The Big Short Beasties
The Big Short was kind of funny, kind of sad, all terrifying if you stop for a minute to contemplate the ‘Beasts of Banking.’
Please go to the review in the Times (URL below) so I do not have to make the slightest effort to describe the content of this film. I’ll just say that it’s a comedic docudramatic account of how a lot of mediocre but very greedy people in every branch of banking and real estate brought a lot of the financial world and by default a lot of real people to their knees…and how a few smart and maybe slightly less flawed guys saw it about to happen and made a ton, a Ton, a TON of money with their foresight—and felt a bit sad about it.
It really is an odd film, not exactly a story like Wolf of Wall Street, with a ‘main character’; here money is the main character and it has a perverse sense of humor. One of those films you can just as well watch on the small screen. But good.
So I posted a review of Spotlight which I might have called ‘Beasts of the Church’ but since then I’ve watched The Big Short and Beasts of No Nation. I could have just written one big post called ‘Beasts’ as they are everywhere.
Fantastic flicks. Movies of magnitude. Fabulous films. All of the above. Both of them. But in one there are some bad guys, in the other a bad and complicit society. Or maybe both in both.
Beasts of No Nation is really a powerful moving important film. It has history—contemporary history and politics—think ego-maniacal Trump and religious-fanatic Cruz in a hot climate gathering their minions of poor, displaced, uneducated youth (and grown-ups who should know better) and lots of available weapons and don’t think for a minute it would be any different right here in river city.
I gather the story is based on Sierra Leone’s endless civil/warlord war and maybe on the Lord’s Resistance Army in Ghana. It’s especially horrific because of the use of children as soldiers/killers but as I write this I wonder why that is somehow more horrible than what is happening to the children of Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan as they’re brutalized and starved and left without families or homes or education. The problem is when I start thinking about one hideous miscarriage of justice there are always ten or a hundred more to weigh in on the more-or-less horrible scale.
Focus then on the absolutely tough and brilliant performance by Idris Elba as the commandant with his army of disadvantaged children. Obviously the commandant is a bad guy so how is it Elba makes him bad—very bad—and believable—well that might not be so hard since very bad guys abound—but also sympathetic or do I mean empathetic? I don’t find the commandant unbelievable nor do I believe at heart there’s not a bit of humanity/caring/empathy of his own left. I almost care about him too. Well I do. Some. So that is a performance people. And why Elba isn’t one of the nominees makes me believe the Academy is flawed, a lot, just as so many people are saying. Idris Elba is simply such an amazing actor he could play an insurance salesman that you cared about… There I’ve said it …that’s how good he is.
I think I’ll save The Big Short for an evening think and wine
My Mad Max
Max as she was ever-so-fondly known (the memory of why I named her Mad Max is lost to time) was the world’s smartest and most beautiful dog. I loved her dearly and she was my very best traveling companion (Teresa, you are next best…).
If I had her to rename I’d probably call her Furiosa after Charlize. About Mad Max Fury Road. The new Mad Max is not a movie I would usually see. I was however in Grand Rapids, Minnesota this summer with Robert and Marsha and, wanting to go to the show (as we called movies/films back in the day), it turned out the only halfway seeable prospect was…the new Mad Max. And now that it’s been nominated I am so happy to have gotten it out of the way early.
Let me hasten to add it wasn’t really a bad experience. Charlize Theron is my idea of the perfect ‘tough broad’ so that gave us old ‘libbers’ someone for whom to cheer. Still, basically, all Mad Maxes are boys’ gigs. Lots of big bad vehicles, including cars, car parts, car parts pieced into weird configurations, car parts broken, repaired, glued, bullet riddled…you get the picture. All accompanied by a few nearly-naked seriously-voluptuous sweaty dirty 100% gorgeous women. Good stuff, right guys. And yay for Charlize who made all that roaring and banging and speeding almost palatable.
The Annual Movie Marathon Begins
Movie time. Off and running. Spotlight last night, Beast of No Nation tonight, Mustang tomorrow, Theeb Monday night.
