Lion

One expects certain things from award season films. Competent crafstmanship, primarily, and typically actor-strong material. They will, of course, en masse tend to reflect Hollywood’s callow social and political sensibilities (to say nothing of their preferred emotional states) but individual films have some leeway. Also, when Weinstein is involved, all bets are off: That guy can pimp a film.

Some license was taken.
Artist’s rendition of Weinstein carrying Gwyneth Paltrow to her Oscar win.

But it says something—something that irritated The Boy in particular—that the lobby stand-up for Lion called it a “feel-good movie”. It’s not, really: It’s just not a feel-horrible film, which is, shall we say, a popular motif amongst award-bait films.

The story is this: Young Saroo nags his older brother to take him on a night job that he’s really too young for, but the older brother gives in only to find that Saroo can’t even stay awake. He lets the boy sleep while presumably chasing after work, and when Saroo awakens the station is empty and he is alone with no idea how to get home. An inopportune bit of exploration finds him aboard a train travelling over a thousand miles away from home, to a Bengali part of India where nobody speaks his language (Hindi) or recognizes his town name.

The first act of the movie consists of young Saroo’s adventures trying to get home, fleeing the multitudinous predators in Calcutta, and it is tremendous. Young Saroo is admirable, brave and resourceful, and the streets of India are parlous indeed. Worse still, it seems, is the orphanages, which are basically prisons.

But Charles Dickens just called from the grave to say "Whoa."
You don’t want to know what he’s hearing.

Then Saroo is adopted by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham (300, Public Enemies) which provides a few moments of interest as Kidman (who seems to have recovered from her plastic surgery) gets to pour her heart out to the orphan boy. We also see another adoptee, who seems to be autistic or otherwise (mildly) brain-injured, and how that plays with Saroo.

Now, cut to 2008, and Saroo is grown up, played by Dev Patel (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Slumdog Millionaire) and a chance encounter with a pastry turns the all-Australian boy into a Man Obsessed By His Past.

This is a little weak.

Now, this is based on a true story, and one cannot dismiss out-of-hand that Saroo simply internalized the “can’t possibly find home” idea until a pastry and Google Earth (seriously!) turned him back on to the idea. But I felt like (similar to AKA Nadia) we needed to see some of this. What it looks like is pretty-okay-to-say-nothing-of-darn-fortunate young man suddenly decides to treat everyone around him like crap because he’s suddenly got the fever. It may simply have happened this way, of course: the actual Saroo Brierly may have never given it a second thought for 20 years, and acting like a jerk might’ve seemed to be the go-to move.

'cause they do things. To their faces.
So glad I didn’t have to spend the whole movie thinking “What did you do to your face?”

But this is kind of my wheelhouse: I love movies about obsession and tend to be very forgiving toward obsessed characters. Which I’m sure is no reflection whatsoever on my own personality. But I had trouble relating to the guy and I shouldn’t have.

The Boy was pretty much out at this point. He loved the first part of the movie, really didn’t like the second part, to the extent of giving the movie a disappointed and frustrated thumbs down. I probably would recommend anyway, though reservedly.

What kind of cracked me up was that a major plot point of the film was that young Saroo had mispronounced the name of his village. But I could parse the name just fine, and I know nothing about India. I mean, seriously, when they did the big reveal of his actual town name I was all, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought it was.” So that particular reveal didn’t work for me. The only thing I could think was that maybe out in Calcutta, they don’t know anything about Hinduism since the general region is predominately Muslim but, no, Hindus dominate the city.

So, go figger.

The final scenes work very well, no doubt, but of course they would: Any reasonably competent set of actors could have wrung tears with the scenario set up. I’m not knocking this: It worked well enough for me to recommend, but of course it didn’t manage to win The Boy back over.

But! It’s not super-depressing. Which I guess makes it the “feel good movie” of the season. (Maybe everyone in La La Land has cancer, I haven’t seen it yet.)

Impossible!
How can anyone be depressed looking at that handsome mug?

Time Bandits (1981)

Oh-rye-in-eye-ay, oh-rye-in-eye-ay, oh-rye-in-eye-key-oo-lay.

Ka-lay-oo-lao-ay, oh-rye-in-eye-ay, sya-tay-lee-ay-vee-show!

