Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Category: Film (page 1 of 13)

The Post

Ready Player One took my esteem for Spielberg down a notch, but The Post—made after Ready Player One but released before it—has elements of his best work, even if it doesn’t rise above the sum of its parts. Generally it’s standard Spielberg, with old-school liberal and institutionalist views on the press, akin to Lincoln in its reverence for American mythologies. But cinematically it’s much more robust and limber than a lot of his recent stuff, with closely observed moments like the shot of Bob Odenkirk’s reporter character typing at his desk as the Washington Post‘s printing press rumbles to life in a climactic moment. I think the lack of prep time did him good.

Also, I am 99% sure Tom Hanks did this movie because of all the typewriters. Working with Spielberg and Meryl Streep was merely a bonus.

Top 5 Lord of the Rings moments

It’s been 15 years since Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was released, prompting Filmspotting to dedicate an entire episode to the trilogy. And it’s been 10 years since I wrote my own appreciation of the films and the fond memories surrounding them. My feelings haven’t changed since then. In fact I have two more memories to add, both involving my wife.

Upon meeting we quickly discovered our mutual appreciation of the trilogy. Ipso facto, one of our first dates was a marathon viewing of all three films—extended editions of course. This happened amidst a blizzard so we went for snowy walks between films. Probably because of this foundational event, we ended up infusing LOTR into our wedding ceremony a few years later. We used “Concerning Hobbits” on repeat for the processional, then transitioned into the first part of “The Breaking of the Fellowship” (see below) for Jenny’s entrance.

Reader, I cried. Whether due to my beautiful bride or the music or the combination of both, it was a peak moment on the best day of my life.

So yeah, Lord of the Rings still means a lot to me. (Watching Lindsay Ellis dissect the tragedy of The Hobbit movies reinforced this all the more.) I have no idea what to expect from Amazon’s forthcoming TV series dedicated to Middle-earth, but it won’t affect my regard for the books or Peter Jackson’s original trilogy.

Top 5 Lord of the Rings moments

Picking just five moments out of 11.5 hours of film is a fool of a Took’s errand, but here are mine, in chronological order through the series.

“You shall not pass!” / “Fly, you fools!”

This scene has been memed to death, but that doesn’t negate the sheer power of Gandalf’s last stand in Moria. For someone who knew nothing of the trilogy when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring, this was a true gut punch.

“Forgive me, I did not see.”

Sean Bean, also a meme all-star and cinematic death champion, lends pathos and grace to the first true death in the fellowship. Boromir’s character arc might be the most interesting one in the first film.

“I wish the ring had never come to me.”

From the aforementioned “Breaking of the Fellowship” scene in which Frodo sets off with Samwise. The quote is originally from a scene in Moria with a vastly different tone, but it’s repurposed here to stunning effect. (See also: “Alas, that these evil days should be mine,” a quote by King Théoden in the books that didn’t make the movie but expresses a similar sentiment.)

Courage, Merry. Courage for our friends.”

Eowyn’s later “I am no man” line gets all the (deserved) love, but this moment sets that one up. The princess, eager to fight but finally aware of the gravity of battle, summons the strength for Merry and herself, who both fight for more than themselves.

“My friends, you bow to no one.”

This one made my “beautiful movie music moments” list for a reason. It’s the most triumphant of the several Return of the King endings, with Howard Shore’s main theme on full orchestral blast.

There’s always money in the Death Star

I don’t know who made this mashup of Arrested Development and Star Wars, but it captures the show’s tone so perfectly, and not only because Ron Howard himself provided the narration:

This might even make me want to see Solo: A Star Wars Story.

[*Ron Howard Arrested Development voice*] It won’t.

The Death of Stalin

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like The Death of Stalin, Veep creator Armando Iannucci’s new film about the farcical machinations of Stalin’s inner circle after the dictator’s sudden death in 1953. Don’t be fooled by the serious title: this is social and political satire at his sharpest, loosely based on real events but also exactly right about much more than its subject.

In the film, Stalin’s surprising death sets his cronies scrambling on how to appear to honor their beloved leader while also scheme to seize his power. One contender is future Premier Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), probably the most well-known name of the group. The other is Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), chief of the Soviet secret police and power-hungry instrument of the widespread purges, executions, and violent repression of that era. Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin are other highlights of the excellent cast, and Jason Isaacs nearly steals the movie as Georgy Zhukov, the brash Red Army commander.

Shot and lit almost like a stage play, the film is a black comedy of manners, with men trying to save face and save their own lives while jockeying for position. As all this happens in Stalin’s country dacha or palatial government buildings, when we do venture outside the halls of power we see the brutal reality of life in a totalitarian regime for regular people: being tortured in a gulag, say, or being forced to reenact an entire symphony for Stalin’s pleasure.

