The Shawshank Redemption – We watched this one the night before going to see It, so I guess it was a Stephen King kind of weekend. The movie is pretty long for having been based on a novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the first part of the title referring to the poster Andy Dufresne hangs in his cell. And the story is said to be loosely based on one by Tolstoy, although in that one he forgives the guy who framed him. The plot concerns banker Dufresne being sentenced to life in Shawshank Prison for murdering his wife and her lover. While there, he tries to improve conditions for the inmates, while also getting in good with the corrupt warden by giving him financial advice including how to avoid taxes. In the end, he double-crosses the warden and escapes. I have to wonder if the novella makes it clear from the beginning that Dufresne is innocent, because I think the movie makes it look as if he’s guilty up until we learn the truth from another prisoner. It’s narrated by Morgan Freeman in the character of Ellis Redding, another inmate who smuggles things into the prison, and who befriends Dufresne. I also appreciated that it addressed how people released from prison can become seriously depressed to the point of suicide, because it’s not always what people who haven’t had the experience think.
The Big Sick – Comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon wrote this semi-autobiographical film about their courtship. Beth was interested in it largely because Michael Showalter directed it, although we did see Nanjiani’s stand-up at a show with Eugene Mirman and some other people I forget. I remember he did a joke about someone telling him the Quran said women couldn’t drive, and how everyone would be a Muslim if Muhammad had predicted automobiles 1400 years ago. The film relates how Nanjiani and Emily (given the last name Gardner in the movie) meet after a comedy show, become involved with each other, and break up because he wasn’t honest about how his parents insisted he marry a Pakistani woman. Then she is taken to the hospital after fainting from a lung infection and put into a medically induced coma, and Kumail visits her there and slowly befriends her parents. They don’t actually get back together by the end, but Emily does eventually indicate that she’s interested in doing so. One complaint I’ve seen about this movie is that Kumail’s family are basically played as stereotypes, which is kind of true, but then I don’t know what his actual family is like. One thing I noticed is that, since Emily spends most of the film in a coma, we don’t get much of a sense of her character or why Kumail fell for her in the first place, other than her just being generically cute. I guess writing yourself or your spouse isn’t necessarily as easy as it might seem. While I don’t recall a specific period of time being mentioned, it looked like their relationship moved quickly, which means the fact that he didn’t know any of the women his parents were trying to hook him up with is more or less irrelevant. Then again, it’s not like I’d want to get together with someone my parents picked; their tastes are just too different from mine.
Watership Down – I read the book at some point in my adult life, although I can’t find a review for it. From what I remember of it, this animated film was quite faithful, despite leaving out quite a bit. It’s the story of a group of rabbits who leave their warren when one of them has a premonition of the land being destroyed, and go to seek a new home, making allies and enemies along the way. It’s quite dark in spots, but has an overall positive message of cooperation and negotiation. The movie didn’t pull any punches when it came to the violence; we see a lot of mauled and bleeding rabbits. The animation is realistic in its depictions and movements, with watercolor backgrounds, but more simply naturalistic than lush. It did a good job of showing things from the rabbits’ point of view, and had some interesting art choices like the rabbits in the military dictatorship warren all having glowing blue eyes. There were two scenes that used different styles: the rabbits’ origin myth at the beginning, and a psychedelic segment accompanied by an Art Garfunkel song that really doesn’t seem relevant to the plot. John Hurt, who died earlier this year, provided the voice of Hazel; while Zero Mostel made his last film appearance as the voice of a seagull, using an accent that sounds sort of Russian-adjacent. Maybe it was just supposed to seem generally foreign, to mark the language barrier between him and the rabbits, who I believe all had English accents.