Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Netflix Catchup - Holiday Potpourri

And so begins the first Netflix catchup of the year, albeit with films all watched in 2011.

A Christmas Carol (Zemeckis). Every December, I read “A Christmas Carol,” so I’m pretty familiar with the story and the dialogue. When this came out I had absolutely no desire to see it, because the trailers emphasized what appeared to be “spectacular special effects.” And of course, everyone knows that the reason to watch “Christmas Carol” is for the Star Wars-like effects. But it was a few nights before Christmas, and we found ourselves in the holiday spirit, so we gave it a shot. And, it was a lot better than I expected. For the most part, it was a faithful retelling of the classic (and great, I might add) story, and the effects only rarely got in the way of the story. But on the other hand, why sacrifice any of Dickens’ great writing for some special effects that a) didn’t add anything of value for the adults in the audience, and b) probably scared the wits out of any kids in the theater?

Winter’s Bone. An outstanding film perched on the precipice of greatness. Jennifer Lawrence is spectacular as 17-year old Ree Dolly, who in the absence of her father and mother (the mother is there, but spends her days staring into space, unable to communicate or contribute) is forced to fend for herself, her 12-year old brother and 6-year old sister in the deepest backwoods of rural Missouri. The sheriff comes knocking at the door one morning, to let the family know that the father has skipped out on his bail, and unless he turns up soon, the house that was put up for collateral is going to be taken away from the family. And thus begins Ree’s quest to find her father, a cooker of meth who could very well be dead. And if he is dead, then Ree must provide some proof of that.

The movie (directed by Debra Granik) does an outstanding job of depicting the desolate life led by Ree and her family. It is the very definition of a hard life, and hard territory. There are no innocents; even the sheriff (the always dependable Garrett Dillahunt) strikes the viewer as sinister. And Lawrence’s performance is not the only great one in the movie; John Hawkes is just as good as her uncle, Teardrop – a man who radiates danger from every pore of his body.

“Winter’s Bone” is less about good and evil than it is about degrees of evil – and what it takes to survive in country that one might call evil.

Morning Glory. You could say that “Morning Glory” is the polar opposite of “Winter’s Bone.” Big stars (Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton), cute, young up-and-coming stars (Rachel McAdams, Patrick Wilson), a somewhat unbelievable “down on her luck girl makes good” story (in this case, as the producer of a morning television news magazine show), and…well, the theory is that hilarity, of course, will ensue.

Truth be told, the movie had its moments, mostly featuring Ford and Keaton. And Rachel McAdams is cute. Overall, serviceable entertainment but I can’t imagine forking over money to have seen it in a theater. But that’s what Netflix is for, right?

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