The Beardly Writer

Some write from the heart. I write from the beard.

Movie March: Day Thirty-one

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Day 31: Get Out and City Lights

Because Thursday’s movie didn’t happen, today is a double feature.

Jordan Peele won best original screenplay for Get Out. I’ve also read at least one reviewer say the film’s premise would have been better suited for a simple comedy sketch. It did feel at times like the plot was being stretched. Not like butter scraped over too much bread but, drawn out, like taffy. For a purpose. It’s called tension. Suspense. And Get Out has it in spades. The audience usually learns things the same time as the protagonist. We’re in his shoes (those of us with empathy) and we’re just as paranoid. Sometimes the movie clues us in early and the dramatic irony made me fidget in my seat. I like how Kaluuya plays his role. He’s used to the racist BS. It doesn’t rattle him. It’s the weirdness that gets to him, and to us watching. The ending is explosive and fun. The twists are heartbreaking but perfect. The best friend is funny and smart. The bit at the end with the police lights had me fearing the worst. Well played, Mr. Peele. Aside from a few score jump scares, the fear in the movie is real, existential, personal… A true horror film. Hollywood needs more of these. Hollywood needs more filmmakers like Jordan Peele.

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I haven’t seen many silent films. The ones I have seen, like Intolerance, Birth of a Nation, Metropolis, and Dr. Caligari, were good but mostly I remember being bored. That is to say, I recognized why they were landmark films and worthy of study but I wasn’t entertained. So I didn’t go out of my way to watch any silent films for enjoyment. Having finally seen my first Chaplin film, I realize what a mistake I’ve made putting it off for so long. This movie is wholly charming and entertaining. Granted, it falls within my 90-minute theory, which helps. Still, not once was I bored or eager for it to end. Chaplin’s Tramp is lovable and a joy to watch. The very instant he first appeared on screen I laughed out loud. Virginia Cherrill as the blind girl gave a wonderful performance. The ending was so adorable and touching I could squeal. Just look at that face he’s making! But I’m also confused. This film is guilty of the same sin I chastized Downsizing for yesterday, yet here I have no complaints. Chaplin’s character has no discernable motivation for the first half of the film. He likes the blind girl and tries to woo her but it’s not constructed in a classic Hero’s Journey sort of way. Not until he tries to get her the rent money is he actually working towards a goal. Why am I entertained here while bored by Downsizing? Character. Damon was bland, khaki, milquetoast. I didn’t care about him. Maybe that’s the fault of the filmmakers, maybe it’s a performance issue. What I do know is I CARED about the Tramp. I wanted him to succeed. I wanted him to find his happy ending. It’s been said that Chaplin’s Tramp was at one time the most recognized image in the world. That’s a testimony to the power and endurance of character.

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Movie March: Day Thirty

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Day Thirty: Downsizing.

It’s a mixed bag. Damon’s character Paul said it best when he said downsizing had its good parts and its bad parts. So does the movie. The bad parts: Paul’s character arc isn’t all that strong. He’s a nice if bland guy who helps people but wants to give his wife a better life. After she leaves him anyway he goes on a journey that teaches him helping people is a good thing. OK, it’s a little more than that. But not by much. The film has a great sci-fi premise but does little with it. I guess that’s not the story the filmmakers wanted to tell. Beyond the premise, this film isn’t really doing or saying anything new. Also, I read that writer/director Payne considered Paul Giamatti for the lead role at one time. Oh, the movie that could have been… (it would have been better, at least). The good parts: Hong Chau. I fell in love with her character long before Damon did. She absolutely stole the movie for me. Other than that, the shrinking preparation sequence was quirky and fun. If only the entire movie held that tone and humor. I had high hopes for this movie. I loved Sideways and About Schmidt. I wanted this to be more of the same but Alexander Payne does better with smaller budgets. Hey Payne, downsize your next budget and make another great movie. And put Paul Giamatti in it.

Movie March: Day Twenty-eight

Day 28: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I knew going into this month I wanted to watch this film. The further I got into the month the more I kept pushing it back because of its length (after 28 movies in a row I’m becoming convinced that 90 minutes is the perfect movie run time). With mere days left I could delay no longer. I pushed play and settled in. At first I was entertained. Then I was interested. Then I was bored. Then I was curious. Then I was hooked. Then it was over. The emotional yo-yo these two damaged people take the audience on is exhausting and exhilarating. Elizabeth Taylor is incredible. Burton, too. Their characters are terrible people who absolutely deserve each other. But by the end, so very brave to choose truth over illusion. I’d love to see this on stage, to sit in the front row and experience the violence, feel the heat of their anger. This one is going to stick with me for a long time to come.

Movie March: Day Twenty-seven

Day 27: American Fable.

Fables contain morals. The tortoise and the hare teaches that slow and steady wins the race. The boy who cried wolf teaches us not to lie. American Fable teaches us… It’s complicated. Young Gitty is a special girl. One day she comes across a man who says he can give her anything she wants in the world in exchange for his freedom but that she can’t tell anyone about him. She wants to keep his secret. And she knows exactly what she wants for her wish. Some deals, though, come at a price. This is at its heart a family drama. Father is forced to make decisions to keep the family farm. Mom tries to keep the family together. Brother is a psychopath. And Gitty has curiosity and compassion. The film keeps an eerie tone from beginning to end. It uses a lot of wide angle lenses, even in close shots to make everything feel weird. The cinematography and scenery are beautiful if slightly scary. Some of the performances are weak but it doesn’t detract. I certainly won’t look at silos for a while without thinking of this film.

Movie March: Day Twenty-six

Day 26: The Thin Man.

