Movie Gems

I am a movie buff, and was a buff as a young boy growing up in Winnipeg.  Back then as a 10 year old, I had a 35 cent allowance that covered a return bus trip to downtown Winnipeg, my ticket to the Rialto Theatre on Portage Avenue, unlimited popcorn, two features (usually western schlock), a dozen cartoons, and I still had a nickel left over!  Last week I went to the flicks, got my $10 senior’s ticket, and passed when I saw that a bag of popcorn, coke and a candy bar would set me back an additional $17.95.  I am, after all, a man of some principle.

In any case, and sadly, there are few movies worth seeing right now.   “Red Sparrow” – no – except that Jennifer Lawrence looked very comely.  “You Were Never Really Here” is hard to recommend unless you want to see a very moody Joaquin Phoenix do in very bad guys with a ball pein hammer.  I saw both, the latter with three other people in the theatre.

So, let me save you a few bucks and list here some movie gems that you can watch comfortably at home (rented, on Netflix, or otherwise streamed) and that you may have overlooked.   

“Burn After Reading”

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, are prolific, creative and always entertaining.  Their movies include “Raising Arizona” (with Nicholas Cage as a hair-challenged ex-con), “Fargo” (with Frances McDormand.  Frances is married to Joel Coen, by the way), “Blood Simple” (the Coen’s first feature – a good one, but bloody),  “No Country for Old Men” (Javier Bardem as one of cinema’s most frightening villains), and many more. 

“Burn After Reading” might be described as a dark comedy.  According to Wikipedia, Joel Coen said that he and his brother “have a long history of writing parts for idiotic characters.”  They succeeded with “Burn After Reading.”  I won’t spoil the story line for you, except to say that there are many layers that begin to stack up around an espionage plot.  What is truly fascinating to me is the cast.  The Coens recruited an A-list of actors to portray their idiotic characters.  Consider this:  George Clooney (two-time Oscar winner), Tilda Swinton (Oscar winner), Frances McDormand (two-time Best Actress Oscar winner for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” but also for “Fargo” – did you know?),  John Malkovich (two Oscar nominations), Richard Jenkins (two-time Academy Award nominee), J.K. Simmons (Oscar winner), and Brad Pitt (who won an Oscar as a producer for “Twelve Years a Slave”).  Brad Pitt almost steals this movie as a gum-chewing, vacuum-brained personal trainer.  I believe that Brad is a pretty good actor, and then there is his personal life, including a relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow and marriages to Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie.  Not bad, and all over apparently, but I would go with Jennifer if asked.

Yes, that is Brad (with Richard Jenkins) In “Burn After Reading.”  The movie was released in 2008.  Ten years later, it is worth seeing.

“Death at a Funeral”

A reviewer at The Observer said the movie, “in which a fine British cast is wasted on feeble material, is directed by Frank Oz in less than wizardly form.”  A pun at the expense of a very entertaining movie?  I think so.

Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, (the film is) “in the tradition of those classics, in black and white and starring Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness, in which disasters keep piling up, each more drolly funny than the last.”  Good for Ruthe.

And Roger Ebert said, among other comments, “I think the ideal way to see it would be to gather your most dour and disapproving relatives and treat them to a night at the cinema.”  I am fortunate to not have any dour and disapproving relatives.  I am sharing this blog with my relatives, by the way.  And this movie is a treat. 

At the funeral of his father, the son, (played by Mathew Macfadyen) is confronted by his father’s alleged lover (played by Peter Dinklage) who demands a blackmail payment to keep secret his relationship with the deceased father.  In a struggle that ensues, the lover hits his head on a coffee table, and believed to be dead, his body is placed in the coffin along with the father.  It goes from there.

Some of the character bits are truly hilarious.  Alan Tudyk as an unwilling dupe who has ingested what he thought was Valium (it was not);  Peter Vaughan as demanding Uncle Alfie who has continence issues; and not to forget Peter Dinklage, star of the “Game of Thrones,” as the lover.

This movie was remade in 2010 in the U.S., with a predominantly black cast (Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Martin Lawrence) and not nearly as good.  In the image that follows, Peter Dinklage, as the “lover.”   

See the movie – it is very good.

“In the Loop”

Armando Ianucci is a television producer and director and is a Scot.  Yes, despite the name, Armando is a Glaswegian, born of a Neapolitan father and a mother born in Scotland of an Italian family. His most recent effort for the big screen was “The Death of Stalin” – somewhat short of the black comedy description it has been given, but a movie I liked nonetheless.  There are some movies you just appreciate just for the effort, and this was one.  Don’t rush out to see “Stalin” though.  I mean, I loved “No Country for Old Men” but it was not a movie you could urge your mother to go see.

Armando has produced the Alan Partridge series and a British television show called “In the Thick of It” which, in turn, was the precursor for the movie, “In the Loop.”

“In the Loop” is one of the most profanely funny movies I have seen, without being truly profane.  It is a lesson in politics that pre-dates but somehow predicts the Trump era.  Peter Capaldi is the star (Peter is also the current Doctor Who) who – sorry about that little bit of redundancy – seems to run the entire British government.  Who would dare to stand in his way?  The cast includes Tom Hollander and the late James Gandolfini, he of “The Sopranos” fame. 



“Snatch” was directed by Guy Ritchie, famous for directing “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” – also worth seeing.  Guy is also famous for being to married to Madonna.  Madonna, for her part, was also married to Sean Penn and had relationships with Warren Beatty and Dennis Rodman. Yes, that Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls and self-described “bad boy,” who is also a friend of Kim Jung-un: which leads me to think that knowing Dennis Rodman has been there – that is to say, North Korea and Madonna – neither are places I would want to explore.

But I digress – so back to “Snatch.”

There are two layers to the plot here; one that deals with a stolen diamond, a second about fight fixing.  The cast includes Brad Pitt as a “Pikey” (read Gypsy or Irish Traveller) who is very good with his fists, Jason Statham (soon to be type-cast as an avenger with martial arts skills), Dennis Farina (now deceased, but great in gangster roles – as in “Get Shorty”), and Benicio del Toro.  Benicio won an Oscar for his role in “Traffic” and was prominent in “The Usual Suspects” and “Sicario.”  Of note, Benicio was in a relationship with the daughter of Rod Stewart that has produced a grand-daughter for Sir Rod. 

Brad Pitt is a scene stealer once again.  He is barely intelligible in his “Pikey” role, and the ladies will like his fight scenes where much emphasis is placed on his abs and tats.  That is Brad in the foregoing, enjoying a smoke between rounds with Jason Statham and Stephen Graham.

“Michael Clayton”

Released in 2007, “Michael Clayton” received seven nominations for Academy Awards, and was a profitable film, but seemed to be under the radar.  Did you see it?

George Clooney is Michael Clayton, a “fixer” working for a law firm and who knows all the short-cuts and loopholes that can right the wrongs of his firm’s clients.  Tilda Swinton is the villain here, a lawyer trying to suppress data on a carcinogenic herbicide that would have significant consequences for her employer.  Tilda’s character is described by a New York Times reviewer as “a pitiful creature, as unloved by her writer-director creator as by the genius actress who plays her.”  I felt uncomfortable watching her and she truly deserved the Oscar for her performance.

Tilda is pictured below in a somewhat normal pose.

Tilda is easily transformed.  Not a classic beauty, but she has worked as a model.  Here she is as she appeared in the “Grand Budapest Hotel.”  And then below that, after having her hair done.