Five Easy Pieces

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 6.48.06 AMSo, it’s 2015. Last night we followed our usual New Years strategy – take-out bad food (we went with fish n chips) and a movie at home. We like it that way. We watched Five Easy Pieces. Amazingly, unbelievably, I had never seen this film.

I loved the rawness and the awkwardness of the film, and Jack Nicholson’s performance was fantastic. His character was at once so unlikable yet so compelling. Haven’t we all felt at some time or another that we don’t belong, that we can’t live up to expectations, that we’d much rather avoid responsibilities and live totally in the moment?

What a collection of peculiar characters, simplified and amplified. And yes I loved the famous diner scene in which Bobby attempts to order what he wants against all odds.

On a roll, today we’re going to watch The King of Marvin Gardens.

Gone Girl – a good B movie with high budget actors

As we were watching Gone Girl tonight, I was thinking it was a quality B movie – the scheming Amy reminded me some of the Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction. The film  almost lost me until we started to get more information about what was going on. At that point I started to appreciate it. The last half-hour was a let down for me, though.  It simply wasn’t convincing enough. I confess I laughed out loud when Amy drove home soaked in blood.

One thing in this movie drove me crazy – and that was the actress who played the Detective – Kim Dickens. She seemed so familiar to me but I just couldn’t figure out what else I had seen her in. Of course as soon as we got home Google kindly reminded me she played Joanie Stubbs in Deadwood and also the Chef in Treme.

The thing about a really great B movie is the script delivers all the way through, and I think that’s what held back this film. Still, it was entertaining and it had some very good bits.

The Drop

We watched a matinee screening of The Drop this afternoon, a crime drama starring Tom Hardy, the late James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace. The film is about a Brooklyn bartender, underworld nasties, a waitress with a super-cute puppy in her trash can, and a guy named Cousin Marv with a desperate plan to score.

Unusual film, well written and acted, capturing plenty of neighbourhood atmosphere. I enjoyed the understated chemistry between Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace. As well, James Gandolfini did a great job in what must have been his last role, as Cousin Marv.


Get on Up

We saw Get on Up this afternoon – the James Brown movie. This film is a blast to watch, on the strength of a wonderful performance by Chadwick Boseman as JB. In seconds you forget it’s an actor playing Brown.

The story, which seems to be somewhat santitized, takes a back seat to the music. That’s OK with me. I don’t need a studied analysis of James Brown’s life. I need the groove, and Get on Up does offers up plenty of groove.



The Intouchables

Last night we watched a 2011 film called The Intouchables on DVD (French with English subtitles). This is a 2011 film directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. Now, I don’t know French directors – I hardly know North American directors for that matter (and don’t even ask me about actors)- but I mention them because they did a wonderful job on this movie.

The film is about the relationship between an unlikely caregiver, Driss and a rich quadriplegic, Philippe. Driss has a unique qualification – he doesn’t pity Philippe.  The film is charming and funny and irreverent and thoroughly enjoyable. It could have been a much darker film but instead it’s a movie about human possibility in the face of mountains of adversity.

I suppose The Intouchables is really simply a “buddy” movie, but it’s a really well crafted buddy movie and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Pressure Cooker

We watched a delightful documentary tonight called Pressure Cooker. It’s a film by Mark Becker and Jennifer Grausman, and it follows a Philadelphia high school Culinary Arts class as they get ready for a competition for major college scholarships. The kids come from a variety of circumstances and have some difficult family stories. The teacher is a remarkable woman named Wilma Stephenson. She is tough but tremendously generous of spirit toward her students. Watching the film, you get a chance to get to know the kids – before long I was cheering them on. This film is 27th Street recommended.

Ain’t in it for my Health

We watched Ain’t in it for my Health tonight, the documentary about Levon Helm, directed by Jacob Hatley. It’s a lovely, intimate look at Levon Helm in the midst of his late career resurgence, spawned by two great recordings, Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt. His voice came back years after radiation therapy for cancer left him whispering, but the film shows it is a voice that is very precarious (it can’t have helped that he appeared to be smoking weed all the time). Levon was a survivor – of drugs, cancer and bankruptcy, making some of the best music of his career in his last years.

Excellent film – recommended!

Inside Llewyn Davis: what’s all the fuss about?

1961 in Greenwich Village, the Great Folk Music Scare has begun, and Llewyn Davis is making the scene. He’s serious about his folksongs and he’s a bit of a crank, and he’s broke and homeless, sleeping on sofas of whatever friends will take him in. Davis has played the Gaslight many times, but he hasn’t been “discovered” and it’s not looking good.

This is a Coen Brothers film. I should like it, right? It’s about a folk singer. Maybe I should like that too. I’m pretty familiar with that bit of American cultural history. I mean, I know all the old Bob Dylan material and Phil Ochs and Eric Anderson and Ramblin’ Jack and Dave van Ronk and Paul Clayton and The Clancy Brothers and so on. Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a guy who makes the scene, has some talent, but doesn’t have whatever kind of spark it took at that place and time to emerge successful from that scene. The problem is that the story just isn’t that interesting.

The film captures what I imagine could be what the historic Greenwich Village atmosphere was like. Justin Timberlake and John Goodman have smallish supporting roles and they do OK. Carey Mulligan does a nice job of Jean, part of a duo with Jim (Justin Timberlake). They remind me somewhat of Ian and Sylvia, or at least Jean reminds me of Sylvia.

There are two cats in the film, and they are as compelling as any of the characters. It seems to me there’s something wrong with that picture.

Inside Llewyn Davis is just OK, worth seeing, but nothing to write home about.


We watched the film Songcatcher tonight. It’s a 2001 flick directed by Maggie Greenwald and starring Janet McTeer with cameos by Taj Mahal and Iris Dement. The music is mostly good but still this movie was disappointing. Neither the characters nor the story are very convincing, and I didn’t learn anything interesting about life in Appalachia. No wonder I didn’t even know this one existed when it came out a dozen years ago. Let’s call this one an OK Timewaster.

Computer Chess

This afternoon Tuffy and I and our friend Toni trundled down to the Bell TIFF Lightbox to see a movie called Computer Chess. It’s a film set in the early 80s about a weekend tournament in which computers play one another at chess. It is a very odd film, but not without its moments. I confess I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually liked it and I think it lulled us to a state of collective semi-consciousness at one point. I think it was a comedy (I hope so), and parts were indeed very funny, particularly a strange sub-plot involving a therapy group, as well as a number of unexplained shots of various cats residing in the hotel hosting the tournament. There are some interesting ideas in this film, but it suffers from being too slow and clunky. I know, it tries to be slow and clunky. Don’t you get it, silly? Ya, I get it.  Parts of this oddball film are strangely compelling, but just not enough parts of it.

Tuffy P, me and Toni just before watching Computer Chess
Tuffy P, me and Toni just before watching Computer Chess