Things I Saw in December

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Girl on a Train (2016): This was inspired by the best-selling book from last year, a lot of hype went into it. Emily Blunt is terrific as the alcoholic woman who was scorned by her husband but is now obsessed with a missing girl, as she tries to remember an encounter she had with her while inebriated. So many talented actors pop up in very small supporting roles, you wonder what was the point in having them, but it does make this rather predictable and shoddily shot film bearable to sit through. Forgettable, but Blunt is a great actress. 2 stars out of 4

Green Room (2016) This film goes along with “Don’t Breath” and “The Invitation” as sort of a 2016 trilogy of claustrophobic small spaced horror/thrillers where someone is trying to kill someone else, and they’re trapped. “Green Room” is probably more thriller and less horror, though it does have that sense of dread that something bad is about to happen. It has a sense of humour about it too. When a scene is set up that is so spine chilling, you don’t want to look, you know they are doing a good job. I’m really enjoying these sub-genres, they remain tightly made with good story telling and great performances. 3 stars out of 4

Star Wars: Rogue One (2016): I nice installment into the “Star Wars” franchise. I know I complain that I grow tired of franchise movies always looking the same, but this one directed by “Godzilla” director Gareth Edwards had its own unique look to it. Unlike J.J. Abrams Spielbergesque/Nostalgic aesthetic in “The Force Awakens”, this one looked less familiar. “Star Wars” is known for their spaceship dog fights, but one hasn’t been filmed quite like this, also the ground battles have a uniqueness of their own as well. The characters remain stock clichés from old war movies most of them, but with a b-movie mentality like this, it didn’t bother me. They also played around with the idea of the Force being the of a kind of faith which really hasn’t been explored in this much depth before. One of the best blockbusters of the year. 3.5 stars out of 4

Loving (2016): The second film of the year by one of my favorite newer directors Jeff Nichols after his sci-fi gem “Midnight Special”. This is a more traditional material based on the true tale of the Lovings, an interracial couple who were arrested for being in a mixed marriage, but during the civil rights era changed that law. Nichols never makes this film into your normal bio pic but realizing the Lovings themselves were very low key, keeps things modest and tender like they were to each other. Joel Edgerton is quite affecting and subtle with his depiction of Richard Loving, while Ruth Negga is a pillar of quiet strength playing the wife Mildred. A loving film in every sense of the word. 3.5 stars out of 4

Detective Story (1951): Sort of a lost classic that isn’t talked about enough, this day in the life of a police detective bureau is an absorbing crime drama, and also an interesting character study. Kirk Douglas stars as a dedicated police detective who only sees crime as black and white, that is until his wife becomes involved with an important case he’s been working on. Pretty soon his flaws and prejudices start to show through. While this main drama is going on, there are plenty of smaller dramas happening throughout. Lee Grant is particularly effective as a purse snatcher who seems fascinated with being in a police station, and William Bendix is the voice of reason as Douglas’ seasoned partner. Famed director William Wyler frames his film realistically showing his actors in their natural environment, and affectively using deep focus cameras that he mastered with his film “The Best Years of our Lives”. This is a great film. 4 stars out of 4

No Way Out (1951): This film couldn’t be more relevant today, in one of his earliest roles, Sidney Poitier plays a black doctor who is accused of murder after the brother of a racist criminal (Richard Widmark) dies in his care. The film doesn’t hold back too much on the effects of racism in the fifties, especially in depicting race riots and their aftermath. Poitier is the perfect everyman trying to clear his name while also trying to stop any hateful violence to occur on account of him, while Widmark who was pretty well typecast as psychopaths back then plays one of the most hateful racists in film history, which is a great testament to his talent when you actually feel a bit of sympathy for him in the end. It doesn’t get above being too preachy here and there, but it still stands above some modern films as a realistic depiction of racism in America. 3.5 stars out of 4

Fourteen Hours (1951) One of those films that follows one incident on a single day. This one depicts a man who is threatening to jump off a building, until the police and everyone gets involved to try to talk him down. Paul Douglas plays the traffic cop who is first on the scene and Richard Basehart is the man on the ledge. The two form a bond as things like that happen in films like these. The action moves from the event on the ledge, to the public watching down below. Director Henry Hathaway keeps the tension moving, and the action rising, plus some great support by Agnes Moorehead who plays the batty mother to Basehart. This was also one of Grace Kelly’s earliest roles, which was interesting to see. 3 stars out of 4

La La Land (2016) So much to love in this film that has audiences at an uproar, this feels so close to what we really want from a movie musical, a love story, engaging stars, memorable dance numbers, and that classic Hollywood feel that is so often missed in movies today, often evoked for nostalgia’s sake. My biggest criticism to modern musicals these days is we never really get to see the choreography of the music most of the time; cameras jump around, cutting from the faces to the feet, with no real intention, it becomes maddening. “La La Land” avoids this thanks to Damien Chazelle’s masterful technique, showing bodies in motion, either moving in a traffic jam, or in a magical Hollywood street with two love birds always letting the actors motivate the camera movement, it was just so nice to see, this is from someone who was born to make musicals. I would say the music is more abundant in the first part of the film, and it fades to the background as it becomes a more realistic story of a relationship, but returns in triumph for the finale taking a cue from the famous musicals of Stanley Donen and Vincent Minnelli. The film remains a love letter to Hollywood musicals, but it doesn’t become nostalgic for nostalgic’s sake. It flirts with the idea that the tried and true traditional musical can still have a place in a world that is trying to be modern, but it’s also the tale of two artists who are deeply in love, but also in love with what they do, realizing they can’t have everything. There is so much to admire here, namely the direction and the two leads who are really truly movie stars, yes the hype is real I think so see it already. 4 stars out of 4

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