A Toasty Cold War

I went into Cold War hoping to receive some limited salvation from this abysmal year in movies at the hand of Paweł Pawlikowski, the director of Ida, one of the best movies of the last 10 years.  Something, maybe, to eke out at least a Top 5 of 2018.  No such luck.

The problem is that despite the magnetism of the femme fatale Joanna Kulig, the movie is a narrative jumble, especially in the latter half as transitions from one stage to the next seem unfounded and disingenuous.  I wasn’t entirely buying the love story at the heart of the movie either — the chemistry did not work 100%.

I BLAME AMAZON

For all the narrative issues, I blame Amazon, not the director.  Bezos didn’t stick his fingers in Ida, and the result was a lot better.

The dreaded square-frame-for-no-reason rears its ugly head again too.  It was not at all distracting here, but unlike with Ida, it did not seem to add anything either.  Nonetheless, I liked the singing, I liked the music, and I liked the dancing.  All very nice.  There were some luminous moments to be certain.  And the star’s magnetism throughout, even if she’s a bit spoiled.  The post-war Polish setting provided some edification as well.  And finally, maybe I’m giving someone too much credit, but I think there’s a clever double entendre with the title as a cherry on top.  7/10

Comparison Notes: the aforementioned Ida4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 DaysLa Dolce Vita, Barbara, Wings of Desire, Under the Skin, A Star Is Born (2018), La La Land, Leviathan, Blue Valentine

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VOD Log: Roma

Netflix does Roma a tremendous disservice by releasing it simultaneously to its own streaming service and theaters.  Yes, I see that it officially was released in a highly “limited” way to theaters beforehand, but that does no good for people who live in such far-flung locations as San Diego.  By releasing in that way, it very well assures that the only way realistically to watch it is at home.

Which is a shame, because of all the films of 2018, Roma is the one that perhaps most of all needs to be seen on a big screen.  There are many sweeping long shots with lots of small detail that are absolutely miniaturized on even a 4K 55″ set as mine is.

A MOVIE SHORT-CHANGED BY NETFLIX

Roma′s visual depth is one of its strongest features, despite being in black and white — this is a very cinematic film.  But I can only go by my viewing experience, which was handicapped.  That, and trailer perjury — there is no Pink Floyd in the movie — knocks Roma, as seen at home, down to as many as two pegs from where it might otherwise have been.  One thing it does is reaffirm why I go to the movies.

Having said all that, the movie did hold my interest, and I liked a number of the scenes.  Roma had a good, almost Iñárritu-like flow to it, and even on my small screen the visuals were conveyed, though tamped down like so much pipe tobacco.  7/10

Comparison Notes: La Dolce Vita, Wings of Desire, Bicycle Thieves, La Cérémonie, The Housemaid

Film Brief: Seven Days in May

Seven Days in May - poster

Seven Days in May (1964, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas) was probably a fine ‘thriller’ in its day, but it has not aged as well as James Bond films of the same era.  Still though, a polished piece, and Rod Serling’s script helped to keep me engaged throughout the TCM airing.  Recommended for those interested in Lancaster and Douglas at their prime, the subject matter or movies from that period.  6/10

Altman Biopic on Epix + Color Nebraska

Altman poster - medium

As someone who pays through the nose for cable TV, yet does not receive any of the “premium” movie channels such as HBO, Epix is one of the few channels that offers uncut HD movies.  Sundance and IFC used to, before becoming trash-hounds, so it’s down to little more than Epix and TCM.

Which is not the worst thing, since both offer good programming on occasion.  I caught some of the Epix-exclusive biography Altman the other night.  I think Robert Altman was very much a hit-or-miss director, making such essentials as M*A*S*H and The Player [prior post], but also the forgettable, horribly overrated Gosford Park.  I’ve not seen most of his work, but his filmography — including TV shows and shorts going back to the early ’50s — is impressive to say the least.

Certainly this documentary reminds us that he was a prolific director heavily involved with movie production over the span of six decades, and as such a leading and prominent figure in Hollywood.  From what I saw, I recommend Altman for those interested in film production, Robert Altman’s movies or the man himself.

Nebraska in color - text block

In other Epix-related news, the network Sunday night aired last year’s Nebraska in color.  Didn’t we learn a lesson with the Ted Turner colorization efforts?  I caught some of it, and must say: what a disaster.  It’s remarkable how much you lose by adding color.

A check reveals this interesting tidbit from Variety:

[The director Alexander] Payne had previously said that a color version had been made for specific television outlets in countries such as Moldova and Sierra Leone in which television deals had “only color” stipulations, though he had hoped that no one would ever see it.

That’s a good one.  Moldova and Sierra Leone.  God forbid we offend the audience’s expectations in Moldova or Sierra Leone.

* * *

On an absolute scale, Nebraska still works in color, especially with the muted palette employed by Payne.  But having seen it in its original contrasty black & white, I have to ask, why?  Epix claims on their Facebook page that airing of the color version was a one-time event.  Let’s hope so.

Something unexpected came out of all this: seeing a bit of the movie (even in color) reminded me of its staying power, and made me realize that I have a fondness for it that did not come to me upon my initial viewing.  I then stated:

… it was reaching for the kind a philosophical depth that came easily to the Lynch feature [The Straight Story].  I have to believe filming in black & white was also part of this strategy, and these attempts seem a bit forced.  The film mostly fails to achieve that extra dimension it desires.

I think I was a little too harsh.  Nebraska is an understated, charming little movie with memorable performances and a storyline just punchy enough to fit its players and theme.  As such, I am upgrading my 6/10 rating to 7/10.  Which is to say, just outside of the Top Ten of 2013, and about on par with Dallas Buyers Club.  Just make sure you watch it in black & white.

Nebraska - trailer screen capture

Film Brief: The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes - poster

The Lady Vanishes (1938) was the penultimate film Hitchcock made in England before moving to the U.S., was a big hit at the time of release, and has a 97% Tomatometer score.  So as a Hitchcock fan who has not seen much in the way of his early films, The Lady Vanishes - still largeI was expecting good things.  What I found was a film with a decent measure of mystery and drama, mixed in with a lot of silliness.  By today’s standards, there’s a good deal of cheese to be found aboard this train.  But it’s all good fun.

The Lady Vanishes may be seen as a precursor to both Hitchcock’s later and greater works, and to a number of contemporary films, most obviously Jodie Foster’s Flightplan.  My recommendation: if you’re a Hitchcock fan and have seen a good number of his works, you will probably find this one worthwhile.  But if you haven’t seen much Hitchcock, skip this one in favor of his timeless, latter-era classics.  6/10

Ida’s Ode to Joy

Ida - still 1

Not that any of the characters are joyous per se.  This is 1960’s Soviet-Bloc Poland, after all.  But the main characters do seem to float above the fray.

Now you might assume that a movie under this setting would to some extent be about the oppression of life under communist rule — think 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Barbara for recent examples on this theme.  But Ida could almost just as well have been set in France or Italy — communism is not essential to the story at all.  Indeed, Ida is not about oppression, communist or otherwise.  Rather, it is about uplifting light.

Ida - still 2This movie has received universal praise and holds a 95% Tomatometer score.  Dana Stevens, Slate:

There’s an urgency to Ida’s simple, elemental story that makes it seem timely, or maybe just timeless.

Godfrey Cheshire, writing at RogerEbert.com:

Riveting, original and breathtakingly accomplished on every level, “Ida” would be a masterpiece in any era, in any country.

Every frame by beautiful black & white square frame captivates in Ida.  A joyous movie; second-best of the year so far, behind only Under the Skin.  9/10