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2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
The 400 Blows (FranÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â§ois Truffaut, 1959)
8Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)
Alexander Nevsky (Sergei Eisenstein & Dmitri Vasilyev, 1938)
Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli, 1951)
Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1969)
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
Archangel (Guy Maddin, 1990)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominick, 2007)
LÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
Ballad of a Soldier (Grigori Chukhraj, 1959)
Black Narcissus (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
The Body Snatcher (Robert Wise, 1945)
Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)
A Boy and His Dog (L.Q. Jones, 1975)
Branded to Kill (Seijun Suzuki, 1967)
Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005)
Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
Careful (Guy Maddin, 1992)
The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (Mark Donskoy, 1938)
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys (Michael Haneke, 2000)
Come and See (Elim Klimov, 1985)
CrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Âa Cuervos (Carlos Saura, 1976)
Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson, 1951)
Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1988)
La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)
Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)
Eternity and a Day (Theo Angelopoulos, 1998)
The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed, 1948)
Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996)
Fighting Elegy (Seijun Suzuki, 1966)
Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959)
The Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini, 1950)
Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
Gate of Flesh (Seijun Suzuki, 1964)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
The Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002)
The Hole (Tsai Ming-Liang, 1998)
I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964)
I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978)
Ivan the Terrible, Parts I & II (Sergei Eisenstein, 1945 & 1958)
The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959-1961)
KikiÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)
King Kong (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)
Last Life in the Universe (Pan-Ek Ratanaruang, 2003)
Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)
Louisiana Story (Robert J. Flaherty, 1948)
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1962)
Man of Aran (Robert J. Flaherty, 1934)
The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)
The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979)
Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958)
M. HulotÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Holiday (Jacques Tati, 1953)
Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946)
Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983)
The Ox-Bow Incident (William A. Wellman, 1943)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1928)
Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968)
Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994)
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
Queen Christina (Rouben Mamoulian, 1933)
Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)
The River (Jean Renoir, 1951)
Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)
The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (Sergei Parajanov, 1964)
Short Eyes (Robert M. Young, 1977)
Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
The Son (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2002)
Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
Summer with Monika (Ingmar Bergman, 1953)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997)
Sword of Doom (Kihachi Okamoto, 1966)
The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman, 1988)
Viridiana (Luis BuÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â±uel, 1961)
The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953)
West Side Story (Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins, 1961)
A Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondo, 1995)
Wild Boys of the Road (William A. Wellman, 1933)
Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
Winchester ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢73 (Anthony Mann, 1950)
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)
The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)
You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan, 2000)
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The Mummy (2017)
Dare I say, not that bad really?
It definitely has a lot of flaws and it can feel like a generic Hollywood blockbuster at times, but it's fairly competent and has some good action. It has two major problems right up front: 1) this is supposed to be the start of Universal's new "Dark Universe" shared universe, dredging up its classic monsters for the studio's version of Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. This doesn't exactly sound like a good idea, especially with these being action movies and not horror flicks. 2) Tom Cruise stars, Tom Cruise has creative control and he wants it to be another Tom Cruise movie. Tom Cruise! Just had to say it once more to satisfy Tom Cruise's ego. This is also just a bad way to start a new franchise, especially one in which Tom Cruise is probably not going to pop up in every future installment. "Tom Cruise movie" is just not the way to go with the initial film in your franchise. So, yeah, this film definitely has elements at odds with each other. It still kind of works, in my opinion. Tom Cruise is certainly getting past his sell-by date and I think another star may have worked better, but he's not bad and he can still do action stuff, like the thrilling plane crash showed prominently in the trailers and the many, many chase sequences. The monsters are pretty decent, too. Nothing you haven't seen before, but pretty cool, jerky undead monsters. And Sofia Boutella is quite good as the main villain. Jake Johnson is also kind of fun as Cruise's sidekick, often used for comic relief. As a huge fan of Johnson from New Girl, I love seeing him in these movies even if he doesn't belong. Russell Crowe is also very good as, well, it's easy enough to see on the IMDb page but let's just say he's the major expansion of the Dark Universe in this film. Annabelle Wallis isn't bad as the lead actress, but she doesn't have all that much to do. My major gripes with the film are its clunky opening exposition and especially the way it ends, which is just kind of confusing. Obviously it was going to end going towards a sequel / the expanded universe, but I could have used a bit more info here. Very low expectations paid off well for me, and I certainly wouldn't unabashedly recommend it, but I definitely had fun.
