Thursday, August 20, 2015

Treading water in late August, barely

It’s the dog days of summer and my movie watching has been as lacklustre. Over the last couple of weeks I did manage to see a couple of half decent films and, well, a couple of classics for the ages. I’ll have a review next week on the new film opening August 28 at the Maple - Christian Petzold's Phoenix.….Meanwhile I got to Woody Allen’s 46th film Irrational Man. Joaquin Phoenix plays a stand in for Woody’s normal angst ridden cerebral character as a philosophy professor (Abe Lucas) at a small New England college. He’s moody handsome bait for a couple of women - one on faculty (Parker Posey as Rita Richards) and one a student (Emma Stone as Jill Pollard). Allen, as a writer, has inserted philosophical themes from a lesser to greater extent in many films and here it’s embraced widely. Lucas arrives on campus rather despondent finding little meaning in life. As a kind of existentialist, however, he realizes he can become a man of action which in turn gives life meaning. This happens to be criminal but for good purpose. Irrational Man isn’t Allen’s best. It seems narrow in subject matter, characters, even humour. But it’s worth seeing. A bonus - at least for me - is that it’s filmed in one of my homes away from home, Rhode Island. There’s a scene where characters are in front of Island Books on Spring Street in Newport. That’s the store I went into last September after losing my wallet, seeking a phone number for the local police department. (My wallet ended up being returned intact.)

On Netflix I watched The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir, (2014, Mike Fleiss), about perhaps the second most famous member of The Grateful Dead who accompanied lead man and icon Jerry Garcia, improvising chords to the bearded one’s nifty lead guitar. Normally docs aren’t made about second tier band members. But this is the Grateful Dead, which developed its legions of Deadheads (don’t ask me). So I guess some of the iconography rubs off. Nevertheless it’s an engrossing flick and isn’t just about Weir but the band generally. There are great scenes from early Haight-Ashbury days and the band’s decades of musical truckin.’ Weir was the lady’s man in the group but has settled into contented older age, happily married with children in leafy Marin County, with some contemplative Buddhism to round out life’s mystery. 

And there is Turner Classic Movies' ongoing Summer Under the Stars schedule. I caught back to back Marx Brothers’ films celebrating Groucho. First was Horse Feathers (1932, Norman Z. McLeod) a spoof celebrating the president of Huxley College, Quincy Adams Wagstaff, played by Groucho. My favourite scenes are on the football gridiron with wonderful non-stop sight gags as Huxley beats Darwin usurping a planned thrown game……The second was Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey) a satiric comment about the rise of fascism (Mussolini banned it). Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, leader of fictitious Freedonia. The movie winds-up in a crescendo of delightfully absurd song and dance numbers with a cast of hundreds and a medley singing the praises of their great nation with lyrics overlaid against some of Americana’s most famous songs including a Negro spiritual and Oh Suzanna. Yuck, yuck.

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