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December 2013: Double Feature

| December 3, 2013

Five Easy Pieces (1970)

Holiday Buffet

Watching the right pair of movies back-to-back can illuminate wildly different details, create a whole new viewing experience and, just maybe, totally BLOW your MIND. Plus, it’s fun! Here’s your monthly guide:

Frost on the windows and pine needles in the rug – it’s that time of year again, when we stuff ourselves senseless on rich, fancy, indulgent buffets: Beginning 12/6, we’ve got the Coen Brothers’ ’60s folk scene flavored Inside Llewyn Davis, and also a taste of last year’s Silver Linings Playbook with David O. Russell’s ’70s con-artist morsel American Hustle. We clean our palates on 12/20 with bites of both “funny ha-ha” and “funny weird” with Anchorman: The Legend Continues and the Spike Jonze/Joaquin Phoenix sorbet, Her.

On Christmas day: Ben Stiller‘s escapist dramedy meal,The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, pairs with Martin Scorsese‘s fifth Leonardo DiCaprio spiced sauce, The Wolf of Wall Street.  Another Hobbit movie (The Desolation of Smaug); Tom Hanks as Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks); Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County adapted into, from what I hear, Acting! The Movie!; a Mark Wahlberg Navy SEAL tear-jerker (Lone Survivor); a Keanu Reeves samurai adventure (47 Ronin); and, yes, frigging Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone in a freakin’ boxing comedy, Grudge Match.

With vacation blockbusters and Oscar bait yolked into one month, we begin here:

First up:
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Dir. Andy and Lana Wachowski Tom Tykwer
Availability: DVD Blu-Ray; Amazon Instant

Six entrees fight for space on a plate – eye-candy sci-fi, comedy of errors, maritime spine-tingler, Merchant Ivory romance-tragedy, funked-up mystery and grisly voodoo fable. The adaptation of David Mitchell‘s seemingly unadaptable novel Cloud Atlas could have been a crowded, heavy-handed mess, but instead it trips with an agile grace between six centuries of stories that connects the future and past, either directly or just by playing the same electric tune:

A woman retreats from a door that hides a murderous gunman, and suddenly we’re in another story watching a slave worker retreat from captivity. Tom Hanks (ridiculously entertaining and game for anything) is a dastardly doctor menacing his victim in one shot, and in the next he is a tribesman rescuing a person he barely knows. Particularly fun, and unrecognizable at times, are Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving embodying a bevy of villains – from a slimy politician to a cannibalistic warrior chief; from a Nurse Ratched-type to a creole-like demon.

Polymorphous personalities extend even to this rare team of three directors: Tom Tykwer (who exhilarated with both Run Lola Run and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) also doubles as co-composer for the film’s score; and The Wachowskis (creators of The Matrix) were once known as The Wachowski Brothers before Larry became Lana.

Next Up:
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Dir. Bob Rafelson
Availability: DVD; Amazon Instant

Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson made their fortunes by dreaming up a kitschy American television version of The Beatles’ A Hard Days Night with The Monkees. But, of course, the mood changed in the late ’60s, and bubblegum fads were spit to the street.

So, Schneider and Rafelson reinvented themselves as serious film producers, and, just as the cranky film industry was drowning beneath family-faire musicals like Doctor Doolittle, they developed a string of movies that ignited the most aggressively transformative decade in American film history.

Easy Rider (’69) and The Last Picture Show (’71) tapped into the seedy disillusionment and hopeless anger of Vietnam-era rebels lost in their homeland, each story building to a climax of crushing emotion and loneliness. Five Easy Pieces, however, takes all those elements and slips them into something exceptionally deceptive. In fact, it starts off as a boisterous good ol’ boy rollicker. And then becomes a wily road trip flick. But that’s still just the beginning.

Jack Nicholson is in wild man mode as Bobby Dupea – a drinking, screwing oil field worker who indulges every appetite. Then, out of nowhere, we’re stuck in traffic with him when he notices a battered piano strapped to a truck bed. When he presses his fingers to the keys, it is with such a forceful somberness and quiet elegance that it’s shocking. This is not the man we’ve been following. His shatteringly divergent lives soon crash together as he turns his eyes to a new, clean one. Does he hunger for so many lives because he’s a glutton for them – good or bad? Or does he really hope that the next one will satisfy his fickle tastes?

-Rob Fagin

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Category: Columns, Double Feature, Monthly

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