Film Brief: Hacksaw Ridge


Hacksaw Ridge was directed by Mel Gibson, whose last two features were the remarkable milestones The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto.  By comparison, this latest work ten years later falls short.  It is overlong and a little sappy, but also does a decent job telling a compelling true WWII story with a bonus romantic set-up.  An extra serving of caveats to go with my marginal recommendation; 6/10hacksaw-ridge-text-block

Comparison Note: Saving Private Ryan


Film Brief: Best of Enemies

Best of Enemies - poster

Best of Enemies is a good documentary, but not a great one.  Based on the production values alone, I might render a thumbs-down, but the content lifts it, and, by the end of the film, we realize it was all something of a sad affair, as both men pass on in bitterness.  I’m not sure exactly how to have made the film better, but showing more of Buckley and Vidal duking it out might be a good start.  Still though, if you like the trailer, you’ll find this worthwhile — and good for a few hearty laughs.  7/10

Comparison Note: Frost/Nixon

A Tome upon Mr. Turner

Timothy Spall and Dorothy Atkinson

Timothy Spall and Dorothy Atkinson

Mike Leigh’s tale of Britain’s greatest painter begins awkwardly and has its share of deficiencies, but upon the artist’s first visit to the seashore the movie grabbed me and didn’t let go until the end of its 2 1/2-hr. run time.  A number of amateur critics are calling Mr. Turner, to paraphrase, an abominable bore, but I disagree.  As I said, I was held quite nicely.  But the film did not take advantage of the subject matter to the extent it should have.

Specifically, Leigh failed to convey in a superlative way the ethereal beauty of JMW Turner’s paintings, the live scenes that caused their inspiration, and Turner’s experiences in those scenes; in nature.  Instead the focus is more on Turner’s personal life and his impact on those close to him — and the movie is excellent in this regard.  My problem is that the movie should have been able to handle both parts of the story with equal agility.

I have cogitated upon the matter, and Mr. Turner earns a solid 7/10.

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Comparison Notes: The English Patient, Howard’s End, Only Lovers Left Alive

Film Brief: Selma

Selma poster - med

Like Lincoln, Selma represents something of a missed opportunity by focusing on one critical stage of the Civil Rights movement instead of opening the scope up just a bit.  Unlike Lincoln, Selma is a good movie, strong, compelling, and even Selma - text blockmasterful for a long stretch.  But the final third or so gets a little draggy, and the film ends in a relatively anticlimactic way that does not do justice to history.

And I hope it doesn’t sound petty, but why does a movie which practically demands some sort of opening credits have none?  I’ve commented on this trend before, and I once again found it unnecessarily irksome.  In spite of this annoyance, Selma still gets a 7/10.

Film Brief: The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game - posterQuite good, old chap.

With a general knowledge — or so I thought — of Britain’s efforts at WWII codebreaking, and my taste for UK period pieces sated by The Theory of Everything, I had no desire to see The Imitation Game.  The steady drumbeat of the Tomatometer convinced me otherwise.

Marketing of this film points toward a simplistic anecdote about one part of the British war effort, but this is more an account of the complex man who drove it.  As such, layers and an arc of story likely bring The Imitation Game into the ever-tightening Top Ten of the year.  8/10



Life Itself – A Perfect 10 on CNN

Life Itself - posterI had thought to promote on this blog CNN’s airing last Sunday night of the year’s 2nd-best film Life Itself, but I assumed it would be riddled with commercials.  I should have checked that, because as far as I can tell they presented it commercial free.  With a running time of 121 min., my only concern is that it was shown uncut within its 2-hour time slot — hopefully nothing more than end credits were shaved off.

CNN will rebroadcast the film this Friday at 6 & 9 PM Pacific Time.  Try to watch or DVR this special movie; view a Times article on CNN’s presentation here.

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Sunday night I wasted a good portion of the evening with the abysmal revamping of Celebrity Apprentice, and missed all but the last minute or two of Life Itself on CNN.  And I was reminded of what a special movie it is.  It’s special because of the extraordinary life of Roger Ebert, and because it does a great job documenting that life.  I think it’s a deeply profound and emotional film, and an important one, and a timeless one.

Life Itself - CNN - text block

Therefore I am upgrading Life Itself to 10/10.  It’s a documentary, but so what.  It’s better than any other film — save one — that was released in 2014.  Or 2013 or 2012, for that matter.  So watching for free courtesy of CNN is a pretty sweet deal.

The Theory of Everything: A Big Bang

The Theory of Everything - poster large

If Eddie Redmayne does not win the Best Actor Oscar, it’ll be a shame.  His portrayal of Stephen Hawking is one for the ages.  What makes his performance so remarkable is that Hawking was a normal — if brilliant — walking, talking, athletic, and romantic guy — until his disease struck.  And The Theory of Everything - text blockthe disease worked progressively.  Redmayne’s ability to track the gradual development of the effects of the disease while delivering a dead-on characterization of Hawking is remarkable, a sight to see and The Theory of Everything’s greatest strength.

Extraordinary was Redmayne’s performance, but the movie less so.  The performances besides Redmayne’s are all excellent, but the filmmakers were unable to articulate its material into the great film for the ages it might have been.  There’s too much yippity-yap attempting to explain Hawking’s science in an unsatisfactory, overly lay and cutesy manner.  However, the focus is, smartly, squarely on the personal life of Hawking and his wife.  The deficiencies on Hawking’s professional side detract from the film, but hardly enough to ruin it.  Overall very good.  8/10