WHAT ELSE I'M WATCHING #1

If any of you know me personally you know big changes are coming over the next few months in the form of my first child. I don't know how much of this new arrival will require me to adjust my movie-watching schedule or how much it might delay the viewing of new releases, but in the mean time I've been wondering what I might do to continue writing about film on a regular basis even if I'm not able to comment on the latest releases as soon as they come out. On the opposite end of this spectrum is the opportunity to go back and watch older films that I've never made time for. There are many films that, in doing my best to be a certified movie buff, I likely should have seen a long time ago. In all honesty I've only seen a number of more mature films from before the new millennium other than what I might have watched in film school and have combed through since. I was the oldest sibling in my household so I had no older brothers or sisters guiding me toward what might have been popular or significant in the late 80's through the 90's and my parents weren't much for watching movies so when someone is surprised I haven't seen a film considered a classic I blame them. I was mainly taken to the theater by my aunts who loved their popcorn and had a fair share of Hollywood crushes they didn't mind looking at on the big screen. Under these circumstances I was exposed to the full catalogue of Disney animated films and the wave of 90's sports movies for kids that are still endearing to this day, but many of the well-regarded films of each year are little more than reputations in my mind. This may turn out to be a failed experiment, but it's worth a shot, if not to allow me a space to write more once my daughter arrives in a few months, but to open my eyes to a world of movies I've only ever planned on getting around to before.

To kick off this inaugural article I have plenty of films to catch up on that I've been watching at home over the past month. I imagine this article not typically being as lengthy or including as many films as I have here as I'd like to produce it more frequently than once a month, but again, we'll see. My home situation doesn't include cable or premium channels so I won't be writing about new television shows that I'm currently engrossed in. The wife and I watch Netflix and are fans of binge-watching shows rather than getting one new episode a week and we of course have a large movie collection to pull from. Most of what I will be writing about here are films I've caught on Netflix and will likely still be available for streaming if you to have an account with Netflix as well. Only rarely will I run down to the local rental store to pick up a physical copy if we have some strange desire to watch an old film that Netflix doesn't have an option to stream (looking at you, My Cousin Vinny). Most of you probably looked at my statement a few sentences back about having a large movie collection to pull from and asked, "If you bought them have you not already seen them?" Well, the answer to that would be a quick "no" as I have purchased several movies over the years that I've never managed to visit, but have a strong enough place in history I felt they should probably be included in my collection. This brings us to my first endeavor which was watching the Anthony Hopkins Hannibal Lecter trilogy.

First things first: No, I'm not lying when I say I'd never seen Silence of the Lambs until just recently and I know (because it won several Academy Awards in major categories in 1992) what a shame that is. Still, one thing I appreciate about not watching some of these Best Picture winners or well-regarded films until this point in my life is the ability to watch them and take them in for what they are rather than letting the hype that surrounds it persuade my opinion. I realize not seeing the film in the same time period as when it was released serves as somewhat of a disconnect as the place and time a picture is made always informs the style and certain storytelling tools used, but this is just a small detail that can more easily be transcended I think. For the most part I enjoyed Jonathan Demme's directorial approach in Lambs and how it plays on the procedural/slow burn of the simmering tension between Anthony Hopkins Lecter and Jodie Fosters Clarice. I will say I couldn't buy into Foster's rough accent and that I thought Julianne Moore's interpretation of the character in Hannibal was more credible if not better while that film was clearly a step down. Ridley Scott's sequel seemed to be yearning for grandiosity and in that quest forgot to bring along as coherent and intriguing a story. The film looks brilliant and Hopkins is as devilish as ever, but as time will tell you it clearly didn't resonate as the first one did.

I have not yet seen Michael Mann's 1986 Manhunter, but as it is now streaming on Netflix I will be sure to take a look soon enough. I understand though that Red Dragon is in large a re-make of Mann's film in that both use the source material of the the franchise's novelist Thomas Harris as their inspiration. A few minor changes were made in Manhunter for licensing reasons (such as the spelling from Lecter to Lektor), but I'll be interested to see what else sets the films apart. I found this interesting piece of video that I've posted below that puts a scene from each side by side and illustrates the similarities, but to the point of this article I really enjoyed Red Dragon. Obviously, it is the most contemporary of the trilogy despite the fact it is a prequel to Lambs and though it was directed by Brett Ratner (X3: The Last Stand, Hercules) it is closer to what made Demme's picture a hit. Of course, you could credit Scott and Harris for trying to make Hannibal something different than Lambs, but failing to do so while Dragon was a studio attempt to wipe clean audiences memories of Hannibal and restore faith in the character and franchise so they could continue it in some fashion and to that effect I thought it succeeded. It's a decent thriller and a well-acted piece of entertainment that, if nothing else, really has me interested in finally checking out the Mads Mikkelsen version on NBC.    



