Sunday, January 1, 2017

Shaun Berk's 10 Movie Recommendations- 581st Edition

Welcome to the 581st edition of my series and the first of the new year.  I hope everyone is having a good new year and hope that you all have a good 2017.  I look forward to seeing what the year brings and I'm one of the few it seems that will say I had a good 2016.  At the same time, I have never referred to any year as a "bad year" as I feel they all will have their ups and downs and I guess I just try to make the good outweigh the bad.  Here's to the beginning of the new year and now my selections.

I'm Not There (2007):  Todd Haynes directed and co-wrote this film based on different aspects of Bob Dylan.  Marcus Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Richard Gere, and Cate Blanchett each play Dylan in different ways and different parts of his life.  They all have different names as none of the are named "Bob Dylan" in the film.  Kris Kristofferson does the narration while Julianne Moore, Peter Friedman, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Bruce Greenwood, Michelle Williams, David Cross, Craig Thomas, Benz Antoine, Richie Havens, and many others co-star in this unconventional biopic.  Blanchett does a great job in her part of the film while I felt Bale also does a great job.  It also is shot in many different ways like some of it is like a documentary while other parts are more like a conventional film but the whole thing comes together very well in the end.  I don't really have much more explanation to give except that it is a must if you are at least a casual Bob Dylan fan.

Rocky Mountain Grandeur (1937):  This is my short film for the week and is part of the Traveltalks short film series.  This takes a look at the Rocky Mountains in the springtime like with tourist time and some of the various activities like swimming in the mountain lakes and horseback riding in the mountain trails.  This is a pretty informative eight minutes and worth a look in my opinion.

A Tale of Two Critters (1977):  This is essentially another short film but is a lot longer than the last selection and is about 48 minutes.  I found this when it was on TCM On-Demand and noticed it was from Disney though appears to not have had much exposure since there was not much on about it like no fan reviews and an empty message board.  Jack Speirs wrote and directed this film that takes a look at a bear cub and a raccoon which form an unlikely friendship when they are swept away down a river from their families.  They must look to each other for survival and learn things that have not been taught yet by their parents.  This really works with the narration of Mayf Nutter who essentially tells the story and the song TRAVELIN' ON.  I guess I'm a sucker for animals being featured in a movie and this is one for the family, just one that seems to have been forgotten by Disney but remembered by TCM.  This can rented and bought for streaming on Amazon.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008):  This is set during WWII and is seen through the eyes of an 8 year old boy named Bruno, played by Asa Butterfield, whose father, played by David Thewlis, is the commandant of a concentration camp which is rather close to their new home.  Bruno is rather unaware of what is happening and befriends a boy named Shmuel, played by Jack Scanlon, who is in the concentration came and can talk across the barbed wire fence.  Vera Farminga and Amber Beattie co-star as Bruno's mother and older sister that also play significant parts.  Cara Horgan, Rupert Friend, David Hayman, Jim Norton, and many others co-star in this film.  It is a very sad but moving story of a boy who does not understand what is happening and the horrible things going on around him under his own nose.  It also conveys in many ways the consequences of being left in the dark of what is happening like his father mostly being secretive about what he is doing.  This is available on Instant Netflix and is a really well-done and well-performed film on the Holocaust.

Charley's Aunt (1941):  Archie Mayo directed this film adaptation of the play by Brandon Thomas.  Richard Haydn and James Ellison play Oxford students Charley and Jack who manage to get fellow student Babbs Babberley, played by Jack Benny, top pose as Charley's aunt Donna Lucia, played by Kay Francis.  Babbs is being the chaperone for Charley and Jack in their visits with Amy and Kitty, played by Anne Baxter and and Arleen Whelan.  He manages to play his art of a woman so well when faculty members Stephen Spettigue, played by Reginald Owen, and Sir Francis Chesney, played by Laird Cregar.  Benny plays this part to perfection and maybe one of the first known performances of a man playing a woman.  This also has a lot of very funny moments and is a fun watch.

The Honorable Woman (2014):  This is my mini-series for the week, brought by the BBC network.  Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein who inherits her father's arms business and uses what she has in hopes to promote a reconciliation between the Iraelis and Palestinians.  In this she must deal with a lot of conflict and betrayal in her quest.  Stephen Rea, Andrew Buchan, Lubna Azabel, Janet McTeer, Katherine Parkinson, Tobias Menzies, Lindsey Duncan, Igal Naor, Genevieve O'Reilly, and many others co-star in this mini-series.  This consists of eight episodes that are about an hour each.  Gyllenhaal carries this very well with Rea also really good as the MI6 agent of the middle east.  This is available on Instant Netflix.

A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966):  This is my western comedy for the week which was directed by Fielder Cook and centers around a game of poker.  Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward star as married couple Meredith and Mary who are coming through and are about to buy a farm in San Antonio.  Meredith hears of a poker game and wants to go watch in which Mary reluctantly allows showing that he obviously has a gambling problem.  As he sits there, he cannot resist but to join in using the money they already have and begins to lose it.  Mary must take over when Meredith has a heart attack and must quickly learn the way of poker leading into some interesting situations.  Jason Robards, Paul Ford, Charles Bickford, Burgess Meredith, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Middleton, John Qualen, and many others co-star in this film.  I didn't really know what to expect but came out really enjoying it.  They managed to make a good western and not have a lot of gun action within it.  Everything was centered around the poker game going on and made the most of it.  This is some rather unknown Fonda and deserves some more recognition.

The Incredible Petrified World (1959):  We will call this my bad movie of the week.  A group of adventurers set out on the depths of the ocean and end up underwater through some caverns but somehow come into another world where an older man informs them there is no way out.  I don't have much more explanation that that unfortunately.  John Carradine co-stars in this film and had quite a career in his mixture of both good and bad movies.  Fans of B-movies should get a kick out of this one.

Hero (2002):  Yimou Zhang directed this martial arts film.  This takes place in Ancient China and Jet Li stars as the nameless assassin who defeats three warriors, played by Donnie Yen, Tony Leung, and Maggie Cheung, all out to assassinate the King of Qin, played Daoming Chen.  The king summons the nameless one to tell him about the defeat of his warriors leading to a lot of Rashomon types of flashbacks.  Ziyi Zhang co-stars in the film in a more minor role than others but still gets to do some fighting.  I feel this is the second of a trilogy, I suppose the Ziyi Zhang trilogy which stars with CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, then this one, then HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS which I actually consider the best of these three.  These are the three known ones that have the fantasy sort of fight style that involves flying.  I will admit this took me a couple watches to really get into  but find I enjoy it more every time with some of these twists and turns of Nameless explaining his story.  It has some really good fight scenes, beautiful scenery, and a really good music score.  This has its audience and is going to have some that do not like it.  This is available on Instant Netflix.

Meru (2015):  I end the week with this documentary on a group of mountain climbers.  Married couple Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi directed this documentary and Chin is one of the climbers.  This takes on a group of elite climbers looking to climb the seemingly impossible Mount Meru in the Indian Himalayas.  In 2008, they made an attempt but fell short of getting to the top of what they call "Shark's Fin".  Through lots of adversity, they decide to attempt it again.  This is one of those kinds of things I'll never understand why anyone would want to do but I understand that other people's passions are more dangerous than others and these guys were very determined.  This does take a good look at the intense climbing that almost always happens in really cold weather.  This is available on Amazon Prime.

Well, that is it for this week.  Tell me what you like and dislike and stay tuned for next week which so far includes Denzel Washington, and many others.

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