Category Archives: Film

Dunkirk….Wow! what a movie

dunkirk-teaser900Dunkirk is an epic movie and an intimate series of character studies. It is a three-part fugue on war and is uncommonly powerful, it is also so very, “keep calm and carry on”, English. Christopher Nolan wrote and directed the movie and it bends time and space in a way only he seems to be able to do. The three parts of the fugue are on the beach, on the sea, and in the air; each of the three parts have different tempos in that they take place over different time spans but they all play the same melody. The first part takes place over a span of one week which is about how long the troops were stranded, the second over one day which is about the time it takes a small boat to go from England to Dunkirk and back, and the third takes place over one hour which is about how long a Spitfire can fly in aerial combat. Then the three parts are intermixed so our sense of time is yanked around.

Dunkirk is a front brain movie that rewards paying attention. It is also a big screen movie that has a zen like simplicity, especially on the beach and in the air. It was shot on film rather than digital and it has a beautiful softness and flatness that are immersive on a big screen. As somewhat of an aside, maybe not, I’ve read more than ten accounts, at least, of Germany’s march into Poland in 1939 and every account talks about the Stukas spreading terror. I intellectually knew that they were a weapon to spread terror and fear but, in the back of my mind, I thought it was exaggerated. The Stukas were old dive-bombers after all, they were designed in 1935 and based on an even older American plane, they didn’t even have retractable landing gear and they had a top speed of less than 200mph. But, the German’s mounted sirens on the bottom and, in the movie – as in real life, in Poland for example – as a Stuka dove in on a bombing run, it could be heard before it was even seen. As it got closer, it got louder. I sort of exonerated the terror because  they were flying against Polish peasants who didn’t know any better, but here, in this movie, hearing the siren getting closer and realizing, feeling, the helplessness of being on the ground, I understand, I felt, that terror. It is that kind of movie. End somewhat of aside.

As the movie gets closer to the end, the pace picks up and all three parts of the fugue come together in a grand finale. It is a tour de force by a master. This is a war movie, and a powerful war movie with shocking and very intense scenes in a first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan way so, if that scares you, stay away. But, if you want to see a masterpiece by a master at the height of his powers, see this on the biggest screen you can.

Go see “The Big Sick”

The Big Sick A-As an aside, I am definitely doing something wrong, this is the third time I’ve typed this. Then I think I save it and all that comes back is the picture. Michele and I went to a small get-together to honor Catherine Santos, it was at her home and I had never been there without her and that really brought home the realization that she is gone. Today I learned one of my co-cardiac-rehabbers, Placida Chavez, died last Wednesday at 93. We often walked on treadmills next to each other and sometimes we chatted; a week ago, we chatted about her finally getting all the weeds in her garden pulled. Now all that is left of Placida is our talking about her and an obit on the table where we write down our vitals. Somehow, my pitch on The Big Sick disappearing seems to fit right in. End aside.

Michele and I saw The Big Sick last Friday and I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It stars Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself, and Zoe Kazan, playing the movie’s script writer, Emily V. Gordon who in real life is married to Nanjiani and the movie is about their early relationship. Zoe Kazan is radiant – the only other time I’ve seen her in a movie, Ruby Sparks, she was also radiant and she should get more work – and that radiance is bright enough to carry her presence through the Big Sick phase of the movie in which she is in a coma. The movie is billed as a RomCom and it is very romantic and very funny but it is also about how our relationships don’t exist in a vacuum and a big chunk of the film is about Nanjiani’s relation with his and Emily’s parents. Every player in this movie, from the loving- couple to the nurse in the hospital seems real.

Trust me on this, go see The Big Sick.

“Get Out” and the outsider

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We saw Get Out, the horror movie by the comedian Jordan Peele. I am not a horror movie fan or, more accurately, I didn’t think I was until I heard the genera explained on Terry Gross’ Fresh Air the day before the movie. Apparently, there are two species of horror films, the slasher in which some relentless force, like Freddy Kruger, is chasing the protagonist and movies in which the protagonist is sucked into what looks normal but seems slightly off. I want to add that a horror film must also have creepy music.

The second kind of film, the sucked in one, turns out to be the kind of film I really like. Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies and I have always chalked it up to  Roman Polanski, turns out that I just like horror movies (although Polanski did a great job). One of my favorite movies from last year was  10 Cloverfield Lane.

