Tuesday, March 01, 2016

February 2016

February was a pretty full month, with back-to-back trips (first to Miami for the boat show, then to Catalina and Ensenada on the identical Carnival cruise I took last November). On the cruise, I watched the three-part TV miniseries Childhood’s End, which wasn’t particularly good, although it did satisfy a lot of curiosity I had about the original Arthur C. Clarke novel. Here are the movies I saw in February:
THE BOY WHO COULD FLY (1986)—My dear friend Merf strongly recommended this movie to me. It’s one of her favorites, and in her defense, it does appear that anybody who has seen it really loves it. It’s about a mother (Bonnie Bedelia) who, still grieving over the loss of her husband, moves her family into a new house—right next door to where a strangely silent and possibly autistic boy lives. The boy, Eric (Jay Underwood) is the same age as the grieving woman’s daughter, Milly (Lucy Deakins); in fact, they go to high school together. Almost from the start, the film teases us that Eric has the ability to fly—we see implied hints and so on, but never actually see him take flight. Much of the film plays out as a typical family drama (i.e., Bedelia has problems in her new job; her younger son is bullied by neighbors, etc.). Milly attempts to connect with the silent Eric, and he seems to respond. Finally, we come to see that he really does have the ability to fly. No explanation, not even a gimcrack one. He just flies. And if he holds your hand, you can fly too. Try as I might, I could not force myself to overcome the “suspension of disbelief” necessary to swallow this aspect of the story. Another problem is that is has way too much in common with the movie E.T. The Extraterrestrial, especially the way Bruce Broughton’s music tries to simulate a John Williams soundtrack. Too often, the score is just distracting and bombastic. Anyway, Merf, I am sorry I didn’t like it, but Lucy Deakins’ performance was outstanding, and she’s absolutely adorable in the picture. (5)
HAIL, CAESAR! (2016)—As I have mentioned before in my blog, I run hot and cold with the Coen brothers. Fargo is one of my all-time favorite movies, but 2009’s A Serious Man was practically unwatchable. And they’ve created a bunch of other films that fall somewhere in between fantastic and horrible. Hail, Caesar!, described as a love letter to Hollywood, is among their best—a consistently funny sendup of 1950s genre films (westerns, musicals, Biblical epics, Esther Williams pictures, dramas based on hit plays) with a little bit of Communism thrown in for good measure. I don’t think I stopped smiling from beginning to end. (10)
THE DANISH GIRL (2015)—Eddie Redmayne, so convincing as scientist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, plays Einar Wegener, a man living in the 1920s who comes to embrace the more feminine side of his personality. In fact, persuaded to put on a dress so his wife can finish a sketch, he finds he can’t and won’t stop wearing it. Eventually he develops an entirely new persona, Lili, and becomes one of the first men to undergo a sex-change operation. While the performances are decent, I had two major problems with this movie. The first is that although Eddie Redmayne makes a completely unconvincing woman, all of the film’s major characters are fooled into thinking he’s a woman. He doesn’t even look like a very unattractive woman—he’s a man wearing a dress and a wig. It’s preposterous. The other problem is that the movie is exceptionally boring. I really wanted to like this, but it was fairly tortuous to sit through. I also find that I’m pretty squeamish about listening to the surgical details of genital removal—not fun for me. (6)
JOY (2015)—Literally the night after seeing The Danish Girl (a 2015 biopic that I’d missed), I got to see another major biopic from last year that somehow escaped me. What a difference! Joy, about a woman who invents a new kind of mop, is as suspenseful and dramatic as any sports movie I’ve ever seen. The true-life story of businesswoman Joy Mangano unfolds with intelligence, humor and nail-biting intensity; it’s a winner, and star Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely astonishing in the role. The pacing is a little haphazard in the first half, and the movie is a little bit longer than it perhaps needs to be, but those are minor quibbles. I’m so glad Paramount had a screening of this one…I can’t believe I allowed some mediocre reviews to keep me away last year! (9)
DEADPOOL (2016)—The funniest Marvel comic-book adaptation is also the first to be R-rated, and it’s fourth-wall breaking, mega-meta fun. The opening credits (“Directed by an Overpaid Tool”) are worth the price of admission alone, as is the post-credit bonus scene. Very funny, with star Ryan Reynolds chalking up many yuks as a real anti-superhero. (9)