Weekly Movie Reviews: Sep 3-9, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Diner (1982)

Diner follows a group of five friends in their early twenties as they struggle with the transition into adulthood. It is set in Baltimore in the late ’50s and stars Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser and (an unrecognizable) Mickey Rourke.

I feel like every decade has its own “group of friends dealing with becoming adults” movie (e.g. Singles for the early ’90s) and this is the one for the ’50s. The characters and the issues they’re wrestling with are instantly recognizable, even if the culture around them isn’t as familiar. In one way or another they’re all rebelling against their new responsibilities and the maturity expected of them. It’s nice to see that some of the problems people associate with millennials aren’t unique, other generations faced them too. I read that the cast had some time to get to know each other before filming began and that many of the scenes were improvised. That really comes through in the movie; their camaraderie seems so genuine.

I’m surprised that this Diner isn’t talked about given how good it is (although I did find a great article about how influential it is; if it can turn Nick Hornby into a obsessive fanboy, it has to be pretty good). Apparently this is one of four films written and directed by Barry Levinson based on his time living in Baltimore. I’m looking forward to seeing the other three.

Other Movies Watched

Working Girl (1988)

Secretary Tess McGill has been trying to improve her career prospects with little success. She’s put herself through night school, she’s suggested good ideas to her bosses, and she works very hard, but nothing has worked – in fact her boss Katharine has stolen her idea and passed it off as her own. When Katharine breaks her leg skiing and is out of commission for a few weeks, Tess takes the opportunity to steal her idea back by pretending that she is an executive.

The premise of this movie is similar to the Michael J. Fox movie The Secret of My Success that came out a year prior, but this one is much more of a drama. Tess comes from a blue collar background and she’s struggling to break through the glass ceiling that people that come from a more privileged background don’t seem to realize even exists. Melanie Griffith as Tess annoyed me a little bit because I thought she needed to be more assertive but I realized that that was exactly the point the movie was trying to make. Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver are great as the supporting characters as well.

The Parent Trap (1961)

When lookalikes Sharon and Susan meet at summer camp, they take an instant dislike to each other. Eventually they realize that they are twins – their mother and father divorced when they were young and took one child each. They decide to switch places so that they can get to know their other parent better and hopefully persuade them to get back together. Hijinks ensue.

This movie has a silly premise but it’s actually really good. Hayley Mills does a fantastic job at playing both twins, it’s easy to distinguish which character she’s playing except for when she’s trying to make herself indistinguishable for the plot. I liked the actors playing the parents as well, they have great chemistry and what should have been a clichéd reunion actually seems convincing – you’ve seen them without each other and they just don’t seem fully there until they’re together.

Free State of Jones (2016)

Free State of Jones is based on the true story of Mississippi farmer Newton Knight’s rebellion against the Confederacy during the Civil War. It follows Knight’s story over a few years, starting with his time as a Confederate soldier and ending a while after the Civil War.

This movie almost felt like a documentary or dramatization, it skipped over most of the dramatic scenes that a movie would ordinarily focus on. Matthew McConaughey does a good job playing Newton but he’s treated more like a heroic archetype than a real person, I can’t think of a single flaw in his character. The movie also intersperses the story of Davis Knight, Newton’s great-grandson who was prosecuted under Mississippi’s miscegenation laws in the 1940s, and I didn’t really see the point of that, it took me out of the main story.

The East (2013)

Jane (Brit Marling) is an operative who works for Hiller Brood, a private intelligence firm that caters to wealthy corporate clients. She takes on an assignment to go undercover and join a radical eco-terrorist organization that has been targeting companies they perceive as unethical. She finds herself growing attached to the people she meets and more compelled by their cause than she would like.

I think the best way to describe this movie is “almost great”. There is nothing wrong with it, it’s got a compelling premise, a solid cast who portray three-dimensional characters, it approaches a contentious topic without too much melodrama, but I kept feeling like something was missing. Maybe it’s because we see the movie through Jane’s eyes and she is not very interesting as a character, she mostly just observes what’s happening. I also found the ending rushed and what had been a nuanced movie until then suddenly morphed into a perfectly neat ending.

Greedy (1994)

The McTeague family has been trying to stay in their Uncle Joe’s good books throughout their lives, but even more so now that he is aging and might soon leave money to them. Their hopes are dashed when a young and pretty girl becomes Joe’s “caregiver”, so they hunt down Daniel McTeague, Joe’s estranged grandson. Daniel hasn’t seem his family ever since he was a kid but quickly gets pulled into their games, especially since his career as a professional bowler is ending and he needs money.

This is another one of those comedies where Michael J. Fox where he gets himself into trouble and has to extricate himself from it through a series of antics. Unlike his other movies though, this doesn’t have much heart. There are some funny moments but it’s mostly just an over-the-top comedy that doesn’t really care about characterization. It was entertaining but I’m never going to want to watch it again.

Man of the Year (2006)

When comedian and television talk show host Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams) decides to run for President as an independent candidate, he doesn’t expect to actually get elected. Meanwhile programmer Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) who works for the company that developed the electronic voting machines used for the election discovers a flaw in the vote counting mechanism – which means that Tom is not actually the legitimate President-elect.

I wanted to like this movie, it’s got a great cast (Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum are in the movie too) and it’s written and directed by Barry Levinson, who did Diner (reviewed above), Rain Man, and Good Morning Vietnam which are all excellent. It just wasn’t very good, though. It tries to be both a comedy and a thriller (with doses of drama and romance) and it’s jarring to switch between Tom making jokes to Eleanor running for her life. Robin Williams does his best with the material and elevates the movie a little but even his jokes aren’t consistently funny.

A tangential note: it was interesting to watch this movie in light of the last presidential election since Robin Williams plays an independent candidate who people vote for because he’s populist and not a career politician. I also wish the media actually gave independent candidates screen time like they showed in the movie.

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