Beatriz at Dinner (2017)
Not entirely successful, but quite moving
Written by Mike White, Beatriz at Dinner completes an unofficial trilogy with the screenwriter's Year of the Dog and the HBO series Enlightened. All three of these works are about middle aged women searching for relevance in modern society via politics. This one is a bit smaller in scale, a bit less comedic, but it shares a lot of traits with the other film and TV series. Salma Hayek stars (and is fantastic) as a holistic healer and masseuse. She is called to a rich client's home, where her car breaks down after the job. Stuck there overnight, she is invited by the client (Connie Britton) to stay overnight and dine at their party. There's a bit of fish-out-of-water comedy here, but it's more painfully awkward than funny, and the class issues are at time gut wrenching. One of the other guests is a rich mogul (John Lithgow), whom Hayek seems to know from the past. Perhaps fate has brought them together for a reason? Lithgow is an obvious stand-in for Donald Trump. Frankly, all the wealthy characters, even the relatively friendly Britton, are despicable, but White doesn't do much to stack the deck against them. They certainly don't speak in any way that feels egregiously unfair. Lithgow definitely chews into the role, but, hey, so does Donald Trump. I'm not entirely satisfied with the ending, and I would say this is the weakest of the trilogy, but it's easily the most thoughtful and most thought-provoking film I've seen all summer. 8/10.
Rengoku eroica (1970)
Very difficult, pretty much impenetrable. But it is pretty.
I felt much the same way about this one as I felt about the previous, more famous Yoshida film I watched last week, Eros + Massacre: it's gorgeous but maddeningly esoteric. As a result of its difficulty, I found the film fairly boring. This one is perhaps even more difficult than Eros + Massacre, but it's also 90 minutes shorter, so I'd rate them pretty much even. The film involves Communist revolutionaries in Japan, who were more or less outlawed in the country by the U.S. The film spans several time periods, including the distant future of 1980 (you can tell it's the future because of the theremin music). The main action begins in 1952, which was a turbulent year for student protests. One might just watch it for the visuals - what Yoshida does with space is absolutely astounding at times. The filmmaking often brings to mind Antononi and Resnais. But it's hard to watch it just for the visuals when you know Yoshida is trying to get at something and is so deadly serious about it.
Erosu purasu gyakusatsu (1969)
Pretty, but dull
The Japanese New Wave is one of my favorite cinematic movements, and this film comes recommended as one of the best of its era. Very unfortunately, it didn't do much for me at all. The one thing about it that I'll say right off the bat really impressed me was the cinematography. No time and place ever produced such gorgeous black and white movies, and this is up there with the best.
The film itself, though, is very slow-moving, kind of pretentious, and uninvolving. The story involves two timelines, one set in the Taisho period (starting in 1916) and the other in the present. It's about free love and the sexual revolution. In 1916, the philosopher Sakae Osugi practices and writes about free love. I'm pretty sure the Japanese word for philosopher translates literally in English to "aloof jerk," because this guy's version of free love is to screw around with different women and then say "Why can't you be chill about this?" when they confront him. In particular, Itsuko Masaoka becomes wildly jealous when he starts seeing Noe Ito on the side. She begins brandishing a knife, always threatening to get stabby with it. Late in the movie, there are like three consecutive sequences that take up a good quarter of the movie where she fulfills her promise.