I saw Time Bandits when it came out and was a bit disappointed, to be honest. Directed by Terry Gilliam and co-written by him with Michael Palin, with John Cleese, and with six dwarves representing each of the ex-Monty Python members, to say nothing of the premise, explained by George Harrison in deadpan on the talk shows (paraphrase from memory): “When God was creating the universe, everything that got done late on Friday afternoon had a few holes in it…”

Well, I expected hilarity. And this is not a hilarious movie. As such, when it rolled around as part of the Laemmle’s Time Travel month (the first week having been Back to the Future, which we had just seen), I was cool on seeing it. The Boy was “hype” though, as the young folk say these days, having not been to the movies since New Year’s Eve, and with The Flower bowing out because she had been under the weather and didn’t want to chance missing out on Sunday’s showing of Singin’ in the Rain, it was just he and I, just like the old days.

Well, except now his girlfriend tags along, too.

Which, if I’m bein’ honest, is a family tradition—and a salutary one, as she is a nice girl.

Not really. Can you imagine?
The Boy and The Girl.

Anyway, after seeing it, I basically forgot about it except for the closing song, “Dream Away,” one of the few memorable moments on George Harrison’s disappointingly forgettable Gone Troppo album. And for reasons known only to God and perhaps George, I have broken out into the nonsense chorus pretty routinely for the past 35 years. (Holy schmap!) Which served me well when the convivial host of the evening, April, mentioned that the soundtrack was supposed to be full of music by Harrison but most wasn’t used and then asked what hit song did come out of this movie.

Oh-rye-in-eye-ay…

Anyway, won a coupon for some free popcorn (I have a wallet full of these, because I seldom use them) and a pass, and also the very first issue of Space, a science fiction magazine that had a short run in the ’50s, courtesy of a local comic book shop. None of which gets me to the movie.

I ramble.
I need a freakin’ map to actually get to the movie, y’know?

Which, perhaps unsurprisingly, I liked better than I did the first time: Much better. Akin to Jaws, having the wrong expectations for a movie can really put a damper on the fun, and looking at it less as a zany Python flick and more as a kid’s adventure (and precursor to my much beloved Adventures of Baron Munchausen), I found myself really enjoying the whimsy, and general oddness.

It’s a surprisingly kind movie, except in how it regards the materialistic parents of our hero Kevin (Craig Warnock, who got the job when his brother auditioned—that must make for interesting family dinners—and didn’t act much beyond it), who are literally disintegrated after failing to heed their son’s admonishments vis a vis touching Evil. I’ve always imagined that Kevin would go on to be adopted by Fireman Sean Connery, since Agamemnon Sean Connery had already adopted him, at his insistence. In this particular regard, the movie inverts the fairy tale paradigm, in which the evil element injects itself after the parents have been lost in some fashion or another. (Quick! Name a Disney princess with two parents!)

You know, I feel like it’s worth noting, somehow, that in my life, I have read about far many more materialistically grasping, keeping-up-with-the-Jones-type suburbanites than I’ve ever met. Some step-relatives of mine were preoccupied with stuff-as-status, and I feel like my neighbor has a bit of that going on (though not a lot, necessarily).

Meh.
Who DOESN’T want The Most Fabulous Object in the World?

That aside, our heroes traipse through a battle with a height-obsessed Napoleon (Ian Holm), wealth redistribution in Sherwood Forest with an oddly insincere Robin Hood (John Cleese), and take a ride on the Titanic—managing to crash into an apparently frequently reincarnated and troubled amorous couple (Michael Palin and Shelley Duvall) twice—before venturing off into the Time of Legends, where they must outwit a seafaring ogre (the recently deceased Peter Vaughn, best known of late for his portrayal as the blind librarian on “Game of Thrones”) and his wife (Katherine Helmond, inexplicably un-made-up but just as cheerfully ogreish) before embarking on a quest for The Most Fabulous Object In The World.

Said object being nothing more than trap laid by Evil, in perhaps the least subtle attack on materialism ever. Evil is played by the great David Warner who, in the late ’70s and ’80s filled the roles that, post-Die Hard, seemed to always go to the late Alan Rickman. I mean, I don’t know: It just seemed like there was a disparity in the caliber of films he was in prior to Rickman’s break-out performance (The French Lieutenant’s WomanThe OmenTime After Time—which is the last movie on this month’s time-travel schedule) and after (The Unnameable II, The Ice Cream Man, Beastmaster III).

Well, whatever. He’s always good, and here he nails Gilliam and Palin’s eccentric view of the Devil: A narcissist who is obsessed with technology and denies that his prison is even really a prison, while randomly blowing up his minions or turning them wholly or partly into animals, and at least a third of whose lines consist of apologizing for the linguistic tics where saying something is “good” is not good when you’re evil, and so you lack any really coherent way to transmit your approval of things.