After going through the Hannibal trilogy I decided to check out another Demme picture that had always escaped a viewing. 1993's Philadelphia is Demme's Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington-starrer about a man with AIDS who was fired from his law firm because of his condition and who finds the only willing advocate to represent him in his wrongful dismissal suit in a homophobic, small-time lawyer that also garnered the director an Oscar in the leading actor category for Hanks. Again, I wasn't sure what to expect from the film as I'd only heard a few things surrounding it, but it has some distinct directorial flourishes and a touching way of getting at the core of who Hanks' Andrew Beckett was at his soul. I enjoyed the early swagger of Washington that is still infused into every role he takes while setting these two men on different paths in their respective lives on a collision course so that we might appreciate the eventual relationship. Again, it is such a well-acted and well-concentrated film it is hard to find any serious detractors and when you're sitting comfortably at home on your couch and become so emotionally wrapped up in a film there really is no need to.

One of the major categories of movies I'd love to see more of are the under-the-radar comedies of the late-80's through to the end of the millennium. I caught two of them over the last month which include Joe Pesci's My Cousin Vinny and Bill Murray's What About Bob? I'd of course seen the cover art for both of these films countless times when walking through the video rental stores at a young age, but again, having no older siblings was never exposed to either of them. I really kind of loved What About Bob? as Murray was in full-on Murray mode and Richard Dreyfuss walks the perfect line between understandable and downright insane. That isn't to take away from Vinny which has such a great premise and is the perfect jumping off point for a broad comedy that it was easy to settle into the world it created. As a role that seemed perfectly catered to Pesci it was also nice to finally see him in something outside of a Scorsese picture or Home Alone. There was a pretty stellar supporting cast there as well including Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio, Bruce McGill, James Rebhorn and Lane Smith. The 90's in particular feel like a time gone by, a lost world full of nostalgia and childhood remnants and thus represent a piece of the world I don't mind re-visiting. If we're talking about comedies I should also mention I watched Stuck In Love which is the directorial debut of Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) and stars Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Lily Collins, Nat Wolff, Kristen Bell and Logan Lerman. It was fine for what it was: a movie you watch at home when nothing else seems especially appealing and it offered enough melodrama to wrap ones self up in for an hour and a half, but more than anything it really pushed me to get back on trying to get my book published.

Lastly, I finally sat down and watched Christopher Nolan's Memento all the way through. For some unholy reason I'd never been able to accomplish this before, but knew it was long past due. More than any other film included in this article Memento deserves one to itself, but after watching it and combing through a handful of different articles around the film there seems little more to add to the conversation. It is an ingenious little film that takes a simple idea and spools out almost every possibility you could take advantage of with it. You know exactly where it's going yet you can't help but stay on the edge of your seat. How does that make sense? In looking back at older reviews and articles it is also funny to see the frequent comparisons Nolan received in his early days to M. Night Shyamalan. We still expect a certain kind of film from Nolan today, but he never allowed himself to become pigeon-holed into writing a twist-ending or some twist on the twist ending with each new project. Knowing what Nolan is now and has become also informed a great deal of how interesting I found his filmmaking techniques to be and how they've developed. You can see the vision of scope in how he frames Guy Pearce's Leonard Shelby and the way in which he likes to focus on symbols and stills to convey his themes and ideas rather than dialogue, though here, the dialogue is just as enticing. I don't know that I've seen a film lately more deserving of an immediate re-watch either, but it's so involving I don't know that I could do it anytime soon.

After watching Steve James documentary on Roger Ebert, Life Itself, I was interested in Hoop Dreams which put him on the map, but given its length I haven't made it all the way through yet. I remember watching bits and pieces of it a few years ago, but a complete and thorough look seems worth the time so hopefully next time I will have more to say about it, but until then...