Despite being out of commission one week when I traveled to Lake Havasu and Las Vegas, I saw quite a few first-run movies in October. This was the month that I started watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and resumed my duties as Reading Partners tutor at John Muir Elementary School. On the music front, I “drilled and graded” new music by Janet Jackson, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez.
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)—After learning that Woody Allen’s latest was one of his non-comedy “murder mystery” movies (i.e., Match Point), I totally lost interest—until Joan offered me a chance to see a free screening at Paramount with her. (I will see practically anything for free.) Since my expectations could not have been lower, I admit that I didn’t find the movie as worthless as I might have. Joaquin Phoenix is a college professor struggling with a personal crisis of purpose and identity when an opportunity to pull himself out of his funk presents itself. Beautiful Emma Stone lights up the screen whenever they point a camera at her, while my eye constantly goes to Phoenix’s weird lip scar whenever they show us his face. The murder part of the story won’t pass muster with even a passing fan of mysteries, since Phoenix leaves enough clues to sink a ship, but at least the movie isn’t too boring. More comedy, Woody! (7)
MIAMI CONNECTION (1987)—I was finally successful in luring Joan to accompany me to one of the RiffTrax screenings, during which they snark and mock awful movies from the past. This month’s offering was the dreadful Miami Connection, which involves a martial arts rock band battling a band of motorcycle ninjas. As usual, the commentary by Mike Nelson and his cohorts had me laughing hysterically. The movie earns a (1), while the riffing gets a (9).
THE INTERN (2015)—You can have Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen and Rebel Wilson—when it comes to film comedy, I will almost always choose intelligence over the lowbrow. I’m a fan of writer-director Nancy Meyer’s comedies for grownups, which include The Holiday, It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give. She casts the best actors around in the leads (Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton) and has a knack for letting other familiar actors shine in smaller roles. The Intern fits beautifully into Meyers’ canon; this time she’s got Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway to star in her latest film, and it doesn’t disappoint—it’s very warm and fuzzy, like having your belly rubbed for two straight hours. Hathaway is the head of a big, successful Internet company; DeNiro is her senior-citizen intern, and we watch them slowly bond from employer-employee to best friends. It’s funny, old-fashioned, charming and touching. It is a genuine pleasure to watch DeNiro act. He’s the greatest. (10)
THE MARTIAN (2015)—Director Ridley Scott has transformed Andy Weir’s marvelously informative, entertaining and exciting novel into an equally entertaining movie. Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, who is marooned on Mars and must learn to survive on the barren planet. Naturally, the filmmakers have to abridge some of the action for time’s sake (Watney doesn’t get to flip his rover, for example), but what’s left is still a grand-slam of science fiction. Damon is superb. (10)
HE NAMED ME MALALA (2015)—Malala Yousafzai is the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the face in 2012 by a Taliban gunman for having the audacity for wanting an education. I followed the story of her recovery and subsequent activism with some interest—she is a true modern-day hero and an inspiration to people all around the globe, including to me. Unfortunately, this documentary film about her life is a disjointed, non-linear jumble that throws a lot of stuff into the mix with very little organization. First of all, it assumes that the viewer knows everything about the incident going in—the filmmakers don’t even bother explaining what happened to her until about halfway through, which is preposterous. Worse yet, at least a third of the movie consists of boring animated footage intended to tell pieces of Malala’s backstory, and it practically put me to sleep. All of this is extremely unfortunate, because Malala is one of the few living people who could drag me to a theater to see a documentary. I’m bummed that it had to be this one. I did enjoy scenes of Malala in her home environment, giving speeches, etc.; they save the film from being a disaster. (6)
STEVE JOBS (2015)—Danny Boyle directed Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay about the late founder of the Apple computer company, and to say that certain liberties in the story were taken is a bit of an understatement. This is a dramatization of Jobs’s life consisting of conversations and confrontations that never occurred—all of them just prior to various product launches—so if you’re looking for an accurate depiction of the man, you’d probably be better off with Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, the documentary released a few weeks before this movie. On the bright side, Steve Jobs features excellent performances by Michael Fassbender (as Jobs), Kate Winslet as his long-suffering assistant Joanna, and Jeff Daniels as former Apple CEO John Sculley. The film is deftly assembled and at times even riveting—within, as I say, the boundaries of fiction. (8)
SICARIO (2015)—Emily Blunt is an Arizona law-enforcement specialst tapped by the FBI to help crack down on the Mexican drug trade. She answers to Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, whose roles and goals may not be exactly what they appear to be. The film has three or four very tense and violent scenes, but the rest of the movie is murky as we often appear to be just as in the dark as Blunt seems to be. The final scenes, which involve a “big reveal” of del Toro’s character, are the highlight of the movie—if only the rest of it had been as good. (7)
CRIMSON PEAK (2015)—I saw three movies in a row one Saturday, kicking off with the Benicio del Toro movie, and followed up by one written and directed by by Guillermo del Toro. (The two aren’t related.) Peak features a great beginning and an exciting conclusion, but the middle section tends to plod along. At the end of the 19th century, the daughter (Mia Wasikowska) of a businessman marries a mysterious suitor (Tom Hiddleston, the great villain of the Thor series) who whisks her to his huge, drafty mansion, where terrible things seem to be happening. Hubby also has a troubled sister (Jessica Chastain), and their sinister motives aren’t clear until the finale. It’s a very atmospheric and occasionally bewitching gothic chiller, but it just teases us for too long. (7)
BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015)—Tom Hanks stars in Steven Spielberg’s real-life cold-war drama, about an attorney who defends a Russian spy…and eventually helps to negotiate a prisoner-of-war swap with the Kremlin. Although occasionally fascinating, at 141 minutes, it seems unnecessarily stretched out, as all three movies I saw on Saturday were. As usual, Hanks is excellent. Co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen; Alan Alda is seen fleetingly. (8)
EVEREST (2015)—I thought this real-life story of a bunch of folks to climb Mount Everest was going to be a tense, suspenseful and gripping saga, but it was more morose than anything. In 1996, a group of climbers head for the famous mountain’s peak, but extremely bad weather gets in the way, and a lot of them don’t make it. (One of folks on the expedition is Josh Brolin from Sicario.) I was excited to see Keira Knightley, but she plays the wife of one of the guys—her entire role consists of talking to people on the phone from her house. It’s a sad movie about people who take this whole “challenging the elements” deal to the limit, and pay the ultimate price for it. The movie will make you feel as uncomfortable as the climbers. (6)
ROOM (2015)—In the first half of the movie written by Emma Donoghue (based on her 2010 novel), the audience learns about a mother, Joy (Brie Larson) and her young son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who have been held captive in some sicko’s garden shed for the boy’s entire life—in fact, he’s the product of her rape. She has told the child that nothing exists outside of their small habitat, and they are kept alive by the sicko, who brings them food and necessities in exchange for periodic rapes of the mother. When the kid turns five, Joy finally conceives of an escape plan, and the 15-minute (or so) part of the film where the plan is executed is by far the most interesting and compelling part, and one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen in a movie. It should have ended right there. The second half of the movie is a dull mishmash that explores the aftermath of the escape, which forces the viewer to wonder if mom and son wouldn’t have been better off back in their “Room.” Despite my lukewarm reaction, Tremblay is excellent as Jack. (6)