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Great Movies Roundtable: Swing Time

#89 on AFI’s “100 Movies, 100 Years – 10th Anniversary Edition is “Swing Time.”

Made in 1936, “Swing Time” is usually considered the best of the 9 film collaborations between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and thus, I think it’s on this list less because of the significance or quality of this particularly movie, and more because of the importance of the Astaire/Rogers partnership to Hollywood. The plot is a ridiculous mess, but that’s not really important.  Astaire plays Lucky, a very cheerful and decent gambling addict, who heads to New York City to make his fortune so he can marry his bride, only to fall in love with Penny the dancing instructor, and eventually realized he never wanted to marry that other girl anyway.

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Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, by Will Krischke, The Classic Movie Series.

A Bigger Splash

Tilda Swinton is at the center of all things. (We learned that in “Dr. Strange,” I think. Or maybe it was in “Only Lovers Left Alive;” I forget.) In “A Bigger Splash,” she is a rock star who looks like she peaked in the makeup-and-jumpsuits era of rock.  Now, much later, she is recovering from vocal cord surgery on an island in Italy, soaking up the sun, enjoying the silence, being tenderly cared for by her much younger lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenarts.) It looks like an ideal vacation, far from the madding crowd.

But then Harry shows up, unannounced, uninvited.  Harry, played with incredible energy and commitment by Ralph Fiennes in a standout performance, is her former producer and lover.  But he’s also incredibly charming and charismatic, great at getting his own way, and immediately lights up any room he’s in and turns every gathering into a party.  He also has no shame, no limits or boundaries, and no problem pissing people off or barging in where he isn’t welcome.  You forgive him his excesses, because he’s so much fun, but that gets old after a while, and nobody forgives Harry as easily and readily as Harry does.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Captain Fantastic

Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and Leslie Cash (Trin Miller) have raised their six kids as far away from the corrupting influence of modern society as they can.  They live in a cabin in the remote wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, where they hunt and grow their own food.  They read Dostoyevsky and Hawking by campfire light, and speak seven different languages. When it’s too dark to read, they pull out their hand-made musical instruments and have a hoedown. It looks like a pretty fantastic life.

It’s Swiss Family Robinson meets Walden, but all is not well in the woods.  “Captain Fantastic” opens with a tragic death, that sends the rest of the family on a road trip (in their dilapidated school bus, overhauled to be a camper/trailer/schoolroom) that will require them to admit their own weaknesses, and the limitations of their philosopher-king-deerslayer lifestyle.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

La La Land

Today we have a guest post from my friend Jennifer Johnson, who is a high school English teacher in Idaho and a lover of musicals.  

By Jennifer Johnson

I love musicals. Love them. I see every new musical thing a brave studio produces.

I was so looking forward to La La Land that I strong-armed a friend into braving bad weather in order to catch an early showing.

La La Land begins with a large ensemble number, utilizing a wide variety of singers and dancers. The ensemble presents a believable, multi-cultural spectrum of Los Angeles. It was lovely to experience a variety of faces and musical styles on the screen of a musical; my heart surged with hope that this modern musical would reposition the genre as an inclusive one. After that opening number, however, the human variety disappeared. This welcome variety of voices and bodies vanished. It seemed every African American actor was relegated to the role of jazz musician. The whiteness of La La Land struck me as a Rogers and Hammerstein-era blunder. It is not until the closing number that the full ensemble returns to close the show. Where were they? Why was the ensemble not dancing at the coffee shop? On the movie sets? At the parties? In the jazz clubs? Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are left to carry the dancing themselves, which also turns out to be a mistake.

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Posted in All Reviews, Guest Posts.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Somewhere in the New Zealand bush, Ricky Baker is lost, both literally and figuratively. He’s a foster kid who has bounced around plenty and is one mistake away from juvenile detention, who styles himself as a gangster, in a way similar to how Hudson Yang does on the TV show”Fresh Off the Boat” — both seem far too huggable to be taken seriously. He’s finally landed with a truly loving caretaker, and the first night he decides to run away into the vast wilderness behind the house. He makes it about 300 yards, before he lays down to take a little nap, and is awakened by Bella, his foster parent, who invites him back home for pancakes.

Things seem like they’re finally working out for little Ricky, but then tragedy strikes, and he’s off into the Bush again. Before long, he and gruff old survivor Hec (Sam Neil) are on the run from Child Welfare through the bush, in what becomes (rather implausibly) a nationwide manhunt involving SWAT teams, helicopters, and tanks. That’s all led by a Child Welfare worker (Rachel House) whose motto is “No Child Left Behind,” which roughly translates to “Every Child Suitably Punished for Annoying Me.”

