Weekly Movie Reviews: Dec 3-9, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Paper Moon (1973)

I’d been wanting to watch this movie ever since I read about Tatum O’Neal winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for it when she was 10 years old. My husband and I are both fans of the precocious-young-girl-meets-cantankerous-father-figure trope so I knew we’d like it before we watched it.

9-year-old Addie Loggins’ mother has just died has no local relatives. Conman Moses “Moze” Pray (who was involved with Addie’s mother and may be her father) is convinced by her neighbors to drive her to her aunt in St. Joseph, Missouri. Along the way, Moze discovers that Addie is a natural at conning people and soon they become a successful con-artist team. Paper Moon is not about the cons, though; it’s about seeing the relationship between Moze and Addie evolve.

The two main characters are played by Ryan O’Neal and his real-life daughter Tatum and they have fantastic chemistry. I’m not at all surprised that Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar because her performance is sensational. A lot of young actresses can play precocious and sassy, and she does those things well but she displays so much more range than that – she can be melancholy, determined, devious, frustrated, thoughtful… and all without losing any of her vulnerability. The Depression-era South setting is almost a character in itself, it adds a distinct atmosphere to the film. I can’t think of any criticism; pretty much everything seems like it was done well.

Watch it! And be prepared for your heartstrings to be tugged at by the end.

Other Movies Watched

Boogie Nights (1997)

I had been avoiding Boogie Nights for a while because director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson makes pretty intense movies and I’m not always in the mood for them, even though they are usually excellent. I thought Boogie Nights was pretty well-balanced though. It has intense moments, but it’s not agonizing to watch most of the time like There Will Be Blood or Magnolia.

Well-endowed Eddie Adams, a dishwasher at an L.A. nightclub, is discovered by porn filmmaker Jack Horner and soon finds his place in the porn world as star “Dirk Diggler”. In the first few years he makes friends, pitches successful movie ideas, and generally lives it up. His happy-go-lucky life can’t last forever, though, and as he gets into drugs and the porn industry changes, things start to fall apart.

Boogie Nights seemed like a cross between a traditional biopic of someone with a sketchy occupation (like American Made) and The Basketball Diaries (which is about the journey of a teenager addicted to drugs and also stars Mark Wahlberg). It immerses you right into the world of porn production in the 1970s (the “Golden Age of Porn“) and all its highs and lows. Despite its premise, it does not aim to titillate. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and focuses on all the mundane work that goes into making porn and any sex involved is just work and has nothing to do with pleasure. The characters are just normal people with the same ambitions and desires as us (even if they do work in an industry that seems somewhat alien) and so they’re very relatable. And there are some great actors in the cast bringing the characters to life – Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Alfred Molina, and more.

Oldboy (2003)

I really didn’t know much about this movie going into it except that it was really famous, South Korean, and possibly involved thriller elements. The premise is that businessman Oh Dae-su is imprisoned for fifteen years without knowing where, why, or who is holding him captive. He trains hard during his captivity and when he is finally released, he embarks on a quest to find his daughter and the identity of his captor.

I thought this was going to be a standard action/revenge movie (like John Wick) but it was mostly a twisty psychological thriller. There was certainly action and it was beautifully choreographed – I’ve never seen anything like this single-take side-scroller-esque fight scene, and I’m sure it has been and will continue to be hugely influential to filmmakers. The oppressive ambience of the movie should be just as iconic, though. Dae-su never really leaves the clutches of his captor, and his confusion and anxiety color the movie significantly (sometimes literally, the production design is often eerie). As with most psychological thrillers, if you really break it down, the plot is melodramatic and flawed, but focusing on that would do the movie a disservice because it has its own style and tells a tight story within it. It’s going to leave you disturbed though, so don’t watch it on a day where you’re looking for a purely entertaining movie.

In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges is the debut film of director/writer Martin McDonagh (more recently known for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). It’s a black comedy about two Irish hitmen hiding out in Bruges, Belgium after a botched job as they wait for word from their boss about what to do next.

I’ve never seen Colin Farrell in a role like this before and was impressed by his range. He plays Ray, the younger hitman, who is a bizarre mix of naive and vulgar and lovable and dumb and brash. He’s got great comic timing. Brendan Gleeson is excellent as his partner Ken, who’s surprisingly sensitive given his job. And Ralph Fiennes is terrific as always as the boss, the ruthless but principled Harry. It’s not all fun and games, though; the story is driven by the morality of its characters and we take that seriously even as we are amused by what’s happening on screen. No one does black comedy like the British and this movie ranks with one of the best.

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Peggy Sue Bodell is about to divorce her high school sweetheart, Charlie, who has been unfaithful to her. At her 25-year high school reunion, she faints and is somehow transported back in time to her last year of high school but without losing any of her adult memories. She now has the chance to change her life by breaking up with Charlie before they get married.

Kathleen Turner (who I was introduced to fairly recently in Romancing the Stone) does a great job playing Peggy Sue, both in the past and present. I especially enjoyed her reaction to traveling to the past because it felt so realistic – she’s usually amused or exasperated and has been an adult too long to have any patience for her parents’ rules. Nicolas Cage as Charlie was pretty good too. He managed to be irrepressibly earnest and lovable but still very frustrating. This isn’t a clear-cut “if you got what you wanted, your alternate life would be terrible” story like It’s a Wonderful Life; Peggy Sue’s choices are all pretty attractive and she has fun with them, which made for a more nuanced narrative and an ending which earned its poignancy.

Neerja (2016)

I’ve been aware of Neerja Bhanot’s story for a long time and was pretty excited when I heard about this movie (she was a flight attendant on a hijacked plane and saved many passengers’ lives during the hijacking, but was killed before she could get to safety). I wish there were more Indian biopics or dramas based on real events; it’s one of my favorite movie genres.

The movie follows the standard biopic movie playbook, but it’s well-executed and compelling. It mainly focuses on the last day or so of Neerja’s life, establishing her home life and romantic prospects and also showing the terrorists getting ready to perform the hijacking. The pacing is tight and keeps the tension up all the way through – knowing what happened in real life didn’t make me any less anxious during the movie. The characters are fleshed out, even the terrorists who could have easily been one-dimensional baddies. Flashbacks to Neerja’s first marriage throughout the film remind us of her strength. And despite the subject, the movie does not resort to melodrama at any point, trusting the audience to react appropriately to the terrible events of the movie without having to hammer the point home.

Freaky Friday (1976)

Body swap movies are an old movie trope these days, but it all began with Freaky Friday (according to this list on Wikipedia, anyway). Ellen Andrews (Barbara Harris) and her teenage daughter Annabel (a young Jodie Foster) are constantly at odds. One day, they each wish that they were in the other person’s shoes and to their horror, their wish comes true. To make things worse, Annabel (as Ellen) is roped into cooking a meal for twenty five people even though she can’t cook and Ellen (as Annabel) must play in an important hockey game for her school team even though she has never played hockey.

I really liked this movie. It seemed more earnest than similar family movies that were made later. Annabel and Ellen were fully fleshed out characters rather than stereotypes; Annabel in particular is not a cookie-cutter teenager like we’re seeing in so many modern movies. Both Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris did a great job of not acting their age. There’s a lot of humor (and it’s actually funny), but there are also some touching moments like Annabel seeing her younger brother from a different perspective.

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  1. Pingback: Movie Review: The Handmaiden (2016) | Just a World Away

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