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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
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Film Capsules

By Sara Foss
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I’ve been busy lately, and will not be going to the movies this week. So in lieu of a blog post about a new release, I’m going to write short reviews of older films I’ve seen recently.

Jack Goes Boating — After Philip Seymour Hoffman died, I decided to check out the 2010 film “Jack Goes Boating,” the great actor’s sole directorial effort. Hoffman also stars in the film as Jack, a shy, socially awkward limo driver who falls in love with a shy, socially awkward woman named Connie (Amy Ryan). I wish I could report that “Jack Goes Boating,” which Hoffman adapted from an off-Broadway play in which he starred, was an unsung masterpiece but, alas, that is not the case. It’s mostly fine — a well-crafted, well-acted but not particularly distinguished example of a certain type of small-scale American independent film, in which two misfits find love and embark on a journey of personal growth. Even so, I’d still recommend “Jack Goes Boating,” at least to Philip Seymour Hoffman fans. Jack isn’t his greatest performance, but it is a Philip Seymour Hoffman performance, and we’re not going to be getting very more of those.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: “Owning Mahowny,” my favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman film.

The Big City — I caught this 1963 film, helmed by the great Indian director Satyajit Ray, last week, as part of the New York State Writers Institute’s classic film series. And I was glad I did. Set in Calcutta, “The Big City” is a surprisingly feminist drama, about a woman named Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) who decides to find a job in order to help her family, as her husband’s salary as a bank clerk can’t make ends meet. The decision brings shame upon her in-laws, who stop speaking to her and makes her husband feel inadequate. Ray is a humanist, and “The Big City” is full of flawed and endearing characters; there are no villains, only misguided individuals. The film is a drama, but it has a wry sense of humor, and its domestic scenes and relationships are tender and richly painted. Arati is a wonderful character, and watching her grow into a talented and savvy salesgirl is a real treat.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: Ray’s 1958 film “The Music Room.”

Hatari! — Directed by Howard Hawks, this lighthearted 1962 comedy-action film stars John Wayne as an animal catcher who rounds up giraffes, lions and water buffaloes in Africa and sells them to zoos. “Hatari!” is pretty loose on plot, but it’s still a pretty good time. The animal sequences are vivid and exciting (no CGI here), and if you want to see John Wayne sit on the hood of a speeding jeep and try to rein in a water buffalo, well, this is your film. There’s also some romance, in the form of a fetching wildlife photographer who crashes the animal hunting party and proves particularly adept with baby elephants. As films go, “Hatari” isn’t especially substantial or thought-provoking, but it left me with a smile on my face.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: Hawks made a lot of great films. I really like “The Big Sleep,” “To Have and Have Not” and the original “Scarface.”

“Tron: Legacy” — This 2010 sequel to the 1982 science-fiction film didn’t get very good reviews, which might explain why I enjoyed it so much — perhaps it benefited from my low expectations. In any case, “Tron: Legacy” is an amazing-looking movie — it didn’t always make sense, but I loved watching it. The film takes viewers into a virtual reality program called The Grid, where Jeff Bridges, who starred in the original, has been trapped for years, hiding out from his evil doppelganger. “Tron: Legacy” doesn’t always make sense, but that didn’t bother me, because The Grid looked so cool, and the lush electronica soundtrack, by Daft Punk, was also very cool. It’s tough for me to think of a more visually intoxicating film that I’ve seen recently.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: “Tron.”

Death Wish — I had never seen this seminal 1974 vengeance film before, starring Charles Bronson as a liberal do-gooder who becomes a gun-toting vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter raped. As a tight little B film, “Death Wish” thrills and entertains; the scene where Bronson visits a shooting range and reveals himself to be an excellent shot is great stuff. But “Death Wish” is also an interesting historical item: It presents a vision of a lawless, crime-ridden New York City that seems like something out of a time capsule — I was in New York City last week and I felt perfectly safe — nobody tried to assault me — yet sounds like it could have been scripted by the NRA of today. (Sample dialogue: “What about the old American social custom of self-defense? If the police don’t defense us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves.”) What does it all add up to? A film that’s both old-fashioned yet disturbingly contemporary.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING: “The Warriors,” the 1979 cult film about a New York City gang forced to fend for itself after being wrongly accused of killing a rival gang leader. Like “Death Wish,” a frightening vision of a pre-Giuliani New York City where crime and murder were rampant.

Got a comment? Email me at sfoss@dailygazette.net

 
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