Woo! Woo-hoo! Winter break means winter movie time! And tis the season to watch good movies, with the Golden Globes and Oscars coming up! The only thing is that Fallout 4 has been syphoning away a lot of time that I would normally dedicate to movie watching, but since I’m having fun doing both, who really cares?
Now, important caveat, I’m going to go off on some of these films because of the visceral reactions I had to them. So, please don’t expect me to be polite.
Anonymous (2011)*** – Speaking as someone who’s been studying Shakespeare since 1990 (myself, along with my nerdy friends, started a Shakespeare club at my high school – thank you Mrs. Susan Kelly), specializing in him throughout undergrad (did a study abroad in England on him) as well as in grad school, I can safely say I know a thing or two about the authorship question. And, as someone who is spending a massive amount of time on a specific author right now and how his life linked to his works, you would expect that I would put a lot of stock in really caring about if a guy named Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. But actually, I was more interested in how Roland “Independence-Day-Michael-Bay-Second-Chair” Emmerich was going to deal with the question, which he seems pretty invested in. And honestly, even though this movie caught lot of shit when it came out (which was unfair), it was entertaining. Who cares who wrote Shakespeare? If you delve into scholarship, each play is based on other works behind it. Shakespeare, if anything, was a master plagiarist with a thing for wordsmithing.
7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)*** – Tony Randall is no Peter Sellers. And this movie is all kinds of weirdness. It doesn’t age well, but when you put it into context, the make-up work, by William Tuttle, was the first award for make-up at the Academy Awards (it was an honorary award, since the category didn’t exist before, and wasn’t established until 1981, the other honorary award being in 1968 for Planet of the Apes) and nominated for best visual effects (the only other movie nominated, which it lost to, was Mary Poppins). That’s impressive. But still, it makes little sense. Just know that we are all part of the circus of Dr. Lao (the film was based on a novel by Charles G. Finney, by that name). The novel is about the moving toward science for answers and the departure from faith and reason, which the movie is not partial to. You will see factor into some of my comments below.
Poseidon (2006)*** – I got this because I did a podcast on Das Boot, and when Alex asked me about other Wolfgang Petersen movies, I largely drew a blank. Most of what I had seen of his (NeverEnding Story , Enemy Mine , In the Line of Fire , Outbreak , Air Force One , The Perfect Storm , and Troy ) were good for box office, but I hadn’t seen them since they came out. They were solid films, but nothing on them blew my mind like Das Boot did. So, I punted and said he was a good studio director. Nothing’s going to derail on his watch, and you’ll get a good return on investment. However, I hadn’t seen this film, which was his most recent film, and it had been a while ago. I was hoping he was ok, quite frankly. If you are looking for great characters or plot, this remake of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure (which I haven’t seen) is not going to do anything for you. However, this film is a technical marvel. IF you see this film, get it on DVD (not streaming) and watch the extra features. The stunts are amazing, and there’s very little CGI. That’s getting rarer and rarer these days.
A Very Murray Christmas (2015)* - Started to try to watch this, because (and I guess this is why it got made in the first place) who doesn’t love Bill Murray? But this is such an obvious fluff piece that I didn’t last past 12 minutes.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)**** - This was an obviously talented woman who wrote great music, and the four stars is mostly on Kim’s side, but why, WHY is the cliché such a reality that artists (especially minority women) have to live through shit? Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith … I’m not going to sit here and list them all, and from what this documentary noted, apparently she liked some mutual combat, but Nina Simone sounded like she went through hell. It’s an informative doc, but sing-songy in that you’ve heard this story before.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)*** - Chuck Norris! Charles Bronson! ‘Merica! Fuck yeah! This was a lot of fun to watch. It tells the story of two Jews that just love to make movies, even though they genuinely suck at it, and how Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus created a film company (Cannon Films) that really contributed to filmmaking in the wackiest of ways throughout the 70s and 80s with their truly awful films. I’ve seen several of these through MST3K. Nothing says “stinkburger” like a Golan and Globus film. If you don’t care about B movies (and that means many people) or backstage Hollywood, you will not like this film. However, it was entertaining and informative.
Hangul (A Hard Day) (2014)*** - This was an odd duck of a film where the protagonist (a corrupt copy) is definitely not a good guy but gets pursued by an even worse guy in an unraveling chain of events. But, it was definitely suspenseful.
Last Days of Vietnam (2014)**** - This was up for best doc at the Oscars last year. Made by PBS, it sheds some light on people that did do the right thing as Vietnam went south (or rather, north). Very well made. Maybe I’m getting old, but I wonder what younger generations think when they hear the word “Vietnam.”
From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses (2014)**** - I took a class in Weimar film in undergrad (way back in 1996). This would make a great companion piece for that class, and I need to go back and re-watch it, to write down films I still need to see. This was very well done. If you care at all about German cinema, this is a must watch.
