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Bay Weekly’s 17th Annual Mid-Winter Movie Escape

 

This week Punxsutawney Phil gave us the not-unexpected news that winter will continue for six more weeks. To help stave off the chill, Bay Weekly has compiled an array of 18 films guaranteed to fight off cabin fever.

–compiled by Diana Beechener


Good Vibrations

Stories about love’s vibrational complexity in honor of Valentine’s Day — and Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s 1995 wedding on Feb. 6.

Casablanca

1942 • PG • 102 mins. • Director: Michael Curtiz

It’s difficult to do a great love story where the lovers don’t ride off into the sunset together; it’s even harder to get a movie audience to give a standing ovation as they go their separate ways. Consistently appearing on Best 100 movies of all times lists, Casablanca puts the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster as the hero must choose between his love for a woman and his desire for a world free of Nazi tyranny.
    Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) has run his saloon in Casablanca with cool, brooding detachment. We enter the story at the point of crisis. As the Nazis crack down, lost love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), appears — with husband Victor, thought dead back when Rick and Ilsa fell in love in Paris. A famous freedom fighter, Victor must catch the last flight out of Casablanca to carry on the fight in America. Whether he, and Ilsa, make the flight depends on Rick, and we’re at the edge of our seats as Rick plays his cards close to his vest.

–Bob Melamud

The Painted Veil

2006 • PG-13 • 125 mins. • Director: John Curran

Vain and shallow Kitty Garstin (Naomi Watts) marries Walter Fane (Edward Norton) to get as far from her mother as possible. When Fane discovers her affair with charming Charlie Townsend (Liev Shreiber), he promises her the divorce she wants, but only if Townsend will divorce his wife and marry Kitty.
    Townsend refuses and Kitty must accompany Fane to a remote region of China where he studies infectious diseases. Fane determines polluted water to be the cause of a raging cholera epidemic. He devises a way to get clean water to the village, as Kitty, bored and alone, volunteers at an orphanage.
    As the nuns tell her of Fane’s dedication and generosity, she sheds her superficiality and grows to love and respect her husband, who in turn forgives her infidelity.
    She discovers she is pregnant, but which man is the father?
    Lush cinematography and an Oscar-winning score serve as the backdrop for this tale of love in a time of cholera.

–Marilyn Recknor

WALL•E

2008 • G • 98 mins. • Director: Andrew Stanton

Wasteful humans destroyed the environment and abandoned the Earth for a space station leaving small trash compacting robots to clean up the mess.
    Hundreds of years later, WALL•E is the only robot left. He spends days excavating the waste of humanity, learning about life, love and culture. This lonely life is turned upside down when a sleek, digital robot whizzes by him.
    EVE, who resembles an iPod, has been sent by humans to find a patch of Earth that could sustain life. Single-minded in her mission, she barely notices the enamored WALL•E. When EVE spots a single green vine, she must return to the humans, but this time with WALL•E tagging along.
    One of the sweetest love stories of the new millennium, WALL•E is a nearly silent animated film. In the grand Pixar tradition, it is both an enjoyable comedy for children and a powerful movie about love and environmental conservation for adult viewers. Director Stanton cleverly uses silent movie-style emoting and powerful storytelling to make you care about the love lives of machines.

–Diana Beechener

Do Not Pass Go

Game movies to commemorate Monopoly’s 79th anniversary on Feb. 6.

The Seventh Seal

1957 • NR • 97 mins. • Director: Ingmar Bergman

In the midst of the Black Plague, a knight (Max von Sydow) and his squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) return from the Crusades, traveling home to the knight’s castle. Happening upon a church, the knight finds a cloaked priest and offers confession: “I want God to put out his hand, show his face, speak to me. I cry out to him in the dark, but there is no one there.”
    The priest then reveals himself as Death: “I have been at your side for a long time.”
    The knight proposes a game of chess for his soul.
    At this point, two narratives intertwine. The knight and his squire continue their journey home, while these scenes are interspersed with the chess match.
    The journey is Odyssian, one encounter after another reinforcing the hero’s aloneness. With or without God, death is the one constant.
    If you’re looking for a blockbuster, this isn’t your movie. This is film — and chess — as art.

–J. Alex Knoll

Clue

1985 • PG • 94 mins. • Director: Jonathan Lynn

On a dark and stormy night, six strangers, known only by pseudonyms, gather at a creepy mansion at the invitation of notorious blackmailer Mr. Boddy.
    Bang!
    Mr. Boddy is a corpse and everyone in the room a suspect. Led by intrepid butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry), the strangers must find the killer among them or die trying.
    Filled with brilliant comedic performances — topped by Curry’s fast-talking whirling dervish performance as Wadsworth — and exceptionably quotable lines, Clue hilariously lampoons murder mysteries.
    The first movie based on a board game, Clue was an experiment: Director Lynn filmed three endings and distributed them to theaters, imagining viewers would pay to see the movie three times to take in the various endings. The DVD combined the three endings to mimic players guessing whodunit. You’ll be out of breath watching characters literally run through all the possible solutions to the murders. Featuring killer slapstick performances from comedy legends, Clue brings out the amateur sleuth in everyone.

