Tuesday, December 01, 2015

November 2015

In early November, I took a four-night Carnival cruise to Catalina Island (which I’ve never visited in my 20 years as a Los Angeleno) and Ensenada, Mexico. During the cruise, I binged-watched the first season of The Affair and began watching the current season afterwards. I also discovered the three-season British TV show The Street, which ran from 2006-2009 on the BBC. I also began to put feelers out for a new (used) car. Hopefully I’ll have a replacement set of wheels soon, as my 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee seems to be on its last legs. Here are the movies I saw:

CONTAINMENT (2015)—Not sure why I selected this apocalyptic sci-fi flick—possibly because it reminded me of 2011’s similarly titled Contagion, which is also about a mysterious epidemic that kills masses of people, and which I quite enjoyed. The plot of this (very) low-budget flick is that people in a large apartment building find themselves sealed in with no apparent way of escaping; they receive messages that help is on the way…but do the government medics plan to inoculate them or kill them? This is one of those “And then there were none” flicks—all of the major characters are bumped off in one fashion or another until practically nobody is left. Seen it all before. (5)

I SMILE BACK (2015)—I have always enjoyed books and movies (The Morning After, Requiem for a Dream) about addiction and dependency, so when one of my favorite performers, Sarah Silverman, was cast in an adaptation of Amy Koppelman’s novel about a housewife and mother of two who sinks into a pit of booze- and drug-fueled despair, I was stoked. The frosting on the cake: Her co-star is Josh Charles, formerly the star of my favorite TV series (Sports Night). Early reviews prepared me for a very somber, downbeat picture, and it’s nothing if not depressing. Here Silverman is the polar opposite of her hilarious standup persona—her character is being treated for bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, and she has some major daddy issues that are confronted in the course of the movie. It’s basically a tour-de-force for Silverman; if you like your drama as dark as night, this one might just be for you. (8)

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015)—Poor reviews (11% on the Tomatometer) were enough to keep me away from this latest installment in the series that I have thoroughly enjoyed, at least until now. But Joan, who is loath to start something and not finish it, was curious to see how it all wound up (this is allegedly the final PA). Sure enough, this one is the least inspired—and least scary—of the bunch. (5)

CAROL (2015)—In this universally praised adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s second novel, well-to-do mother Cate Blanchette, who is going through a divorce, meets an attractive young sales clerk (Rooney Mara) at a Manhattan department store and begins having an affair with her. When the dalliance is discovered by Blanchette’s husband, he tries to use that as a way of gaining custody of the kids. This is a two-hour movie in which precious little happens; chopping 20 minutes out of the running time could improve it immeasurably. It’s one of those rare films that Joan liked more than I did (“It’s all about feelings!” she gushed). I could definitely have used a bit more action—a nice sex scene and a few heated arguments the female protagonists have with their respective male companions were memorable, but this mostly boring movie screams out for trimming. Sarah Paulson, remarkable as the conjoined twins on American Horror Story: Freak Show, has a small role as a former lover of Blanchette. Performances are first-rate throughout, especially the always magnetic Blanchette. Another debit: there was way, way too much smoking in the movie for me. I was impressed by Carter Burwell’s excellent musical score, which will surely be nominated for an Oscar. (6)

UNEXPECTED (2015)—The life of inner-city Chicago schoolteacher Samantha Abbott changes course dramatically when she discovers she is pregnant by her live-in boyfriend. (The film fails to explain how a woman as bright as Samantha could not know about, or at least use, birth control.) Simultaneously, Samantha learns that a very promising black student, Jasmine (Gail Bean) is also pregnant, and the two become fast friends as Samantha tries to encourage Jasmine not to give up on her dreams of college. This is a mild, gentle drama about Samantha, her lover (Anders Holm, the husband from The Intern) and her student, and the obstacles they all overcome. Sweet and mostly interesting, made all the more palatable by the fact that both Samantha and Jasmine are extremely very attractive. (8)

BROOKLYN (2015)—Irish author Colm Tóibín’s award-winning 2009 novel becomes a film directed by John Crowley and adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (An Education, About a Boy). It tells the story of plain-Jane Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who emigrates to the New York City from Ireland in the early 1950s to take a job in a Brooklyn department store. Although painfully shy and incredibly homesick at first, she gradually gains confidence, experience and a romance. The movie is generally engaging, although a trifle slow in spots, but we stick with it because we like Eilis a lot and want to see her succeed. Good acting, period setting, costumes, etc., in a very familiar emigration tale documented in countless other movies. Still, pretty good. (8)

SPOTLIGHT (2015)—Thought-provoking real-life drama about how reporters from the Boston Globe broke the story of Roman Catholic priests sexually abusing kids, and the cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese. Michael Keaton, John Slattery, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams play the intrepid editors and reporters who work long and hard to get to the truth while the ever-powerful church does its best to bury the facts. Although it’s occasionally a bit draggy (reporting isn’t all that suspenseful), it’s still a riveting story of true journalism. (8)