I watched a bunch of movies this weekend, which is one of the many measures of a good weekend for me. However, the three movies I watched could not have been more different. But I don't have a headache, so the processing parts of my brain are still functioning just fine, apparently. I'm not sure how, especially when you factor in the processing required for the rodeo we went to on Saturday afternoon (more on that later).
Movie #1: Whiplash
This is not a movie for everyone, but Matt and I both thought it was outstanding. (Maddie saw a couple clips at the Oscars, and asked if she could watch it with us... NO, NO, NO and NO. Maybe when she's 18.) All I can say is Birdman must be incredible if it beat this one out for Best Picture.
It's been a long time since I've seen a movie that caused me to clench my hands and shoulders and jaw and knees and feet in such tense fashion, but this movie did and more. "Emotionally intense" is an excellent description. The story is about a talented, aspiring-to-be-great drummer named Andrew Neimann and his drive to earn a core spot in his conservatory's elite jazz band; he withstands shocking abuse from the band's director, Terence Fletcher, whose absolutely monstrous quest to identify and develop greatness in his students finds focus on Andrew. Fletcher is astoundingly cruel. Andrew is astoundingly willing to go along, if it means he'll earn a core position in the band and singular brilliance as a musician.
This movie offers exactly zero pat answers to the question: what is required to be truly great? Are the words "good job" as dangerous as Fletcher contends? Is greatness at any cost worth it?
I spent two years in middle school and three in high school playing piano in jazz bands—respectable ones, ones that traveled for competitions in New York, Chicago, Toronto, and Montreal, ones considered good enough by any measure. Save for the one year I decided a strict, unyielding director sucked the fun out it for me and temporarily quit until a new director came along, it was a good experience. I learned a different way to play, how to improvise (a little), but mostly just had fun. My experience was designed to be good enough, and I think I'm OK with that. No one in his right mind would deem the methods (and madness) of Terence Fletcher acceptable. But where is that line? And was my good enough experience too far from it?
Related: it was sure fun to see Paul Reiser on screen, even if he did look really old to our Mad About You-loving hearts.
Movie #2: Mockingjay Part I
Matt, Maddie and I watched this on Saturday night. We've all read the books, but a while ago; we were all struggling to remember exactly where in the story things were after Catching Fire ended, and it took us a few minutes to get up to speed. It was good, but not as visually stunning as the previous two; because it shifts the story from the very specific events of the Hunger Games to the larger theme of the strategic political game between the districts and The Capitol, it's also a little slower-paced than the other movies. It has to be, since it's setting up the conclusion.
I am impatient and I want the conclusion NOW.
This generation: still way luckier than kids of the 1980s.
Movie #3: Song of the Sea
WOW did I ever love this movie. Gracie, Bridget and I watched it on Sunday afternoon. It's from the same team that created The Secret of Kells, which we haven't seen but is now on my to-watch list. The animation is not like anything coming from American studios at present; it almost has the flavor of Mary Blair artwork. The story is excellent, but the animation is so good that you could mute the sound for the entire movie and still be completely enthralled by the images. It's that beautiful.
The story follows ten year old Ben and his six year old mute sister Saoirse, who happens to be a selkie like her mother (who disappears after Saoirse's birth). After years pass, their granny insists the two cannot continue to live with their father at a remote lighthouse and drags them to Dublin to live with her—a comically poor arrangement that lasts all of an hour before they set off for home. Along the way, they encounter peril that is mysteriously tied to Saoirse's rapidly deteriorating health; Ben is neither patient nor caring toward Saoirse for much of their quest, but experiences a transformation of his own along the way. I think you could easily enjoy the plot without knowing much about Gaelic folklore, fairies, and selkies—we did—but now that I've seen it, I want to read up so I can watch it again and catch all the symbolism and references I missed.
It's a quiet movie in many ways: the soundtrack is ethereal and the pacing reminded me of a good old Charlie Brown or Charlie and Lola story, not the in-your-face pace of Big Hero 6 or The Lego Movie (both of which we loved). It's rated PG for some mildly frightening scenes with Macha the Owl Witch and her gang of owls (I was a little worried about Gracie when the owls showed up as bad guys but she did fine). And in the end, Macha wasn't so bad after all—just so devastated by sadness that she lashed out to control it the only way that made sense to her.
Ah, the movies. I love them so!