My wife took my daughter to Kentucky to visit her family this week. As anyone who has been in a long-term relationship can tell you, sometimes it's nice to be left alone. I love my family dearly and now that I’m at the tail end of their absence, I miss them madly, but it's been kind of cool to relive my bachelor years. For me, this has mostly meant watching lots of movies and TV shows. In the nine days they’ve been gone, I’ve watched 11 movies and caught up on about half a dozen shows. Here's five of them.
The nice thing about living the single life for a week is that I got to watch anything I wanted to without having to make sure it's appropriate for my daughter and that my wife is interested. Once they took off, I immediately started watching horror films. The best of which was The Conjuring. Directed by James Wan, it tells the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators most famous for investigating The Amityville Horror house.
Here they investigate another “real life” haunted house. Most haunted house stories follow a familiar pattern. A nice family moves into an old home. They begin to hear strange noises, the furniture starts to move on its own, the horror increases. Eventually, investigators are called in, a final battle is had, and things go back to normal.
The brilliance of The Conjuring comes from making the Warrens major characters from the beginning. They become fully fleshed-out characters rather than some thinly designed experts who save the day. We see them investigate other cases, always skeptical, proving that most houses aren’t truly haunted. Because we know they are based on actual people, their continual presence gives the film a more realistic feel.
There are several really good jump scares but what elevates The Conjuring from so many other haunted house films is that it takes time to develop its characters and it permeates the story with an eerie mood and creepy feeling throughout.
I watched several other horror movies, but none of them frightened me nearly as much as Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan’s film about the evacuation of Allied troops from France is a harrowing account of war.. It tells three stories from different perspectives - in the air, on land, and on the sea - from three different time frames that eventually converge at the film’s climax. It does a great job of putting you inside the soldier’s boots making you feel like you are there. My heart was pounding as the Axis war planes dropped bombs on the soldiers sitting like ducks on the beach, and during the dogfights in the air. But when the boats began to sank and the film placed me inside watching the water quickly rise with no escape, I was terrified.
I follow film directors. More so than actors, writers, producers, or anyone else involved in filmmaking, the director has the most control over the movie. As I say that, I realize that I’ve gone a bit slack in keeping up with new voices in cinema. I’ve written in these pages before how having a child has kept me from going to the cinema very often over the last six years. Couple that with year-round blockbusters filing up the local cinemas while pushing out smaller, more independent movies, and it's become increasingly difficult to keep track of interesting directors who aren’t pushing out franchises.
Recently, I’ve gained access to more films via more streaming services. As my daughter has reached an age where she is more independent and less in need of constant attention, I’ve tuned into more sources clueing me into more interesting films than I’ve been able to watch in a long time. Guys like Damien Chazelle, Denis Villeneuve, and Jeff Nichols are all part of a new wave of filmmakers putting out films that aren’t exactly invisible (they’re films have been nominated and won numerous awards including several Oscars) but neither are they house hold names.
Whiplash was directed Chazelle and it won JK Simmons a much deserved Oscar. His performance as an intense (to say the least) music teacher is ferocious. It's a great film, prompting a lot of interesting discussion about to what extremes one must endure to achieve greatness. Between Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle has proven himself a director worth noting.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about writing this article every week is that it's shown me trends in my own pop-culture consumption. If you go back and read all my articles, you will find that I am absolutely correct when I wrote that I follow directors. Those directors I mentioned above (Jeff Nichols, Dennis Villeneuve, and Damien Chazelle) have all been mentioned in these articles before. I discovered them within the last few months and I continue to watch all of their films. No doubt you’ll see more of them in future articles.
I actually watched two films from Villeneuve this week - Prisoners and Sicario - but it's the latter I enjoyed the most. It stars Emma Blunt as a young FBI agent who is enlisted by Josh Brolin into a Federal taskforce sent to aid in the drug was on the U.S./Mexico border. Brolin’s character is a good-ole-cowboy who believes the war can only be won by matching force with even more force even if it oversteps the law. Blunt is more straight-laced and must make decisions about how far she’s willing to go to advance her career and help the cause.
Both actors are quite good but it's Benicio del Toro who steals the show. He plays an advisor to the Americans who may have his own personal agenda to contend with. It's a terrific performance and reminded me of just how good an actor he is.
After watching Charlize Theron stylishly kick ass in Mad Max: Fury Road, I was excited to see her do it again in Atomic Blonde. Unfortunately, the story of that film is a muddled mess and stuntman turned director David Leitch is a far cry from George Miller when it comes to creating exciting action scenes.
That’s not to say it's a bad film, I wouldn’t be talking about it here if it was. It's got several really fun stunts, a throbbing musical score, and it certainly looks cool. It's a film I would have completely adored in my twenties. But now that I’m in my 40s, it felt like it was missing a little something. It's well worth a watch, especially if you are into stylish films about hot girls who kick butt.
A New Cat
A few months back we had to put our cat to sleep. Her kidneys were failing and there was nothing we could do about it. We’d had her for twelve years. It was a really hard thing to do. Much harder than I had imagined. It broke my heart.
But now we’re ready to move on. I’m not really sure why we decided to get a new cat right before my wife and daughter took off for a week but we did. She’s a sweet cat and she’s been keeping me company while everybody else is gone. We named her Tegan after the Doctor Who companion. I think she’ll be a good one.