Sunday, March 29, 2015

Et Tu, Manager?

Film: The Ides of March
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Everyone knows that politics is a dirty business. There’s a saying that anyone who wants to be president shouldn’t be trusted with the job. In my experience that same statement goes for Congress, state legislatures, and possibly most county and other local positions as well. Everyone pretty much knows this, but we tend to forget it at times. Films like The Ides of March serve as something like a vaccination for that forgetting. We need to be reminded frequently that our political process, still potentially the best one in the world, is still pretty shitty in a lot of respects and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

The Ides of March tells a highly fictionalized version of the Democratic primary leading up to a presidential election, presumably, based on the year of release analogous to the 2008 election. That said, it could have really been any year when there was an actual primary, and for that matter, it could have just as easily been Republican candidates. The story is told through the point of view of Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), the assistant campaign manager for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Stephen is a true believer, someone who refuses to compromise or play dirty because he feels that he doesn’t need to, thanks to the integrity of his candidate.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's Afrikaans, not Africaan't

Film: Invictus
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Someone needs to talk to marketing people. There are times when you can be assured that most of a film’s audience knows the history and there are times when the film audience doesn’t. In the case of Invictus, which follows both Nelson Mandela’s early days as President of South Africa and the 1995 Rugby World Cup, it’s much more the latter than the former. I’m sure there are plenty of people who know all about rugby, but the bulk of an American audience views the game with the same quizzical expression we do Australian rules football and cricket. So putting a picture of Matt Damon on the front of the DVD case holding up the trophy? That kind of spoils the ending.

Anyway, that really is what Invictus is about. Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is released from prison and shortly thereafter, with black South Africans given the right to vote, elected to the presidency of the nation. Naturally, this is a tense situation, since organized and authorized racism had been the law of the land for so long. Mandela seeks to change all of that, first be assuring the white staff members of his government office that they are welcome to stay at their posts. This is further reinforced when, needing additional security, he brings in a team of white, military trained personnel who a few years before had been trained to repress more than half of the population. None of this sits well with his head of security, Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Here We Go Again

Film: Les Miserables (1935)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve said for some time that my problem with the 2012 version of Les Miserables is that it’s a well-made version of a story that I don’t like that much. With me, though, there is always the danger that the reason I didn’t like this latest version is that it is a musical, and musicals are the genre I tend to be the hardest on. Tonight seemed a good chance to test this belief. The 1935 version of Les Miserables is essentially the same story (albeit a much shorter version) without all of the music and singing.

I’m not going to rehash the story here save the basics, but even the basics will take a few paragraphs. Jean Valjean (Fredric March) is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. For this crime, he is sent away for 10 years, overseen by the dictatorial Inspector Javert (Charles Laughton). Upon his release, he is shown kindness by a priest, and eventually recreates himself as a captain of industry under a pseudonym. In so doing, though, he violates his parole, making Jean Valjean a wanted criminal.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Film: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
Format: DVD from Oregon Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I can’t call myself the world’s biggest Sherlock Holmes fan, although I did name my dog after one of Doyle’s books. (My dog’s name is Baskerville if you’re playing the home version of my trivia game.) I feel about Holmes roughly the way I feel about, say, Star Trek. I’m enough of a fan to follow it and know the main players, but it’s nothing I particularly seek out. I was interested in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution mainly for the cast, which includes Robert Duvall and Alan Arkin. Now that I have a little time away from work (first time in months), I can work a little more with interlibrary loan, which is why I ordered this one for today.

This, it should be noted, is not a story by Arthur Conan Doyle, but Nicholas Meyer using Doyle’s characters. It’s kind of a two-part story. The first half deals entirely with Holmes and the second half with a case that arises suddenly. Despite this, the film doesn’t feel disjointed. Events of the first half creep into the second, and the narrative actually works despite there being two legitimate conclusions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I Hear that Train a-Comin'

Film: Runaway Train
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

A couple of weeks ago when I discussed Best Director for 1985, I brought up the film Runaway Train and the work of Andrey Koncahlovskiy. Shortly thereafter, a couple of thoughts occurred to me. First was that it had been a number of years since the last time I had seen the film. Second is that Runaway Train is currently streaming on NetFlix. Third, and this was the deciding factor, is that this film is unavailable on disc from NetFlix, meaning that if it vanishes from streaming, I’d have a harder time finding it. Sometimes, the decision is really no more difficult than that.

As it happens, I remembered the bulk of Runaway Train pretty well. At least I remembered Both Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, who were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively. I remembered that it was a prison break film and that the Voight character and the prison warden had an enduring psychological battle. I forgot that Rebecca De Mornay was in this, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Travelling to Infinity

Film: The Theory of Everything
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Most of my current heroes are mental heroes rather than physical ones. I don’t give a flying crap about sports these days, so it doesn’t affect me how many yards one quarterback threw for or how many home runs some left fielder hits. No, I tend to reserve my admiration for people of distinct and definable mental acuity, at least in the world outside of movies. At work, I often feel like the only person who can speak about someone like Krzysztof Kieslowski. I sometimes feel like I’m also the only person who can talk about a guy like Lawrence Krauss, although I suspect that isn’t true. It’s no surprise that The Theory of Everything was thus high on my list of films I wanted to see.

I can see people objecting off the top to the name of The Theory of Everything since the film itself doesn’t encompass an actual theory of everything. This is also true when the source material for the book has a great title: Jane Hawking’s book “Traveling to Infinity.”