Friday, February 28, 2014

Wrapping it Up: February 2014

Another month, another wrap-up post full of this month's viewings. This 25th Edition of Wrapping it Up is a historic event for one more reason. At the start of this year, I said that I expect my monthly viewing to go down a bit this year and I will be OK with that. Last month, I was somehow able to keep up with the usual pace of 20. However this month proved my suspicions true. With only 15 movies, this is slowest movie-watching month I have had since I started recording this stuff two years ago. Given the fact how hectic normal life and day job was in first three weeks of this month(You may have noticed, no posts at all this month till Blind Spot couple of days ago), I fully expected it and am actually surprised I even got to 15.

But that's enough of it. Let's talk movies!


Miller's Crossing(1990): Call me stupid, call me naive but I never thought any film would give No Country for Old Men(2007) run for it's money as my favourite Coen Brother's film. I've liked many of their other films but none as much to contemplate it dethroning NCFOM. Knowing Coen's, I should've known better. Interesting thing is, multiple instances where this one reminded me of No Country, whether it was because of the similarity in settings, in story-lines, in looks or in mood, is probably the principle reason why I think I liked it as much as I did.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire(2013)I personally don't think second book was better than first one but film does a good job of not deliberating on stuff that bogs down the book i.e. everything leading up to the capitol. It might be the new director who got rid of all the shaky cam or actors getting a little more grip of their characters or might be the source material which is just more suitable for given format or combination of all three but end result certainly was better than first one. It almost has me excited for last one.

Nebraska(2013): I have seen all of Payne's films except the very first one he did and I at least like them all. Nebraska was no exception. It was the surprise winner on the day of nominations but it has emerged as my favourite of those 9 now. Payne did not write this for a change but he is master of digging deeper into characters that are imperfect, vulnerable and even pathetic seem very likable, very real. He does it here as well and as every other of his films, that is it's biggest win.

August: Osage County(2013): I think I would have liked it even more if it wasn't that bitter or if there was at least one sane person in the whole family that you can relate to but then that would probably be like missing the whole point of film. Maybe their father was such person and maybe that is exactly why he left. Not to say that I did not like it. I like it way more than I expected, mainly thanks to all the performances but it's such a bleak story that you want to run as far away from them as possible. 

Hot Fuzz(2007): I Love first part of Cornetto trilogy, Shaun of the Dead(2004), and was really interested in the last one The World's End(2013). The only problem was I had never got around seeing second one. I knew they are not super connected or anything but it just didn't feel right. So one fine Sunday, I sat myself down and checked them both out. This one may not be as good as first but sure is a hell lot of weird fun. Something tells me I will be retuning to it many times.

The Game(1997)(Re-watch): I always forget how much I like this film and then fell in love with it all over again when I see it. I am making it sound like I have seen it a dozen time or something. It's actually only my third time but I only saw this for the first time last year and then again when I actually moved to Sunnyvale, CA. This film has a rare distinction of making me love a city I have never been to. And when I did, I made it a point to go to that street where Sean Penn runs away from Douglas after he finds all those CRS keys in his car.

Short Term 12(2013): I had heard a lot about this film, especially about performances, and I will have to agree with that. Brie Larson, who got attention for her role, is certainly deserving of all the praise but so is almost everyone in the cast. Another standout for me was Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden. I am not completely sure how I feel about Grace going out of her way to Jayden's house and doing what she does but apart from that, I was completely into it till end. 

Enough Said(2013): Like most others, I obviously saw this for Gandolfini. He certainly was really good and so was Julia Louie-Dryfuss. They had good chemistry together and it came off very naturally. It also was about two middle aged people getting in a relationship, something that you don't see often in movies and Holofcener certainly needs to be credited for that. I probably would've liked it more though if it didn't cast Catherine Keener who looked completely uninterested or if it didn't feel repetitive in the middle.

How Green was My Valley(1941): 67th Oscar winner and this month's Blind spot was yet another success. I did not expect it to, certainly not as much as it did and initially it did look like I might be right. For me, it falls into Ordinary People(1980) category(or it might be more apt to say other way around) as films that get bad reputation because of the films they won over but if we keep the comparison aside and look at them objectively, they are actually good films by themselves.

