Happy New Year: First films of 2018

Hope you had a better NYE celebration than I did. After buying all the cheesy party accoutrements and drink to toast the New Year, I wound up in so much pain from falling on my ribs I was nearly in tears from 10:30 onward. By midnight I couldn’t move.

I was entirely sober. Even the drink I bought was sparkling cider, as alcohol gives me a headache.

I know: NERD.

Partly to distract me from the pain, and partly because it’s part of a 2018 resolution to see more films, I wound up watching three superb dark comedies – my absolute favorite genre.

 

Conrad: I bring up Charles Manson and you freak out.

Nick: Everybody freaks out when you bring up Charles Manson!

  • Manson Family Vacation

 

Manson Family Vacation (2015) is exactly what it sounds: two brothers take to the road visiting sites related to the notorious murders. One an established lawyer, wealthy and settled, the other is an artist drifter who’s made not much of anything of his life. A bit cliche, but forgivable.

The responsible family man, Nick (Jay Duplass) is aghast at his brother’s obsessively grim interest, indulging him only because they’ve been estranged so many years and he wants to make an effort. The artist drifter, Conrad (Linas Phillips) comes off a cackling lunatic, carrying a well-worn copy of Helter Skelter he’d taken from his father’s library and wearing a Charles Manson t-shirt he reveals in photos – selfies with a Polaroid camera, no less – in front of the murder scenes.

Sounds improbable this is a film with heart, but it is a film with heart.

Awards

Director: J. Davis, Writer: J. Davis (no info available on IMDB)

 

 

This is a picture of Walter Black, who had to become The Beaver, who had to become a father, so that one day this might just become a picture of Walter Black.

The Beaver

 

 

I dislike Mel Gibson, but the blurb I read said overlook that and this is a fine film. What do you know, it is.

Walter Black (Gibson) is a deeply depressed man. Getting out of bed is an effort; his black mood destroying his family. Ordered out of the house by wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) after two years putting up with him, he rents a hotel room in which he makes a couple riotously funny attempts at suicide. Having brought a beaver puppet along (just go with it), it assumes apparent sentience, effectively kicking his arse out of bed and pulling Walter out of his funk – until he begins to take over in a more menacing way.

The Beaver (2011) is funny and deeply touching.

Director: Jodie Foster, Writer: Kyle Killen

 

 

Frank (2014)

Aspiring songwriter and musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) falls in with an eccentric group of musicians working on developing their own oddball brand of music. Their keyboardist attempting suicide, Jon is drafted into joining.

The leader of the group is a man called Frank (Michael Fassbender) who refuses to take off an enormous plastic head, for reasons his friends can only speculate. And yes, it’s deeply psychological.

Taking advantage of Jon’s inherited money, the group holes up in a cabin in County Wicklow, Ireland, where they go to ridiculously hilarious lengths to record an album. Tweeting about the band’s struggle, Jon grows their following so much that by the time they journey to the SXSW Film Festival in the States, they’ve developed a cult following.

Attempting to force Frank to remove his mask, Jon scares him away. Horrified, he watches as Frank is hit by a car while bolting across the road. In pursuit, Jon himself is hit. Frank has disappeared, his mask found rolling on the ground.

After his release from the hospital, Jon begins his search for his friend. Meanwhile, his Twitter followers dick with him, taking the disappearance as a joke, leading him on a wild goose chase.

Laugh-out-loud funny, this quirky film is a gem.

Also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as oddball musician Clara, with a crush on Frank.

The soundtrack is pretty great, as well.

The fictional story is loosely inspired by Frank Sidebottom, the persona of cult musician Chris Sievey as well as other outsider musicians like Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston. (Amazon.com)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson, Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

 

Fantastic start to this 2018 resolution. I’ve not made any list of films, but I expect I’ll draw one up based on recommendations from friends and various trusted resources, such as AFI.

Any recommendations based on these or other, older and more classic films greatly appreciated. And if you’ve seen any of these, I’d love to hear what you thought.

 

Opening March 11, 2011 – Jane Eyre

 

Release: March 11, 2011 (in select theatres)

Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) and Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”) star in the romantic drama based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, from acclaimed director Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”). In the story, Jane Eyre flees Thornfield House, where she works as a governess for wealthy Edward Rochester. As she reflects upon the people and emotions that have defined her, it is clear that the isolated and imposing residence – and Mr. Rochester’s coldness – have sorely tested the young woman’s resilience, forged years earlier when she was orphaned. She must now act decisively to secure her own future and come to terms with the past that haunts her – and the terrible secret that Mr. Rochester is hiding and that she has uncovered…

Also starring Dame Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins and Jamie Bell.

