Thursday, December 08, 2016

November 2016

This was a fun month, although not a great movie month. In late October, I set sail for my 17th cruise (on Carnival’s Miracle ship) to Mexico, and returned on Nov. 5. During that time, I binge-watched season 3 of Black Mirror, which was enormously entertaining. (I ended the month binge-watching the revival of Gilmore Girls, which was also a great deal of fun.) This was also the month of Thanksgiving, and Cindy Newman and her family did their usual bang-up job hosting, entertaining, cooking and serving. A great time was had by all! Meanwhile, on the literary front, I finally finished reading Evan Hunter’s early novel Don’t Crowd Me (an old paperback copy), while enjoying some of Kurt Vonnegut’s short stories in audio format. Finally, I spent part of the month recording some music (covers of Randy Newman songs) and seeking out pianists via Craigslist to perform some songs from the 1800s by the Hill sisters (famous for “Happy Birthday to You”) and a song from my own back catalogue. They are still in production...I’ll provide an update next month! 1970s PROJECT: I have been “drilling and grading” songs from 1971. Have found the usual amount of cool tracks and turkeys; will be finished in December sometime for sure. I’ve found that it’s taking me two months to thoroughly “drill” a single year of music from the 1970s. Meanwhile, here are the movies I saw in November...a pretty mediocre lot, I must say.

DR. STRANGE (2016)—Marvel’s latest superhero launch is played by…Benedict Cumberbatch? Yup, Sherlock himself has hit franchise gold! This one contains a bit more “mysticism” than most of the others, which means they can really ramp up the special effects—and they are pretty mild-blowing. The always phenomenal Tilda Swinton costars, meaning that the movie is vastly improved just by adding her to the cast. The action moves pretty-much nonstop in this fine comic-book adaptation. (8)

THE ENTERTAINER (1960)—This acclaimed film, written by John Osborne (who based the screenplay on his hit play), tracks the failing career of Archie Rice, a B-list singer-dancer (played by Laurence Olivier) in a British seaside town. His father, stepmother, sons and daughter are also around to squabble with him and each other. This is one of those “kitchen sink” dramas of the 1960s that are gritty, squalid and depressing on every level. Well written and a genuine critical darling, but kind of a downer. (7)

LOVING (2016)—Dramatization of the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case that took the laws prohibiting interracial marriage off the books. A documentary about the case would probably have been more interesting than this slow-moving film about Richard and Mildred Loving of Virginia—as portrayed by Joel Edgerton, Richard Loving struck me as a maddeningly simple-minded oaf; his hobby seems to be staring off into space for hours at a time. I found the movie to be a total bore. (4)

ARRIVAL (2016)—Here’s another one of those movies everybody is raving about, but that we just found to be plodding, illogical and a genuine letdown. When mysterious spaceships appear, linguist Amy Adams tries to decipher their weird smoke-ring language to determine what it is these bizarre octopus-elephants want. Futuristic but slow-moving in a 2001 way, we’re finally given a “payoff” that doesn’t make much sense—just like 2001. Cool special effects, but it doesn’t really add up to much of anything, and it seemed more than a little like Contact. (5)

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)—An Amy Adams double-header! Unfortunately, that’s not a great thing. In this film, Adams is given a manuscript to read by her ex-husband. It’s a terrifying and suspenseful thriller involving a kidnapped wife and daughter, and this story-within-a-story is really the best part of this movie. The “outer shell,” all about Adams, her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) and matters involving her “real” life, are fairly dull. (6.5)

ALLIED (2016)—WWII drama with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard fighting the Nazis…or is she really a German spy? That was, as Joan correctly pointed out, the only question not answered by the film’s trailer, which we saw several times and which all but spoils the movie. We would have enjoyed this a lot more had we not seen the trailer. Not bad for what it is, and Cotillard is always worth staring at for any amount of time. (7.5)

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016)—James L. Brooks (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons) produced this comedy-drama about a teenage girl (True Grit’s Oscar-nominated Hailee Steinfeld) experiencing a wide range of personal and emotional problems—including bullying, her father’s death, unrequited love, intense sibling rivalry, an inability to connect with her peers and, ultimately, thoughts of suicide. The movie deftly and candidly shows the audience the error of her ways and allows us to empathize with her mistakes. Although it’s by no means perfect, first-time writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig fills the script with enough humor and pathos to make for a thoroughly enjoyable film. Steinfeld is perfect, and Woody Harrelson is a gem as her patient teacher. The best movie I saw all month. (9)

HOW DO YOU KNOW? (2010)—Inspired by The Edge of Seventeen, I sought out this comedy written and directed by James L. Brooks, which received fairly poor notices upon its release and consequently dropped off my radar. But Reese Witherspoon is worth watching in anything, and this has the added bonus of being the last movie Jack Nicholson made before retiring. I have another connection with this film, which is that I got to ask Brooks a question about it, prior to its release, on, and it was a huge thrill to be able to interact with this industry giant, howsoever remotely. Anyway, this is sort of a love-triangle rom-com; it isn’t great or anything, but it is sporadically engaging, has very nice performances across the board (including Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson as rival objects of Witherspoon’s affection). It did make me laugh out loud several times, and Reese is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous in this movie—you can’t take your eyes off her for a second, and you can’t help falling more and more in love with her. Nicholson's last film. (8)