–Diana Beechener

Jumanji

1995 • PG • 104 mins. • Director: Joe Johnston

Jungle drums beckon children to play a board game, but when they roll the dice, they unleash rhinos and spiders and monkeys. Oh, my! The animals run amok all over town.
    As Alan (Robin Williams) and Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) play Jumanji, the game sucks Alan into its perilous world. There he remains for 26 years until Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) roll the dice in the present (1995) and set him free.
    Now an adult, Alan realizes they are playing the same game he began 26 years ago. Normalcy will return only when the game is finished, so Alan tracks down Sarah to resume their long-interrupted play.
    As the children take their turns, a monsoon floods the house, a hunter pursues Alan and Peter begins to turn into a monkey.
    Based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji is a fun ride packed with surprises until the fantasy ends and reality is restored.

–Marilyn Recknor

Going for Gold

Movies to keep up the Olympic spirit.

The Cutting Edge

1992 • PG • 101 mins. • Director: Tony Gilroy

A hard hit during an Olympic hockey game leaves Doug Dorsey (D.B. Sweeney) blind in one eye and unable to play hockey. Doug’s given an unlikely second chance at the Olympics as figure skater Kate Moseley’s (Moira Kelly) new partner.
    Doug has all the grace of, well, a hockey player and he hates his snobby partner. Still, a medal is a medal, so Doug and Kate set their differences aside to train.
    A sporting take on The Taming of the Shrew, The Cutting Edge is a gold medal romantic comedy. Director Gilroy brilliantly uses the preparation for the Olympics to show us that Kate and Doug share the same high drive and determination. As Kate and Doug bicker around the ice, their relationship blooms. Before long you’ll be chanting “USA! USA!” as you watch the contentious couple compete for gold.

–Diana Beechener

Miracle

2004 • PG • 135 mins. • Director: Gavin O’Connor

We know what happens, we’ve seen Eruzione’s goal, heard Al Michael’s cry, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” But from first-round team cuts to that heart-pounding game, Miracle keeps our adrenalin high.
    Director O’Connor auditioned talented young hockey players, chose those resembling the original 1980 USA team, taught them to act, then choreographed 130 plays on the ice. The result: like being there.
    Hear coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) tell his team five months before the Lake Placid Olympics, “You don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.” Watch as Brooks’ rigorous and unconventional techniques mold his handpicked mix of college players into a determined unit ready to face the mythic Soviet team — undefeated for 12 years, gold medalists since 1960 — in the semifinal Olympic game. Cheer as he tells his team, “Great moments are born of great opportunity … This is your time.” And stand as the nation, weary from Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis and long gas lines, rises to its feet. “U-S-A!”

–Dotty Holcomb Doherty

Cool Runnings

1993 • PG • 98 mins. • Director: Jon Turteltaub

The notion of a country that has never seen snow sending a team to the 1988 winter Olympics is so absurd it can only be a true. Jamaica is as well known for its winter sport prowess as Antarctica is known for its tropical fruit.
    Jamaica does, however, have a large cadre of excellent sprinters, and it has Irv Blizter (John Candy), a disgraced American gold medal bobsledder. Two of these sprinters — who missed their opportunity to compete in the summer Olympics — realize sprinters and bobsledders share common skills, and recruit Blizter to coach them to a second chance at Olympic glory. Training is difficult as there is no snow nor bobsleds in Jamaica. Fundraising is also difficult as no one takes them seriously. They do make it, and they do compete — an accomplishment on par with any of the gold medal winners.
    If you like this movie, watch for a sequel. The Jamaican bobsled team is going to Sochi!

–Bob Melamud

We Shall Overcome

Movies honoring the black experience.

Carmen Jones

1954 • NR • 105 mins. • Director: Otto Preminger

Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge) makes parachutes by day and coquettes around GIs by night. When handsome Joe (Harry Belafonte) catches Carmen’s eye, she’ll stop at nothing to have him. It doesn’t matter that Joe’s engaged or that she’s getting him into trouble. All that matters is that Carmen gets what she wants. As her obsession grows, tragedy ensues.
    One of the first all-black movies to be released to a wide audience, Carmen Jones broke barriers. A modernized adaptation of Bizet’s opera Carmen, the film introduced thousands of moviegoers to actors they had only seen playing maids. Director Preminger was so concerned with respectfully representing black culture that he sent the script to the NAACP for approval. The film broke one of the biggest barriers in film history: Dandridge was the first black actress nominated for an Academy Award. See the movie for the music, the performances and to understand how far we’ve come — and how far we have to go — in cinema.

–Diana Beechener

In the Heat of the Night

1967 • NR • 109 mins. • Director: Norman Jewison