So while we’re all in a movie-going mood, here are my takes on some more films playing at your local theater – and don’t forget your local video store – films go to DVD much quicker than they did a few years ago, and your popcorn tastes better.
Inherent Vice – set in the 70’s, this is the first film lifted from a book by Thomas Pynchon, and you can see why nobody ever tried that before. It stars a whole lot of people, with a plot that has more twists than a double-jointed pretzel ( which is how these people talk in this excuse for a real movie ). Everybody is stoned all the time, they mumble a lot, and they all act like people we don’t really want to care about – mostly it makes you really glad we left that whole decade behind.
Selma – you know what? This is the best film I’ve seen this year. I didn’t think I needed another history lesson in the race war, and with another cameo from Oprah, to boot. But this movie rings true on so many levels, it rises above the preachiness that comes with any movie that portrays another story of mean white people beating up on black people. So why does this one work? My take on it is that it’s long on fact and short on melodrama. M.L.King forces L.B.J.’s hand by simply out-politicking him. And by being right. Don’t miss it.
Unbroken – It’s always better when a director acts - think Sidney Pollack in Tootsie - than when an actor directs – think Angelina Jolie in this. I loved the book, but this is basically a good TV movie released for the big screen. Like anyone who read the book, I couldn’t put it down, but in watching the film version I found myself checking my watch about halfway through. I wish it were better, I really do.
Still Alice – Julianne Moore as a successful college professor who realizes she is undergoing the onset of early Alzheimers, and decides to deal with it. Serviceable efforts by all concerned, including Alec Baldwin as her well-meaning husband,. It will scare the heck out of you if you’re over 45. But this film isn’t as moving as another film with this same message a few years ago, called ‘Away From Her’ with Julie Christie. Go to your local video store and rent that instead.
Most Violent Year – Directed by a young guy named J.C. Chandor who has done a couple of other decent films, this is a mesmerizing glimpse into the life of a New Jersey businessman in the oil home-heating business in the early 1980’s. It only sounds boring – someone is trying to ruin this guy’s life by hijacking his trucks, he owes somebody a lot of money, and he is just trying to keep his head above water without resorting to wholesale violence in what was termed the most violent year in the history of greater NYC. The title isn’t the only catchy thing about this movie – Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain do good work as a couple just trying to get ahead with hard work, blind ambition, and sheer persistence.
Interstellar – Chris Nolan broke out of the starting gate years ago with Momento ( go back to the video store for this ), followed up with a couple of Batman movies, and then did Inception, a movie with no real plot but great eye candy. Interstellar is a Hershey factory of eye candy, and even makes a kind of sense, at least if, like me, you only got a C in physics. The plot is simple: earth is dying ( spoiler alert! Too late?) , and Matthew McConaughey is going to help us find a new place to ruin. You won’t be checking your watch during it, I promise you.
Nightcrawler – This is a year when a surprising number of decent films are about people who give you the creeps, and this one is no exception. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a loser who become an instant winner by photographing crime scenes for local news shows. ‘When you stick to what you’re good at, good things come to you’, as the saying goes, and Gyllenhaal’s character is really, really good at taking creepy pictures. What this movie says about our fascination with TV real-life tragedy would be pretty funny if it weren’t so damned sad.
Gone Girl – I am apparently the only person in the free world who hasn’t read the book, so I looked forward to the plot of this blockbuster. And it didn’t disappoint me – but if you already know the story, I’m not sure this one is worth the ride. There was a point when I was sure it was over, and then it kept going. And going. Makes you miss the days when a movie was too long if it timed out at one hour and thirty one minutes.
The Hobbit, Part Eleventeen – Kind of like Gone Girl, but with more dwarfs. As in, too long, I already read the book, what’s the real point of a movie like this, and one more time, too long. This had more false endings than my first date. Good eye candy, but my sweet tooth for Computer Graphics is turning into an allergy to dragon fire, mass battle scenes, and deafening sound effects. It’s all a bit too much, really.
In closing, this year’s crop seems to feature a lot of characters who are extremely dysfunctional. I wonder if the movie-makers identify with them more closely, or if they just think that we do?