Saturday, June 5, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, May 2021

Well, the pandemic is finally ending, and it feels less and less like I’m spinning my wheels. Not a lot of stuff from this list got watched in May, but I feel like I’m getting in a better place to watch a movie or two a little more often. I’d definitely put Possessor on this list as well if I hadn’t done a complete review. Tenet is probably in the same position, so this is a little more than one movie/week from this giant list.

What I’ve Caught Up With, May 2021:
Film: The Lord of the Rings (1978)

I vaguely remember this film coming out when I was about 10. My older brother was a lot more interested in it than I was. It seems very underwhelming these days. Ralph Bakshi’s animation isn’t bad, but odd in places. It’s also very quick in going through the story Roughly an hour in, and we’re in Moria, and we go from Boromir’s death to the end in Helm’s Deep in about an hour. While the rotoscoping is interesting, it cannot hold up to the epic created by Peter Jackson. It’s also disconcerting to see rotoscoped animation on screen with traditional animation at the same time. At best, it’s a curiosity.

Film: Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

This is a genuinely decent film, the sort of movie that is simply good. It presents a real-world drama of young Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc) who is discovered as a chess prodigy. It tells the story of him dealing with massive success and what affect this had on him. Much of it deals with the push and pull between Josh and his father (Joe Mantegna), a sports writer. There is also friction between his teacher (Ben Kingsley) and the man who plays in the park (Laurence Fishburne) Through all of this, his mother (Joan Allen) tries to maintain Josh’s dignity and simply decency. This is a fine film, and it holds up very well. A solid cast all around with notables (Laura Linney, Austin Pendleton, Josh Mostel, Tony Shaloub, William H. Macy) even in small roles.

Film: Bottle Rocket (1996)

Everyone starts somewhere and this is essentially where Wes Anderson started. Anderson is known as being a quirky, almost anal-retentive director featuring characters that have the same hang-up. There’s a precision to Anderson’s films that doesn’t merely border on the twee, dives in head-first. Bottle Rocket is his first feature-length film, and it’s the least “Wes Anderson” of any of his full-length movies but contains all of the DNA of what he would become. Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, and Robert Musgrave play a trio of friends who desperately want to be criminals, with Owen Wilson playing the obsessive micro-manager that seems to be Anderson’s hallmark character. It occurs to me that everyone in the Wes Anderson-verse is on the autistic spectrum, and that explains a vast amount of his movies.

Film: Bottle Rocket (1993)

Since I watched the full version of Bottle Rocket, I figured I might as well watch the short film that came first. Essentially, this short is a couple of scenes snipped out of the longer film and done in black-and-white. It covers the initial “heist,” recruiting Bob the driver, planning to rob the bookstore, and then robbing the bookstore. There are no real consequences here for anyone or anything, and it’s surprisingly sweary for Wes Anderson. It’s in a lot of ways the least Wes Anderson of the Wes Anderson films I’ve seen, and I think I have seen all of them--that's even true of the full version of this. It’s cute and harmless, which is both its biggest strength and biggest failing.


  1. I own the Criterion DVD for Bottle Rocket as that short is his weakest but I think it's really more of a test of what he could do with limited funds leading to the original film that fans know and love.

    Searching for Bobby Fischer was a film I saw as a kid and loved and I still love it despite the fact that Bobby Fischer turned out to be a gigantic asshole who went insane. I do remember seeing bits of Ralph Bashki's Lord of the Rings but never the whole thing.

    1. Yeah, my biggest objection to Searching for Bobby Fischer is how much it lionizes someone who, aside from being a great chess player, was a really awful human being.

      You're pretty safe never seeing this version of LotR.

  2. Of these I'd agree that Bobby Fischer is the best. I wasn't sure about it at the beginning but it pulled me in. The casting director had a real eye for talent filling even those smaller roles with actors of great skill and potential.

    I've seen both these versions of Bottle Rocket. I'm not the biggest Wes Anderson fan, his movies always have interesting parts but rarely enough to come together in a harmonious whole. That's how I felt about both of these. It didn't help that the Wilson brothers were the stars. I don't get their appeal and never have.

    I haven't seen the first one and sincerely doubt I ever will.

    I did marginally better with my birthday project this month, instead of my usual two recommendations I have three! However if I am remembering correctly I think you've already seen the first.

    That would be the 1972 film "Child's Play" that I watched on James Mason's birthday. It was dark and unsettling but also intriguing. All the acting was decent but Mason was truly award worthy.

    Then the very next day it was Henry Fonda in Gideon's Trumpet. The film's basis was the story of the man whose victory in the Supreme Court guaranteed legal representation for everyone. It was nearly the last work Fonda did, he's very fine, and certainly the last where he didn't seem extremely feeble.

    The last is a bit more eclectic-The Dance of Death. It's got a fine pedigree-Laurence Olivier (he's why I watched) and Geraldine McEwan are the stars and it's handsomely done.....but it's also very much a filmed stage play, clocks in at 2 1/2 hours and is all about bitterness and long simmering hatred. So not the most joyous viewing but it is beautifully acted.

    1. I tend to like Wes Anderson. Admittedly, his movies are twee and all of his characters are autistic, have OCD, or both, but I like the way they work. They're like elaborate wind-up toys.

      You're really safe not seeing the animated LotR. John Hurt voicing Aragorn is a high point, but that's about it.

  3. I was 13 and saw LOTR in the theater a couple of times and LOVED it. At the time, the idea we'd ever see a live action film was inconceivable so I figured this was all I'd ever get. Some scenes work really well; I love the short scene in Moria where they're camped out and Pippin drops the stone in the well. Other choices don't work in any way -- Boromir as a viking, as in the image you posted, for example. I watched it with my kids some years ago and they cracked up at the tiny Balrog, which looks like it's about 8 feet tall.

    If you're a huge Jackson LOTR fan (I am), it's worth watching just to see how often Jackson created shots specifically to mimic shots from this movie.

    1. My older brother--the oldest of my siblings--loved the cartoon LotR, probably for the same reason you did. The idea that it would actually be filmed as a real trilogy of films seemed impossible, and now the first of those films is old enough to vote and almost old enough to drink.

    2. Oh, something I just remembered! After Boromir is killed, Aragorn goes to stroke his face and brushes his mustache. The mustache is apparently entirely composed of hair coming out of Boromir's nose!

    3. Which is weird, because that's clearly not the case in earlier scenes.

      Also, interesting that Gimli the dwarf is like...four or five inches shorter than Aragorn.