Title: Slap Shot
Release Date: 25 February 1977
Director: George Roy Hill
Production Co: Kings Road Entertainment
Genre: Comedy | Drama | Sport
Another classic comedy that I never got around to seeing until now. With the closing of the local factory, the Charlestown Chiefs are likely to fold at the end of the season. Aging player-coach Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) carries out a series of Machiavellian schemes to increase the teams value so that it will be sold to another owner. This primarily involves having his team use goon tactics, which successfully draws in the crowds and helps them win games. Concurrently, Reg also plots to reunite with his ex-wife and reconcile the strained relationship of the Chiefs’ top scorer and his alcoholic wife.
This movie exudes the 1970s in the clothing, music, sexual liberation, and a carefree attitude in a world falling apart. There are a lot of great gags and lines with much of the humor coming from silly characters like the Quebecois goalkeeper and the uber-violent (and extremely dumb) Hanson brothers. But there’s also a gravitas underlining the film that keeps it from being just a screwball comedy although not enough to turn it into a “dramedy.” The ending of the film is utterly bizarre, but it it’s appropriate to the movie.
Title: Frances Ha
Director: Noah Baumbach
Production Co: R.T. Features
Country: United States
Genre: Comedy | Mumblecore
This stylized b&w film follows the foibles of a 27-year old dancer in New York over the course of a year in which her prospects for work, relationships, and even a place to live dwindle. It would be very easy to classify this movie as white whine, especially Frances with her poor decision-making skills and nervous way of interacting with other people is not the most sympathetic lead. But then I remember how stupid I was when I was 27. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not liking this film because it could easily rub one the wrong way, but I warmed up to Frances and her story.
Title: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Release Date: 25 November 1987
Director: John Hughes
Production Co: Paramount Pictures
Country: United States
This is one of those supposed classics that I never got around to seeing until now, so I have no nostalgia connected to this movie. A lot of the gags in this movie that I expect are supposed to be laugh aloud funny didn’t even make me chuckle, especially all the “funny car” gags in the latter parts of the film (and I was spoiled for the “that’s not a pillow” gag years ago). The one exception was Steve Martin’s tirade at Edie McClurg. So this comedy didn’t make me laugh, but fortunately John Hughes’ writing goes beyond just laughs and I was impressed by how he develops the central idea of empathy among the two characters. It helps a lot that while “wacky opposites” they’re more than caricatures, and Martin and John Candy play them perfectly. It was also a nice little time capsule of the United States in 1987, and well, that made me nostalgic after all. So even though I didn’t find Planes, Trains & Automobiles to be all too funny, I did think it was a decent movie.
Title: An Adventure in Space and Time
Release Date: 22 November 2013
Director: Terry McDonough
Production Co: British Broadcasting Company
This movie recreates the history of the birth of the BBC family science-fiction classic Doctor Who. You can tell it’s the early 60s because everyone smokes and the clothing is fabulous, but also gives a feel for a much different era (just a decade after the end of WWII rationing) when a science-fiction show would be shocking and new. It’s also interesting that a show that would become a British cultural icon was created by a Canadian (Sidney Newman), produced by the first woman producer on a BBC drama (Verity Lambert), and initially directed by a man born in India (Waris Hussein). The film focuses mainly on Lambert’s challenge of getting the show off the ground as well as the first star of the show William Hartnell dealing with ill-health and memory loss while creating a classic character. All of the lead actors do a terrific job and really look the part and make for a charming if bittersweet story. While some of the facts of the real story are modified for dramatic effect, it is a good introduction to the series.
For a more detailed history of Doctor Who‘s origins, check out this article on the Oxford University Press blog.
Title: 30 for 30: Four Days in October
Release Date: 5 October 2010
Director: Gary Waskman
Production Co: Major League Baseball Productions
Genre: Documentary | Sports | Baseball
The ESPN documentary documents the last four games (played over four consecutive days) of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, from the Red Sox point of view. There’s nothing radical about it from a filmmaking perspective, merely clips of tv and radio footage from the games interspersed with interviews with Red Sox players and some celebrity fans. I watched it mainly so my 5-year-old son could learn some Red Sox history, and it quickly became his favorite movie. It was also a nice nostalgia trip to see memorable Red Sox comeback and all the little aspects I’d forgotten (doubly so to watch it without the feeling of twisted intestines that I had back in 2004)
Title: Sleepwalk With Me
Release Date: 18 November 2012
Director: Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish
Production Co: Sleepwalkers Anonymous
Summary/Review: Comedian Mike Birbiglia brings the story of his sleepwalking disorder (specifically rapid eye movement behavior disorder) to another medium after sharing the story in stand-up, storytelling, radio, and a book. The movie depicts a more complex confluence of events as Birbiglia’s semi-autobiographical character (a doppelganger named Matt Pandamiglio) tries to establish a career as a stand-up comedian while dealing with parental disapproval and fear of commitment to his longtime girlfriend. For a comedy, this is a dreary and depressing movie. Not that the ennui shouldn’t be depicted but I’d be interested in why this character puts so much on the line to become a comedian when there seems to be no passion or joy in anything. Lauren Ambrose is great in her role as the long-suffering girlfriend Abby who seems to be the only character able to enjoy herself despite all of that. Lots of This American Life regulars appear as supporting cast and it’s fun to play match the voice with the face. This is an okay movie, but if you’ve heard the story on The Moth or This American Life, you need not venture further out.