Get Out is stylish, witty, and great fun to watch. It also approaches race and racism in an eye-opening way and we saw it in a racially mixed, packed theater. As an aside, when I say racially mixed, I really mean a higher than usual proportion of African-Americans. Silicon Valley is about 32% Asian, 26% Hispanic, 35% white and only 2% black and I think most of the 2% are former pro-ball players who are now investors. End aside. Peele, the director, is black and so is the protagonist and point of view of the movie – which, I  suspect, changed our usual theater demographic breakdown – but most of the actors in the movie, and the guys we are rooting against, are white.

Looking back at my headline, the hero being black is an integral part of the movie in that he is an outsider. Like all outsiders, he has outsider-radar and is seeing things that are slightly off but his desire to please, to be a good black man, keeps overriding his instincts (but, of course, not ours). The instincts, that are not reciprocal,  that any outsider, including women I suspect, must have about the insiders…if they are going to survive.

If you want to catch a movie that you will walk out of feeling great, I whole heartily recommend Get Out. If you want to stay home, try 10 Cloverfield Lane.

As an after thought, the movie is also funny at times and there was one scare, after which the audience clapped, in effect saying Nice, you got me! 


La La Land

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If you want to get away from Trump for an afternoon or an evening, go see La La Land. It is terrific. It is a subtle and realistic movie about a relationship – relationships, really – with the unspoken as music. It is a deep, moving movie disguised as a frolic.

Living the Good Life in the rain

hidden-figuresWe got hit by the big storm over last weekend and, as often happens in our neighborhood, a tree was blown over, taking out the power to three homes. But, to safely work on the power outage, PG&E shut down the whole neighborhood. Sitting in the dark, with no heat, did not seem like the best way to pass a Sunday, even though it was in the 50s outside, so we decamped and went out to a late lunch at La Viga, my favorite upscale Mexican restaurant.

After the distraction of a seafood stew for lunch, we still had a Christmas tree to take down and wanted to go home and get busy. In our new interconnected world, all we had to do was check the PG&E website to get all the details of the power outage and its repair which is handy and would have been even handier if they said we had power. But we still didn’t (although it was on the schedule). We decided to go see a movie because…what else are you going to do on a rainy Sunday. Hidden Figures was on our short list and was just at the right time, so Hidden Figures is was. We were not disappointed.

Hidden Figures is sort of an old-fashioned movie, the kind with a happy ending – wherein the white bosses redeem themselves – that you know is coming. Getting to the ending, however, is a rough journey. The movie centers on three black woman Katherine G. Johnson played by Taraji P. Henson, Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, and Mary Jackson played by Janelle Monae, who worked for NASA  as computers in an era when engineers often did the conceptional engineering but the complex and tedious math was done by people called “computers”.

This happy ending is one of those happy endings that leave the audience teary-eyed and it left me a little ashamed and embarrassed as a white privileged male. While this is an uplifting movie about three “colored” women, like any movie about people of color in the 50s and 60s, it is really about race, prejudice, institutionalized segregation, and our ugly past that has only somewhat been diluted in the ensuing years. There are very few white heroes in this movie – duh! – with the notable exception of John Glenn, and the story the movie tells about the interaction between Glenn and “the smart one” is, according to all accounts I can find online, true.

The opening sequence is about the fear that every black person has of the very police whose sworn duty is to protect them. This is 1961 or 1962 in the Jim Crow South and prejudice is institutionalized but that fear of the police, if one is black, sadly is still just common sense anywhere in the United States. Towards the end of the film, one of the white women supervisors, in talking to a black woman who should be a supervisor, says “I have nothing against you” and the black woman answers, “And I believe you believe that”. If all this makes Hidden Figures seem like a downer, it isn’t. The movie is fun, interesting, and touching while feeling very real. I highly recommend it, it is one of the best movies we have seen in the last year.

After the movie, the rain continued and we still had no power so we had a light dinner and returned to the multiplex to see Passengers with Chris Pratt and Jeniffer Lawrence. Passengers is gorgeous, a couple of the special effects are especially good, and Jennifer Lawrence is transcendent but, in the end, it was not what I had hoped.

As an aside, Michele says that I always think Jenifer Lawrence is transcendent which is pretty true, but, in Passengers, her acting is luminous, even for her. End aside.

After Passengers we still didn’t have power so we just went home and climbed into bed. We woke the next morning to a warm house with power, only slightly inconvenienced.