Things I Saw in December


Lucky (2017): One of the best films of the year and a wonderful swan song for the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton who passed away mere weeks after this film was released. Stanton plays an aging man named Lucky who, after feeling faint, and taking a fall comes face to face with his own mortality. Lucky goes through a daily routine of staving off death such as doing yoga exercises and walking around everywhere he goes to maintain his health, but the moment hits him that death hits everyone. This isn’t as morbid as it sounds. The film is goes through the daily routine of Lucky’s life as he interacts with local townsfolk, arguing, and philosophizing with them. David Lynch has a memorable role as Lucky’s best friend, and gives the most heartfelt monologue about a turtles of all things. Directed by character actor John Carroll Lynch who is probably most notable as the suspected killer in “Zodiac”, or Norm Gundersson in “Fargo”. Stanton was a very special character actor appearing in bit parts from “Cool Hand Luke” and “The Godfather Part 2” to lead roles in cult films like “Paris, Texas”. He should be given more awards attention for this film, but maybe not enough people have seen it. For me I loved what it said, and how it said it, it’s pretty much perfect. 4 stars out of 4

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) The latest from writer/director Martin McDonagh, who’s “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths” remain two of my favorite films of the past ten years. This film stars the great Francis McDormand in a powerful performance as a mother who rents out three billboard signs that blame the local police for the brutal rape and murder of her daughter. Like McDonagh’s past work, this film is not afraid to go to dark places, but is also able to bring some very dark and politically incorrect humour to the proceedings. This film is so full of anger, yet it tries to find a certain moral ground to these characters even the most despicable kinds such as the violent deputy portrayed by Sam Rockwell. Containing some of the strongest writing in a film this year, along with terrific performances by pretty much everyone. McDonagh remains an underrated director, here’s hoping this film brings him more to the mainstream. 3.5 stars out of 4

Twin Peaks Season 3: The triumphant return of one of the most groundbreaking television shows in history. 18 episodes directed by David Lynch, his first time behind the camera since “Inland Empire” in 2006. This is a direct follow-up to the premature cancelled cliffhanger that left the series stranded for 25 years. We now see Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McClaughlen) escape from the black lodge, while his evil Doppelganger (McClaughlen again) wreaks havoc in his place. It’s never a straight line when it comes to Lynch, and as the original series did so many years ago, this one isn’t afraid to go experimental. The 8th episode in particular, which is mostly silent and filmed in black and white is something that I don’t think has ever been attempted in television before. Conventions are thrown out the window, expectations are subverted, but the original show’s themes of good versus evil ring through leaving us wanting more but fulfilling everything we come to expect from David Lynch. 4 stars out of 4

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The latest in the juggernaut blockbuster picks up where “The Force Awakens” left off. This bold installment to the “Star Wars” saga attempts to attack the themes and the characters we have held so dear for so long and flip them on its head. Writer/director Rian Johnson attempts to deconstruct the “Star Wars” mythos which was founded on conventional archetypes, fairly tale-like story telling, and Flash Gordon movie serials. Instead of going to that well which served the original trilogy so well, Johnson attempts to create a new foundation to build this new world on. I found this to be a fresh approach and something I wasn’t expecting. The film is strong especially when focusing on the character relationships of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The film isn’t perfect and sometimes meanders, but I couldn’t help but admire some of the choices it made. 3.5 stars out of 4

A Christmas Carol (1938) An atrocious version of the classic Charles Dickens tale. This sugared down, ultra sweet take on the Scrooge story takes out all of the danger, darkness, and redemptive powers that made the original story so timeless. Reginald Owen is very unmemorable as Scrooge and the rest of the cast make no great impression. MGM apparently didn’t want this film to be too scary in order to attract a family audience. It barely runs over an hour. Somebody somewhere decided to give this a “mild-classic” status but stay away from it and stick with Alistair Sim, Bill Murray, or The Muppets for your Scrooge of choice. 1 star out of 4

Arthur Christmas (2011) An animated gem from the studio that gave us “Wallace and Gromit”. I had heard of this film before, but I had never seen it. It’s a charming story of when Santa Claus forgets a Christmas present for a child, and it’s up to his Christmas Spirited son Arthur to save the day. The film has a very nice message about the modernization of Christmas taking away the heart and soul, it’s also very funny for all ages, worthy against any modern Disney or Pixar film. The ending got me a little misty eyed. 4 stars out of 4

Born to Be Bad (1934) A short quick early film which starred Cary Grant before he came into his own. This one deals with a con artist mother (Loretta Young) whose son is taken into a wealthy family, but once there, the mother tries to get the son to steal from them. Grant plays the wealthy man who eventually falls for Young’s character. This is a bit of a wishy-washy soap opera and this kind of story has been done better in other films, but the performances make it watchable. 3 stars out of 4

People Will Talk (1951) A very odd, and strange film. Cary Grant stars as a University medical doctor who meets a young girl. When the girl finds out she’s pregnant, she tries to kill herself since she doesn’t know who the father was and I guess feels disgraced. Grant tricks her into thinking she’s no longer pregnant and falls in love with her. While this is going on, Grant is also being investigated by his university for misconduct. He also has a strange old man following him around whose identity is revealed to be the key as to why Grant’s character is such a wonderful person. I didn’t really buy this film as a drama or a comedy it tries to be. Grant’s character seemed very unbelievable. This was the written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and was the follow-up to his Oscar-winning classic “All About Eve”, but I wouldn’t really put this in the same category. However I found this film so odd, it became almost enjoyable. 2.5 stars out of 4

Kiss Them For Me (1957) An effective World War II dark comedy. Taking place in 1944, the film stars Cary Grant as a soldier who takes a four-day leave to New York with his two buddies. Part of their excursion is also meant as a promotional tool since the three of them are seen as war heroes, however they want nothing to do with it, they mostly want to party fast, drink till their drunk and fall in love with beautiful women. What surprised me about this film is how it doesn’t shy away from the effects the was has on the soldiers, Grant’s character is obviously suffering from some sort of PTSD, and it isn’t afraid to address it without being heavy-handed. The film was directed by Stanley Donen who made the more light-hearted musical about soldiers on leave in New York called “On the Town”. Unlike that film, this was a box office bomb, but it’s no wonder, it feels like a hidden classic. There are many funny moments in this film, it almost feels like a precursor to MASH. The one glaring mark against this film is Grant’s leading lady played by Suzy Parker who isn’t much of an actress. Parker was mostly known as a model, and she just isn’t suited well for the moments she is asked to be dramatic. Other than that, this is a hidden gem. 3.5 stars out of 4

Hi, Mom! (1970) An avant-garde social satire film starring Robert De Niro in one of his earliest roles. Directed by Brian De Palma, De Niro plays a Vietnam veteran who pitches to a porn producer the idea of filming through his window of his apartment to his neighbour’s windows. This makes him want to seduce one of his neighbours while filming it. After that falls through, he then becomes interested in a black experience theatre group. For anyone who enjoys experimental filmmaking, especially from the 1970s, you should enjoy this. De Niro is very well cast as a disenchanted army veteran who is trying to find some meaning in his life. The scene where the black theatre group takes a group of white people into their black experience is one of the most darkly hilarious scenes ever with a very clever punchline. 4 stars out of 4

T-Men (1947) A wonderful film noir about a group of treasury department officers going undercover to expose a counterfeit money ring. The black and white cinematography in this film is some of the best I’ve ever seen making look very contemporary and exciting. The one drawback is the old-fashioned narration which plagues the film a little too much. However the hard-boiled performances, stylish direction, and dynamic cinematography make this a film not to be missed. 3.5 stars out of 4

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