Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A good time of the year for context viewings

I sometimes wonder why I bother to maintain my movie list where I keep track of the movies I've seen on a particular calendar date. Instead of explaining that further, let me just show you an example of what I'm talking about:

November 28 = 18

In Love and War (2005), Keane (2007), The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2008), Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009), Jonah Hex (2010), Mother (2009) (2010), Death Race 2000 (2011), CQ (2011), Bronson (2013), Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015), Say Something (2015), The Overnight (2015), Home (2015), I Was Born, But … (2016), The Children Act (2018), Palm Springs (2020), The Water Diviner (2022), The Old Oak (2023)

"Obsessiveness" is the only reason I usually need, but yesterday I got another reminder of its practical usage -- practical, at least, in terms of identifying coincidences.

(Oh, and as a key for deciphering the example above -- the bolded title is the best movie I've seen on that particular date, which in this case is Bong Joon Ho's Mother. And yes, I don't remember the circumstances, but I did apparently see four movies on November 28, 2015.)

Last night I watched The Old Oak, which has been billed as the final film from Ken Loach. That's not because he's dead and they aren't sure if there's a hidden movie out there that may still emerge to complete his filmography. It's because in a rare move for a director, Loach is willingly retiring at age 87. Usually, directors either stop making movies because they die, or because people stop selecting them as a viable option to tell stories people care about. 

In order to give myself some additional context about his career before writing my review -- since I had, improbably, seen only a single other Ken Loach film (The Wind That Shakes the Barley) -- on Monday I watched his 2016 Palme d'Or winner I, Daniel Blake. I was probably overdue for a viewing of this anyway, since I remember being annoyed, at least retroactively, that this movie prevented Toni Erdmann from presumably winning the Palme d'Or. (And again Toni Erdmann rears its head organically on my blog.) Because I hadn't yet seen Toni Erdmann at the time I heard the Palme d'Or winner announced, had only absorbed some of hype about it, I was a lot more annoyed at Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman, which nabbed the Oscar I thought Erdmann deserved.

Anyway, doing this sort of context viewing for a review is rare. Given all the other viewing priorities I have, watching one movie in order to write one review is hard enough, let alone investing nearly four hours of movies for that one review. 

In fact, I think the last time I did it was almost on this very same date last year, in order to review a movie far less potentially important than The Old Oak.

You'll notice on the list above that on November 28, 2022, I watched Russell Crowe's The Water Diviner

Why did I do that at a time of the year when I should be ramping up for my big end-of-year blowout by watching only current year movies?

Well, because I was reviewing his new directorial effort Poker Face, and I thought I would benefit from some prior knowledge of Crowe as a director -- maybe especially on an Australian review site. 

As it turned out, and as I could have probably guessed at the time, Poker Face was an instant cinematic footnote, perhaps especially because it was immediately overshadowed by Rian Johnson's television show of the same name starring Natasha Lyonne, which was debuting right around the same time. I didn't hate it but it was also a weirdly paced movie, with lots of build-up and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it climax. 

I did actually quite like The Water Diviner, so if I had been watching it the hopes of it providing fuel for snark in my Poker Face review, I was destined for disappointment.

With The Old Oak and I, Daniel Blake, I am more a fan of the newer film in this case. Perhaps carrying in a little of my retroactive Toni Erdmann bias, I found Blake a bit on-the-nose and didactic in its anti-bureaucracy agenda, which made caricatures of many of the government workers. I was overall favorable towards it. 

And it did provide some helpful context for my review The Old Oak, which I plan to write later today, and which brings a similar progressive/labor-positive agenda in examining a Northern England town dealing with an influx of Syrian refugees in ways both productive and not so productive. In fact, by the time you read this, the review may already be linked over to the right.

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