It’s fun. And the special effects work very, very well indeed. I think because they were never (as I think is always the case with Gilliam) obsessed with “realism”, only that distinctive aesthetic that carries over from Gilliam’s days doing the animated bits of Monty Python. Said aesthetic reaching its peak (in this blogger’s humble opinion) with the aforementioned Baron Munchausen.

Anyway, The Boy, who saw it a long time ago on TV, really enjoyed it. And it’s apparently a favorite of his girl, so that’s probably a good sign.

It's a muddle, theologically speaking.
God orders his minions to clean up the mess that, strictly speaking, He made.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1969)

It is, perhaps, fitting that our first film of the New Year should be Kubrick’s tale of—wait, what’s this movie about again? And why is it fitting?

Forget it. I’m on a roll.

I’ve never seen this movie. I’ve started a few times, and never made it past the monkeys which constitute part one. This is followed by a cryptic moon investigation. This, in turn, is followed by an expedition to Jupter. And part four…well. At the start of part three, The Flower leaned over to me and said “This movie’s all over the map!”

See you next Wednesday!
So many guys in monkey suits, you’d think it was a John Landis film.

It does actually all tie together, though at least one original idea was to have it be a bunch of short stories. The MacGuffin, as it were, is a mysterious black monolith (“The Sentinel”, apparently, though this term is not used in the movie, I don’t think). This shows up at each part of the movie and is the (largely unexplained) catalyst for the various events. In the first part, about 25 minutes long, the monolith apparently bestows enlightenment on some proto-humans. A lot of people miss this.

I think it’s pretty clear but it’s not spelled out. In fact, of the 140+ minutes of the film, nearly 90 are dialogue free. The dialogue-free parts, especially in the beginning, work really well. The special effects, nearly fifty years later, are still pretty astounding, doubtless due in part to Kubrick hiring a battalion of animators to black out any of the tell-tale borders when compositing shots. You can see why people would believe Kubrick faked the moon landing for NASA, but my theory is that Kubrick actually had a space station, and helped NASA to get to the moon to provide cover for his advanced technology.

Prove me wrong.

.evaD ,taht od t'nac I yrros m'I
We’re through the looking glass here, people.

Someone asked me who the stars were in the film, and I realized on seeing it that there’s really only one: HAL. Voiced by veteran actor Douglas Rain, designed by Kubrick and (probably) Douglas Trumbull (who would go on to use his expertise to create Silent Running), the emotionless eye which calmly narrates the deaths of humans is an archetype for non-robotic computers to this day.

The third part of the movie ends up being the strongest thereby: With Keir Dullea’s Dave playing off the mellow, homocidal HAL in a struggle for survival, and set at Kubrick’s tortuous pacing, it is by itself one of the greatest movies in sci-fi movie history.

So, if the first part sets up a mystery, and the second part heightens the mystery and offers some clues, the third act satisfyingly builds to a tremendous climax. Then there’s the fourth act.

Well, look: For the sake of the narrative, you’ve gotta show a human evolving into something as wondrous as an ape evolving into a man. But your audience is chock full of humans! Worse, you’re a human yourself. So, what’s a guy to do? Drop some acid and hope that he remembers what it was like?

I’m not saying that, just because it was 1969, and the last twenty minutes are a sort of psychedelic mysticism that acid was involved. But I’m not not saying it, either.

Whoooooa.
What the actual F?

Jokes aside, it probably wasn’t. I mean, I don’t know, but if you’re a “control freak” on the level of Kubrick, it’s almost unimaginable to think you’d do something as unpredictable in its effects (including when it might come back to haunt you) as LSD. On the other hand, Trumbull was perhaps a big part of this sequence, so even if Kubrick never dabbled… Hey, I’m not here to judge.

Probably the weirdest thing about this movie is that it does work. I would argue that there’s almost no point in seeing it on the little screen, and that’s why I never managed. I don’t see how you can appreciate the effects, to say nothing of sitting at home for a 2.5 hour movie where 1.5 hours of it are silent. (If you live alone and turn off your devices, and get close enough to the screen: Maybe.)

It often finishes at #1 on “best ever” movie lists, on “best sci-fi”, and so on. I don’t know if I’d agree; that might depend on the day you asked. But the desire to make a non-kitschy, non-kid-flick (though it is rated G) sci-fi film definitely shows, as does the amazing attention to detail typical of Kubrick’s work.

The Flower liked it but wasn’t sure she could watch it right away again (like the other Kubrick films we’ve seen). I don’t know. Maybe. The Boy was sick so it was just the two of us, so we didn’t get his feedback on this one, alas.

Maybe if you’re not feeling super-antsy, this is one to check out.

They still haven't figured it out, though.
Pictured: Kubrick explaining to NASA how to get to Jupiter.