Sunday, December 25, 2016

Shaun Berk's 10 Movie Recommendations- 580th Edition

Welcome to the 580th edition of my series.  I want to with everyone a Merry Christmas whoever is celebrating and hope everyone else enjoys their day.  I know there have been a lot of downs in this year but I feel it has been a good year for me, especially in the theater world and hope to make 2017 a good year for it as well.  I was in four plays this year, each of which at theaters I have never done a show.  I am also in the finals for my fantasy football league so we'll see how that one goes.  I will now get on with my selections for the week.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014):  Alejandro G. Inarritu directed and co-wrote this film based on a play by Raymond Carver.  Michael Keaton stars as actor Riggin Thomas who is a struggling actor trying to make it on Broadway with a play that he is writing, directing, starring, and co-producing with his friend Jake, played by Zach Galifianakis.  He is trying to establish himself as a true artist after only really being known for his superhero films as the title character and is still haunted by that character that like many artists is his most successful but least favorite work.  Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Edward Norton, Amy Ryan, Merritt Weaver, and many others co-star in this film.  This is a really interesting look into the world of Broadway and just at the life of a struggling actor in general.  Keaton does great as the actor trying to become relevant again and Norton is also good in a role that I heard parodies himself.  I would be interested to see this being performed as a play.

Gremlins 2:  The New Batch (1990):  This is sort of a holiday selection, though not as much as the 1984 film that it is a sequel to.  Joe Dante resumes his role as the director where Zach Galligan reprises his part of Billy who is trying to make it in the corporate world and takes a job in a media building.  While there, he discovers that the Mogwai Gizmo, voiced by Howie Mandel, is there against his will and looks to get him out of the building.  Gizmo is exposed to some water giving birth to other Mogwais and like last time they are not as nice as Gizmo.  Phoebe Cates reprises her role as Billy's girlfriend Kate and Christopher Lee co-stars as the head of the lab in the building performing questionable experiments.  John Glover, Robert Prosky, Gedde Watanabe, John Astin, Julia Sweeney, Henry Gibson, Tony Randall, and many others co-star in this film.  Hulk Hogan, Leonard Maltin, Dick Butkus, and Bubba Smith all have cameos and themselves.  There is also a great cartoon intro involving Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  This is a rather underrated sequel to the first one and I feel stands on its own without being a rehash of the first one.

Surf's Up (2007):  This is part two of my two-part Jeff Bridges series  This is my animated film for the week which was directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck.  This came out during the rise of the penguin films so at first I thought "not another penguin movie" but then I became pleasantly surprised when it was taken to a whole new level topping HAPPY FEET in my opinion.  This centers around penguin Cody Maverick, voiced by Shia Lebeouf, who has dreams of becoming a surfer and decides to enter a contest called the Big Z Memorial Surf Off.  He soon meets an aging recluse penguin named geek, voiced by Bridges, who teaches him about surfing but more importantly about life.  Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, Mario Cantone, Brian Posehn, and real life surfers Kelly Slater, and Rob Machado provide their voices in this film.  This was shot in some ways like a documentary which is one of the things I liked about it.  It also has good lessons on how sometimes just having fun is more important than winning.

Hardrock, Coco, and Joe:  The Three Little Dwarfs (1951):  This is my animated short for the week which is a holiday one.  This is a stop-motion animated movie that centers around Santa's three favorite elves of the holiday.  This is only three minutes long but is still an entertaining watch of Santa and the three elves preparing for Christmas centering around a rather weird song and in the end is a bit of a guilty pleasure.  This is easy to find on youtube.

Pygmalion (1938):  Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard direct this adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play.  Leslie Howard stars as Professor Henry Higgins who is a professor of languages and makes a bet that  he can pass flower lady Eliza Doolittle, played by Wendy Hiller, off as a society lady.  Through his teachings he finds that Eliza has ideas of her own.  Wilfrid Lawson costars as Alfred who is Eliza's father wanting in on some of the action.  For those who do not know, you might have guessed by now that this is what would later become the popular musical MY FAIR LADY.  This is still a very well done film which deserves credit where it is due.  Howard shows a more comedic side that I am used to seeing and does very well.  For those that don't recognize the name, he was Ashley Wilkes in GONE WITH THE WIND.  Hiller is also very good as Eliza.  This was released to the Criterion Collection.