The 1960s stuff involves two students who are studying Osugi. They have their own problems, but want to subscribe to the free love idea, which seems to be expanding around the world. At least in the director's cut, these segments take up only about a quarter of the film.
Look, I don't generally do well with long films, and perhaps this one's 3 hours and 36 minutes were just too daunting for me. The fact is, though, from the very beginning I was pretty bored with this one. 90% of the scenes just involve two or three people sitting around in a room bickering. I give Yoshida much credit for keeping it visually interesting throughout. The guy definitely has talent, but I wonder if this independently produced art film gave him too much freedom. Maybe he'd be better reigned in.
Whatever the case, I'm still perfectly happy to have this new Arrow Academy box set. Outside of Criterion, they're the best home video production company today. I hope I like the other two films better, and I hope one day I get to take a look at Yoshida's earlier, studio-produced films.
Två människor (1945)
Lousy. It's easy to see why Dreyer didn't want anyone to see it.
Dreyer's rarest talkie, it was a flop upon release and was later dismissed by its director and has rarely played even at retrospectives. I finally got a hold of it, and it's pretty easy to see why. It's crud. You definitely have to wonder how an artist as excellent as Carl Dreyer had anything to do with it. Two People concerns, you guessed it, two people, a married couple (Georg Rydeberg and Wanda Rothgardt). Pretty much the entire thing takes place in their living room (with a couple of quick trips to a lab somewhere else in their house and a flashback to a place that looks remarkably similar to their living room). Rydeberg has been accused of plagiarism by a famous doctor, but early on in the film the couple learns that the accuser has passed away. There is some relief, but that quickly turns to fear as it is revealed the doctor was murdered and Rydeberg is the main suspect. The script here is pretty clunky, and Rydeberg isn't much of an actor. Rothgardt fares a bit better. There are some twists that are both kind of predictable but also don't make much sense. It is definitely best left forgotten. If you are curious, though, a company called Video Dimensions has released it on DVD (of poor but acceptable quality) and one can find it on Amazon. 4/10.
Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen (2003)
Maren Ade's debut. I wasn't expecting too much out of this one, since it doesn't have much of a reputation and I didn't really like Ade's sophomore feature, Everyone Else. I did like her third film, Toni Erdmann, but I kind of figured that was a major step forward for her. To my surprise, I found Forest for the Trees to be her best work so far. Shot on video, this is the story of a lonely, young teacher (Eva Löbau). She isn't too good at her new job, and she's not too good at life outside of school, either. Her 9th grade students walk all over her and the only friendship she can strike up is an awkward one with her neighbor. Löbau's neediness is exacerbated by work stress, and her friend soon grows annoyed with her. As someone who dipped his toes into teaching, I felt like this would have been my experience and, even though I spent a lot of time learning how to do it, I abruptly decided it was not for me. This situation is one of my nightmares, and I felt every painful moment of this film like a needle in my flesh. The film might have seemed perfect to me if not for the sort of cheap, magical realism ending. It's unpleasant, but truthful. Outstanding.
J'irai comme un cheval fou (1973)
A bizarre work of surrealist art. I don't know if I've just outgrown this kind of thing or if this one in particular is just sophomoric, but I didn't like it all that much. I didn't exactly hate it either. It surely has its share of outrageous and entertaining images and gags, but it feels like director Arrabal (best known for writing Jodorowsky's debut film, Fando and Lis) is doing little besides trying to shock the audience. So we get all kinds of penis torture, cannibalism, and poo play, and it gets tiresome long before the film is over. What little story there is has on-the-lam murderer George Shannon running into holy fool dwarf (Hachemi Marzouk) in the desert. The dwarf shows him how he lives in the desert, so Shannon later repays him by bringing him back to Paris. The dwarf, an outcast, continuously points out how silly the modern world is. I rented the film because it was the only one with Emmanuelle Riva that Netflix carried that I hadn't already seen. In particular, the film wasn't worth seeing as a memorial to the recently deceased actress. She plays Shannon's mother and murder victim. She barely says a word and catches some guy's ejaculate. Not her proudest moment.
