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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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This Week We’ve Been Watching…

Note: You all know what I’ve been watching over the last week. In lieu of a contribution here I refer you to Potterthon. Sam.

    Mike’s Been Watching

HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE [Main Picture]
DIR: Chris Columbus
With Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (David Yates, 2011) having broken global attendance records on its opening night, it seems a fitting time to reassess the franchise which has paralleled the last ten years of my life (I turned twenty earlier this month), starting with The Philosopher’s Stone, which hit cinemas in November 2001. Despite my nostalgic love for this film I had previously disregarded it as typical Chris Columbus fluff; he’s an accountant, not a filmmaker, and can’t do anything but spectacle. Yet now I realize how important his contribution was, because Philosopher’s Stone is the expository film, and therefore the one about spectacle. It’s fundamentally a kids film, and needs to be, so Columbus – who tops off a troll attack with a bogey joke – is the perfect director. He’s the guy who knows how to put key A into slot B and make it efficient, but what then raises this first adaptation into the ranks of near greatness are the performances, by an assembled cast of British greats. Already Alan Rickman is lisping his way through Snape, Maggie Smith has the stern Professor McGonagall nailed, and Robbie Coltrane lands lots of laughs as Hagrid, who’s much funnier than I’d remembered. The kids are also likable here – they’re not great actors yet, but they have chemistry, and clearly like each other, and that makes up for a lot. Philosopher’s Stone zips along at a great pace and is a charming beginning to a series whose darker roots would emerge with the very next entry. This one is fluff, but enjoyably so, and now my nostalgia can be reconciled by the fact that it’s remembering something worthwhile, and not just childhood whimsy.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON
DIR: Sidney Lumet

“ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!”

Sidney Lumet’s searing crime drama is one of the most exciting films I’ve ever seen, but its sociopolitical awareness raises it to a higher level. As with 12 Angry Men (Lumet, 1957), Dog Day Afternoon is a film about men in rooms, except that the former film was about justice, and this one is about crime. Both take place against the backdrop of a long, sweltering summer day, and you can really feel the heat; Lumet has a peculiar knack for filtering the weather through his perceptive lens, and here his camera lingers, intensely, on the sweaty faces of Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale), who are robbing a Brooklyn bank. The film is based on true events which took place on August 22nd, 1972, and it opens, perfectly, to the sound of Elton John’s ‘Amoreena’. Vincent Canby, of the New York Times, described this as Lumet’s “most flamboyant New York movie”, and while that’s true it also packs a powerful emotional punch, and grips the viewer with its performances. Pacino has never been better, expressing fear and desperation with every part of his body, and Cazale’s quietly controlled anger is also compelling. But when all is said and done this film really belongs to its director. Lumet’s camera is so dynamic here – so energized and free. The tracking shots move at tremendous speed through the bank and don’t seem to be confined by the limited space, which always feels as if it’s closing in on the characters. The direction is truly incredible, further proof – if any was needed – that Lumet was one of the best filmmakers to ever grace Hollywood, and there’ll never be another like him.

    Oren’s been watching…

MOTHER
DIR: Bong Joon-ho

One of the most important elements of writing a film is genre. Often times many “indie”-type domestic dramas come across as bland and forgettable because they fail to align themselves with any genre. This isn’t to say that all drama films are genreless. Fact of the matter is, when you boil it down, all of the great dramas over the years do have very specific genres, although these are not necessarily the genres that are usually discussed: “drama” “comedy” “western” “sci-fi”, etc. Ordinary People is a coming of age story. The King’s Speech is a buddy film. Many dramas are actually romances. What makes these films great is how they take their genre conventions and change them, improve upon them, and bring something new and unique to the table. At its core, Bong Joon-Ho’s latest film, Mother, is a murder mystery, although Bong begins to mess with his genre conventions right from the start. He tells a murder mystery plot, albeit with a middle-aged woman playing the role of detective. That is the first twist Bong offers, but not the last. Korean cinema in general is very heavily reliant on genre bending. Bong’s previous film, The Host, was a fascinating mish-mash of monster movie, pandemic thriller, comedy and family drama all wrapped into one. Likewise, Mother is not short on comedic scenes, and Bong seems to almost revel in his ability to confuse audience expectations and put us in situations we are not sure how we are supposed to feel in. Mother’s son (she is given no name in the film) is the one convicted of murder, and we sympathize with her plight to do anything in her power to protect him and prove his innocence. But we never really get much of a reason to like him. He’s very slow, pathetic, entirely un-independent, helpless, and prone to bouts of rage and violence. As the story unfolds, Bong provides us with a delectable feast of twists and turns. But the film really soars to unprecedented levels in its final act, when a series of shocking revelations elevates the film from a clever twist on the murder mystery genre to a whole other level of tragic poignancy; a harrowing case study of motherly devotion and family ties. It’s an extremely enjoyable film but also very emotionally rewarding, and the end will hit you like a sucker-punch to the gut. All in all, this is one of

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