Ring of Bright Water (1969):  I came across this unexpected gem when I was looking at library dvds and came across this one.  Jack Couffer directed this film based on a book by Gavin Maxwell.  Bill Travers stars as Graham Merrill who is a London man walking by a pet shop and becoming intrigued by an otter he sees where he feels that otter is paying attention to him.  He takes the otter and names him Mij.  He soon sees the otter needs more than a little apartment to adventure around and moves them to a remote place in Scotland.  He soon meets the local doctor Mary, played by Virginia McKenna, and her dog Johnny.  The dog and otter form a very cute bond and the four of them all become inseparable.  I found this to be a simple yet very beautiful film that has not gotten much exposure and is something that anyone can like.  This is based on a true story and is amazing in many ways.

Strictly Ballroom (1992):  Baz Luhrman directed this film on ballroom dancing long before this type of dancing went on the rise thanks to the reality show DANCING WITH THE STARS.  Real-life dancer Paul Mercutio stars in this film as dancer Scott Hastings who is tiring of all the tradition in the world of ballroom dancing and is trying to be more contemporary much to the dismay of all involved and his family.  His unconventional dancing costs him and his partner Liz, played by Gia Carides, a contest making her leave him as a partner to join his Ric Flair look-a-like rival Ken Railings, played by John Hannan.  He catches the eye of beginning dancer Fran, played by Tara Morice, who is trying to become his partner and while he does not want to at first, he does agree to teach her some things and she shows him enough interesting dance moves that might fit his more progressive style making him take her in as a partner while his overbearing mother is trying to find him a more suitable partner.  Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson, Barry Otto, and many others co-star in this film.  I mostly expected one of those underdog dance movies and a DIRTY DANCING sort of film but it really went beyond that and exceeding most expectations that I had and I should have known better with this being directed by Luhrman but as not sure since this is his directorial debut.  In many ways this was satire towards the traditional dancing and has a great dysfunctional family element.  I also liked the close-up facial shots of scenes when people were voicing their objections.  This goes way beyond just a dancing movie and was a very compelling watch.

A Christmas Wish (1950):  This is another holiday selection and one I had not heard of until I found the dvd at my local library.  Irving Pachel directed this holiday film of a struggling family getting help from the most unlikely of places.  Jimmy Durante stars as struggling entertainer Louie Amendola who along with his wife, played by Queenie Smith, and daughter Rosalinda, played by Terry Moore, is able to charm his way into an apartment without paying rent.  Tom Drake co-stars as Peter Dingle who clearly understands the struggle of the family while taking a liking to Rosalinda, while his dad Frank, played by Frank Orth, does not like what his son has done.  The family continues to struggle but gets unknown help from a multi-talented squirrel named Rupert.  While this is nothing great, still an enjoyable holiday watch.  There is also very good stop-motion animation on the squirrel to the point that some thought he was real.

Alphaville (1965):  This is my French film for the week which was directed by Jean-Luc Godard which was in a sense a sci-fi film noir.  Eddie Constantine stars as American secret agent Lemmy Caution who is sent to a dystopian city called Alphaville which is on another planet though as far as I know the name of the planet was never said in this movie.  Lemmy is on a mission to find a missing agent named Henri Dickson, played by Akim Tamiroff, and looks to capture or kill the creator of Alphaville in Professor Van Braun, played by Howard Vernon.  Lemmy enlists the help of Van Braun's daughter Natacha, played by Anna Karina, to destroy a computer called Alpha 60 and tries to teach her emotions like love which is banned in this society.  Constantine is a character that was created by British pulp novelist Peter Cheyney but Godard created the sci-fi element that appears to have been inspired by George Orwell.  This was quite different from other French films I have seen that are part of the French New Wave.

The Master (2012):  I end the week with this film from Paul Thomas Anderson who wrote and directed.  Joaquin Phoenix stars as WWII Naval veteran Freddie Quell who is rather bitter and does not know what he wants.  He soon meets Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, the leader of a religious movement, or cult.  Freddie takes a liking to this movement and joins in their cause but slowly becomes frustrated.  Amy Adams co-stars as Lancaster's wife Peggy.  Laura Dern, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek, Jesse Plemons, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jillian Bell, and many others star in this film.  It is a very hard one to descibe, more driven by the characters than anything.  The character of Lancaster Dodd is an inspiration from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard if that says anything.

