Sunday, May 18, 2014


This was supposed to be a monthly deal, but you know how it goes.  Quick, sometimes random thoughts on movies recently seen via Netflix or Netflix Streaming.

Sense and Sensibility.  Along with Joe Wright's "Pride and Prejudice," clearly the best Austen film adaptation.  Just about every note is perfect, from the interplay between Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) and her sister Marianne (Kate Winslet), to the boisterous good humor of Sir John (the great, and still ticking, Robert Hardy), the graciousness and innocence of Edward (Hugh Grant), the honor of Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman) and even the droll impatience of Mr. Palmer (Hugh Laurie).  The scene where Elinor finally breaks down and confesses her broken heart to Marianne is nothing less than a classic.  Screenplay by Thompson and directed by Ang Lee, one of the best.

Much Ado About Nothing.  Because I slept through most of it the first time around, I was really happy to see this pop up on streaming.  It's great, and just might be the most important movie Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse, The Avengers) has ever made.  I say that because I think it's great that Whedon is smashing barriers with this movie - showing the world at large that it is possible to make a high quality Shakespearean production for film, even if your background is in what a lot of people (not me) would consider "lesser" genres.  Anyone who's ever watched a Whedon show will recognize most of the actors, and it's clear that they are having the time of their lives.  They're all great, but for me the standouts were Alexis Denisof as Benedick, Amy Acker as Beatice, and Nathan Fillion as Dogberry.  And I want Joss Whedon's house.

Short Term 12.  Also a re-watch, but since I never got around to writing about it the first time around.   This is one of my favorite kinds of movie - a director and actors you've never heard of before, just knocking the ball right out of the park.  The movie is set in a temporary home for troubled youth, mostly foster youth, focusing not just on the kids who live there but also the young adults - some with their own troubles and problems - with the responsibility for managing their lives.  This one was brought to our attention by son #2, because the director (Destin Cretton) is a graduate of San Diego State (where son #2 is in the performing arts program) and brought a rough cut of the film for the students to view and critique.  Based on this, he has a long and successful career ahead of him.  Brie Larson is great as Grace, in a performance that in its impact reminded me of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone.

Nebraska.  I loved everything about this movie - the story, acting, soundtrack, glorious black and white cinematography...everything.  Alexander Payne's work clearly resonates with me, because I also thought his "The Descendants" was one of the best movies of recent years.  Bruce Dern deserved all the accolades, but Will Forte is also great as his suffering son, and yes, just like everyone said, June Squibb steals every scene that she is in.  Stacy Keach is suitably creepy as an old friend of Woody (Dern's character) who still is looking to be repaid for money lent decades ago, and the extended family is a hoot.

Thor: The Dark World.  Not the best comic book movie ever made, but it had its moments, mostly courtesy of Tom Hiddleston as Loki.  The plot really defies description, but the final battle scenes with Thor and the bad guy popping in and out of different dimensions/universes was really cool.

Saving Mr. Banks.  I'm told that I slept through a good portion of this one, but what I did see was pleasant enough.  I'm not really sure this story was demanding to be told, but the scenes with B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the Sherman brothers (with an assist from Bradley Whitford) were worth the price of admission.  You know, if we had actually paid for it.  Which I suppose we did, since we got it from Netflix.

Inside Llewyn Davis.  Seen it twice now, still not quite sure what the Coen brothers were trying to say, but enjoyed it both times.  Oscar Isaac really deserved an Oscar nomination (there's a joke in there, but I'll leave it alone) for his portrayal of Llewyn, and the Coens did a great job of recreating the feel of early sixties New York City.  And the music is good.

Dallas Buyers Club.  Don't get me wrong, McConaughey was great and deserved his Oscar, but I actually think he was better in "True Detective."  But this is a really good movie, and Jared Leto also deserved all the accolades and awards.  But once again, Jennifer Garner pops up in a supporting role, and just does wonders with it.  Maybe someday she'll get her due as well.

God Grew Tired of Us.  A well-made, heart-rending documentary about the lost boys of the Sudan, focusing on a handful of them who are able to immigrate to the United States and try to build lives of their own.  A good reminder of how much we take for granted in our day-to-day, "first world problem" lives.

Panic Room.  When this started I thought we were going to see Fincher's take on "The Shining," where the building was the most important character in the movie.  And that's sort of what happens, but once the plot kicks in it becomes more standard fare, with some pretty cliched bad guys.  But still, not a bad thriller - and the interplay between Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart is very well done.

Rush.  I'd definitely put this in the top tier of Ron Howard movies, but unless you know something about Formula 1 racing and the history of James Hunt & Niki Lauda, it might be lost on you.  Nice job with the racing scenes, but also the characterization of the two drivers.

Captain Phillips.   Expertly crafted adventure/thriller, with a great performance from Tom Hanks.  His acting in the final post-rescue scene is probably the best acting I've seen all year. 

Sapphire.  A 1959 film set in London, focusing on the murder of a pregnant woman originally assumed to be white but later found to be of mixed racial origins.  According to Wikipedia it was considered very progressive for its time, and it is fascinating to watch it today - although I'm not sure it comes close to greatness.

About Time.  You either like Richard Curtis movies, or you don't.  But you pretty much know what you're going to get when you see one.  There's a formula, but "About Time" stretches it, and even though the time-travel premise is not one that you want to think about too much, it does provide for a few surprising developments.  Bill Nighy is great as always, and Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams do just fine in the Hugh Grant/pick your American female star roles.

To Rome With Love.  It would appear that I no longer know the difference between a good Woody Allen movie and a bad Woody Allen movie.  "Midnight in Paris" was supposed to be great, this one was supposed to suck, and "Blue Jasmine" was supposed to be great again.  But I liked 'em all about the same.  And nothing I just wrote is intended as commentary on the ongoing Allen/Farrow family saga.

Half Nelson.  Early, strong Ryan Gosling vehicle with him portraying a pretty screwed up junior high school teacher.  Good enough to take the taste of "Only God Forgives" out of my mouth.

The Fifth Estate.  Excellent performance by Benedict Cumberbatch (is there any other kind?) as Julian Assange, but a less than memorable movie.

I should also note that in between all of this, we watched the entirety of "Firefly," and its unlikely movie sequel, "Serenity."  They hold up well, and make one wonder what might have been...


le0pard13 said...

Fine line-up of film you went through. I like the idea of doing a Firefly marathon this weekend, finishing up with SERENITY. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff Vaca said...

Thank you!