, it was never really commented on, yet if you tuned in that same night to a show like “All in the Family”, the idea of a black man working in a white dominated workplace would be the topic of an entire show. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” never really went in for social commentary, and when it did, such as in an episode that focused on a new friend of Mary’s who is revealed to be anti-semitic when she doesn’t want Rhoda, who is Jewish to join her country club, it didn’t really gel with the rest of the show.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” never needed to be hard-edged, that’s not what it was striving for. It was strongest when it was focused on character development, the stories didn’t have to be important culturally, but they were important for the world of the show. There would be episodes that could feel mundane to the naked eye, such as Lou asking Rhoda to redecorate his apartment, or Mary throwing one of her parties that ended up being awful, but the writing was sharp, and the performances were so well honed, it was a pleasure just to tune in.

By the end of season four, Rhoda left Minneapolis to New York (And a spin-off), leaving Mary more alone than ever, and the series gained momentum by turning into a full forced workplace comedy focusing mostly on the newsroom. The story lines turned a bit more serious such as a long arc involving Lou getting a divorced from his wife and entering the dating world for the first time in a long time. Murray would later have a serious discussion with his wife about her wanting another baby, then having the two of them adopt a young boy from China. Even Ted would grow into a more thoughtful lunkhead with the introduction to his girlfriend/wife Georgette (Georgia Engel). The show entered its next phase with Mary even leaving her old apartment, which is where she would share quality time with Rhoda, and move into a more upscale living quarters. For some shows, these changes would look desperate, but for these folks, it all seemed so natural, never straying from the tapestry it created. In fact with these changes from season 5-7 became the show’s highest creative, and acclaimed peak winning Emmys for Best Comedy Program three years in a row, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was firing on all cylinders.

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Ironically it was when the show was at its peak it also dropped in the ratings in its final season which caused CBS to cancel it. Knowing in advance it was being cancelled, the producers decided to write a finale for the show, and one that is still seen as one of the greatest emotional curtain calls of any sitcom. After the newsroom acquires their newest in a long line of station managers, Mary, Lou, and Murray are all fired with the incompetent Ted being the only one who keeps his job. On their last day together in the office, Mary gives a speech that basically sums up what the whole show was about, and what it meant to viewers of the show… “I just wanted you to know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me, and I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with. And not my family. And last night, I thought, ‘what is a family, anyway?’ They’re just people who make you feel less alone… and really loved. And that’s what you’ve done for me. Thank you for being my family.” Watch this episode and try to hold the tears in.

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“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ended in a way it was meant to end which is what some shows don’t get the chance to do. Sometimes shows lose cast members, or show runners, or just run out of steam by the time the lights fade on them, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” left still on top and game to play on and on, that’s what makes it such a perfect sitcom. The show is one of the most lighthearted, and sweet shows ever put on television, yet it wasn’t afraid to put a twist of cynicism in the works, particularly when it came to the world of television news. In one episode Mary decides to shine a light on a politician who she finds incorruptible only to find that no one wants to watch something like that, also that thought of the uneducated Ted Baxter keeping his job while the other smart, hard-working people are fired is a bitter pill to take when you think about it.

But “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” wasn’t bitter, and if it ever was, it didn’t wallow in it for very long before someone made a joke. In the show’s most famous episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust” the show rides the line of comedy and pathos by dealing with death but finding humor in it when  WJN’s beloved children’s entertainer, Chuckles the Clown  dies when he goes to a parade dressed as a peanut but is crushed when an elephant steps on him. The writers give the best defense on how humor can be used to cleanse us from grief, and how it can show how ridiculous life can be even in the face of death.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” came at a time when television wasn’t really thought of as artistic or important. It’s only now in our “Post-Sopranos” mindset that we see television as a true art form. But the shows we have today didn’t just appear out of thin air,  their influences are there; there would be no Liz Lemon or Leslie Knope without a Mary Richards. There were smart people behind these older shows, and if they look tired with old tropes on the outside, then it’s best to revisit them, you might just be a bit surprised at the substance that is there. For the record, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was developed in part by James L. Brooks who would go on to co-create “The Simpsons” as well as become a famous writer director for movies such as “Terms of Endearment” and another story of a single girl in a newsroom “Broadcast News”, so it’s safe to say this show was in some good smart hands.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” has already been remembered in the pantheon of classic shows, it represents a cultural shift from housewives to working girls, comedy hijinks to real people with real situations, it was smart, clever, heartwarming, and always went for the laugh, a true classic if there ever was one.

