Friday, January 16, 2015

movies I ought not to have liked, but did

Usually there is nothing that bores me more than a hard-realistic movie in which nothing much happens. I found Mr. and Mrs. Bridge and Junebug pointless, and I didn't even finish watching Secrets & Lies. But I liked this one.*

The 12-year timespan was part of it. The characters have a chance to grow and change, and the audience knows they'll find out what happens next. And the fact that it was filmed over that timespan really helps. Not only do the kids get visibly older, so do the parents. The changes in Ethan Hawke's face and build match that of his character, the divorced father who starts out as an overgrown boy and matures into a man.

The storytelling is crafty and disconcerting. A new scene might follow directly on from the previous scene, or it might skip two years. You never know. And if it does skip two years, it will nicely and obliquely tell you what happened. Twice there are scenes with the boy looking on skeptically as some guy hits on his mother, and then suddenly you jump forward and she's married to or living with him. These relationships don't end well, and there's a nice payoff near the end where the now-grown boy refers to the "parade of drunken creeps."

The only thing I had trouble following was the step-siblings who show up for a while. I wasn't entirely sure how many of them there were, and had trouble telling which boy was which. And the only thing that bothered me was the age difference between the boy and his sister. At the end of the movie, she's about two years older, but at the start, they're obviously the same age. That's because the actors playing them are the same age; you can get away with denying this when they're 18, but when they're 6, you can't hide it.

*That makes 3 movies nominated in this year's Oscars that I've seen so far: Boyhood (the good), Battle of the Five Armies (the bad), and Into the Woods (the ugly).

Draft Day
I don’t know why I rented and watched this movie. I have little interest in football and even less in the NFL draft.

It worked for me because it’s not actually about football (there’s only about a minute’s worth of actual football in the movie, most of it on game films the characters watch), but about chess. And by “chess” I don’t mean the game with wooden pieces and a 64-square board, but the whole range of intellectual conflict of reading your opponent, seeing several moves ahead, and all else that the word connotes.

That makes it a lot like Moneyball, another non-sports movie I enjoyed.

All you really need to know for this movie of how the draft works is that teams trade around their future, and sometimes their present, places in the picking order, and sometimes current players along with them. Then whoever goes first gets their pick from among the current crop of graduating college seniors, whoever they think their team will benefit from the most, and down the line from there. That’s it. Those are the chess rules.

Kevin Costner, who apparently only makes really good movies and really bad ones, plays the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. (All the teams are real; all the characters are fictional, but well-fleshed out: I had no sense of feeling at sea because I had never heard of any of them, even though within the fictional universe they’re famous names. This may well be because I wouldn’t have known any more about them going in if it were about real people.) He trades away his future draft picks in exchange for the first spot in this year’s draft so that he can get the top quarterback. He then spends all the time between then and the actual draft doubting whether this was the right decision. We don’t get to find out what he does then until after he does it. I can’t describe what happens during the draft itself, which forms the conclusion of the movie, without spoilers, but it’s grandmaster stuff.

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