Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sisters Share Everything

Film: Hilary and Jackie
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

Going into a movie blind sometimes has its benefits and sometimes it ends up making me wonder what the hell I just watched. With Hilary and Jackie, I got about 40 minutes of the former and about 80 minutes of the later. This initially seems like a very interesting story of sibling rivalry and devolves into weird marital infidelity and illness. I have no idea how to come at this movie from any perspective. This is not a case where the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. Instead, this is a case where the movie knows exactly what it wants to be and I have no idea what that is. This is despite the film being based on the real life of cellist Jacqueline du Pre.

Hilary (Keylee Jade Flanders as a child, Rachel Griffiths as an adult) and Jackie du Pre (Auriol Evans/Emily Watson) are sisters and musical prodigies. Hilary is initially the virtuoso on the flute, and when she feels she is being left behind with her cello, Jackie takes music much more seriously. It isn’t too long before Jackie has eclipsed her sister and is giving recitals and concerts around the world while Hilary struggles in school. Parents Derek (Charles Dance) and Iris (Celia Imrie) encourage both girls, but also seem to favor Jackie because of the full expression of her talents.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Contract Killer

Film: The Paper Chase
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I’m not old enough to remember The Paper Chase when it was a new movie, but I am old enough to recall my mother being a fan of the television show. While the star of the movie is officially Timothy Bottoms and the star of the television show was a guy named James Stephens (which is an alias I’ve used, although not because of the actor), the real star of both was John Houseman. Houseman was a stage actor, the co-founder of the Mercury Theater, and a teacher at Julliard. The Paper Chase was his third film role, one coming in the late 1930s and one uncredited in the 1960s. After this film and the subsequent television show, Houseman was everywhere, and his image was indistinguishable from that of his role in this film.

The Paper Chase is the story of a first-year Harvard Law student named James T. Hart (Timothy Bottoms) and his experience with his classmates in a class covering contract law. That class is taught by Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman), a terror in the classroom, but the sort of man who takes the brightest minds in the room and sharpens them to become the brightest minds in the country. Kingsfield’s class is a trial by fire. He identifies students only by a seating chart and has no memory of any of them beyond the classroeom. No student’s cares or concerns penetrate the icy wall of Kingsfield’s demeanor. The grade they get is the grade they earn with no chance or possibility of favoritism.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hippie Hippie Shakedown

Film: Inherent Vice
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew that Inherent Vice was going to be trouble. I’ve read a little Thomas Pynchon and he’s not an easy author to understand. I knew there would be shades of Naked Lunch here since Pynchon is pretty close to unadaptable. Inherent Vice at least has something like a plot, but it goes in a million directions at once. Since all of the characters are heavily drug fueled, there’s a sense of altered reality throughout. It’s impossible to really know what is going on and what might simply be paranoia. That’s a part all a part of Pynchon. Some of the paranoia is justified and some of it is just the drugs.

I’m not going to attempt much of a plot summary because I don’t know if I could come close to doing it justice. At its heart, Inherent Vice is a film noir told from the perspective of Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a pot-soaked private investigator given a trio of interlocked and intertwined cases. The first comes from Shasta (Katherine Waterston), Doc’s ex-girlfriend. Her boyfriend Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) is in trouble. Specifically, Wolfmann’s wife and her boyfriend want to have him committed so they can take his wealth created from housing developments.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Doctor, Doctor, Please

Film: Arrowsmith
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I tend to be ambivalent to medical dramas as a rule. I know virtually nothing about medicine, so there’s a part of me that always feels like I’m playing catch up with any drama that turns on medical knowledge. This is often less true of older medical dramas like Arrowsmith. Based on an earlier novel and dumbed down for a general audience, I didn’t have any real issues following the plot of Arrowsmith, which is a nod in the film’s favor.

We essentially fast-forward through the medical education of Dr. Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman), learning only that he is smart and is more interested in research than in actual medical practice. We also get a meet-cute between him and nurse Leora (Helen Hayes) which soon blossoms into a romance. In fact, it blossoms into such a romance that it immediately alters the course of his life. Offered a research position by his mentor Dr. Gottlieb (a suitably wizened and foreign-y A.E. Anson), Martin declines. Instead, he marries Leora and the two move to South Dakota near her parents. Why South Dakota? Because in Leora’s old home town there is no doctor.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Cherie Amour

Film: Silver Linings Playbook
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Silver Linings Playbook has been sitting on one of my DVD shelves since before I started focusing on Oscar films. Actually, that’s not quite true; it’s actually been sitting on the shelves shared by my daughters. My older daughter was mildly obsessed with this movie for a short time in part because she was also a huge fan of Hunger Games, and thus loved everything Jennifer Lawrence did. However, when I decided to finally watch it, it was nowhere to be found. Streaming, here we come.

As one of the last people in the country to see this, I’m likely covering known territory when I talk about the story, but that’s what I do here. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is being released from an 8-month stint in a mental institution caused by his complete breakdown when he found his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) with another man in the shower. Pat has used his time in the institution to get back in physical shape and to try to work on his anger issues, some of which he seems to have inherited from his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Asylum's Nemo

Film: Shark Tale
Format: DVD from Putnam County Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew when I added Best Animated Feature to my list of categories that eventually I would have to sit through Shark Tale again. I really do try to be as upbeat and open minded as I can be when it comes to this project, but this is a movie I’ve seen before and it’s a movie I know that I really hate. There is nothing I find appealing in what comes off as a combination of The Godfather and Finding Nemo. I don’t like the story, the characters, or the artwork, and with an animated movie, there’s not much left.

Let’s get this over with. Oscar (Will Smith), a wrasse, works in the underwater equivalent of a car wash as the guy who scrubs the tongues of whales. What he really wants is money and fame, and so he has a variety of get rich quick schemes that he finances by borrowing heavily from Sykes (Martin Scorsese), his pufferfish boss. Angie (Renee Zellwegger), an angelfish who also works at the whale wash, carries a torch for Oscar for, frankly, unknown reasons.