Monday, May 01, 2017

April 2017

“April…come she will…When streams are ripe and swelled with rain…” How many times did that Simon & Garfunkel chestnut emanate from my stereo back in the 1970s? We didn’t have much rain here in April, and the month seemed to zip by. Following spring break, Cindy and I resumed our tutoring at Santa Monica’s John Muir Elementary School, where I teach reading to a first grader named Jace. (We only have a handful of sessions left, and I’m going to miss it when it’s over.) This month, Ray Lee and I shot a dozen boats at Lake Elsinore with five swimsuit models. It was a fun day and would provide content for Speedboat magazine for months to come. AUDIOBOOKS: After finishing While You Were Sleeping (Kathryn Croft), I moved on to The Girl Before by (Tony Strong writing as JP Delaney), Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn) and Traitor (Pete Johnson). I am now listening to One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline. TV: Homeland finished its sixth season, while the network shows I watch faithfully are all barreling toward their season finales. MUSIC: After grading various hits of 2016-2107, I listened to albums by Radiohead and Charlie Puth.
Here are the movies I saw in April:

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (2017)—Schindler’s List meets We Bought a Zoo in this true story of a couple in Poland who hide Jews in the basement of their zoo in Warsaw. Jessica Chastain, as the character, is perfectly cast as the woman who must use her sexuality to distract the local Nazi (deliciously nasty Daniel Brühl). Entertaining, but my strongest memory is of Joan saying during the closing credits, “I want to see if they mention that no animals were harmed in the making of this movie.” Sure looked to us like there was plenty of animal harming! (8)

COLOSSAL (2017)—Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a woman who discovers a most unusual ability: she is somehow controlling the movements of a gigantic Godzilla-type monster that’s terrorizing Seoul, Korea. But the movie is more concerned with Hathaway’s relationships with two men: boyfriend Dan Stevens and a friend from her childhood (Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis). The story of how these characters—and the monster—are intertwined are the subject of this unusual fable, which is just quirky enough not to be unlikable, and just original enough to overcome its flaws. Sudeikis really shines as a man with many layers—most of them slimy. (7.5)

MOKA (2016)—A French psychological thriller about a mother trying to track down the hit-and-run drivers who killed her teenage son. There are some unforgettable twists in this drama, and some great performances. Based on a novel by multilingual Tatiana de Rosnay (Sarah’s Key). I adored this deeply moving story. (10)

GIFTED (2017)—Chris Evans (better known as Captain America) plays the uncle of Mary, a 7-year-old girl whose mathematical mind exceeds Einstein’s. Evans has been raising the kid following his sister’s death. Enter Evans’ mother, a bitch who sues him for custody. Mckenna Grace is astonishingly convincing—and cute as a button—as Mary; she makes us believe that she really is a child prodigy. What a great little actress! Meanwhile, Lindsay Duncan is perfectly cast as the grandmother. (9)

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)—The manga-turned-anime franchise, which dates back to 1989, has been transformed into a full-blown live-action sci-fi epic starring Scarlett Johansson. The result is a cyberpunk-looking movie for robots—or for humans who thought Blade Runner and Terminator were too warm and fuzzy. ScarJo plays a Bionic Woman sort of character (human brain in a robot’s body) who has been trained as a commando…until she starts to realize that the people she’s working for may not be the good guys after all. (It’s the age-old “Heel Realization” trope, as depicted in Iron Man and most recently in the great Men Against Fire episode of Black Mirror.) Approximately the first half of GITS is flashy but dull, loaded with great FX and noisy sound effects, but too little story. I debated walking out, but finally, when the Big Twist is revealed, things got interesting enough to take me to the end. But man, that first hour needs work. (6.5)

THEIR FINEST (2017)—During WWII, the British government sought to ease tensions among its bomb-ridden citizens by promoting a specific type of propaganda: movies featuring war heroes and a dubious connection to the truth. To better connect with the women in their audiences, the British Ministry of Information hires a female writer (gorgeous Gemma Arterton) to do some of the writing on a movie about the famous Dunkirk evacuation. There’s a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. Not bad, but not as engaging as I’d hoped. (8)

BORN IN CHINA (2017)—This Disney-produced nature documentary focuses on four animal families: snow leopards, snub-nosed monkeys, pandas and antelope, in descending order of interest. The photography is exquisite, and much of the action captured is simply uncanny. The snow leopard and monkey sequences have the most to offer in terms of an ongoing story, and the leopard section (involving a mama leopard and her two cubs) is genuinely heartbreaking. Disney, as usual, does a bit too much anthropomorphizing (“Tao Tao finally realized he’d grown up a lot that day!” says narrator John Krasinski), but this is an undeniably educational and awe-inspiring film. NOTES: My friend who actually works for Disney in China informed me that the film was not widely seen in her country. Also, the poster depicted is not the more popular Panda-only version; this one is better and more accurate. (8)