 

 

Lincoln

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There is a pivotal scene in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” that comes about half way through the film. Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) is sitting in a telegraph office, he is alone but for two telegraph dispatchers Homer and Sam played by Adam Driver and David Homer Bates. Lincoln is at a crossroads himself where he must decide on pressing the thirteenth amendment, which would abolish slavery, or agree to a proposed peace to the Civil War which was now in its bloody fourth year. In the scene Lincoln is talking to his young dispatchers wherein he evokes the geometrical theory of Euclid.

LINCOLNEuclid’s first common notion is this: “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.”

Homer doesn’t get it; neither does Sam.

LINCOLN (CONT’D)That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning. It’s true because it works; has done and always will do. In his book, Euclid says this is “self-evident.”

(a beat)

D’you see? There it is, even in that two-thousand year old book of mechanical law: it is a self- evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. We begin with equality. That’s the origin, isn’t it? That balance, that’s fairness, that’s justice.

After this speech, Lincoln has made the decision and decides to send a telegram to delay the peace talks in order for the amendment to go through. The speech itself is an illustration of the kind of man Lincoln was, someone who spoke through stories and anecdotes all the time to get his point across, but the speech also works as a thematic piece to what the film is trying to get across. The film has many of these speeches in the film, and Lincoln/Day Lewis speaks them in a very warm tone, that of an enthusiastic storyteller, if Lincoln weren’t President, he probably would’ve made one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

“Lincoln” the film is an illustration of what made Abraham Lincoln such a great man, it’s not a full bio pic, nor is it a full portrait of who he was, instead it’s more of a story about politics, and the people who were with Lincoln as his advisors and associates. It’s not just the king, but the men behind the throne.

“Lincoln” is based in part on the  brilliant book “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is the story of Lincoln’s entire political career and his carefully selected cabinet members which were full of both allies and enemies who Lincoln recruited in order to have a balanced group of differing opinions on how the country should be run. As the book illustrates beautifully, most of Lincoln’s cabinet grew to have a shared respect and admiration for him by the end of his administration.

“Lincoln” the film takes a microcosm from the book about the passing of the thirteenth amendment, and creates a taut political drama behind its passing. It begins near Lincoln’s second term as President in January 1865, although his historical emancipation proclamation which claimed the freedom of slaves, has been passed, Lincoln sets his sights on abolishing slavery for good by putting through this amendment to the house which must now be voted on. The core of the film is how Lincoln and his co-conspirators gather enough votes for the amendment to be passed.

His chief right hand man is his secretary of state William Seward (David Strathairn) who appoints a few shady chief negotiators (Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawks, and James Spader) to bribe, coerce, and negotiate some men from the opposition party to vote yes on the amendment. Lincoln himself dips his hand in some political dealings of his own most, memorably with his leading critic Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), a radical Senator who wants nothing more than to see slaves free, but also has an, outrageous tone that enfuriates the opposition, something Lincoln wants to temper in order to procure more votes from them.

Also at Lincoln’s side is his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field), who is seen as her husband’s social butterfly, creating elaborate parties at the White House, but also someone who is deeply troubled, grieving over the death of their young son, who passed away from an illness, and is afraid to see her oldest son Robert (Joseph Gordon Levitt) wanting to join the Union Army and be lost to the War. Despite a few domestic scenes all of which are very effective, particularly the ones performed by Day Lewis and Field, the main drive stays on the passing of the amendment.