This year no party. Just five-six weeks of intense movie going with a slightly new approach. I am determined to see all of the best picture (even if it means I must see Revenant) and foreign film nominees, the documentaries and the films that ‘should have’ had some nominations. And then tell you the truth about which ones were the best. I’m the kid that begged her mother for Photoplay (and Western Horsemen because my favorite shows were all about horses and their cowboys). Now I just go to a whole bunch of movies once a year and watch the news channels to see my favorite stars! So who better to keep you posted during Oscar season?
Spotlight. A cold night, warm movie-going fleeces—the old stuff you can get popcorn butter on—although I would satisfy my salty desires with Saltines for this night only, and end of a stressful week. Spotlight. A film pretty much as good as it gets. It’s the story of the Boston Globe reporters whose fierce investigation managed to reveal the prevalence of sexually abusive priests in the Catholic Church and the hierarchy that sheltered them and, in many cases, allowed their activity to continue.
Spotlight is the best of all worlds for me. Drama; journalism; revelations exposing one of my several least favorite organizations—The Church (religious institutions in general—not just Catholicism); and a cast of very fine actors. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams maybe foremost among them. I’ve never followed them particularly—even after Birdman last year—but they are so fine in this film. Strong and passionate and always making you believe they’re the real deal.
My only sad afterthought is wondering if all of that work and those revelations have actually changed much. There has been change, right? Right? Or does power always corrupt and absolute power (which religious authorities have) always corrupt absolutely? Yes is the answer isn’t it?
A Cranky Critique of Oscar Night
Last movie word I promise. Oscar night was good at my place. Nice movie-smart friends brought delicious Oscar-themed food, the apartment was warm and cozy, the wine was fine. Perfect, yes?
But then came the actual show. The Academy Awards. Didn’t it seem like there was more than an average number of puffy white and pastel dresses, sort of faux-50’s-prom-like? Then the standard red-carpet blather. Then the sly and initially funny Neil Patrick Harris. Then the boring Neil Patrick Harris. Then underwear-clad Neil Patrick Harris. Slight depression set in. I was longing for Downton Abbey but my film friends came over to visit Hollywood…not the Abbey. THEN the momentum of the commercial breaks increased. And Neil Patrick Harris was babbling—but at least he had his pants back on. Those of us still hanging in there were tired but we had too much time invested not make it to the grand finale.
The awards had been piling up for Birdman. I was pouting. I had a stake in Boyhood. It’s my story. My sons’ story. It’s ours dammit. Boyhood is a quintessential American story and yet it feels almost European. It take its time. No Flash-bang. No frills. Just an ordinary story of time and family.
Oh well. Eventually I had to accept that Boyhood was not going to win. That it was going to be Birdman was unavoidable. Hey Birdman is a good show. Fast and furious and fun and games. The other BP nominees felt flatter and flatter over the course of the evening. Selma lost its righteous glow; The Imitation Game stayed solid…meaningful… maybe a little dull…; The Theory of Everything showed that in spite of your hideous disease you can share your genius with the world and be a bit of an egocentric jerk besides; Whiplash proved…well nothing really. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a crazy romp through some nasty history. It actually is a bit special. But it lost too.
So My Movie Did Not Win. Bad Hollywood. Bad Academy. I won’t play next year because I’m mad at you. So there.
Enough With the Movies
And then there was Selma, Last Days in Vietnam, Finding Vivian Maier and Ida. All important, intelligent and wildly different. Selma, an engrossing film from any political historical perspective. Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson as flawed but powerful men. MLK was steadfast in his quest for voters’ rights for African Americans…pretty much. President Johnson was supportive but reluctant…maybe. And yes, as one critic, said, it is more political maneuvering than action, much like Lincoln two years ago, which is a welcome change. Still I wasn’t quite as engaged as I had hoped to be.
Which leads me to Last Days in Vietnam and Finding Vivian Maier. Already talked about Virunga—the best of all—and missed Citizen Four at the Guild. Can’t find The Salt of the Earth. While Last Days in Vietnam is exactly what it says; it is less gripping than one might imagine given all of those old newsreels. It avoids the politics of the era altogether which seemed a little strange to me. Finding Vivian Maier was delightful. There is this ordinary nanny/brilliant photographer, completely unknown, generally rather unlikeable, who collected a mass of photographs of everyday people going about their various businesses that is almost unbelievable in quantity and quality.
