At long last, happy 2015 readers! It’s into the final lap for me now, and to prep for it, I’ve been keeping it nice and relaxed for this last Christmas break. Incidentally, while I’m on the subject, this business of a 5-6 week vacation carries on into the real world as well, yes? This is something I’ll still be able to look forward to for years and years? Whew, that’s a relief.
Well anyways, one of my favorite ways to relax over break is by watching movies – seriously, who doesn’t love that?? – and since movie-watching usually takes a pretty serious hit while the semester’s in session, I made it a priority to catch up on a bunch now that I’ve got the time for it. Since I’ve been itching to get back writing here, and for lack of anything more interesting for you all, here are some quick little blurbs on all the flicks I’ve been able to catch!
An adaptation of what my dad tells me is his favorite book he’s ever read, this one gains points on the sheer merit of its true-to-life hero, the incredible Olympic athlete and WWII P.O.W. Louis Zamperini. After running for the U.S. in the 1936 Olympics (which were held in Nazi Berlin), Zamperini joined the army to fight in the Pacific theater; his plane went down during a reconnaissance mission in 1943, and after spending 47 days adrift in a life raft, he was taken prisoner by Japanese soldiers and bounced around prison camps for the remainder of the war. The movie, decently directed by Angelina Jolie, is a long one, and to someone like me who’s never read the book, Zamperini’s hellish ordeals can drag on after a while. Jolie never really makes a point above and beyond how incredible Zamperini’s story is; while she’s not wrong, I think more could have been done with it to make his (and our) endurance actually mean something. If nothing else, at least you’ll never find me saying “I had a bad day” ever again.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
This one’s quite personal for me, actually. My time in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth began Christmastime 2001, when I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring in theaters. Everyone has their own defining childhood memories from pop culture – seeing Star Wars for the first time, getting your first comic book, whatever – and these movies are mine. They have become embedded into my DNA. I revisit Tolkien’s texts basically on an annual basis, I dive into the hours of behind-the-scenes bonus materials on the DVDs… heck, I only got into distance running in the first place in case my friends were ever abducted by a pack of orcs and I needed to give chase. I cherish, adore, LOVE these films, so as you might guess, I’m fairly bittersweet about it all coming to an end. It’s a heck of an end, no doubt: Peter Jackson delivers spectacle like nobody on Earth, and we’re in the safest hands from the goosebumpy opening all the way through to the end credits song. Arguments will rage over the years about the decision to expand Tolkien’s fairy story into a 3-film epic, but you’ll never hear a breath of complaint from me. From the 3rd grade to my senior year of college, following these movies has shaped me as a person, and that journey’s now made it full-circle – or Ring, if you will.
The Imitation Game
A stone-cold winner. Being offed by an angry bargeman within minutes of The Hobbit apparently gave leading man Benedict Cumberbatch time enough to hone a performance that will more than likely be crowding his mantelpiece with trophies in the coming awards season. His Alan Turing, the British mathematician responsible for cracking the Nazi Enigma code during WWII and the father of the modern computer, is an achievement more impressive even than his U2 photobomb at the Oscars. He’s helped by some great supporting performances from Keira Knightley and Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister, for all my Game of Thrones people) among others, and an insanely good script; when the film gets into “Turing Test” territory, exploring whether something is still capable of thought even if it deviates from what’s considered to be “normal” human brain patterns – an argument which the script BRILLIANTLY uses to examine not only artificial intelligence, but Turing’s homosexuality – it’s some of the best cinema of 2014. As the Brits say, a cracking good one.
A Christmas Carol (1938)
Check me on this, but I believe the adaptation count of Charles Dickens’ 1843 Yuletide classic is about five hundred billion. Could be more. Like I said, you should check. BUT, despite the fact that most of you reading this can quote the exchange between the miserly Scrooge and his seven-years-dead business partner verbatim, this 1938 incarnation with Reginald Owen at the helm in his nightcap and slippers is mandatory viewing for anyone who’s ever heard the phrase “Bah – humbug!” Big production values, some special effects that I’m sure were jaw-dropping in 1938, and a firm adherence to its source material earn this one high marks. But when said source material is maybe the greatest story ever penned by man, that’s certainly not a Christmas miracle.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Sigh. There are so, so many good things here at work that I should really like this movie, but for some reason it’s just eh. I actually prefer Andrew Garfield wearing the web-shooters to Tobey Maguire; Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is perfect, a living Jack Kirby girl come right off the panel; the chemistry between them would be enough to sell any rom-com on its own; to boot, this is probably the best Spidey action we’ve seen to date, the full realization of what Stan Lee was probably dreaming about back in 1962. But the fact that the rest of the film pretty much cancels out all these fantastic elements should tell you all you need to know. It’s overlong, there are some annoying creative deviations from the perfectly sound comic sources, and it doesn’t seem to know when to say “enough is enough.” This franchise has been right at the forefront of all Sony Studios’ recent woes, and for the sake of my favorite superhero of all time, I really do hope it can right itself enough to keep the web-slinger in business.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
Sherlock Holmes, but NOT Cumberbatch’s (he’s busy elsewhere, after all). Nope, this one is Basil Rathbone’s, whom a lot of Holmesians consider to be the definitive incarnation – and outings like this are the reason why. Mist-enshrouded moors, fireplace séances , murderous, bug-eyed convicts on the loose… this one’s got it all. It plays a little fast and loose with its literary inspiration (most versions of this story usually do, for some reason), and the heavy hand of censorship required for movies of the late 30s becomes too apparent at times, but lots of this is plain and simple Holmes at his deerstalker best. Perfect for a windy winter afternoon viewing.
From Russia with Love
As the final entry of what I suddenly realize is a predominantly Anglophilic list, I think it’s fitting that I close with perhaps the single most iconic British character from the second half of the 20th century. That’s Bond… James Bond. I’m a big fan of 007, and if you can keep a secret, 2012’s superb Skyfall is one of my very favorite movies I’ve seen in the last five years. With that outing imparting the solid advice that the old ways are sometimes still the best, I’ve been backtracking 007’s history whenever I have enough free time, and so came across this firework. It’s not the first Bond film (it’s #2, if you’re curious), but it’s what many Bond enthusiasts today consider to be the all-time best, and with good reason. Set at the height of Cold War espionage, it’s Sean Connery in his wisecracking, ladykilling prime, and it introduces most of what would later come to be staples in 007 flicks; a suitcase with more firepower than some prison armories, exotic locations in Istanbul and on the Orient Express, a KNOCKOUT leading lady, and the looming, shadowy threat of SPECTRE. With current-Bond Daniel Craig suiting up for what’s looking to be another incredible spin in the Aston later on this year, I can’t recommend enough taking a look back at this 60s classic; it’s leaner, wittier, and more downright fun than pretty much anything else you’ll come up against, I’ll wager. Mission accomplished, Mr. Bond.
That’s all I’ve managed for now; break still has a few weeks left, so if there’s anything you think I need to add to this list, feel free to let me know! Happy viewings!!