Sunday, April 03, 2016

March 2016

I guess the big event this month was a stupid online banking mistake I made that caused me to be overdrawn, even though I had the money. Basically, I tried to transfer money I had in my PayPal account to money in my banking account, but I accidentally did the opposite. It was extremely easy mistake to make—but completely impossible to reverse. Fortunately, everything was put straight, but only after I’d spent days and weeks agonizing about it.
I saw Jenna in Spamalot. It was my first exposure to this musical, even though I’ve seen the source movie (Monty Python and the Holy Grail) dozens of times. It has been so amazing to see my goddaughter grow up, becoming so beautiful and such a talent.
It’s been fun following the political sideshow. The Republicans are self-destructing so spectacularly…although it’s like a multi-car highway wreck in slow motion, it’s also the biggest and best news event of my adult life.
I’ve had a great deal of fun this month swapping music with Mark W., missing Cindy K. when she went to Mexico during Spring Break, and chatting with Phoebe B.
On the book front, I read and enjoyed Stephen King’s short-story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams and Gillian White’s psychological thriller Copycat. And I started reading All the Sky Together by Florence Engel Randall.
In movie news, I actually managed to squeeze in a few older movies in addition to newer offerings. Here’s what I saw:
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (2016)—Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live and the late, beloved sitcom 30 Rock has been going the Steve Martin route on the movie circuit, pandering to lowbrow tastes with cheap laughs and material that is beneath her in an attempt (I assume) to increase her personal fortune. Occasionally, though, she lobbies to get herself into a slightly more serious movie, and this is her latest attempt. She plays Kim Baker, a fictionalized version of Ashley Gilbertson, a journalist whose memoir Taliban Shuffle, about covering the war in Iraq, was the basis for this movie. The film is half romcom, half war drama, and those two things go together about as well as you’d expect—i.e., not very well. There are fine moments, and Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman have good roles, but the movie is mostly a slog. (6)
FORTRESS (1983)—The extremely beautiful Australian actress Rachel Ward (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) plays a schoolteacher who, along with her young pupils, are kidnapped by a quartet of masked criminals for ransom. Using their wits, they attempt to escape their tormentors. It’s a quite frightening film in which the captors have to fight for their lives and use their survival skills. Based on Gabrielle Lord’s novel of the same name, which in turn was loosely based on a real-life event. Not bad for what it is; Ward is absolutely heavenly. (8)
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)—Producer J.J. Abrams, also responsible for 2008’s monster movie Cloverfield, has got himself a nearly perfect movie about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) being held captive in John Goodman’s basement. The film is outstanding as a psychological thriller, until doing a 360 during the last 10-15 minutes. Joan and I were both disappointed by the resolution. Not bad, but what a great movie this could have been! (8)
JUGGERNAUT (1974)—Given my passion for ocean cruising, I decided to check out this thriller from the Seventies about a ransom plot to bomb a cruise ship. The acting is mediocre and the action slow-moving to nonexistent, but Richard Harris is pretty good as an expert in disarming bombs. Nice also to see David Hemmings, who I’ve loved listening to on the soundtrack to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jeeves for many years without being completely aware of what he looks like. And it was cool to see the inside of a vintage cruise ship, which much of the movie was filmed on. (5)
NOBLE (2015)—One of several movies I was looking forward to last year, but that I missed, Noble wasn’t in theaters for very long. It’s the true-life story of Christina Noble (Deirdre O’Kane), an Irish woman who travels to Vietnam with a dream of helping to shelter, nourish, protect and teach the poor homeless street children after the war. Through childhood and adolescence, she suffers unimaginable setbacks and tragedies, all of which help make her stronger in her quest to realize her goals. This movie is a powerful, moving and inspirational experience, and I cried practically through its entire 100 minutes. I wish everybody could see this movie, all about how much one person can truly make a difference in this world. (10)
EYE IN THE SKY (2016)—Helen Mirren is a military officer whose drone (flying over Kenya) spots terrorists in a small house planning a suicide attack. Obviously, U.S. and U.K. forces should bomb the house, right? Hold on…there’s a young, sweet, innocent girl in the yard who will be part of the collateral damage. Should we take her out too, in order to save potentially hundreds of other children who would die in the attack? That’s the question put forward by this suspenseful war thriller, which puts the viewer on the front line of the war against terror. There are never any easy answers in a situation like this, and director Gavin Hood and writer Guy Hibbert have assembled a great cast (including Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad and the late Alan Rickman) to tell this incredible and moving tale. (9)
MUD (2013)—After 2011’s massively boring and preposterous Take Shelter, I could not imagine sitting through another film by writer/director Jeff Nichols ever again. It even permanently soured me on his favorite actor, Michael Shannon, so deeply did I despise Take Shelter. But excellent word-of-mouth and terrific reviews got me interested in Mud, although I missed it when it was released a few years ago. I finally gave it a chance this month, and found it to have the same basic flavor of 1986’s Stand By Me (directed by Rob Reiner from a Stephen King short story). It’s a similar coming-of-age story about boys learning tough lessons about love, life, death and growing up. The entire cast—including snaggle-toothed Matthew McConaughey (badly in need of a shower), Sam Shepard, and especially the boys, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland as Ellis and Neckbone,—are uniformly outstanding. Extremely well assembled and realized; hard to believe this is from the same guy who nearly extinguished my love of movies with Take Shelter. (9)

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