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Split

I don’t want to say too much about M.Night Shyamalan’s comeback, because a) I covered that last year when I wrote about “The Visit,” and b) I’m still doing my best to forget the terrible movies he made between “Signs” and “The Visit.”  Let’s just say that his newest, “Split,” proves that “The Visit” wasn’t a fluke.  He’s back to making bloody good horror-lite flicks. Thank God.

“Split” is about a psycho named Kevin, played by James McAvoy, who kidnaps three teenage girls and has dark plans for them. We learn early on that this psycho has multiple personalities, or Disassociative Identity Disorder. (It should probably go without saying that the portrayal of a mental illness in a horror flick has almost no resemblance to reality, and has the potential to stigmatize real-life sufferers of that illness. Let’s all do each other a big favor and remember that, ok?)

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Maggie’s Plan

In “Maggie’s Plan,” Greta Gerwig plays more or less the same character she always does, a woman who can’t quite keep everything she thinks or feels from appearing on her face or escaping her mouth, no matter how hard she tries.  She’s slightly miscast as Maggie, whose main characteristic is that she is almost terminally competent. Anna Kendrick would be a better fit, but since I think Anna Kendrick would be better than whoever is cast is almost every movie that is made, I guess that’s a moot point.

Ethan Hawke is also playing a very familiar character, a slacker philosopher who you think has a heart of gold but turns out to be terribly self-absorbed. Julianne Moore can play almost anything, but her character here – an icy Icelandic “ficto-critical anthropologist” is very similar to Maude in “The Big Lebowski.”

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Great Movies Roundtable: Sophie’s Choice

#90 on AFI’s “100 Movies, 100 Years – 10th Anniversary Edition is “Sophie’s Choice.”

Directed by Alan J. Pakula (who is seriously underrated – he also made #77 and #25 on AFI’s list, but his is hardly a household name like Spielberg, Scorsese or Hitchcock) “Sophie’s Choice” is the story of a young Southern writer (Peter MacNichol) who moves to New York to work on his novel and “experience the world,” I guess. There he meets Nathan (Kevin Kline) and Sophie (Meryl Streep,) and the trio quickly become friends, and then a love triangle. Nathan is extremely mercurial and unpredictable, and Sophie is a Polish immigrant who survived the Nazi concentration camps. As the story progresses, we learn more about both of them, but most especially about Sophie, and the horrific choice she had to make, and the way that experience has forever marked her life.

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Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, by Will Krischke, The Classic Movie Series.

Hidden Figures

“Hidden Figures,” directed by Theodore Melfi, is the story of three African American women who worked at NASA during the space race of the 1960s. This is back when the term “computers” referred to people, not machines, and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) led an entire room of African American women who did the math for the engineers and scientists who got all the glory. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, in what should be a star-making turn) was a talented engineer with no engineering degree, and Taraji P. Henson plays Katharine Johnson, perhaps the most gifted and brilliant mathematician on the NASA staff.

All three have significant challenges to face, and “Hidden Figures” spreads itself pretty thin to make sure all three stories are told. Vaughn can see that IBM machines will soon replace the jobs of the women she supervises, and tries to prepare for that future. Jackson can only get her engineering degree from a school that is Whites Only.  But the movie focuses mostly on Johnson, who has the opportunity to do groundbreaking work in the space program. But in order to do so, she must navigate a sea of white men who resent her presence, doubt her talents, and even refuse to share a coffee pot with her.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

Love & Friendship

At its heart, “Love & Friendship,” Whit Stilman’s adaptation of a previously unpublished Jane Austen novel, is a con-man (or, in this case, con-woman) flick.  It should appeal to fans of movies like “Matchstick Men” or “The Brothers Bloom” as much as those of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.”  It’s smart, and funny, and the costumes and sets are lovely.  It might be the perfect date movie.

It probably ought to be subtitled “…are useful tools to get what you want, or at least avoid poverty.”  Kate Beckinsale (who is fantastic, proving that her verbal dexterity is at least a match for the physical dexterity she’s put on display in all those terrible vampire movies) plays our main character, Lady Susan, and like most of Austen’s heroines, she is dangerously close to destitution and ill repute. Her husband has passed away and left her with nothing but debts, and the number of gracious relatives willing to take her in had dwindled because of her, shall we say, flirtatious behavior. Whenever I read Austen, I can’t help but think about how quickly and easily an Austen heroine could become a Dickens or Hugo tragic figure. It’s hardly ever mentioned, but Austen’s women are always perched on the very edge of the abyss.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.