Director: Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”)

Writers: Moira Buffini (“Tamara Drewe”); Based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Holliday Grainger, Sally Hawkins, Tamzin Merchant, Imogen Poots, Judi Dench

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Visit the Jane Eyre official site here: http://focusfeatures.com/jane_eyre

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Film: Ghost World (2001)

Ghostworlddvd 

STARS:

Thora Birch                    (Enid)

Scarlett Johansson      (Rebecca)

Steve Buscemi                (Seymour)

 

Summary:

Enid and Rebecca are best friends who live on the outside of the cliques formed in high school. After graduation the two plan to rent an apartment together. However, only Rebecca gets a job and moves toward their supposedly mutual goal, while Enid basically lies around. When she does go out it's to meet people, and attempt to solve the problems in their lives.

Meanwhile Rebecca grows more and more agitated, pulling away from Enid. She sees Enid heading for a dead-end, wasting her time when she could be getting on with her life. And Enid sees Rebecca as conforming to society's ideal of what she should be. The two, so close throughout high school, being to fall apart.

In the midst of all this, Enid meets a reclusive, nerdy collector of old vinyl records named Seymour, who opens up her musical interests to include more blues/jazz. Determined to turn his life around and cure his loneliness, she devotes more and more of her time to building up his ego. In the process of this she loses yet more sight of Rebecca, who can't understand why anyone would become so invested in such a loser as Seymour. Most likely it's Seymour's inherent sweetness that draws Enid in, as well as her quest to fill her days with something other than holding down a regular job.

VERDICT:

The target audience for this film is definitely younger than I am, but I enjoyed the humor and slight supernatural ending. It was funny, intelligent, and kept my interest. Plus, Steve Buscemi does an excellent job portraying a nerdy character with low self esteem. The film was very well cast.

I borrowed the movie from the library because I've read and enjoyed some of Daniel Clowes' graphic works, so this adaptation of his book by the same name was appealing. And I wasn't disappointed. Recommended for those who enjoy off-beat, quirky films.

Rated R, 111 min. running time

 

Film: Widows’ Peak (1994)

Widowspeak 

STARS:

Mia Farrow (Miss Katherine O'Hare)

Joan Plowright (Mrs. Doyle-Counihan)

Natasha Richardson (Mrs. Edwina Bloome)

Adrian Dunbar (Godfrey Doyle-Counihan)

Jim Broadbent (Con Clancy, Kilshannon Dentist)

Rynagh O'Grady (Maddie O'Hara, Mrs. Broome's maid)

SUMMARY:

(From imdb.com)

Edwina has just moved into the neighborhood known as "Widows' Peak," so called due to the prevalent marital status of the residents, who tend to be a rather exclusive bunch. The residents are all curious about their new neighbor, but no one can seem to get much information about her, including queen bee Mrs. DC, whose son is busy wooing Edwina. Miss O'Hare and Edwina have an immediate dislike for each other, however, and soon some accidental encounters begin to look like Edwina is trying to ruin her new rival. The problems escalate and the town is in an uproar, but they get no closer to solving the mystery of the newcomer. Written by Ed Sutton

VERDICT:

It's a charming story, well-acted. The comedy is understated and runs throughout the film. It's a very light movie; there are no deep explorations of philosophy or anything else. It's the story of life in a quaint Irish village, set around 1920, with themes of English vs. Irish as well as rich vs. poor/the politics of living in a small town.

Surprise is a good thing, but being able to look back and say, "Ah! So that's what was going on!" is satisfying. Instead, it was a short, character-driven story, enjoyable for what it was but seeming a bit truncated. I wish it had been longer, perhaps with more hints as to the ending peppered throughout and overall fleshing-out of the story. I was a little disappointed by the abrupt ending.

Recommended for those looking for a light, funny film.

Rated PG; 102 min. running time

Film: Snow Cake (2006)

Snowcake 

A new New Year's resolution – watch more films! And here's my first of the year:

Snow Cake (2006)

Stars:

Alan Rickman

Sigourney Weaver

Carrie-Anne Moss

Emily Hampshire

In a nutshell: 

Alan Rickman (Alex) stars as a very depressed ex-convict driving across Canada to Winnipeg. A young girl named Vivienne (Emily Hampshire) meets him in a diner, then catches a ride with him. Along the way tragedy strikes, and Vivienne is killed.

Alex, guilt-ridden, finds Vivienne's mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver), in order to apologize and give her some things Vivienne had bought for her on the drive. It turns out Vivenne's mother is autistic, mystified by snow and all shiny things. Much of the plot centers on Linda and her world, how she reacted to loss, etc.

Alex promises to stay long enough to help Linda through the funeral. Meanwhile, he meets and develops a relationship with one of Linda's neighbors (Carrie-Anne Moss).

And the rest… You'll just have to watch it if you'd like to know.

Verdict:

In some ways I found it a bit trite, and one element I thought too coincidental and convenient, but sometimes life can be like that. Sigourney Weaver as an autistic mother was a good twist, though at times I'm not sure she was true to character. And she became very annoying very often. Then again, I imagine dealing with an autistic person isn't easy.

Things weren't quite explained as far as how Linda became Vivienne's mother, who was the father, etc. That was glossed over, and a lame attempt made at explaining it. It would have been better to leave that unsaid rather than make it seem a bit ridiculous.