Not great, but decent with some good interviews
A small documentary from Akerman about the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. Interestingly, the project began as a doc about William Faulkner. The racially motivated murder occurred, and Akerman and her crew skirted on over to Jasper, Texas. It is pretty typical of an Akerman doc, in that the vast majority of it is made up of extremely long takes where nothing much is happening. Sometimes it just observes people (always African Americans in these sequences) going about their lives, a lot of times the camera is just pointed out the window of a moving car - this can actually be a tad icky, honestly, especially when the camera is pointed out the back of the car. James Byrd Jr. was dragged to death behind a vehicle, and these sequences can't help but recall that, intentionally or not. There are also interviews, which are probably the more interesting part of the film, despite being less artful. Akerman has little insight into the issue - after all, she sees herself as more an observer than a documentarian - but it's still a decent documentary.
Fist Fight (2017)
Weak comedy, the kind that doesn't bother with a script and just hopes the stars do the heavy lifting. Charlie Day and Ice Cube play two teachers at a super shitty high school. After Ice Cube flips out on a student, Day tattles on him and gets him fired. Cube challenges him to a fist fight after school, and Day, a little wimp, will do everything in his power to avoid it. Day and Cube do the stuff they pretty much always do, not getting many laughs in the process. Some of the supporting players fare better, with Jillian Bell winning the vast majority of the film's laughs as a dunder-headed, drug-addicted guidance counselor who would rather be boinking the students than guiding them. Tracy Morgan also has a couple of funny gags as a gym teacher, and Dean Norris and Kumail Nanjiani are okay as the principal and a security guard respectively. I have no clue what the heck Christina Hendricks is doing here. She has a couple of weird moments that don't land at all. The film has enough laughs that it won't end up on my year-end worst-of list or anything, but I doubt I'll remember it whatsoever when I wake up tomorrow.
American Honey (2016)
Boring, vapid and just plain phony. The film follows a crew of young, mostly white trash teens and twenty-somethings as they travel the middle of the US selling magazines, but mostly riding in a large van smoking cigarettes or pot and nodding along to hip-hop (note to Andrea Arnold: people who wear Confederate flag bikinis generally don't listen to much hip-hop). The plot follows newbie Sasha Lane, who joins because she instantly crushes on the alpha male of the group, played by Shia LaBeouf. They are led by Riley Keough, who is sleeping with LaBeouf and is wary of Lane. There's little plot, pretty much the same thing over and over with Lane and LaBeouf eventually hooking up. Somehow it drags on for nearly three hours. The music licensing has to have cost a fortune. Lane, LaBeouf and Keough aren't bad, but none of the hundred other characters on this trip ever comes off as resembling actual human beings. Like you think with twenty people stuffed together in a van for hours on end a couple of them might have a conversation, but you'd be wrong. What this is all supposed to be saying about America or honey I have no idea.
Assassin's Creed (2016)
A lot of hot nonsense
Hoo boy, what a mess! It's not the worst action movie of the year, but it's the least comprehensible. And its nonsensical incomprehensibility is the kind that can only come from being adapted from a video game! I've played a little bit of one of them. I remember parkouring around some rooftops and jumping into hay carts. Much later on I learned that there's a convoluted science fiction background to the games - apparently you're in some sort of virtual reality simulation (only it's really happening in the past - or something). This film is mostly focused on the science fiction section of the games. Michael Fassbender stars as the assassin who is being forced to do the virtual reality stuff and Marion Cotillard plays the semi-evil scientist who is making him do it (kind of - eh, don't worry about it, you'll never understand it fully). One has to believe these two fine actors could have found something better to do. I just can't imagine them reading the script and saying, "I want to do this!" I'm sure it was more like, "For how much?" Jeremy Irons, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling and Brendan Gleeson also appear. Some of the action isn't too bad. It's confusingly edited at times, but it has a nice kinetic energy. It looks and sounds good, too. Still, it's lousy.