The World's End(2013): I already told you that I was quite excited about checking this one out. Pegg and Frost were obviously back but with additions like Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine, cast looked good, premise was completely up Wright and Pegg's alley and I was having quite a bit of fun with it. But then it went too far. I like the idea of introducing the aliens and they have done great job making fun of such things in previous two but they went little too extreme for my taste. I think I will be ok with watching it just once.

Mississippi Burning(1988): I had heard a lot about this film even before watching it and was intrigued as well as dreaded it. I agree that most of the black folks in this film are nothing more than set pieces but I don't think they could've been any more given the structure of story. Now you can find faults in structure, which I might as well agree, since it is in the end 'white men to the rescue' story. There were many good things to admire in this film but in the end, that structure even left me with a bad test in mouth.

Iron Man 3(2013)(re-watch): I have no idea why I saw this again. Not like I loved it the first time but I was just sitting in front of TV and it was on. That's it! Now that I think of it, this might be the only film I have seen twice in he year of it's release. Certainly only one since I started blogging and although there are others, I am pretty sure that number is not in double digits. It might be shocking for many but I have very few re-watches. So this happens very rarely!

Philomena(2013): With this one, I have not only seen all the films nominated for best film Oscar for second year in a row but this might be the first time I have seen every single film nominated for top 8. Once again a film driven by one leading performance which was actually really good. As for the film, it was good but I didn't find it great. It was very sweet and nice but that's it. One thing I was very happy about though was Coogan kept himself in check. I can't stand that man for too long.

Saving Mr. Banks(2013): I can only wish I liked the film as a whole as much as I liked Emma Thompson. I think the problem here was my aversion to source material, Mary Poppins(1964). P.L. Travers was a total bitch to everyone at Disney and we were supposed to feel sorry for them. However none of that worked for me in the film. So, for me, they deserved to be treated the way she was treating them. So I was left with almost no character to root for, even those from her past .

About Time(2013): Sometimes you want to watch something that won't have you pick your brain at all. Since there is so much I really want to see, I rarely do that. I always feel my time is better invested in something with better returns but this one was a good watch for the mood I was in at that time because it is sweet and innocuous but falls apart completely the moment you go into logic. I can't call it a good film by any standards but I don't regret watching it either. I only wanted an easy-going film and I got exactly that. 

Total Count: 15. 13 First Time Watches and 2 Re-watch .

2014 YTD Count
Total Count: 35. 32 First Time Watches and 3 Re-watches.

Saving Mr. Banks will be my last official 2013 film. I certainly wish I had better reaction to the last film of last year but I have had enough of it now. With 70 films in the bag, month of March or better part of it will be dedicated to wrapping up 2013. Next time I will talk them will obviously be Oscar nominations but after that I will get into my lists of favourite male and female performances followed by Films. Given my schedule, I expect them to be done by mid-March which shall leave me free to watch everything else. As much as I loved 2013 as a year in films, it is kind of liberating to have much more choice. See you on the other side of the Oscars! 

So, how was your month? Did you see anything interesting? What do you think of the movies I saw? Any favorites?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February Blind Spot: How Green was My Valley

There are many films, especially those made decades earlier, where their reputation, good or bad but mostly bad, usually precedes their presence in pop culture references than anything that actually concerns film itself. And more often than not, these films are only remembered for all the wrong reasons for no fault of their own. My choice for this month’s blind spot, 1941’s Best Picture Oscar winner How Green was My Valley(1941) – ‘the film that beat Citizen Kane(1941)’ – is one such film. In February, all of us are in the high pitch Oscar fever with ceremony just a few days away. Since last year, I have been trying to get through all the Best Picture winners and hence, I thought it will be a good idea to choose past winner for this month. Last year I did the same thing with The French Connection(1971). I am continuing the trend this year with How Green was My Valley.

