March consisted of seeing more awards season darlings, the new Bond movie (finally) and a Coen Bros film (which I’m always excited about).
Rating: * to *****
Room- “Room” is one of a few movies that has horrid circumstances at the core of the story and yet comes out as a sweet-natured bonding picture between a mother and her son. Ma (Oscar-Winning Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) live in a garden shed as captives of a sadistic rapist who captured Ma some 7 years earlier. Jack, the biological son of the rapist, has only ever known this small room. Ma tells him stories about the world outside. His dreams are highlighted by a lone skylight in the ceiling. The setup of the plot seems like a devastatingly sad story (and it is) but “Room” mostly is told from Jack’s perspective and the hope that emerges from the strong relationship between him and Ma. There is suspense in the movie as escape plans are hatched. Finally, the very last scene in this film is one that has really stuck with me with the perspective that it brings upon these characters. The final frames are one of the only sequences one could ever call incredibly haunting but movingly sweet. ****
Spectre- “Bond, James Bond” is back again in his 24th film (or 4th if we consider the brilliant “Casino Royale” as a reboot). Daniel Craig has been assuredly handling the role since “Casino Royale” and if we are ranking his outings (as people tend to do), “Spectre” would fall at number 3 ahead of “Quantum of Solace”. Sam Mendes opens the recent Bond with a well-crafted sequence in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead as Bond thwarts terrorists planning a bombing. Through these events, Bond is made aware of a criminal organization that is carrying out terrorist attacks all over the world (in true Bond plot fashion). Ernst Blofeld is the leader of this organization and is played with a spirit of fun by Christoph Waltz. I didn’t find the staging of the action sequences all that amazing and I wish Waltz was actually used more in the story (he seems vastly underwritten as a character). Nonetheless, there is a certain amount of fun to be had. I enjoyed that the tail end wasn’t a huge thrill piece set but rather a simple takedown of Blofeld that should (plot spoilers) setup future encounters between him and Bond. ***
The Assassin- An artistically done Taiwanese film that is in mandarin, “Nie Yin Niang” or “The Assassin” follows an 8th century assassin who is trained by a nun. Lacking some of the fast-paced action of various Hong Kong pictures, there is a quieter sense to this movie. Director Hsiao- Hsien Hou has a slower pace and lingering shots of beautiful Asian landscapes. One can tell that not much (if any of this movie) was shot on a soundstage. The plot doesn’t always seem coherent but this is well-worth seeing at least once. ***
Hail, Caesar (Theater in La Jolla, CA)- On a quick vacation in Oceanside, CA, Michelle and I were able to make a rare trip to the theater to see the Coen Brothers latest work. We are glad we did. I’m a huge fan of the Coen Bros (although, I will obviously admit that some of their films are better than others). “Hail, Caesar” follows a Hollywood studio fixer in the 1950s who is working to keep his stars and directors happy. This man is Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) and he begins to have his work cut out for him when a major star, Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney- yes, who else) is kidnapped by communists. It is all a brilliant wink and nod to the McCarthy era 50s involving government officials seeking to rat out Hollywood personalities that were incorporating subliminal Marxist messages in pictures. All of that means, this is very funny, entertaining and features a top rate cast including: Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum and even Jonah Hill. ****
The Big Short- The challenge with a project like “The Big Short” would be to keep the story interesting while throwing a bunch of technical financial jargon at the audience. “The Big Short”, director Adam McKay’s greatest movie ever, wildly succeeds at these points and makes us laugh in the process. He is working with a stellar cast including Steve Carell (as Mark Baum), Christian Bale (as Michael Burry), Ryan Gosling (as Jared Vennett) and, hell, even Brad Pitt stops by as Ben Rickert. The film is based on the book by Michael Lewis who chronicles these oracles who saw the housing collapse coming from years before it happened. They were almost laughed out of corporate board rooms when they declared they wanted to “bet” against the housing market. Usually sophisticated math skills, they realized that a bubble would burst (and I mean burst) and leveraged this for payouts. What people got away with during this era is still shocking and this movie will bring the anger back. Well done. **** 1/2.
Steve Jobs- I never watched the “Jobs” movie with Ashton Kutcher mostly because I could not believe they would let Kutcher take on a role like that. I’m thankful that Aaron Sorokin decided to write a screenplay about the enigmatic personality of Steve Jobs and bring the diversely styled Danny Boyle on board to direct. The result is a pretty good film where we are not subjected to the typical biography (a given personalities greatest life hits from birth to death). The plot is setup at three different unveilings of new Apple products from the 1980s to 1998. Michael Fassbender embodies Jobs as both a marketing guru and also an ass to the people around him. The way Jobs allegedly treated some of his employees and family definitely is portrayed in the movie according to his reputation. Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak even comes along asking Jobs what exactly he does. Jobs is not an engineer. He is a visionary who is simply communicating what he likes and doesn’t like. A major aspect of the story is a little suspect. During each Apple product launch, there always seems to be some sort of drama with Jobs daughter (Lisa Brennan) but the acting from Fassbender, Rogen, Kate Winslet (as Joanna Huffman) and Jeff Daniels (as John Sculley) really carry this along. *** 1/2
Black Mass- Johnny Depp does not just play dress-up in the latest true life mob picture but also demonstrates some considerable acting chops (he can act when he really wants to). Here he plays Whitey Bulger, one of the most violent criminals in South Boston history and the leader of the Winter Hill Gang. The allegations are that Bulger (in real life) was an FBI informant (although Bulger denies it) and the common goal was taking down the Italian mob. There is a tangled web of corruption and walking the line between having sadistic mobster be an FBI informant versus enabling his horrid behavior. “Black Mass”, directed by Scott Cooper, feels like a little bit of “The Godfather” and a little bit of “Goodfellas” but cannot come close to those legendary films. That does not mean that there is not good here. The movie is well-made, impeccably acted (Benedict Cumberbatch and Joel Edgerton are also in the cast) and thematically, gives us a rather haunted look at the moral rot that exists not only in the gangsters but also in law enforcement. No one gets away clean as they say. ****