Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Impressions: When watching a movie on the plane, there is a lot of stopping and starting, and people moving around, so I feel it’s not the same attention you give a movie in the theater or at home. So I should note I watched this one on a very long flight. That said, it still felt disjointed and  slapstick. It felt like a bunch of clever gags put together without anything holding them together. What exactly is the point of this movie? That Hollywood loves itself and thinks it’s more important than it is? That Hollywood is frivolous? That people in general are shallow and frivolous? I am not sure, but all of those ring hollow.
And I have loved a number of Coen brother movies: Raising Arizona has always been a favorite, as has Hudsucker Proxy, and many others.
That’s not to say there were no funny moments in Hail Caesar, because there were: the priest and rabbi bit made me laugh, as did the whole concept of George Clooney dressed as a Roman soldier being kidnapped by communists. The plot follows going-ons at a 1950’s Hollywood studio  where a bunch of genre films are made in a strict genre fashion: a ridiculous western with horse stunts on one lot, a Busby Berkeley-type musical
extravaganza on another, a melodrama on a third, and a biblical epic on the fourth. The actors are interchangeable But the point of all of them is just to attract viewers, and it’s all shallow and cliche.
I am not sure if the Coen brothers recently had some kind of fallout with a Hollywood studio, and this is a form of payback, but that’s the extent of the plot. Some comic relief gets thrown in when actors, who are also portrayed as not-too-bright start getting political ideas. The main character is a head of the studio who has to balance all these people he manages, and his personal life, and the press who wants to get the tabloid scoop.  Maybe it’s all meant to  be a clear dig at particular people in showbiz, but maybe it’s just supposed to be a silly comedy. I feel like it is not completely successful as either. So just a so-so grade for this one

Facts: A bunch of silly Hollywood films, very much in strict genre fashion are being produced in 1950s Hollywood, with a subplot of the main star being kidnapped by communists.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

Impression: I was a huge fan of the AbFab series in the 90s. I have watched each episode more times than I care to admit. It is completely silly and ridiculous, and over the top. And it makes me laugh each and every time. Patsy and Edina say and do ridiculous things, and get away with it. They take some basic truths of celebrity culture, mother-daughter relationships, friendships, etc. and and then go wild creating the most out-there version of it they can imagine. A few months on, there is very little I remember about the plot of this movie, other than Eddy now has a grown granddaughter which somehow leads to her pushing Kate Moss into the Thames, and having to go into hiding in the south of France, where Patsy has to pretend to be a man with a ridiculous fake moustache. That may be more than enough!

I just don’t understand reviews of this movie from people who claim to be fans of the original series, but say that this just didn’t live up to the standards.  What standards? This show has never had any standards, and that was the point. I had brunch with a friend, we had mimosas, poured leftovers into paper coffee cups and walked into the movie. Maybe it was because it was Sunday matinee, but we were at least 30 years younger than the next youngest member of the audience. I laughed so hard, that my jaw hurt at the end of the movie. And that’s the highest praise you can give a comedy! Do I need to see it again? Not particularly, but I wouldn’t turn it down.

Facts:  Ridiculous adventures of Patsy and Eddy continue as  Eddy manages to push Kate Moss into the Thames, then has to hide in the south of France, where Patsy pretends to be a man with a ridiculous fake moustache in order to marry a rich old lady to continue financing their lifestyle.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Impression: My favorite movie of all time! It’s silly, but clever, laugh out loud funny, and smart. It has a lot of elements the 12 year old me loved and still loves: rule breaking (they are bank robbers), a strong female character who plays off all the stereotypes to outwit the guys, comedy and trickery. I am a huge fan of Kevin Kline, and the character of Otto is the highlight of his career.  In it, he creates the most ridiculously amazing caricature of the stupid but full-of-himself American, and he does not hold back.  All the characters are caricatures and over the top, and it’s what makes the comedy work. Although thought up by Monty Python regulars John Cleese and Michael Palin, the movie does not veer into the surreal, but manages to stay funny and clever.  After a successfully pulled off bank robbery, the 4 participants start to form alliances with each other to trick the rest and keep the loot for themselves. The top schemer is Wanda, who keeps each guy believing she wants to run off with him and the diamonds, but as the plot develops trust is eroded and no one trusts anyone.  As the boss of the group is arrested, Wanda turns her sights on his lawyer, played by Cleese as a stereotypically stuffy upper class Englishman. “And when he heard your daughter’s name was Portia…he said, why did they name her after a car.”
But there are too many hilariously brilliant sequences to recount here. The name of this blog comes from my favorite exchange where Wanda finally gets tired of Otto’s posing as an intellectual, and calls him an ape, to which Otto retorts “Apes don’t read philosophy” and she answers with”Oh yes they do, Otto, they just don’t understand it!” I could watch this one over and over again. And I have!
Facts:  A brilliant comedy that opens with a bank robbery but it all goes gleefully wrong as the robbers try to outsmart each other to be the one that walks off with all the loot.