Ida, a Polish Jewish Nun. Yes that’s what I said. A haunting tragic story. The Jewish orphan saved and deposited at a Catholic nunnery by the Polish farmers who murdered the rest of her family during the reign of the Nazis. She is in the process of becoming a nun when she learns the truth through a relative. It has the look I always expect from foreign films, maybe because I see too few. None of the emphasis on speed and action and too-muchness of many American films. Ida was the one foreign film I managed to see. I must keep my eyes open and make dedicated plans to go to the Guild more. The only place to see almost anything outside of the main stream in this town. I will. I will. I will. I’m voting for Boyhood for sentimental reasons and Selma for meaningfulness. And The Grand Budapest Hotel for fun-with-history.
More Movie Thoughts
CLOWNS, PUT OUT TO PASTURE.
Something for everyone. My favorite of this lot was The Grand Budapest Hotel which I wish I would have watched in a theater instead of the smallness of my living room—the grand scenes of derring-do warranted a bigger screen and popcorn. New Yorker critic, Richard Brodie, believes this is the best of the eight best picture nomination but that doesn’t have a chance for an Oscar because people like their “historical politics at simplistic face value.” Which makes sense since history is hardly taught in schools at any level. Although I understand most of the deciders in the Academy were students back in olden times when the likes of history and geography and literature were considered serious subjects most younger moviegoers don’t have a clue. Guess what audience corporate Hollywood is after.
Birdman is the only other Best Picture nominee that might be brilliant. There are layers and layers and layers in both Budapest and Birdman (as an ad for Birdman repeats ad nauseam) but now that I think about it I prefer layers about history versus layers about ego-maniacal performers.
The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are movies about very smart people who overcome…achieve…and, one way or the other have or are meeting tragic or unpleasant ends. I liked them both. They were excellent AND ordinary.
Then there’s Whiplash. Which was certainly intense—but I think. New Yorker’s Brodie says it best:
Whiplash” is a classic Sundance script: the plot is so tight that it leaves out the story, the characters so simplistic that they leave out the people. It appeals to Hollywood self-pity; the drummer goes through a masochistic hell as an underling and finally gets ahead as a defiant noisemaker. It depicts success as abject self-abasing obedience followed by a triumphant fuck-you. The movie is too narrow-bore for Best Picture, though. The New Yorker/February 17, 2015.
Evening now: Just watched “The Judge” on Direct TV because Robert Duvall is up for best supporting actor and because I feel mildly awful. Good enough movie. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall were pretty spectacular actually. But nothing quite gripping enough about this particular down-south lawyer story to make it worth thinking a lot about. Okay so it took place in Indiana—it felt down-home, down-south-like.
Did I tell you I once stole a picture of Janice Rule from my friend Susie’s movie magazine? It may be the only thing I ever just flat out stole—and you don’t even know who Janice Rule was do you? An actress (later psychoanalyst!), who looked like I wanted to look. Very all-American pretty face, tall and slim, with glossy long brown hair—which didn’t exactly happen—although I was prettyish and tall and slim but the hair was always all wrong and insubstantial, wasn’t it? I must have seen my heroine Janice in a movie but I have no idea what or when. In any case I loved her. And stole her picture right out of one of the Photoplay Magazines Susie had somehow acquired.
I still love movies but it is a love to which I am very untrue. I grew distant during a period of time when I had three jobs, two kids and almost no money. Since then I’m afraid my passion only reappears when I’m lonely in a foreign city or just before Oscar’s time.
Here I am then, less than a week before the big Academy blowout—the red carpet and the glamour and the maudlin funny awkward serious bizarre speeches of gratitude. I love it, at least until sometime before the end when I don’t. Since my friend Susanna and I have tried to see every nominated film and as many foreign films and documentaries as possible, it should be a fairly engrossing viewing year.
And we’ll have our party. Remember. My house. Around 5. A few movie fan friends, each bearing a movie-related food item. Small disagreements, the ballots, un vin ou deux and our stars will appear…and disappear as quickly. The magic moment.
Here’s my list so far of the big boys I’ve seen:
Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The imitation Game, Whiplash, Selma—tonight is The Theory of Everything on Direct TV. Then there are Into the Woods, Ida, Unbroken, Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam and Virunga.
I’m skipping American Sniper—whether as a protest over American gun-love in war-form guise or over a fat Bradley Cooper—it’s hard to know.