This is a story of Morgan family, 1 BIG family, leaving in one small village in South Welsh at the start of 20th century. Like many small villages, most men in village have one business. In this case, it is coal mining. Morgans have six sons and one daughter, Angharad . Their youngest son, Huw, is our narrator and protagonist. Their father and all five sons work in collieries.  Being a small and close-knit community that most villages like this are, Father Morgan is not only the patriarch of Morgan household but also a well respected, authoritative person of the community. Their daughter is the most beautiful face in the valley and their sons are voice of youth, young, dynamic leaders of tomorrow. What we get for two hours is this family, and subsequently everyone around them, going through uncertain phase of their life.

We see them going through workers strike that their father vehemently opposes but has to participate for the sake of whole community. We see them trying to live through consistently dropping wages but increasing risks and in case of Angharad who falls in love with Mr. Gruffydd, their local priest, but has to marry son of mine-owner because he thinks he will not be able to provide for her, we see whole community turn on to them for something she herself strongly opposed. However when it comes to Huw, family has high hopes for him. At least their father does; he has seen what collieries can do to man and very capable, hardworking men like his other sons. He doesn't want his eldest to go down that gutter as well and is visibly upset when Huw decides to follow their family tradition. Mother, on the other hand, seems quite contend with him following their father's or brother's footsteps. "If he could be as good a man as his father or his brothers, I will be fine with it", she says. There are many occasions when she says something like this, very simple and practical, and I love that about her.

I tried not to go into this one with too many preconceptions. In this case, it was slightly easier since only thing almost anyone talks about it is being ‘that’ film. It almost doesn’t exist beyond that but I will admit I wasn’t super excited about it either. And first 15 minutes confirmed my belief. It might be that I am watching too many 2013 movies in the past few months that theatricality of a 1941 film bothered me a bit initially. Not like I have that problem every time I watch a classic and I do watch fair amount of them but it was bit jarring this time around. It also could have been that voice over narration which felt bit too on the nose. I was almost certain then that I will just have to slog through this one. I was going to take this as a sort of dress rehearsal of what I expect majority of my 19 remaining Best Picture winners will be.

But then, something unexpected happened! As I kept going through it, I get more and more into it. That voice over narration disappeared almost completely. It appears here and there till the very end but not to the point of my initial annoyance. I got used to the type of acting and was even able to see beyond it. By the end of it, I was completely into it to the extent that I kept praying for Father to be well in the end from the second alarm blares over that valley. I credit most of this to its screenplay. What I find most interesting in it, apart from turning me around completely on it, is how much it manages to put in it in those two hours. There are almost too many characters for it to handle - 6 sons, their daughter, parents and few other add-ons like Bronwyn, their daughter-in-law, and Mr. Gruffydd, local priest. But it manages to give almost every one of them enough screen time to warrant their existence and at the same time keeping it easy enough to follow.

It is also funny that even though my favourite part of the film was screenplay, it was also the only department I had problem with. I like everyone in their respective roles, I like the direction, I also like how Ford makes it look like. But I really don't have much to say about any of them except it was good. Screenplay is something I have already praised for it's depth but I will go into couple of loose ends here as well. Movie starts with that voiceover narration I've already talked down. In it Huw talks about finally leaving the valley after 50 years. When it ends, he couldn't be more than 15. So what happens over the rest of 35 years that is worse than what we have already seen that makes him leave? I don't get why would Ford put that bit at the start if rest of film has no intention answering it. I don't want dwell too much on it since, as I said, I quite like this film but it was something he could have easily avoided.

So let’s address the elephant in the room – How does it measure up against Citizen Kane, Mecca of films? Let me make two things clear first. One, I have only seen Kane once, about three and half years ago, so the only thing that I remember about it is what’s Rosebud? Absolutely nothing else! So yes, it is highly overdue for a re-watch which brings me to my second point. Based on that first watch, I am not that big fan of it. Hence it never was high on my list of re-watches. My reaction to it was somewhat similar to that of Joey and Rachel’s(That’s a Friends(1994) reference for you. Go, figure!). I might have rendered my opinion useless after that preamble but at this point, I actually do prefer this one over Kane. And if you know your Oscars and your Citizen Kane, you would know that it was always going to be impossible for it to win. If there is anyone to blame here, blame Academy for making that decision; ‘tis the season after all!
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