Monday, September 11, 2017

7 Days in May | A Monster Calls and Holmes vs Ripper

A Monster Calls (2016)

Heartbreaking and thought-provoking. It's easy to understand what the characters are going through, but there are depths to the way the film tells the story that I haven't fully worked through. Lots of symbolism and since the movie is about the complex emotions of grieving, it invites me to dive into those and that takes some processing.

Lovely performances, too, especially by Lewis MacDougall and Sigourney Weaver. And Toby Kebbell's likable, but complicated role makes me even more impressed that he's also Koba in the new Planet of the Apes trilogy.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Diane and David hadn't seen this and wanted to. My opinion on it hasn't really changed from the first time I saw it. I don't care much about the US Wizarding World and the plot of Fantastic Beasts is pretty light. I'm bored for most of the movie, but by the end I find that I really like the characters played by Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, and Alison Sudal. It's not a great movie, but I'd be willing to give a sequel a look just to spend more time with those three.

Murder by Decree (1979)

We came back from Britain with a list of movies to watch. One of which had to be Sherlock Holmes trying to catch Jack the Ripper. Christopher Plummer looks the part of Holmes (though with poofier hair than I'm used to), but he's more emotional than Holmes should be. That's fitting for the seriousness of the real-world case he's trying to solve, but it doesn't feel like a real Holmes story. And it doesn't help that most of the clues are handed to Holmes by informers rather than his solving the case through observation and deduction as he should.

James Mason is a wonderful Watson, though, and it's always nice to see young Donald Sutherland, even when his role doesn't actually contribute anything to the story. And I like the theory about the Ripper's identity. This isn't the only time I've seen that particular theory put forth, but the other times are all in things that came out after this one.

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

Another '80s movie to show David. I don't know that we'd call it politically correct by today's standards, but it's so kindhearted that it's impossible for me to pick at it. Very funny.

The Hustler (1961)

Watched this in order to also watch The Color of Money. I've only ever seen it once before and had forgotten almost everything about it. So, like the first time, I went into it expecting it to be Rocky with pool and was shocked by how it so not about pool or even winning. At least, not about winning pool. It's about how we define winning at life and what we're willing to sacrifice to do it. Very powerful with great performances by an all-star cast.

The Color of Money (1986)

Like The Hustler, it's easy to go into The Color of Money with the wrong idea of what it is, but it's a mistake to approach it as Top Gun with pool. It's not about Vincent's (Tom Cruise) rise to dominance in the game; in fact, despite Cruise's being a major star already in 1986, Vincent isn't even the main character. Appropriately, that's still Fast Eddie (Paul Newman). Vincent is just the catalyst that sparks the change Eddie's going to go through.

There's a lot to like about The Color of Money. The way it shoots the movement of the balls is amazing and beautiful. Everyone's doing a great job acting (special shout out to Forest Whitaker in a small, but vital role). And it's a good, emotionally satisfying story. But I don't like it as much as The Hustler, because it doesn't play fair with Eddie.

The Hustler is about Eddie's redefining his life goals thanks to the tension provided by his relationships with Sarah (Piper Laurie) and Bert (George C Scott). Because of how that movie ended, Eddie can't really play pool for cash anymore, but Money reveals that he's managed to stay connected by staking other players in games (taking a percentage of their winnings).

That's all cool, but the disappointing bit is that he seems to have unlearned the dearly bought lesson of The Hustler and has basically become Bert. Through his experiences backing Vincent, he relearns what's really important to him, but I hate stories that reset the main character and have them undergo the same journey again (see also: Captain Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness and the entire series of House).

Money is just different enough that it doesn't feel like a total cheat, but I feel like we're missing the middle part of a trilogy. Still, it's an expertly made movie and it feels right at the end.

Double or Nothing (1937)

A minor Bing Crosby movie in which he and some other characters compete for the inheritance of an eccentric millionaire. They're each given $5000 and the first one to double it gets the whole shebang. Of course, the millionaire's family are there to work against them. It's a cookie-cutter plot, mostly there to hang musical numbers on since the various money-making schemes usually involve singing and dancing. And there's an unconvincing romance between Crosby and the dead millionaire's niece. But I very much enjoyed the end and the specific way in which Crosby outwits his opponents.

Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937)

Pretty good mystery in which Drummond has to solve a series of puzzles in order to find his kidnapped girlfriend. The puzzles go on a little longer than I'd like, but they're mostly good ones and I've grown fond of these characters the more Drummond films I watch.

Heidi (1937)

Shirley Temple is always awesome and this is a classic that I've never seen, so I decided to finally fix that on the film's 80th anniversary. I get why people have liked it: it's Shirley Temple doing what she do, but in a series of fantastic settings. It's mostly an infuriating movie though where everyone acts either stupidly or despicably to keep the story moving. If I want to see Shirley Temple charm old curmudgeons (and I do!), I'd rather re-watch Bright Eyes or Captain January.

The Shadow Strikes (1937)

My first Shadow movie. Really my first Shadow story in any medium, but I'm familiar enough with the character to know that this isn't a faithful version. And it's kind of ridiculous.

The Shadow is stopping a robbery in a lawyer's office when the police show up. Rather than getting caught as the Shadow, he changes back to his civvies and claims to be the lawyer. But while he's doing that, he gets a call to come change the will of a millionaire. It's a case of mistaken identity that leads to a murder investigation when of course the millionaire winds up dead. There are billion chances for the Shadow to remove himself from the situation, but he never takes them. He's too interested in the tomfoolery, the mystery, and the millionaire's daughter. Lamont Granston (sic) is a pudgy, swashbuckling playboy with a pencil mustache in this version. If you're willing to forgive all that though, it's kind of fun.

Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)

In the '30s, all the major horror stars liked to put on yellow face and play Asian crime-fighters. Why should Warner Oland have all the fun? Boris Karloff famously played Fu Manchu, but he was also detective Mr Wong in a series of five films. And I thought I remembered Bela Lugosi's doing it, but I must have been thinking of his playing a villain who was also named Mr. Wong in The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934). Peter Lorre got into the action with the Mr. Moto series.

Acknowledging the problems of these movies (Brian Camp has a terrific essay covering the trend), the Mr. Moto series is my favorite of them. I wish that he could have been played by an actual Japanese person, but the character is cool and complex. I love the kindly, humble, and whip-smart Charlie Chan, but Moto is deviously cunning and even long after I've figured out how he operates, he manages to surprise me with his loose morality and shady tactics. He's endlessly fascinating.

In Thank You, Mr. Moto, he's on the trail of a series of maps that lead to lost treasure, so there's an Indiana Jones quality to it, too.

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