Movies, movies, movies

There are always a rash of new movies that come out over the Christmas period. One of my holiday treats to myself is to indulge in seeing a few. Here is my quick take on the ones I have seen.

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Gravity is a visually stunning piece that reminded me a bit of 2001 A Space Odyssey many years ago but with all the additions that 21st-century technology can add to a film. I do recommend that you see it on a big screen and in 3-D to get the full effect. Generally I am not a big fan of 3-D. I often find it is almost distracting but in this case it is used both subtly -with the exception of the obligatory few objects hurling at you from space – and to good effect. The movie has lots of very creative special-effects and it was not hard to watch Sandra Bullock flounder around in space,struggling to survive, for an hour and a half. After seeing the Wolf of Wall Street a couple days before, it was a relief to have only one F-bomb and after all, in her situation we felt that she deserved it.

imageI found All is Lost starring Robert Redford to be pretty, well, boring. I couldn’t seem to believe that a 77-year-old man could have the hair of the 25-year-old, so that squelched the credibility of the whole thing for me. I was waiting (hoping) for it to come loose when he was swimming underwater. And he could hold his breath for two minutes under the sea after 8 days without food or any fresh water without seeming to have any problem. That is acting.  I wondered why he was even out there in the first place. These two  struggle-for-survival movies had very similar themes.  Gravity was much more fun to watch. If there was something existential about either of them it went over my head.

The Wolf of Wall Street certainly has been the most controversial release recently. You either love it or hate it. People who hate it are often people who haven’t even seen it.  It puzzles me how people who have not seen a piece of theater or art can actually give an informed  commentary on its value. I saw it, however, and so I will tell you what I think.

The movie is three hours long.image The first hour was mildly amusing and had some really good, and funny moments. I was most impressed by the 10 minutes that Matthew McConaughey was on the screen.images-1 He gave an amazing supporting role performance as a coke-snorting, chest-pounding mentor for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio). I also enjoyed McConaughy’s performance in The Dallas Buyers Club.  He deserves accolades for his work in 2013.

The second hour of Wolf of Wall Street became tedious. We got the point -non-stop drugs, depravity, greed, hookers, gratuitous sex and swindling trade deals. Enough already. The language was vulgar both in the words used and the thoughts expressed.

By the third hour, I was not amused at all. There was one scene when Belfort is so stoned that he can hardly crawl to his car, slobbering spit and rolling down a flight of stairs. This has been described by some reviewers as slapstick. In a different circumstance it would have been funny but I was actually annoyed at the woman behind me for laughing at it. Did she not see how pathetic this character was?

imageBut then I wondered if this was not the point. The novelty had worn off and all the amoral indulgence and self-serving neglect for the feelings of anyone else that had been curious at first had become vulgar and hollow and distasteful. It was actually vulgar and hollow and distasteful all along but for some reason we are initially amused by it.

This movie is not for everyone and I would not recommend it unless you want to see just how depraved people can get, caught up in the pursuit of money. I can’t say I enjoyed it but I am glad that I went to see it as it will be a topic of conversation for some time to come. The theatre, by the way, was full, making us all feel like the poor victims that had fallen prey to Belfort’s almost evangelistic sales pitches. We lined up to buy tickets to sit through three hours of feeling both titilated and disgusted.

imageNext on the list was Saving Mr. Banks. I knew that I would like this one before I went and was not disappointed. Like so many movies (including Wolf of Wall Street) it is based on a true story, this one about how Disney persisted to get the rights to the Mary Poppins movie. But it turned out to be much more than that.

The movie was a surprisingly testament to what fathers and daughters do for/to each other. Maybe because I am from the Disney World era or, more likely because I am the father of two daughters, I found this movie touching and heart-warming. Tom Hanks reincarnates the avuncular Walt Disney that I remember from the days of black and white TV and Emma Thompson is perfect as the cranky British author with more baggage than the Mary Poppins valise she carries. No problem recommending this one to anyone.
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The movie that I think will be the dark horse this year, overtaking the rest to be the favorite, is Philomena. I saw this at TIFF in September but it is just hitting the theatres now. Judi Dench is a delight to watch and the story is captivating. This is not a blockbuster. It is a good old-fashioned story with characters you care about that is told well and leaves you feeling satisfied. No spoilers.   A movie that everyone will enjoy.  Put it on the top of your list and watch it shine at award time.

Forgiveness…

I didn’t know when I booked the movies I would see at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past weekend that there would be a common theme.  Basically the ticket-buying process is a bit of a crap-shoot.  I had a large list of movies that I thought would be interesting but there were time conflicts and availability issues to negotiate.  In the end I got seven of the movies on my list so I was happy.

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I knew that the film Something Necessary, shot in Kenya was a fictional story but based on the post-election violence there in early 2008.  I also realized that the film shot in Bosnia – FOR_THOSE_WHO_CAN_TELL_NO_TALES_Trailer_109306676_thumbnailFor Those Who Can Tell No Tales – would have a post-war theme.  I knew very little about The Railway Man,  the Dallas Buyers Club or Philomena other than that they had great acting performances by well-known actors. And I threw in two comedies to break the tension – The Grand Seduction (Directed by Don McKellar) and Bad Words (Directed and starring Jason Bateman of Arrested Development fame}.images-1

It was somewhat surprising to me that all the dramas were based on real events.

The characters were fictional in some, but the events were real.  In three of the movies,  the main characters were people who had actually existed and struggled with torture, illness or were horribly mistreated in other ways.

In all the films – even the comedies – someone was wronged. The wrongs varied from being lied to or manipulated to having their child taken away from them but they all revolved around people who  suffered some badwordsrepercussions of having been wronged by someone else.

The dilemma for all the protagonists, that was the force that became central to the film,  was how to deal with the past.  How do you interact with your abuser?  How do you overcome being a victim? Do you look colin-firth-the-railway-manfor revenge or do you give in? Ultimately,  do you forgive?

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It all came together for me in the last five minutes of those seven movies when Philomena elects forgiveness.  Without giving away the story, she confronts someone who has wronged her badly, ruined her life, in fact. Her companion is angry and wants an apology or some sort of revenge.  But Philomena quietly says something like this. “Yes I have something to say to you. I forgive you for what you have done to me.”

Her angry friend is astounded and asks “Is that all you are going to say? Is that it? Just that simple?

Philomena responds with (and I paraphrase – the screenwriter found just the right words to make it powerful)  “It was not simple. It was very difficult. But ultimately i could live with hate in my heart and be miserable. Or I could forgive.

QUAD_PHILOMENA-1024x768In the other films, the victims responded with everything from trying to get even, to exposing the others for their evil ways, to forgiving in one way or another.

Is this a choice we all have to make at some point?  Will we burn ourselves up with anger, rage and the need for revenge or can we honestly forgive on some level and move on.

The movies I saw at TIFF 2013 not only entertained me last weekend, they gave me lots to think about. I just may have also learned some valuable life lessons.