Cliché to the hilt but this year is flying by as October is now past us. Here are the movies I saw during the month.
Tomorrowland- A film that I really wanted to be good and succeeds at being extraordinarily mediocre. Brad Bird is a director I have been a fan of (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) and here, he stumbles back from those heights. Tomorrowland is about an alternate world where former boy-genius Frank Walker (George Clooney) would love to get back to. The teen, who is a wiz at science, is Casey (Britt Robertson) who is passed a pin in which she experiences this alternate world. Some of the special effects are spectacular but the clunky plot in the third act way the whole movie down. ** 1/2
Tape- Yet another Richard Linklater experimental film that takes place in a dingy motel room outside of Lansing, Michigan. The entire cast consists of Ethan Hawke (the Linklater regular), Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman. The three, old high school friends, delve into painful memories from their youth. There is a fascinating sequence of communication that centers around whether a painful memory was actually a fact or fabricated in someone’s mind. Being that this is a one act play, there is not much of a complicated plot here. However, the performers more than enliven the material with truly phenomenal performances. ***
The Martian (Theater)- Ridley Scott is back in the sci-fi director’s chair and the result is a damn fine film. Matt Damon is Mark Watney who is stranded on the red planet after the rest of his exploratory crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain), takes off during a storm while believing Watney is dead. Well, Watney is alive and he must find a way to survive in a hostile atmosphere while attempting to communicate with NASA. It really helps that he is trained as a botanist. The film is very well-made and Scott incorporates plenty of long range POV shots communicating the loneliness of a person on their own on Mars while showing us the stark red scenery. The movie is also funnier than one would think it would be. When the third act rolls around, one’s suspended disbelief will be challenged when compared to the realism of the movie up until that point. All in all, a good film but probably not best picture material as some are speculating. ****
Spy- Melissa McCarthy once again deploys her comedic skills as Susan Cooper, a desk bound CIA guide to Bradley Fine (Jude Law). “Spy” is a spoof on James Bond-type movies even down to theme music that sounds like Bond. There are certainly funny scenes and a solid performance from McCarthy at the center but Paul Feig’s (director of “Bridesmaids) film seems like fragments of scenes we have viewed before. While not being bad, there wasn’t anything that stood out to me as fresh. ***
The Sunset Limited- Based upon a play by Cormac McCarthy, “The Sunset Limited” is a scaled back film from underrated Hollywood badass Tommy Lee Jones who sits in the directors chair and also stars. Samuel L Jackson joins him as the only two members of the cast. The action takes place entirely in Jackson’s apartment. He has just saved Jones’ character from throwing himself in front of a subway train. Jackson is “White”, a former convict who is now a dedicated follower of Jesus. Jones is “Black”, a college professor who is a nihilist and believes that life is not worth living. The two dialogue and debate about all kinds of lofty topics and the proceedings are fascinating. For me, it seems that McCarthy is introducing two men at the extremes of living life: one filled with despair and one filled with hope. I supposed McCarthy might suggest that the rest of us may be somewhere in between on the spectrum. A very good, small HBO film. ****
The Shining- On Halloween, I watched Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (the version that author Stephen King hates) with my friends, the Wilkinsons, in Spokane. Kubrick’s epic and creepy horror tale was certainly appropriate with blood spilling out of hotel elevators and corpses of twin girls being shown in visions. I forgot just how good Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are in this movie as a married couple staying in the Overlook Hotel as caretakers for the winter season. Nicholson portraying Jack Torrance as a struggling writer goes more and more insane. No one could do this role like Jack. The couple’s son, Danny (played by Danny Lloyd), begins to have visions foreseeing the fate of his family (and past murders in the hotel). Featuring Kubrick’s glorious tracking shots and a script that develops the story well, this is one of the more intelligent horror movies that one will ever see. **** 1/2