I kind of liked this, although it's definitely a guilty pleasure, at best. It's basically a grindhouse Running Man. A group of carnies are kidnapped and forced into a twisted game of survival against several murderous clowns. There are tons of things one could complain about, from the unnecessarily shaky camera to the constant flashing lights to the uninspired soundtracking to the God awful dialogue (why say anything else when you can just say "fuck" over and over again?), but it's a pretty straightforward splatterfest, and it's fun for what it is. Of course, Sheri Moon Zombie stars as one of the five carnies. Malcolm McDowell plays one three faux-aristocratic kidnappers (they are supposedly watching the proceedings but I have to wonder how, since there don't seem to be any cameras involved). The murderers are the best part of the movie. It's hard for me to dislike a movie with a Hispanic Hitler dwarf clown who wears a stuffed bunny head. I also really liked Richard Brake as the ultimate villain, Doom-Head. He's a much better take on the Joker than Jared Leto was earlier in the year. It's a movie most will hate, but I found it worthwhile.
Burai yori daikanbu (1968)
Good, if somewhat clichéd, yakuza flick
A yakuza movie series recently released on video by Arrow (God bless 'em), five movies starring Tokyo Drifter's Tetsuya Watari. Other familiar Nikkatsu faces appear, too, including Watari's love interest from Tokyo Drifter, Chieko Matsubara (she of the perpetually sad face). The story here begins more or less like many other yakuza pictures, with Watari being released from prison. He finds his former gang has languished without him and the rival gang, whom he went to prison fighting, has grown more powerful. Immediately, he gets himself into big trouble when he defends Matsubara, a virginal youth new to Tokyo, from a gaggle of handsy yakuza. As the film moves on, it distinguishes itself with several fantastic set pieces, including some really violent yakuza brawls, and one of the best murder sequences I've ever seen, with one of Watari's best friends being clandestinely dispatched while waiting for the train. The film kind of ends in the middle of the story, but the studio knew it was going to make a series of these films immediately - this was one of five films, and the first of four of them that was released in 1968 alone! Definitely worth checking out.
Daikanbu: Burai (1968)
The plot is largely a repeat of the first film, but, for whatever reason, I felt it was superior
While many of the plot points of this first sequel to Outlaw Gangster VIP are almost exactly the same as the original, this one is a much stronger film. That may sound a bit odd, but I think the direction and script are stronger, and maybe just because I felt I knew the protagonist I was more involved in his story at this point. Whatever the reason, I'd rank this one high amongst the many yakuza movies I've seen. The film picks up a few months after the first, with Tetsuya Watari, having healed his wounds, traveling north to find Chieko Matsubara and Yumeko, the wife of his gangster friend. In pretty much the same way (defending a defenseless woman), he gets drawn back into the yakuza world. This one features very strong performances throughout, and recognizable actors include Hideaki Nitani (whom you'll recognize from several Arrow titles), Kunie Tanaka and Meiko Kaji (who performs a flamenco dance number!). Izumi Ashikawa plays the woman Watari saves at the beginning of the film. He meets her again as a prostitute in Yokohama. She has a couple of really touching scenes opposite Tanaka, who plays the crippled brother of a gangster Watari killed in the first film. She's excellent.