This juxtaposition—“slapstick horror” as Manohla Dargis called it—is jarring but somehow sings. It’s like an extended episode of Veep if Selina Meyer had been a repressive dictator. The laughs don’t come at the expense of the true victims but in response to how the Committee members struggle with their darkly absurd circumstances, like what to do with Stalin’s soiled, unconscious body, or how to communicate with each other while standing guard during Stalin’s funeral and trying to appear stately while doing so.

Though Stalin himself isn’t a prominent character in the film, even in death he looms over everything and everyone, affecting every choice or non-choice these bureaucrats wrestle with, the way the paranoid authoritarian and his regime of senseless violence really did.

The real Khrushchev later reflected in his memoirs about the horrors of this time:

Stalin called everyone who didn’t agree with him an “enemy of the people.” He said that they wanted to restore the old order, and for this purpose, “the enemies of the people” had linked up with the forces of reaction internationally. As a result, several hundred thousand honest people perished. Everyone lived in fear in those days. Everyone expected that at any moment there would be a knock on the door in the middle of the night and that knock on the door would prove fatal … [P]eople not to Stalin’s liking were annihilated, honest party members, irreproachable people, loyal and hard workers for our cause who had gone through the school of revolutionary struggle under Lenin’s leadership. This was utter and complete arbitrariness. And now is all this to be forgiven and forgotten? Never!

We’ve heard about the banality of evil, but the capriciousness of evil, to me, is just as destructive, if not more so. Regimes that rule through fear and paranoia and unpredictability create a living nightmare for everyone, not just the people thrown in jail.

The Death of Stalin enters that nightmare and tries to expose it with the harsh light of humor. Iannucci does stretch his artistic license to the max, condensing the factual historical timeline and giving the main characters a variety of English accents. But by doing so he’s able to honor the absurdity of this true story and bring it into the 21st century in a seriously funny way.

Which movie changed you?

On Being—a top-5 podcast for me—has a new offshoot podcast called This Movie Changed Me, with “one fan talking about the transformative power of one movie.” So far they’ve featured Star Wars: A New HopeEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and You’ve Got Mail.

It made me think about what mine would be. The quick and easy answer would be Back to the Future, if only because of how much I’ve written about it on this site. But I think there are other candidates. Some that come to mind, all for different reasons, include It’s a Wonderful LifeHigh FidelityOnceToy Story, and Unbreakable.

I don’t know. I have to think about this. What’s yours?

Update: I want to include some of the replies I’ve gotten to this query:

  • “Oddly enough, Snowpiercer. While it’s a terribly chaotic movie, man, it haunts me every day. The ignorant frivolity of the front car compared to the ruthless survival of the back cars…way too real. I probably think about it every day. Because I’m one of the front car a**holes.”
  • “It’s A Wonderful Life. Each Christmas Eve we watch it I learn something from the movie that is applied to my life; courage through hardship, wisdom of God, love of family and friends, mystery of life. It’s amazing how this movie has been intertwined with me on a small yet profound level.”
  • “Cloud Atlas. I frankly had a spiritual experience in the theater. It articulated my worldview in a way I hadn’t really seen before (or at least to that extent). Uneven as it may be, it floored me.”
  • “While I look at it quite differently now, Chasing Amy had a huge impact on me. Her monologue about sexual freedom and independence is feminist AF and it was like finally having my thoughts and feelings validated.”
  • Do the Right Thing made me aware of how I process anger as a white person.”

Ace Ventura: Reader

“Fiction can be fun, but I find the reference section much more enlightening.” — Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

I was into the Ace Ventura movies to an embarrassing degree as a tween. They entered my consciousness and comic sensibility at the perfect time. I quoted them often. There’s even home video of me doing a pretty good imitation of his goofy cowboy strut.

But a recent rewatch exposed the painful truth that not a lot holds up about it, or, I suspect, in its sequel. The above quote and Jim Carrey’s bravura performance excepted. And really, the movie is his performance. It’s like watching a professional athlete in peak form: all you can do is marvel at the amazing things he can do with his face and body. The fact that he did Ace VenturaThe Mask, and Dumb and Dumber in the same year only adds to his legend.

For the Ace duology anyway, a supercut of the times Carrey is onscreen is all you need. This isn’t true of all of his early performances: Dumb and Dumber must be beheld in its entirety. But this would allow you to skip some atrocious acting from Courtney Cox and a plot that was concocted simply to showcase a future superstar.

Black Panther

So, did it meet my expectations? Definitely. I can’t believe writer-director Ryan Coogler is only 31, and that Michael B. Jordan (also 31) has been in so many great roles already.

I couldn’t help noticing the similarities to Wonder Woman. Hotly anticipated origin stories of beloved but neglected characters, both featuring hidden utopias, badass bands of female warriors, and powerful but conflicted scion-heroes at first uncomfortable with their power and soon disillusioned by unveiled secrets.