Desk Set (1957)*** - Ok, so Tracy and Hepburn. I’m not enamored of either, but they did have chemistry. This film, sponsored by IBM, was about how machines can ultimately never replace people. I don’t know, but given that Hepburn was 50 when this was made, and how the whole “she’s a spinster with a brain” gets played up, it comes across sounding melancholy, even though she “wins” in the end. It was nice that there was a Christmas party / theme running throughout, this being Christmas and all.
Do I Sound Gay? (2014)** – The title of this is incorrect. It should be Do I Sound like a Gay Man? However, since many gay men are so narcissistic, they don’t recognize that there are other people that get lumped into the “gay” category. Ultimately, this is what plagues the film. While it is informative in snatches from a linguistic perspective (why do gay men sound that way?), there is little real substance here.
NLL: Yeonpyeong Haejeon (2015)** - Normally, I love Korean film, and this was about an actual incident in 2002 when North Korea really did engage the South Koreans during the World Cup. But the over-the-top emotionality and the obvious tribute-piece-feel really dampened things for me. It’s sort of like Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor (2001) of Korea.
That Touch of Mink (1962)* - Wow. Wow. Just WOW!!! Holy shit! I like Cary Grant. I like Doris Day. And apparently, back in the day, people liked this movie. This picture was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound and Best Set Direction (color) and WON the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Picture and had Cary Grant nominated for best comedy actor. Now maybe, maybe (I’m trying to be generous here) this was because this was before the Hayes Code had been dismantled, and the whole film is about how Grant (who is filthy rich) gives Day minks and lots of clothes (since girls like clothes), which is short-hand for “come to Bermuda with me so I can fuck you silly,” and Day’s character Cathy knows this and still goes even though she is a virgin and breaks out in hives in fear of sex, so the whole thing is called off. So both go back to New York, and Cathy decides Phillip (Grant’s character) is trustworthy enough (and she also doesn’t want to be perceived as a prude or something, because Sandusky) to go back down to Bermuda, invite Phillip back down for what he missed the first trip, but gets so inebriated that nothing happens the second time. Now, Phillip is a busy man running a corporation, so he genuinely doesn’t have time for this shit, yet he feels responsible for Cathy and her hairbrainedness, so when he hears that she’s off to pleasure the worst man she can find (John Astin, or Gomez from The Munsters), he heads out and stops her. AND THAT’S WHERE I STOPPED WATCHING, even though, according to Netflix, there’s only six minutes left in the film (I eventually went back and watched those six minutes). Really, 1962? Really? And the comments about “belting” women for not putting out?
Spotlight (2015)**** - One of the two best pictures of this year. The other is The Big Short. They are tonally different yet deal with the same thing: the abysmalness of when human-created social structures that everyone looks up to and has faith in utterly shatters the naiveté of human faith through self-interest. If you are someone who is religious (and I don’t mean spiritual, I mean religious) in this day and age, and you cling to some hope that a higher power knows you and loves you because you are afraid of death, which all of humanity is subject to, and that gives you comfort, know that what you love is a sham and is corruptible to frightening proportions, and your continued support of such edifices allows this to continue. What is truly sad about this film is that the art of journalism is dying everywhere, since print sources are dinosaurs, and you need time and infrastructure to break a serious, investigative report. Heaven help us all.
Carol (2015)*** - Saw this the day after seeing That Touch of Mink, so another shot to cognitive dissonance. You will see the word “lush” used often in discussions of this film, and that’s no accident. This is a Todd Hayes film, and one thing that man knows is atmosphere. You should really see Far From Heaven (2002) before you see this. Same time period, same atmosphere, same premise. This is not a plot-heavy movie. Two people meet, by chance, fall in love, but there’s complications. In Far From Heaven, the issue was race (though the gay comes through with the Dennis Quaid character). In this film, it’s gender. Is it a great film? No. Out of the films I’ve seen from Hayes, I’m Not There (2007) is superior and has a better use of Cate Blanchett. It is a very ambitious film. And while I can’t stand Bob Dylan, it’s a great film. Carol is an exercise in something that some love films (and many LGBT films) engage in: the “turgid yearning” film. For my money, the best of this is Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000). Those two don’t even get to do it. But in this film, they do, and a happy ending (which is rare, especially for this time period) is implied. And, I am sort of surprised that Blanchett has a no-nudity contract in effect.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)**** - Saw this again through streaming (saw it in the theaters when it came out, WHICH IS WHERE YOU SHOULD SEE THIS) because Kim hadn’t seen it. This movie is such a blast to watch, and I sincerely hope George Miller gets something at the Oscars this year. So much balls-out imagination fuels this film. And in an age of reliance on computers to show things, so much of this is actual that you have to be impressed. And damn, but didn’t Tom Hardy have a hell of a year?
