Monday, December 31, 2018

Movies Since Last Time

L.A. Confidential (1997). Yes, Mike Dennis. Again. When things need put right in the world and I don’t mind if a few rules get bent, this is my go-to movie.

The Post (2017). There’s enough material here for two really good movies. Unfortunately, this is neither. It’s not bad, but the story of Katherine Graham’s decision to fully take the reins of the Washington Post deserves a film of its own, as does how the New York Times and the Post broke the Pentagon Papers story. Putting both together only broke
up each story’s momentum as it was getting going. Meryl Streep was brilliant, as always, and the supporting cast was solid, led by Bob Odenkirk. Tom Hanks—who I usually love—stepped all over his role as Ben Bradlee, never quite deciding whether to use an accent, or which to use. He started out in a hole—I’m sure even people who knew Bradlee remember him as looking like Jason Robards if they saw All the President’s Men—so Hanks would have been better off plying it straight. (Speaking of All the President’s Men, OBAAT wishes calm seas to the late William Goldman, who may have been the greatest screenwriter ever.)

Hickok (2017). Jesus Christ is this a bad movie. I don’t mind historical inaccuracy—I revere
Deadwood—but, damn, make it entertaining and at least have it fit in with the history of you’re going to use its façade. Luke Hemsworth plays the shortest Wild Bill Hickok in history. (Think Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher except Cruise actually pulled it off.) The dialog is shitty, the action timing is off, and the continuity is inconsistent. (Hickok’s badge disappears and re-appears as he walks across the street. Another character’s wound magically moves from leg to leg.) This film’s primary virtue is its brevity, coming in at 88 minutes.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) The Coen Brothers meet Netflix, which means no studio interference. This sequence of six vignettes—essentially a collection of short stories—sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t, on multiple levels. Dead End Follies does a much better job than I have space (or talent) for here, but suffice to say the little stories told herein are the kind that will stay with you. It’s a film that has made more of an impression on me than I thought while watching it, and isn’t that what a truly outstanding movie (or book) should do?

The Ice Harvest (2005) Too often overlooked when crime fiction aficionados discuss Christmas movies, this adaption by Harold Ramis (director), Richard Russo, and Robert Benton (screenwriters) of Scott Phillips’s novel hits every note while maintaining perfect balance. John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton play affluent losers who rip off mob boss Randy Quaid. Dark humor abounds and the plot twists are more like elisions so everything remains believable throughout.  

Elf (2003) Relatively recent but still a holiday classic. Will Ferrell plays a mix of sweet and naïve without being stupid, James Caan is just hard enough that you can believe his transformation at the end, and Zoey Deschanel is (as The Beloved Spouse™ puts it) as cute as she wants to be. Made for kids but a good choice for an hour and a half where you can just turn off the stress and be entertained. The special features on the making of the film are first rate, too.

Big Trouble (2002) This movie flew under the radar and lost a fortune, probably because of the timing of its release. (Originally scheduled to come out right after 9/11, pushed back into early 2002 because of terrorist plot overtones.) Based on Dave Barry’s novel, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black) and featuring a top-rate cast that includes Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Dennis Farina, Tom Sizemore, Janeane Garofalo, Ben Foster, and Zoey Deschanel (among other recognizable faces). The Beloved Spouse™ and I discovered this as one the added trailers in the special features of The Ice Harvest. Laugh out loud funny throughout.

Die Hard (1988) Because, Christmas, man.

Mississippi Burning (1988) Not as compelling as when I first saw it in a theater, but maybe
that’s because I’m hip to a lot of things I didn’t know then. This is the kind of film we all need to watch periodically, as it makes its point with a minimum of preachiness, letting the conditions tell you everything you need to know. Interesting point: The “interviews” with locals used actual people from the area and were largely ad-libbed. This cause director Alan Parker some discomfort, as he was never sure when they were “in character” or telling him what they actually thought. This was in 1988. They’re out there, folks.


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Elgin Bleecker said...

Dana – You nailed the problem with THE POST. Mixed feelings about MISSISSIPPI BURNING, but it did bring the Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner case back into the news for people who either forgot it or never knew it. And, I agree with you on L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Great movie. Elroy modeled Bud White on actor Sterling Hayden in CRIME WAVE, a movie I reviewed here: