Chad Comello

Librarian, cinephile, et al

Category: Film (page 1 of 12)

Little Women

I was a good amount into a post celebrating the 1994 film Little Women when I discovered I was basically writing Alissa Wilkinson’s appreciation of the film at Vox from last year. It’s one of many movies I watched a lot with my sisters as a kid, in rotation with other female-focused ’90s films like Ever After, Never Been Kissed, Return to Me and You’ve Got Mail. (Also the Ace Ventura duology.)

In my mind it was a Christmas movie, but after my latest rewatch I realized it’s not. Its Christmas and winter scenes might be the best ones, but they are only part of the story that follows the passing seasons and growth of a Civil War-era New England family.

This time around I understood more historical context than I could have as a kid, context that grounds the story in its particular time. Jo mentioning the March family’s adherence to Transcendentalism, for instance, and the gravity of Beth contracting scarlet fever in a time of epidemics and poor medicine, which forces uninoculated Amy to be sent away. And despite living in what looks like a nice, big house, the March family is struggling through trying times. Writes Wilkinson:

The Civil War is still taking place when the story begins, Mr. March is away with the military, and money and rations are tight. Meg is embarrassed about her clothing, Amy doesn’t have the faddish pickled limes that her peers trade and eat at school, and things are actually quite difficult.

Navigating these challenges while cohering as a family is what makes the film a delight, and much more than just a Christmas movie. A big part of this is its soundtrack by Thomas Newman, who also scored The Shawshank Redemption in the same year and got Oscar nominations for both films. (The Lion King beat them and Forrest Gump.) The score even sounds like Christmas, writes Wilkinson, with Newman’s

strings, bells, oboes, and some joyful melodic patterns. There’s a hum of happiness to Newman’s soundtrack that reminds me of the season, a buoyancy that portends a new year, new surprises, new life.

In addition to capturing a nostalgic Christmas feeling, the score is exactly what it needs to be moment to moment, throughout the seasons and circumstances. Lush and triumphant at a climactic encounter, tender and dramatic when Jo sells her hair to pay for Marmie’s train ticket to visit their ailing father. (Sidenote: Susan Sarandon was nominated for Best Actress for The Client that year, along with Winona Ryder for Little Women, but she could have earned a nod for that scene alone:)

In one sense: Duh, a good soundtrack should appropriately underscore moments and moods. A great soundtrack like this one, however, makes its film better.

Top films of 2007: will ‘There Will Be Blood’ be there?

Filmspotting’s recent Sacred Cow review of There Will Be Blood inspired me to rewatch it for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and go back and look at my top films of 2007. They were:

1) The Lives of Others (technically 2006, but released in the U.S. in 2007)
2) Once
3) Waitress
4) Zodiac
5) Michael Clayton
6) No Country for Old Men
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
8) Ratatouille
9) Juno
10) 3:10 to Yuma

As you can see, There Will Be Blood did not make the list. I remember in the theater being impressed but bored, which was not the case for its Oscar “rival” that year, No Country for Old Men. Because of that I predicted Blood wouldn’t win Best Picture; compared to the tight plotting and propulsive thrills of No Country, its sprawling scope and tonal opacity would be a tough sell in a popularity contest.

I’d still give Best Picture to No Country. But a second viewing of Blood brought it way up in my estimation. What P.T. Anderson’s films lack in scrutability they more than make up for in production design, soundtrack, and acting prowess. What superlative could I use for Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t already been beaten to death with a bowling pin? The man is mesmerizing. In a 158-minute movie, I couldn’t take my eyes off him for one of them. He shares MVP with the cinematographer Robert Elswit, who similarly has earned the hyperbole around his work.

So where would I rank There Will Be Blood now? Making a new list without rewatching all the films I rated highly but haven’t seen since then, like Waitress and Michael Clayton, is a bit of a fool’s errand. But as it stands now, including the 2007 films I’ve seen since making the list, here’s what it looks like:

1) The Lives of Others
2) Once
3) Zodiac
4) No Country for Old Men
5) Waitress
6) Munyurangabo
7) There Will Be Blood
8) Michael Clayton
9) Ratatouille
10) Into the Wild

Sorry, Juno, 3:10 to Yuma, and Sweeney Todd, but I had to make room for There Will Be Blood, Into the Wild, and Munyurangabo. Honorable mention goes to The Diving Bell and the ButterflyHairspray, and Enchanted. Pretty great year overall!

