Here are the rest of the films I watched in January/February, in alphabetical order.
The Beguiled (2017)
written by Sofia Coppola
based on the novel The Beguiled by Thomas P. Cullinan, and the film The Beguiled written by Albert Maltz and Grimes Grice
directed by Sofia Coppola
During the Civil War, a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) is taken in by a headmistress (Nicole Kidman) and her students at an all-girl school in Virginia. The teachers and students are quickly smitten by his presence, but things go downhill when he starts to woo three of the women so they don’t hand him over to the Confederate army. Dude, couldn’t you just pick one? I haven’t seen the original film with Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, but this second adaptation of the novel by Thomas P. Cullinan feels curiously slight and hurried for a movie by filmmaker Sofia Coppola, who usually favors a more leisurely approach. For a movie that’s all about character psychology and sexuality, The Beguiled falls short of beguiling.
Rating: ** | Average
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (2020)
written by David Attenborough
directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonathan Hughes, and Keith Scholey
I’ve grown up listening to the voice of naturalist and wildlife narrator David Attenborough on countless series and documentaries, including the long-running Wildlife on One (1977-2005) and The Blue Planet (2001). I became even more familiar with him while working as a promo producer for Animal Planet Latin America in the early 2000’s. Now at 93, Attenborough brings us this poignant look at how the world has changed during his lifetime – indiscriminate consumption of resources, decrease in biodiversity, climate change – and calls on humans to act before our collective negligence becomes the source of our mass extinction. It’s infuriating, sad, and hopeful, a celebration of a distinguished career and a somber indictment of our species. If anything, I wish the running time was longer, with more emphasis given to both Attenborough’s journey and to current scientific, governmental, and personal efforts to turn the tide around. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet could indeed be the start of a more expansive series, a living document of our collective progress… or collapse. Netflix, take note.
Rating: *** | Good
Pacific Rim (2013)
written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro
from a story by Travis Beacham
directed by Guillermo del Toro
Pacific Rim, co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s action-packed homage to the mecha and kaiju genres, is probably his best English-language movie to date. As giant man-controlled robots called Jaegers fight mammoth monsters over land and sea, you can feel del Toro’s sheer joy in every frame. And even though I usually don’t enjoy CG-heavy spectacles, the effects here are top-notch, with battle sequences that allow audiences to follow the action without getting lost in the cacophony. This is popcorn filmmaking at its best.
Rating: *** | Good
written by Lawrence Kasdan and Mark Kasdan
directed by Lawrence Kasdan
I watched Silverado for the first time in Tere Haute, Indiana, when I was about 14 years old. At the time, I’d already seen The Magnificent Seven (1960), a couple of Sergio Leone’s Spaguetti Westerns, and some other flicks such as High Plains Drifter (1973). But this was probably the first time that I felt a cowboy movie could be both exciting and playful. Co-writer/director Lawrence Kasdan wanted to bring back the sweeping feel of classic shoot-’em-ups, and this he did with the help of a killer cast (Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, and Kevin Costner, plus many others), widescreen cinematography by John Bailey, and an exuberant score by Bruce Broughton. Silverado is one high-spirited ride. Get on the saddle.
Rating: *** | Good
written by Pete Docter, Mike Jones, and Kemp Powers
directed by Pete Docter
Feels like the last truly great Pixar film I watched was Inside Out in 2015. Aside from the colorful Coco (2017), we’ve had less-than-stellar stuff like The Good Dinosaur (2015) and Onward (2020), disappointing sequels like Incredibles 2 (2018), and unnecessary additions like Toy Story 4 (2019). Soul is another one of those Pixar-lite efforts, a rumination on life and what it all really means in which a music teacher’s spirit refuses to enter the hereafter and accidentally ends up inside a cat. I was never bored, but for a movie dealing with a jazz musician – and ostensibly how jazz, in its very own improvisatory nature, is a reflection of existence itself – Soul is more quartet than big band. Maybe Pixar should take five.
Rating: **½ | Above Average
Carlos I. Cuevas