And like Wonder Woman, I think the critical hype got just a little too far ahead of the final product. But here are a few things that stood out:

  • Editing. For a long time I’ve pined for an action movie that doesn’t resort to filming an action scene in jump-cut shaky-cam chaos. This one still does, especially in the final act, but the casino fight scene early on is a thing of beauty. Seemingly in one take, the camera flows through the action steadily and lets us behold the combat as if we were there. More of this please!
  • Music. I’m thankful it’s not just more Superhero Action orchestral noise, but a creative mix of hip-hop, African-style percussion, and vocal flourishes.
  • Cast. The bland Martin Freeman aside, they got a crazy-good cast here, with Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis, and Michael B. Jordan providing most of the energy and charisma. And though I think he’s perfectly fine here as T’Challa/Black Panther, surely Chadwick Boseman isn’t the only black actor available for the Black Male Icon roles. Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall weren’t enough?

I saw it Sunday morning of opening weekend. We got to the theater a little before showtime and the lines at the box office were crazy long. Quickly found out that our desired showing was sold out, and the next one was in 3D. The last 3D movie I saw was Avatar, which was cool I guess, but the 3D was kinda dark and blurry from what I remember.

Not the case with Black Panther. The image was crisp and bright, and the wide shots had a cool miniaturized look (not sure if this is common to 3D movies or not). Regardless, I was happy to donate the surcharge to help its monster opening weekend.

Media of the Moment

An ongoing series on books, movies & more I’ve encountered recently:

Nurtured By Love by Shinichi Suzuki. Great little book on how to cultivate talent, specifically in children and music but also for anyone in anything.

On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor. Enjoyed the adventure of this winding, informative book on the nature of trails of all kinds. Like an erudite sequel to A Walk in the Woods.

The Million Dollar Duck. A documentary that follows 6 artists who enter their drawings into the apparently popular and lucrative annual Federal Duck Stamp design contest. Surprisingly dramatic.

Persepolis. Loved this graphic novel’s high-contrast black and white illustration style. Perfect mix of a girl’s light and funny memoir with the high drama of the Iranian revolution.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. It’s fun to watch Jim Carrey go full Method for Man on the Moon now, from a distance, but it looked like a nightmare for everyone else at the time. The Truman Show remains Carrey’s apex.

High Society. Great sick-day movie: Grace Kelly (in her final role) with a lot to do, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra quippin’ and singin’ around a mansion, plus a superfluous but lovely Louis Armstrong performance, in a funny and charming Philadelphia Story/Casablanca rehash that gives everyone a chance to shine. Hard to believe Kelly was only 26 when she retired from acting.

Phantom Thread. I realized pretty quickly this was a dark comedy, which helped me enjoy it in the moment. But not as much as everyone else seems to enjoy it. Pretty sure I was the only one laughing in my screening.

Ingrid Goes West. Taylor’s beefcake, possibly sociopathic bro holding valuable information hostage is the perfect metaphor for Silicon Valley right now, as is this movie overall.

Moonstruck. Can confirm that the conventional wisdom about this movie—”Nicholas Cage and Cher together in a rom-dramedy that strangely works well”—is correct.

School of Rock

“We’re not goofing off. We’re creating musical fusion.”

The video of a guy drumming to the “Just give up” speech from School of Rock inspired me to rewatch that 2003 Richard Linklater film for the first time in a while.

It’s a meaningful movie for me, coming out when I was in high school and a drummer in a rock band. Our guitarist/singer even had the same Gibson SG guitar that Jack Black’s Dewey uses.

At first, we’re meant to see Dewey as a delusional has-been, if a true believer in rock music’s ability to “change the world.” But in his new role as accidental teacher and musical mentor to a class of talented prep school kids, he finds a positive outlet for his enthusiastic idealism (if under shady circumstances). And his maxims about what rock is really about become sound wisdom for impressionable minds rather than just eye rolling platitudes.

This is evident in the scene where the band comes together to make something new together in Zach’s song. Not only does it capture the excitement of “creating musical fusion” with bandmates, but the smile that emerges on Dewey’s face as he steps back to watch the kids come into their own as musicians is a testament to the joy of creative potential being realized.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout, not even counting the “I have been touched by your kids” scene. You really have to be a Jack Black fan to enjoy most of them, if not the whole movie. But even if you aren’t, I can’t see how he wouldn’t win you over with his relentless, goofy energy and legit talent.

Drumming to Dewey Finn in “School of Rock”

File this under “things I’d never think of but now make perfect sense”: drumming synced to Dewey Finn’s “Just give up” speech in School of Rock.

Incredible. He has a bunch more too, like Willy Wonka and Fawlty Towers.

School of Rock was a formative movie for me. It came out when I was in high school and a drummer in a rock band. I still think of it first when I hear “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. (Thor: Ragnarok second.)

See also: the cast’s 10-year reunion show.

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