This is a very talky film probably the most talky in Spielberg’s long career as a filmmaker. The script and the dialogue is literate and poetic containing some of the best words found in a modern film. Written by Tony Kushner (who wrote the groundbreaking play “Angels in America”, as well as co-writer for another highly politically charged Spielberg film “Munich”), the words do service for Lincoln the storyteller, weaving allegorical tales throughout the film, but also serve to show how articulate a President he truly was. The best scenes are the quiet ones with Lincoln in contemplation, or in conversation, he was a great conversationalist and humourist as it has been documented. Kushner also fuses his language with some of Lincoln’s own, and it melds beautifully, it would be hard to know which exactly are some of the things Lincoln said. This is probably highlighted best in Lincoln’s cabinet meeting….

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 I can’t listen to this anymore. I can’t accomplish a goddamn thing of any worth until we cure ourselves of slavery and end this pestilential war! I wonder if any of you or anyone else knows it. I know! I need this! This amendment is that cure! We’ve stepped out upon the world stage now. Now! With the fate of human dignity in our hands. Blood’s been spilled to afford us this moment now! Now! Now! And you grouse so and heckle and dodge about like pettifogging Tammany Hall hucksters.

Many of the speeches in the film are tailor-made actor showcases, but they are written and delivered as if by a Shakespearean company of actors, you revel in its eloquence, if only more films could be as literate as this.

As Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis commands the screen, he truly immerses himself as the famed President, at one point, I was so lost in the performance, I couldn’t see the actor at all and only the man he was playing. Yet despite the greatness of his performance, and unlike his towering turns in films like “Gangs of New York” and “There Will be Blood”, Day Lewis isn’t the whole show here, and he doesn’t dwarf his fellow actors with his abilitily. Each actor is given moments to shine, Jones in particular who bites through Tony Kushner’s words with devilish glee, and Sally Field is a great scene partner for Day Lewis matching him beat for beat in their bedroom scenes. David Strathairn keeps his title as one of the most valuable supporting actors in any movie he’s in, and James Spader’s Mr. Bilbo is such a memorable creation, just a movie about him would be worth seeing.

The look of the film is unlike most of Spielberg’s works, although we do get his signature light through a window pane moment, most of the film is muted in dark colors of grey and black, Spielberg with his collaborator Januz Kaminski keep the proceedings dim to compliment the backroom deals going on in Washington. Yet Spielberg does let light in such as in the House chamber where the Senators meet to vote on the bill. The billowing of the Senators and lightness of the room calls to mind the optimistic look at politics much like it is seen in “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”.

Indeed this being a Spielberg film, the optimism does come through despite the dark dealings and political underhandings going through, it is done for a noble cause, yet it isn’t a cookie cutter look at the ends justifying the means. The film stays ambiguous with the state of the country after the passing of the amendment which doesn’t shy away from the people who were opposed to it. Some of the opposition are humanized, mostly seen as people who have lost loved ones in the war. One man even admits he is a prejudiced man but it is something he can’t help.

“Lincoln” was a labor of love for Spielberg, who wanted to make it since the 1990s, and he structures it beautifully. Spielberg has always been a master of the invisible camera, which basically illustrates that he rarely finds the need to show off. Yet Spielberg is always a master of knowing what a scene is about and knows how to cover one while making it cinematically compelling. He usually isn’t given enough credit for creating films as different from the next, yet if you look at Lincoln, you would have trouble finding one of Spielberg’s films that fits with its aesthetic.

I have found myself surprised at how many times I’ve seen “Lincoln” since it was released four years ago. I hate the term “prestige” or “Oscar Bait” when it comes to films like this, it seems to diminish it a bit as a film only made just to win awards. “Lincoln” creates a world of politics that does not get seen very often in film. It remains intriguing for its simplicity of storytelling, its magnetic performances, and pitch perfect dialogue that not only matches the time, but is used to illustrate the film’s themes and metaphors.

I think “Lincoln” is one of Spielberg’s best films, it showcases how refined a filmmaker he really is, and also his dependence on great collaborators such as his cinematographer Kaminski, and his screenwriter Kushner. Above all it’s with Day Lewis, who creates the Lincoln I think Spielberg wanted to convey, the wise, thoughtful, articulate President. It’s never a hero-worship film, those movies have been made before, we never forget Lincoln was a human being above all, and with this film, we get a better understanding about why he was so great.