Io la conoscevo bene (1965)
Tremendous, with a wonderful lead performance
Kind of a smaller version of La Dolce Vita with a female lead, this slice of 1960s Roman life is great in its own right. Stefania Sandrelli (probably best remembered as the woman who shared a sexy dance with Dominque Sanda in The Conformist) plays an aspiring actress and model who spends her nights partying her ass off and her mornings alone. The plot is pretty simple and pretty predictable, but director Pietrangeli shoots the film in a very experiential style - it feels like you're partying alongside Sandrelli, and it's just a really wonderful experience. Sandrelli herself is outstanding. It's a character that could come off as a cliché, but she plays her so knowingly and passionately. It's very, very easy to fall in love. The film is stuffed full of wonderful '60s pop songs (the only ones I recognized were by Millie Small, a Jamaican ska artist best known for her hit "My Boy Lollipop"), tremendous clothes and hairdos, and that crisp 1960s black and white. A must-see for anyone who loves the Italian films of this era.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax (2016)
Interesting but not satisfying at all
A movie that was released in theaters this weekend. You never heard of it? Hell, I see like four movies a week at the theater nowadays and hadn't heard a peep about it. This is kind of why I went to see it. It's an odd duck that's actually fairly original and has an intriguing mystery at its center. All in all, though, it's not very good. It has some howlingly bad dialogue and some laughable twists. Its biggest problem, though, is that the central character is the least likable movie kid since the one from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. And at least that kid had autism as an excuse. This kid (Aiden Longworth) has Little Prick Syndrome, which can only be cured by a punch to the face. Or a shove off the cliff, which is how the story begins. An "accident prone" kid, this is his ninth big accident in his nine years on Earth. This one leaves him in a coma, having come back from the other side while being prepared for an autopsy. His mother (Sarah Gadon) sits by his side and his father (Aaron Paul), the presumed shover, is on the run. The boy's doctor (Jamie Dornan) forms a close bond with the mother as he tries to figure out what happened, and how to get Louis out of the coma. Oliver Platt plays the kid's psychologist and Barbara Hershey his paternal grandmother. I was never bored, I will say that, but I was also supremely unsatisfied. Gadon and Paul are both good. Dornan is boring. Platt was best-in-show.
How to Be Single (2016)
Very poor script
Lousy modern romcom with one of the messiest screenplays of the year. There's way too much going on and way too little pay-off. The film seems to go on forever. Worst of all, it's just never funny. Dakota Johnson stars as a young woman who decides to "take a break" from her boyfriend. After a very short time, she wants to get back together but, too late, he's moved on. Now she's single in New York City and has no idea how to handle it. She befriends party animal Rebel Wilson, who has no problem with single life. Also, Johnson's older sister, Leslie Mann, is a baby-crazy single obstetrician who decides to go the sperm donor route. Also there's Alison Brie, who is also single and going a little nuts about it. What does she have to do with Johnson and her crew? Nearly nothing! I hate to say this about Alison Brie, but what is she even doing in this movie? They could have cut 20 minutes off their runtime if they just dropped that whole subplot, even if it would mean the film lacking Brie and, eventually, when he shows up, Jason Mantzoukas (who always makes every movie he's in slightly better). There are also men in the picture (Damon Wayans Jr., Anders Holm, Jake Lacy, etc.), obviously, and, to the film's credit, they mostly stand out as characters and not as blank states for the women to project upon. But, like the female characters, none of them are very likable. Wilson is about the only person in the film who gets any laughs at all, and the film is uninsightful about the subject at hand. One of the year's worst.
Southside with You (2016)
Very charming and intelligent
Once you get over the weirdness of the fact that you're watching a movie about Barack and Michelle Obama's first date, this is an utterly charming and smart movie. I'm not sure how much of this is based on fact and how much of it is imagined (I assume most of the biographical details were fished out of Obama's autobiographies), but it imagines the two in their late 20s in Chicago in 1989. She doesn't want it to be a date, but he clearly does, so they do the dance. The film characterizes both Barack and Michelle beautifully - it's easy to momentarily forget who these people will become and just see them as complex human beings. The film is also one of the best about race in America - it doesn't shy away from those issues at all, and has a lot of intelligent discourse on the subject (it's quite disappointing that the writer/director is a white man, but thankfully he is a smart, sensitive white man). Saving the best for last, man, do the two leads, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers, knock it out of the park. Sawyers nails not only the way the future President speaks, but also his fantastic charisma. Sumpter may not quite come off as a perfect copy of Michelle, but she builds the character beautifully. Definitely one of the year's best films.
