Weary Pilgrim – Back to the Movies, Part 1

Well, it’s that time of year – as I’ve mentioned before, the Hollywood studios don’t trust the 6000 members of the Motion Picture Academy to remember what they had for lunch last week, never mind what movies they watched last summer, so they hold the so-called ‘nomination–worthy’ films until November or December (actually, to qualify for the Academy Awards, a film has to play for one week in both New York City and Los Angeles, so some films will have a so­called ‘Academy release’, and play only one week on each venue sometime late in the calendar year, and then ‘go wide’ in January or February).

So here is my first installment of recommended films – the following blurbs are highly opinionated, but spoiler­free – catch them if you can – these days they go to On­Demand a lot faster than they used to, so if they are no longer in the local theaters, wait a week or two and browse your browser – or better yet, see if Chet’s Video, the Last Real Video Store, has them in yet.

In no particular order:

­The Martian– Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon – need to know anything else? Based ona book with a lot of real cool math, somehow they manage to make this one suspenseful, believable, and you might even learn something. Meanwhile, it’s a real great Hollywood movie.

­Bridge of Spies – Spielberg directs Tom Hanks – and yup, it’s another great Hollywood movie – don’t think these films are that thick on the ground, because these two are about two more than I can remember seeing last year. Set in the cold war of the 1950’s, every shot is gorgeous, every line is carefully written, and there is a scene toward the end that will lay you right out – Spielberg always sets us up for those great Hollywood moments (remember when the bike lifted off in ET?), and he does it yet again. Don’t miss it.

­Legend – Tom Hardy, one of the newest faces in cinema, plays both of the Kray twins in this violent, twisted, and mesmerizing biopic about two gangster brothers who ruled the London underground in the 60’s . Hardy actually plays these characters as two very different people, and you really can’t take your eyes off either of him – except when you have to look away because, trust me, this is a REALLY violent film. Be warned.....

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99 Homes – talk about a downer – this is a very well­made story about a man who getsevicted by a cruel landlord, and then, to make ends meet, starts working for that landlord– set in Florida during the financial meltdown, it plays the whole thing straight – no cheap laughs or cheap violence – but it’s basically an economics class with some decent acting by Michael Shannon as the bad guy.

­Inside Out – this year’s Pixar film, and good luck trying to figure out who they made this one for. Your kids won’t get it, but you just might, if you pay attention – it’s set inside an 11 year old girl’s brain – are you terrified yet? Gotta tell you, it’s part brilliant, part baffling, and part 3­hanky­special. I have never seen anything like it – and I bet it takes the Oscar for best animated film for just that reason.

­Mad Max:Fury Road – George Miller, the original director of the first three Mad Max films, way back when Mel Gibson wasn’t a dork, does it one more time – with Tom Hardy, the scary guy from ‘Legend’ as Max, and Charlize Theron as a deformed warrior with a buzz cut. Basically one long chase movie, there are no Computer Graphics in this one – real actors risked their lives doing amazing stunts over and over. If that floats your boat, this is the river for you.

­Black Mass – a really mediocre movie about a great story – as a 2 hour history lesson in governmental error, it’s okay – other than that, it’s just Johnny Depp chewing up the scenery in a movie where nothing ­ script, photography, music, and the like ­ ever rise above the minimum. Basically the disappointment of the fall.

­Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin wrote the script, so you just have to see it, because, when it’s good, it’s fabulous. Micheal Fassbinder is pretty great as Jobs during three moments in his life, each a product launch of one of his latest brilliant inventions. Not always on, but never really off, I consider it one of the more memorable films of the year.

­Pawn Sacrifice – another history piece, about the famous chess duel between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky. Mostly we see Tobey Maguire play Bobby Fisher going crazy. Watching crazy people on film is just like watching them in real life – it’s awkward, and then it’s depressing. I watched it so you don’t have to.

­Beasts of No Nation – Idris Elba, who is so much fun on Luther, the BBC show, and who made his US premier on The Wire, is pretty good as the leader of a child army in Africa – the kids who play the child leads are every bit as good as he is, so it’s pretty compelling, but at the end of the day, you’re talking about another downer here – big time. Be warned, this is not for the faint of heart.

­Woman in Gold – Helen Mirren is a free ride, and without her this would never have been made – a story about a woman who discovers that a museum has acquired a famous painting from her family, taken by the Nazis during WWII. She hjres a lawyer, and for two hours everybody argues over it. Give it a ‘maybe’, as in ‘maybe’ you like Helen Mirren, in which case, okay.

­Mission Impossible – Tom Cruise takes these movies seriously, which is to say, he produces them, and he wants them to work – so they do. Lots of high­octane fun, especially the opening sequence. It ain’t rocket science, but it’s rocket­fueled, and that’s usually good enough for the holidays.

Truth – this is another history lesson ( sure are lots of them this year ), about when Dan Rather and his producer jumped the gun trying to prove George Bush ducked the draft by not really serving in the Armed Forces. Robert Redford tries pretty hard to convince us that Rather was forthright, and I’ll watch Cate Blanchett do anything, so I thought it was a decent ride. But if watching serious people come undone because they are trying too hard isn’t for you, be warned that the film­makers were trying harder than the people they were trying to portray. Earnest, Schmernest.

­Concussion – This one will make you feel even worse about watching next Sunday’s game than the prospect of watching the Brady Bunch throw another one away. Will Smith is better than usual in this story about the events leading to the NFL controversy over football players and chronic brain damage. Think of it as a popular alternative to the terrific Frontline film League of Denial.

­The Big Short – this gem has got lots of your favorite stars, like Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell, and so on. It’s a primer on the financial meltdown in the last decade – but it’s like getting a master class in economics from Robin Williams. On acid. In a dance club......really, this is a hoot, and like the best movies this year, it’s about something. Catch it.

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