An upside was the occasional humor injected into what could have been a serious downer of a movie.

Would I recommend it? Yes, but with the reservations I mentioned above.

Award:

"Genie" Award (whatever that is) – best supporting actress: Carrie-Anne Moss

Darius Goes West

Dariusgoeswest

From the website:

Darius Weems, a 15-year-old with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, had never left his hometown of Athens, Georgia. In the summer of 2005, he and a group of young college students traveled across the country in a wheelchair-accessible RV to test accessibility in America. Their ultimate goal was to reach Los Angeles and convince MTV’s hit show, "Pimp My Ride," to customize Darius’s wheelchair. Along the way, they found joy, brotherhood, and the knowledge that life, even when imperfect, is always worth the ride.

Dariusgoeswest.com

I saw these teenagers on the Today Show this morning, and found this the most inspiring, sweet story I’ve heard in a really long time. That these kids would do this for their friend, driving him West from Athens, Georgia to the Pacific Ocean, so he could feel the water… That’s just the nicest thing on earth, isn’t it? Kind of encouraging to think there are young people like this left in the world.

Keep an eye out for the film. It goes on sale in early December. I have no idea if it’s showing anywhere, but I’d keep an eye out for that, too.

The Blog

Film: The Piano Teacher

Thepianoteacher_2

The Piano Teacher/La Pianiste (2001)

I’m a fairly big film buff, but I hardly have any time to watch them anymore. Even when I do get to watch them, I don’t have much time to write about them. Okay, I could suspend a little weakly weekly whining, in deference to at least an occasional film chat, but this is so much cheaper than additional therapy sessions.

Mr. BSR and I watched this film a couple or three weeks ago. A French film, it’s filled with all that existential angst you’ve come to expect from all things French. It’s also filled with nudity, a bit of violence, and sex also involving violence, to add variety, la spice de vivre.

But what’s it really about, you may ask. Well, that’s more complex. The main character is a 40ish woman who is an ambitious piano teacher, a woman talented in her own right, and extraordinarily demanding of her students. But she’s also a woman with some serious sexual-related issues, her biggest one being she isn’t having sex, and she’s built that up to such a huge issue it’s driving her nearly mad. Between that and her passive-aggressive teaching style, she’s really not a person you’d want to invite to a party. The girl’s got serious issues, and she takes them out on everyone around her, deserving or not.

It’s really all about being single and frustrated, arriving at a time in your life you realize you’ve really not done as much with your life as you actually could have, that you’ve let a lot of life slip away. I agree with the review of the film that says the sex and violence in it are not gratuitous. They’re really not. They’re central to the issues of the main character, and illustrate how thoroughly confused and angry with herself she is. But a little tough to watch? Yeah, there’s that.

Definitely not a film for the whole family, or for those with extremely sensitive dispositions. It’s one of those films that leaves you wondering, at the end. Wondering as in "What the hell was that?"

Quelle strange.

Stranger, in Dubious Company

WOW! Do I ever  have exciting work-related news to tell, but I can’t tell just yet. Not until the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed. Not ’til the cows have come home and the barn door is closed   But it won’t be long. No, it won’t be long… Oh, but if it doesn’t transpire!

Let’s not think about that. It’s almost a sealed deal, and when it is I shall let you know…

In the meantime, I’ll tell you about my exciting adventures at work yesterday. My “Friday Film Festival” film discussion group started! Yes, it did, it really, really did. The film I kicked off with is a French Canadian film that translates as Strangers in Good Company. There’s no real “star” in the cast, or at least if there is I didn’t recognize her, but whoever these women were they were wonderful.

Strangersingoodcompany_1 The basic plot is this, eight women (average age 71) are riding in a bus in the Canadian countryside. The bus breaks down and the women are stranded, miles away from anything resembling civilization. They find an abandoned house they use as a shelter, and make-shift a temporary home for themselves. In the course of the next few days they must find food in order to survive. It’s then they learn what strengths they each have, and how they complement each other.

While they’re marooned they share things about their lives they may never have otherwise. They talk about their joys and sorrows, their fears and the sources of their individual strengths. They laugh and cry, they dance and sing, and overall they bond into a strong unit. By the time they’re rescued there’s a reluctance to leave, because they know what they shared during those few days was something deeper than they’d experienced in a very long time.

So, in short, the film was lovely.  It reminded me of The Enchanted April, as well as Ladies in Lavender. To complete the experience, and welcome my new film group, I bought a nice assortment of cheeses and crackers, wonderful chocolate chip cookies and the coffee was fresh and plentiful. The only problem was, no one came… Okay, ONE person came, and she enjoyed the film, but I felt a bit silly sitting there, just the two of us, in a room set up for at least a dozen.

When the film was over she asked me, “What was the name of that movie, again?” I told her, then said, “Maybe more will come next month.” The ONE person laughed lightly, put on her jacket and walked out the door. Not in mean way, but more in a way that said, “Well, that would be nice, but…..”

Ah, alas and alack. I can only hope that I build it, they will come. Eventually.