Legend (2015)*** - Speaking of which, there’s this movie. It gets 3 stars because of Tom Hardy, but this is not a good film, and I’m disappointed in Brian Helgeland. He directed LA Confidential, for crying out loud. That was a GREAT film. First, to use the wife as the narrator, who dies, is so stupid (since honestly, no one cares about her). Why have a narrator in the first place? Second, not enough delving into these guys’ pasts. Looking into the family tree (that one scene where Reggie goes home after Ronald has killed someone and how his mother defends Ronald cries out for further investigation on the movie’s part) should have been the focus. Tom Hardy acted his ass off in this, but it doesn’t matter. Unfair. This was not a dull story to spotlight, yet this was the result.
The Big Short (2015)**** - Damn near got 5 stars, and when it comes out on DVD, I will surely buy it and watch it several times. Saw this two times in the theater. Once with my mother, sister, and mom’s boyfriend. Once with Kim. The change in audiences illustrates why no one will care about this film, and it is a TRAGIC SHAME. My sister said it was very boring and wanted those two hours of her life back. Mom felt similarly. Kim, like me, felt it was the best film of the year, and I seriously think that everyone in America (or perhaps the world) should see it. Why? BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE BULLSHIT. The idea that we live in a society that is built on self-preservation is flimsy, at best. If you watch this together with Spotlight, you should be utterly convinced that the concept of humanity doesn’t exist anymore. And for both these films to converge upon us during Christmas time, the time for goodwill towards your fellow man that had morphed into buy as much stuff as you can to fill the voids in your lives, then all the better.
Trumbo (2015)*** - This is an era that I’m very familiar with. However, I did not know about the connection between Trumbo and Edward G. Robinson. This is a sympathetic, Hollywood retelling of some very dark times in Hollywood, so of course, there will be backlash. Name names and all of that. I’m in no way demeaning Dalton Trumbo’s story, and in the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of revision of the story of the Hollywood Ten. You should watch Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) before watching this. No, it’s not accurate, but it’s a much better film. I realize Bryan Cranston is considered a great actor (I haven’t watched Breaking Bad, which puts me in a minority), and he does a great job as Trumbo here. I think this was good intentioned, and that is not meant as a platitude.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)*** - I saw this twice in the theater. Once, I was with my mom, her boyfriend, my sister, and my nephew, Carter. Carter was adamant about seeing the film sitting next to me, so we got our own side row, with the other three in front of us. Whenever something big was about to come up, Carter would nudge me with his elbow in my ribs, saying, “watch this” or “do you remember this?” Honestly, if I can encapsulate the experience of watching the film as my 11 year old nephew being so excited to show me what big thing was going to happen next in the film, that’s fine with me. He doesn’t know that when I was his age, I had a huge Star Wars action figure collection which I played with constantly. He doesn’t know how bitter I was about episode one (The Phantom Menace) so that I didn’t watch 2 and 3. And I must say that Kim, who had a much lower opinion of 7 than I did, encapsulates this well. You have a beloved franchise. It gets compromised. Then you have someone come along and says, “I can fix this.” What they do is give the audience what it wants, which is to say it does the same thing as the original, with slight variations and nods to diversity. Fans love it, a new generation gets engaged, money avalanches in. Bravo, Disney. You own everything now. Let the derivations flow.
Framed (1947)**(except this isn’t on Netflix) – If anything, this entry is an endorsement to see a fabulous film noir called Human Desire (1954) which stars Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. In a rare noir where the female is the protagonist, I saw this on get.tv (love this channel) hung over and totally dismissive until this movie sucked me in. Come to find out later it was directed by Fritz Lang. Fritz Lang!!! See the film I noted earlier about Weimar cinema. Anyway, I desperately wanted to see it again, so I went to the YouTube, only to find this movie. This movie was about 85% exposition and very little payoff. Sort of embarrassing.
The Wolfpack (2015)*** – This starts out as masquerading as a documentary on six brothers who like to act out scenes from movies or entire movies, making their own props, doing their own shooting and editing. It devolves into a sickening, sad exploration of child abuse in a family where the parents are so wack-a-doo that they have kept their seven children locked in a public housing apartment, sometimes only allowing them to leave 3-0 times a year. The family is completely on the welfare system yet (at least the father) despise the outside world for its evils. What this really indicates is the failure of our social services system, which is radically underfunded so that they cannot catch all the crack and glaring loopholes in the system that would allow people to live like this.
Buffalo Soldiers (2001)* – You would think with a cast like Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glen and Michael Peña that this would be a good movie, and you’d be wrong. It happens every once in a while. It gets its tone wrong a lot – it can’t tell if it wants to be a social commentary on the state of the military in the 1990s or a comedy. It’s definitely not funny. Turned it off 46 minutes in.
The Enemy Below (1957)** – A WWII u-boat movie? Made in the 1950s? Can you get any more into my wheelhouse? Unfortunately, even though this was based on a novel, there was a lot of inaccuracies in this film (even the way the Germans say “captain” is wrong), but the cat and mouse aspect was enjoyable, and seeing a film like this which is respectful to both sides, when the Hayes Code was still in effect, was impressive.