Routine Pleasures (1986)
Not worth watching
I don't know much about Jean-Pierre Gorin besides that he collaborated with Jean-Luc Godard in the '70s in the Dziga Vertov Group. I think I've seen a film or two from that era, but it's been forever. This documentary is post-that, a while, apparently, after Gorin had moved to the United States (which I'm assuming broke Godard's heart!). This is kind of reminiscent of the documentaries people like Errol Morris or Werner Herzog would make. The subject here is train/model train enthusiasts. I've heard it said that "buffs" are only interesting to others who may be interested in their particular interests. I don't think that's really true at all myself. I love watching people who are truly excited about things. Most of the time I am, anyways. These people, though? They are truly boring. They seem like perfectly nice people, but Gorin is unable to get them to seem even remotely interesting. The film seems to have come about from a dare by his friend Manny Farber, a famous film critic himself. A chunk of the film is devoted to Farber and his art - he had moved on to being a visual artist by this point in his life. Gorin makes himself the center of attention a lot of the time, too. All this seems like a ploy to mix things up and give the doc some life, but it doesn't work. All in all, it's too small and unassuming to be an awful film, but it's pretty dull.
A lot of fun
I've been kind of ignoring British director Ben Wheatley after hating Kill List, which I didn't even finish. Watching this one, I'm pretty sure I need to go back. This very consciously hearkens back to Roman Polanski's Apartment Trilogy (Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant) and other films in that weird horror sub-genre (like David Cronenberg's Shivers). High-Rise isn't strictly a horror film, but, well, it's pretty close. Tom Hiddleston is the new tenant in a beautiful new high-rise apartment building in the 1970s (judged from the fashion; I don't think it's ever stated). He befriends the building's designer (Jeremy Irons) and several other tenants. He also makes some enemies. Some of the stricter rules imposed by Irons start to annoy some of the tenants (whose home floor determines their class status), and soon there is political upheaval. Soon after that, the building's whole society begins to collapse. I'm not 100% sure exactly what Wheatley is trying to say here - I do feel like I could use a re-watch. However, it's very amusing, very funny, and very beautiful to look at. Sometimes destruction and chaos can be quite beautiful. One of my favorites so far this year.
Pete's Dragon (2016)
Disney's latest remake is one of a mostly forgotten live action/animation mix from 1977. I've seen the original, but not in forever and I have only the vaguest memory of it. I don't think there are many similarities besides it being a movie about a boy and his dragon. In the new one, Elliot (the dragon) adopts Pete after his parents die in a car accident (shown vaguely enough that the youngest members of the audience won't quite get it). Several years later, Pete runs into a forest ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a crew of loggers (including Howard's boyfriend, played by Wes Bentley, and his brother, Karl Urban). Howard and Bentley take Pete (Oakes Fegley) out of the forest, prompting Elliot to go searching for him. It's a pretty simple, and, honestly, not too interesting story. What makes it work, though, is a wonderful control of a warm, nostalgic tone by director Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints). He's well aided by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and composer Daniel Hart (and also some really great folk songs, including a very welcome use of Leonard Cohen's "So Long, Marianne"). I don't think the film's especially memorable, but it's exceedingly pleasant and likable. The film also stars Oona Laurence (who was also quite good in Bad Moms) and Robert Redford.
