Five Cool Things and Christopher Robin

This week's five things include some classic rewatches and a few new things as well.
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I gave up Filmstruck to order Hulu so that I could watch the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale.  I like Hulu.  They’ve got some great TV shows.  Their movie selection however is mostly crap.  Netflix has been slack of late in their movie selection as well.  Let’s not even talk about Amazon for the moment.  They all have movies, good ones even, but you have to wade through a lot of junk to get to them, and I’ve now seen most of the ones I want to see.  Or at least the ones I want to see right now.  

What this means is that I skipped the streaming services this week for my movie fix and went straight to my DVD/Blu-ray collection.  Watched some older movies that I love.  And here we have them.

Raising Arizona

For many years, I considered Raising Arizona to be the funniest comedy ever made.  It has since fallen a few notches (and now I don’t even consider it the funniest comedy the Coen Brothers have ever made) but it is still uproariously funny.

I’d not watched it in many years. Tuesday is date night and my wife and I were both crazy tired so I wanted to throw on something enjoyable that I didn’t have to think about.  It's surprising how much of the script I have memorized. I was automatically quoting half the lines in perfect unison with the actors.

It's amazing how assured the Coens were at this point. This was their second film, the first under any sort of studio with any sort of money.  It is very confident filmmaking.  Already, they had solidified the Coen Brothers style with perfectly placed camera set-ups, dialogue that isn’t exactly appropriate for the characters but is full of flourishes, and a dark sensibility mixed with ironic humor.

You can definitely see the lower budget in it as it doesn’t look as clean and beautiful as their later films, and the script isn’t quite up to their usual perfection.  But it remains a joy to watch.

The Shining

shining_nicholson_2.jpgStephen King hates Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his book The Shining.  He says Kubrick got the meaning all wrong. He says Jack Nicholson was completely wrong for the part.  In the book, his Jack Torrance slowly goes unraveled due to the strange menace of The Overlook Hotel.  In the film, Nicholson’s manic grin makes him look half crazy from the start.

King isn’t wrong. At least not about Nicholson.  His performance is well into the cuckoo zone from the start.  All the performances are strange.  Kubrick famously drove Shelley Duvall nearly to the brink of madness.  He made her do scenes over and over and over and over again (the scene on the stairwell with the bat holds the record for most number of takes  - with a total of 127).  Her performance shows the strain.  And the kid who plays Danny comes across as the strangest little boy you’ve ever seen.  It's all intentional as that seems to be what Kubrick was going for.  The off-kilter performances just add to the overall eeriness of the film. 

It is a very strange and eerie film.  Kubrick’s clinical style mixed with King’s ideas create some of the most iconic and disturbing images ever put to a horror film.

It isn’t his best film, and I’m not always sure that I love it, but I keep returning to it every few years engrossed with its strangeness and puzzling over what it all means.

The Avengers

the avengers.jpgThe Avengers is the first MCU film I saw in the theaters.  When Iron Man came out in 2008, I’d already grown tired of comic book movies.  But a friend of mine wanted to see it, and I was craving a boys' night out and so I went.  I won’t say I loved it, but it was a lot of fun.  It even turned me in the direction of liking the sort of spectacle event movies Marvel has perfected over the last decade.  I’ve since seen all the MCU films and I’m still a long way from being a total fanboy, but I dig them.  The Avengers remains one of my favorites.

I’d actually not seen it all the way through since that first time, but I had some credit at the local used video store and my daughter told me I should put down the Criterion version of Solaris and purchase The Avengers instead.  I did and we watched it and it was great.  It's amazing how well they put together all these characters (some of whom we are seeing for the first time) into one action-packed little movie.  It's also kind of amazing to see how young everybody looks and how not-quite-fleshed-out the characters are.  But mostly it's still a blast watching them banter with each other and smash up the bad guys.

Doctor Who - The Deadly Assassin

doctor who - the deadly assassin.JPG

Tom Baker’s Doctor, sans any sort of companion is called back to Gallifrey.  Before he gets there, he sees a vision of someone assassinating the President of the Time Lords.  He hatches a very Tom Baker/Doctor Who scheme to stop the plot, but finds that not only can he not stop it, but that he’s been framed for the murder himself.

To solve the mystery of who actually is behind it all, he latches himself into the Matrix - the Time Lord super computer thingy that has all of the histories of their species in it.  Inside contains one of the most daring sequences in all of Classic Who.  The Doctor is being hunted by a masked man across a desert and into a jungle.  There are shades of The Most Dangerous Game and North by Northwest in the mostly dialogue-free sequence and it's all staged most marvelously.

I won’t give away more plot details, but will say this is an episode that finally gave us a greater glimpse into the world of the Time Lords, showing that it is full of all sorts of political intrigues and class warfare and that Time Lords are not the all-knowing, all-powerful people we thought them to be but rather a bunch of difficult, sometimes selfish creatures that behave more human-like than they’d ever admit.  All while creating one of my favorite Doctor Who stories yet.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo_A_Star_Wars_Story_Theatrical_Poster.jpgWe really didn’t need a Han Solo origin story.  Harrison Ford created one of cinema’s most iconic characters and there was really no reason for us to see how he became that guy.  But we got one anyway.  It's mostly good.  It can sometimes feel like it's just checking off boxes - Han meets Chewbacca, Han plays a card game with Lando, Han flies the Millennium Falcon - and its back half slows the paces way down.  It also struggles making Han a good guy while at the same time wanting to keep him the rascal we find him to be in A New Hope.  But I’ll be darned if I didn’t have an great time watching it.

Its first half is a big roller coaster ride of excitement.  Han runs from place to place using his skills and wits to get out of one jam after another.  It doesn’t expand the Star Wars universe as much as it digs deeper into it.  I loved the all-too-brief scenes where we see some of the bureaucracy of life under the Empire.  Han is trying to leave his home planet but has to pass through check points and watch recruitment videos.  We watch him enlist into the Imperial Army and fight in a battle he doesn’t believe in.  I loved seeing the nuts and bolts of the Empire and it made me really hope Disney gives us a film outside of the main stories they’ve been telling so far, showing us how regular folks live.

It definitely has its flaws, but there is plenty in Solo: A Star Wars Story for fans to love.

Christopher Robin

I’ve never read any of the Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne but I’ve seen so many of the movies and cartoons as to lose count.  When my daughter was just a toddler, we used to watch Pooh’s Grand Adventure over and over again.  I’d put it on when she was cranky and it would always cheer her up.  It cheered me up too, as it is a much better movie than the straight-to-video release would make you think it would be.

Those characters are such a part of our culture and my childhood that even though I really don’t have a lot of specific memories of any one story, I still feel a great kinship to them.  The trailer for the new movie just dropped and it looks delightful.  It stars Ewan McGregor as Milne who, in a very Hook-like plotline, has allowed his work life to distract him from the things that really matter.  It will be up to Pooh Bear, Piglet, Eeyore, and the rest to make him remember who he is.

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