Sorry I’m a little late with the Five Cool Things this week. I have plenty of stuff to talk about, so it wasn’t a lack of things that kept me from it. I started writing about them yesterday afternoon, got a few entries in, and took a little break. Various things happened and that break became a long one. The local TV station plays classic Tom Baker Doctor Who stories every Friday night and me and the family have made that a thing we do together. We fix a big bowl of popcorn and watch it upstairs in my bedroom.
It's one of the highlights of my week and it was a story I’d not seen and a good one (I’m sure I’ll write about it next week). I fell asleep right in the middle of it. This week wasn’t as long or as stressful as many of the previous weeks of late, but I guess it really wore me out. I was only out for maybe 15 minutes before the daughter woke me up due to some extemporaneous snoring, but rather than giving me rest the catnap only served to tell my body that it needed a full night's rest. So after the show I decided the Cool Things could wait and I hit the sheets for real.
And now I’m up and ready to talk.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s latest is another stop-motion animated film about talking animals. When a dog flu breaks out in Megasaki City, Japan the authoritarian dog-hating mayor banishes all canines to Trash Island. Looking for his dog, Spots, the mayor’s adopted son Atari flies to trash island and enlists five dogs to his plight. What follows is a very Wes Anderson adventure across the island to both find the lost dog and get the dogs returned to regular life.
It isn’t quite as delightful as The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but after one viewing it feels like there is more depth. As with most Wes Anderson films the screen is filled with the minutest of details making one want to immediately watch it again but this time look to the edges of the screen to see what was missed.
The Cat Returns
This year's Studio Ghibli Fest continued with the fairly slight, yet still pretty wonderful, The Cat Returns. I’d not seen this one before so getting to catch it on the big screen was nice. You can read my full review here.
Steven Soderbergh didn’t invent the independent film but his first movie sex, lies, and videotape helped usher in the '90s independent boom. I was a teenager when it came out in 1989 but I remember the buzz. I also remember watching the first ten minutes of it on pay-per-view back when they used to show you the first ten minutes of films before scrambling it out in hopes you’d get hooked and pay for it.
I watched King of the Hill in college when Bravo would become The Independent Film Channel on Friday nights and show indie movies. I was mesmerized by that film. I was later blown away by Out of Sight. That was the first DVD I ever bough back when I thought I’d only buy classic and cool indie movies on DVD.
Anyways, the point being I was a big fan of Soderbergh and his really cool independent style. I was excited when I heard he was making Ocean’s Eleven, a bank-heist film with some of the biggest actors at the time. I was quite disappointed when I actually watched it. Soderbergh made lower budget, independent films that were quirky and interesting. Ocean’s Eleven was a big-budget, star-studded extravaganza that to my burgeoning cinephile heart was slick, cool, and without a soul. I hated it. I never watched any of the sequels and honestly, I kind of lost my love for Soderbergh. His next film, Full Frontal was way back into his independent film mode. He let the cast do their own hair and make-up, it was very improvisational with very little in terms of production value. It also sucked. It was a total bore.
I liked Solaris pretty well, but it wasn’t up to the standards I had originally set for him and after that I stopped paying him much attention until he quit film and made The Knick for Cinemax. I’ve since gone back and seen quite a few of his films that I’d skipped before and rekindled my romance with him.
So I decided to give Ocean's Eleven another go. I liked it a lot more this round, but it's still not even close to my favorite Soderbergh film. When I first saw it, I was disappointed because it was not the sort of film I had come to expect from him. I wanted a stylish, interesting film that felt like nothing else being made at the time. Ocean's was full of style, but it felt very much like all the other slickly made blockbusters at the time. I supposed it was the hipster in me that hated Soderbergh for selling out. But with all these years under my belt now, and a complete loss of hipsterism, I can sit back and enjoy the film for what it is, not be diappointed in what it isn’t. Soderbergh was making a blockbuster. It's a light, meaningless film that skates by on its stars and its effortless cool. For that I can dig it. I can laught and let it wash over me without caring that its pretty forgettable once the credits roll.
Andrei Rublev, Andrei Takovsky’s 1966 masterpiece is set in Medieval times, was shot in black and white and is in Russian. It's about a famous icon painter who is really only famous in Russia. We never see him paint. For the back half of the film, he takes a vow of silence. In several of the episodes, he hardly even appears. The timeline is disjointed which can be disconcerting. Very little actually happens.
It is not a film that on paper looks to be very interesting at all. And yet, I call it a masterpiece. It is not a film one watches in a traditional manner. It isn’t a story that has a beginning, middle, and end that flows naturally. It doesn’t follow along traditional paths.
Rublev is a monk living in difficult times. He sees great violence, invasion, torture, and slaughter. Famine and hardship. His faith in God is challenged and lost, then regained again. How does an artist live in such times? How does he create?
These are questions Tarkovsky no doubt asked himself, living in Communist Russia during the heart of the Cold War. His films, including this one, had difficulty finding audiences. It wa shown just once in his homeland before being banned, and didn’t make it into wider release until many years later.
It is a film to be mulled over and pondered. It is beautiful and sad. Harrowing and uplifting. It is long and difficult at times, but well worth it.
The Handmaid’s Tale
I think this is the fourth time I’ve written about The Handmaid’s Tale in these articles. I guess you could say I love it. I watched the first season in stunned silence. I was a little apprehensive about what they would do with Season Two as it would be leaving the confines of Margaret Atwood’s book. It also appeared at the end of Season One that June might actually be escaping and I wondered if they could make it as harrowing with her on the outside. The first two episodes dropped this week and all I can say is "wow!" That first episode is intense, gripping, and powerful. I don’t know if my heart can take having to wait another week to get the next episodes.
2001: A Space Odyssey
For its 50th anniversary, they are releasing Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece into select theaters in its original 70 mm print. I don't imagine that it will come anywhere near me but I'm jealous/excited for all those who will get a chance to see it. They released a new trailer for the occasion this week and it looks awesome.