Spend your 'Sober October' with Quincy, Ray, Neil and Drew 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DANIEL MCFADDEN © 2018 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS AND STORYTELLER DISTRIBUTION CO. LLC - man on the moon Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in First Man, opening this week.
  • photo by Daniel McFadden © 2018 Universal Studios and Storyteller Distribution Co. LLC
  • man on the moon Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in First Man, opening this week.

Happy "Sober October."

Are you doing this? A lot of people do. It means we don't drink or party for (most) of October in an attempt to fool ourselves into thinking that we're not alcoholics save money.

It's a good idea (you do save money!) and also a solid excuse to stay home and mine Netflix and/or iTunes for classic flicks you missed earlier this year when you were partying and/or outside enjoying a life well-lived.

Speaking of which, Quincy is a must-see doc on the life Quincy Jones, one of the most astonishing musicians and most prolific human beings of the past 100 years. Jones' 79 Grammy nominations (and 27 wins) only tell a fraction of his story (he also composed for Sinatra, produced Michael Jackson's Thriller, discovered Oprah, and launched The Fresh Prince of Bel Air).

Quincy is co-directed by his actress-daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks (Keep On Keepin' On), so it slays on access and the intimacy of the material, but the film never quite takes the same kind of risks that made the man a legend in the first place.

Coming from hard streets of 1930s South Chicago, Jones battled for every step of his illustrious, seven-decade career. In the '50s, they told him black composers were not allowed to write orchestral strings or compose film scores for Hollywood.

Quincy up and left, studying classical music in France with Stravinsky's mentor while writing several hundred string compositions, then he came back to the U.S. and became the first black composer in Hollywood. Minds were changed.

Quincy is a fascinating look at the legacy of a genius. Everything he touched turned gold (or platinum) and his honest, humble, hardworking attitude is impossible not to admire.

The film does lack some of the spark Jones displays in recent magazine profiles (when the filmmaker is family, do they still ask the hard questions, or elicit those sometimes-messy details that can elevate the material?). In any case, Jones' honest, humble, hardworking attitude (and mad style) is impossible not to admire.

Quincy is free on Netflix.

Not quite as affordable, but only $0.99 in iTunes, Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan is a no-frills look at the career of the undisputed king of stop-motion animation and golden age monster movie effects.

Inspired by the first King Kong (1933) at age 13, Harryhausen went on to create pretty much all of the most memorable cinematic creatures for the next four decades. From The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) to the seven-skeleton, three-dude swordfight in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), the dinosaurs that sexpot Raquel Welch acts amongst in One Million Years B.C. (1966) Harryhausen's natural ability to understand and translate movement to these tiny rubber models may never be matched. Movie dorks will love this one.

On the big screen, Oscar-bait season kicks off with First Man, which sees Ryan Gosling (The Notebook) reteam with La La Land director Damien Chazelle for a melodramatic biopic on Neil Armstrong, the first man (get it?!) to walk on the moon.

The film covers decade before those significant first steps though, and how the death of Armstrong's young daughter influenced the stoicism (and recklessness) needed to embark on one of the riskiest endeavours in human history.

Claire Foy (The Crown) puts up a strong performance as Janet Armstrong, the grieving mother of two who refuses to play the "seen-but-not-heard" wife role. Foy's talent allows Gosling to perfectly capture the strength of Armstrong's reserve, while retaining the frailty of his spirit.

Even though we know he makes it in the end, First Man nails a perfect mix of heroism/vulnerability and Chazelle's visuals look incredible, better than the real moon landing did.

Also opening at the Village 8, Bad Times at the El Royale is a highly stylized noir-black comedy-thriller ensemble piece in which very few of the characters are who they say they are, and everyone's expectations get upended, especially the viewers.

Imagine The Hateful Eight meets Rear Window set in a 1969 roadside Nevada hotel on the outer fringe of Charlie Manson country with the Vietnam War raging in everyone's psyche.

Bad Times is an investigation into the darkness of the human soul as writer/director Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) creates a whirlwind flick with a B-movie heartbeat driving an A-list production. This one rules, pass the whiskey.



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