The Beardly Writer

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

Movie March: Day Twenty

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Day 20: Guns at Batasi.

What stands out most about this movie (aside from the not-so-casual racism, which I’ll get to), is Richard Attenborough’s performance. Wow. I’ve seen him in a few films; Doctor Dolittle, Hamlet, the inferior remake of Miracle on 34th Street, and of course Jurassic Park. I’m more familiar with him behind the camera, like Gandhi, Shadowlands, and Chaplin. But I’ll have to find more of his earlier films if he’s really this good. He had me in stitches one moment and covered in goosebumps the next. His performance alone makes this movie worth tracking down (only one DVD of this movie exists in the 88 libraries I have access to in Ohio). It’s a simple enough story. Britain has their imperialist, colonizing fingers in Africa and the locals aren’t keen (the location is never specified but it’s likely Kenya). Overnight, the local government changes and a group of Africans in the British army mutiny. They’re mostly peaceful, only rounding up other Africans they consider to be traitors and telling the white folks to stay out of the way. The racism begins right away in the depiction of the African soldiers, shown to be indecisive and bumbling. Direct conversations about racism and prejudice occur between a visiting member of British parliament and Attenborough’s Regimental Sgt. Major Lauderdale. She sounds like someone bragging about having black friends while he sounds like someone comfortable and justified in his bigotry while at the same time believing he’s not bigoted at all. At one point he tries to shut down the idea that he thinks poorly of them just because of the color of their skin, saying, “they’re best is as good as our best,” but it just doesn’t jive with everything else he says. The Africans are always talked about and viewed as a “them.” The movie is a product of its time. Beyond that, there isn’t much to complain about. The little love story featuring Mia Farrow in her film debut added some comic relief but was lingered on a bit too long. At first, I thought the climax of the film was a little weak, but then the true emotional climax of the film played out and I realized the film was much better than I was giving it credit. Some have called this Attenborough’s greatest performance. He certainly gave it his all. Or, as Hammond would say, “Spared no expense.” (thanks to Nick Murray for recommending this movie)

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Movie March: Day Nineteen

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Day 19: Stranger Than Fiction.

I’ve avoided this movie because I don’t care for Will Ferrell’s brand of comedy. Thankfully his brand isn’t on display here. Ferrell is restrained, bordering on likable. I didn’t sense much chemistry between him and Gyllenhaal. I anxiously awaited the meeting of character and author, wondering what the twist would be. What was making this magic happen? Nothing, as it turns out. Nothing is explained. I guess I prefer that over something like “she’s an angel, narrating his life from heaven” or some such BS I was frightened it would be. It’s my fault, hoping for something mind-blowing and inspiring. The narration was cleverly written. I was fully expecting and happy about the intended ending for Harold Crick and bummed when the author changed it. Her line explaining the change felt very greeting card. It never seemed to reach the level of importance that Hoffman’s character gave it, calling it “her masterpiece.” A little pretentious if you ask me. And I’m someone who usually likes pretentious things. Oh well. It’s not as good as people have told me it is but it’s absolutely my favorite Will Ferrell film. Except that’s not saying much; I can do better. It’s not as good as people have told me it is but fortunately for this film, I have a soft spot for magical realism so I kind of enjoyed it.

Movie March: Day Eighteen

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Day 18: Train to Busan

Some people are waiting for the day we reach superhero movie oversaturation; when we as the audience have had enough of them. The same is said about zombie movies. There sure have been a lot. The thing is, I think it’s less about zombie or caped-crusaders and more about good story. There’s a reaction in Hollywood when high-concept or genre films don’t work that it’s the concept or genre audiences don’t like. For a while, the western was dead, until Unforgiven proved them wrong. For a while, pirate movies were dead until Pirates of the Caribbean came along. People weren’t tired of westerns or pirate movies, they were tired of boring, bad, rehashed stories with western or pirate veneer. People will only tire of superhero and zombie movies when filmmakers stop making entertaining and original superhero and zombie movies. I wouldn’t call Train to Busan wholly original. It’s a zombie action movie. We’ve seen those come and go. But what Train has that others don’t is heart. It also has great action, acting, and direction. It’s not a perfect film but it’s damn entertaining to watch. Best of all, though, is the emotional core of a man learning how to be a father in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Second best is when the main jerk of the film finally gets it. Third is Ma Dong-seok for being awesome and punching zombies.

Movie March: Day Seventeen

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Day 17: Coco.

I don’t watch all Pixar films. I’ve been able to avoid the Cars movies and a handful of others (you know, the not good ones). But they’ve produced some real gems, chief among them WALL-E. Add Coco to that list. This picture is visually stunning to look at. The core of the story is standard Disney fare but the journey feels exciting and fresh (fresher than the dialogue which is occasionally canned and stale). I like that the musical numbers are actual performances instead of people just breaking out into song. The principal characters all have solid arcs, even the dog, who mercifully isn’t as anthropomorphized as other Disney movies make their animals. Coco feels special, and the feels are real. And no, I didn’t cry. Shut up.

Movie March: Day Sixteen

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Day 16: In the Mood for Love.