Batman Returns (1992)
Gross and dumb
I don't think I've seen this all the way through since it was in theaters when I was 13. I don't remember liking it much then, but I've long been thinking of re-watching it. It's developed a cult because of its excessive weirdness. It is that excessive weirdness that keeps it watchable. That, the awesome production design, Danny Elfman's score, and Christopher Walken. Without those elements, though, honestly, I don't know that this is all that much better than Batman & Robin (I'm not about to re-watch that one, but I did pick up Batman Forever on Blu Ray very cheap along with this - probably both will be a waste of money). If nothing else, it certainly plants a lot of the seeds that would grow into the monstrosity that was B&R. The script here is just awful, first and foremost. It's all just a mess, with all kinds of nutty crap thrown on the screen for little to no reason. It's terribly grotesque. Penguin isn't a rich man in a tuxedo, he's a mutant, and Catwoman is a zombie. It has a really dirty sexual streak. It gets really gross watching Danny DeVito perv all over everyone. It's chock full of terrible one-liners that sound awful even coming out of Michelle Pfeiffer. Batman is more or less forgotten for most of the film. Even when it's being aggressively weird, it's mostly boring. Walken really livens up the film whenever he appears - his murder of Selina Kyle is by far the highlight of the film. It's a shame he disappears for a long stretch in the second half. The first Burton Batman holds up pretty well. This one, not so much.
Batman Forever (1995)
I don't get the hate. Sure, Batman & Robin is terrible, but this one's pretty good
I've always remembered this much maligned third installment of the Batman movie series as being pretty okay, and, on my first viewing since the theater (where I saw it twice - more out of circumstance than desire), I thought my initial reaction was right. I think it just gets a lot of residual hatred from Schumacher's Batman & Robin, which was really awful, mostly because of Schwarzenegger. It does depend on how much tolerance you have for '90s Jim Carrey, because if your tolerance level is low, I can understand why you'd hate this one, too. I think, visually, this movie is about as good as Batman Returns. I like the fact that it's actually colorful, instead of just black and blue like the previous two installments. There's a lot of green from The Riddler, of course, but there are a lot of reds and purples, too, and it's just very pretty. The production design and costuming are great throughout. If there's a big problem with this one it's Val Kilmer. I don't like Keaton all that much as Batman, to be honest, but he made a great Bruce Wayne. Kilmer is pretty boring as both. And the less said about Chris O'Donnell's Robin, the better (I had honestly thought he didn't even appear until the fourth movie). I personally like Carrey's depiction of The Riddler, and I also find Tommy Lee Jones a lot of fun as two face. It's all very campy, but in a lot of ways I prefer that to the grim darkness of the first two films. After all, my favorite Batman movie is still the '66 one, and this film really hearkens back to the '60s Batman series.
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)
Sure, it's Meryl Streep's latest Oscar vehicle, but, if (when) she gets nominated, she kind of deserved it this time. However, Hugh Grant outshines her by far and gives the best performance of his career. I also really liked Simon Helberg as Florence's flamboyantly gay (but of course closeted, it being 1944) pianist, who worries that associating with the awful singer will ruin his possible career. Nina Arianda steals the movie every time she appears as the bimbo second wife of one of Jenkins' fans. The film is very funny, even if there is only one joke, but it shines in its beautifully drawn relationships. The marriage at the center of the film is one of the most beautiful in recent movie memory, and the friendship that develops between Helberg and Streep (as well as Helberg and Grant) is also lovely. If the film didn't falter a bit near its end, I would proclaim it great. It's pretty darn close, anyway, and, at least at his point of 2016, it's one of my favorites of the year.
Jason Bourne (2016)
Far below the first three Bournes, but still fairly entertaining
I liked this, but only just barely. It's certainly disappointing considering how good the first three Bourne movies were, and even the non-Matt Damon Bourne Legacy is at least slightly better. They haven't found a compelling enough reason to return to the series here, with Bourne discovering a new, unnecessary, uninteresting bit of his past to come and beat people up about. I'd also say the editing is a good step below those first three films, too, with some of the action a bit more confusing. Greegrass perfected the shaky-cam style in parts 2 & 3. You always knew what was going on. Still, the action is compelling here, it's quite suspenseful and the film moves along at a nice pace. I liked the new additions to the series, most notably Alicia Vikander, Riz Ahmed and Vincent Cassell. If they do continue on with the series from here, I will probably still follow it. But I hope they do improve upon this one quite a bit.