The Overnight (2015)

Impression:  Having had a kid, and hung out in parks with him, and having moved cities a couple of times, and struggled to make friends in new places as an adult, the opening sequence of this movie was oh-so-relatable.  Being invited to dinner and having a fun time with brand new friends, that’s happened before too. But then, this movie gets a little weird. And funny! What if your new friends with kids were maybe…actually… into swinging. A lot of awkwardness and comedy ensues, as each of the two main characters goes through a different sequence of emotions, from weirded out, to bonded to the hosts (uhm, not that kind of bonded!), to at odds with each other about what they think of all this and what should be done about it. Although it’s really just a silly comedy about sex and relationships, it never gets too absurd (ok, maybe the trip to the massage parlor is a little weird) and the characters for the most part react to the situation within bounds of what would be expected. The humor is born of the awkwardness of the situation itself, rather than mocking it or taking it to some kind of over-the-top absurd conclusion. All in all it’s a low key comedy that’s respectful of its characters and audience, and fun to watch. I’ll still probably have a little smirk on my face the next time I get invited to a dinner after meeting parents at a park .
Facts:  A family newly moved to Los Angeles gets an invite from a friendly dad at the playground for dinner, hilarity and weirdness ensues.
Extras:  I watched this movie because I love the Duplass brothers. I think Togetherness is one of the most underrated and underseen TV shows of the last decade, at least. They specialize in directing, producing, staring in talky low-budget films/series, and they make a ton of them. Glad to see someone carrying on the tradition of what “indie” used to mean in the 90s.

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

Impression: Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love this film. And has likely been forced to watch it with me. I am not sure if I can properly articulate what I love so much about this one, but I will try. I’ve never been very into weddings, or any of the things that Muriel is into. But I do appreciate the feeling of wanting to define who you are without the weight of personal history and environment, the allure of being able to completely redefine yourself in a new place and wipe the slate clean. In fact, I have done it myself more times than I can count, but never as radically as Muriel does with the help of Rhonda. Rhonda is the best friend you’ve always wanted, wild, crazy, accepting of all your faults and not the least bit judgmental. The strong female friendship is the centerpiece of the story. But that plot line could have come off as somewhat cheesy and cliché. It’s that particularly Aussie movie atmosphere that lifts it: the easy mix of hilariously ridiculous intertwined with the tragically sad, the unapologetic archetypes and the raw display of the basest human emotion, completely judgmental, and at the same time completely accepting of it all as just human.  And the ABBA and the accents. Those don’t hurt either.
Facts: An awkward Australian girl comes out of her shell when she makes some selfish choices and runs away from her family and small town.
Extra: I remember going to see this for the first time in the movie theater in Florida with my dad. It was a Sunday,  first day of daylight savings time, and we forgot and showed up an hour early. I have seen is at least 10 times since.

Trainspotting (1996)

Impression:  I was 19 when I first saw this movie and loved it. I recently saw it at almost 40, with a teenager, wondering if it will stand the test of time. I am pleased to report it has aged well. Heroin chic never goes out of style, I guess. The fashion is not all that different, and the themes are universal, the aimlessness of early adulthood, the ups and downs of friendships, the selfishness, the humor.  Kelly MacDonald gives one of her best performances as Diane: witty, beautiful, feminist to her teenage core. The style of the movie, which at the time was somewhat of a novelty, still seems modern. The magic realism, explained away by drug use and hallucinations, still dreams up some of the most memorable scenes put on film: never been able to erase the scene of Renton diving into “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” or the baby crawling on the ceiling. The mid 90’s were an important time for independent film and unfortunately this film often gets lost in the shuffle. I hope the currently shooting sequel helps it get restored to it’s rightful place in cinema history.
Facts:  A group of friends and heroin addicts wasting time and desperately seeking the next hit in 1990’s Edinburgh.

High-rise (2015)

Impression: Very, very odd. The 70s costumes, hairstyles, cars and furniture are all spot on and in full glory. In the intro scene you realize that something has gone very wrong in this building. The story then backflashes into a series of interconnected snapshots of inhabitants of the building interacting. The main character lives somewhere in the middle floors (middle class), there is one strong character in the  low floors (featuring a Che Guevara poster in his bedroom!)  and the ‘architect’ on the top floor (featuring a large garden with horses and goats in his rooftop garden). There are also more minor characters than one can possibly take in. Eventually it all descends into chaos, so that the goings on on screen resemble the scattered plot structure. As soon as the film ended, I had to read more about it, because it was just so strange, and I felt like there was something I must not be getting.  Once I learned it was based on a book, it seemed clearer that perhaps the movie was better understood having read it. While I am still not completely sure what it all meant, it’s definitely a film that visually stays with you for days.
Facts: Things go very wrong very fast in a London 70’s dystopian high-rise where the floor you live on is a very literal social status descriptor.