[May 8] “Lord of War” (2005)
Nicolas Cage plays Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer with origins in Little Odessa in New York City. It’s very biographical – we see the evolution of his career (of course), his relationship with his troubled younger brother Vitaly (Jared Leto), his courtship of his childhood crush (Bridget Moynahan), his relentless Interpol pursuer Jack Valentine (played by Ethan Hawke; what a name!) and much more. I’ve watched and loved this movie before, and re-watching it didn’t change that at all. Andrew Niccol, who wrote and directed this, also wrote The Truman Show and wrote/directed Gattaca – he’s a smart guy. It doesn’t glamourise the life of an arms dealer in any way, and it shows plenty of bad things happening, but it’s also not moralistic or melodramatic. This is one of my favorite Nicolas Cage performances – sure, he’s in a lot of dumb action movies, but he’s also a really good actor in dramatic roles. Plus the opening titles sequence showing the life of a bullet is one of the most memorable I can think of.
[May 9] “Notting Hill” (1999)
An unassuming travel bookshop owner, William Thacker (Hugh Grant) meets the world’s most famous actress, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), and they fall in love. Being in a relationship with a famous actress comes with a whole additional set of pitfalls, though. Notting Hill is written by the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and it has a lot of the same tropes – a bunch of friends that all have their own side stories (mostly involving finding love), Hugh Grant being awkward and falling in love with a confident but temperamental American woman. I liked it better, though, Julia Roberts does a pretty good job as the love interest. I didn’t like that the movie ended with a climactic romantic declaration, it was pretty down to earth until then. I guess the main problem I have with romantic comedies is that I don’t usually think the characters know each other that well, and so I’m not really that invested in them getting together, and that was the case for this movie too – but I think that’s more a reflection on me than the movie.
[May 10] “Three Kings” (1999)
The Gulf War has just ended, and four U.S. soldiers in Iraq are determined to steal a huge cache of Kuwaiti gold in the confusion. Things don’t go according to plan though, as they meet a bunch of Iraqi civilians who are convinced they are heroes come to save them from Saddam. I think this was one of the first few movies that Joseph and I watched when we started dating, I didn’t remember much from it. It’s a pretty heartwarming movie, there aren’t a lot of movies that go from cynical to heroic so well. The four soldiers are played by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze, and they are all very good. The atmosphere also seemed pretty realistic, the sets, the attitude of the military, the Iraqi refugees. One of the Iraqis is played by a real life Iraqi that was tortured by Saddam’s forces. I haven’t seen a David O. Russell movie yet that I haven’t enjoyed.
[May 11] “Super 8” (2011)
While filming an amateur movie, a group of kids witness one of their teachers deliberately crashing an Air Force train, and then inexplicable events start happening in their small town. Super 8 is pretty much a modern 80’s kids adventure movie, it seems pretty personal to writer/director J.J. Abrams, who also grew up making movies in the Super 8 format. It’s evocative of E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, etc. (and it’s also produced by Steven Spielberg.) It’s pretty fun, the tension stays constant throughout the movie, and the kid who plays the main character, Joe (Joel Courtney) does a really good job, he’s cute, he’s determined, and he’s really sympathetic. There’s also a lot of families mending fences and getting closer to each other, which makes for good character arc. My only complaint was that I wished that there was more sci-fi and less thriller.
[May 12] “Joy” (2015)
Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy, an overworked young mother who invents a revolutionary mop and her journey to starting her own business despite running into a lot of obstacles. This is another David O. Russell movie (like Three Kings above and American Hustle, which I’ve reviewed previously) and as usual, I enjoyed it. The pacing could have been better, it had a bit of a slow start, and the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly. But I didn’t mind because I found the story compelling, and Jennifer Lawrence is a joy to watch (no pun intended.) There aren’t a lot of movies about really smart women succeeding by just being who they are relentlessly, and I really liked that. I particularly enjoyed her relationship with her ex-husband, it’s not often that a movie depicts really good relationships and really dysfunctional ones (the ones with other members of her family) in the same context, it felt pretty realistic.
[May 13] “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979)
When Ted Kramer’s wife Joanna leaves him and their young son Billy, he has a hard time dealing with it at first, but he soon figures out how to be a great father. But then Joanna reappears and wants custody of Billy, and they have to fight it out in court. Kramer vs. Kramer won the Best Picture Oscar, and I can see why, it’s a really, really good movie. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep do an excellent job as the Kramers, and Justin Henry (who was the youngest Oscar nominee ever) does a really great job as Billy. Ted goes from being a stereotypical “married to the job” kind of guy to a devoted father without much fuss at all, and the growing bond between him and Billy is a joy to watch. I think this movie could be remade today without changing much of the dialogue or characters at all, it doesn’t feel over thirty five years old.
[May 13] “Gattaca” (1997)
In the future, genetic engineering has become common and created a new underclass – the genetically inferior. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) dreams of traveling to space, but knows that he’s too genetically flawed to be allowed to do so, so he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), a disabled but genetically gifted man. He’s been pretty careful, but just as he’s about to go to Titan, there’s a murder at his workplace, and his secret might just come out. I’ve seen Gattaca before, and it’s one of my favorite science fiction movies. It’s really atmospheric, it gives you a real sense of the planned and clinical world that it has created, but it’s also somewhat noir (Writer/director Andrew Niccol is good at this) The trope of the individual pushing against his limitations (both internal and external) never gets old, and Ethan Hawke is a compelling protagonist (he has a great earnest/serious face.) Also I absolutely love Jude Law in this movie. The world that it portrays is a lot better than ours in many ways – humans go to space all the time, people are healthier and live for longer, but that doesn’t extend to all individuals, and I can’t think of many sci-fi movies that are as smart and add such complexity to their worlds.
[May 14] “Outbreak” (1995)
A deadly new virus decimates an African village in the Motaba River Valley in the Congo, and is believed to be contained, but eventually gets introduced into the U.S. by a smuggled African monkey. Army doctor Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman), his ex-wife and CDC employee Robby Keough (Rene Russo) and their teams work frantically to contain the outbreak, but that’s not the only agenda in play. This was another dimly remembered rewatch for me, I remembered it as being similar to Contagion, the recent Matt Damon movie, but that was a drama, Outbreak is more of an action-thriller. It’s a pretty standard movie, although it’s got a really great cast – Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey – they’re underused, but still entertaining to watch. The plot is black and white, and fairly predictable, especially the relationship between Sam and Robby.