May 6th, 2019 (Classics – Top 3)

This past week I have been away and lamenting the fact there aren’t any movies that I care to see or spend money on at the theatre.  I am also recognizing that many of my favourite films are ones I have seen long ago and haven’t been reviewed here.  I was asked just a couple days ago what memorable movies have I watched lately and I was hard pressed to think of many.  It is easier to back into my own personal archives in my head to come up with favourite movies. So as a result I will take some time to talk about films that are on the top of my list.  Typically when I am asked about my favourite film I will say that I have three.  There are lists that were noted earlier in my writing.  The top ones haven’t changed. But let me expand upon the selections and why.
Shawshank Redemption is a choice that I have discussed before usually referring to other films or lists.  To me, this is really a film about friendship and hope. Having just spent a few days with a really good friend, I value this tremendously. Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is a young banker and accused of murdering his wife, who had announced she was divorcing him. He is found guilty and sent to a Maine prison in the 40s. He meets up with “Red”, played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman. Most, if not all readers, will know the plot from here as Andy goes through his time at Shawshank. These two men and others around them find the value of hope, and friendship as well as being “institutionalized”. There is drama and suspense and an unexpected resolution. I think I am most moved by one the closing scenes with Red. Andy has made a request of him and he looks to fulfill it. In that moment when an uncertain leap of faith has materialized a lifeline is given.  Hope.  This is an old reliable film that I can watch time and again.  Each time it moves me even though I know where the story is going.  The performances are universally solid. The warden, the chief of the guards (Mr Hadley) and the librarian are all very good.  This is a film on the top of many people’s lists that I know, both men and women. It surprises me a little about women since they are not represented here for the story.  But I think a good story is still a good story. See it if you haven’t. See it again if you haven’t in a while.

Jaws I re-saw just at the end of December on the big screen at TIFF Lightbox as part of a special presentation. I brought my youngest son.  We had Jaws t-shirts on and watched in a crowded theatre.  This for me is two stories.  There is the small town drama in the beginning for the town council to make a tough decision about beaches being closed during the beginning of peak summer holiday season.  But once made, it turns into an adventure on the sea with nature playing chess with man.  It is a master directorial effort by Steven Spielberg in the film that made his career. With a wonky and temperamental mechanical shark in real life, he found ways for the viewer to believe the shark was there.  Barrels and music were key contributors. Colourful Quint (Robert Shaw) and his story of the USS Indianapolis adds to the seriousness but there are a few laughs along the way.  I saw this film multiple times in the theatre when it first came out as a kid.  I had a memorable plastic shark given as a stocking stuffer that year for Christmas.  I can watch this film time and again. I still have a bucket list item to try and see a great white (or other big shark) up close in their territory.  Quite simply the beginning of summer blockbusters and the remarkable film career for Steven Spielberg.

Finally I have Amadeus as a third favourite.  I also saw this not too long ago when it played with a live orchestra at the Toronto Hummingbird Centre. What a performance! For me I am in awe of the creative process and Mozart remains one of the world’s foremost composers ever.  He was a rock star of his age, but most think of those composers as stuffy and serious performing “boring” music.  It is far from it. Mozart was creating new and remarkable works that stand the test of time.  When Sir Neville Marriner the music director for Academy of St Martins in the Fields was asked about being part of this film (it was a play first) he said he was interested but only if “not one note of the music was changed”.  It wasn’t.  And the music is another character in the movie.  Listen how Antonio Salieri speaks about the Mozart music he hears and sees on the page.  He is a rival, he wants to be famous himself, but he is angry at God for not giving him the talent. He can only recognize the incarnation.  He represents the “Everyman” who puts in his time and then fades away.  I think the by-play between the two men is remarkable.  F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for this performance defeating Tom Hulce.  He is amazing.  It is a performance of a lifetime and one he landed right after finishing with Scarface.  There are some funny stories about filming in Prague in the early 80s.  Milos Forman the director was a native Czech who was just returning to his homeland having fled the Communists. Not many films show the creative process.  Fewer still can reflect it as well on such a timeless subject as this one.  Is this story true?  No. There are plenty of accounts that suggest that Salieiri was not in any involved in the death of Mozart.  Still the story is is relatable and compelling.  It is truly heartbreaking to see the great musical genius taken away at such an early age. One wonders what further masterpieces he would have made.  This film showcasing his talent is just another one.

