Sunday, January 19, 2014

Some of the pretty good older movies I've enjoyed in recent months

Anchors Aweigh (1945)
Kind of astonishingly good, and in a pleasantly surreal way, as Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra con their way into Frank's courtship of lovely Aunt Susie, who's looking after the boy they randomly stumble across on shore leave.  Real old school Hollywood charm.

White Christmas (1954)
Here's a Bing Crosby classic I've seen previously, but really only appreciated for the first time the most recent time I saw it.  It's not just an excuse to hear the title song again (previously debuted in Holiday Inn), but rather to celebrate the soldiers who experienced WWII on the war front and who are still struggling to get back to what they "used to know."

Becket (1964)
Everyone (except Oscar voters) knows how brilliant an acting talent the late Peter O'Toole was, a magnetic and commanding presence completely unparalleled and never duplicated in film.  Here he's Henry II to Richard Burton's title character, who at first is as close a match to O'Toole as anyone could hope to be, but soon enough undergoes a religious conversion that puts Henry and Becket at odds.

These are three movies that quickly shot themselves into the ranks of my all-time favorites.  I don't tend to just assume that an older movie has earned immortality, the way some critics do.  They have to earn their acclaim through their work.  These do.

Monday, January 13, 2014

For those who became Colin Farrell fans after Saving Mr. Banks

Suppose you've just seen Saving Mr. Banks, the new movie based on the creation of Disney's Mary Poppins and you really enjoyed Colin Farrell's performance as P.L. Travers' dad.  Perhaps you're now wondering, where has this actor been all this time?

It's true that Travers Goff is a new kind of role for Farrell, but he's been this consistently good for ages, since Tigerland, really, the movie where Hollywood discovered him.  He gives a performance of considerable depth in Banks, sure, and it's probably his most romantic role in a mainstream movie ever, certainly where he wasn't top-billed (although his part as one of three Heath Ledger stand-ins in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus would give that title a run for its money).  (It's also a perfect lead-in to his upcoming Winter's Tale.)

Truth in fact, he's my favorite actor, but this is only because Farrell has consistently impressed me, even when the material around him needs a little more time to appreciate than his own work.  Critics like him, too, although the form his career has taken to date has made it hard for them to admit it, except for the Golden Globe he won for In Bruges.

That's actually the movie I'd suggest you start with, post-Banks.  He plays a mournful assassin, troubled by the accidental shouting of a child.  It presents a comparable display of his impressive full range.

So far, then, Saving Mr. Banks and In Bruges.  What else?  It's hard for me to not say everything else, but I'm trying to be objective here, okay, trying to keep his career open.

Let's go back to the beginning, then, with Tigerland, where he plays a noncomformist Army recruit during the Vietnam War, giving equal doses of hope and hell to those around him.  His early Hollywood roles after this struggled to expand on a performance that already said everything there was to know about that particular facet of his talent.

Try The New World next.  It's his John Smith in the Terrence Malick version of Pocahontas.  It's perhaps the defining role of Farrell's famous soulful eyes, nearly silent (as with all Malick films) but none the worse for it.

Another strictly bouncy performance of whimsy (if you don't want him in a superhero movie, Daredevil) is featured Ask the Dust, where he plays a struggling writer who falls in love with a woman as contentious as he is.

That's Saving Mr. Banks, In Bruges, Tigerland, The New World, and Ask the Dust.  Anything else?  Again, being a big fan already makes it hard for me to limit myself.  One of the least popular movies ever also happens to be my favorite ever, Alexander, which to my mind is Farrell's most important performance to date.  If you want to take one last suggestion from me, that's it.  As far as I'm concerned, you'd start there, but perhaps it's a better place to finish.  By this point you will probably want to just see all of his movies anyway...