This is a film that reminds me why I love film. It’s just good cinema. The play between the cinematography, music, color, great acting, editing… the result is greater than the sum of its parts, and its parts are solid to begin with. The camera work is often voyeuristic but without feeling seedy; more observational and intimate. Curious, even. Close-ups and slow motion are used to great effect. Like in The Graduate, this film uses only a few songs repeated throughout but I can’t imagine anything different they fit so well. And the colors! Did I ever see red before this film? The colors are so saturated and so lush, like candy for the eyes. These two actors can convey so much with a look or the slightest gesture. It was a joy watching two masters of the art. The narrative jumps around in time a little which might throw some viewers off but I think adds to the emotional turmoil the characters go through. The ending is poignant but honest with just a pinch of hope and magic. The magic of film is my favorite kind.

Movie March: Day Fifteen

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Day 15: A Futile and Stupid Gesture.

I never read an issue of the National Lampoon magazine. I wasn’t even aware they’d done a radio broadcast, released albums, or done live shows. I didn’t know the name Doug Kenney. But I love Animal House and half of the Vacation movies, and the first Loaded Weapon isn’t that bad. This movie? It’s OK. Some of the impersonations are all right. I’m not a big Joel McHale fan but his Chevy Chase is funny. It follows an established trail for movies if its type. The meteoric rise of a brilliant talent and his subsequent fall (spoilers) due to his own inadequacies. Doug was a funny man but he couldn’t handle the success. Or his cocaine addiction. The movie tries to point the finger, draw a string from cause A to effect B. It feels too simple. Depression and suicide are rarely simple. The movie tries to have it both ways: it takes itself seriously with more than a few dramatically lit Serious Discussion scenes, while also doing the cool meta thing (they hung so many lanterns, the lighting crew was probably paid overtime). The end is reminiscent of other, better scenes, like the funeral from Man on the Moon. But, as movies go, it’s not a bad hour and forty minute distraction.

Movie March: Day Fourteen

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Day 14: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

I cried when the first ghost arrived. This is a beautiful movie and it doesn’t matter if you understand it or not. It’s a slow film but it was over before I knew it. The shots are held for a long time, even after the action is over or actors leave the frame. It’s almost entirely wide and medium shots. The camera rarely moves except for a few pans and one sequence of handheld. Editing is minimal. Special effects consist of a few composites, some glowing red eyes, makeup and costuming. There’s no pretense, no artifice, and yet the impression it left on me is incredible. Sure, there’s a sex scene between a woman and a talking catfish but it’s not meant to shock. It plays out like a fable: innocent, earnest, and magical. There’s not much of a traditional (read: Western) narrative. It’s more an examination of faith, life, and death. I can’t say I know what happened at the end. The characters themselves didn’t seem to know. Or be all that concerned with knowing. The director’s gone on record saying that’s OK. What I do know is I love this movie.

Also, if all Thai people react this way to seeing a ghost, they are the chillest mofo’s on the planet.

Movie March: Day Thirteen

Day 13: The Third Man.

I love Orson Welles and wish he was in this film more. He’s just such a natural actor and has a tremendous screen presence that, even though his character, Harry Lime, is a monster, I found myself rooting for him. This is a classic film noir, which means there’s a body count, double crossing, and lots of shadows. And Harry’s shadows are always larger than life. I sympathize with the protagonist, a writer who gets a chance to play detective when his best friend, now dead, is accused of some pretty nefarious deeds. Of course he gets caught up with a woman and ends up in way over his head. I love how much of a character the city of Vienna becomes, like Berlin in last year’s Atomic Blonde. Harry’s friends are real characters, too, like the Baron with the creepy smile, the slimy Popescu, and the tight lipped doctor Winkel (that’s “Vinkel”). Poor Harry. And poor Holly Martins. He really should have gotten on that plane.

Movie March: Day Twelve

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Day 12: The Ballad of Lefty Brown

I love a good western, and this certainly qualifies. Lefty Brown is a classic tale of revenge, friendship, betrayal, and ambition – hallmarks of classic westerns. What sets this apart is its leading man, who in any other western would be the bumbling sidekick. This film puts that sidekick front and center to find out just how capable he is. At times you wonder if Lefty really has what it takes to pull this off; a testament to the writing, direction, and acting.  Pullman gives probably his best performance. The rest of the cast fill their roles just fine. The action is shot realistically and not glorified. The plot unfolds at its own pace but never feels dull.The dialogue isn’t great, a little cliche at times, but not so bad as to pull me out of the story. Seriously, though. I’m having one of those “Alien” moments when you realize that Ripley is the hero and it changes something inside of you. This kind of guy doesn’t get his own story. But here it is all the same, and it’s good.

Movie March: Day Eleven

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Day 11: Logan Lucky.

Solid comedy. Great accent from Adam Driver. Less convincing from Daniel Craig but he obviously had fun with it. Soderbergh and Blunt (if that’s her/his real name) do a good job of keeping the audience engaged and informed during the heist and its prep without over-explaining. Driver’s and Tatum’s brotherly chemistry is fantastic. The movie chugged right along, never feeling long or winded. The only possible negative is that there wasn’t a lot of tension – something I’m not really complaining about since I didn’t miss it here. There were several “they’re about to get caught” moments but they were mostly played for laughs, not drama. The twist was unexpected and welcome. The heist itself was impossibly complex with too many unknowable variables and Tatum’s character had previously not shown the intellectual ability to conceptualize and carry out something of its kind, but, I don’t care because it was fun. Country roads, take me home.