Well, that is it for this week but continue on for some additional segments I have for the holidays.  Tell me what you like and dislike and stay tuned for next week which so far includes Cate Blanchett, and many others.


It's a Wonderful Life (1959):  This has been a tradition for me to watch every year and this year I got to go to my friend Brittany's house to host this movie.  She is the B in our karaoke duo No BS and came to see me in the play and had never seen this movie.  We started the movie, then were joined by her friends John and Misty and played some euchre while watching the movie.  Brittany and I teamed up and unfortunately lost 2 games to 1 but I don't think they will underestimate me again as this is the first time they have played euchre with me.  Brittany commented that she liked the play a lot better but was still a good night to watch my favorite holiday film and play cards at the same time.  I don't think much needs to be said as I featured this one last week.  I enjoyed getting to be Mr. Gower and having possibly one of my most intense scenes.


The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993):  I watched this when I got to my Dad's house and is one that has been popular through the generations as seems just as popular with the younger crowds as it was when it first came out.  Henry Selick directed this stop-motion animated movie that was mostly written by Tim Burton that takes a look at both Halloween and Christmas.  Jack Skellington, voiced Chris Sarandon and by Danny Elfman when singing, is the king of Halloween Town and is burned out by Halloween and becomes very intrigued when discovering Christmas Town.  He gets the idea to do Christmas and has Santa Claus kidnapped for him to do his own Christmas run but gets far more than he bargained for and Santa ends up being held by Oogie Boogie, voiced by Ken Page, prompting Jack to rush to the rescue to make Christmas right.  Catherine O'hara does the voice for rag doll Sally who takes a liking to Jack and sees a bad future for him in his quest for Christmas.  William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, and many others co-star in this film.  This is one of the rare movies that takes a look at both holidays.  I love that idea but there are some I know that do not like the concept of having both holidays.  I think it is a great concept and that is why it has remained so relevant through the years.  It also has some great music numbers and is also quite dark so it might not be for everyone, especially younger children.  This originated from a poem written by Tim Burton and 1982 and Selick was able to turn it into a classic.

Santa Claus (1959):  This was one that I watched yesterday with my dad who has come to enjoy this holiday b-movie as much I do.  I remember seeing this for the first time years ago when I recorded it from TCM.  When watching it, I just kept watching and throughout this movie, Im just thinking WTF but yet I could not keep my eyes off of it.  There are many things I learned when watching this movie.  For starters, Santa does not have elves, he has child labor from all over the world in which sing very annoying music.  Also, he is apparently at another planet and have reindeer which are made up of what looks like Styrofoam and can only last for so long.  We also learn that Santa and Satan are rivals in which Satan tries every year to ruin Christmas and sends his very inept dance-loving minion Pitch who is told he would be punished with ice cream if he fails.  Now to add to that, we learn that after Merlin was done helping King Arthur, he decided to go work for Santa Claus.  I don't really know what was going through the minds of those involved when this was being made but was bad enough to become a great holiday tradition and I actually prefer this over Santa Claus Conquers the Martians but that is a good double feature.


Why Him? (2016):  I saw this one on Friday at the movie theaters in Columbus with my friend David who works at the theater and seems to have a nickname of Beast which is part of this title.  I was hoping to go to a karaoke bar but the usual place was not having it so I settled for the movie theater and this being what David and his girlfriend Brittany wanted to see so I thought I would give it a shot and did find that it is a holiday selection.  Zoey Deutch stars as Stephanie Fleming who is living in California and asks her Michigan family to join her and meet her boyfriend Laird, played by James Franco, who is well-meaning but very foul-mouthed and socially awkward.  He is also an internet millionaire with a very elaborate home.  Stephanie's father Ned, played by Bryan Cranston flies off the handle when he learns Laird is about to pop the question.  The word raunchy is a bit of an understatement and I must say that I laughed quite a bit as well as David and Brittany.  There are a lot of those meeting of the parent movies but this one takes it to a whole new level.  If you offend easy, this should not be watched.  This is a good alternative to the other traditional holiday movies and has some great nerd references.  I didn't expect a lot but I ended up being glad David and Brittany chose this one.


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