Family Video to the rescue

Home for Thanksgiving weekend and in the market for a Christmas movie to watch, my sister suggested Die Hard. A great choice for many reasons, one of which being I hadn’t seen it in a while and was due for a seasonal rewatch. Plus my wife hadn’t seen it. (Perish the thought!)

The problem was we didn’t have a copy of it, the library was closed, and it wasn’t on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Instead of picking another Christmas movie, we did something I haven’t done since high school: rented the DVD from Family Video.

Until about ten years ago this was commonplace. I have many fond memories browsing the shelves of Blockbuster, Family Video, Hollywood Video and the like, taking too much time to decide as the evening’s movie-watching time dwindled. Frankly I’m surprised Family Video is still around, but this weekend I was happy for it and for its continuing presence in the cultural landscape.

Yippee-ki-yay, movierenters!

A Ghost Story

“O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted.”
– Thomas Hood, “The Haunted House”

I thought of that poem, used to great effect in Slow West, after seeing A Ghost Story, David Lowery’s breath of a film.

It’s best to know as little as possible about it. But know that it’s a haunting, beautifully shot, melancholic, slyly funny, and mercifully short meditation on the slipperiness of time and memory. Quiet, bathed in natural light, it shows how mesmerizing it is to follow a ghost that is unstuck in time. Pairs well with Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here.

‘Spotlight’ The News

Let me second Rod Dreher’s considerations of Spotlight in light of the Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore sexual harassment scandals:

It was even better than I remembered it. One aspect of the movie stood out in sharp relief: the way so very many people in Boston knew for years that there was something horrible going on with priests and children in the Archdiocese, but engaged in a conspiracy of silence. It wasn’t that they knew details; it’s that they didn’t want to know details. They wanted to look away because facing the truth was too difficult.

More:

What I can’t get out of my mind now is thinking about all the women who have been sexually abused and assaulted by men who got away with it. Take Harvey Weinstein, for instance. Everybody in Hollywood knew what he was doing, or if they didn’t know specifically, they certainly had reason to know he was a lecherous bully. Nobody cared. To tell the truth about Harvey Weinstein would have brought down their world on their head, same as those victims in Boston. It was an informal conspiracy of silence.

Or as Mark Ruffalo put it: They knew, and they let it happen!

Spotlight was my second-favorite film of 2015, and it totally did hold up on rewatching. There’s something mesmerizing about the atmosphere director Tom McCarthy creates, both in the specific time period and how the ensemble works together. Very lived-in and natural, which makes the story they are investigating all the more devastating and immediate.

Rod, author of The Benedict Option and Crunchy Cons, covered the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in the early 2000s, which eventually caused him to leave Catholicism for Orthodox Christianity. This has made his blog an excellent source of informed commentary on the intersection of religion and politics.

Adventures in portable television studios

Stumbled upon this video explaining the groundbreaking visual effects in the Back to the Future trilogyI knew ILM’s work on the films was innovative, but I didn’t understand specifically how the technology worked until seeing this. It’s cheesy and a little long, but worth the watch:

P.S. Happy BTTF Day!

Thoughts on ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

Whenever the punching started, Thor: Ragnarok felt like a Marvel movie. Once the punching stopped, it felt like a Taika Waititi movie. Luckily Waititi’s mark on the movie is strong enough to overwhelm the underwhelming elements.

The Thor movies are my least favorite of the MCU thus far—I dare you to tell me anything about The Dark World—and I think Marvel understood that, which explains the left-field choice of Waititi. The goofy, laid back, self-effacing style of comedy he brings to what’s otherwise standard superhero fare follows the trail blazed by Guardians of the Galaxy but also ends up on a planet of its own.

It’s a damn shame Cate Blanchett’s Hela—Thor’s banished sister and Goddess of Death—is relegated to the film’s B-story. Not only is she a way better villain than Loki, Blanchett looks like she was having a ball. Alternating between petulant narcissism and terrifying fury, she’s like if Galadriel took the One Ring when Frodo offered it and went on a Middle-earth killing spree, demon antlers in tow. She deserves to be in more Marvel movies.

Jeff Goldblum seems to have achieved a kind of Bill Murray status where he is effusively praised for repeatedly playing himself.

