Sunday, October 27, 2019

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

I recently finished Mad Max: Fury Road. I had given it a shot when it first came out on DVD, knowing it was a critically-acclaimed fan favorite. But maybe 20 or so minutes in, my wife and I lost interest and we never picked up again.

Then came the Oscars -- 6 wins (largely in technical categories), but it did have the picture and director nomination as well. And I just couldn't get excited enough to pick it up again.

I suppose I'm shocked when I hear of different people who love this film -- some very surprising, but clearly can identify, it's not my style film.

Had it not been one of the top 250 films I hadn't watched and so, the other night I started from the beginning to give it a fresh start and finished it this time.

I suppose, much like my recent feelings on Logan, I can't get as excited about this film as some others - maybe it's a personal bias that doesn't connect with these dry desolate violent wastelands. I can appreciate the make-up, the action, the sound, the use of female's as lead action-stars. But the appreciation ends there, with me crossing it off the list and moving on.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Andhadhun (2018)

This is going to be a short post.

The movie Andhadhun is an Indian film, that frankly - might be one of my most favorite films I've watched in the past year.

I watched it because it's on the top 250 list of films I had not seen -- among a number of Indian films - but this one is different then other Indian films I've seen (which to be fair span all types of genres), and by different, there is a level of comedic irreverence in this one that takes some surprising turns...such that I won't give a plot summary beyond the initial premise in that it's the story of a blind pianist who lives alone with his cat. That's all I'm giving you.

Shortly after watching this film with my wife we were away on a trip with friends who I convinced to watch as well - the group collective may not have entirely shared my love, but the film continued to be referenced after watching both references to comedic moments, catchy song lyrics and discussion on some plot points.

It's films like this that continue to encourage utilizing the top 250 as a tool to identify some of the best movies -- maybe not the critical Oscar darlings (this wasn't in the spotlight like Roma, but if I'm honest - I enjoyed this one so much more).

Ikiru (1952)

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa is certainly a legend of world cinema - personally I have seen a handful of his classics like Ran (1985), Seven Samurai (1954), and Roshomon (1950).

Ikiru has been on my list, but only recently have I gotten my hands on it, wanting to cross this film off my list of IMDB top 250 films I had not yet watched.

The film (just a little long, and a little artful in moments) in a first view instantly makes an impression. In a sentence this film tells the story of a dedicated and frugal bureaucrat who discovers his days to live are numbered and finds himself searching for the best use of his last days. 

I personally found the story arch itself expertly crafted - particularly the way different "chapters" of the story end of playing into each other. An example of this is the way the introduction of the primary character Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) bureaucratic nature is demonstrated in the collection of mother's wanting to improve the cesspool in their community, and how this moment of the film seems perfect as a stand alone moment, and yet it comes up again in the story in a sincere and well constructed way. Other similar moments recycle perfectly, such as when Mr. Watanabe experiences the joy of the city with a famous author, and later shares some of those same moments with a female subordinate. 

I find it interesting to watch this film over a half century after it's initial release because there are some items that capture the human experience that is as relevant today as ever. If there's any part that seems it could have been progressive at the time is the side-story of a young civil servant (Miki Odagiri as Toyo) who after a year and a half working for the government finds herself bored and seeking professional fulfillment.

There are some lovely quotes and concepts presented in this film as well - such as sorrow Watanabe experiences when he intentionally indulges in high cost sake, or the simple quote "I can't afford to hate people. I don't have that kind of time."

Without revealing the power of this film's finale, I must say, the final "chapter" here in the way the final days of Watanabe's life is told, is really in mind mind the trademark of the creativity I've seen in Akira Kurasawa's inventive and powerful storytelling - it's these moments that you realize you are watching a master. This film is a gift in it's style, craft, acting, and namely in it's effort to take a powerful theme in what it means to live.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Heat (1995)

Michael Mann's movie Heat is an intellegent and action packed crime thriller that has script that and story that has enough depth that the characters and there stories are able to breathe.I can see why this film in time remains one of the top films by viewers, sitting comfortably in the middle of the top 250 (as a film I had not yet, until recently seen). Like many crime dramas the characters and their connections seem to be fairly typical -- a professional thief, his less disciplined crew, and a mission. But the balance between action, story, and character study in this film is highly compelling.

Apparently, the original plan was that this would be a television show, and the pilot got boiled down to a standalone TV film called L.A. Takedown - but it's clear to me watching the film that Mann had a whole series in him and that these chracters, namely the police detective Vincent Hanna (here played by Al Pacino) and thief Neil McCauley (here played by Robert DeNiro) have the storyline and police/criminal dance to sustain at least a season of television. In the current era of television, a show like this would have been a hit. As a nearly 3 hour movie, the story fits, but you can sense that these characters have a depth in the mind of Mann that extend beyond this tale. Like other shows of this time, the depth of the cast is fun to see in their roles - beyond Pacino and DeNiro you have Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert and Mykelti Williamson.

I suppose in this exercise, of watching the top 250 films you ask "is this one of the best best of all time." I know it wouldn't hit nearly as high on my own list as it hits here - but in the crime genre, I can appreciate the high crimes drama, the characters, the way the city of Los Angeles is in many ways presented as a character itself, and some classic performances by some of the great of the era.

