Two Men in Manhattan- I had just recently finished Alphaville before watching this, so a small moment of annoyance set in when I saw a very similar opening with French titles. What it ended up being was something totally different in tone. This follows the course of a French journalist and a freelance photographer (also French) on the tail of a U.N. delegate who has gone missing. It has all the elements of noir but with a wide NYC backdrop. It was fun to watch mysteries unfold in back alley dive bars into the wee hours of the morning in a city teeming with suspects and possibilities.
Ordinary People- I don’t know if a movie with this title could get the greenlight today. I mean, it could, but it wouldn’t have the star talent attached to it. It actually really undersells what happens in the film and the nuanced performances from everyone in it. Watching the scenes with psychiatrist Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton it is difficult to look at Good Will Hunting in the same light as the two are so similar. Mary Tyler Moore as a mother distancing herself from family after a tragedy was such a unique turn for her as an actress and as a role itself. It was very refreshing and complex.
Dirty Dancing- I don’t have anything against this movie but I was always wary of it because of its label as a “movie for women” or the more derogatory “chick flick”. I understand what those terms mean but more and more that means about as much to me as a movie that’s “for men”. No thanks, Michael Bay. Within that framework of genre, I can objectively say that this movie is probably enhanced by the fantasy that Patrick Swayze might lift me over his head and then hold me in his arms until the night closes in. But that’s not a fantasy of mine so I have to just view it as a guy who digs Road House.
I did not know this took place in the early 60s and that really made it more accessible. There was way more depth to the story as it’s told in hindsight and you the viewer know, based on these kid’s ages, the whole world is going to fall on their heads in less than a year. It was poignant that they all undergo a small trial by fire before life and death are on the table. And Swayze’s muscles. You ever see another person built like him? It’s like he has his own physiology and workout regimen. Also, the “baby in the corner” line is stupid because it’s not a reference to anything else in the movie that I saw. She wasn’t even in a corner she was leaning against a wall where, all evidence suggests, she chose to sit.
Patti Cakes- This movie will undoubtedly be compared to 8 Mile but to me there is a subtle and important difference. 8 Mile was telling a fictionalized version of Eminem’s life so you knew to some small degree how it would end. To its credit, it didn’t end with Eminem as a superstar but his destiny was implied by real life. With Patti Cakes, the fate of the characters is much less evident even up to the end but the journey getting there is so honest, brutal and sweet that you will remember 8 Mile (a movie I like) as a vehicle for its star but no real heft.
Mr. Rogers and Me- I’ve come to a realization very late in the game that documentaries don’t really need to be reviewed or talked about much. Yes, there are social and cultural documentaries (Bowling for Columbine, Waiting for Superman. The Cove, Inside Job) that have societal impact and warrant conversation but for every An Inconvenient Truth there are 50 so-so films that only should be watched if you are really into the subject. This film starts with a fun party story (“Mr. Rogers was actually my neighbor!”) but that premise gives way to a more biographic story in the end. It’s not bad just not necessary, especially with the 2018 release of the incredible Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse- Have you ever seen Trance, the Danny Boyle hypnotist mystery/crime caper with James McAvoy and Vincent Cassell? I did not enjoy it as much as I wanted to but was reminded very much of it while watching this film. Testament drops you right in the middle of the action to where I thought I had put in Disc 2 or something. After introducing a myriad of elements, the movie slows down to steadier pace and things begin to make a little more sense even if they are still crazy. Like the pre- Vietnam characters in Dirty Dancing, I felt for the actors in this movie. Filmed in Germany in the early 1930s, you can sense the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. I learned afterward that the film wasn’t even done being edited and Joseph Goebbels was waiting to review its worthiness. He banned it but thankfully history saw fit for its long term survival with a few sequels to boot.
Dave Made a Maze- The tone of this film is hard to pin down and that’s what makes it such a frustrating viewing. A man (Dave) builds a maze in his small living room but inside the enclosed maze it is labyrinthine structure of unknown magnitude. Everyone accepts the premise as they journey inside but push back against it the rest of the way or totally ignore it. I liked small parts of the movie but the intent of a grand journey inward felt hollow and ill-defined.
One Good Thing: The cardboard set design is absolutely beautiful and feels like the living room fort of your childhood dreams.
Watch Instead: Labyrinth, Maze Runner, Weird Science
MOVIE OF THE WEEK:
Obit- There is an excellent 2011 documentary about The New York Times called Page One which details the paper overall and the Wikileaks release specifically. It granted access to many lives and departments within the NYT. One of my favorite moments was seasoned journalist David Carr telling off a young Shane Smith of VICE News. So pleasing.
Obit narrows that focus down to the dwindling staff of the obituary section. A cross section of interviews, archival footage, and montage creates a pleasing documentary that is more about life and hope than death and fate.
Beastmaster- If you give in to the world of Beastmaster, you will enjoy it. Embrace this young man with impeccable muscles and smooth demeanor who rolls deep with ferrets, an eagle, and a black tiger. Why doesn’t he ever recruit more than 4 animals? Don’t worry about it. Let yourself go into a world where everyone is scantily clad even the witches but (thankfully) not Rip Torn. Seriously though there is some really questionable plot devices happening in this movie but there’s a lot of fun to be had if you don’t get too hung up on its b-movie tendencies. The acting may not be great but there’s some really good set pieces and the costumes are spot on.
This is the Life- After hip hop had come on the scene in the early 80s it was now time to transition into a new decade. Like every genre, it needed a reinvention for the next generation and many different people were spearheading that change. In the East, the progenitors of the whole scene (BDP, Run DMC, Public Enemy, et al) were figuring how out to be sophomores in a new school while in the West the rise of groups like NWA, Ice-T and Too Short were creating a strong alternative to the New York tribes. Also developing on each coast were smaller, independent groups and this documentary follows a certain L.A. café called The Good Life. It spawned groups such as Freestyle Fellowship, Abstract Rude and, most notably, Jurassic 5. If all these names sound like gibberish to you then slowly back away. If this is all ringing a bell, then this movie is a hidden gem in hip hop history. Added bonus: This was directed by Ava Duvernay of The 13th fame.
Victoria and Abdul- Are movies about queens to British people what Presidents are to Americans? We have way more variety there I wonder if Brits get tired of seeing them? Like what if every American political movie was about George Washington or Ronald Reagan and no other presidents? Bummer.
I always think I won’t like them (The Queen, The King’s Speech, King Ralph) but I usually end up doing just the opposite. Victoria is no different as Judy Dench is a damn delight and Ali Fazal is charming as her Indian companion. I can’t imagine that their relationship didn’t have some gloss applied to it for contemporary sake but if you can ignore the colonial undertones, then it’s a generally pleasing movie.