Title: Piglet’s BIG Movie
Release Date: 2003
Director: Francis Glebas
Production Co: Disney
Country: United States
Genre: Animation | Family
Summary/Review: This is the second in a series of contemporary adaptations of the Pooh franchise that Disney has released in the past decade or so. Unlike The Tigger Movie which I found surprisingly good, this is more of what I expect from Disney in milking the classics with some cheesy contemporary references thrown in. A soundtrack by Carly Simon features heavily in this movie almost as if the whole film was a vehicle for promoting her songs. Simon even appears during the credits. The story focuses on Piglet feeling unappreciated because he is small and wandering off and then his friends go looking for him. This is all a framing device for three flashback stories that show Piglet’s heroism. The flashbacks are the best part as they are based on A.A. Milne stories and are true to the originals. It’s a fun, sweet film – you really can’t go wrong with Pooh and Piglet – but they’ve done better.
Title: The Sound of Music
Release Date: 1965
Director: Robert Wise
Production Co: 20th Century Fox
Country: United States
Genre: Musical / Classic
Summary/Review: It’s hokey, a bit saccharine, and historically inaccurate, but The Sound of Music is a fine movie worthy of its classic status. The music, the cast, the scenery, the cinematography — all wonderful. I watched this with my three-year old son, his first “grown-up” film, over a period of three days (hopefully making up for the fact that I didn’t watch it for the first time until I was 20). He enjoyed it as well, except for the boring parts when the Captain and the Baroness were just talking (“Where are Maria and the kids?”). He liked the music and we’ve been singing “Do-Re-Mi” and “The Lonely Goatheard.” Granted, there are some challenging aspects of trying to explain the Nazis to a toddler mostly because I don’t think he has a frame of reference to understand Nazis yet. Overall it’s a great movie and a great family experience and I’m sure we’ll watch it again.
Title: Don’t You Forget About Me
Release Date: 13 July 2010
Director: Matt Austin
Summary/Review: This documentary is a tribute to the filmmaker John Hughes who wrote and directed many popular and influential teen films of the 1980′s including Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Filmed before Hughes’ passed away in 2009, it features four young filmmakers journeying from Canada to Illinois to find the reclusive filmmaker who has retired from making Hollywood pictures. The premise is a bit presumptuous, a lot boring, and I don’t think it’s too huge a spoiler to say that they never actually meet John Hughes. Luckily, the film also includes clips from Hughes’ films, interviews with people who worked with him, and interviews with people influenced by him. The point they keep returning to is that Hughes’ movies were more true to teenage life than other Hollywood films and even a generation later are very popular among teenage viewers. This may be true but I do feel that they belabor the point of how bad today’s films are especially since they interview Kevin Smith and the makers of “Napoleon Dynamite” whose movies have a level of cult popularity among teens in their own right. This documentary has some nice memories about a great moviemaker but it’s mediocre overall. Just watch John Hughes’ movies instead.
Title: The Secret of Kells
Release Date: 7 March 2010
Director: Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey
Production Co: Les Armateurs
Country: France | Belgium | Ireland
Genre: Animation / Fantasy / Adventure
Summary/Review: The illuminated manuscripts of the Irish middle ages come to live in this brilliant animated adventure set in the monastic village of Kells. The story focuses on a young monk named Brendan who is the nephew of the abbot. While his uncle is consumed with obsession of constructing a defensive wall to protect the community, Brendan wishes to carry on the sacred tradition of creating lasting illuminated manuscripts. He is aided in this effort by the arrival Brother Aidan and his cat Pangur Ban. Aidan takes Brendan under his wing and assigns him his first task to go outside the wall to seek ingredients for ink. There Brendan meets and befriends the forest spirit Aisling. There is of course conflict and confrontation with his uncle, but Brendan learns to set out on his own course.
This magical film combines history and myth, art and spirituality with some of the most brilliant animation I’ve seen and a gorgeous soundtrack. In many ways it is a good film to pair with Princess Mononoke as it shares similar thematic and visual qualities.