“Tár”: Classical Gaslighting

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar expounding upon the classical music world to a lunch companion in the film "Tar".

“But enough about me, let’s talk a little more about ME…”

Full disclosure: I suck at fathoming and sorting the full breadth and scope of classical music in all its storied splendor. I can be taught, but my retention sucks through no conscious choice on my part. My wife Anne is far more skilled at recognizing symphonies and suites, catching nuances, spotting themes in film scores and remembering titles of lyricless songs. But she hasn’t seen Tár and prefers to let/watch/make me write my own blog, so here we are with a philistine on the keys, hopefully not too tone-deaf.

Not that I wasn’t looking forward to this! I still recall writer/director Todd Field’s debut, 2001’s In the Bedroom, a Best Picture nominee in which Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek were equally moving as parents dealing with the death of their adult son, Terminator 3‘s John Connor. I never got around to his follow-up Little Children, but that’s my fault, not Field’s. This time I didn’t wait to be prompted by my annual Oscar quest to run out and catch his next work, a taut drama so impeccably dressed and so meticulously crafted within its very specific milieu that you’re halfway into the film before you realize you’re viewing the entire edifice through an unreliable vantage.

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“Nightmare Alley”: How Grifty McGrift Became Grifton Griftershire, Esq.

Bradley Cooper in Nightmare Alley!

“Okay, once more for the polygraph: was it really that awesome to work with Lady Gaga?”

Hi! Show of hands: who wants to read thoughts about a new Guillermo del Toro film from one of the six people in America who didn’t care for his Best Picture winner The Shape of Water?

No? Nah, it’s okay, I understand. Our exits are clearly marked for safe evacuation. See you next entry!

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Yes, There Are Scenes During AND After the “Thor: Ragnarok” End Credits

Thor Ragnarok!

“Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning? In this scenario you’re the toad.”

Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Thor: Ragnarok The Greatest Thor Movie in World History!

Granted, it’s for lack of competition, but still. Director Kenneth Branagh’s opening kickoff set the tone for the shiny city and cast of Asgard and gave the Marvel Cinematic Universe one of its core creations in the form of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, saddled with a big stupid brother that his dad made him bring along. The neglected middle child Thor: The Dark World was a forgettable playground romp that remains my least favorite MCU entry to date and left me with virtually no impression except tremendous pity for former Doctor Christopher Eccleston. I had to go reread my own take on it to recall that I liked all the Loki parts, and my wife had to remind me whatever happened to Rene Russo because I totally forgot. Sorry, I mean “forget”. I still can’t remember her final scenes. At all.

The trilogy now concludes with Ragnarok under the direction of Taika Waititi, one of the few survivors of Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern, who went on to a second life as an indie director (my son tells me What We Do in the Shadows is “amazing”). Someone apparently handed the keys to the series to Waititi, told him “go nuts”, walked out of the Marvel Studios mansion leaving him unchaperoned, and asked themselves, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And for the first time in world history, the answer was the complete opposite of an immediate disaster.

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“How to Train Your Dragon 2”: Training Day is Over

Hiccup and Toothless!

My son and I were part of the Dragon Training 101 graduating class that considers How to Train Your Dragon the Greatest DreamWorks Animated Film of All Time. In those basic studies we learned that dragons respond well to a combination of generosity and teamwork, that even the scrawniest Viking can surprise you, that Scottish Viking fathers are stubborn but negotiable, that Old World prosthetics were surprisingly advanced, and that cinematic dragons have come a long way since Dragonslayer, Dragonheart, Dungeons & Dragons, Eragon, Dragon Wars, and even Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where those mighty beasts received fifty-eighth billing, ranking well below CG mermen, nameless wizard henchmen, and a guy who turns into a rat. So How to Train Your Dragon was a tremendous PR boost to a once-honored race of monsters that deserve better than Hollywood usually gives them.

The How to Train Your Dragon 2 intermediate course had much to live up to in our minds, both as a sequel and as the next rung on the ladder of dragon-training success. We feared whether this would be a worthwhile study or one of those unaccredited, fly-by-night scams that hopes you won’t be able to tell their “dragons” are just really ugly dogs with paper wings taped to their fur.

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