Reading to my kids: Holes

As a kid, I was a big fan of Louis Sachar and was a little too old in the year 2000 when Sachar's Holes first hit the scene. That didn't stop me from eventually reading it (read it because I was helping someone a student later write a character study paper for school), but didn't get a chance to capture the magic. Somehow along the line I also saw the movie.

But, grabbed a copy to read to my kids, specifically thing my third grade son would like the story, but we brought the sixth grade sister and 2nd grade brother along the ride as well.

This book with it's unique characters, witty style, and surprise turns kept all three kids not only highly engaged, but eager to read a little more and consistently interested in seeing what would happen next. As a parent, I loved reading it - there were a couple more complex themes that show up in this story, including some concepts on juvenile crime, race, and authority that were nice to be able to discuss together. But even more so, there is a unique level of surprising complexity with the story containing literary devises of a backstory (Stanley Yelnats family history plays a critical role).

For me, reading this aloud to elementary age kids really captured the magic that I feel like I had missed out on in my earliest engagement here - in many ways, I think this story has the ability to really hold up over time as a modern classic that I really hope has the ability to hold up over time and continue to capture future generations. A true pleasure to read to kids, and one I know that from the title/cover art didn't grab them, but that they quickly became endeared too after only a couple pages.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is not my favorite director - I don't dislike him, in fact I appreciate that he creates unique concepts and has his own film telling style. Yet, there's always a part of me when watching his films that pictures a young 20-something in film school with an extremely high film budget who's mostly just messing around.

There's always much to be said about things such as film violence. This weekend, for example, Todd Phillip's Joker has come out, with the expected press coverage about the appropriateness of film studios to create violent films depicting realistic violence. These stories are old - I think about Lawrence Kasdan's film Grand Canyon from the early 1990s that explored these exact same things as Steve Martin's character osolates between his moral obligations in the depiction of violence compared with his commercial opportunities to deliver the films people want.

All that to say, Tarantino's depictions of violence are different - the violence is certainly there in blood washed scenes that sort of look like fake blood that might be made in the drama department art set, except - the filming is dramatic, the editing is dramatic, the music is dramatic, and the actors are clearly having a good time.

Rarely do I say "I want to see one of these films by Tarantino, and I suppose in that vein I delayed watching this one, but was forced by the love of others who have positioned this film on the imdb top 250 list in a position that tells me that it's probably not leaving anytime soon (currently positioned at 60, up a couple spots from January of this year when I set out to knock out more of this list).

The film a revisionist a western (the western also being a less than favorite genre) is about Django (Jamie Foxx) trying to reunite with his wife Broomhilda von Shaft, a slave - who incidently also speaks German (played by Kerry Washington). Early on, Django also connects with Dr. King Shultz a German dentist who is also a bounty hunter - played by Christoph Waltz. If that type of premise doesn't get you excited, then what will?

Honestly, I applaud Tarantino for different -- that is meaningful in a world where most of our top grossing films are sequels, remakes, based on comic books, and sometimes all of the above. Which I suppose this to is also a remake - but the spaghetti western from 1966 Django, is certainly a different film - Tarantino frankly is again flouting his film student tone/style.

With frequent cult status, any time a Taranetino film comes out, I expect it to find some love, I just also typically expect that I'll be delayed to come to the table and see it -- but when I do, I will likely find a level of enjoyment (isn't that one of the main goals of film), but the love is usually missing.

Reading to my kids: The Giver

I used to read bed time stories to my kids all the time and even push the reading level to expose the kids to books that were above their own personal level of reading, or books that they often won't chose.

My, now sixth grader, has long been an avid reader and can tear through a pile of books like no other (although is not easily assuaged if the book is chosen for her -- I get it).

Over a year ago, we carved out time for me to read to her When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (prior blog post here), and not only did we love it we also enjoyed the time together.

Prior to the school year starting, I decided we'd read a book together, and read her The Giver by Lois Lowry, I book I deeply remember enjoy as a child, and couldn't actually remember all the details apart from a general dystopian theme (I assume it was the first of many dystopian books I would read and love especially in my teen years).

What was so enjoyable about reading this book to my daughter is that she was along for the ride with no expectations, exploring the world the Lowry has created, where a few chapters in my daughter would ask a question like "do they all ride bikes, they keep on talking about bikes but never about cars?" or other such questions, as the author reels the reader into this world, that in the first could chapters you realize is slightly different but then as you progress realize is far more different than could be imagined.

The chapters are written in a way to create plenty of cliff hangers leading to the "read one more chapter please moment" and pleasantly are often short enough to lead you to oblige and there was a unique level of complexity to the story that reading it to an 11-year old seemed just right as the protagonist Jonah begins the book at 11 and into a transition into 12 when their community is assigned their chosen career path and released from childhood.

 As a kid I loved this book, and as an adult maybe some of the final messages and complexities felt a little more wrapped up then I had remembered (having now been exposed to Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell and countless others).

A joy to read aloud and a reminder that just because they can read to themselves doesn't mean you shouldn't miss reading aloud, this opportunity has thus inspired some further fall reading to my kids.