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December 31st, 2018 (New Year’s Eve edition)

As I entered into the last week of 2018, I was fortunate enough to be able to see one of my favourite movies of all time on the big screen once again;  Jaws!   I had the added bonus of sharing the experience with my youngest son (14yo) who had only ever seen this film with me on the small screen at home.   He was introduced to seeing this with a live audience and with huge sound and screen, the way it was originally intended.   It was a late showing (9:45PM) but still an almost full theatre with people who collectively hadn’t all seen (or possibly remembered) the scary parts because there were audible gasps and jumps at some parts.   How refreshing!    This is a classic story for me, told in two parts.   The first part is establishing our new police chief in small island town (Amity) Roy Scheider and his family (wife and two boys).   This tourist town prepares for the summer high season and when a shark stakes a claim off its shores and injures some bathers and the town politics enters into it (the scene with Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) trying to talk about the shark tooth to the town mayor (Murray Hamilton) in front of the town billboard is priceless).   The stronger half for me is the adventure on the ocean as three men go out to find and kill this great white shark.  They are lead by Quint (Robert Shaw) who is a survivor of the USS Indianapolis, and has taken his life’s work to avenge the deaths of fellow sailors from that ill fated ship in WWII in the Pacific.  Quint, Hooper and the Chief have a terrific chemistry.    The music adds so very much to the tension and the story.  John Williams is brilliant in adding to the sense of where the shark is (and isn’t) along with the chase scenes.   In big sound, it takes on added importance.

Even after dozens of viewings, this movie still holds new things for me to see, or at least view them differently.   For me this viewing showed me more of the deep seeded impact on Quint of his war years and the ship sinking.   He takes it to a manic stage through his actions with the radio on the boat as well as driving the boat in such a way as to ensure that it is inoperable.   All of this taking place with full protest by his captive ship mates, Brody and Hooper.  He’s a colourful character and delivers the most memorable lines in the film from a Steven Spielberg perspective (USS Indianapolis speech, which Shaw himself helped to craft).   I also had not remembered the very end scene with Chief saying out loud “show me the tank”.   Finally, this was a very clear and bright print of the film, and the opening beach scenes have always been darker and hard to see more clearly.   This print allowed the viewer to see Crissy and the young man more clearly as they ran the beach to go swimming.    Adam liked seeing the two live shooting stars that are in the film too.   This is a movie that ushered in the summer blockbuster age, and I left feeling charged and excited for both me and my young son.   He finally saw one of my favourites as it was meant to be seen.   Jaws is on the big screen at TIFF Lightbox Wed Jan 2.

On Netflix, I saw the new film from Sandra Bullock Bird Box.  It has an impressive cast, adding in John Malkovich, Tom Hollander, Sarah Paulson, and Jacki Weaver.   This is a suspense-thriller in the same genre as A Quiet Place.   In fact, I feel as though without the success of A Quiet Place, that this project doesn’t get green lighted.   The structure is basically the same, but this time people around the world are seeing something and then going crazy or having mass suicides.   It begins in Russia and Europe and is reported in the US where Bullock plays an artistic woman who is pregnant.  The father has absconded and she is not really very enthusiastic about having a child.   She through flashbacks is seen before the incidents as the creatures (unseen in any meaningful way as opposed to A Quiet Place) enters and force people indoors and avoid seeing the outside world.   Things happen, both expected and unexpected.   Bullock goes on a perilous journey which is the opening scene in the film as she heads down a river in a metal rowboat, but without the ability to see where she is going.   There is a level of disbelief that one has to have here, and some aspects just didn’t make much sense.   If you want to see a suspense-thriller set with an invading species, the better movie to me remains A Quiet Place.    Still there was some interesting scenes here with some good supporting roles.

A quick word while on the topic of horror about the Canadian A Christmas Horror Story from 2015.   This stars William Shatner, as a radio personality who is broadcasting on Christmas Eve in this small town.   Strange things are happening and there are scenes with a family going on a road trip, and another group of teens looking to explore a recent killing of fellow students at a school.    Then there is the scenes of Santa Claus himself looking to deal with elves who have turned in a tragic way.   This is not classic cinema, but it held my attention.   I think that the genre of the Christmas themed horror movie could be explored much more deeply.   The Krampus character is introducing something I have not ever heard about before.   But once again it is interesting.   If it pops up the small screen somewhere, it might be worth a little light-hearted fun.

Turning the page on 2018, I look forward to Awards season and there are more films I want to see in the theatre.   It was a good year for film, although maybe not as strong as 2017.   Wishing one and all a very prosperous and fun 2019 with plenty of good movies.