Thursday, January 22, 2015

Movies Since Last Time

It’s been a while since I passed judgment on any movies. I was busy and didn’t see many for a bit, then saw several during a time I already had more blog posts than I needed. Not that anyone cares. I didn’t even care, but I felt some introduction was needed. This was it.

Fed Up (2014). A (mostly) well done documentary of the insidious effects of sugar on Americans’ diets and politics. Hard to say which is more disturbing: the secret addition of sugar to virtually all processed foods, the misleading labeling, or the industry’s ability to pay Congress to gut any regulations or policies that might cost it money? (Actually, the worst isn’t mentioned in the film: how much of the money they pay Congress with came from us in the form of sugar and corn subsidies.) As with most documentaries, it works best when presenting its evidence matter-of-factly. Afterward I couldn’t say whether I was more angry at the shameful politics, or depressed over the knowledge of why my best efforts to lost weight have failed. On the down side, choosing three overweight teens as anecdotal examples—which seems to be de rigueur for news and politicians alike—forces one to wonder how representative these examples are. Still, far more reasonable—and, therefore, affecting—than anything by Michael Moore.

Jerry and Tom (1998). Interesting film, great fun in spots, clever idea, great cast, and good lines for them to speak. Still, not quite all there. Joe Mantegna plays a hit man whose straight job is working at a sleazy used car lot, where he’s breaking in Sam Rockwell as the new guy in both areas. Maury Chaykin owns the car lot, and Charles Durning is the senior sales/hit man. Victims include Ted Danson and Wiliam H. Macy. I thought I’d like it more, but the primary conceit—a comedy about hit men and their work—didn’t hold up for me, as the movie found it too hard to catch all the right tones. Maybe I’m getting old. Or growing up. Damn, I hope not.

The Skeleton Twins (2013). Saturday Night Live alumni Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader in as depressing a movie as one is likely to sit through. Wiig and Hader play estranged twins who try to reconcile after he attempts suicide. While they have their moments, neither has enough likeable qualities for the viewer to care whether they live or die. By the end, when Wiig weights herself down and jumps into the deep end of a swimming pool, Hader miraculously knows not only that she’s attempting suicide, but exactly where she is. (Twintuition, I guess.) By that time I was hoping she’d drag him down with her. (Yep, that’s a spoiler. I did you a favor.) The only character worth caring about is Wiig’s husband (Owen Wilson), who is given short shrift and shuffled off when they don’t need him anymore.

Fargo (1996). An unequivocal thumbs-up, which was why I watched it. If not the Coen Brothers’ best, it’s in the top three, with Miller’s Crossing and Blood Simple. Often misunderstood—it is not a comedy, except in the blackest sense of the word—the accents aren’t meant to portray the locals as rubes, but as a community, which, with the exception of Jerry Lundegaard, has pretty much figured out how life works, for both good and bad, and has to find a way to deal with events so far removed from anything they could have expected. A classic.

Night Moves (1975). Gene Hackman plays Harry Moseby, a retired pro football player working none too successfully as a PI. Hired by an aging never-was to find her missing daughter (the 16-year-old has been missing two weeks before she bothers to call anyone, and no one thinks anything of that), Moseby juggles a case that flits from LA to New Mexico to the Florida Keys in a plot that only Harry seems to have to fly commercial for; everyone else just appears wherever they’re needed. Hackman is joined by a solid supporting cast: a very young James Woods, Jennifer Warren, Ed Binns, and a too-brief appearance by Kenneth Mars. Too bad the plot doesn’t hold up, and so much of the dialog is the “adults acting out as though confused children” bullshit that became popular in the 70s.

Sabotage (2014). Lots to like about this one, but it doesn’t quite hold together under anything like close inspection. I won’t say what, as they’re potential spoilers and the movie is definitely not a waste of time if you’re into action flicks. Arnold Schwarzenegger is more subtle than usual, and, hey, he’s Arnold, so you kind of have to like him. The character is a departure for him, and he pulls it off relatively well as the leader of an elite team of undercover DEA agents who tried, just once, to rip off a DTO (“Drug Trafficking Organization; we don’t call them cartels anymore”). The heist goes bad, the team is suspended for six months, then they start turning up dead in grisly fashion about the time they get back together. The plot is twisty enough to be fun, but holes were left where logic would become inconvenient.

Chicago (2002). Another classic, pretty close to perfect entertainment on multiple levels. On the surface, one of the great song-and-dance movies ever made, with a great score by John Kander and brilliant lyrics by Fred Ebb. Pay even a little attention and it’s a scathing satire of American media and justice that hasn’t changed much since the 1920s. Who knew Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere (who steals every scene) could sing and dance? (Okay, CZJ has won a Tony since, but who knew it then?)


pattinase (abbott) said...

FARGO both the movie and the TV series are favorites for me. I liked THE SKELETON TWINS more than you but only just. Loved CHICAGO>

Peter Rozovsky said...

I liked Fargo, as opposed to some other Coen brothers films that I've thought clever, which is what the Coens want me to think.

By coincidence, I've just put up a blog post about two movies that starred Gene Hackman. Night Moves--now there was a movie that had no time to waste on subtlety in its references and self-references.

Timothy Hallinan said...

I loved "Inherent Vice," the funniest movie I've seen all year -- sort of a stony cross between "The Maltese Falcon" and "Beat the Devil," in that all three movies have amazingly vivid characters, beautifully acted, and are very much aware that they're movies.

Doug List said...

Can't believe you didn't like "Night Moves." I think it's a great film. Love Hackman, the existential attitude, the vagueness of the storyline and everything about Melanie.... And, adults do act out as if they are children, still.