Move over, School of Rock. “Immigrant Song” has a new movie home.

Guess the movie

Movie trailers usually spoil too much so I try to get to theater showings late to avoid them. But since I was right on time to Thor: Ragnarok, these were the trailers I saw: Jumanji, Pacific Rim Uprising, Justice League, Black Panther, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Guess which one made me literally say “Oh hell yeah.”

I’m assuming the Jumanji trailer already used up the good jokes. Didn’t see the first Pacific Rim and I thought this was another Transformers, so no. The latest Star Wars interests me only because Rian Johnson is directing. Justice League might be good if Wonder Woman isn’t the only good thing about it.

So the winner is: Black Panther. Lupita N’yong’o! Michael B. Jordan as the villain! Non-CGI Andy Serkis for once! Ryan Coogler directing! Sign me up.

Media of the Moment

I want to do more to account for what I read and watch. I do use Goodreads for tracking books, Letterboxd for movies, and my Logbook for all of them in one place. But between occasional reviews on the blog here and there, a lot of other noteworthy pieces of art pass through my consciousness almost without comment.

So I’m gonna blend my “Music of the Moment” feature with Kottke’s ongoing “recent media diet” feature (minus the grading part) into Media of the Moment to try to briefly highlight and recommend cultural bits I’ve encountered recently.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan. The latest selection for a two-man book club I’m in. Neil deGrasse Tyson should take notes.

How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs. Jacobs is one of my favorite thinkers and writers, and in this book he fulfills a W. H. Auden line he quotes in the book: “Be brief, be blunt, be gone.” See also: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.

“The Imposter” by Béla Fleck. Watched the documentary about Fleck making a banjo concerto for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, then got the CD of said concerto, and it’s great.

Landline. Really enjoyed Gillian Robespierre’s previous film Obvious Child, and she returns to form here with her muse Jenny Slate. I think I liked Obvious Child more, but this captures a particular time and family well.

The Florida Project. The latest from Sean Baker, the director of Tangerine, one of my favorites of 2015. Knew basically nothing about it when I saw it; I recommend the same for you. Best Actress for the lead.

Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark. Always liked Shepard as an actor. After he died I heard about this collection of correspondence with his longtime friend and discovered a wise, searching, highly quotable dude.

Columbus

Columbus, the first feature film of the talented film essayist Kogonada, calls enough attention to its subjects to captivate viewers but keeps enough distance to inspire pursuit, which is usually a formula for great cinema.

Haley Lu Richardson’s Casey, a recent high school graduate, works at the library in Columbus, a small Indiana town that’s a mecca for modernist architecture. She lives with and cares for her mom, a recovering addict now working in a factory. She says she loves Columbus, but you get the sense she’s also stuck in it.

Then there’s John Cho’s Jin, a literary translator who comes to town when his architecture professor father suddenly falls ill before a lecture. The two meet by chance as Jin holds a grudging vigil for his comatose father, whom he openly resents despite, or because of, his academic renown.

Sensing a spiritual match in the other, they wander Columbus looking at the modernist buildings, looking and wondering at each other, and looking inward, perhaps in search for what Jin’s father referred to as “modernism with a soul.” They struggle with their pasts and parents as they struggle toward a companionship that takes as many forms in their few days together as the buildings they gaze at.

They begin as strangers, become debate partners, and end up confidantes as they forge a temporary intimacy borne out of commonalities, though sometimes tensed by their differences.

The burdens they wrestle with—Jin with resentment toward his ailing father and Casey with her traumatic past—loom almost as large as the buildings, captured with determined stillness by Kogonada both as background scenery and as havens for Casey and Jin’s ambling.

The power Kogonada gives to moments of silent observation is the film’s strength (even if it made it seem a tad too long). In that way Columbus felt like a Midwestern version of This Is Martin Bonner, with characters yearning for connection while trying to soldier through minor existential crises in an alienating modern milieu.

I’d only seen Cho as Sulu in the new Star Trek franchise and Richardson as Hailee Steinfeld’s friend in The Edge of Seventeen, so they both kinda blew me away here. Bolstered by Parker Posey and Rory Culkin in supporting roles—Culkin’s conversations with Casey in the Columbus library about literature and librarianship made me smile—the two leads shoulder the film equally and prove as complex as their surroundings.

Grateful as always to Chicago’s Music Box Theatre for bringing in movies like this.

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