what I’m watching

I was inspired by my brother’s podcast, Does Anyone Really Need to Hear This(listen to the latest episode here) to begin regularly reporting on what I’m watching, reading, and listening to.  But since the blog format is less tolerant of long-windedness than the podcast format, I am going to focus on just one of these today—on the three movies I watched this past weekend, to be exact.

  1. Logan.  I may have mentioned before that I’m a regular platelet donor and that one of my favorite parts about donating (aside from knowing that I’m helping to save people’s lives) is getting to watch a movie while tucked under one or more electric blankets.  Last Thursday, I chose to watch Logan, the first X-Men movie—indeed, the first Marvel movie—to have Oscar hopes.  I’m always a little hesitant to watch violent movies while donating because it’s hard to escape or even look away from a particularly gruesome scene when I’m strapped to a bed, but even though this R-rated film was very violent (more than I expected), I’m glad I watched it.  Probably the most striking feature of Logan is how well it captures the artistic trends and cultural anxieties of 2017.  The setting—a not-too-distant, not-quite-apocalyptic future (technology still works, but things are quickly falling apart, especially along the US/Mexico border)—reminded me of The Walking Dead and even more of its borderland spinoff Fear the Walking Dead.  Fears about genetic experimentation devoid of human conscience were represented in the character Laura, basically an 11-year-old female Wolverine, who, in her silent and deadpan (and occasionally delighted) observation of the “normal” world, reminded me of Eleven from Stranger Things.  The cinematography made the whole world look hot and tired, and the music (especially the Johnny Cash song in the credits) added to the weary and foreboding tone.  In spite of the cynicism of both the characters and the general tone, the movie still had the heart of a more traditional Marvel film, and I nearly cried at the end.  I had always thought of Wolverine as one of the least interesting X-Men, but, like many viewers of this startling film, I’ve done a complete reversal on that opinion.
  2. Jaws.  One of our local theaters was showing this 1975 classic last week, and I saw it Friday night.  It was my first time seeing it in many years, and it was both gorier (they blew up a shark!) and better than I remembered.  John Williams’s score, though sometimes over the top, is a classic of his early style.  The acting is fantastic, the writing is straightforward yet understated, and even though the special effects are not what they would be today, the pacing of the film contributes to a dramatic tension that never lets up.  I’m kind of a sucker for male bonding stories, so I really like the camaraderie (and tension—more tension) among the three men who go out to hunt down the shark.  It’s a classic seafaring story.  And now that I’ve used the word “classic” three times in one paragraph, I think I’ve made my point, so I’ll move on.
  3. Moonlight.  On Saturday night, I finally watched the real Best Picture winner of 2017.  I can’t comment on whether it’s better or worse than La La Land; the movies are too different.  But I can say that it’s very good.  And although it couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to Jaws in every way, Moonlight, too, has some great dramatic tension.  I think I may have been holding my breath for the last 20 minutes of the movie as I watched the main character and his old high school friend (and lover? That’s what he wants to find out) conversationally dance around and around the topic neither of them wants to broach.  The score of this movie is also excellent, and the camera work and lighting, combined with the bright colors of many of the buildings in Miami, make everything look not cheerful but lurid and sad, in keeping with the story.  And Maharshala Ali deserved that Best Supporting Actor win, even though he’s only in the first third of the film.

If you’ve seen any of these movies, let me know what you thought.  Next week I’ll be back with what I’m reading.

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My annual Oscar rant

Right on cue, here is my yearly collection of thoughts on the Academy Awards.

  • Gravity is clearly going to win a lot of awards.  One that it seems nearly guaranteed to win is Achievement in Directing for Alfonso Cuarón.  When people like me think of Alfonso Cuarón, we think of his darkly whimsical interpretation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Do you think he could find a way to work an Azkaban shout-out into his acceptance speech?
  • I was excited when I saw that my favorite movie music composer, Thomas Newman, was nominated for his beautiful score to Saving Mr. Banks.  But I was annoyed when I did my predication research this evening and saw that he isn’t even being mentioned as a possibility to win.  All I can say is that the Academy is going to owe Thomas Newman one massive Lifetime Achievement Award segment.
  • I never thought I’d see the day when a movie called Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa was nominated for an Oscar.  I realize that the category is Achievement in Makeup, and I’m willing to concede that the nominee, Stephen Prouty, did a pretty good job on that guy’s face.  But I’ve vowed never to watch the Oscars again if this movie wins.
  • I have a plan.  The Academy should create some new award categories: Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress in a Genre Film.  That way, the people who do excellent acting work in films that aren’t “literary” (to borrow a term from the book publishing world)–e.g., science fiction, fantasy, and superhero movies; romantic comedies; “children’s” movies that aren’t animated–can be honored.  Because, let’s face it, they’re not going to be nominated in the traditional acting categories, except in very unusual cases like those of Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean (and there was no way he was going to win) or Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight–an extremely unusual case indeed, since he did win.  The only potential problem here is that creating such a category could further marginalize these types of movies and prevent genre-transcending films like The Dark Knight from getting the recognition that the Academy was actually prepared to give them.

So I’m curious: Who would you nominate if we had the Acting in Genre Films categories this year?  And what are your two cents, in general, on the 2014 Oscars?  Do share.

Movie score geekout

It’s that time of year when I write a lot of posts about movies! This will be a quick one. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this fact on my blog, but I’m kind of a movie score connoisseur. I’m the person who tells my friends, whether they care or not, that the same person who composed the score to Forrest Gump also composed the score to Captain America (that’s Alan Silvestri).  I have a favorite film composer, Thomas Newman, whose beautiful score was one of the many wonderful things about Saving Mr. Banks, a movie everyone should go see.

But for the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Patrick Doyle, an underrated composer best known for scoring many of Kenneth Branagh’s films, although he’s done much more.  Although Doyle has composed a few quiet, subtle scores, such as the piano-driven Sense and Sensibility soundtrack, he is at his best when he’s in his joyful and triumphant mode.  For me, a movie score can be just as good as a rock concert for a fist-pumping, adrenaline-rushing  moment, and when I want that, I often turn to Patrick Doyle.  Here is a list of my top five life-affirming P. Doyle tracks.  In most cases, the track I mention is at the very end of the movie.

1. “Merida’s Home” from Brave

2. “Thor Kills the Destroyer” from Thor

3. “Strike Up Pipers” from Much Ado about Nothing (1993) Note: Spotify lists the composer of this soundtrack as “David Snell.”  This is base slander.  I have no idea who David Snell is.

4. something from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  I couldn’t pick a favorite track here; they are all great.  I love “Hogwarts’ Hymn,” from the credits, but it’s not quite the “fist-pumping” experience I described above.

5. “Papa!” (starting about 1:30) from A Little Princess, which I only recently realized that Patrick Doyle scored.