There’s a joke in my third favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I’ve only understood from the second hand. In the episode Space Mutiny, two characters’ dialog is sarcastically likened to that of Nick and Nora Charles. Having finally watched The Thin Man, the joke is even more biting. These two are easily my new favorite onscreen couple. The humor, the chemistry, the high-functioning alcoholism, the dialog so quick it gives you whiplash, it’s all so romantic. The cast of characters is more interesting than the mystery itself and watching them try to solve it is more satisfying than the solving. It even has a classic dinner party scene during which Nick walks everyone through the mystery until the murderer reveals himself, like you’d find in an Agatha Christie story. The film is thoroughly entertaining and I wish I hadn’t waited so long to see it.

Movie March: Day Twenty-five

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Day 25: Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons.

If you’ve seen other Stephen Chow films, this is more of the same. It’s a lot of fun, the action is over the top, the main character grows by leaps and bounds by the end, all while the story stumbles, limps, and lurches along. That’s probably unfair to say. It does those things but maybe only to the western palate. That’s another reason why it’s fun – experiencing a journey through the eyes of a different culture. We have our share of demon hunter movies in the west but the ones in Journey aren’t those. The protagonist, like his counterpart in Kung Fu Hustle, follows a strange, infantile training guidebook. In Kung Fu Hustle it was a cheap, dime a dozen kung fu beginners guide. Here, it’s a songbook of 300 nursery rhymes, designed to bring out the good in demons. It only gets wackier from there. A lot of the humor is slapstick; it is a fighting film, after all. Miss Duan’s goal of giving up demon hunting for a family and simple life didn’t fit with the rest of her character but it drove a large portion of the story. And as it often happens in western films, the love and subsequent death of a woman is what motivates the male protagonist to finish his journey. That trope gets a little tiresome. Still, the movie is fun and fun to look at. It’s special effects heavy and while the budget obviously wasn’t enormous they do a decent job of at least making the effects charming.

Movie March: Day Twenty-four

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Day 24: Angel Heart.

I’d never heard of this one, as far as I can remember, until it was recommended to me. I dig noir. I dig private detective stories. Mickey Rourke is a fine actor. It was a no-brainer. The film itself is good. It enters unusual territory for a P.I. film: the supernatural. Rourke’s character, Angel, a private dick from Harlem, is called to the church of a crooked pastor by an attorney to meet a potential client. That client is a man named Louis Cyphre (a name even Angel acknowledges is a dime-novel joke) who signed a contract with a man before he went missing twelve years ago. Cyphre wants to find the man and collect the debt he’s owed. I wonder if the setup was less obvious when the movie premiered in 1987 or if we were supposed to know all along? Angel ends up in Louisiana looking for the missing soul- I mean, person. And wouldn’t you know it? A string of bodies begins to follow him. There are some classic noir elements here, none of which feel stale. Rourke’s performance as a smart but in-over-his-head detective is captivating, as are the city of New Orleans and the world of voodoo. Captivating, dangerous, and ultimately deadly.

Movie March: Day Twenty-three

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Day 23: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

My whole life I thought this was a treasure hunting movie. Like, hunting for buried treasure. Because of the title, you see. Turns out it’s a prospecting movie. OK, I’ll still go along for the ride. And what a ride. This movie is less about digging for gold and striking it rich than it is testing the metal of a man. Man against nature. Man against man. Man against himself. Man against Bogart at his sleaziest. I love Bogart. I loved him here because he was so easy and fun to hate. A man driven crazy with greed (this is what real gold sickness looks like, Thorin). I haven’t seen many John Huston films. Before this month it was only Maltese Falcon. Add this and African Queen to the list. I’m beginning to see why people like him. Then there’s the story. I know from story. I know about wants versus needs. I know a good story has characters meeting their needs instead of their wants. But I still hate it when in movies like this they lose the treasure in the end (uh, spoilers). Why can’t more movies be like Two Mules for Sister Sarah, where Eastwood gets both his want and his need, the treasure and the love of a good woman? I guess then we wouldn’t have gotten that last great laugh from Walter Huston’s character at the end. Maybe laughter was the real treasure all along.

(Nope. It was definitely the gold)

Movie March: Day Twenty-two

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Day 22: Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

I know, I know. Another Taika Waititi film. Sue me. (Don’t, actually. I’m poor). This film is absolutely charming. I didn’t think I’d like the kid for the first few minutes but he quickly grew on me. Sam Neill is perfect as the grizzled old bushman. Their adventure is fun, dangerous, surprising, and avoids the usual tropes. Taika’s writing is fresh and natural. His direction is competent with flashes of Edgar Wright. There’s really not much to dislike, here. Of course, I could listen to two dogs barking all night if they did it with Kiwi accents. Thanks to Stephanie Romine for the recommendation.

Movie March: Day Twenty-one

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Day 21: Remember.

It’s embarrassing to admit but I watch a lot of movie scenes with my hands over my eyes. Tension on screen is physically painful for me to watch. I’m not an emotional being but something about tense moments, especially those involving embarrassing situations, absolutely kill me and I can’t bear to watch. Enter Remember, a movie I listened to in its entirety but probably only saw about 65% of. It’s just. So. Tense. Christopher Plummer did a bang-up job, as always. He is the only reason I stuck with it. Were it another actor, I’m not sure I would have made it through. Martin Landau is there, too, but only occasionally. I won’t spoil anything about the movie. If you’re a fan of crime thrillers and suspense, I recommend it. It’s a little slow but intentionally so and only a hair over 90 minutes. If you’re like me and have to cover your eyes when Robin Williams’ family learns he’s Mrs. Doubtfire in the restaurant, you might want to skip this one.